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The best kept secret in music


"Loomis Live at Nevin's"

Loomis, with its peppily aggressive attack and its bare-bones three-man lineup, comes on with the energy and immediacy of one of Q101's emo-charged punk-pop outfits. But the heart of their songs is in something more mature; a little subtler and smarter, and a little more musically proficient.

Just a few licks into their all-too-brief set at Nevin's in Evanston on Saturday night, March 6, the talented singer-guitarist Tom Valenzano was merging his slick licks with Beatlesque harmonies and memorable tunes that have earned comparisons to acts as diverse as (on the one hand) the Beatles and Elvis Costello and (on the other) Jimmy Eat World and the Smoking Popes.

The band flips through different kinds of catchiness like a couch potato flips through cable channels, from '60s Brit Pop jangling with muscular punk-pop licks, to a more Neil Finn-like brand of Beatlocity with moving mid-tempo melodies and smart impressionistic lyrics. Many of these different flavored candies were on display at Nevin's show -- actually, for my money not enough of them. The band confessed to skipping a couple of numbers inadvertently from their set list, which has been whittled down over their years together to a portfolio of about 22 songs, 13 of which ended up on the album.

I found myself peering around the stage trying to spot a second guitarist hiding behind bass man Jay Lysaught (Pop Fiction) and drummer Alex Karan (Blo-Pop), but Valenzano (Ellen Rosner, Ripley Caine, The Young Fathers, The Choke Orchestra) is a good enough guitarist to play his own leads without sacrificing a note of his silk-sleek vocals. He easily slips from upper fret Beatlisms to more aggressive fills and solos, dabbling in rockabilly rough and tumble, hard rock grind and even a moment or two of Metallicasms in the set's finale.

The first track from Loomis' full-length CD, Heavy Balloons Are Laughing at Us, opens with a pop riff that sounds like the lead lick from a Third Eye Blind single, then kicks into a solid little piece of hard candy called "It's Too Hard" that was voted the number one track one week on a World Wide Web competition with over 8,000 other entries (on Garageband.com, a web site honorifically chaired by Sir George Martin).

The album's other highlights include the memorable pop number "Waiting for Guns," the rockabilly ride "1,000 Ways to Die" (sadly one of the missed numbers on the set, depriving the Nevins crowd of the chance to see how well they pull off their most challenging song in concert) and the aching acoustic ballad "Nothing Left to Feel." Somehow the band's few forrays into darker material play better on CD than in the Nevins show, where a mid-set dip into heavier material seemed a subpar interruption of aesthetic unity. In context on Heavy Balloons, however, the hard-charger "Cracks" wins points both for being more aggressive than many of the artists to which the band draws comparisons, and for proving the band's stuff can sometimes benefit from more expansive production choices.

Preceding Loomis Saturday night were the Gelflings, whose gritty brand of grrrrrl punk boils things down to the bare minimum of buzzy basics, leaving me wishing I could understand more of their lyrics. The evening was topped off by Chlorine, who describe themselves on their website as "a guitar-driven power trio … inspired by Midwestern power pop, late 70's punk, and indie rock." While that may sound a little bit like Loomis minus the Brit-pop, the trios sound little alike. Chlorine funnels those influences through arena rock bravura (thanks in part to an echo effect left on lead singer Brian Magnusson's mic even in-between songs) surprising in a small club with only 40 lookers-on. - Chicagogigs.com

"Heavy Balloons Are Laughing At Us"

I got pretty excited when the press sheet that accompanied this disc listed the Smoking Popes as an influence, as I am a pretty huge fan of the Smoking Popes..."Paul" is one of my favorite all time tunes. I only hoped that the statement would prove valid once the disc was actually spinning. HOT DAMN! The statement rang true. "It's Too Hard" and "Page", the first two tracks on Heavy Balloons are Laughing At Us, both bring to mind the Popes...the first at their rocking best and the second embodying the unique Popes balladry stylings.

Vocalist tom Valenzano has the kind of deep voice that lends itself to modern rock/power pop. He's not trying to distort it, make it do things it shouldn't and/or can't or break new records for unnecessary volume. It just fits, which is all it needs to do.

Loomis also list Wilco as an influence, and this alt-country flavor can be found on "Waiting For Guns", "1000 Ways to Die" and several other tracks. Ember, which GarageBand.com chose as one of it's "track of the day" recipients is a part jazzy Sinatra, part Radiohead meandering cut which will appeal to some, but didn't really work for me.

My personal favorite on the disc is the catchy, up tempo and driving "What For?". It's singable, danceable (at least in the privacy of your own home) and incredibly radio friendly, with a Weezer-esque garage sound. I am also quite enamored with the Wilco-like alt-country dittie, "Duo-Jet", which is, again, very radio friendly.

The disc closes with the pretty, slightly haunting "Lonely Sundays", a beautiful closer. The entire disc is very listenable and appealing, but the dividing line between alt-country influences like Wilco and garage greats like the Popes and Weezer just seems to broad to jump on one album. Had they chosen one or the other the disc would be a keeper for a certain fan. Currently folks have to enjoy both genres to fully enjoy the disc. I'm not saying there aren't folk who can bridge the gap...I happen to like both styles myself...but I think the current divided style with leave some folks feeling they bought a disc that they could only enjoy half of.

Favored Cuts:
#1 - It's Too Hard
#8 - What For
#12 - Duo-Jet
#13 - Lonely Sundays - South of Mainstream


Ashtray Tapes - released 2000
Heavy Balloon Are Laughing At Us - realeased 2003
Discmakers.com Independent Music World Series Compilation - released 2004


Feeling a bit camera shy


Loomis, with its bare-bones three-piece lineup, comes on with the energy and immediacy of one of today's emo-charged punk-pop outfits. But the heart of their music is in something more mature; a little more subtle and smart, and much more musically proficient.

Talented singer-guitarist Tom Valenzano merges his slick licks with Beatlesque melodies and memorable tunes that have earned comparison to acts as diverse as the Beatles and Elvis Costello on one hand and Jimmy Eat World on the other. Melissa Kempfer's low-end bass lines and Alex Karan's seasoned drum work fit like hand in glove and provide a solid groove for the band's sound.

Together, they have unified their years of experience, skill, and dedication to their craft, and have given birth to Chicago’s newest – and perhaps most alluring – musical offspring. They are up front and relentless, dramatically intense and emotionally seething, with a voice that stands up and demands attention. As disciplined as only the son of three established musical talents can be, Loomis is the impossible to ignore child, born of the influences of experimental, progressive rock and matured within the Chicago rock scene. Now, with a conviction, passion and intensity that rock music hasn’t heard in decades, Loomis is speaking up.

Loomis' first full length release is entitled "Heavy Balloons Are Laughing At Us." It is a 13-song LP produced by Mike Hagler (Wilco, Neko Case, Mark Eitzel) and was released independently in June 2003.

• Garageband.com ranked Loomis as #1 band of the Top 200 Chicago bands listed (June 2003).
• The song Ember was featured as Garageband.com “Track of the Day" on June 14, 2003.
• The song Page was featured on 94.7 The Zone - WZZN-FM on James VanOsdol’s Local Zone show (2003).
• "Heavy Balloons Are laughing At Us" was reviewed favorably by Richard Milne and featured the song What For? on his show
"Local Anesthetic" (September 2003).
• Loomis was featured on WXRT’s "Local Anesthetic Capsule" (September 2003).
• The song It’s Too Hard was ranked #1 in Alternative out of 8,000 songs submitted on Garageband.com (September 2003).