Still from the documentary “Parallax Sounds”
By Kenneth Preski
Every critical outlet must justify its insights. The reasoning should extend beyond a simple citing of sources, should move past the seduction of poetic prose, and burrow down into the very tenets of knowledge that the writing seeks to embody. For a variety of equally abstract and profound reasons, this enterprise is in a badly confused state with respect to music journalism. What’s now required is a nuanced dialogue with musicians to re-appropriate the method, to re-envision the approach in favor of the artist and the audience. To that end, Steve Albini’s thoughts are invaluable. Beyond his work as a prolific sound engineer, Albini is a university-trained journalist and a seasoned musician. His band Shellac is on the eve of releasing “Dude Incredible” at a time when traditional operations for the music and publishing industries have been malformed by the internet. Now is the moment to re-strategize.
In an interview, it’s clear that the sea change has been on Albini’s mind. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Trading in Joshua Abrams’ “Represencing” release is a lucrative practice. Somehow the 550-copy, vinyl-only album hasn’t become widespread in digital form during the past year, raising the resale price of the artifact while maintaining the mystique of its allure to those with the pleasure of owning it. The worldwide acclaim is justified—it’s an instant classic—Chicagoan by way of Southern Morocco, where The Gnaoua World Music Festival is held. There, the guimbri, a three-stringed bass made out of animal hide, is mystically employed by the Gnawa in a dialogue with Westernized guest jazz, pop and rock musicians, an event of immense local import. Attendance averages half a million people over four days, and many of the performances are free of charge. 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 »
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: Meg Bitton
“American Idol” might have brought us talent like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and then-unappreciated Jennifer Hudson, but there were many other promising artists who ended up vanishing even if they did well on the show. While some flamed out soon and wound up playing minor parts in off-Broadway shows, some used the exposure to create a niche audience and build a solid career once the cameras were turned off.
An example of this is Ohio-born Crystal Bowersox, who was runner-up during the show’s ninth season (defeated by Chicago’s Lee DeWyze) in 2010. Signed to Jive Records that year, she released “Farmer’s Daughter,” and despite positive reviews and reasonable sales, she was dropped after RCA disbanded her label. She has since signed with indie label Shanachie Records (which also includes Ruben Studdard—another “Idol” veteran—in its roster) and is in the works to put out her sophomore album “All That For This” under the production of Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin. Read the rest of this entry »
While musicians, labels and the media in America brand and rebrand music to fit some kind of niche audience, our brothers and sisters across the pond just go ahead and bring everything together to make the best music they can from the influences they hear.
One of the most recent examples of this is British singer-songwriter Charlie Winston, who has a penchant for blending funk, soul and the classical music he was initially trained in. If you are thinking “Here comes another Freddie Mercury,” that would not be a bad comparison, but Winston is not in any way associated with glam rock. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dave Cantor
“My first solo guitar performance was in my backyard when I lived in Philadelphia,” Steve Gunn says over the phone from his Brooklyn residence.
The journey from performing in a band to amassing enough confidence to get out in front of a crowd and express musical ideas can be an excruciatingly difficult maneuver. Inspiration helps, and for Gunn, it showed up in the form of departed guitarist Jack Rose.
“I only played a very short set,” Gunn says of that backyard gathering. “Jack played and a few other friends. That was my first attempt at doing it. Then I didn’t do it for years after that.”
A revival of interest in players like Leo Kottke and John Fahey bloomed during the middling-aughts, while Rose’s renown grew beyond Pelt, the band he’d founded while still in Philly. Read the rest of this entry »