Fire Talk Showcase
cola, wombo, fran
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Cola is a new project from former Ought members Tim Darcy and Ben Stidworthy formed with US Girls drummer Evan Cartwright. “Blank Curtain” provides an exciting hint of the way the new project picks up some of the threads of the pair’s earlier work and weaves them into engaging new shapes, constructing a driving tangle of guitars around an arresting performance from Darcy.
“What started as stripped-down open D songwriting with a CR-78 soon became a full album and new band. We wanted to see how far we could stretch our compositions with just drums, one guitar, one bass, and one voice.
Blank Curtain is a quarter note kick drum pushing 240 bpm, a drone-like chord progression, and declarative vocals cutting through the haze. If you could invert the color of the Blank Curtain, you might have something like a Chicago house track that sounds like a band in a room.”
The weird world of Wombo is a kaleidoscopic journey of sharp turns and surprising visions, a melting pot of influences with a cheeky cheshire-cat grin that coalesce into a trippy but infinite universe, a portal into their unique vantage point without limitation. Already committed to living outside the traditionally-heralded country sound of the music scene in their hometown of Louisville Kentucky, Sydney Chadwick (vocals) and Cameron Lowe (guitar) had previously played in punk pop band the Debauchees, and with the addition of Joel Taylor (drums) in 2016 they found a winning combination of more straightforward indie rock combined with Chadwick’s pitched up, oscillating vocals and unpredictable shifts in melody that see the band moving forward at an impressive pace. Their 2018 album Blossomlooksdownuponus is a snapshot of Wombo’s wide-ranging aspirations that careen across avant pop, psych and wonky post punk interludes with a sky’s-the-limit approach to translating the mundanity of regular life into their own high-frequency language.
In a generation where pop has come to be defined as anything but, Wombo have spearheaded their own definitive sound that avoids genre classification but is impossible not to tap your foot along to. “Usually if the babies like it, we like it”, admits Chadwick, and it speaks to the band’s bass-driven song structures that pivot through a whirlwind of instrumentation at rapid speeds that they are still able to land on a winning formula that strikes the sweet spot between effervescent overload and razor sharp intention. In 2019, the band toured with White Reaper, Dehd and The Nude Party, bands whose affinity and dedication to strange experimentation have won them fans across a wider audience, and Wombo are poised to follow suit. In a careful balance where no one instrument overwhelms, Chadwick’s vocals are the cherry on top of a decadent dessert that explodes with personality and ingenuity.
The trick is to make a confession entertaining. A Private Picture, the debut album by Chicago’s Fran, delivers a collection of extremely personal experiences that have been distilled and abstracted to the point that you can see yourself in their imagery, find analogs to your own emotional history in their scenarios –when you hear them, it’s a conversation. It’s therapy, if therapy was allowed to turn you on and make you shake what you got.
Maria Jacobson began writing songs during a time of great personal upheaval. Working as an actor at a summer repertory theatre in rural Indiana after a disillusioning stint in the Chicago theatre scene and a series of failed relationships, she bought a guitar and taught herself to play. Through this instrument and her voice, she discovered a way to process the pain of recent events and draw ambiguities closer to conclusions.
Landing an English teaching job with sparse hours in a small city in Mexico afforded the time and space to develop as a songwriter: playing and writing all night until it became clear that a body of work was forming.
Maria returned to Chicago and kept a cool head while navigating the general hassle that is getting your first band together. She employed the help of friend and bassist Atticus Lazenby to form the band and arrange their first EP called More Enough. It was through the release of the EP on Chicago tape label Lake Paradise that she met Jake Acosta. Jacobson remembers, “We met for beers at this weird bar that doesn’t exist anymore in Humboldt Park and were so happy to have met each other. That is sort of where everything changed.”
The period following this crucial meeting was fast and important: through Acosta and other avenues, Jacobson met the kindreds who would eventually comprise the current lineup of her band. She found the perfect drummer when Ashley Guerrero responded to an ad on the DIY Chicago facebook page (guess there’s a first time for everything). Guerrero’s intuitive sensitivity and feather light-to-bashing touch is absolutely necessary for A Private Picture’s dynamic material. Jacobson met Bret Koontz, lead guitarist/keyboardist, when his pop trio Softette played Fran’s EP release show at the Empty Bottle. Koontz became a necessary piece of the Fran puzzle as he contributed slick and shimmering guitar parts live and in the studio, where Jacobson convinced him to play dirty again. Finally, Jake Acosta circled back to play his surprising and melodic brand of bass guitar as an 11th hour addition to the group the night before Fran left for a two-week southern tour.
Jacobson found another good match in Luke Otwell, who got it so right while engineering/producing A Private Picture in a sprawl of sessions that spanned 2018. The resulting record is an epic soundscape that remains safely tethered to reality. It’s a mature and clear-eyed sound that features some of the wit, complexity, and R.O.C.K. you might expect from Aimee Mann or the Pretenders. At the dead center of the sound is Jacobson’s voice. It is true and full, ranging from an almost-whisper to a pitched scream and soaring to incredible heights. These vocals were made possible through a life spent singing and studying—church, musical theatre, jazz . . . as music writer Leor Gail said, it is the band’s “guiding light.”
At its core, Fran’s music is about sharing a truth -–telling it, confessing it, yelling it—in the service of human connection. Or, as Jacobson puts it,
“I feel that I am a songwriter for the same reason I wanted to be an actor. I want to tell the truth. I want to challenge myself to get closer and closer to the core of an experience, an emotion- I want to say it, sing it, in a way that says exactly what it is. I cry when I write songs because I am constantly making discoveries, about myself, about the world, about the best way to convey and connect and get closer.”
Fire Talk is a New York City based Independent record label that has been a purveyor of the underground since 2009. Counting numerous Chicago artists like Dehd, Deeper, Bnny & more as label alums, we’re proud to present a showcase highlighting three of our most exciting artists releasing music in 2022.