For fans of the hazy 1990s British rock that came to be known as shoegaze, Slowdive was one of Pitchfork’s true must-see acts this year. Back together after a nineteen-year hiatus, the group sculpted pretty melodies out of its guitar notes during its set early Sunday evening, with Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell switching off on lead vocals, both sounding like they were lost in dreams. But then, as the chords churned around and around, the songs began to roar with an often fierce intensity—contrasting with the musicians’ calm, relaxed demeanor onstage. It’s hard to say whether any of them actually gazed at their shoes as they made that beautiful, blurry and buzzing noise, but it was beguiling. (Robert Loerzel)
It’s a nice treat that Loop has reunited to tour for the first time in twenty-three years. That the British band is making an appearance in Chicago is the cherry on top. The crew were contemporaries of Spacemen 3 in the late eighties, both bands played an unruly mix of psychedelic-punk-krautrock. These groups are the reason come-down music as beautiful as Slowdive exists, and why a shoegaze scene became a reality. Loop is known for being an incredibly loud and intense live act, which is easy to assume the moment any of their recordings are played; the urge to turn it up is overwhelming. Distorted electricity cascades down the back of a perfectly synced rhythm section, vocals blurring in and out of lushly layered guitars—“Heaven’s End” is right, this is the perfect blend of sacred and profane. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a tendency to attach the catch-all label of “world music” to any artist or band with non-Western musical influences. Accurate? Not always. But it’s a simple description to categorize and define a band’s sound. That being said, to classify the music of Slowbots as “world music” or “multicultural” is to immediately confine it to labels that don’t fully reflect this Chicago music collective’s varied influences. Slowbots’ moody ballads owe as much to the Velvet Underground as they do to the traditional Urdu singing that vocalist Yasmin Ali was trained in. In Slowbots you can hear strains of shoegaze, trip-hop, and folk with spacey, fuzzed-out guitar lines weaving their way through the soulful vocals of Ali and Angela Salva’s plaintive violin, all anchored by the R&B-influenced percussion work of Katie Chow. Read the rest of this entry »
In three years Disappears has gone from a random assemblage of dudes who once performed with other bands to a group dispensing its own particular mélange of psych and pop run through garage’s sonic lens. Issuing two singles and a pair of full-lengths, the quartet hasn’t been developing at a rapid pace, but it still turns in concise rock songs, sporadically opting for fifteen-minute explorations of just a few notes. Adding in Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley behind the drum kit hasn’t hurt the band. Read the rest of this entry »
Matthew Mondanile is probably equally well known for performing as Ducktails as he is for being guitarist in the Woodsist-affiliated band Real Estate. Recording endeavors from both groups arrive with a breezy, tossed-off feel angling at nonchalance. Success at being another troupe of slacker musicians has been fully realized for both outfits even as Ducktails, since its first 2007 releases, moved slowly towards the normalcy of Real Estate’s rock escapades. Mondanile, not always touting lackadaisical New Jersey shoreline beach pop, began Ducktails with the mindset that creating loops from a handful of vintage, and sometimes African, recordings would serve as ample foundation for his spindly guitar noodling. It worked, pretty much from the start after dispensing with the ambient experiment “Dreams in Mirror Field.” From the 2009 self-titled disc on Los Angeles’ Not Not Fun, “Beach Point Pleasant” circulates a keyboard pattern and accompanying drum beat snatched from some Ethio-jazz offering and grants Mondanile almost four minutes worth of time to explore modes his guitar can fit to the aging melody. Improvising in such a fashion only lasted a short while, with the following albums, “Backyard” and “Landscapes,” beginning to incorporate a pop consciousness previously absent from Ducktails releases. Issuing “III: Arcade Dynamics” with tracks like “Don’t Make Plans” completed the sonic shift with Ducktails aping a summery pop confection not dissimilar from anything Real Estate and its brethren have dispensed. The music hasn’t improved or gotten worse. It’s utterly different, but holds onto enough low-fidelity ambience to get over. Of course, if you don’t catch Ducktails opening up for Wild Nothing on Friday, just wait until Sunday to see Mondanile perform with Real Estate. It’s pretty much the same thing at this point. (Dave Cantor)
July 15 at Subterranean, 2011 West North, (773)278-6600. 9:30pm. $15. 17+.
On the heels of their fifth full album, the Brooklyn shoegaze outfit bring their dreamy take on pop hooks over sonic jetwash to the Empty Bottle. “Flourescence,” released earlier this month, has the band moving towards bare-boned electronic post-punk territory, gravitating more towards Curve and My Bloody Valentine than Cocteau Twins on tracks like “Trails” and “Trance Out.” Yuki Chikudate’s soaring vocals still manage to surface above that expected cacophony of drone-noise, feedback and distortion, whether taking a distinctively retro sixties approach on “My Baby” or echoing as sonic texture on the epic “Leave the Drummer Out There.” Also wearing their influences on their cover sleeve, “Flourescence” showcases the distinctive style of classic 4AD Records to boot, with artist Vaughan Oliver supplying the look. And there, somewhere between the future and the past, eyes sometimes closed, keeping time with a finger on the keys and another shaking a maraca, Chikudate and Asobi Seksu don’t reinvent the wheel, but spin it well enough to trample over naysayers and trite, dead-genre revivalists. Hidden melodies, and surfacing beauty, textures upon sonic texture… if you like it, love it, you’re already there, and if you don’t, you already know. It’s why you never could get into the Jesus and Mary Chain or thought the first Raveonettes record sounded weird. But for the rest of us, we’ll see you there! (Duke Shin)
February 28 at The Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western, (773)276-3600, 9:30pm. $12.
The Art Institute of Chicago’s sleek, pristine Modern Wing is hosting the current Sound & Vision exhibit, which aims to explore “the symbiotic relationship between art and music, presenting humorous yet rigorous investigations in which the two do not connect in any synesthetic sense but rather come together via acts of transposition…” To this effect, the Art Institute, in conjunction with Metro/Smart Bar, present Gard(en)Counter, featuring Metro/Smart Bar in-house DJs Nate Manic, Bald E. and Kid Color, who’ll provide the gift of sound spanning 1982 to present day. As for the vision, we’re sure the multimedia exhibits and installations will fit perfectly like “blue, blue, electric blue.” (Duke Shin)
July 30, Pritzker Garden/Griffin Court at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 South Michigan, (877)307-4242, 9pm-midnight, $8/$10.
San Francisco shoegaze-pyschedelic act Brian Jonestown Massacre isn’t for everyone–few have the patience to endure BJM’s current incarnation of endlessly droning jam sessions and repetitive waves of distortion. Nevertheless, for those who do have that patience, BJM makes for an intense, spacey trip, and those fans will easily sink into the band’s latest release, “Who Killed Sgt. Pepper?”, which sees the band merging its usual “far-out” experimental aesthetic with fuzzy dance beats, holding tight to sounds long associated with drugs, space and the dance floor. Frontman Anton Newcombe’s supposed proficiency with more than eighty instruments–including the hurdy-gurdy, the samisen and the bagpipes–has naturally sent BJM into several interconnected genres, mostly successfully three Stones-esque garage rock albums in 1996, since recently sliding back into the neo-psychedelic racket. For fans with the time to delve into Newcombe’s deep, complex world, it’s surely rewarding; for everyone else, it’s best to just read the band’s killer song titles, like “Bring Me The Head of Paul McCartney on Heather Mill’s Wooden Peg (Dropping Bombs on the White House).” (Andy Seifert)
May 30 at Metro, 3730 North Clark, (773)549-0203, at 7pm. $21.
Chapterhouse never really got a fair shake. The Reading band, which formed and found its style amongst other early-nineties shoegaze acts like Slowdive, Ride and Moose, essentially stopped making music in 1993 as its members went their separate ways and the genre lost its battle with the skyrocketing popularity of grunge and hard rock. (Chapterhouse famously followed Nirvana’s set at the 1991 Reading Festival.) After My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” and one or two of Slowdive’s records, Chapterhouse’s debut full-length, “Whirlpool,” long out-of-print until re-released a few years ago, stands as one of the great complete shoegaze records, doused in reverb (of course), vocals buried, guitars chiming and bracing. “Breather,” one of Chapterhouse’s most famous songs, stands the test of time as both a fantastic pop number and proof that a shoegaze song can make you move. The band reunited for a gig in November of last year with Ulrich Schnauss, and apparently decided to give it another go, as it added short tours for 2010. Fans of the genre and that early-nineties Reading scene shouldn’t miss this—maybe this will bring “Whirlpool” to the masses, where it should’ve gone all those years ago. Bonus: Schnauss plays as well. (Tom Lynch)
May 5 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, (773)525-2501, at 9pm. $16.
If your first reaction is to roll your eyes when you come across another indie band from Sweden, you’re not alone. The overwhelming export from that country is jarring without even considering how everyone essentially sounds the same. That being said, the sound sure is sweet, huh? The Mary Onettes take Cure-like revivalism to the extreme, and the band’s 2007 self-titled debut walked the weakly chalked line between inspired pop and boring emotional trash. Some songs worked—like “Lost,” still in heavy rotation on my personal playlists—but most of the rest left me cold. The new record “Islands,” despite its obvious title, is an improvement, as the band steps out of the minor-chord darkness and embraces its inner new-wave soul wholeheartedly. Strong, easy-to-digest melodies are matched with heavily reverbed vocals and occasional time-bending synths. “Nice” would be an adequate description, as this is ethereal shoegaze without the cloud of distortion. I’d like to see the band try its hand at a dance track. (Tom Lynch)
April 24 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, (773)525-2508, 10:30pm. $10.