Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Spins: State-of-the-Art Genre Bending from Two Chicago Acts

Alt-Country, Alt-Rock, Bluegrass, Chicago Artists, Country, Country folk, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, New Wave, Pop, Pop Punk, Rock No Comments »


By Robert Rodi

Marrow calls its new album “The Gold Standard,” which for sheer chutzpah just about jumps the shark; maybe it’s a surly old music-critic thing, but my knee-jerk reaction was, “I’ll be the judge of that, children.” But in fact I was won over; I wouldn’t quite call “The Gold Standard” the gold standard, but given the way the band seems intent on synthesizing the various genres of their callow youth into something entirely distinctive, they’re probably inventing some new kind of currency anyway. Singer-songwriters Macie Stewart (who plays keys) and Liam Kazar (guitar) are ably abetted by bassist Lane Beckstrom and drummer Matt Carroll. The album’s opener, “She Chose You,” is a pretty sweet introduction to the quartet; it’s jangly and infectious, one of those gorgeously up-tempo tunes about misery and heartache that are the hallmark of postwar pop. “Toll to train underwater / Selfish savage, try to dream her happy,” Kazar sings, with the kind of white-boy-catch-in-the-throat Kurt Cobain added to the rock singer’s repertoire, especially when he follows up by actually groaning, “Without you,” like he’d forgotten he was in the middle of a song or something. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Booty Movement Coalition/Mission Theater

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Dance Pop, Funk, Hip-Hop, Indie Pop, Jazz, R&B, Soul, World Music No Comments »

Typhanie Monique, JQ


It makes perfect sense to book a band into a theater—at least when the band is Booty Movement Coalition (affectionately known by aficionados as BMC) and the theater is the Mission at the new iO (formerly the ImprovOlympic). If you expand the concept of improv beyond stand-up and sketch comedy to encompass all the live arts, you end up with a much wider performance palette; and that appears to be the Mission’s mission, as they’ve committed to an ongoing series of music Mondays. BMC, for its part, has the distinction of being a ten-to-fourteen-member band which since its founding in 2009 has never given the same performance twice—because every single note is improvised, on the spot. Read the rest of this entry »

Art > Commerce @ SXSW 2015: A Survivor’s Story

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Dance Pop, EDM, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Folk-rock, Garage Rock, Indie Pop, Live Reviews, Post-Rock, Rock No Comments »
Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks

By Bart Lazar

“To hell with poverty,” Gang of Four tells us, “we’ll get drunk on cheap wine.” The only problem is that the band is playing at SXSW on a stage sponsored by dozens of global megabrands and funded by tens of thousands of trade show attendees, each of whom has shelled out thousands of dollars to attend. But just like the song, SXSW has an irresistible beat you can dance to, so that art, entertainment and fun ultimately trump commerce. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: For Live Music, a Not-So-Bleak Midwinter

Alt-Country, Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Folk-rock, Indie Pop, Indie Rock No Comments »

July Talk

By Keidra Chaney

It’s an interesting time of year for live music in Chicago; it’s right before the spring and summer concert season, so many of us are preoccupied with summer-festival-lineup announcements or buying tickets for recently announced shows taking place in the upcoming months. At the same time, it’s smack dab in the middle of the worst part of winter, so many of us are suffering from major cabin fever and eager to leave the house for anything remotely interesting. Chicago’s musicians and venues often approach this time of year in novel and creative ways.

The 2015 Dunn Dunn Fest returns to Chicago February 19-21. In an indie-rock-heavy festival scene, Dunn Dunn Fest has traditionally stood out from the crowd by focusing more on American, folk and roots acts. Six venues will host this year’s event, including The Hideout (1354 West Wabansia), Subterranean (2011 West North) and Beat Kitchen (2100 West Belmont). While Dunn Dunn Fest started in 2013 as an intimate festival focused primarily on Americana, a closer look at the lineup this year reveals a much larger and more diverse list of forty-plus bands that don’t fall so neatly into that category. On February 19, Toronto alt-rock band July Talk plays Subterranean (8pm, $10) and on February 20 sunny indie-poppers Save the Clocktower play the Hideout ($10, 10pm). For more information on the full lineup, venues, times and ticket prices go to the Harmonica Dunn website. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: All You Need to Know About Tomorrow Never Knows

Alt-Rock, Festivals, Folk-rock, Hip-Hop, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, Pop, Rock No Comments »

Zola Jesus

By Keidra Chaney

As of this writing, tickets for the Tomorrow Never Knows Festival (January 14-18) are still available. You can get a five-day pass for $100, and most individual shows run from $15 to $30. TNK added a comedy lineup to the festival a few years ago, but since I’m the last person you should be asking about comedy recs, I’ll stick to my picks for the music shows you should consider leaving the house for in the next few days.

TNK kicks off on January 14, and while Aimee Mann and Ted Leo’s fun folk-rock collaboration, The Both, is likely to draw a crowd, I recommend checking out the synth-pop project from Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, called Operators, at Schubas (3159 North Southport). Indie rockers doing dance pop appears to be a thing now (not that I’m complaining, as a rock fan with a jones for synth) and Operators sound about as you’d expect: very eighties-tinged and chock full of hooks. It’s pop music the way indie rockers seem to be embracing it unabashedly now, and I think it’s worth checking out. The $15 show is 18+ and starts at 8pm, with Mister Suit, Lowell and Lia Ices opening. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Power Pop from My My My, Purring Swing from Rose Colella

Chicago Artists, Indie Pop, Jazz, Pop, Record Reviews No Comments »

By Robert Rodi


Let a hundred-thousand critics give their thoughts on My My My and there’s still one phrase you’ll never read: “stripped-down.” On the night I most recently saw them (November 21 at Double Door, the release party for their new album, “Tigers On the Dance Floor”) there were nine performers on the stage. Their sound—beautifully reproduced on the album—features complex rhythms, multilayered harmonies and a thick synth frosting; yet there’s nothing bloated or mannered or self-conscious about it. This is downright muscular pop music: driven, delirious and out for a goddamn good time.

The band is fronted by two vocalists, Russell Baylin and Sarah Snow, who also write all the lyrics. The music itself is a collaborative effort on the part of the entire group, which includes Ante Gelo on guitar and string synth, Jake Bartolone on bass and Moog, John Sorensen on drums, and John Szymanski on keys and percussion. The only members who don’t seem to do double duty are the backup vocalists, a.k.a. The Peoples, unless you count looking lethally glam while they sing as double duty.

Baylin and Snow are a great match: he growls, she howls, and in their solo numbers their sheer sonic majesty makes you stand up and take notice. But when they duet (as in “Sirens of Soft Persuasion”) they can lift you right off the floor and dangle you there. The tunes are incredibly polished and stuffed with so many hooks they’re like harmonic velcro. A few of them—like “Bleeding” and “When We Kiss”—perform that rarest feat of pop alchemy: sounding utterly fresh and yet also giving you the impression you’ve known and loved them for years—that they’re already bonded to your DNA. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Tune-Yards/The Vic

Indie Pop No Comments »



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)