You don't always need a catchy name and strong cult following to be a great band. All you really need is a banjo-toting lead singer and extensive touring.
For Illinois, that formula works. Hailing from Bucks County, Pa., Illinois released their second EP, What the Hell Do I know?, in March and have since spent most of 2007 touring the country. On October 30, the band will kick off another US tour with Menomena and Hold Steady, bringing in the Christmas holidays with a whirlwind of support for What the Hell Do I know?
As a result of the extensive touring, Illinois is starting to get some buzz around the indie rock community, and their strong musical style is one reason why. Although What the Hell Do I Know? only clocks in at barely twenty minutes, the album mixes an eclectic blend of down-home banjo-infused hillbilly rock with indie staples such as keyboards, synthesizers, and jangly guitar riffs.
Sure, the band could use a geography lesson, but other than that, this is a group of musicians well educated on how to write catchy songs. What the Hell Do I Know? kicks off strong with "Alone Again," a guitar-heavy song with an airy style that takes the listener to greater heights. Juxtaposing melancholy with beauty, lead singer Chris Archibald engages the listener with all the "ba badaba ba ba's" needed for a bubblegum pop record with lyrics of loss: "Keep staring at your cracked ceiling / this loneliness that you're feeling." On the surface, "Alone Again" is an uplifting song, but has a darker undercurrent.
The second song, "Nosebleed," is a banjo-infused song that puts anything Modest Mouse has ever done with the banjo to shame. One of the strengths of "Nosebleed" is that it has an original sound without falling too far off the radar; you can hear the band's musical influences, but at the same time, you can tell Illinois is willing to do its own thing.