He’s included mention of Jay Z in at least a few verses, and reviewed “Watch the Throne” for the National Post. The decided focus Shad, a Kenya-born, Ontario-raised MC, has put on one of the most popular rappers in the world is a bit confusing. Yeah, he’s rich and his buddy’s married to a Kardashian, but neither of those things has made his bloated discography anything other than middling. Shad shouldn’t carry around the desire to be a Jay Z, as he spits out pretty early on his fourth long-player, “Flying Colours.” Jay Z’s “Magna Carta” was another lame recording, and Shad’s apparently been gripped by enough inspiration to issue not just that fourth album, but a collaboration with Skratch Bastid, “The Spring Up,” in 2013. Beyond the guy’s clear ability to select proper production and write rhymes (that might not move too far beyond what we’ve all come to know as conscious raps), his story’s significantly more engaging than that New York MC’s. Shad’s family left Kenya, something he mentions on most of his releases, when he was a kid. But the successes his family’s achieved, cataloged on “Fam Jam (Fe Sum Immigrins),” pretty easily trumps bein’ poor, slingin’ crack, and issuing a truckload of boring albums. Read the rest of this entry »
Julie Meckler’s voice is soft and pleasant, and it floats over her acoustic guitar with the familiar, idyllic buoyancy of a rowboat. Left in the wake of her playing are strains of precious and patient melodies, alternating throughout her debut long-player “Queenshead,” most affectedly on the a capella tune “The Cigarettes Song.” The spontaneous results of a throwaway moment—”we were smoking cigarettes in the snow in Chicago”—have a raw majesty missing from the rest of the album, which by way of contrast seems too carefully composed. The listener faces a dilemma: this could be any other release by any other up-and-coming singer/songwriter stuck in the cafe tropes that garner paying gigs. Fortunately, Meckler has an ear for detail that bats those banal qualities away. Field recordings of ambient noise—the traffic in Chicago, the sound of whirling wind—these attributes create a density and purpose that continually ground the carefree melodies, something especially impressive given the inclusion of a bonafide reggae tune in “Bitch.” Read the rest of this entry »
Hearing the Wailin’ Jennys stripped of artifice, unadorned by elements dropped in to make the trio sound more like a country rock band than anything else, is probably the best way to encounter these folk-singin’ Canadians. Spawned from a one-off gig at some music shop, the trio started touring and recording soon after. With its 2004 debut, “40 Nights,” ranking as the group’s most acoustic-focused affair, closing standard “The Parting Glass” best serves to explain the band’s talents. Initially a Scotch farewell song, something from about the same time Robert Burns was kicking around, the tune finds the original trio—Cara Luft’s since split-workin’ it out a capella. Read the rest of this entry »
Is there a steadier formation in rock music than the power trio? History has proven that the primal pull of bass, drums and a guitar is unquestionably preferred above any other lineup. Even Led Zeppelin added Robert Plant as an afterthought. Make it a four-piece and the results will bristle. On local boys Fake Limbs’ sophomore effort, the forthcoming “The Power of Patrician Upbringing,” it’s hard to discern the lead vocalist. Is it Stephen Sowley, the guy actually tasked with singing, or Bryan Gleason, the guitarist who refuses to be outshone? The two are at each other’s throats for the duration of the record, trading screams for solos and barks for feedback. The rhythm section, Mat Biscan on bass and Nick Smalkowski on drums, pummel their instruments to keep up, but to no avail. The effect is irrepressible, wild, unkempt—something like a 5am drunken walk home alone, which is incidentally the subject matter for lead track “Green Chartreuse.” Read the rest of this entry »
Trippy visuals broadcast upon an electronic musician pushing buttons to trigger recorded sounds is about as appealing to the average concertgoer as staying home to stare at a screensaver. Given that experimental linchpin Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never project is carefully conceptualized to forgo the robotic rhythms of dance, it’s alarming that he would continue to arm his android impulse with the same performance tropes as his EDM counterparts. To be sure, Lopatin is after something different, elusive, abstract—he’s trying to get your brain to dance, not your body. Read the rest of this entry »
Conductor Charles Dutoit
Surprisingly, the centennial anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s birth, which is November 22, has received nary a nod from either Lyric Opera or Chicago Opera Theater. That is particularly odd given that Lyric Opera music director Sir Andrew Davis is one of Britten’s most stalwart ambassadors and also how paramount Britten figured in during former general director Brian Dickie’s tenure at COT.
Nonetheless, Britten has been celebrated by many other local institutions this fall; most notably, there have been two full-blown Britten festivals concentrating on his chamber music.That leaves the single most important local Britten centennial event to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which is performing his large-scale “War Requiem” this week. Given the forces involved, this is not a work very often performed. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Rikkard Häggbom
By Kenneth Preski
At the forefront of Herculean horn playing stands a sweaty Mats Gustafsson, eternally finishing up his latest saxophone symphony. The prolific Swede performs with enough muscularity to rival Schwarzenegger. He plays with the force of a jet engine, and given his recording schedule, he’s busier than most airports. Just shy of age fifty, this year alone Gustafsson has contributed to fourteen different releases, ranging from playful free jazz collaborations with Chicagoan Ken Vandermark on “Verses,” to noise experiments with Merzbow on “Cuts,” to duo work with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore on “Vi Är Alla Guds Slavar.” His unceasing care for the craft has yielded two outfits in particular, Fire!, and The Thing, which have both garnered worldwide acclaim.
Fresh off remarkable recordings with experimental stalwarts Jim O’Rourke and Oren Ambarchi, Fire! released two full-length records in 2013—one as a thirty-piece orchestra, and another as a slimmed-down trio—both efforts among the finest free jazz releases this year. An upcoming album from The Thing, appropriately titled “BOOT!” sounds like jazz and punk got into a street fight. It’s a surprising set from a band whose last outing was a collaboration with vocalist Neneh Cherry (yes, that Neneh Cherry, of “Buffalo Stance” fame), a collection of unpredictable avant-garde jazz covers from source material as desperate as The Stooges and Madvillain. The Thing, after all, formed to explore the work of Neneh Cherry’s stepfather, legendary trumpeter Don Cherry, whose methodology was firmly embedded in experimental expression. Read the rest of this entry »
Per Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, some are too old to rock ‘n’ roll, but too young to die. At seventy-one, Paul McCartney seems to defy the odds by relentlessly touring and consistently releasing new music. On his aptly titled “New,” he briefly looks into the past but has his eyes firmly locked on the future by working with young producers like Giles Martin (son of George Martin) and Mark Ronson, who all collaborated to give McCartney a more contemporary sound.
The disc opens with “Save Us,” a track reminiscent of Queen guitarist Brian May’s solo work via its multi-tracked vocals and layered guitars. The title track (also the lead single) has a retro seventies feel thanks to its prominent use of synthesizers, its vocal structure, and its general mood. The song has an immediately captivating groove, especially the harmonies at the end of each verse. Read the rest of this entry »
After dabbling with electronic music in collaboration with Karsh Kale on “Breathing Under Water,” and then pursuing flamenco-fusion on her own “Traveller,” sitarist Anoushka Shankar returns to her classical roots with “Traces of You” while still keeping other genres within arm’s reach. The opening track “The Sun Won’t Set,” for instance, is a beautiful ballad recorded in collaboration with her half-sister Norah Jones, and is much closer to Jones’ alt-folk style than to Indian music.
Though much of the disc is dedicated to Indian ragas, some of the tunes venture into completely different directions. “Metamorphosis” brings together traditional and modern sounds, including electronics and electric bass, while the soft, piano-centric ballad “Fathers” has elements of modern jazz. Read the rest of this entry »
Save for balladeer Jack Johnson or the late Iz, few Hawaii-based artists seem to get much attention in the mainland no matter how big they might be on the island. Luckily for Oahu-born The Green, that trend does not hold true. Their mellow, optimistic take on reggae seems to have struck a chord with mainstream fans, and from their self-titled 2010 debut onward they have been able to get the attention of reggae radio stations with reach far beyond Hawaiian locals. Their third release, “Hawai’i ’13,” (out on Easy Star) is proof of that. Read the rest of this entry »