As my brother once pointed out, geographical names for bands can sometimes indicate a connection to musical atrocity, though in recent years, I’ve heard that you can almost divide it categorically to determine the quality. For instance, continent-named bands usually suck: Europe, Asia, etc. Countries, however, can be a different story: The United States of America and Japan are both great bands, and super cool to name drop. But the theory falls apart with states. For instance, alaska! is a personal favorite, while Alabama is not. And I’m not really sure how I feel about Texas, though they’re a big deal in the UK. By these criteria alone, one wouldn’t be able to easily predict where Illinois stands on this interstate divide.
As it turns out, Illinois doesn’t prove anything about state names, but they are awfully good. This Pennsylvanian group (yep, not from Illinois) crafts a fun-loving, diverse and catchy blend of indie pop on their debut EP, What The Hell Do I Know? There’s a classic lo-fi feel a la indie heroes like Pavement and Guided by Voices, yet Illinois’ approach isn’t necessarily traditional or even conventional. There’s a strong pop current to their songs, and almost all of them here are quite catchy, yet few of them sound all that similar.
Blazing guitar riffs get “Alone Again” fired up, but at its heart it’s a melancholy pop song, heavy on piano and gorgeous vocal harmonies. However, one track later on “Nosebleed,” the band strikes up a weird-assed hoedown with banjos a-pluckin’ and hand clap drum machines crashing in the background. Yet “What Can I Do For You?” is pure pop gold, a feelgood summer tune that just happened to have been released in the winter. The middle of the disc threw me off a bit, as the misprinted song titles would have me believe the fourth song is “Screendoor.” That’s actually the fifth song. Track four is “One on One,” a song heavy on the synths and quirky, dreamy production. “Screendoor,” however, is a joyful gem beginning with the charming lines “Hello, all you lovely ladies/ it’s nice to see you again,” and packed full of buzzing bass.
Illinois’ credibility earned here on What the Hell Do I Know? may not rub off on Alabama, but it’s a name. It doesn’t mean all that much anyway. They do make a hell of an introduction, musically, however, and with the talent displayed on this first EP, an equally stellar full-length can’t be far behind.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Pig Lib
Quasi – Field Studies
The Flaming Lips – Clouds Taste Metallic
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.