QUICK SPINS: Ashtar Command, Rachael Yamagata
By Tankboy in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 2, 2011 6:20PM
This week we check out recent offerings from Chris Holmes' Ashtar Command and Rachael Yamagata, ex-Chicagoans both, and artists whose paths have frequently crossed.
American Sunshine is the long -in-the-works "debut" from Ashtar Command, headed by Chris Holmes and Brian Liesegang. We put debut in quotes because we swear we have a CD buried deep within our collection of music the band released far earlier in its career when they were considered the space rock side of Holmes' personality to counter the orch-pop of his more mainstream group Yum Yum. American Sunshine see the merging of those two halves of Holmes and is populated by some tunes that are over a decade old, like the bopping "Salvation," making us happy they're finally seeing the light of day.
Holmes is a perfectionist and there isn't a note of noise that's out of place on American Sunshine. The majority of the material hews closer to the Yum Yum side of Holmes, gently pulsating songs that ache and tug at strings both based in heart and on on bow. There are louder moments, and Holmes' basis in the rock of Chicago circa 1996 comes through strong on songs like "Mark IV" and "Gravity" as guitars surge and feedback and fuzz out alongside drums that chug ad thud merrily along. And while we enjoy Holmes' hushed vocal delivery we also welcomed vocal contributions from a wide range of collaborators including Joshua Radin, Alex Ebert, Rachel Yamagata and Priscilla Ahn.
Rachael Yamagata's last album Elephants...Teeth Sinking Into Heart was a sprawling double-disc effort that was unafraid to take chances, often leading the listener down dark hallways that were difficult to traverse but rewarding nonetheless.
On Chesapeake Yamagata returns to more comfortable terrain, turning in a disc of mid-tempo numbers lushly orchestrated but still based in the coffehouse confessional mode. Yamagata's voice is still a marvel, and her heart is still aching, so longtime fans will be pleased and new converts will find much that is comforting in this collection of songs. However what made Elephants... so rewarding is missing from Happenstance. This is a safe collection mining familiar territory and while we would happily listen to Yamagata sing the phone book we're missing the ragged edge we've experienced in her previous work.
Rachael Yamagata plays Logan Square Auditorium on November 8