Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: How to Dress Well/Lincoln Hall

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

Photo: Jesse Lirola


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 »


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 »


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 »


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 »


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 »

Record Review: “Sumud” by Niyaz

Ambient, Electro, Electronic/Dance, Record Reviews, World Music No Comments »


On their new album, the Persian-inspired trio formed by lead singer Azam Ali, multi-instrumentalist Loga Ramin Torkian and electronic musician Carmen Rizzo sought inspiration from the current turmoil in the Middle East.  Their third album, “Sumud” translates from the Arabic as “Steadfastness.”

The music carries their signature sound—a blend of traditional Middle Eastern instruments with Rizzo’s electronic textures that serve as a canvas for Ali’s heartfelt, often mournful vocals. The music is accessible even to those who have no clue of what the words are saying. Read the rest of this entry »

Hypnotic Geotic: The Subtle Side Project of Will “Baths” Wiesenfeld

Ambient, Electronic/Dance No Comments »

Anyone who attended the Pitchfork Music Festival may remember the cheerful, intoxicating music of Baths, otherwise known as Will Wiesenfield. Baths is Wiesenfeld’s day job, generating buoyant and crisp beats worthy of dancing, while Geotic is very appropriately the night job, as the sound is much more demure and dark.

During the Pitchfork Music Festival, we asked Wiesenfeld to explain his style to people who hadn’t heard it. “I have a sentence!” he exclaimed, laughing at his ready explanation. “I say it’s songwriting from an electronic perspective, in that I’m incorporating very standard things like verse-chorus-verse and human subject matter and that sort of thing, but that the palette of sound is much different than a normal song.” That palette varies between Baths and Geotic, but with the latter, the sound is undeniably ambient. Read the rest of this entry »

Remember Your Youth: M83 looks to the 1980s for inspiration

Ambient, Electro No Comments »

By Tom Lynch

A band named after a galaxy would sound like this.

M83—abbreviation for the Messier 83 intermediate galaxy—the (mostly) solo project from France’s Anthony Gonzalez, has been upwardly gazing, when not strictly gazing at its shoes, since 2001. Gonzalez and then M83 partner Nicolas Fromageau released their self-titled debut, but it wasn’t until 2003’s “Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts” that the band gained serious attention, as the album’s overwhelming offering of half ambient/half punishing electronica showed signs of genius. With “Before the Dawn Heals Us,” Gonzalez’s next effort, the promise was delivered, as he kept his electronic roots and introduced more melody and, yes, more vocals, soft and whispery if not absent altogether. The album’s monstrous scope, a colossal undertaking of soft light and symphonic warmth, was breathtaking.
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Spin Control: Loving the Web

Ambient, Chicago Artists, DJ, News and Dish No Comments »

Thanks to the rise of the Internet and mp3 technology, music is now more accessible than ever. Delivery can be instantaneous, and in many cases free, allowing people a new way to access music that they might never have heard before. Enter, a Web site that is dedicated to the personal musical tastes of Brad Loving, a local Chicago DJ who performs regularly throughout the city.
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