Lying in States Make Great "Lake"

Chicago's latest indie-rock sons rise above the clatter

March 2, 2006 12:11 PM ET

Over the years, Chicago has been responsible for producing a fleet of celebrated artists, and its indie-rock pedigree is especially sterling. Consider acts like Liz Phair, Tortoise and a small band called, um, Wilco. Now add to that list Lying in States, an indie five-piece that's been a stalwart of the scene and with their latest album Wildfire on the Lake, just out on rising local label Flameshovel Records, threatens to break out.

"I think that it's definitely a good snapshot of where we are as a band," drummer Mark Benson says of Wildfire, which was inspired by the vibrance of his adopted hometown's music. The band -- Benson, frontman Ben Clarke, guitarist Fergus Kaiser, bassist Justin Trombly and keyboardist Jeremy Ohmes -- met in college, and has called Chicago home for the seven years they've been together. "The diversity of the scene is probably one of the coolest parts about it. That's definitely been good for us, because we've always wanted to -- from song to song, record to record -- do something we hadn't done yet."

The album's ten songs traffic in flinty rock & roll riffs, and the snarling opener "Both Sides" finds Clarke howling over an imposing backdrop. But for all its raucous aspirations, some of Wildfire on the Lake's most memorable -- and challenging -- moments are its sparsest. The radio-ready "Turn" begins as a mellow love song, but with an expansive pop chorus. And on the anthemic "Wired Saint," Clarke's vocals go from haunting and hushed to operatic, and in mid-song the instruments all but drop out, leaving only an organ lingering.

"I love this song," Benson confesses. "That was one of the times we came into the practice space and went, 'OK, let's just try and do something nuts.' Ben had a pretty tough job of trying to figure out how he was going to get his voice over that fucking clatter . . . and he nailed it."

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