TOMMIE SUNSHINE PRESENTS
Born in Chicago, now based in New York, DJ/producer Tommie Sunshine honed his skills in the '90s as a DJ in Atlanta. At the time, A-Town was a circuit of rabbit holes, dark galleys where there was always a pill to make you larger or smaller. Tommie, he always chose larger, at least in musical terms. If it gave him kicks he was never above train-wrecking AC/DC and jackin' Chicago (electro)house. Then there was Tommie's stint alongside Felix da Housecat, which resulted in such retro-futuristic classics as 2001's "Silver Screen (Shower Scene)." Square basslines met round beats... grit met glitz... the sterile and the wanton copulated. The hyper-stylized children were opaline aberrations.
The world has since turned ketaminimal, making the pitted grooves of Detroit and Cologne high competition to the bumpy hooks of Chicago and Berlin's gurgling gigolos. But Tommie kept on playing to the rafters and back rows. He assumed, and rightly so, that all the indie kidz would eventually take ecstasy while they surfed MySpace for whack-stack material. They'd long to meet a girl on the dance floor who'd leave them seeing stars, and not just because stars are the emo tattoo of choice. And when better to make that love connection than during a remix of Panic! At the Disco, Gossip, the Sounds, VHS or Beta, Hellogoodbye, Kill Hannah, Fall Out Boy, the Faint, Peaches, Gang of Four, Yeah Yeah Yeahs?
These two CDs collect Tommie's big-pupil and Big Room anthems, and more, marrying wicked analog warmth and some anguished, aggressive EBM. Along with Tommie's "retouches" (dating from 2003 to 2007) are several original collaborations (including the new single "Dance Among the Ruins"), which exhibit more influences of acid house and New Romanticism. It's radio-friendly klang and motorik, like an earful of pop rawks and Pepsi. TONY WARE
Tommie Sunshine plays Club Pop on Thurs May 24 at Chop Suey, 9 pm, $10 before 10:30 pm/$12 after, 18+.
THE AVETT BROTHERS
Like punk rock, bluegrass isn't for everybody. But at their purest, an unmistakable pang of honesty connects the two—damn-catchy working-class music from the hills or the gutter. The Avett Brothers have always spit and kicked in that ragged overlap, shredding guitar strings, smashing kick drums, and howling raw-throated harmonies. Even in their quiet moments, their fearlessness—and perhaps foolishness—is what gives the Brothers' live shows their exhilarating abandon, and it's what makes their albums hot storms of romance, remorse, pathos, and comedy.
Emotionalism, their fourth full-length, is a little different. It's more ambitious and complex, adding occasional organ, piano, violin, and a full backing chorus to the trio's usual acoustic guitar, banjo, upright bass, and kick drum. The extra sonics expand the drama—they're not as plain-sung as previous songs, but these are minor symphonies, multilayered with instruments, movements, and emotions. Whiffs of '70s soft-rock shag and '60s doo-wop sweetness blow through, grounded by a thoroughly modern lyrical sophistication. These guys recognize the intense ambivalence in growing up, in falling—and failing—in love, and they embrace it passionately as life's only truth. Their songs are restless, starting in one mood and ending in another, swinging through folk, indie, and pop idioms, owning each one, even with acoustic instruments. Musically and thematically, the Avett Brothers have straightforward contradiction nailed.
Emotionalism comes so close to a start-to-finish masterpiece—profound emotional breadth, unforgettable songwriting, consistent earnestness—that it's tempting to call it perfect. One number takes too long to climax, a couple cut beautiful climaxes too short; these are minor gripes, signs of the Avetts' impetuousness and room to grow. Music this human shouldn't be perfect, anyway. JONATHAN ZWICKEL