Wow, talk about some unexpected, heavy duty musical shape-shifting! In 2017, the Chicago based band The Przmatics set the indie rock world alight with their alternately sensual/dreamy and rockin’/explosive debut album Always Stuck Here in Between, which earned them a “Best Indie Rock 2017” accolade by Indie Rock Café. Driven by the vision of lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Mike Przygoda, the multi-talented group created what I called in my review of that great project “a seamlessly flowing soundscape that includes everything from dream-pop, power pop and alt-rock to soul, folk, gospel and the trippy blur of shoegaze.”
The minute you drop the “digital needle” on their follow-up EP, the insightfully title Still Alive, you’ll notice something’s radically different. Gone are the fuzzy guitars, the ever-jangling rock energy an Przgoda’s awesome, new wavey vocals. Instead, we’re treated to something no less delightful but radically different – a more keyboard oriented female singer songwriter vibe, with more soulful intimacy and less overt production bravura, led by the band’s powerful current lead vocalist Nu Moon.
We can thank the pandemic for this incredible creative shift. In March 2020, the band – also featuring bassist Ausberto Acevedo and vocalist/keyboardist Nick Gutierrez – was all set to go back into the studio when the world shut down. While Przgoda kept writing, at some point he decided he no longer wanted to be the band’s lead singer. Catching wind of fellow Chicago singer/songwriter Moon, he asked her to join, and she brought with her emotionally compelling, Natalie Merchant styled voice, but her deep writing talents as well. Presto, The Przmatics 2.0 were born.
When they returned to the studio in late 2021, they recorded songs by both Przgoda and Moon. Material-wise, they grace us first with the hauntingly personal and heartbreaking mid-tempo ballad “Love Me There” before presenting four eclectic tunes that thematically capture some of the hard truths of the pandemic era and the increasingly violent society we – and more specific to these artists, Chicago – are becoming. The hypnotic, piano and groove driven “I Couldn’t Fall Asleep” artfully tackles the enduring emotion a nurse feels after a day dealing with COVID patients. Moon’s deep vocal genius is most prominently on display on the searing social observation song “Everything is a War,” whose stark view of gun violence concludes with the devastating truth: “Everyone loves the city, but the city loves no one.”
The dreamy, slow burning, acoustic guitar ballad “Chriron” is a personal response to that, with Moon sharing her desire to fly away from the daily madness. The one track that harkens back to The Pzymatics 1.0 is the spirited, freewheeling and funky synth-rock romp “Somewhere Still Alive,” which features dynamic rhythmic guitar jangle, blasts of a feisty Latin horn section. The energy of the music belies the song’s darker theme of pandemic isolation, where we’re all just “hoping all my friends are somewhere still alive and I’m learning to live alone.”
While continuing the legacy of a great indie band, Still Alive also serves as an impactful introduction to a major emerging pop/rock vocal talent.