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 »
There’s a lotta club music out there capable of summoning images of greasy-tan women and broheims doin’ rails in the bathroom or folks in shiny shirts grinding on the dancefloor. However we arrived at a point in the music’s history when that’s pretty much the norm is regrettable. But UK producer Nightmares on Wax has nothing to do with that–and in fact, has cultivated a recorded legacy that’s so far removed from those stereotypes, it’s difficult to understand how a lesser strain of the genre exists. Beginning in a time when DJ culture was coming into its own in England allowed for NoW to draw from a blinding kaleidoscope of source material, including soul, Jamaican styles and, of course, now-classic D.A.I.S.Y. Age hip-hop. Since releasing his first disc in 1991 and the pair of quintessential albums following that (“Smokers Delight” and “Carboot Soul”), he’s swung focus from genre to genre, synthesizing it all for the recently released “Feelin’ Good,” which was recorded at his farmhouse on Ibiza. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s all been vaguely pervy over the last four decades for Ron and Russell Mael, the brothers behind whatever Sparks has become. Beginning around 1971 as Halfnelson, the pair, backed by an occasionally muscular, glammish rock troupe, issued a disc that no one particularly cared for at the time. Luckily, having Todd Rundgren’s name attached as producer gave ‘em a second shot, and the album was reissued the following year as the self-titled “Sparks” disc. Tracks like “Roger” work through a Bowie-esque pop sensibility while engaging enough obtuse experimentation to warrant the bizarrely timed reissue. The same year as Sparks’ second go-round at a first album, “A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing” saw release; without Rundgren’s patronage. The disc continued along with similar musical and lyrical motifs, including album-closer “Whippings and Apologies.” Some stringed accompaniment crops up on “Here Comes Bob,” which perfectly matches Russell’s high-pitched crooning, but Sparks remains revered for its 1974 “Kimono My House”—an admittedly ingenious title. Read the rest of this entry »
Cover by Colin Denney
Music is alive and well and living in Chicago.
While that once might have meant records and radio and bands being signed to major labels, it’s a much more complex score these days, with artists and venues more entrepreneurial than ever. But at the core is the shift in emphasis from recorded to live music, and it’s a change that’s made Chicago a town of festivals, from the city’s bedrock blues, jazz, gospel and world music festivals, to Lollapalooza and Pitchfork, to the new electronic dance music festivals—Spring Awakening, Wavefront and North Coast—as well as the explosive growth of an old one, the Chosen Few DJs Picnic. With these shifts, the players are changing too; since we last made this list of the behind-the-scenesters, the power list if you will, most of the list has changed. This year’s forty-five include twenty-six folks who were not on the list that last time in 2009. (Brian Hieggelke)
Music 45 was written by Brian Hieggelke, Dennis Polkow and Kenneth Preski, with additional contributions by Dave Cantor, Keidra Chaney, Dylan Peterson, John Wilmes and B. David Zarley. See previous years here. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Janette Beckman
Singer-songwriter Jose James has a lot of jazz in his sound thanks to the longtime influence he has had from the genre and also the experience with performing with giants like Wynton Marsalis, McCoy Tyner and others. When he first started out, he was more of a jazz vocalist with urban tendencies than anything else. As the years passed, however, he has finally found his sound, which can be described as a blend of hip-hop and R&B with strong jazz undertones.
This is evidenced by two songs from his fourth disc, “No Beginning No End” (Blue Note). “It’s All Over Your Body” opens mostly with drums and percussion, and a soft bass line joins in shortly before James’ almost whispered baritone comes in. The instrumentation is subtle (with some brass added for good measure) so the listener focuses on his voice and the message he wants to deliver, while the blues-inflected “Trouble” feels like a classic Motown-era track without sounding dated. James’ delivery is straightforward, honest and refreshingly Auto tune-free. (Ernest Barteldes)
January 30 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 North Lincoln, (773)525-2501, 9pm. $15.
Who says busking on the New York City subway (or any mass transit platform where you can be heard) has no future? It was there that Queens-based Freelance Whales honed their skills playing folksy electronic music with unusual instruments (glockenspiel, banjos, xylophone) until they became indie-music darlings after the release of their debut “Weathervanes” back in 2009.
The band’s name comes from the band members’ perception that everyone in New York is a freelancer in one way or another (not sure if the folks down on Wall Street would agree with that). Their releases have been well received both by critics and fans, and some of their tunes have appeared in TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Chuck” and “Skins.” Their music seems a bit minimalist—drums are played with brushes, and their arrangements are both creative and subtle, which allows vocalist (and main songwriter) Judah Dadone to comfortably convey his message without having to scream over the sound. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Abram Sanders
With their flimsy drum machine loops, strumming guitar chords and ambient keyboard melodies reminiscent of New Order, Future Islands is the perfect music to play while crying your eyes out and knocking shit over in your apartment. Their music is pro-human; confessional songs that detail breakups and loss with an organic-sounding composition, which somehow makes it all better. And it seems to be working for them. Their last album, “On the Water” (2011) earned Future Islands word-of-mouth notoriety and recognition on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s almost impossible to properly comment on a music so mercurial that its performer can spread recordings over sundry tapes, records and digital pursuits without having followed a single path to its conclusion. M. Geddes Gengras, a multi-instrumentalist and electronics whiz from Los Angeles, is best understood through his relationship with the Not Not Fun crew and Sun Araw’s Cameron Stallones. That latter figure and Gengras recently headed to Jamaica and recorded alongside a roots group, famous for its work a few decades back. It’s not the resultant music that should help define Gengras—although it was as engaging a clutch of tracks as any to be issued during the past year—but the spirit of invention that went into the project. Toying with synthesizers and whatever vintage Moog is sitting around only has a finite shelf-life. Gengras is able to coax emotive swooning sounds from his electronic companions, pushing past whatever the instrument’s pioneers could have intended. Read the rest of this entry »
Several years after the rerelease of his two albums by Seattle’s Light in the Attic, Detroit native Sixto Rodriguez is taking another stab at reclaiming a fleeting fame. His second (or third) wind has been sponsored in part by the release of “Searching for Sugar Man,” a documentary film following a pair of the singer’s fans on a quest to locate him. Whatever the reason for the Midwesterner’s reemergence, aficionados of lost musicians and folks interested in seventies coulda-beens should take notice. Frequently referred to as the Rust Belt’s answer to Bob Dylan, Rodriguez’ recordings were gussied up by none other than Dennis Coffey, who added a sizable amount of production value to what could have been a handful of boring, strummed sing-alongs. Read the rest of this entry »
The only bad thing people say about Steve Albini is that he’s brash and opinionated. But hearing the music he’s played and recorded since the early eighties, that should have been assumed. What people don’t seem to take issue with is that everything from Rapeman to Big Black and song titles like “My Black Ass” aim at being controversial. Exerting that sort of effort just makes the attempts kinda lame. The song’s pretty good, though. After dispensing with drum machines, Albini, bassist Bob Weston and drummer Todd Trainer started working as Shellac during the early nineties, issuing a string of releases helping to define the latter-day Touch & Go sound. Read the rest of this entry »