Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Live Review: The Haxan Cloak/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Live Reviews, Noise No Comments »

Photo: Robert Loerzel

It’s hard to know what to do in the middle of a Haxan Cloak set, especially one that takes place outside during the day. Even for noise/drone fans, the work of the musician also known as Bobby Krlic can be a challenge, and a festival doesn’t seem like the ideal setting for the troubling stillness his work seems to inspire. Krlic is skilled at creating impenetrably dense and dark aural experiences—think of the soundtrack to getting sucked into a black hole, and you’ve got The Haxan Cloak’s sound. It’s little wonder that much of the Pitchfork crowd seemed more than a little dazed as they shuffled off to see Sharon Van Etten. (Keidra Chaney)

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 »

Preview: Oozing Wound/Empty Bottle

Chicago Artists, Metal, Noise No Comments »
Photo by Joe Martinez

Photo: Joe Martinez


Was 2013 the year of Oozing Wound? The first 200 copies of the metal band’s Thrill Jockey debut LP arrived to record stores wrapped in a blood-red silk-screened print, flames shooting out of a cratered eyeball, music contained therein thrash enough to earn the name “Retrash,” every bit as glorious as it sounds. If tracks “Autopsy Turvy” or “Sustained By Hatred (Rambo 4)” sound familiar, 2012’s “Vape and Pillage” tape may have turned up in your collection, a welcome addition to any fan of smart speed metal with a sense of humor. Hence the type of gross fun one encounters when Googling their drummer’s record label “Rotted Tooth,” a local mainstay for the best punk-metal oddities around. Read the rest of this entry »

Sovereign Swede: Saxophonist Mats Gustafsson Starts a Label with The Thing

Experimental, Jazz, Noise, Rock No Comments »
Photo: Rikkard Häggbom

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 »

Preview: Thee Oh Sees/Empty Bottle

Garage Rock, Krautrock, Noise, Psych pop, Psychedelic, Punk, Rock No Comments »
Photo: Matías Corral

Photo: Matías Corral


Tireless San Francisco rockers Thee Oh Sees took a leisurely approach to touring on their latest album. Released back in April, “Floating Coffin” marks visionary John Dwyer’s twelfth album in ten years. Full of ambition but not hinged on direction, OCS (as the group was originally billed) began as Dwyer’s extracurricular project way back when. Several releases, some name changes, and a few band members later—the current count is five—Thee Oh Sees’ fertility has endured.

Just like on past albums, concept and cadence on “Floating Coffin” have been thrown into the woodchipper and expectorated. Or, imagine a game-show wheel with narrow pegs jutting out along the circumference of its pizza-sliced face, and the labels fuzz rock, psych-folk, psych-pop, garage, punk, noise, children’s songs and Krautrock tapering into the center. The wheel is spun and an excitement of the outcome builds, only there’s no stopping device. The wheel remains perpetually unpredictable. This is how Thee Oh Sees have proven that time, not concept, is all they need to be a truly great band. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Wolf Eyes/Bottom Lounge

Experimental, Noise No Comments »


Even if you hate the idea of noise as music—and you have the right to—the sheer breadth of work connected to the Wolf Eyes pack should be impressive enough to wade into the mire. It’s not an easy task and the hundreds of tapes, lathe cuts, LPs and other sundry releases make taking in the Midwesterner’s work even more difficult. But paying attention to any randomly selected song (or screed, if that works better) can reveal a properly pieced together pastiche of music. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Adventures in Modern Music/Empty Bottle

Chicago Artists, DJ, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Festivals, IDM, Metal, New Music, Noise No Comments »


So late in the year, the frequency of quality festivals tapers off. But setting off that autumnal awe is the tenth installment of Adventures in Modern Music, a joint venture between the Empty Bottle and The Wire, to bring together a sizable selection of out-sounds from different genres. One of the better-known acts to be fitted into this sprawling look at contemporary music is R. Stevie Moore, who’s been given credit for presaging the slew of home-recording projects clogging up the internet nowadays. His work’s something like Daniel Johnston’s in that there’re clearly some ghosts being worked out in each affectional composition. He performs Wednesday. To highlight Adventures’ desire to strip genre of meaning, Rob Mazurek’s São Paulo Underground takes a spot on stage during the same evening, raving up experiments that use jazzy frameworks birthed from south of the equator. Read the rest of this entry »

Transcontinental Dub: Sun Araw’s Cameron Stallones Occupies the Crossroad of Disparate Sounds

Experimental, Minimalism, Noise, Psychedelic No Comments »

Sun Araw/Photo: Fabian Villa

By Dave Cantor

Electronic experiments in the States  and Jamaica’s vocal tradition may be one of the few remaining untapped combinations in the music world. Luckily, Cameron Stallones, who performs and records as Sun Araw, was already privy to the work of a North Carolinian who wouldn’t distinguish between acoustic folk traditions and 1950s minimal compositions. Unwittingly influenced by Henry Flynt’s recombination, Stallones generates at the crossroad of disparate sounds.

“Some of that stuff is the most relentlessly psychedelic music—like the violin strobe stuff,” Stallones says of Henry Flynt’s fiddle improvisations, which are set atop looped drones for 1981’s “You Are My Everlovin’.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Lightning Bolt/Empty Bottle

Experimental, Noise, Rock No Comments »


From track to track, it’d be difficult to deduce which Lightning Bolt long-player one’s listening to. But with the drums-bass setup, that’s unsurprising. What is out of the ordinary is the ruckus drummer Brian Chippendale and basser Brian Gibson are able to summon from their pair of instruments. Beginning as a Rhode Island School of Design project and branching out to international van dwellers, Lightning Bolt’s sub-terra popularity followed the broader emergence of a self-sufficient noise scene, replete with low-rent tape releases and enough DIY venues to support a torrid touring schedule. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Bill Nace/Burlington

Experimental, New Music, Noise No Comments »


Most folks don’t hear nature sounds amid the sordid fervor of noisy free-improv. But part of the (non-)genre’s intrigue is that listeners are granted the ability to draw any sort of conclusion they wish from a performance or recording. Bill Nace, a Western Massachusetts-based destructo guitarist, has spent the last decade working with a litany of performers who don’t distinguish between melodic perfection and monolithic throwdowns without a script. During his time with Vampire Belt, a duo with drummer Chris Corsano, the pair was able to briefly hint at some sort of understandable melody before flying off the handle into an insular world of successive crashes, bleets and skronks. Read the rest of this entry »