Guitarist/vocalist Drew Pompano begins the album by asking, “Hey there stranger have you got the time? Please let me haunt your mind.” And the two of them proceed to do just that by calling attention to uncomfortable truths regarding homelessness and violence in Chicago; insisting that we are living in a “north shore fable” by forgetting the turbulent south and west side neighborhoods. Lest we confuse this with a more general protest of injustice (as much folk music is) The Aldermaniacs pepper their album with Chicago references through specific song titles and lyrics directly relating to problems within the city.
And yet there is a playful aspect to the music despite the dark subject matter. In what ends up as a meta commentary on an album calling people out for ignoring injustice, it can be easy to disregard the message and get caught up in the fun, jazzy guitar on 2337 W. Monroe, the catchy cello riff that opens the album, or the sultry opening to Englewood that instantly makes me think of M. Ward's best work. The songs are so good that the listener could be forgiven for such ignorance; at least until Alex Gilewicz wails, "I don't think you're listening" in a line that feels directed at the audience. I don't always catch lyrics on a first listen but a line like this in the chorus motivated me to pay more attention to the message. Not to mention the ethereal Shifty Eye where Alex coaxes a delicate intro from her cello before the chilling opening line, "Got dynamite, no need for the hindsight" proving the album is not without its dark points musically. Moving into the latter half, the cello is more prevalent as we leave behind the lighter opening songs to the eloquently bleak Rigby's Riot or the stunningly eerie Jane.
Alex opts to keep her cello mostly reserved to moments when she does not sing, giving the instrument a distinct role in Vox Pop without over-saturating the songs. I give sincere credit to the duo for presenting most songs with a single guitar, played with just enough craftiness to shine without stealing attention by Drew, while augmented by Alex's expressive wail. Alex’s cello has a similar role on the more contemplative songs sung by Drew's Josh Ritterlike baritone. It feels intentional that they don't ever sing together until the perfectly understated last song, Prairie Centennial. After spending an album encouraging people to take a stand and stop ignoring these issues, they save themselves from self righteousness by admitting they themselves could always do more. "I've been idling for a week now" Drew begins which quickly turns into a year, then fifty years. then a lifetime.
The "north shore fable" is widely accepted because it's easy. Just as it's easy to ignore the message on this album and choose only to listen to the beautiful songs. We can all “idle for a lifetime” but doesn’t this album inspire you to do differently?
To hear more and download Vox Pop, check out The Aldermaniacs Bandcamp Page!