Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Live Review: Mutual Benefit/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Folk, Folk-rock, Indie Pop, Live Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Usually the easiest way to get me to exit a live music situation is by mentioning the word “folk.” Despite my bias, indie-folk outfit Mutual Benefit won me over with their shimmering synth and guitar textures, soaring violin and gorgeous male-and-female vocal harmonies. In addition to an unusually lovely honey-dripped tenor, bandleader Jordan Lee has jokes—lots of them. He kept the growing Green Stage crowd chuckling in-between songs with his wry humor. (“We’ve always dreamed of opening for Slowdive and Kendrick Lamar.”) Not a bad way to kick off Pitchfork’s final day. (Keidra Chaney)

Live Review: Beck/Pitchfork Music Festival

Alt-Rock, Festivals, Folk, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, Live Reviews, Rock 2 Comments »
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Photo: Robert Loerzel

Beck seemed to take a message from the words flashing on the Pitchfork Fest’s video screens as the previous act, Giorgio Moroder, finished his set: “HOT STUFF.” Beck and his backing musicians practically bounded onto the stage, immediately allaying any fears that this was going to be a morose and mellow set. Even though Beck’s latest album “Morning Phase” is filled with the sad-bastard variety of Beck music, he apparently decided not to start off his show by moaning about isolation. Instead, he delivered something more like a greatest-hits set, starting off with “Devils Haircut” and gleefully tossing in “Loser” halfway through the show. By the time he finally got around to playing some of those new downbeat numbers, he’d earned the right to moan a little bit—and he sounded almost majestic doing it. And then it was back to more of the hot stuff. (Robert Loerzel)

Live Review: Sun Kil Moon/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Folk, Folk-rock 1 Comment »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

The delicate, meditative songs Mark Kozelek records with his band Sun Kil Moon are the sort of music that can get lost in the air at an outdoor festival. Up close to the Green Stage, it felt like an intimate show, with Kozelek’s silky nylon-string guitar notes accenting his unusually personal lyrical musings about things like watching Steve McQueen movies with his dad. The rest of the band tinkered around the edges of Kozelek’s quiet plucking, creating an effect something like a chamber quartet playing jazzy folk-rock. As exquisite as that sounded, the crowd was chatty just a short distance farther away from the stage. It was the sort of festival set that seemed either beautiful or boring, depending on where you happened to be in the park. (Robert Loerzel)

Live Review: Sharon Van Etten/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Folk, Folk-rock, Live Reviews, Rock 2 Comments »

 

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

As she sang her songs of yearning, Sharon Van Etten paused to mention the fact that she’d played once before at Pitchfork. That was four years ago, and she was barely known at the time, playing an acoustic set all by herself early in the day. She sounded a little tentative and fragile back then. This time, as she introduced one of her old songs, “Save Yourself,” she reminisced: “I tried to play this song solo and it was hard to do. And now I can’t imagine doing it without these guys.” Indeed, her dynamic band seemed essential to her sound this time, turning what might have been pensive folk songs into sprawling, multicolored rock—and she sounded all the more confident in this musical setting. Van Etten sounded fierce in “Serpents,” driven by the song’s hypnotic bass and drum lines. She closed with “Every Time the Sun Comes Up,” the song that also ends her new record “Are We There,” and the passion of the tune’s mantra-like chorus felt palpable on this sunny summer afternoon. (Robert Loerzel)

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2014

Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Folk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, R&B, Rock, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Chicago, you are a big, bold, beautiful city of infinite complexity. Your historical heritage, your social and political upheaval, your segregation, violence and corruption have birthed an incredible wealth of musical expression. It’s by virtue of these artists that our community confronts and escapes the mistakes of our metropolis. And so our publication listens intently, offering a nuanced dialogue with the musicians who craft our culture. Yet, once a year, we redirect our approach to the opposing swing of the pendulum. We zoom-out where we would normally zoom-in. This list offers a broad-stroke survey of those Chicago musicians whose current cultural currency is readily represented to the city and to the rest of the world, living artists whose quantifiable influence echoes their effect. Some big names are missing, some rankings seem arbitrary, but it’s toward these acts, firmly Chicagoan, that we look when we seek out the spirit of home. Where our words might fail, the music will not. (Kenneth Preski)

Music 45 was written by Kenneth Preski, Dennis Polkow, John Wilmes, Jessica Burg, Robert Szypko, Eric Lutz, Keidra Chaney, Reilly Gill, Corey Hall and Dave Cantor

All photos taken on location at The Hideout by Joe Mazza of BraveLux. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Cat Power and Rufus Wainwright/Ravinia

Folk-rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDCat Power

For readers who have never been to Ravinia, this summer-long festival is the oldest outdoor music festival in the United States and is an excellent excuse to pack up a car with a fancy dinner-and-table setup, then drive to Highland Park and drink wine under a summer sunset with your favorite people. Seriously, I saw Steely Dan last summer and there were people eating sushi with a full-out candelabra on their table. Overdo it and you’ll fit right in. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Conor Oberst with Dawes/Metro

Alt-Country, Emo, Folk, Folk-rock, Indie Rock No Comments »

 

Conor Oberst 2Conor Oberst has miraculously survived the era of Bright Eyes despite the morose songs he wrote during his stint as the King of Emo. Oberst’s groups since the project have adopted a more western-folk influence, beginning with the aptly titled Monsters of Folk. He has also toured and recorded with the Mystic Valley Band, embracing the influence of an angrier Neil Young, and producing a full, clean, Americana sound. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Record Review: “Another Generation of Slaves” by Greg Ashley

Folk, Folk-rock, Indie Pop, Jazz, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDGreg Ashley Another Generation of Slaves

Despite the presence of a seductively strummed acoustic guitar paired with the flair of Dixieland jazz clarinet and piano, Greg Ashley’s latest is anything but easy listening. “Another Generation of Slaves” confronts the listener on the bleakest terms imaginable, and the battleground is lyricism laced with acerbic, existential posturing and pondering. Couplets like “Bow down to the Western world a slave is born, / embrace your complacency it’s your uniform,” from “Medication #7″ would sound just as at home on a crust punk record as they do here, and that’s what makes this recording so remarkable. Ashley clearly understands that the singer-songwriter craft has little to do with conjuring mediocre melodies for their own sake, and focuses much of his attention on spitting lines that bite and growl with all the energy of a feral dog. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Woods/Subterranean

Experimental, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDWoods

Deep from years of lo-fi wilderness emerges the latest from Woods, “With Light And With Love.” A brighter, more wistful punch than the jagged, buried pop-whispers we’re used to from this outfit, it’s also the band’s most human record. Like a nod to Roger McGuinn, they amble along bluesy bars on the opening track “Shepherd,” reaching out to smiling, commonplace lovers in their neighborhood saloons. The strummy groove of “Moving To The Left” considers directions literally and existentially all at once—a sign they are drawing just a bit too much from the 1960s ethos they’ve previously mined for just the right touch of sunniness. Make no mistake, though: these boys are still a joy. Read the rest of this entry »