Photo: Flint Chaney
By Dave Cantor
ONO’s singer says he doesn’t listen to its recordings. It’d make him too nervous. Sometimes, travis says, it’s hard enough just to record. It could be because what travis has written clearly comes from contemplation of his military experience; a track called “Army” finds inclusion on the band’s “Diegesis,” set to be released by Moniker Records. And while he says performance was a part of his childhood, taking the stage in church and at school, the whole thing’s still a trial.
“There’re all of these people doing sound and noise that are there, and that’s been the case ever since I started playing in Cleveland,” he says of performing music, as opposed to the poetry he started on in that Midwestern city during the late 1960s. “I think there are a lot of facets to my personality—in Mississippi that’s called character…There is some self-hatred that I have and when I’m on stage; there are all these other facets I can overlay.” Read the rest of this entry »
Easy tunes at an easy tempo for Chicago’s Clearance draws clear comparisons to Sebadoh and Pavement, a carefree joy spread over the four (and a half) tracks that comprise their debut seven-inch. Equal parts melodic and nostalgic, “Dixie Motel Two-Step” announces the arrival of a band with little regard for overt rockism, guitar solos kept at a minimum, chunky chords slathered atop rumbling rhythms, an effortless effort if there ever was one. Which isn’t to deny the craft of these young men; it takes a certain cool calm demeanor for Mike Bellis to deliver lines like “I heard you been hung up on the wrong advice / but if it don’t work once, make sure you do it twice,” and not cop to the wry sense of self cultivated by an entire generation of lo-fi indie loyalists. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Joe Martinez
Was 2013 the year of Oozing Wound? The first 200 copies of the metal band’s Thrill Jockey debut LP arrived to record stores wrapped in a blood-red silk-screened print, flames shooting out of a cratered eyeball, music contained therein thrash enough to earn the name “Retrash,” every bit as glorious as it sounds. If tracks “Autopsy Turvy” or “Sustained By Hatred (Rambo 4)” sound familiar, 2012’s “Vape and Pillage” tape may have turned up in your collection, a welcome addition to any fan of smart speed metal with a sense of humor. Hence the type of gross fun one encounters when Googling their drummer’s record label “Rotted Tooth,” a local mainstay for the best punk-metal oddities around. Read the rest of this entry »
Trading in Joshua Abrams’ “Represencing” release is a lucrative practice. Somehow the 550-copy, vinyl-only album hasn’t become widespread in digital form during the past year, raising the resale price of the artifact while maintaining the mystique of its allure to those with the pleasure of owning it. The worldwide acclaim is justified—it’s an instant classic—Chicagoan by way of Southern Morocco, where The Gnaoua World Music Festival is held. There, the guimbri, a three-stringed bass made out of animal hide, is mystically employed by the Gnawa in a dialogue with Westernized guest jazz, pop and rock musicians, an event of immense local import. Attendance averages half a million people over four days, and many of the performances are free of charge. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Celebrating the demise of something seems counterintuitive and anti-climatic, but Plastic Crimewave Sound isn’t just some buncha Chicago jerks; it’s these Chicago jerks, fronted by the ever-mustachioed Plastic Crimewave. Sure, the ridiculous heights of recording with Ya Ho Wah 13’s Djin Aquarian likely aren’t forthcoming, but there are scant dudes who can say they’ve even had the opportunity to perform with that sub-terra legend. Whatever counted as the troupe’s regular lineup apparently disintegrated sometime last spring, the travails of everyday life being cited as the main reason. You know, babies and marriage? All this PCS hoopla, though, surrounds the group’s (probable) final recording, a tape-only affair being issued through an imprint helmed by Running’s bassist. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s easy to be lulled into some sense of expectation on “Back to Land,” Wooden Shjips’ fourth full-length album, due out in November. And while Ripley Johnson and company have reeled in some of their long-winded rambling, there’s still not a wealth of focus here. That’s the point, though. Recorded in Portland, not the band’s Bay-area birthplace, “Land” brims with a rough-hewn pop sensibility, deterred only by Johnson’s fuzzy guitar lines. But even those have been opened up, giving listeners the opportunity to, you know, kinda hear what’s going on, instead of encountering an indecipherable wall of scuzz. Still, he doesn’t grant easy access—the solo on “Ghouls” being sheathed in noise, any sense of its melodic intentions disappeared behind wah-wah blurs. What enables the band to continue shoving the same formula into disc after disc, though, are Johnson’s leads remaining mysterious and shiftless, even if some songs strive for structure. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Nick Helderman
By Dave Cantor
Camped out at the Shadow Shoppe, a recording studio doubling as a residence in an industrial area near Amsterdam, Jacco Gardner’s been burrowing into an insular universe.
It’s a place the multi-instrumentalist has been exploring for almost a third of his life. And it’s been fully realized, in musical terms, as “Cabinet of Curiosities,” which Chicago’s Trouble in Mind issued Stateside earlier this year.
With the album’s release, Gardner’s granted listeners access to a collection of vivid “fairytales,” as he calls them, each recorded on his own at the Shoppe, save for the disc’s more complicated drumming. The work’s been cobbled together over the last eight years, drawing from the more baroque moments of sixties pop music. There aren’t any distinct hints of contemporary Europe in Gardner’s songs, and an unknowing listener could easily mistake just about anything “Cabinet” offers as a selection from the first psychedelic era. It’s more than mere retread, though—it’s a twenty-four-year old’s imagination splayed out over twelve tracks. But “Cabinet” would warrant notoriety even if Gardner hadn’t played guitar, bass, keys and a variety of synthesizers.
Despite his ostensible squatting, his homeland Holland has embraced “Cabinet,” sending Gardner on a series of TV appearances and performances at venues that would overwhelm U.S. musicians of comparable popularity over here. 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 »
Photo: Ben Pegram
Punk is derided by snobs for its characteristic lack of musicianship. Highbrows fail to recognize the tremendous importance of music with an ethic that invites any participant. Artists fueled more by practice than theory foster a fruitful exchange whenever they perform in front of an audience. At every punk show, floating in the frenzied head of every punk fan is this tiny insight: ‘I too, can do that.’ To begin creating music at all, one must transcend worries about embarrassment caused by a whole host of inadequacies, the most potent being limitations imposed by a lack of training. Punk, as a style of playing, levels the field so dramatically that music now owes the genre a great debt for the number of seasoned musicians who wouldn’t have picked up an instrument otherwise. It’s the loyal community that made a band of brilliant freaks like The Ramones possible. It’s the confrontational congregation that spawned the Sex Pistols. And it’s that same unpretentious assemblage that is responsible for the most entrancing band in our own backyard, Mayor Daley. Read the rest of this entry »