The Underground: The Braves

The Underground: The Braves

By Molly Fleming, Staff Writer

“The Underground” is a music/CD review for musicians who have less than two gigs a month and offer public access to samples of their music, e.g., promo CDs, Internet samples, etc. If the band has more than two gigs a month, but those gigs are house- party shows, then they are also eligible for “The Underground”. The CD or tape does not have to be in wide circulation, but must be readily available to the public at the shows, or through request. Garage bands and struggling musicians may send their samples and brief bio to Molly Fleming at The Rock River Times, 128 N. Church St. 61101, Rockford, IL.

“The Underground” salutes yet another group in Rockford’s unappreciated music scene: The Braves. Although this indie-rock/college pop band has been in the works for a little more than a year, in that short space of time, they have performed sporadic gigs at local venues, plenty of city and campus gigs, have released an album entitled That’s the Hot Part, have gone on tour and have signed to a record label in Chicago.

And the band is…

Joe Reina is listed in the CD leaflet as “singer/a little guitar,” but he is also the songwriter for every track (except four and 14, by Shawn Ross). His voice complements the instruments well as he sings in a distracted manner that is seemingly separated from reality. Jesse Carmona on the drums lends atmospheric marks of reference for bass player Shawn Ross. Both Kevin Scwhitters and Phil Goudreau on guitars fit in tightly to the mood of the groups maturely emotionless sound. Guest musicians on That’s the Hot Part include Dave DeCastris on piano and Erica Toledo on cello.


The Braves played their first show in October 2001 at Club 505. They were a melding of two members of God’s Reflex and three members of The Evergreen Trio. Since then, they have performed at Bacchus, The Divine Cup, and C.J.’s Lounge in Rockford. They have also done the Double Door, the Empty Bottle and other venues in Chicago, as well as gone on tour on the East Coast and Canada. Recently, The Braves signed to record label Johann’s Face in Chicago, under which they have released a 7-inch this month. The new album expected later this year will be available at most independent music stores in the area.

The key points of The Braves

In a musical era swamped with lyrics containing little to no meaning, severity or genuine import, but are masked by symbolic words to hide their triviality, The Braves shine through with no pretensions. Instead of writing about love, events or intellectual happenings, the band uses words as media for phonetic aesthetics. In other words, they use sounds that are commonly recognized as “words” but are not rationally linked together as meaningful sentences and ideas—rhythmically, however, they make sense. For example, on track 11, “Young Lies”: “poet sad days, I first plead, though the pillow says, the red men glow, drunken off a sad song, bleeding like a curse.” Unless you are Reina or Edward Gorey in an abstract mood, these words are going to mean very little to the average non-interpretive listener. The songs, however, are not wrapped up in personal introspections un-relatable to an audience; if they are, they are unrecognizably so, and it does not matter.

The instrumentation of The Braves is fairly typical to the indie-rock scene—droning guitars with a durge-like quality and an apathetic voice singing about unclear topics. What is atypical to the particular genre is that there is no whining in the guitar, and the whole sound is straightforward and clean. The image that springs to mind is five 16 year olds staying up late in a dark basement smoking cigarettes, listening to Yo La Tengo and hating it. There is a bitter quality to The Braves that verges on sullen, but is too mature to actually be branded with that description. They are a sophisticated group with smudges of dirt to add color and texture to an otherwise bland genre.

Who DO they sound like?

This is usually the part where this writer compares the band to another mainstream group to help the reader relate the music to something familiar. However, as most indie-rock groups sound pretty much the same, there would be no point, other than noting that The Braves have brought a less mind-numbingly driven form of pop/rock to the Rockford music scene than what is going around in non-classifiable rock these days. They are unlike most indie rock bands as they transcend the boring monotone breast beating of Pedro The Lion and other similar groups, and maintain interest throughout their songs by contrast in rhythm, amplification and distortion. Reina commented that the group was pretty much indie rock with a focus on “normal old rock.” Where the “normal old rock” aspects come in is unclear sometimes, but that doesn’t stop The Braves from sounding clean, clear and interesting while enforcing the title of “indie-rock” as a legitimate label.

With all this background, how do The Braves qualify for “The Underground”? They still play two gigs or less in the Rockford area and have yet to be recognized by the RAMI committee or by any other entertainment promotional group as a “big name.” However, they will be performing at The Fireside Bowl in Chicago Jan. 22, and Club Kryptonite in Rockford Feb. 22, where you can grab a copy of their last CD That’s The Hot Part, and perhaps their newest (name to be announced).

Last word

Reina emphasizes that The Braves are NOT an emo band, which is something to consider when attending their shows. Pick up a copy of That’s the Hot Part at Kryptonite in February and check out the neat artwork on the inside by Marieke McClendon. You can contact The Braves for bookings and comments at, or mail them “hate mail” to 2313 Melrose St., Apt. 1s, Rockford, 61103.

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