Unlike so many of the artists legendary studio curmudgeon Steve Albini has worked with, Youngstown indie rockers Asleep are neither crunchy nor abrasive. In fact, the songs on their new album, Unpleasant Companion (which comes out next week), are kinda sweet and chewy, propelled by Todd Kaden's soft, tuneful voice. It's a far scream from the anguished howls of PJ Harvey, Nirvana, and Pixies, with whom Albini is usually associated. "Our band isn't exactly the most punk-rock-sounding thing," admits guitarist Jon Dean. "But his discography is so intense, and he's worked with every single genre known to mankind."
Because Albini's method is to pretty much let bands do what they want to in his Chicago studio, with minimal input, there's a certain rawness to Unpleasant Companion. The album was recorded in just four days, and the quick turnaround gives the record a jolt of immediacy that was missing from Asleep's previous two releases.
Before the quartet (newcomers Cory Snyder on bass and drummer Shawn Logan join founding members Dean and Kaden) hooked up with Albini, "we rehearsed sensibly," says Dean. "We called him up and said, 'Hey, make us a real band.' But I have no idea if he even listened to our music before he said yes." (Albini also recorded Cloud Nothings' new album, Attack on Memory, giving him claim to two of 2012's best local albums so far.)
Buzz has been building for Unpleasant Companion over the past month. Guitar World and Relix streamed a couple of the songs, which combine working-class Rust Belt values with modern technology. "I was raised by a steelworker," says Dean, "so I'm not exactly hip. We didn't lock ourselves in a cottage on a North Dakota mountaintop to write our record. We made a record about the internet. We have all this technology and information in the palm of our hands. The record is about what we choose to do with this information."
A SONG TO REMEMBER: "Can't Forget," the debut single by R&B singer Antoine Dunn, has been picking up speed since its release late last year, thanks to a video that debuted on BET's 106 & Park in December and Dunn's opening slot on Anthony Hamilton's recent tour. And it's easy to hear why the song is getting airplay from L.A. to New Orleans: It's a smooth, old-school soul jam guided by Dunn's warm, inviting voice. The 23-year-old Cleveland Heights native is finishing his debut album, which will be released in the spring.
STEAMING CUP OF SOUL: Numero Group — the cool Chicago record company that released the three-disc box set Boddie Recording Company: Cleveland, Ohio last year — is digging through the city archives again. On April 10, the label will release I Travel Alone, a three-CD set featuring Lou Ragland, a forgotten funk and soul singer who fronted a band called Hot Chocolate in the '70s before a British band with the same name became famous with "You Sexy Thing." Ragland's group became Seven Miles High, but the frontman later left for Vegas. The compilation will gather songs from his Cleveland years, and we're guessing it'll be pretty awesome.