Ambient, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock, Krautrock, Minimalism, New Music, Post-Rock, Rock, Space Pop
By Kenneth Preski
Kranky is the most high-profile, under the radar record label that calls Chicago home. For the past twenty years, founder Joel Leoschke has fostered a stable of uncompromising, unpretentious artists whose work may have gone unreleased were it not for his uncanny knack for curation. The thread drawing together outfits as disparate as Deerhunter and Stars of the Lid has united musicians worldwide under one umbrella: part ambient, part electronic, part black earth rock ‘n’ roll. And “Black Earth” might be the best description available for the abstract sound Leoschke is after. As the title of local quartet Implodes’ full-length debut suggests, there’s an engrossing mysticism at work in much of the Kranky repertoire. The solo recordings of Implodes’ guitarist Ken Camden echoes this boundless energy, but even he is quick to acknowledge the fleeting nature of his alchemy, and his hesitancy to share it.
“I’ve always been making recordings at home and stuff, but I’m kinda bashful and wasn’t about to slip [Leoschke] a tape or anything.”
Cajoling artists of this ilk is an elusive art form, something Leoschke has perfected. Somehow he’s managed to cater to the cagey, artists wise enough to avoid making a deal when they needn’t, musicians hungry for harmony on a cosmic scale rather than the fleeting fame offered by superficial scenesters. Art of this kind often has a unique origin story. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
By Dave Cantor
The greatest myths are good stories. And tales behind the discovery of any band are just decent fiction—or at least realities tweaked well enough to conjure up towering imagery.
Sweden’s Goat isn’t issuing its Stateside debut because of outstanding European festival performances but rather because a band it shares practice space with just shot a video over to Chris Reeder, UK’s Rocket Recordings honcho, and he dug it. That’s only part of the story, though.
“Over the course of the next few months when we were putting the seven-inch together, the band themselves started communicating with us,” Reeder says about his earliest digital interactions with the Swedes. “Then we didn’t really hear anything else from them until about May … when out of the blue ‘World Music,’ all finished and mastered, landed in our inbox.” Read the rest of this entry »
What the eponymous Beak> album issued in 2009 seemed to be advocating was that finding a groove within a rock context can mean just about anything. The trio, made up of members tied to the Invada imprint, spawned as a result of some impromptu jams helmed by Portishead beat miner Geoff Barrow. Best known for languid downtempo matched to femme vocals smooth as they are calm, the producer seems nimble enough to work in any sort of repetitious composerly form. “Battery Point,” from Beak>’s first release doesn’t go anywhere melodically. Read the rest of this entry »
The term motorik gets tossed around with relative abandon in reference to the handful of ensembles that use German psychedelia dating from the mid-sixties through the latter portion of the seventies as a template. For some, the idea’s a succinct way to describe a precise, up-and-down style of drumming used in acts like Can and on the rock-related releases from Kraftwerk. Ralf and Florian aside, Chicago’s Cave can’t escape descriptions of its subtly nuanced percussion style. Issuing “Neverendless,” the title itself a wink and nod to the endless derivations possible on a single theme, isn’t set to distance the Missouri-cum-Chicago group from any expectations. These five songs, the shortest being just this side of four minutes, continue the band’s commitment to spinning out an idea for as long as possible amidst some group improv bolstered by Rex’s drum kit. Read the rest of this entry »
Having worked in collaborative terms for his last release with the Slew, Kid Koala jettisons his accompaniment for a trip to Chicago. Not sporting a new release to tour on doesn’t leave the DJ short on material. Armed with a variety of approaches to working two turntables, Kid Koala as frequently trucks in vaguely comedic terms as he does in spliced-together brilliance.
Off his first long-playing album, Ninja Tune’s 2000 “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome,” “Nerdball” sticks out a bit for its dexterous cuts interspersed with brief vocal snippets. What’s remarkable about the two-minute composition, apart from it being a miraculous display of technique, is Kid Koala’s empathizing with geeks. Opening the effort’s a brief clip from “Revenge of the Nerds” so fully transformed it ranks alongside drum samples as percussion. Of course, listeners are granted time to take in the quote as it points to a lifetime of nerdom. Spinning out recognizable sounds into something new has been the DJ’s job since the genre’s inception. Separating this Canadian beat maker from his peers, in addition to all that humorous fare, is Kid Koala’s penchant for manipulating a melody’s pitch, taking horn solos and arriving at some new woozy conclusion. Regardless of his aural contributions to performance, let’s hope there’s a bit of costuming as well. Read the rest of this entry »
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s MusicNOW series features performances from the CSO collaborating with guest composers, with the last edition featuring avant-jazz, electronic flourishes and dynamic arrangements, highlighted by their talented principal percussionist Cynthia Yeh. But this next edition is definitely one of the more intriguing programs to grace the Harris Theater in Millennium Park, and features none other than Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma—better known to music fans worldwide as German genre-leaping electronic geniuses Mouse on Mars. And from the icy, off-kilter 4/4 beauty of “Send Me Shivers,” to the ambient washes of “Glim,” to the Squarepushing glitch assault of “Milleader,” to the digi-ragga-meets-chimes playfulness of “Scat”—and we could go on and on and on here—Mouse on Mars provide an intriguing amount of sonic possibilities when pairing with CSO musicians. The duo normally incorporate a drummer along with other live instrumentation to augment their electronic brilliance, and with eighteen years and nine LPs of material, this should be an unpredictably unique experience. The evening’s program will also include “A Cat’s Seven Lives” by Martin Matalon, originally written to accompany Luis Buñuel’s 1929 surrealist film masterpiece “Un Chien Andalou.” Local electronic artist Brad Miner of Illmeasures fame will also be on hand to perform two live sets of original electronic music in the lobby before and after the event—stick around for the free food, drinks and an opportunity to mingle with all of the artists. (Duke Shin)
January 31 at Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777. 7pm. $20.
By David Wicik
When the average person hears the phrase “psychedelic music,” their mind most likely wanders back to the sixties of Timothy Leary, when Brian Wilson began writing his LSD trips into the fabric of “Pet Sounds” and the drug references were even less ambiguous on the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (to say nothing of the legendary acid-laced headband of Jimi Hendrix). Some few may even point back to the early progenitors, bands like the Holy Modal Rounders, The 13th Floor Elevators and Sweden’s Pärson Sound. In other words, for most, psychedelic music is a thing of the past, the legacy of a lost generation.
People like Drew Kettering, however, are trying hard to fight against that prevailing notion, to prove that psychedelic music is alive and well today. This year marks the second anniversary of The Chicago Psych Fest at the Hideout, an annual festival showcasing local and regional psychedelic acts. Kettering, who plays in local psych combo Great Society Mind Destroyers, started it when he noticed that, while psychedelic rock had a strong and diverse presence in the community, it had little definition as a community itself. “Me and some of my friends were interested in bringing together the psychedelic community that Chicago has and to showcase our different styles and takes on it.” Read the rest of this entry »
The last few years have seen an abundance of never-commercially-successful-but-musically-significant acts come out of the past generation’s woodwork to organize reunion tours whereby young truth seekers and fond nostalgists can convene to express gratitude for said acts’ profound impact on the musical landscape. And often this impact is overblown. Some might mistakenly believe that Michael Rother, the former guitarist and surviving member of Krautrock pioneers NEU!, performing their music under the name ‘Hallogallo’ with the help of Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth on drums and Aaron Mullan, falls into this category. But to understand the significance of NEU!’s legacy, it’s important to know that their 1972 eponymous debut—all driving motorik rhythm, pulsing bass lines, and proto-ambient noise—influenced art-rock overlords like Joy Division, Brian Eno and David Bowie. The band split up in 1975, and Rother went on to make more influential work as a solo artist and with Harmonia, but the band’s influence has stretched nearly a full four decades at this point. (Todd Hieggelke)
September 8 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 NorthLincoln, (773)525-2501, 9pm. $20.
The U.S. countryside is starting to look pretty familiar to the guys from Fujiya & Miyagi. “I’ve come to the States more than I’ve visited my mum,” jokes singer/guitarist David Best. But he and bandmates Steve Lewis and Matt Hainsby are making their fourth trip to the States in the last seven months.
The incongruously named British Krautrock revivalists are riding the wave of attention they earned in the last year since the release of their debut disc “Transparent Things.” They’ve been on the road with few breaks since quitting their jobs in February, but the Brighton band’s been around since 2000, and Best says they’re all amazed at the places they’ve visited recently.
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