The Return of the 1900s

On first listen, the new album by the 1900s, Return of the Century, sounds not quite as lush as the Chicago group’s earlier orchestral pop. But it doesn’t take long for these 11 songs to reveal their catchy little intricacies. This is a beautiful pop record — pop in the old-fashioned style, with well-crafted melodies and arrangements packed into songs lasting just a few minutes each, with the sort of love-song lyrics that seem like poetic glimpses into someone’s diary. The 1900s have gone through some lineup changes since putting out their debut, Cold & Kind, in 2007, but the band still has three great vocalists — Edward Anderson,Caroline Donovan and Jeanine O’Toole — and the blend of those voices continues to define the sound of the 1900s. Violinist Andra Kulans and bassist Charlie Ransford are still with the band, too, doing the crucial work of filling out the bright sound.

The new songs sounded strong when the 1900s played Friday (Dec. 3) at the Empty Bottle. In fact, while Return of the Century is a bit on the mellow side, these songs had more rock in them live — partly because Anderson added a touch more fuzz to his guitar lines. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the 1900s over the last several years, and they haven’t failed yet to put on a good performance. It was fabulous to see them in action again.

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The 1900s at Subterranean

The 1900s were just as good as I remember them being back in June at Schubas – and now that I’ve had time to absorb their excellent EP Plume Delivery, the songs meant that much more to me. They’ve found a sweet spot between wispy ’60s pop and more rocking rock. (Is “rocking rock” redundant?) But the most pressing question is: When is this bunch going to put out a full-length album? I asked guitarist Edward Anderson that question before the show, and he said the 1900s are heading into rehearsals and the studio in the fall – well, actually NOW – and they hope to have an album out next spring. I can’t wait.

As far as shooting photos of the 1900s last night – could Subterranean be any darker? Maybe if the power went out completely. At least this is one photogenic band. The night started with an annoying set of DJ music and onstage calisthenics, with lots of nostalgia (or ironic nostalgia??) for the 1980s pop music that I hated when I lived through it in the 1980s and still hate today. After the 1900s, headliner Bobby Conn played, but I was out of there by then.