Our biannual behind-the-scenes look at Chicago’s thriving music community gets a little more complex every year. Performers are easy enough to pin down; they’re front and center, by definition. But it can take some digging to excavate the driving forces behind the city’s rich tapestry of orchestras, festivals, music venues and record labels. On the other hand, a certain kind of celebrity has attached itself to bloggers, promoters, radio announcers, artistic directors and journalists, that puts them almost on an equal footing to the artists they’re here to support. So we find ourselves, in this year’s Music 45, ranging wide across the city’s musical landscape, reacquainting you with names and faces you may know almost as well as your own, while introducing you to several newcomers who have labored, if not quite in obscurity, then without the recognition their endeavors have earned them. What they all have in common, is that your life—yes, yours—is a little bit richer because of them. (Robert Rodi)
Music 45 was written by Robert Rodi and Dennis Polkow
With additional contributions by Keidra Chaney, Corey Hall, Robert Loerzel, Dylan Peterson and John Wilmes
Cover and interior photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux on location at Metro Chicago Read the rest of this entry »
Illustration: Ray Noland
By David Safran
I am a solo artist who performs live music in Chicago. Urban Dictionary, the summit of our English language, has a few definitions of “solo artist.” The second is fitting: a musician who works on “material/songs in a primarily solo state.” But I prefer the first definition: solo artists are musicians so skilled at masturbation that “they take it to the level of an art.”
At any rate, I write songs and perform them live. I use my own name—a tricky sell in 2015—and I hire musicians to accompany me on stage. These musicians are professional and skilled—and expensive. It’s a costly process, taking on a show. Each musician gets about $100-$150 for the performance. I reimburse the band for travel expenses. Sometimes they request separate payment for rehearsals. I also rent space for our practices. If I perform one local show, I need at least $450 to break even.
Occasionally I get offers to open for touring solo artists. Over the past couple of years, talent buyers have contacted me about support slots not because the music matched or the headliners (and their agents) were David Safran fans, but because I could “add heft in ticket sales.” Those headliners—all global and careered and acclaimed—were, for whatever reason, having a tough time selling tickets here. Per-show booking fees for artists I’ve supported have all been in the thousands. My guarantees have been meager. For example, City Winery paid me $300. Lincoln Hall paid me $200. In October, SPACE offered me $100 with the expectation to bring the crowd; the headliner had only sold twenty-five tickets. SPACE is a music room in the back of a suburban pizzeria. You’d think its talent buyer, Jake Samuels, was booking La Scala. Yet I couldn’t get a guarantee higher than $100. I turned down his show offer. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Nikki Benson
The glitchy, trippy music of Seattle-based duo Shabazz Palaces is hip-hop for sound and noise nerds, much more concerned with exploring different musical palettes and textures than creating beats to nod your head to. Ishmael Butler (formerly of Digable Planets) has a history of creating hip-hop with a solid foundation in jazz-influenced musicianship. With Shabazz Palaces, Butler goes even bolder and more experimental in his musical collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Tendai “Baba” Maraire. Together, they eschew sampling of existing songs and dare to create new patterns of melody and rhythm with drum machines, synth, samplers and various forms of percussive instruments. It’s hip-hop that tells a story through words and music and defies simple descriptions. Read the rest of this entry »
The Clean has been a highly influential band since the beginning.
They more or less personified the Dunedin Sound, a jangly, loose, lo-fi rock genre specific to their native New Zealand, on Flying Nun Records in the early eighties. This sound, propelled by university radio stations, eventually spread all over the world. Alt-indie staples like Sonic Youth, Pavement and Guided by Voices all cite The Clean in their influences. Moving forward, these bands that draw from The Clean serve as sources for countless other musicians. If you were to make a “Law and Order: SVU”-style string-web of where Pitchfork-centric bands come from, The Clean would be at or very near the middle. Read the rest of this entry »
Moonrise Nation is one of those rare acts that is coming from a place of total honesty, presenting music that means a lot to them during the most important part of their development as artists. There is a certain misty wisdom in Moonrise Nation’s overall sound due to the songwriting itself as well as the general combination of piano, cello, guitar and woven harmonies. The group sounds like Regina Spektor collaborating with Atlas Sound, bringing together a darkened pop quirkiness and a mellow but fierce underlying force. Also, they’re all in their late teens, but this is not evident in their sound. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »