Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: John Cale/Old Town School of Folk Music

Experimental, Folk, New Music, Pop, Punk, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


Every list of John Cale’s achievements begins by cementing Cale’s role as a founding member of the Velvet Underground. At the onset of the group, Cale’s avant-garde and contemporary classical credentials lent a grounding circuit to the proceedings, with songwriting credits second only to Lou Reed. The spark in a song like “Venus in Furs” was summoned forth via his viola flourishes, or by his piano playing in “I’m Waiting for the Man.” Cale has continued to be a ceaseless experimenter, ever curious, always listening, and dead set on playing his own version of what’s next. The method has yielded a storied collection of recordings, with some unforgettable songs, including “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend,” an anxiety twitch of a tune that sounds good no matter who sings it. Read the rest of this entry »

Dual Command: Chicago Underground Duo Locates its Locus

Chicago Artists, Experimental, Interviews, Jazz No Comments »

Courtesy Northern Spy Records

By Dave Cantor

This is how much noise two dudes can make.

In an improvising group consisting of just drummer Chad Taylor and cornetist Rob Mazurek, it’d be assumed that intent listening plays a significant role in how the Chicago Underground Duo put together its works. But the truth, each player says, is somewhere between thought and expression.

“One of the first things Cooper-Moore said to me when I started playing with him is that I’m a really good listener,” Taylor writes in an email from Europe, where he’s touring as part of the Eric Revis Quartet. “I took it as a compliment, but he meant it to be an insult. What I have learned over the years is that it is important to listen, but if you listen too much, everything you play is a reaction to something you’ve heard.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »


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 »

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 »

At Attention: Chicago Underground Heroes ONO Refine Their Decades-Old Sonic Mission

Chicago Artists, Experimental, Interviews No Comments »
Photo: Flint Chaney

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 »

Lunch with Joshua: Abrams on New Releases from Natural Information Society in 2014

Chicago Artists, Experimental, Interviews, Jazz No Comments »

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 »

Record Review: “Vårt Solsystem” by Our Solar System

Experimental, Psychedelic, Record Reviews, Rock No Comments »


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 »

Another American Songbook: Bill Orcutt Reimagines the Culture with “Twenty Five Songs”

Blues, Experimental, Folk, New Music, Pop, Record Reviews No Comments »

Seven-Inch-Box-ArtBy 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 »

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 »

Alone, Together: Multi-Instrumentalist Dosh Expands his Experiment in a Vacuum

Experimental No Comments »

dosh1By 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 »