Photo: Flint Chaney
By Dave Cantor
ONO’s singer says he doesn’t listen to its recordings. It’d make him too nervous. Sometimes, travis says, it’s hard enough just to record. It could be because what travis has written clearly comes from contemplation of his military experience; a track called “Army” finds inclusion on the band’s “Diegesis,” set to be released by Moniker Records. And while he says performance was a part of his childhood, taking the stage in church and at school, the whole thing’s still a trial.
“There’re all of these people doing sound and noise that are there, and that’s been the case ever since I started playing in Cleveland,” he says of performing music, as opposed to the poetry he started on in that Midwestern city during the late 1960s. “I think there are a lot of facets to my personality—in Mississippi that’s called character…There is some self-hatred that I have and when I’m on stage; there are all these other facets I can overlay.” Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Lisa Alvarado
By Kenneth Preski
Joshua Abrams sits at a corner table in a Puerto Rican café. Salsa music from the speaker hanging overhead fills the Chicago restaurant, every song sung in Spanish. On playback, the background music is so good it makes me dance while I transcribe the interview. We discuss sound engineering, which ends with this insight from the musician: “I’m a believer that actual experience can only help things.” Not too many interviews with Abrams exist. He doesn’t seek out notoriety on these grounds. “I prefer when people want to speak about it,” he says. “It’s like, oh, okay, you’ve obviously listened to the music, formed opinions about it, now we can talk about it.” A primer of Abrams’ work, then.
Following a stint on bass for The Roots, Abrams relocated to Chicago from Philadelphia to study at Northwestern University. In the time that followed, he appeared on recordings with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Rob Mazurek, Joan of Arc, Roscoe Mitchell, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Fred Anderson. He was a member of both Town and Country, and Sticks and Stones. He put out an album on Delmark as Josh Abrams, explored hip-hop production under the pseudonym Reminder, and gigged around the city relentlessly, even providing “The Interrupters” film score. For the purposes of our interview, none of this interests me at all. His last three outings as bandleader, two albums with Natural Information Society, one with the Joshua Abrams Quartet, are far and away the most compelling string of local releases in years. Across from me sits an artist at a creative apex, and so I veer our conversation toward capturing insight into the method of expression. Read the rest of this entry »
The transition from static structure to impulsive improvisation is a tricky leap. Most musicians obey either one method or the other, lacking the immense skill and range required to jump back and forth. Given that Sweden’s Dungen is a band with a knack for executing careful compositions, psychedelic without being aimless, structured without being suffocating, it comes as a surprise that their bassist Mattias Gustavsson would opt to create a ten-piece ensemble to explore the outer limits of his craft. Though he insists the group is leaderless—they all don white cloaks on the cover and on the gatefold photo to underscore their uniformity—the rhythm section is the pivotal force anchoring the impromptu sets. The vinyl-only release is split between two recording sessions featuring different players that somehow manage to achieve the same effect: orchestral rock with ethereal aspirations. The effort succeeds in large part despite the confusing cosmology (the asteroid belt is awarded an astrological symbol, there is a Hebrew astrology chart backed by verse from a Persian poet on the record sleeve) and one must credit the achievement to a group of talented musicians intent on subsuming their egoism in favor of collective expression. Read the rest of this entry »
By Kenneth Preski
The most common revelation upon hearing Bill Orcutt play is that the acoustic guitar has never sounded this way before. Backwoods blues at such a frenetic pace is nowhere to be found in the history of recorded music. Orcutt turns improvisation into instant songwriting. One can hear him struggling to work out the melody in his own voice, note by note, guided by a phantom precision lasting milliseconds, before the moan from his four-string guitar or his throat greets the listener with the force of a fire truck; the sound of which whirls by in “When You Wish Upon a Star.” That’s Orcutt calling from a distance, sitting alone in a wooden windowed room, minimal recording equipment by his side as he rails out the new American songbook.
The approach coalesced on this year’s “A History of Every One,” Orcutt’s take on the hackneyed songs of yore. “White Christmas” and “Zip A Dee Doo Dah” are among the tunes showcased, chosen by the artist to juxtapose two competing threads in American popular culture: bourgeois privilege and the legacy of slavery. Side A closes with the aforementioned “White Christmas,” the best-selling single of all time as sung by perennial crooner Bing Crosby; and Side B opens with “Zip A Dee Doo Dah,” a 1946 Oscar-winning tune from Disney’s “Song of the South,” a film steeped in enough racial controversy to prevent the corporation from ever releasing it on home media. Read the rest of this entry »
Ambient, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock, Krautrock, Minimalism, New Music, Post-Rock, Rock, Space Pop
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 »
By Dave Cantor
There might not be a middle class in a few years. Thomas Friedman said so in the New York Times. So while we’re all waiting for that crushing future, a generation’s gotta figure out how to get over. And Minneapolis’ Martin Dosh seems to have succeeded.
He’s mostly just Dosh now–his last name serving as a tag for all performances he’s inclined to take part in, whether it’s a solo gig or as part of ensemble performance. “Milk Money,” the percussionist’s latest album, he says, is the result of a concerted effort to do something different, and something in a collaborative vacuum. It’s aurally apparent from the disc’s opening four minutes. “We Are the Worst” doesn’t feature any sort of easily recognizable beat—an odd move for a guy so associated with a drum kit.
“It’s always been me and an extension of me–my greater musical family in Minneapolis,” Dosh says of his name’s abstraction. “My longest collaborator is Mike Lewis, who recorded on “Pure Trash,” “Lost Take” and “Tommy”–and he did all the tours I did from 2006 to 2010. … We had a cool telepathic language; we pulled off a full-band sound with two guys.” Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Photo: Rikkard Häggbom
By Kenneth Preski
At the forefront of Herculean horn playing stands a sweaty Mats Gustafsson, eternally finishing up his latest saxophone symphony. The prolific Swede performs with enough muscularity to rival Schwarzenegger. He plays with the force of a jet engine, and given his recording schedule, he’s busier than most airports. Just shy of age fifty, this year alone Gustafsson has contributed to fourteen different releases, ranging from playful free jazz collaborations with Chicagoan Ken Vandermark on “Verses,” to noise experiments with Merzbow on “Cuts,” to duo work with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore on “Vi Är Alla Guds Slavar.” His unceasing care for the craft has yielded two outfits in particular, Fire!, and The Thing, which have both garnered worldwide acclaim.
Fresh off remarkable recordings with experimental stalwarts Jim O’Rourke and Oren Ambarchi, Fire! released two full-length records in 2013—one as a thirty-piece orchestra, and another as a slimmed-down trio—both efforts among the finest free jazz releases this year. An upcoming album from The Thing, appropriately titled “BOOT!” sounds like jazz and punk got into a street fight. It’s a surprising set from a band whose last outing was a collaboration with vocalist Neneh Cherry (yes, that Neneh Cherry, of “Buffalo Stance” fame), a collection of unpredictable avant-garde jazz covers from source material as desperate as The Stooges and Madvillain. The Thing, after all, formed to explore the work of Neneh Cherry’s stepfather, legendary trumpeter Don Cherry, whose methodology was firmly embedded in experimental expression. Read the rest of this entry »
Fuck Buttons got their band’s name by filtering their endless textural destroyers into colorful child’s-toys-turned-aural-tidal-wave-triggers. They wanted to be as playful as they are visceral. When I listen to their music through my earbuds at my work-desk, the wondrous build of their instrumentals turns my rote data entry into the staircase to outer space I’ve always wanted it to be. I dream of being trapped inside a tiny room with Fuck Buttons—Benjamin John Power and Andrew Hung, two Brits—and letting them have their way with my ears and even my body; I want these tones to consume me. Read the rest of this entry »
If there’re folks who sit down and listen to a Goblin album from beginning to end, bless ’em. For the most part, the Italian prog ensemble trucks in truncated soundtrack stuffs best suited to murder scenes and creeping ghouls. Hooking up with the culty Dario Argento for his best-known works, the band earned acclaim in its own country immediately, seeping out slowly into the rest of the world’s consciousness as the director’s “Suspiria” became requisite viewing for film enthusiasts. Thing is, when listening to the soundtrack as a whole, quick transitions meant to signal something visual are left flailing on their own—“Black Forest” and its jazz-cum-rock guitar jam included. No doubt, these dudes shred, but if shredding is all it took for a performer to be enticing, we’d all be psyched for some new Yngwie Malmsteen (Sorry, Yngwie.). Read the rest of this entry »