Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Record Review: “Blank Project” by Neneh Cherry

Dance Pop, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Industrial, Pop, R&B, Record Reviews, Soul, Techno, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDnenehcherry

Is “Blank Project” a jazz, soul, art or pop album?  Listening to the disc attentively one could easily say all of the above, as the Swedish-born singer Neneh Cherry (known by mainstream music fans for her collaboration with Senegalese star Youssou N’ Dour) does her thing on her first solo release since 1996. Backed solely by Four Tet’s mix of percussion and electronic sounds, the music grabs you from the beginning with the Afro-inspired “Across The Water” and doesn’t let go until the very last track. Read the rest of this entry »

In Memoriam: Frankie Knuckles, 1955-2014

Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, House, In Memoriam, News and Dish 1 Comment »

Frankie-KnucklesBy Keidra Chaney

There was no better gauge of Frankie Knuckles’ influence on the global electronic music community than when word of the DJ/producer’s passing hit social media on the evening of March 31st. Within a half hour after the news of his death was first posted online–even before it was officially confirmed by journalists–Twitter and Facebook were flooded with condolences, memories and musical tributes. He was born in 1955 in The Bronx as Francis Nicholls, but in so many ways Frankie Knuckles belonged to Chicago. He made his mark on the city’s underground dance scene by spinning at The Warehouse in the late 1970s (where house music got its name) and became one of the first marquee names in the electronic music scene. Frankie Knuckles was widely known as the “Godfather of House.” It was an esteemed title he accepted with great responsibility during his career, as he served as an ambassador for house music in clubs across the world, but even that title understates the enduring imprint of his work on contemporary EDM and club culture.

Knuckles once referred to house as “disco’s revenge.” As a genre, the birth of house music was somewhat of a happy accident, a response to disco’s waning mainstream popularity in the late seventies and early eighties. In a 2011 radio interview on BBC 6, Knuckles attributes the invention of house as, quite simply, a career move. “It all came from me… trying to keep my dance floor interested and coming to the club every week after disco was declared ‘dead.’” Knuckles said. “I was already playing R&B, it was just a matter of me refashioning so that it could fit the dance floor.” Inspired by Philly Soul, the Europop and Italian disco scenes in Europe, and his own experimentation with reel-to-reel track editing and drum machines, Knuckles created a gloriously pulsating patchwork of genres that became its own original, influential style. You can hear his masterwork in the hypnotic synth of his seminal 1987 track “Your Love,” or the driving hi-hat of 1989’s eternal dance floor anthem, “Move Your Body.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: How to Dress Well/Lincoln Hall

Ambient, R&B No Comments »
Photo: Jesse Lirola

Photo: Jesse Lirola

RECOMMENDED

Tom Krell, aka How to Dress Well, isn’t just another sensitive guy making sensitive-guy music. He’s an ambassador for the human experience, not just for big touchstones like love and loss, but for the surprise emotions that come with accidentally discovering an unforeseen understanding of life’s events. Labeled by most as an R&B singer, his nontraditional sounds and lyricisms set him apart from his contemporaries such as Frank Ocean and the Weeknd, who typically orbit the time-honored realm of drugs, sex and shapes of the female anatomy.

Having never really had a formal musical background, Krell’s popularity grew from songs he recorded and uploaded on his blog. Then in 2010, Portland’s Lefse Records approached him to put together an album. He offered them “Love Remains,” a constellation of his spirit made from the very best of the EPs posted on his blog. Symphonic, sentimental and sorrowful throughout, “Love Remains” established Krell as an original and meaningful artist and led him to collaborate with like-minded artists such as Jacques Greene, Active Child, Shlohmo and Forest Swords. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Earth/Empty Bottle

Ambient, Drone, Experimental, Metal, Minimalism, Noise No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDearth-group

When Black Sabbath abandoned the name Earth, it was left for Dylan Carlson’s crew to assume two decades later. Earth’s mythology and music from the early nineties have proven to be equally formidable forces. Their seminal “Earth 2” is regarded as the first drone metal album, though their stint on Sub Pop is considered the beneficial byproduct of a close friendship with Kurt Cobain. Carlson and Cobain were former roommates, confidants and co-dependent drug users; their camaraderie culminating in Cobain’s suicide via a shotgun purchased in Carlson’s name. Two more albums were issued on Sub Pop, the epic distortion excursions of their genre-defining masterpiece tapered to shorter outbursts edging toward standard song length, replete with a Hendrix cover. And then, radio silence. In recent interviews, Carlson has credited this lost time to a continued struggle with drug addiction and depression, but by the mid-aughts, Earth had begun playing out again, revitalized by the inclusion of Carlson’s wife Adrienne Davies on drums, and supported by the successes of bands like Sunn O))) who owe much to the genre’s forebears. Read the rest of this entry »

Still Spinning Strong: Getting to the Heart of Soul Togetherness USA

Chicago Artists, DJ, Festivals, Funk, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Whitney Ross

Photo: Whitney Ross

By Jessica Burg

The universal truth that music is best when shared remains unequivocal. For the last forty years, folks have traveled distances far and wide in pursuit of one of America’s original treasures, 1960s soul music. Over weekend-long parties they celebrate camaraderie, record trading, drinking (for some, not all) and most importantly, dancing till the wee hours of the morning. There are two standout characteristics to this little-known tradition, which has come to be known as a Northern Soul weekender. The first is that the songs they play aren’t the familiar standbys most often affiliated with the era—the Temptations or Otis Redding. The second is that you’d be hard-pressed to find anything like it going down on American soil. In fact, you’d have to make the stretch across the pond to England or another part of Europe. That was until Pilsen residents Kevin Jones and Brenda Hernandez held the first ever Soul Togetherness USA event in 2013. This year’s weekender incorporates four nights of free (that’s right, free!) local, national and international DJs, a record swap and Soul Serenade bus tour, making it the only bash of its kind in the States with the exception of Soul Trip USA, a European export. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Icona Pop/Allstate Arena

Dance Pop, DJ, Electro, Electronic/Dance, House, Pop No Comments »
Photo: Fredrik Etoall

Photo: Fredrik Etoall

RECOMMENDED

Electronic DJ duo Icona Pop make tracks that sound exactly the way pop music of today should. Run, leap and tumble beats soar through starry, energetic electro-synth melodies, and land on their feet in the foggy midst of a humid, glitter-coated dance floor. When Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo met at a party in the suburbs of Stockholm in 2009, a connection surged almost instantly as the two discovered they shared nearly identical tastes in music. Within a few days they were writing songs and booking gigs, and in that same year the two moved to London to cut their first studio record with TEN Music Group. There, they met London’s Charli XCX who shared a song written for her by another Swede, Patrik Berger. The three women collaborated and came up with the international hit, “I Love It.” The song was released as the second single from their self-titled album in May 2012 and again as the first single off of their second album, “This Is…Icona Pop” in September 2013. As for the time in-between, the song’s commercial success flourished. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Deejay Earl/Chicago Cultural Center

Chicago Artists, DJ, EDM, Electronic/Dance No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDdjearl

The year 2010 marked when Chicago’s own footwork dance music was dubbed by the media as the music of the future. Competitive and super frenetic at 160 bpm, this juke derivative has evolved to cater specifically to the dance style itself, aiming to ignite a chemical reaction within the foot, faster than a tap dancer with a gun to his head. At the forefront, Chicago’s TEKLIFE crew has forged the way for footwork music to flourish outside the hometown and take hold of the EDM scenes in LA, London and Paris just to name a few. Among the crew them is Deejay Earl, younger in age but with the tenacity and work output of someone you’d expect to be older than twenty-three. Last year he grasped a handful of milestones: headlining LA’s Boiler Room, countless internet releases and TEKLIFE colabs including a thirty-one track album on SoundCloud, two EP releases on an American and European indie label, as well as a hike in demand from nightclubs across Europe. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Darkside/Metro

Ambient, Downtempo, Dubstep, Electronic/Dance, IDM No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDdarkside

From pilotless killing machines to the surveillance state realized, there is no shortage of topical political source material for artists engaging with technology, making the biggest electronic music trend of 2013 all the more puzzling. With greater possibilities for the radicalization of computer software and synthesizers than ever before, the most successful electronic acts chose instead to retreat into the mundane. Daft Punk released “Random Access Memories” to widespread commercial acclaim, a feel-good disco retread blessed by a resurgent Nile Rodgers; leaving the remaining widespread critical acclaim for Darkside, featuring much-hyped wunderkind Nicolas Jaar’s production and Dave Harrington’s noodling guitar. The duo did their best to invert the trend by altering the mood, but since the yesteryear-leaning technique remained consistent across their complete album remix of “Random Access Memories,” expectations for their debut full-length were tempered. Read the rest of this entry »

Celestial Celebration: Ken Camden on Kranky’s Twentieth

Ambient, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock, Krautrock, Minimalism, New Music, Post-Rock, Rock, Space Pop No Comments »
Ken Camden

Ken Camden

By Kenneth Preski

Kranky is the most high-profile, under the radar record label that calls Chicago home. For the past twenty years, founder Joel Leoschke has fostered a stable of uncompromising, unpretentious artists whose work may have gone unreleased were it not for his uncanny knack for curation. The thread drawing together outfits as disparate as Deerhunter and Stars of the Lid has united musicians worldwide under one umbrella: part ambient, part electronic, part black earth rock ‘n’ roll. And “Black Earth” might be the best description available for the abstract sound Leoschke is after. As the title of local quartet Implodes’ full-length debut suggests, there’s an engrossing mysticism at work in much of the Kranky repertoire. The solo recordings of Implodes’ guitarist Ken Camden echoes this boundless energy, but even he is quick to acknowledge the fleeting nature of his alchemy, and his hesitancy to share it.

“I’ve always been making recordings at home and stuff, but I’m kinda bashful and wasn’t about to slip [Leoschke] a tape or anything.”

Cajoling artists of this ilk is an elusive art form, something Leoschke has perfected. Somehow he’s managed to cater to the cagey, artists wise enough to avoid making a deal when they needn’t, musicians hungry for harmony on a cosmic scale rather than the fleeting fame offered by superficial scenesters. Art of this kind often has a unique origin story. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Frankie Knuckles/Smart Bar

Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, House No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDKnuckles

The night before Thanksgiving is the biggest bar night of the year. Beyond the omnipresent college students with a semester of binge-drinking under their ever-expanding belts relishing the opportunity to flaunt their newly minted fake IDs, the night offers a chance to catch up with old friends before spending the following day filling up on food to the brink of discomfort. Spent wisely, the evening is a free-form homecoming for adults in mental preparation for the familiar apprehension that only Thanksgiving with the family can offer. Looking to celebrate a return to sweet home Chicago? There is no better bet than boogieing down with the beat-maestro himself, a man so Chicago he has a street named after him, The Godfather of House Music, Mr. Frankie Knuckles. Smart Bar promises to be packed with Chicagoans of every stripe, as this event is part of the Queen! series, events that openly cater to the LGBT community. Fresh off the legalization of same-sex marriage, the celebration will be a culmination of the jubilation that has been bubbling around the LGBT family since the House vote on November 5. Read the rest of this entry »