Ever since Ethan Kath secretly recorded fellow Torontan and punk vocalist Alice Glass on a soundcheck, the partnership has been setting the pace for electro-pop. While Crystal Castles is allegedly a reference to He-Man’s estranged twin sister She-Ra, Kath’s electronic engineering sounds a lot more like the 1983 Atari game of the same name. 8-bit sounds bubble up everywhere around house beats and Glass’ processed vocal antagonism on their debut self-titled LP (circa 2008). Breakout single “Alice Practice” (which features those original stolen vocals) sounds like a crack addict arguing with a malfunctioning arcade game. Last summer saw the release of the long-awaited sophomore album from CC (also self-titled), and a change from video-game themes to haunted compositions, building on layers of spectral reverb, pitch-shifted laudanum vocals, and ominous bass-synth runners. The exemplary track “Violent Dreams” imagines a kind of gothic possession story with dark clouds of bass undergirding stalking organ notes and chopped intonations including nearly subliminal ghost moans. Crystal Castles’ major conceit may be how little Glass’ lyrics contribute to their songs overall impact. More of a visual foil to Kath’s dark electronic wizardry, she nevertheless makes the live show worth seeing. While Kath hides behind his bangs and a cul-de-sac of boards and processors, Glass is out front hot-footing like a Native American in the midst of mescaline reveries. Notice to those in the crowd who manage to get up front, be prepared to play catch because this lady likes to stage-dive her own shows. (David Wicik)
Crystal Castles play March 12 at The Riviera, 4746 North Racine, (773)275-6800, 8pm. $24.
So after all the initial buzz and overblown praise and then the backlash and biting criticism and “Oh god they are so overrated I don’t get it!”s, Vampire Weekend’s second record, “Contra,” debuted number-one on the Billboard 200. A notable feat, it’s only the twelfth independently released record (XL Recordings) to do so. “Contra” works much in the same way the band’s self-titled debut does—charming melodies and sugar-high tempos keep the affair upbeat and (gasp!) fun. Tracks like “Horchata” and “Cousins” deserve to have come from the same band that doesn’t give a fuck about the oxford comma. Speaking of that song, though, “Contra” lacks the memorable individual moments of the first record—there are no chills-inducing spots like the hook to “I Stand Corrected” or the introduction of the cello in “The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance,” or the “Graceland”-like breakout down in the middle of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” But that’s just bickering. “Contra” working more as a complete piece than a mish-mash of songs is hardly a dealbreaking criticism. Yes, the band still comes off as New York City trust-funders, and Ezra Koenig’s lyrics remain elevated and mostly ridiculous; both of these perpetual elements of Vampire Weekend keep many indie-rock old-schoolers wary, and I can understand that. But at the same time I want to tell everyone to get over it and shake those hips. (Tom Lynch)
March 26 at Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, (773)275-6800, at 7:30pm.
Sheffield’s hugely popular rockers the Arctic Monkeys set records when its debut, “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not,” was released in 2006. It was the fastest-selling debut in UK history, landing at number one upon its release (as did the two subsequent full-lengths) and spawning two number-one hits before winning the Mercury Prize. Follow-up “Favourite Worst Nightmare,” also nominated for the Mercury Prize, found the Monkeys more aggressive, loud and fast, and all twelve of its tracks entered the top 200. I didn’t understand the appeal. To me, both albums were typical Brit-rock that made me anxious (though to be fair to the Arctic Monkeys—vocalist Alex Turner, in particular—just about everything makes me curl into a ball of anxiety). Maybe that would change with 2009’s looser, more experimental “Humbug”? Nope. Now I was just bored. My opinions aside, the band has steadily become more engaging live and has an ever-growing fanbase. If you’re part of it, this show is not to be missed. (Kelley Hecker)
December 6 at Riviera, 4746 N. Racine, (773)275-6800. 7pm. $27.50.
There are plenty of elements of the stereotypical rock ‘n’ roll ethos that are easy to be completely enamored with: indifference or disdain towards social norms, painful/sweaty stage moves, the abundance of poorly groomed facial hair. But it’s the three elements that I have a negative reaction to—mainly the love affair with marijuana, the extended blues-rock jamming and the windbag for a lead singer—that manifest themselves front and center in The Black Crowes. Something about Chris Robinson strutting around the stage, boasting the most unremarkable voice in music, really pisses me off, as does the process of enduring the band chugging through some generic Stones retread while parading the same-old bluesy riffs as if its fans are really going to have their minds blown hearing them for 900th time. Technical proficiency isn’t The Crowes problem—it’s that, for a supposed soul-rock band, the band is soulless and vapid, fronted by someone who’s still pushing the antiquated stoner-rock persona and who looks more and more like Jason Lee from “Almost Famous” every day. Pass. (Andy Seifert)
November 6 at Riviera Theatre, Broadway and Lawrence, (773)275-6800, at 8pm. $41.50
The first collaboration between Polly Jean Harvey and John Parish, 1996′s “Dance Hall at Louse Point,” made a bit of a splash and then was relatively forgotten, mostly because of the two songwriters’ work that followed. The two return all these years later with the strangely titled “A Woman A Man Walked By,” and the results are similar to their first project—compelling, haunting at times, but ultimately not as powerful as when either of them works separately. Harvey’s most recent “solo” record was 2007′s somber, piano-driven “White Chalk”; Parish’s was 2005′s memorable “Once Upon a Little Time.” Both are better records. Yet, “A Woman A Man Walked By,” which spans the spectrum of modern art rock, remains intriguing, if a little disappointing, just for the involvement of its two creators. Live, they’re both spectacular. (Tom Lynch)
June 12 at the Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, (773)275-6800, 7:30pm. $35.
Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, Pop, Rock, World Music
It’s the economy, stupid.
Not only has the music industry had to adapt to the growth of digital technology and file-sharing, now everyone’s broke and on the brink of fighting for food. This century has not been kind to record labels, record stores and record manufacturers, not to mention the promoters and venues who’ve seen some declines in business due to—you guessed it—the elevating economic crisis. Top that off with the threat of a Live Nation/Ticketmaster merger and a citywide Promoter’s Ordinance, and the fear is very much real. No matter how good the intentions are of all parties, there may not be enough room for the little guy for much longer.
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One thing it appears everybody loves about Brooklyn quintet The Hold Steady: virtually every member is really, really ugly. Seriously, don’t they all give off that “creepy middle-aged guy at the party” vibe? If, say, the guys in Sigur Ros looked like these dudes, people would be jarred at their sight, but for The Hold Steady, nothing could be more apropos—after the release of this year’s “Stay Positive,” Craig Finn and company have become America’s quintessential bar band, playing sloppy, power chord-driven indie-rock with motifs ranging from getting really sloshed on booze to getting really messed up on other, unspecified drugs. The band develops drunken euphoria with its organ-drenched tunes, bringing the sex and drugs (and also some fairly substantial introspection on growing old) back to rock ‘n’ roll, expanding on their sound from 2006′s universally acclaimed “Girls and Boys From America.” If they were even halfway attractive, you could call their bluff—but these are fellas you can honestly picture drinking Milwaukee’s Best, which makes their stories that much more genuine. (Andy Seifert)
November 14 at Riviera Theatre, Broadway and Lawrence, (773)275-6800, at 8pm.
With “Dear Science,” TV on the Radio’s follow-up to its beloved 2006 record “Return to Cookie Mountain,” Tunde Adebimpe, Kyp Malone and company return with an art-rock triumph. The production is dense, the arrangements are complex yet downright gorgeous and the lyrical content delves into themes rife with death, sex and politics—more than enough material for music critics to piss their pants in delight. But while “Dear Science” will rightfully receive accolades for its artistic merits, casual listeners may focus on the fact that its pretty damn fun and an absolute blast to listen to from the get go (not requiring numerous repeat spins like “Cookie Mountain”), as the music simultaneously drips with sweat and bares the soul. Malone’s guitar continues to pace the band, his versatility spanning from simple Strokes-style riffs to frenzied, sprawling Jonny Greenwood arrangements, while in-band producer David Sitek fills up space with whatever instrument he sees fit: strings, trumpets, synths—everything feels right when placed within TV on the Radio’s universe. (Andy Seifert)
October 22 at Riviera Theatre, 4746 North Racine, (773)275-6800
Aussie Nick Cave has had an interesting career, to say the least. Say what you will about the man’s tenacious lyrical talent, his weaving of narratives and violent stories, making them seem alive, the listener hooked, compassionate, transfixed. His unmistakable growl. The Seeds’ warping of rock, folk, experimentalist noise, piano ballads. Cave’s most intriguing work in recent years, much more so than the shrug-inducing new record, “Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!”, was his soundtrack to the 2006 film “The Proposition,” for which he wrote the screenplay. A hodgepodge of found sound, guitar scrapings and spoken word, it’s certainly a must-hear. Cave kicked the dope and everything got less cool—funny how it works that way sometimes. But still, the man’s a legend, and watching him perform will always prove to be a treat. And “The Ship Song,” with its melancholy, fading-love storyline, is still one of the best of its kind. (Tom Lynch)
September 29 at the Riv
Maybe even more impressive than Rilo Kiley’s ten-year, five-album discography (that holds few, if any, serious blemishes) is the fact that Rilo Kiley still exists. Consider the meteoric rise in mainstream popularity for redheaded front-woman Jenny Lewis, who used a generally successful feel-good solo debut (“Rabbit Fur Coat”) to solidify her status as an indie-rock icon and recently collaborated with Elvis Costello on his new album, “Momofuku,” an honor that only guys like Burt Bacharach, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Jesus (assumedly) can say they’ve done. Combine that with guitarist Blake Sennett’s The Elected side project and drummer Jason Boesel’s obligations to Conor Oberst’s “Mystic Valley Band,” and one wonders—why does Rilo Kiley have the time to come to Chicago twice in eight months? Well, whatever the case, now a year removed from the band’s polarizing, Fleetwood Mac-esque release “Under the Blacklight,” Rilo is still a wholly relevant indie-rock entity and an emerging player in the mainstream charts. (Andy Seifert)
Saturday, May 24 at Riviera Theatre