Synth-Duo Generationals headline Lincoln Hall Wednesday

Categories: Chicago Sun-Times

January 12, 2015


New Orleans may be the nation’s hotspot for traditional jazz and brass bands, but one of that city’s brightest musical exports deserves greater attention there and beyond.

Ted Joyner and Grant Widmer of the band Generationals have been making music together for almost a decade, establishing an appealing brand of guitar synth-pop that stands far apart from gauzy keyboard experimentalists or laptop party hosts who are strictly focused on energy and vibe.

The band, which headlines the Tomorrow Never Knows festival at Lincoln Hall Wednesday, is far craftier, as evidenced by the crown jewels of “Alix” (Polyvinyl), a fourth album released last fall. Richard Swift, a touring musician with the Shins and the Black Keys, produces, and he has tightened the songs to their simplest ingredients: The guitar hook of “Reviver,” the crashing pop chorus of “It Took a Minute,” and the fizzy beats of “Black Lemon” all pop out as prime ear candy, establishing this album as ambitious on the large canvas, but expertly geared for earbud listening, too.

While there is an obvious connection to iconic synth-dance groups like Tom Tom Club and Yaz, and this band might be categorized alongside contemporaries like Phoenix and Fun, the songs on “Alix” establish the band’s unique identity simply as a whipsmart pop band that is not confined to a particular sound. This is a breakout album that uses the studio as a tool but never feels trapped by the technology. The falsetto vocals burn hot on these songs, especially “Gold Silver Diamond” where the singing brings warmth atop the swaggering beats.

“Alix” loses steam near the end, where atmosphere trumps songcraft, but then comes the surprise bookend: “Would You Want Me,” a song where party horns enter and summer is here a few seasons early. 

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