Monthly Archives: December 2012

Nutshell Music Group’s 2012: The Year (Or…Seven Months) In Review

Everyone here at Nutshell has been taking some time off in response to the holiday season being upon us, just as we hope you did the same. But before the streamers and fireworks get released and the beginning of a new work calendar is upon us, it’s only fitting that we put together a best of list for those of you that are new to the site (or are already nostalgic). So here are some fun facts about our last seven months as an official publication. But before we get the ball rolling, here’s to wishing you a wonderful 2013.

Nutshell Music Group is born!

With the June 14th review of Walk The Moon’s self-titled LP, Nutshell Music Group officially became a publication.
Album Rating: 89/100
Album Highlights: “Anna Sun”, “Shiver Shiver”, “I Can Lift A Car”

NUTSHELLNutshell: The Logo and The Twitter

On June 18th, we unveiled our new logo, created by John Spiller. Then three days later we officially hit social media, with our Twitter that you can follow @NSMusicGroup.

Nutshell’s First Concert

The site became so much more than an album review site on July 16th, with our first concert review being published on Vampire Weekend’s Pitchfork Performance.
Concert Rating: A
Concert Highlights: Opening with the one two punch of “Cousins” and “White Sky”, an untitled new song now known as “Unbelievers”.

Making Friends

On October 15th Nutshell Music Group officially announced the addition of our newest writer, Bianca Smith. Her first review was posted less than two weeks later.

Opening the Discussion

On December 1st, we started our first full-on discussion topic as we posted our first round of Lollapalooza 2013 lineup predictions. Since then, a large amount of responses have come in and we opened up our Lollapalooza 2013 page.

Bests, Worsts, and Other Notable Things

Highest Rated Album: Matt & Kim – Lightning
Album Rating: 98/100
Album Highlights: “Let’s Go”, “Now”, “I Said”

Highest Rated EP: Go Tell The Eskimo – Smoke Signals EP
Album Rating: 95/100
Album Highlights: “When The Lights Go Out”

Lowest Rated Album: Animal Kingdom – The Looking Away
Album Rating: 73/100
Album Highlights: “Get Away With It”, “Skipping Disc”

Top Viewed Post: Lollapalooza 2013 Lineup Predictions

Most written about artist: Green Day (with a total of three album reviews)

Album We Wish We Reviewed Better: The Tallest Man On Earth – There’s No Leaving Now
Original Rating: 84/100

IMG_0445Nutshell Music Group’s total geek-out favorite band of the year: Stepdad

This one deserves some explaining. This goes to the band that Nutshell Music Group feels is the band that was most enjoyable to deal with. After reviewing Wildlife Pop back in June and then their Beat Kitchen Concert in October, the group has always been fun to watch, listen to, and even talk to in small doses. So a big thank you goes out to the guys in Stepdad for giving us a memorable band to talk about time and time again.

There you have it folks! Have a great time ringing in the new year, and we will be back on schedule with normal reviews after 2013 begins.

Nutshell Album Review: Go Tell The Eskimo – Smoke Signals EP

GTTEIt is impossible to say how much we love it when we have the chance to review something from a band we haven’t heard before. Think back to the last time you found a band that you now listen to religiously. A band that you sing along with when no one is around. Maybe even when people are around. That’s not important, but what does need to be said is that it is an amazing moment of clarity when you hear new music that you instantly want to share with everyone. The reason we love that here at Nutshell Music Group is the fact that we then get to rant on about it as long as we see fit, and come out with a new artist on our iPods in the process. That is the case for Go Tell The Eskimo, a ridiculously fun indie four-piece that is currently in the process of “crossing the pond” from the UK to smash the American music scene to pieces (in a positive way). In the upsettingly short Smoke Signals EP, the group establishes a sound that makes the non-admitting hipster inside of me start to drool.

The Smoke Signals EP opens with “When The Lights Go Out”, starting off with a play on Blur’s famous “Song 2” drum part, and then trailing off into a rhythmic, beat-focused anthem. With dancefloor-style riffs and Arcade Fire-like vocals, the track is enough on its own to win over the hearts of the US music industry. Up next is “Silverhorse Rider”, which features a grouped vocal approach and whistling overdubbed with bells. This song is a potential sing-a-long without a doubt, and it would not be a surprise to hear it over the airwaves by this time next year. The EP is then quickly closed out with “Magazine”, a track that masters the quiet and loud dynamic with a subtle force. The disc is short but sweet, and it can basically be stated as fact that this band’s debut LP will be something to talk about.

Go Tell The Eskimo was one of those happy little surprises that leaves an impact on you. The group has its own unique take on the indie rock craze that is currently going around, and they will be on top of that craze by the time it’s all said and done. It is easy for Nutshell to give the Smoke Signals EP a 95/100, and it was able to keep our jaws on the floor in the process. So go out and listen to the album (which is available on iTunes now) on Go Tell The Eskimo’s website and ReverbNation, or obtain this music in some other manner. But don’t steal music, you jerk.

Smoke Signals EP Tracklisting:

  1. When The Lights Go Out
  2. Silverhorse Rider
  3. Magazine

Nutshell Album Review: Green Day – ¡Tré!

TreWe promise, we haven’t been slacking on the reviews for bad reasons. The answer as to why we have been gone for over a week is because we have spent that time going to awesome parties, rubbing elbows with band members, and throwing TVs out of hotel room windows from the journalist point of view. The honest answer is that everyone here is a student who is currently facing finals week. It makes us seem lame, though, so let’s go with the first answer.

Nonetheless, enter Green Day (for their third appearance on the site) to lead our comeback! ¡Tré! is the final installment of their colossal new album trilogy, and it is hyped up to be a combination of everything heard before by the band. This could get exciting, and at the same time breeds good things for the punk rockers that to this day have separate,  oh-so dedicated fan bases that center completely on just one of their albums. Putting all of their eggs in one basket may finally unite the fans who saw American Idiot on opening night with pre-sale tickets with the ones who liked, well, Nimrod.

The album opens with “Brutal Love”, which is basically an amazingly solid vocal performance by Billie Joe Armstrong. Its a bluesy, more jam-out style rock song that the group pulls off very well. Up next is “Missing You”, which sound a lot more like Green Day. A sort of “Jesus of Suburbia” type hooky song, with fast chord changes and good background vocals keeps this album off to an impressive start. “8th Avenue Serenade” sounds like a punky Dinosaur Jr., with a combination of the Green Day’s usual sound and today’s modern indie rock. With high strummed chords and poppy riffs, this song is definitely one to take a listen to. “Drama Queen” is one of the rare occasions that Armstrong breaks out the acoustic guitar, and the lyrics are actually a painful story about growing up. Could it be influenced by the frontman’s big four-oh in the back of everyone’s minds? Maybe, but it’s helping the band produce some very strong work.

“X-Kid” is the next track, and it keeps the theme of getting older with more force than the album has had to this point. The vocals do not have the normal gritty range fans are accustomed to, but they instead carry a sort of monotonous mumble that works well with the rest of the song. “Sex, Drugs & Violence”, beyond having a wonderful title, is such an unbelievable 90’s high-schooler song; so much that it deserves to appear in whatever the next sad rehashing of the American Pie series is. I’m sorry, but American Reunion was not a good idea. ANYWAYS. “A Little Boy Named Train” is another one that hits Green Day on an unprecedented level, and is one of the first examples of all of their former sounds being focused into one piece of work. “Amanda” is what follows, which is just a very solid pop punk song that is a believable fit on any album in the band’s catalog.

“Walk Away” has an arena rock undertone that opens up with a subdued guitar part that is alone with Armstrong’s vocals. “Dirty Rotten Bastards” was described by the bands as “all over the place”, and that is not far from the truth. In fact, it’s right on; the song hits a handful of tiny microsongs in the span of 6 and 1/2 minutes, put together in a similar way as “Jesus of Suburbia”. “99 Revolutions” goes back to the riff-based punk heard earlier on the album, and also takes on an expected pop punk sound. The record then closes out with “The Forgotten”, a soft-hearted piano ballad that has gotten praise from all across the market. A good way to end a 30+ song collection and prepare fans for the unknown future of what of the late-nineties biggest acts.

Green Day did something bold this year that has garnered a surprisingly small amount of attention. They released three albums in two months, completely skipping out on the whole process of cutting out unwanted tracks. It was a simple mindset that if they were playing the songs, they were going on one of the three albums, and it turned out to be an admirable project. Three albums later, they are back again and sounding like a band that knows exactly what they’re doing. This album trilogy has proved Green Day isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and each album as an individual is still enough to give them a substantial amount of momentum. ¡Tré! brings thoughts of a possible new direction in the band, and comes out as the best album of the three album collection. It gets a 93/100 and it is available now.

¡Tré! Tracklisting:

  1. Brutal Love
  2. Missing You
  3. 8th Avenue Serenade
  4. Drama Queen
  5. X-Kid
  6. Sex, Drugs & Violence
  7. A Little Boy Named Train
  8. Amanda
  9. Walk Away
  10. Dirty Rotten Bastards
  11. 99 Revolutions
  12. The Forgotten

Lollapalooza 2013 Predictions (Pt. 2)

IMG_0148After ten days of buzzing and a good string of contact following our last Lollapalooza prediction post, the second handful of bands has been compiled (some of which are based on your suggestions). As was the deal with the last post, comment, tweet @NSMusicGroup, or email us at if you have changes to be made or things to say. This is a debate, that is welcome and preferred. You can also check out the new Lollapalooza 2013 page for all of our lineup speculation and live updates. Most additions will be normally posted, but bands taken off the list will not. Happy guessing folks!

Here’s the next batch of bands I expect to see August 2-4 in Grant Park:

  • Youngblood Hawke – With the release of one of this year’s big indie anthems, YBH has become quite a force. With the power of iTunes hit “We Come Running” behind them and an almost guaranteed festival-filled Summer 2013, the five-piece may be hitting the stage with an early time slot.
  • Two Door Cinema Club – The band was already playing an evening slot in 2010 on one of the festival’s biggest stages, and the recent release of Beacon means they will not be strangers to festival goers this year. With tour dates in Chicago falling early this year, it would not be surprising to see the Irish indie pop group back again in August.
  • Mumford and Sons – Mumford and co. is going to be the festival hog this year. Everybody in the entire world wanted to book them after they released one hot album; with that total doubled and a handful of new singles like “Babel” and “I Will Wait” that are being shoved down the throats of alternative radio listeners, the group will be hitting almost every major festival this year. If not Lollapalooza, be expecting the modern folk lords rounding out the Pitchfork Music Festival on Sunday night.
  • Matt and Kim – The duo last hit the festival in 2009 in support of Sidewalks, and have recently been hitting the Midwest pretty hard with tour stops. With signs of that dying down after February, the band seems to have enough experience under their belt (plus an awesome new album in Lightning) to grab an evening slot at Lollapalooza this Summer.
  • Andrew Bird & Wilco – The pairing of these two is intentional because both have released new material somewhat recently (Bird with Break It Yourself and Hands of Glory EP, Wilco with The Whole Love) and they both hail from the Chicago area. However, with enough new music to share a headlining concert just outside of the city last Summer, neither band ended up hitting any popular Chicago-area festivals. At least one of these two could likely show up at Lollapalooza this year as one of those “I don’t know why they’re here this year, but that’s awesome that they are” kind of acts.

Nutshell Album Review: Fashions – Young Heart EP (“2 EP Tuesday” 12-04-12)

FashionsThe start of “2 EP Tuesday” comes with a wave of indie electro pop groups, with this week’s second EP being Fashions’ Young Heart EP. The New York trio has been on the rise since August based on their synthy overdubs and wide range of guest vocalists, and they were also featured as the Artists of the Month for November in NYC’s chapter of Deli Magazine. I know these days it’s impossible to find a band that’s trying to make it into the indie scene with hook-based-sort-of-electronic music. Even if, by some weird happenstance, every single band was trying their hand at that genre, Fashions would still stand out. These are three very talented musicians who can expect something big to come of this short EP.

Young Heart opens with “Slip Away”, the band’s first single that features the Fashions Children’s Choir and David Wood from Teens. It features the unique vocal loops that are familiar to Stepdad, and it has a dancefloor beat to it that has it begging to be remixed. It also quickly establishes the band’s use of vocal harmonies to fill out the sound. Next up is “I-95”, which is honestly much more cute sounding than the previous track. The track has more of a groove than a fast-paced dance beat, and it features a lot of synth lead to create more riffs and hooks than “Slip Away”. Throw in more vocal harmonizing (with the help of Sarah Rudy) and it turns out as another well put together song. Oh, and don’t worry saxophone lovers; totally awesome saxophone solos come up in this song. The EP is closed out with title track “Young Heart”, a hybrid between 80’s dance pop and M83-like volume intervals that features guest vocals from Coco Guillen, and a clean edit of “Slip Away”.

Even though it received an uncharacteristically short review, Fashions’ Young Heart EP is something you need to follow. The band is already getting widespread recognition for their first three songs, which some artists may not get until their third album (just ask Gotye…). Fashions seems to have come at the perfect time to help bridge the gap to what may become the new subgenres of indie and pop music, so in ten years some of you may get to say that you knew them before they were famous. The Young Heart EP gets a 92/100, and you can check out Fashions on Bandcamp, their website, or various other links.

Young Heart EP Tracklisting:

  1. Slip Away
  2. I-95
  3. Young Heart
  4. Slip Away (Clean Edit)

Nutshell Album Review: Blondfire – Where The Kids Are EP (“2 EP Tuesday” 12-04-12)

Blondfire“2 EP Tuesday” is basically an excuse for us to make bad puns and listen to double the cool music on any given Tuesday night. We hope you’re down with that, because it’s a thing now.

This weeks first installment of “2 EP Tuesday” is the Where The Kids Are EP from the L.A. duo Blondfire. Not only is this band just full of good ol’ family bonding (members Erica and Bruce Driscoll are siblings), but this EP brings the return of their admired indie electro-pop sound. The short, four track collection imprints the band into your brain and quickly convinces you to keep your eyes (ears?) open for a soon-to-come sophomore LP. But with no date or word as to if/when that will be hitting shelves, we can sit and wait peacefully with the borderline tease that is this EP.

It opens up with title track “Where The Kids Are”, with watery and dreamy keys overwhelmed with a powerful rhythm section. The song is able to capture the group’s Cranberries-Passion Pit feel while pulling off the electric guitar leads during the refrain and bridge. “Hide and Seek” keeps the same punch in the synth bass and drums while including an entrancing keyboard riff. A large aspect of this song is Erica Driscoll’s vocals (attributable to those of JJAMZ’s Z Berg) that take control and easily capture a listener. “Waves” opens up with an acoustic guitar and continues through an Empire of the Sun style song. With a coincidentally beachy sound, it paints a wonderful picture and puts forth a lot of energy. The EP gets closed out by “Walking With Giants”, a song with a rock undertone and that also instills wisdom (“The bigger they come, the harder they fall”).

Before this point, Blondfire has only released one album and didn’t have much to show for it other than an iTunes acoustic session. This release has a few snags, with the alternative beach rock second half becoming less appealing than the more electronic first half. That being said, the Where The Kids Are EP should breed confidence for this duo, and if it’s anything close to predicting the group’s future then they will be ending their music careers with a substantial amount of fans and money. Blondfire snags an 84/100, and you can check out their Soundcloud or their music video for “Where The Kids Are” down below.

Where The Kids Are EP Tracklisting:

  1. Where The Kids Are
  2. Hide and Seek
  3. Waves
  4. Walking With Giants

Nutshell Album Review: Heyward Howkins – The Hale & Hearty

Like many of you, our hearts get all warm and fuzzy when we happen upon a small, yet brilliant band or artist. The hope is that, in some way or another, we can use our connections to get that band or artist at least one more fan. This is why everyone was excited when the music of Heyward Howkins showed up on our desks. Not only has Howkins been a wonderful man to briefly chat with, but he is also the mastermind behind this LP that was released back in July. With beautiful vocals and acoustic, sometimes bluesy accompaniment, The Hale & Hearty is one for all of you to check out.

It opens up with “Thunderin’ Stop”, a song with a feel that sounds like a brainchild between Bon Iver and The Tallest Man on Earth. The lyrics are kicked out with a choral approach and are backed by an impressive string section. Title track “Hale & Hearty” comes next, a quick starter with an Edward Sharpe feel (plus an intoxicating bassline). With this song being a perfect example, Howkins breaks out as many instruments as possible to paint what turns out being a very lovely picture. Bells and a short trumpet help lead this song into a groove at the end that gets your legs moving. “Spanish Moss” is one of the least instrument-ridden tracks of the LP, but it is one of the most powerful. Aspects of booming drumkits, harmonies, and electric guitar come up as Howkins’ muttered vocals put you in a trance. “Sugar Sand_Stitched Lip” has a sort of jazzy feel sprinkled with Jack Johnson influence. It uses a choral undertone to make the song seem more lively, and keeps all percussion out of it other than a tambourine.

“Waist High or Dry” features an electric piano and stuttery drum patterns that are reminiscent of Grizzly Bear. It adds to the groove of the song greatly, and it also starts to shift the overall sound of the album. “The Raucous Calls of Morning” has an amazing indie-folk feel. It shuffles back and forth between a pulsing jam and and slower, piano-focused track. Howkins’ vocal performance is out of this world, and the song also features backup vocalists to fill out the sound. Next up is “Flash Mob”, one of the album’s fast tracks with a lot of drum fills and electric guitar. The song has a feel that puts festival season in your mind, both very summery and danceable. “TheLiveOak” tones the energy down once again, and it goes back to the core sound of the beginning of The Hale & Hearty. “Plume and Orange” is 0ne of the record’s high points. The rhythm section successfully drives this one, and Howkins’ unique collection of instruments again make an appearance. If you have no desire to here this album, at least check out this song. Your mind will change quickly. The album then gets closed out with the almost bluegrass “Cocaine Bill”, and the mellow yet upbeat “Hudson Piers”.

Heyward Howkins’ debut LP The Hale & Hearty is able to quickly establish his unique sound that straddles the boundaries of modern folk. Many influences are heard in the record, and they all got somehow mashed together into a pretty alright cluster. The use of many instruments is by no means excessive, and actually adds to the album hugely. An overall impressive debut album, The Hale & Hearty grabs an 82/100. Also, check out the Heyward Howkins Bandcamp.

The Hale & Hearty Tracklisting:

  1. Thunderin’ Stop
  2. Hale & Hearty
  3. Spanish Moss
  4. Sugar Sand_Stitched Lip
  5. Waist High or Dry
  6. The Raucous Calls of Morning
  7. Flash Mob
  8. TheLiveOak
  9. Plume and Orange
  10. Cocaine Bill
  11. Hudson Piers

Lollapalooza 2013 Lineup Predictions

IMG_0049Even though we haven’t even broken into winter, there is already a typhoon of speculation about who will be making their rounds at music festivals in Summer 2013. Bonnaroo presale tickets came and went in three minutes, and we’ve already seen message boards and websites be riddled with alleged lineups. With Nutshell being based out of and somewhat centered around the Chicago area, I thought it would be a perfect outlet for my 3rd annual Lollapalooza lineup predictions. This will, for the first time, be live updating. Bands will be crossed out and added as time goes on, up until the midnight lineup release some time in April. That is, if the Chicago Tribune would stop leaking it at 10:30. Think of this as an open discussion. Your thoughts are all appreciated, but they will only be read, reviewed, and utilized for this list if they are posted in the comments section below. That being said, we want your input. If you think I’m wrong, tell me why.

Here’s my current lineup predictions for Lollapalooza 2013, set for August 2-4:

  • Animal Collective – The dukes of modern indie rock haven’t graced the Lollapalooza stages since 2009, and they already found themselves in a premiere Saturday night slot. With Centipede Hz now under their belts and no extensive touring schedule, you can expect them to be hitting one of Chicago’s many festivals. After 2009’s powerhouse performance, it would be foolish for both the band and the festival if they did not end up in a headliner’s position this Summer.
  • Wu-Tang Clan – Now before you argue, look at the facts. According to an interview with AV Club, Clan producer RZA said that he had been contacted by Bonnaroo and Coachella, and that there’s a chance Lollapalooza has also been in contact with him about a Wu-Tang festival run. With one album having its 20th anniversary and another new one in the works, why not play a few festivals?
  • Alabama Shakes & The Temper Trap – Among many of the acts that had to be cancelled or shuffled around during last year’s mud pit, these two groups got the short end of the stick. They both had solid late afternoon slots and the potential to draw large crowds, so it would not come as a major surprise to see their names back on the bill.
  • The Avett Brothers – Backed by this year’s release of The Carpenter, the American folk group has never played on Lollapalooza’s stage. They hit their Chicago dates early on the supporting tour for the album, and a group like this would surely thrive in an outdoor festival.
  • MGMT – The group hasn’t hit the festival since 2010, and with an R.E.M.-inspired new album in the works it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them return for a third time. With three albums and their debut EP all in the catalog, the psychedelic collective would be a comfortable fit in a 5 or 6 headliner spot.
  • Phoenix – The French indie pop group hasn’t had much to say since the conclusion of their last tour, and with only one Lollapalooza appearance (2010) to date, the mysterious new album that is apparently being hammered out, a last second American Summer tour announcement with a few festivals wouldn’t be the biggest of surprises.
  • Vampire Weekend – Even though the band made a stop at last year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, they have been on a somewhat hiatus when finishing out their new album. They already have an impressive new single that’s presumably from the record, and it isn’t uncommon to see the two Chicago festivals swap bands for consecutive festival seasons. Since 2009, bands that have hit stages at both festivals include Animal Collective, Neon Indian, Washed Out, and  tUnE-yArDs, so Vampire Weekend could very well be returning to Grant Park come August.

Again, your comments are welcome below. Tell us what you’re thinking; who do you think will be playing at Grant Park in August?

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