Friday, September 26, 2008

St. Charles, IL: the end?


This massive crater used to be the Manor Pancake House & Restaurant, where my family would go out to eat at least once a fortnight when I was a kid. It stood next to the Fox River on Main Street, and unless you count the Baker Hotel across the street or the clock tower that stands kitty corner across the river, the Manor was the heart of downtown St. Charles. Now you see what's become of it, a beautiful historical building torn down like a common crackhouse. I won't rant any further about this for now, I already said everything that I needed to here back when it was still standing but stood little chance of ever reopening.

I had the feeling this was coming for quite some time, and wasn't exactly surprised when the day finally came. What I wasn't expecting and had not prepared for was this horrible eyesore to suddenly appear on the banks of the Fox just a few hundred feet downstream.


Take a good look at this structure. Click on the picture for a higher resolution shot if you can stomach it. The half-million dollar townhomes in the area were bad enough, but they're positively progressive examples of smart urban planning compared to this luxury condo complex just off Main Street. Just look at those phony rooftops and fake facades. Disgusting. Reminds me of the storefront of Meijer on the corner of Randall and Route 38. In the middle of our current housing crisis, do we need more unaffordable housing, and some as tacky as this giant concrete box? Do people still romanticise loft apartments as hip, trendy status symbols? Do young turks and trixies still crave this urban sophisticate experience, even when it's housed in such a cheap and gaudy-looking giant shoebox? Are there that many potential buyers who want a piece of this lifestyle, but only when it's offered in the minority-free streets of the suburbs?

I used to love this city and every time I'd find myself walking down the street here I'd think about how great it would have been to grow up here instead of the one-horse little hick town 20 minutes to the west where there was nothing to do and nowhere to go. Even now I think about how much nicer it is than Aurora and how wonderful it would be to live here instead, even if I wasn't already working here in the first place. Now it seems intent on cashing in its charming but financially worthless "small town" feel to attract the kind of yuppies who consider themselves just too real to live in Naperville. Also, how many more bars does downtown need? Alley 64? Prop me up bro, I'm so wasted!

Meanwhile on the west side of town, Costco sprung up seemingly overnight, building a spectacularly huge big box of their own next to the new Harley-Davidson dealership. As if that vast, energy-sucking blight on our suburban landscape wasn't enough, permanently scarring acres of land with asphalt and attracting scores of men in midlife crisis from all over the suburbs and beyond. I endured (what felt like) a year's worth of road construction to widen the Randall to three lanes in between Oak and Main Street, which I assumed was being done to simply alleviate congestion. Were they just making way for Costco a year in advance? Why do they need this store? Jewel, Meijer, and Dominick's are less than a mile down the road to the south, and the site of the old St. Charles mall remains vacant and strewn with rubble.

I know, I know. Somebody order me a Whaaaburger with a side of cries! But I've always had sentimental feelings about this town and I can't help but feel saddened by the forces at work in it today.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pulseprogramming - All Joy and Rural Honey


Pulseprogramming - "All Joy and Rural Honey"

Pulseprogramming: two Chicagoans (Marc Hellner, Joel Kriske), two albums on Aesthetics Records, one CD of remixes, and three years of little to no activity at all. What can you assume when a group goes silent for so long? That they're really so busy in the studio that they can't update their Myspace page more than once a year, or that they just don't give a shit anymore and have moved onto different responsibilities that don't involve maintaining a reputation online? Pretty much every band makes sure to let everyone know when they've called it a day, whether we care or not. So no news is good news, right?

Self-titled 1999 album: microsoundscapes, tiny bells and clicks, a few gentle piano melodies woven into some tracks, no real vocals to speak of except for a few whispers. Definitely a surprise after the positively banging "To the Expert Eye Alone" had made it to my ears first via a magazine compilation CD. Pulseprogramming is a pretty unassuming ambient album, not the kind that gets attention from, say, indie rock fans as a token genre CD that they'll download after reading some good reviews. Not being a landmark release of any sort probably makes it guilty of being aural wallpaper to many listeners, but if you enjoy such gentle sounds then maybe this is worth your time. I've fallen asleep to this more times then I can count.

Tulsa For One Second arrived four years later, displaying a completely different sound, perhaps even more confidence on the part of Hellner and Kriske, if you're inclined to notice or imagine such intangible qualities. The same glitch-induced mellow electronics permeate each track, but this time around they resemble real songs nstead of fractured "pieces" of sound. There's more vocals, even some from Lindsay Anderson, who's lent her voice to plenty of releases on Chicago's Hefty Records in addition to L'Altra and her own solo projects. This was released at the height of the "laptop pop" trend, which the band justifiably could have been a part of without necessarily following in the footsteps of Styrofoam, The Postal Service, et al. The album was too sleepy, too world-weary, too mature to fit in among the freshman-level ernestness of those groups, anyway.

I loved the cover art of the first album and the follow-up took it to the next level with a cardboard sleeve that folded out into a tiny house. Really hoped to get more from this band, and I guess we did with a remix album a year later, but brand new music would have been even better.

So what happened to this band? Not asking for any huge final concert for closure, but at least a bullshit press release or blog statement if they're done for like they seem to be.

But who knows? I saw a brand new Dianogah CD at Borders (!) last night, so anything is possible.