Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Live Review: Kelela/Pitchfork Music Festival

Ambient, Festivals, Live Reviews, R&B No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Of all the Saturday sets, Kelela’s was the couples skate, offering r&b romance for the masses. The audience at the Blue Stage was dominated by women, and Kelela was in absolute control of her rhythm and range, her vocals run through an effects setup manned by her DJ. Throughout the performance, Kelela was personable, offering insights into her craft, and singing well into her highest register with a practiced mastery. Many of Kelela’s tracks feature hand-clap samples, and the impulse was infectious. “Bank Head,” and a wonderful remix of “Keep It Cool” were the highlights, and of course Kelela’s teaser to follow her on Twitter and Instagram to find out where she’ll be performing at an after-show tonight. She let it slip that the venue has a capacity of one-hundred-and-fifty, but also offered to come outside and serenade anyone who doesn’t make it in. I’d take her up on it if I were you. (Kenneth Preski)

Live Review: SZA/Pitchfork Music Festival

Ambient, Festivals, R&B No Comments »

I am all for a good slow jam, but you have to be in the right kind of mood for a set of mostly down-tempo songs, and after The Haxan Cloak, I was not in that mood. However, SZA and her band killed it; her sexy but bubbly stage presence was perfect for Pitchfork (she even took requests!) and she has a killer range (when she goes low, she sounds phenomenal). Her band is tight, not delivering a note-by-note recreation of her hybrid ambient/r&b sound, but a groove drenched translation that worked well live. The crowd seemed amped for it; but they probably didn’t see Haxan Cloak, and were in a better mood than I was. (Keidra Chaney)

Live Review: Hundred Waters/Pitchfork Music Festival

Ambient, Electro, Festivals, Indie Pop, Pop No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Make it through pungent smells of every type, past the army of flat-billed backwards baseball caps, and be welcomed to the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival by Hundred Waters. Lead singer Nicole Miglis proudly announced her first-time festival presence in a natural voice, full of ease and grace, successfully leading her quartet through an ambient electro-pop hula-hoop; music for a pleasant picnic. No better way to start, and the start is the only place where Hundred Waters belongs, their set perhaps a bit too passive for some. In response to the lackadaisical afternoon, Miglis stretched her voice to the highest heights, melodies melting into shifting samples, until the fearless monster of digitized bass bottomed out a crowd ready to dance. Whether or not they actually did is besides the point, Hundred Waters is the archetype for a new generation of musicians, no longer interested in the strictly acoustic world of their elders. Or perhaps Neneh Cherry will prove that the kids have more to learn than they might think. (Kenneth Preski)

Preview: Atlas Sound/Lincoln Hall

Ambient, Drone, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Photo: Sarah Cass

Photo: Sarah Cass

What will Bradford Cox do? This is one of my favorite questions. Known here on his idiosyncratic own as Atlas Sound, the Deerhunter frontman is compelling in ways we’ve long forgotten about in rock ‘n’ roll. Enigmatic, iconoclastic, angsty—Cox is a runaway train in every direction, performing himself against the world like music itself depended upon it. The warm ranges of his genre-roaming discography reflect this schizophrenia, and each Cox release (I sadly report that none accompanies this latest jaunt through Chicago) is an unpredictable new traipse along his singular path through guitar-related history. But what keeps the folks coming, and why this show comes recommended, is what Bradford is at bottom: a lost boy searching for meaning in sound, generously sharing what he’s found. 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 »

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: Oneohtrix Point Never/Constellation

Ambient, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Glitch, New Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDOPN123

Trippy visuals broadcast upon an electronic musician pushing buttons to trigger recorded sounds is about as appealing to the average concertgoer as staying home to stare at a screensaver. Given that experimental linchpin Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never project is carefully conceptualized to forgo the robotic rhythms of dance, it’s alarming that he would continue to arm his android impulse with the same performance tropes as his EDM counterparts. To be sure, Lopatin is after something different, elusive, abstract—he’s trying to get your brain to dance, not your body. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Jan Jelinek & Andrew Pekler/Pritzker Pavilion

Ambient, Experimental, Glitch, IDM No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Part of what’s set to make the Loops and Variations series an interesting idea is the contrast between electronic productions and the outdoor venue. Despite Pritzker Pavilion’s futuristic, shiny bouffant, it’s still an outdoor venue, offering as much space to sprawl out on the grass as in proper seats. Three distinct acts kick off the summer series, with Louisville-based Casino Versus Japan dispensing the easiest-to-palate take on electronica. Chris Clark, a Warp Records affiliate, will work in more frantic dance terms at this outdoor gig. But it’s the Jan Jelinek and Andrew Pekler collaboration that’s bound to be the most intellectually stimulating—and least likely to get folks on their feet, swaying through the Chicago evening. Read the rest of this entry »