Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: She Keeps Bees/Beat Kitchen

Indie Rock No Comments »

She-Keeps-Bees_Molly-Donahue13RECOMMENDED

When Jessica Larrabee and Andy LaPlant formed She Keeps Bees in 2006, LaPlant was banging a borrowed drum kit perched atop a stepladder to back Larrabee’s vocals. In those bedroom recording sessions, LaPlant also served as sound engineer on the pair’s sparse but powerful blues-tinted rock. So when they chose to work with a producer on their most recent record, “Eight Houses,” She Keeps Bees found themselves with a lot more input. Producer Nicolas Vernhes’ outside opinion “allowed us to really break down songs,” said Larrabee. “I think it stretched us.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Clean/Lincoln Hall

Indie Rock No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

The Clean has been a highly influential band since the beginning.

They more or less personified the Dunedin Sound, a jangly, loose, lo-fi rock genre specific to their native New Zealand, on Flying Nun Records in the early eighties. This sound, propelled by university radio stations, eventually spread all over the world. Alt-indie staples like Sonic Youth, Pavement and Guided by Voices all cite The Clean in their influences. Moving forward, these bands that draw from The Clean serve as sources for countless other musicians. If you were to make a “Law and Order: SVU”-style string-web of where Pitchfork-centric bands come from, The Clean would be at or very near the middle. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Moonrise Nation/Lincoln Hall

Chicago Artists, Indie Rock No Comments »

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Moonrise Nation is one of those rare acts that is coming from a place of total honesty, presenting music that means a lot to them during the most important part of their development as artists. There is a certain misty wisdom in Moonrise Nation’s overall sound due to the songwriting itself as well as the general combination of piano, cello, guitar and woven harmonies. The group sounds like Regina Spektor collaborating with Atlas Sound, bringing together a darkened pop quirkiness and a mellow but fierce underlying force. Also, they’re all in their late teens, but this is not evident in their sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Live Review: Real Estate/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Indie Rock, Live Reviews 1 Comment »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Real Estate’s breezy music, full of shimmering surfaces with chiming guitars and soft, breathy vocals, isn’t the sort of stuff that gets audience fists pumping in the air, but the New Jersey band’s pleasant set late Sunday afternoon offered a welcome interlude of relaxation. The light, airy songs drifted out across the park, and every once in a while, Real Estate picked up the tempo, sounding a bit like a venerable band from the same state, The Feelies. But mostly, the group put us in a mellow mood. (Robert Loerzel)

Live Review: Dum Dum Girls/Pitchfork Music Festival

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

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Dum Dum Girls’ delayed start due to technical difficulties thinned out the crowds at first in favor of Earl Sweatshirt, but when they finally took the stage, the band’s dreamy, melancholy garage-pop seduced a sizable crowd back to the Blue Stage.

Dee Dee Penny and the gang’s inspired multi-part harmonies sounded as sweet as they do recorded, and they nail their gothy-girl-group aesthetic down to a couple instances of synchronized swaying, but I was personally hoping for a little more emotion in the performance. They sounded fantastic but almost too perfect. The music is dripping with passion and pathos and I was hoping for a bit more of it conveyed on stage. (Keidra Chaney)

Live Review: DIIV/Pitchfork Music Festival

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

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Some time ago Zachary Cole Smith must have fallen into a coma and woken up on the other side of the eighties with two decades worth of dreams to draw upon. There’s no other way to explain how DIIV sounds, except to mention The Cure’s early work, but even Robert Smith lacked the propulsive rhythm section that made a group of concertgoers mosh to dream-pop today. No doubt the highlight was a massive cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” which sounded nothing at all like the original, but was absolutely perfect as a result. Only Galaxie 500 had a finer method for paying tribute to their influences. Zachary Cole Smith’s between-song banter was dedicated to reminding everyone in the audience that they were watching DIIV, despite the gigantic banner waving behind them. It was as awkward as it was endearing, much like the vibe of the Pitchfork Music Festival in general. (Kenneth Preski)

Live Review: Speedy Ortiz/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Indie Rock, Live Reviews 1 Comment »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Speedy Ortiz kicked off Sunday’s Blue Stage schedule with a burst of scrappy garage rock chords. As Sadie Dupuis sang the verses in an almost understated manner, the songs occasionally loped into off-kilter rhythms, bringing to mind the early music of Liz Phair. The three guys in this band kept the music charging forward, but the focus was all on Dupuis, whose voice rose to pleading peaks in the refrains of her songs. Whenever the time came for an instrumental break, she seemed to revel in stepping back from the mic and whipping her hand across her guitar strings. (Robert Loerzel)

Live Review: Neutral Milk Hotel/Pitchfork Music Festival

Festivals, Indie Rock, Live Reviews 1 Comment »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Before Neutral Milk Hotel took the stage for the final concert of Saturday night at Pitchfork, an announcement came over the speakers: at the request of the artist, no taking of photographs and video would be allowed. And the video screens that normally show the performers on Pitchfork’s stages went dark. Jeff Mangum, the famously reclusive and mysterious leader of this band, was visible on the stage, but even at close quarters, he seemed to be in disguise, hiding his face with a hat and a bushy beard. Mangum managed to maintain his enigmatic aura even as he was standing in front of twenty-thousand people. In the first minutes of the show, hundreds of people rushed forward for spots closer to the stage, shouting the words of songs from “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,” an album whose devoted admirers multiplied many times over in the fifteen years Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel went silent. People even moshed, not something you see every day at a folk-rock concert. Mangum has a strong, braying voice, which almost seems to command others to sing along. Unfortunately, the mix accented the harsh tones of his vocals and made his acoustic guitar sound like it was cranked up way past eleven. Coming and going from the stage, Mangum’s bandmates added all the horns, accordions and drums that made Neutral Milk Hotel’s records sound like surreal Salvation Army recitals. And when audience members lifted their voices in chorus with Mangum’s, Union Park became a giant hipster revival tent. (Robert Loerzel)

Live Review: St. Vincent/Pitchfork Music Festival

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

For anyone more familiar with St. Vincent’s earlier work, to see a platinum blonde Annie Clark strut on stage at Pitchfork was probably a bit of a shock, though we all should have seen her ascent into badassery coming.

While “Marry Me” and “Actor” were perfectly pleasant albums, her third release, “Strange Mercy,” was beautifully, surprisingly brutal, and her eponymous latest release is an art-funk rocker that most of us had no clue was in her, but should have.

Clark has clearly grown to embrace the rock goddess in her, and kept her Mona Lisa half-smirk on the whole time, from the synchronized robot dancing that accompanies the choppy funk licks of recent single “Digital Witness,” to a dark, face-melting reinvention of “Your Lips are Red” from her debut.

Clark’s evolution started two albums ago, but her newfound performance art theatricality (likely cribbed at least in part from her collaboration with David Byrne) is actually a perfect companion to the swagger that was always evident in her bold, fuzzed-out guitar style. Either way, she certainly made a lasting impression on the Pitchfork masses tonight. (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)