Every band has its dirty laundry. The half-drunken demo tape, the first fumbling attempts at narrative songwriting, the 10-minute faux reggae jam. For most groups, these are necessary missteps on the early road to artistic growth. Sometimes the songs are hurled into the vaults, or just deleted from a hard drive, or maybe saved for a Christmas party down the road.
Sometimes, they wind up on a stopgap EP between albums.
Such is the case with Medium High, the new release from Chicago indie-pop collective the 1900s. But here’s the interesting part: Despite being stitched together from odds, sods and re-recordings, this little seven-track palette cleanser actually sounds pretty cohesive.
Yes, the usual disclaimers apply: not for casual fans, not a proper introduction to the group, and so on. But if the colorful pageantry of past efforts like Cold & Kind and Plume Delivery left a gnawing itch, this will scratch it.
"Collections” kicks off the set with all the pleasant uplift of a cool spring breeze. It’s one of the very first compositions the band wrote in 2005, and neatly maps out the group’s DNA structure: ‘70s AM pop with a dash of Belle & Sebastian. Strings, acoustic guitar and understated piano meld to give the tune a cozy charm -- background music of the highest order.
Next up, the band covers one of the standout tracks from its full-length debut, Cold & Kind, rechristening “When I Say Go” as “When I Say Cohen.” It’s a gimmicky title, with the track purporting to be a tribute to the morbid instrumentation of Leonard Cohen. Kinda, sorta.
The song’s wings get clipped in the process, but the drama ratchets up considerably from the orchestral reinterpretation. And the line “I’ve been touched in places by very scary hands” never sounded creepier.
The rest of Medium High mimics the flow of a full-length release, from the somber kiss-off on “Age of Metals” to the post-coital bliss of “Making Love in Summertime.” A little instrumental cherry on top completes the collection, leaving a pleasant aftertaste and an open invitation to come back for another spin.
Given the busy release slate for the last two weeks of January, this archive-clearing exercise will probably get buried well deep. But a peek into the 1900s’ songwriting past certainly gives me an eager ear.
The 1900s have been the premiere homespun baroque pop band of Chicago for a few years now, and their break out onto the national scene has been predicted for probably all of those years. After their Cold & Kind album, the Medium High EP finds the group going back to their beginnings with a collection of odds and ends from the band's formative years; three of the EP's tracks, "Collections," "Making Love in Summertime," and "Will in Firm Fashion," were the first songs the band ever wrote. Other tracks include reimaginings of released songs, like "When I Say Cohen," a Leonard Cohen-flavored live recording of Cold & Kind cut "When I Say Go," and "Face I Know," an alternate version of "Supernatural."
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