Subversive Chicago rock outfit Famous Laughs immerse you in jams on Total Icon

For more than a decade, Chicago multi-instrumentalist and engineer Jake Acosta has been a key player in a loose federation of subversive musicians. He’s done a lot of crucial work running record labels too: beginning in 2011, he’s released a heap of cassettes via Teen River, and then in 2012 he launched Lake Paradise, which has focused on vinyl. Acosta’s labels have ushered music into the world by some of my favorite Chicago indie artists of the past decade, among them rambunctious psych-pop unit Mines, gentle singer-songwriter Julie Byrne, and mellow rocker J Fernandez. Until this month, the most recent Lake Paradise release was a 2018 EP from ambitious local rock group Fran, but Acosta has ended his label’s dry spell with a trippy album from his group Famous Laughs. On the new Total Icon, Acosta wraps up plinking synths and spry percussion in his cracking, weathered guitars. His engrossing six-string landscapes submerge you gradually, as though you’re acclimating your body to a pool by walking toward the deep end inch by inch. Acosta makes wild melodic twists and turns, but he does it gingerly enough that you can luxuriate in them—and the carefulness of his playing doesn’t let his energy leak away. On “Blues of a Kind,” his dry baritone singing plays off lighter guest vocals from Fran’s Maria Jacobson, anchoring the song as shaggy guitars burn through feral fits of anger and circle around an evanescent calm—the song’s sudden moves will keep you hooked, and they might even surprise you into a laugh.

Famous Laughs’s Total Icon is available through Bandcamp.

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