Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2014

Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Folk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, R&B, Rock, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Chicago, you are a big, bold, beautiful city of infinite complexity. Your historical heritage, your social and political upheaval, your segregation, violence and corruption have birthed an incredible wealth of musical expression. It’s by virtue of these artists that our community confronts and escapes the mistakes of our metropolis. And so our publication listens intently, offering a nuanced dialogue with the musicians who craft our culture. Yet, once a year, we redirect our approach to the opposing swing of the pendulum. We zoom-out where we would normally zoom-in. This list offers a broad-stroke survey of those Chicago musicians whose current cultural currency is readily represented to the city and to the rest of the world, living artists whose quantifiable influence echoes their effect. Some big names are missing, some rankings seem arbitrary, but it’s toward these acts, firmly Chicagoan, that we look when we seek out the spirit of home. Where our words might fail, the music will not. (Kenneth Preski)

Music 45 was written by Kenneth Preski, Dennis Polkow, John Wilmes, Jessica Burg, Robert Szypko, Eric Lutz, Keidra Chaney, Reilly Gill, Corey Hall and Dave Cantor

All photos taken on location at The Hideout by Joe Mazza of BraveLux. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Tim Kinsella sings the songs of Marvin Tate by LeRoy Bach featuring Angel Olsen”

Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Record Reviews, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


Tim Kinsella helms Joan of Arc, LeRoy Bach was with Wilco at their creative peak, Angel Olsen is on the cusp of indie stardom, but Marvin Tate? Who is Marvin Tate? The man responsible for writing each of these thirteen songs is the least known of the otherwise reputable quartet. Somewhere in the cracks between his race-exploring appearance on “This American Life,” his freakness embrace on Def Poetry, and his semi-regular outings as bandleader of early Funkadelic infused D-Settlement, Marvin Tate is too many things to distill. To be sure, he’s a Chicagoan, just like everyone else on this release, save Olsen who has fled the city to foster a career in the ascendant. Apart from Tate’s stated résumé, his work has yet to break the art world open, but such is the fate of the self-proclaimed poet. Where Tate disregards rhyming in verse, he favors the brutality of truth, which sits well with Kinsella. Read the rest of this entry »

Alone, Together: Multi-Instrumentalist Dosh Expands his Experiment in a Vacuum

Experimental No Comments »

dosh1By Dave Cantor

There might not be a middle class in a few years. Thomas Friedman said so in the New York Times. So while we’re all waiting for that crushing future, a generation’s gotta figure out how to get over. And Minneapolis’ Martin Dosh seems to have succeeded.

He’s mostly just Dosh now–his last name serving as a tag for all performances he’s inclined to take part in, whether it’s a solo gig or as part of ensemble performance. “Milk Money,” the percussionist’s latest album, he says, is the result of a concerted effort to do something different, and something in a collaborative vacuum. It’s aurally apparent from the disc’s opening four minutes. “We Are the Worst” doesn’t feature any sort of easily recognizable beat—an odd move for a guy so associated with a drum kit.

“It’s always been me and an extension of me–my greater musical family in Minneapolis,” Dosh says of his name’s abstraction. “My longest collaborator is Mike Lewis, who recorded on “Pure Trash,” “Lost Take” and “Tommy”–and he did all the tours I did from 2006 to 2010. … We had a cool telepathic language; we pulled off a full-band sound with two guys.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Beethoven Festival: LOVE 2013

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Festivals, Rock No Comments »


When Beethoven died, John Quincy Adams was President of the United States. Illinois had been a state for less than a decade, and Chicago wouldn’t be incorporated for another seven years. That Chicago will play host to the world premiere of a Beethoven love song is astounding by all measures, none more so than the respective age of the composition, older than the city where it will be performed for the first time. To celebrate the momentous occasion, The International Beethoven Project, led by President and Artistic Director George Lepauw, have assembled a broad swath of love-inspired performers, including Wilco’s phenomenal drummer Glenn Kotche, and Gray, a band started by the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The programming often takes musicians to task, asking them to perform variations on a theme, most potently Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony,” which will get special piano and experimental electronic treatment resulting in a great number of entirely new compositions. And though the festival is his namesake, Beethoven is not the only composer represented. Matthias Pintscher, music director of Paris’ Ensemble InterContemporain, will conduct Bach’s “Saint-John’s Passion,” Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” and “Overture to Tristan and Isolde,” and Mozart’s “Gran Partita,” all as a buildup to his take on Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral Symphony).” Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Repave” by Volcano Choir

Folk, Folk-rock, Record Reviews, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

RepaveI’ve never readily accepted the music of Justin Vernon. Undeniably well-crafted as it is, irresistible and viscerally affective as his voice is, something’s missing. Or maybe there’s too much of something, perhaps too much of the saccharine. Or perhaps Vernon’s sincerity goes unchecked on his independent projects (Kanye West contextualized the singer’s talents masterfully on each of his last two longforms), and I’m just unable to sign off on what’s ultimately a glitch-painted form of plain old “Americana,” which occasionally performs infectious and fascinating dances between each of its instrumental layers. I could go on. I could probably compliment Vernon’s sonic engineering all day. He’s a textural master, he’s a king of the melodic gut-punch. He could probably make me cry for weeks and weeks if he took up residency with a guitar in my family room. Read the rest of this entry »

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2013

Chicago Artists, Classical, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, Rock No Comments »
Cover by Colin Denney

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 »

Preview: Mavis Staples/City Winery

Blues, Chicago Artists, R&B, Soul No Comments »


Performers have forgotten over the last few decades how useful it is to have a point to your music. Innocuous tunes about booze and boning are always going to have traction, but recordings from the Staple Singers remain an unmatched body of work that touts determination and tenacity. Mavis, her father Pops and a cadre of sisters performed from the 1950s through the eighties. They used music to connect their own community and worked to unite every thoughtful person in the country. Along the way, Mavis worked with everyone from Bob Dylan to the Stax house band alongside her family and during solo endeavors. It took her about sixty years to be awarded a Grammy—she may deserve a few more—but it was a hard-earned piece of recognition. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Elsinore, Canasta/Lincoln Hall

Chicago Artists, Indie Pop No Comments »



Elsinore recorded their first LP very, very slowly. It took two years and plenty of University of Illinois house-party gigs for the pop quintet to assemble a record out of their singular catchy songs. Released two weeks ago and co-produced with Adam Schmitt and mastered by Jon Pines (who has also worked extensively with Wilco), the band is looking to finally break free from their Champaign-Urbana bubble. Taking cues from modern-day influences Ben Gibbard and Sufjan Stevens, Elsinore enthusiastically cranks out punchy choruses and well-timed harmonies. Call it power pop with a killer falsetto. Though Elsinore is the headliner, Canasta is an equally great (if not better) reason to check out Lincoln Hall Friday night. The Chicago-based orchestra-pop band seems to have been on the verge since 2002, when it was founded by male/female duo Matt Priest and Elizabeth Lindau. They’ve cycled through fifteen members and gotten some mainstream attention—sound bites in a feature film, TV commercials and a spot on NPR’s World Café—but always seem to be a bit under the radar. Which is surprising, considering their New Pornographers-duo sound matched with a Midwestern alt-country feel. The band was at Lincoln Hall earlier this year with Mucca Pazza, but the marriage Friday night between both Elsinore’s and Canasta’s nuanced pop will be a holy experience. (Dee Fabbricatore)

August 20 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 North Lincoln, (773)525-2501, 10pm. $10.

With a Whimper: Was 2009 a weak year for music?

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop, Indie Pop, Indie Rock, Post-punk, Post-Rock, Rock, Shoegaze No Comments »

By Tom Lynchac-merriweather-cover

At the

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end of each year, media outlets the world over assess the top achievements of the last twelve months, each critic or collective taking a stab at selecting the “best” or “top” records, tracks, live shows and music videos (still!) that have made the grade. Newcity’s no exception, and while I look over the list of releases of 2009 and consider the enormous amount of live shows I’ve attended in the last year, I can’t help but think: so that’s it?

Curiously, most best-of-the-decade lists that are popping up online don’t include many, if any, 2009 releases. Of course, this could be because the albums released this year haven’t had enough time to settle in critics’ hearts and minds, but it’s also possible, maybe even likely, that there isn’t much from this year that’s especially notable. Instead, it’s been a year of non-releases, as many of the top acts in the world were absent in new recorded form, and those established artists that did offer new material came up short. There have been debut records from bands that have been rewarding and show immense promise, but if any of these artists are lucky, their best work lies ahead of them.

Call me a grump, and I’ll nod and shrug, as it wouldn’t be the first time. But there were exactly zero records that were produced this year that I couldn’t stop obsessing over, let alone any that I could look back upon, years in the future, and grin in bittersweet nostalgic recognition as a piece of history, personal or otherwise, that represents this moment in life. Read the rest of this entry »

At Zeroes End: Music in Chicago 2000-2009

Chicago Artists, DJ, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, News and Dish, Rock 1 Comment »

By Tom LynchDM_1161

Here’s an example of how much can change over the course of ten years—Lincoln Park’s Lounge Ax, the premier indie-rock venue in the city, which even had a cameo in the Chicago-shot “High Fidelity,” took its final bow on January 15, 2000, just two weeks into the new decade. By now, it’s unlikely the majority of those who frequently attend rock shows at places like Empty Bottle, Schubas or Hideout were old enough to have ever gone there.

When considering changes and adjustments in all mediums over the last ten years, music offers the most significant transformation, not only here in Chicago but across the globe. Moving into 2010 we’re heavily entrenched in the digital age, as it took iTunes, introduced by Apple in January of 2001, and the iPod, which came in October of the same year, a relatively short amount of time to make over the record industry and put the future of record stores, independent and corporate, in limbo. Goodbye Virgin. Goodbye Tower. It was sort-of nice knowing you. Read the rest of this entry »