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(Older reviews archived alphabetically by artist name.)

  Friends Are Ghosts  
  Taking Pictures  
  My Pal God  
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Everything that has been written about Chicago's Taking Pictures states that this band includes former members of Hurl, a noteworthy Pittsburgh-based post punk band from the 1990s. Theoretically, this previous association has influenced Taking Pictures' music, so that in effect you see a linear progression between the two bands. Unfortunately, I've never really been into Hurl not because they were bad or anything, but rather during their heyday (such as it was), I was engrossed in other genres of music.

Still, certain members of the EvilSponge team were big Hurl fans, so when Taking Pictures came to play Atlanta early in 2003, I went along for the ride. This was a good thing, because I was immediately impressed by the three-piece Taking Pictures. Building on the strong drumming of Noah Leger and the dueling guitars/bass of Mat Daly and Matt Jencik, Taking Pictures create a wintery cold mix of songs. Many people would call this type of music post-punk due to the slightly off-kilter drumbeat as well as the way the stringed instruments do not overwhelm the sound. Instead the guitars and bass provide an alternate counter-melody to the vocal lines, which are shared by both Daly and Jencik. In concert, it was a neat thing to hear, and very compelling in a chilly sort of way.

With that in mind, I purchased their album, Friends Are Ghosts. Although many of the songs were played in concert, the arrangements were quite different and less full sounding on the album. But this wasn't a bad thing or even a disappointment. Rather, on the album, you can see the original conception of those live songs recorded as the band envisioned it.

For instance, in concert, I was particularly impressed with dynamic guitars and dueling vocals on a song called Faces, Smearing. When I turned to Friends Are Ghosts, I heard a slightly different version. Instead of highlighting the slightly gruff vocals of Matt Jencik, this recorded version is particularly carried by Mat Daly's higher-pitched voice. However, once this song moves into the instrumental bridge, I can hear more similarities to the live song. At that point, Taking Pictures combines all three instruments into a prolonged breakdown with the melodic bass playing against a lightly jangly, effects-laden guitar. It's very insular in sound, and really brings to mind what I think of as the Chicago Sound. In short, although the afore-mentioned changes make Faces Smearing different than the live version I remembered, it is by no means a worse song. Instead, I'll confess I've come to prefer the wintry starkness of the recorded version.

Other songs on Friends Are Ghosts more closely replicate what I remember from the live show. For instance, Hibernation for a Hyper-Nation begins with Leger's driving drumming which contrasts with the more minimalist guitar work of Daly. Over this, Matt Jencik sings in a completely different rhythmic pattern that makes Taking Pictures' music seem like a fairly complex construction. Similarly, the fast-paced rhythm of Words Are Like Drums suggest the energy of Taking Pictures as whole, and give an urgency to their music despite the slower singing of both Daly and Jencik. Finally, the band's true post-punk nature comes to the fore-front on That Fight We Should Have Had We Never Had. For instance, during one point, the guitar falls to the wayside as the music is completely taken over by those omni-present drums and driving bass while Daly sings/screams his lament. Nevertheless, despite the continuing apparent complexity, once you listen closely to That Fight We Should Have Had We Never Had, you can hear that the individual parts remain rather basic. This one song in particular compels me to dance as the drums beat their head-bobbingly simple rhythm until the song slows and eventually fades into a transition into the short, untitled track which ends the album.

In the end, although it doesn't necessarily measure up to the dynamic quality of their live shows, Friends Are Ghosts is a strong album nevertheless. Based on some of the other music I've heard recently, it definitely reflects the Chicago origins of the band with its angular guitars and intellectually complex construction of melodies and rhythms. As such, it's an excellent reflection both of how I perceive the Chicago scene as well as the inherent talents of the band as a whole.

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