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 »
Photo: Dave Law
By Dave Cantor
Maybe there are better known and better respected heavy psych bands out there, but none with as persistent a vision as Britain’s Hawkwind.
The ensemble has counted dozens of participants, with guitarist and songwriter Dave Brock being the most constant stimulus to recording and touring since 1969. Despite the frequent turnover, Hawkwind has attached itself to a sound equal parts komische and UK psychedelia. Other bands continue to mine the troupe’s approach for inspiration, but Brock and company remain a singular entity among festival freaks and would-be psychedelic cultists.
Hawkwind’s 1975 “Warrior on the Edge of Time” is ready for re-release after spending nearly a decade out of print. While the band’s only chart success came several years earlier, on a track helmed by future Motörhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister, “Warrior” exudes sci-fi weirdness and wild riffing tantamount to anything Sabbath was capable of. Maybe all the supplemental electronics were a bit much at the time of its release, but the up-and-down sprint of “Opa-Loka” should be heavy enough for anyone with a reserved appreciation for synthesizers. Read the rest of this entry »
For all the heady continental philosophy references to Hegel and Foucault that pervade Jenny Hval’s latest effort, “Innocence Is Kinky,” nothing strikes the listener more than how beautifully she can sing about watching internet pornography. Yet the shock of her subject matter is undercut by the complexity of her musical arrangements, handled here by PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish, a compelling mix of Hval’s vocal delicacy cut up by her guitar’s angular aggression. Though the LP’s ambition is unparalleled in the genre, make no mistake: the album at hand remains firmly indie-rock oriented. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a tendency to attach the catch-all label of “world music” to any artist or band with non-Western musical influences. Accurate? Not always. But it’s a simple description to categorize and define a band’s sound. That being said, to classify the music of Slowbots as “world music” or “multicultural” is to immediately confine it to labels that don’t fully reflect this Chicago music collective’s varied influences. Slowbots’ moody ballads owe as much to the Velvet Underground as they do to the traditional Urdu singing that vocalist Yasmin Ali was trained in. In Slowbots you can hear strains of shoegaze, trip-hop, and folk with spacey, fuzzed-out guitar lines weaving their way through the soulful vocals of Ali and Angela Salva’s plaintive violin, all anchored by the R&B-influenced percussion work of Katie Chow. Read the rest of this entry »
When Beethoven died, John Quincy Adams was President of the United States. Illinois had been a state for less than a decade, and Chicago wouldn’t be incorporated for another seven years. That Chicago will play host to the world premiere of a Beethoven love song is astounding by all measures, none more so than the respective age of the composition, older than the city where it will be performed for the first time. To celebrate the momentous occasion, The International Beethoven Project, led by President and Artistic Director George Lepauw, have assembled a broad swath of love-inspired performers, including Wilco’s phenomenal drummer Glenn Kotche, and Gray, a band started by the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The programming often takes musicians to task, asking them to perform variations on a theme, most potently Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony,” which will get special piano and experimental electronic treatment resulting in a great number of entirely new compositions. And though the festival is his namesake, Beethoven is not the only composer represented. Matthias Pintscher, music director of Paris’ Ensemble InterContemporain, will conduct Bach’s “Saint-John’s Passion,” Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” and “Overture to Tristan and Isolde,” and Mozart’s “Gran Partita,” all as a buildup to his take on Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral Symphony).” Read the rest of this entry »