Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

The End of Journalism: New Ideas with Steve Albini

Chicago Artists, Interviews, Minimalism, Post-punk, Punk No Comments »
Steve Albini 1

Still from the documentary “Parallax Sounds”

By Kenneth Preski

Every critical outlet must justify its insights. The reasoning should extend beyond a simple citing of sources, should move past the seduction of poetic prose, and burrow down into the very tenets of knowledge that the writing seeks to embody. For a variety of equally abstract and profound reasons, this enterprise is in a badly confused state with respect to music journalism. What’s now required is a nuanced dialogue with musicians to re-appropriate the method, to re-envision the approach in favor of the artist and the audience. To that end, Steve Albini’s thoughts are invaluable. Beyond his work as a prolific sound engineer, Albini is a university-trained journalist and a seasoned musician. His band Shellac is on the eve of releasing “Dude Incredible” at a time when traditional operations for the music and publishing industries have been malformed by the internet. Now is the moment to re-strategize.

In an interview, it’s clear that the sea change has been on Albini’s mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Swans/Lincoln Hall

Experimental, Post-punk, Rock No Comments »

SwansRECOMMENDED

Legendary heavy experimental band Swans is headlining Lincoln Hall for what promises to be a terrifying and fascinating exposition of the adult haunted house that the band has been showcasing for the past thirty-two years. Their latest release “To Be Kind,” is their thirteenth studio album and is as intimidating as all of their releases in the past. The whole album, which is over two hours long, sounds like the soundtrack for a tour of a serial killer’s house. Swans has honed in on the aspects of doom and gloom that affect everyone, artfully crafting these elements together in a way that don’t give the listener even a hint of a break. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Atlas Sound/Lincoln Hall

Ambient, Drone, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Photo: Sarah Cass

Photo: Sarah Cass

What will Bradford Cox do? This is one of my favorite questions. Known here on his idiosyncratic own as Atlas Sound, the Deerhunter frontman is compelling in ways we’ve long forgotten about in rock ‘n’ roll. Enigmatic, iconoclastic, angsty—Cox is a runaway train in every direction, performing himself against the world like music itself depended upon it. The warm ranges of his genre-roaming discography reflect this schizophrenia, and each Cox release (I sadly report that none accompanies this latest jaunt through Chicago) is an unpredictable new traipse along his singular path through guitar-related history. But what keeps the folks coming, and why this show comes recommended, is what Bradford is at bottom: a lost boy searching for meaning in sound, generously sharing what he’s found. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Angel Olsen/Lincoln Hall

Folk-rock, Indie Rock, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Photo: Zia Anger

Photo: Zia Anger

Since the budding stages of her career, back when she used to play acoustic sets at quiet St. Louis coffeehouses as a teen, Angel Olsen has been most comfortable doing things by herself. Yet the addition of drummer Josh Jaeger and bassist/keyboardist Stewart Bronaugh to her latest LP “Burn Your Fire For No Witness” succeeds not only as a small triumph marking the formation of Olsen’s first-ever and very own band, but also as an amplifier for the trembling sense of nakedness usually drawn from the unsettling poetry of her lyrics.

Olsen’s sophomore album was released just a couple months ago. It is her first on the folk friendly label Jagjaguwar and follows her previous solo endeavors; an EP titled “Strange Cacti” (2011) recorded in a kitchen, and her debut studio album “Half Way Home” (2012), as well as several collaborative works. Much like the title suggests, “Burn Your Fire For No Witness” delves into themes of solitude and the void one feels and the questions one becomes acquainted with when love dies in a state of misunderstanding. Versed in a style that morphs between 1950s country and the dream-like stanzas of Leonard Cohen, Olsen sings with a range that crisscrosses from a delicate indie-fied Loretta Lynn to an indomitable PJ Harvey. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Cloud Nothings/Lincoln Hall

Indie Rock, Post-punk, Punk, Rock No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Photo: Pooneh Ghana

Photo: Pooneh Ghana

For years now, Internet culture has spoiled rabid music fans with an overabundance of new releases. Listeners often seem to devour and then toss aside each new album in favor of the next big “Best New Music,” and punk trio Cloud Nothings could very well be the poster children of the movement. When the band’s fantastic 2012 release “Attack on Memory” hit virtual shelves, the Internet buzzed with excitement over what seemed like a hard-rocking debut. But the album was Cloud Nothings’ third, and you wouldn’t know it from listening. For the band’s first two albums, Cloud Nothings had been a well-received, homespun lo-fi pop solo project. Then lead man Dylan Baldi threw the whole formula out the window and charged onward, in classic Internet age fashion. In came a hard-hitting rhythm section, a much darker edge to the lyrics, and lots more screaming: punk outfit Cloud Nothings was born. Read the rest of this entry »

Audiovisual Ambition: A Guide to CIMMfest Success

Festivals No Comments »

By Kenneth Preskicimm-fest-2014-2

The marriage of movies and music is the twentieth century’s greatest gift to culture. With sight and sound no longer separate, the essence of two distinct art forms united to birth more cultural touchstones of artistic significance than any other technological advancement in the modern age. Films with an unmistakable soundtrack, or musicians with a strong visual presence—the list of seismic successes is too long and too obvious to print. The pairing is so crucial to culture that “audiovisual” has entered our lexicon. So listen up and picture this: when the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival (CIMMfest) inevitably succeeds at their quest to become the Midwest answer to South by Southwest, will the organizers be able to maintain the integrity accompanying independence, or will corporate sponsors weigh too heavily on the proceedings? CIMMfest isn’t big enough to have to bear that burden yet, but make no mistake: between all the films, concerts and panels to choose from, the festival’s sixth year may be the start of something much bigger. There are enough events happening to make creating a schedule for the long weekend a serious challenge. You might be here for work, or just committed to pleasure; whether you’re a tourist or a local, sticking to Milwaukee Avenue or exploring Chicago at large, CIMMfest has you covered. A festival pass will set you back $75, and guarantees you access to one headliner, three other CIMMfest sponsored events, and more than a hundred others on a first-come first-serve basis. There are endless possibilities. Here’s a suggested schedule to get you started: Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Daley/Lincoln Hall

Pop, R&B, Soul No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDdaley

Chicago welcomes back pop and R&B’s newest blue-eyed recruit, Daley. Born and raised in Manchester, England, the twenty-four-year-old has come up in the industry little by little in the past four years thanks to an unrelenting DIY philosophy. Donning one ridiculously top-heavy, modern-day pomp, perfectly pruned geometric facial hair, and thick-rimmed glasses, Daley looks especially eager for an audience. With this tour being the first to follow the release of his first-ever studio album (“Days & Nights”) who can blame him?

For Daley, a pursuit toward music came naturally and the recurring dream of signing with a major label began back in his teens. Locked away in his bedroom he’d write songs and lyrics channeling such predecessors as Prince, D’Angelo, Sade and Radiohead. When he was old enough, he left Manchester for London and began working his way into the underground urban music scene. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: How to Dress Well/Lincoln Hall

Ambient, R&B No Comments »
Photo: Jesse Lirola

Photo: Jesse Lirola

RECOMMENDED

Tom Krell, aka How to Dress Well, isn’t just another sensitive guy making sensitive-guy music. He’s an ambassador for the human experience, not just for big touchstones like love and loss, but for the surprise emotions that come with accidentally discovering an unforeseen understanding of life’s events. Labeled by most as an R&B singer, his nontraditional sounds and lyricisms set him apart from his contemporaries such as Frank Ocean and the Weeknd, who typically orbit the time-honored realm of drugs, sex and shapes of the female anatomy.

Having never really had a formal musical background, Krell’s popularity grew from songs he recorded and uploaded on his blog. Then in 2010, Portland’s Lefse Records approached him to put together an album. He offered them “Love Remains,” a constellation of his spirit made from the very best of the EPs posted on his blog. Symphonic, sentimental and sorrowful throughout, “Love Remains” established Krell as an original and meaningful artist and led him to collaborate with like-minded artists such as Jacques Greene, Active Child, Shlohmo and Forest Swords. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Filmage/Lincoln Hall

Hardcore, Pop Punk, Punk No Comments »

filmageRECOMMENDED

As much as anything else, this is the story of Bill Stevenson. He’s a drummer. And from all the praise dropped at his feet during this newly released ninety-minute film, it would seem that he’s a pretty good one. If Descendents isn’t a familiar name—and it should be—maybe Black Flag summons some sort of recognition. If not, “Filmage” has all the talking heads one’d need to get informed. Keith Morris crops up. Mike Watt, too. And it would seem that Dave Grohl is becoming the new millennium’s Ian MacKaye, replacing that D.C. stalwart in punk documentaries. Watching those famous faces flit across the screen narrating the development of Descendents doesn’t get tiresome, though. The issue with films like this is that frequently the story winds up being more gripping than the music. No pop punk resurrection is set for the immediate future, yet early cuts from Descendents—with Milo Aukerman on vocals—isn’t surpassed by too much else in the music world. Read the rest of this entry »

Celestial Celebration: Ken Camden on Kranky’s Twentieth

Ambient, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock, Krautrock, Minimalism, New Music, Post-Rock, Rock, Space Pop No Comments »
Ken Camden

Ken Camden

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 »