Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Film Review: “Breadcrumb Trail”

Post-Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDBreadcrumb Trail Film

Slint’s documentary film, distributed as part of the deluxe box set reissue of 1991′s seminal “Spiderland” (and screened last night at the Music Box Theatre with director Lance Bangs and band members David Pajo and Todd Brashear in tow for a Q&A), paints the band as anything but pretentious, and offers some unexpected surprises, including belly laughs from poop jokes. That’s some welcome relief from a group whose musical mystique renders critical conversation convoluted by the zeal of fandom. Listeners aren’t to blame; Slint’s intimate sound inspires insight from every variety of interested ear—clearly illustrative of the precocious power unique to a Louisville group that disbanded by the end of their adolescence. Thousands of think-pieces about post-rock later, and the story still resonates with an audience unfamiliar with the particulars. “Breadcrumb Trail” shines a spotlight on everything from what Touch and Go Records resembled in the early nineties, to the pivotal role drummer Britt Walford played in conceptualizing the tone of the tunes. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Neil Young/Chicago Theatre

Folk, Folk-rock, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDneil-young

The desire for relevancy beckons the artist. The present moment continually challenges consciousness to work with care for contemporary concerns. Musicians whose creative spirit can adapt to the times are afforded the ability to alter perspectives, to change minds. Neil Young cultivates truth in his songs; lyrics sung, then settled by the strum of a guitar. Even when the subject matter is unsettling, Young makes beauty out of understanding. His words and voice are straightforward, and his playing sturdy and confident. He represents a highly relatable, highly skilled simplicity, turning folk music into something timeless instead of old-timey. Young will sing about anything that matters to him, in the present tense, no matter his age or health, plain enough for anyone to understand. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: John Cale/Old Town School of Folk Music

Experimental, Folk, New Music, Pop, Punk, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDjohn cale

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 »

Preview: Speedy Ortiz/Empty Bottle

Alt-Rock, Indie Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDSpeedyOrtiz_MA013

With plenty of nods to Pavement and other nineties alt-rock greats, the Massachusetts four-piece Speedy Ortiz stakes out its own territory on the merit of its whip-smart lyrics and eschewing of self-seriousness. The band self-identifies as part of the “snack rock” genre, and the quartet’s LiveJournal (the very existence of which is a bit offbeat) documents their life on the road with each post featuring a “pup of the day.” Put together, this might be the perfect setup for an eye-roll, if not for Sadie Dupuis’ knack for poetic songwriting and Speedy Ortiz’s gleefully wandering arrangements heavy on distortion but anchored by catchy, knotty hooks. Read the rest of this entry »

Private Access to Public Personas: Cutting Loose with Basic Cable

Chicago Artists, Interviews, Punk, Rock No Comments »

By Kenneth Preski

Photo: Sarah Hess

Photo: Sarah Hess

Maintaining a sense of journalistic objectivity about Basic Cable is impossible. Beyond band duties, bassist Luca Cimarusti is the music listings coordinator at the Chicago Reader, and drummer Ryan Duggan is a prolific designer whose work includes last fall’s “Art 50″ cover for Newcity. The group’s reward for being so intimately involved in Chicago’s music scene has been a local press vacuum for their latest project. Highfalutin ideals are fine fodder for fools and philosophers, and being a bit of both presented the perfect opportunity for me to defy all proper notions of my profession. In short: if local publications must ignore their own for fear of impropriety, then it’s the fool’s duty to challenge the philosophical framework preventing profoundly relevant artists from being properly covered. No problem playing the fool here, I have much experience in this regard with the men of Basic Cable. Two members and me share a hometown. I’ve known Luca as Luke since I was fourteen and bummed rides off of him to local punk shows. I’ve know Michael John Grant, guitarist and primary vocalist, as MJ since around the same time. Knowing what I know, I made sure to eat an early dinner before sitting down for an interview with the group. These guys can drink. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Dillinger Escape Plan/Metro

Mathcore, Metal No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDdillinger escape plan

The Dillinger Escape Plan is not every metal fan’s musical cup of tea. Some are put off by the frenzied, tempo-hopping riffage of guitarist/founding member Ben Weinman. The “no clean vocals” purist crowd doesn’t care much for vocalist Greg Puciato’s smoother vocal stylings. Even so, the mathcore quintet’s fan base seems to grow with each new release, despite an ever-changing lineup and a commitment to creating persistently alienating music. Their most recent album, “One of Us Is the Killer,” shows the band at their most artistically confident, marrying the incomprehensible technicality of Weinman’s guitar playing and Billy Rymer’s drums with melodic , dare I say, pop-influenced choruses. It’s all topped off with Puciato’s impressive vocal range, jumping from high-pitched shrieks to guttural bellows to R&B-tinged crooning, sometimes in one song. It’s a trip. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Something Wicked” by North by North

Chicago Artists, Garage Rock, Record Reviews, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDSomething Wicked by North By North

If the buy local movement has any bearing on the music industry, then it’s fair for Chicagoans to substitute the Black Keys and Jack White with North by North. The local trio’s Ray Bradbury-referencing debut is a double album; two mint-green records split between individual sleeves, in contrast to the gatefold packaging customary for a pair of LPs. Bonus points are awarded for the beautiful artwork, courtesy of guitarist/vocalist Nate Girard, despite the missing detail on the spine. The music itself owes much to the garage rock revival of the early aughts, rarely bending too far out of shape from a pop-songwriting sensibility. It may be garage rock, but this garage is clean. Read the rest of this entry »

Fast Riffs on Fast Food: The Orwells’ Race Against Time

Chicago Artists, Garage Rock, Interviews, Punk, Rock No Comments »

By Rob Szypkoorwells_band_photo

On a Thursday evening in March, the green room at the Bowery Ballroom in New York is stuffed with people, but The Orwells, the band of teenage hellraisers from the suburbs of Chicago, stick out like a sore thumb. In one corner, a photographer announces to the bearded or salt-and-pepper-haired managers around him that he needs to step out to meet up with his ex-wife and son, who happen to live right down the street. In the other corner, members of The Orwells discuss Chapstick addiction, and then lead singer Mario Cuomo, aged twenty, shares pictures of longboard baby strollers on his smartphone.

There they are, the young guys. But the five members of The Orwells carry a sense of urgency that belies the number of years they have ahead of them. “Once you’re past twenty-five or something, your time in rock ‘n’ roll, if you haven’t made it then, is kind of up,” guitarist Matt O’Keefe, aged nineteen, says. “If I were twenty-five and I were living off of Wendy’s or McDonald’s, I would be very depressed with my life. But as a nineteen-year-old I couldn’t be more excited about it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Earth/Empty Bottle

Ambient, Drone, Experimental, Metal, Minimalism, Noise No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDearth-group

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: Scott H. Biram/Reggies Rock Club

Bluegrass, Blues, Country, Metal, Punk, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDartist_gal_biram2

Though Texan Scott H. Biram has released a number of well-received albums and has been performing for more than a decade (amassing a considerable following in that time period) his latest release from Bloodshot Records (“Nothin’ But Blood”) is bringing new fans out of the woodwork. Biram calls his music “the bastard child of punk, blues, country, hillbilly, bluegrass, chain gang, metal and classic rock,” and for once this is not an example of an artist over-selling himself. Despite the first track on his latest album implying that he’s taking it “Slow & Easy,” Biram still preaches as much hellfire as he does redemption with both his lyrics and musical style, following loud, fighting-angry metal tunes like “Church Point Girls” with easy listening bluegrass ballads like “I’m Troubled.” Seeing Biram take the stage alone with his signature trucker hat, the uninitiated may expect a fairly typical country singer-songwriter—but once he gets going, it becomes clear why he’s also known as “The Dirty Old One Man Band.” Read the rest of this entry »