Chicago is a city with a proud rock 'n' roll tradition, but in the past few years, the well of talent has run horribly dry. If you don't count the second-tier nu metal bands like Disturbed and From Zero, no locally-bred band has made any sort of impact on the national charts. And the city's most innovative active groups -- including Wilco, Shellac, and Tortoise -- are already entering the twilight of their careers. The once vibrant scene has definitely suffered from a dearth of youthful energy.
The Detachment Kit, after only a few scattered shows about town, have proven that they're ready to fill the void. With songs titles like "The Illustrious Daniel Boone: Pioneer of Social Ingenuity" and "Another Great Champion Sought, Thought, and Died", you might be fearing the worst: somnolent post-rock or, god forbid, emo. But The Detachment Kit prefer to reference the classics on their debut album, They Raging. Quiet Army, dashing their post-punk concoction with Pavement's ingratiating sloppiness and plenty of the Pixies' melodic fervor. And the conversational guitar theatrics frequently recall NYC art-punkers Les Savy Fav, who the band has indeed cited as an influence. Their sound might read like a list of hipster-approved influences, but The Detachment Kit make it work primarily by keeping the pretension to a bare minimum and allowing their enthusiasm for the material to shine through.
Ingenious, innovative moments are liberally sprinkled throughout the album, despite the fact that the Kit work with very familiar sonic blueprints. The John Peel-approved "Sitting Still, Talking About Jets" rips a page right out of the Under the Western Freeway-era Grandaddy playbook yet still succeeds in forging its own identity. "Yourself: A Majesty of Infinite Space" co-opts Les Savy Fav's start-stop guitar interplay, but imbues it with a distinct pop sensibility. And even when The Detachment Kit transparently mimic Pavement, the grandfathers of indie rock, on the lead-off track, "High Seas", they somehow manage to frame it as reverent homage rather than shameless thievery.
Having seen two of their Chicago performances, I can say that The Detachment Kit are still quite a ways away from the aforementioned acts. They're a lively bunch, but technically, they often have trouble keeping that energy within the bounds of the song structures. During their record release party on 15 February at the Empty Bottle, some of the songs strayed far from their forms on record. (Lead singer/guitarist Ian Menard and Charlie Davis appeared to have trouble keeping their guitar parts in sync.) But sheer willpower can make up for a lot, and that's an attribute the group possesses in spades. Whenever the songs veered into murky territory, Menard took it as his cue to dive into the audience, cavort recklessly across the stage, and use any means possible to keep the audience's rapt attention. He almost single-handedly ensured that even when the playing wasn't up to par boredom was never option.
Fortunately, none of Menard's outlandish stage antics are necessary to enjoy They Raging. Quiet Army. The studio treatment lends their songs a tautness and professionalism that their respective live renditions sorely lack; however, it should be noted that the Detachment Kit still have trouble with the longer compositions. Their infectious energy translates much better when they stick to three-minute post-punk nuggets. Only when they attempt some of the more drawn-out, slower numbers, which are thankfully clustered toward the album's finish, does the album start to suffer. But by then, it's already become clear that The Detachment Kit have the raw ability to do something truly great. They Raging. Quiet Army may not earn a place alongside Chicago's landmark recordings like Wilco's Being There, Shellac's Action Park, or the Smashing Pumpkins' Siamese Dream, but it's good to know that there's at least one band in the windy city taking a step in the right direction.