7-27 Fort Collins, CO – Artlab
7-28 Denver, CO – Oriental
7-29 Des Moines, IA – House of Bricks
8-14 Chicago, IL – The Whistler (with Nelken)
9-06 Chicago, IL – Pancho’s (with Tarlton)
Most likely to: show me a city with lifted head singing, so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
One of my favorite artistic depictions of the city of Chicago comes from the closing pages of Chris Ware’s brilliant graphic novel Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. Jimmy, following his all-too-predictable failure to form a meaningful connection to another human being, has gone in to work on Thanksgiving Day and, believing he’s alone in the office, falls asleep at his desk.
Then Ware cuts to a very simple two-panel sequence depicting the exterior of Jimmy’s office building. In the first panel, the building stands stark against a grey Chicago sky; in the second, it’s obscured by falling snow. It’s the simplest sequence imaginable, yet it says so much about the beauty and melancholy of life in the upper Midwest, of loneliness and the passing of time, of hopes dashed and the perseverance to move ahead anyway, that it chokes me up every time I see it.
I get a lot of the same feelings listening to Chicago, the debut album of the Windy City duo Project Film. It’s as much a product of the Prairie Metropolis as Ware’s masterpiece, summoning up the city’s windswept majesty – a place where it’s easy for an individual to get lost in the crowd and where the seductive hustle and bustle of the place more than offsets its annual attempt to slaughter most of its residents with its brutal winter weather.
Project Film began as a home-recording project by Sam McAllister, who was recording music for film soundtracks and saving them in a folder on his computer titled “Project Film.” He was later joined by Megan Frestedt, and the duo fleshed the soundtrack snippets out into finished songs. The music on Chicago is a throwback to the sort of Chicago area indie bands who would’ve been produced by Brad Wood back in the ‘90s, mixed with a smattering of Postal Service ambience.
McAllister and Frestedt have a way with uncluttered but catchy pop hooks, and songs like “Sound Sleepers” and “Motionless” – especially Frestedt’s guileless “ba bop bop ba”s – get stuck in the memory after one listen. Moodier tracks like “Minneapolis” and “Spent Chicago” nail the autumnal atmosphere of their place-specific references, where the most perfect summer days are made even more precious because they carry within them the reminder that the harsh days of winter are only a few months away. “Kapture” conjures up the feeling of watching whitecaps break on the shore of Lake Michigan behind the Art Institute on an overcast November day.
Chicago is one of the more charming and sweet debut albums one is likely to hear these days, full of simple – but not simplistic – indie pop songs that burst with simultaneous warmth and sadness, perfectly channeling the spirit of the album’s namesake city. To return to Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, perhaps it’s Jimmy’s homesick new co-worker, Tammy, who sums up this album best when she looks out the window as the Thanksgiving snow drifts down and offers the book’s sad but hopeful closing words, “Gosh, it sure is pretty…isn’t it?”
Chicago was released November 9th, 2010 via Tandem Shop.