Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Tune-Yards/The Vic

Indie Pop No Comments »

tuneyards_2

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Tune-Yards gets a bad rap at times because multi-instrumentalist/mastermind Merrill Garbus has such an off-the-wall stage presence and technicolor style that discussion of the music sometimes gets lost in favor of Garbus’ performance and bold persona. Tune-Yards’ latest release, “Nikki-Nack,” was a level up for Garbus and Tune-Yards, taking what could have easily been a garbled musical mess—a combination of afro-beat drums, R & B, and nonsense children’s rhymes all topped off with a glossy pop sheen—and making it not only a cohesive whole, but a compelling musical statement and a confidently realized signature sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Live Review: Grimes/Pitchfork Music Festival

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

Photo: Robert Loerzel

The Red Stage was at capacity in anticipation of Grimes, AKA Montreal’s Claire Boucher, AKA the closest thing to Korean pop we are likely to ever hear at Pitchfork. (Boucher has gone on the record as a huge fan, and the influence is quite evident in her sound.)

On one level, it’s a bit curious how well-loved Grimes is among the indie set precisely because her sound and her songwriting is so unabashedly pop; even her performance has the feel of a pared-down pop-star spectacle, from the generous wind machines to the pair of ribbon brandishing backup dancers.

However, when you see her in action, it becomes more obvious what endears her to the Pitchfork crowd. She’s a skilled producer with a special talent for creating a tapestry of electronic sounds: synth patterns, percussive textures, layers upon layers of her own voice. Not to mention she’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch. She alternates between crouching over her controllers like a mad scientist and bouncing around the stage like the DJ of her own birthday party. The crowd here clearly feels and returns her energy and she returns it back in spades. It’s a dizzying web that’s similar to the music itself. (Keidra Chaney)

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: tUnE-yArDs/Pitchfork Music Festival

Dance Pop, Festivals, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, Live Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

tUnE-yArDs is divisive, from Merrill Garbus’ elaborate face-paint/clothes, to the arguable-cultural appropriation of Afro-beat influences, to the frustratingly quirky spelling of the band’s name, even Garbus’ spacey greeting to the Pitchfork crowd (“Thanks for being a massive mass of massiveness!”) seemed to be a bit …put on. To be so boldly, messily experimental in pop can either speak to an audience uniquely or rub them the wrong way. It is not a surprise that for every “I ADORE tUnE-yArDs” comment I heard in the crowd, there were an almost equal number of “This is annoying as hell,” comments to balance it out.

But it’s hard to deny Garbus’ talent, even if you don’t “get it.” She stands out in a sea of indie-pop sameness, especially for women artists. Where delicate vocal styles are the norm, Garbus is often gruff—she yelps, growls and howls in a decidedly non-gendered way. (At least two people near me thought Garbus was male at first.) She fearlessly plays with styles and cultural influences/signifiers: call and response vocals, funk bass, Afro-beat and hip-hop influenced percussion. (Is it cultural appropriation or homage? That’s way too much to get into while typing on an iPad standing up.) But with a five-piece band format (including two backup singers), her audacious musical vision comes alive on stage, giving the listener a lot more to chew on. Even when it doesn’t work, it does work; it’s hard to ignore and almost always elicits a strong audience response, which indie-pop needs a lot more of. (Keidra Chaney)

Live Review: Hundred Waters/Pitchfork Music Festival

Ambient, Electro, Festivals, Indie Pop, Pop No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Make it through pungent smells of every type, past the army of flat-billed backwards baseball caps, and be welcomed to the 2014 Pitchfork Music Festival by Hundred Waters. Lead singer Nicole Miglis proudly announced her first-time festival presence in a natural voice, full of ease and grace, successfully leading her quartet through an ambient electro-pop hula-hoop; music for a pleasant picnic. No better way to start, and the start is the only place where Hundred Waters belongs, their set perhaps a bit too passive for some. In response to the lackadaisical afternoon, Miglis stretched her voice to the highest heights, melodies melting into shifting samples, until the fearless monster of digitized bass bottomed out a crowd ready to dance. Whether or not they actually did is beside the point, Hundred Waters is the archetype for a new generation of musicians, no longer interested in the strictly acoustic world of their elders. Or perhaps Neneh Cherry will prove that the kids have more to learn than they might think. (Kenneth Preski)

Record Review: “Amor Planeta” by Pacifika

Alt-Rock, Bossa Nova, Dance Pop, Indie Pop, Latin, Pop, Psychedelic, Record Reviews, Reggae, Rock, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDPacifika_Amor_Planeta

On their third release, the Vancouver-based trio formed by vocalist Silvana Kane, guitarist/producer Adam Popowitz and bassist Toby Peter seem to be taking the music into a deeper, more psychedelic direction without completely losing touch with their Latin, Middle Eastern and electronic roots. The songs are still framed by near-whispered vocals and nylon-guitar-framed textures alongside multi-tracked instruments and vocals sung mostly in Spanish, but the trio seems to have found a more organic approach to their sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Amanda Martinez/Old Town School of Folk Music

Flamenco, Indie Pop, Latin, Pop, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDamandamartinez

What happens when you get an MBA in international business with the objective of working for a major financial corporation? Do you leave it all behind to pursue the uncertainty of a musical career instead? This is precisely what happened to Canadian singer Amanda Martinez; she was bitten by the music bug after passing an audition in a small jazz club in her native country–and she has not looked back since.

Since then, she has recorded three albums and was a featured performer during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa–where her mother was born. Martinez’s music is very Latin-influenced, as heard on “Mañana,” her third album, and the first to be released in the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

Live Review: Mirah/SPACE

Indie Pop, Live Reviews, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

MirahBrooklyn-based singer-songwriter Mirah came through Chicago last night to support her fifth full-length album, “Changing Light,” which finds the singer dealing with a breakup with a resigned and older awareness, and yet still wandering and pondering.

Mirah’s albums have always had ups and downs. Some songs seem to meander around without a central point, and seem, at least on first listen, a little light on variety and depth. But when she hits the mark, it’s magical. She chose her setlist well, performing the strongest songs from the new album. Her backing band, playing drums (live and synthetic), violin, keyboards, guitar, and bass, made the most of the quiet-loud juxtapositions, and the dark, spare spaces that mark her best material. 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 »

Record Review: “Made to Love Him: Celebrating Love” by Nhojj

Chicago Artists, Indie Pop, Jazz, Pop, R&B, Record Reviews, Vocal Music 1 Comment »

RECOMMENDEDnhojj_M2LH_COVER_LARGE

On an album comprised mostly of well-known standards (save for one original composition), Chicago-based singer-songwriter Nhojj celebrates the growing acceptance of same-sex relationships in the United States and abroad. “I am deeply grateful,” he writes in the liners, “to be living in a time when an album celebrating same-gender love could be released and even applauded.”

The album opens with a pared-down version of “Over The Rainbow” done solely with the accompaniment of Marcelo Cardozo’s electric guitar. Nhojj’s vocal range resembles that of the late Michael Jackson–he has the ability to reach low notes but mostly sings using a higher register, approaching each song in a different way. On India.Arie’s “He Heals Me,” he takes more of an R&B approach, taking advantage of the full band behind him, while on tunes like the George & Ira Gershwin classic “Our Love Is Here To Stay” he sings with a quiet bossa-like sensibility. Nhojj also reinvents Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” going for a playful samba-tinged groove without missing out on any of the title’s double entendre. Read the rest of this entry »