Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Video: Hemmingbirds - 'Mellow Gold Haze'

By Frank Krolicki

In looking back at my review of Death Wave, the debut record from Hemmingbirds, I realized I didn't call out the track "Mellow Gold Haze." I'm kind of surprised because I was totally feeling it just a few minutes ago while watching the new video for the song, but then again Death Wave had plenty of other tracks worthy of mentioning too. In any case, the clip--directed by Cody Ong--is a good reflection of the track's title, mostly featuring the band walking around the streets of Chicago, playing music and hanging out on the beach on warmer days. See for yourself below and catch the band live this Thursday, December 1st at Subterranean with Mutts, Sleepy Kitty and Glittermouse (tickets here).

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Show review: Austra, Young Galaxy, Tasseomancy at Empty Bottle

By Reagan Healey

I’m going to get right to it. This show was packed –like, ridiculously packed. Seriously, Empty Bottle, how many fire codes did you break? It was Canadian invasion night on Western Avenue this Monday, with shortlisted 2011 Polaris Music Prize nominees Austra returning to Chicago and the Empty Bottle on the last leg of their US tour with opening acts Young Galaxy and live collaborators Tasseomancy. It was about as cramped as I’ve ever been at that venue, but I’d be lying if I said the capacity crowd wasn’t entirely merited. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’d like to submit that the whole thing was pretty fucking awesome from beginning to end.

If I left it at that, though, I would be leaving a lot out.

I spent some time in my album review of Chicago three-piece Pillars and Tongues’ The Pass and Crossings discussing how acts that blend gothic mysticism and natural imagery with electronic instrumentation seem to have utterly taken the current music scene hostage. If that’s true, then this concert was undeniable evidence that the hostage situation is reaching a breaking point. Tasseomancy, fronted by twin sisters Sari and Romy Lightman, take their name from the practice of divining the future by examining tea leaves and wine dregs. If you can think of a hipper, more mystical name, I’m all ears –I mean c’mon, tea leaves and wine dregs, just wow. Dressed like a Romanian gypsy and an androgynous matador, they kind of resembled the ghosts of Bat For Lashes both Present and Future (respectively).

I’m not saying it was corny. Joined on stage by Austra drummer Maya Postepski, they delivered a perfect juxtaposition of witchy harmony with a tasteful blend of electronic and acoustic instrumentation. Of course, they also dedicated the show to a gay rooster named Henry. They elaborated more on that, but it was difficult to make out through their ghostly whispers –turns out speaking up is antithetical to being enigmatic. But why criticize the banter if the songs were solid, right? They certainly were, and Tasseomancy is also a lot of fun to watch, too. For some reason, being twins happens to go really well with acting supernatural, and they really acted the part. Romy was especially transfixing as she seemed to have perfected a dance gleaned in one part from a legitimate gypsy and in another from a strange old lady in church. When Tasseomancy joined Austra onstage later in the night as Katie Stelmanis’s backing singers, Romy threatened to upstage even Stelmanis herself.

This Thursday: Warm, Safe & Sound benefit show at Lincoln Hall

By Frank Krolicki

Excellent Chicago bands and helping people. Both very, very good things on their own, but capable of producing extra mondo amounts of positive vibes when they come together under one roof. Such is sure to be the case this Thursday, December 1st at Lincoln Hall, when locally-based acts The Bright White, The Kickback, Blane Fonda, The Steepwater Band and Hawley Shoffner play a benefit concert called Warm, Safe and Sound to collect coats/sweaters for the city's homeless. You can get in for $5 if you bring a coat or sweater to donate ($10 without), and all clothing collected will be given to Cornerstone Community Outreach who will distribute them to those in need.

The show starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are available here. Below is the schedule for the evening. This one should be well worth checking out, for the music as well as the cause.

7-7:30 PM - Hawley Shoffner
7:45-8:15 - The Kickback (EP review here)
8:30-9:15 PM - The Bright White (EP review here)
9:30-10:15 PM - Blane Fonda
10:30 PM - The Steepwater Band

Monday, November 28, 2011

Record review: Bad Bad Meow - 'Big Phat Pussycat'

By Andrew Hertzberg

About a year ago, I did one of my first interviews for this website with Bad Bad Meow’s drummer Sarah Sydow. In it, we discussed possible first album titles. At the time they were kicking around the idea of Pussydoodle, but have opted for the slightly less offensive Big Phat Pussycat. Released back in May (yeah, yeah, better late than never, right?), the debut LP shows a surprising dynamic between the tracks and all the slide guitar you could ask for. The band centers around Sarah behind the kit, Alen Khan on acoustic guitar and lead vocals, Chris Ray on slide guitar, and a rotating cast of characters filling in on bass and other surprises. Sarah and Alen have played together in infinity +1 bands going all the way back to their days in North Carolina before moving to Chicago. They haven’t lost their southern charm since moving the great north, making equally sure they don’t get too serious, nor too silly.

The album kicks off with "Mother, Father," a deceitfully straightforward rock song, but a great introduction to Khan’s heart-on-the-sleeve vocals that bring to mind Frank Black (Black Francis, even) but with the hint of a southern accent. "La La La" is actually just as cryptic, hectic and head-spinning enough to be a Surfer Rosa b-side. Remember when I mentioned the dynamics of this record? The together-forever doo-wopish ballad "Run to the Middle" is followed by the self-explaining punk-blues, garage-stomp "Drink and Regret," turning the remorseful “I said it / we never / should have gone to bed together” into a cathartic chorus at the end. Of course, this is followed be the track that may have inspired the regret, the piano led "Touch It!" that just demands to swing your partner round and round (dance floor optional).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Video: Deadbeat - 'Accident'

By Frank Krolicki

Here's a new one from Chicago's own Deadbeat (a.k.a Jessica Risker, who also fronts Absinthe & The Dirty Floors) for lovers of chill indie folk and beautifully-made video alike. The track, "Accident," is a reflective number that is paired with footage of various sea creatures doing what sea creatures do. On paper this might not sound like anything too thrilling, but the visuals, by Loren Risker, are stunning, the tune is sadly beautiful and together they're entirely engrossing. Check it out:

Monday, November 21, 2011

A few Chicago music news bites

  • Gapers Block has the details on an upcoming exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago that will feature a collaboration from Andrew Bird and sculptor/luthier Ian Schneller. There will be a visual aspect including a "sound garden" of audio horn speakers as well as a performance by Bird.
  • We've still got a while until we find out who's going to play Lollapalooza 2012 in Chicago, but lineups have just been announced for the upcoming Chilean and Brazilian installments of the fest. Check them out here and here and let the Lolla Chicago lineup speculation begin.
  • has some video from last Thursday's M83 show at Lincoln Hall.
  • Long-time Windy City rockers Local H are apparently Rush fans, and they're out to make it known this New Year's Eve at the Bottom Lounge where they'll ring in 2012 with a salute to Rush's 2112. "Being Rush fans, we also realized that it was now or never to do something with 2112," says frontman Scott Lucas. "It's not numerically correct, but none of us will be around in 100 years, so we're doing this for humanity's sake."

EP review: Narrow Sparrow - Synthworks

By Frank Krolicki

Remember those trippy scenes from Gumby when Gumby and pals would be roaming around outer space encountering all sorts of strange things for no apparent reason? As soon as the intro track, "Joe Meek's Dream," off Narrow Sparrow's debut EP Synthworks starts, I'm for some reason reminded of that. Random, yes. But any band who can make me think of such things is OK in my book. Like those old clips, this stuff is as far out and weird as it is colorful and accessible, and I can just imagine the happy green lump of clay running around on the moon while these blippy bedroom-pop sounds play away in the background (of course, the spacey, retro pop culture-referencing, stop-motion video for the track probably didn't hurt in making this connection).

"Joe Meek's Dream" is the definite jewel in the crown of the four-track Synthworks, but the entire EP is a solid introduction. "Spooky Head" combines the band's overall eerie spaciness with doo-wop and some creepy laughing noises to enchanting effect, while the vintage chirped synths and hazy mood of "Glow" take the eeriness even further. Final track "Moon Temple" caps it all off properly as a manic psychedelic send-off for this Chicago band's musical endeavors. It all ends too soon, but that's not really a bad thing because I know I'll be all ears whenever Narrow Sparrow comes up with something else.

You can hear for yourself by downloading Synthworks for free here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Show preview: Soft Speaker, Secret Colours, more at Beat Kitchen, 11/19

By Sasha Geffen

Most bands are lucky to keep up a rate of one album release a year, if that. But the psych-rock ensemble Soft Speaker have plowed through typical conventions of productivity by releasing their second full-length of 2011. Vortrobos dropped earlier this month as the follow-up to April's debut I'll Tend Your Garden, and the new record stands as a notable refinement of what was already quite a promising sound: vintage psychedelia reinforced with hefty prog muscle. 

These prolific genre-swirlers will be celebrating the release of Vortrobos tomorrow night, November 19th, at Beat Kitchen. Joining them will be fellow psychedelic revivalists Secret Colours, who are a must-follow for any Chicago listeners nostalgic for the days of The Jesus and Mary Chain. Garage-gaze outfit Hotel St. George will also be swinging in from the west coast, while local emo-pop trio Headshadow will kick everything off. 

It's sure to be a fuzz-laden evening out of these four, topped off by performances of brand new Soft Speaker tunes that sound about ready to explode in the moment. Check out 'Jeju Island' below for a snippet of what's in store. 

Doors at 8, show at 8:30, 17 and over, tickets $8

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Show review: Prince Rama, Indian Jewelry at Subterranean, 11/15

By Andrew Hertzberg

Indian Jewelry (photos: Shannon Aliza)
Prince Rama is bizarre. Their history is steeped in as much mysticism as their music. The current incarnation involves sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson. They lived on a Hare Krishna farm in Florida, recorded their newest album Trust Now in a 19th century church in Seattle and now live in Brooklyn where they hold “group exorcisms to the score of old VHS workout music and re-staging apocalypses through chopped and screwed pop songs.” As for the music? It sounds tribal, touching multiple ethnic backgrounds, and values ritual at its core. They rely only a keyboard and drumkit (which makes ample use of the splash cymbal). They both sing and absolutely everything is covered in a thick layer of reverb (a bit too much for the recipe in my opinion). "Rest in Piece" sounds like it would be perfectly at home in a late 19th century Chinese opium den. The absolute best part of the night Tuesday: the music stops – the sisters whisper the word “trust” – Takara moves to the front of the stage, turns her back, and successfully trustfalls into the audience, carrying her stiff body throughout the SubT floor. Far out.

Taking the stage next was Houston’s Indian Jewelry (aka Corpses of Waco, aka the Turquoise Diamonds, aka, the Perpetual War Party Band, aka…). Lots of droning noise and psychedelic experimentation and you can tell they’ve listened to a PIL album or two. The blaring strobe lights on the floor made for a very uncomfortable effect, but really were quite appropriate to the disorienting nature of the music itself. It had a brainwashing, or even amnesiac quality to it. As soon as it was over, I felt like I woke up from out of some absurd dream that I can only vaguely recall.

Peep some more photos after the jump:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Record review: Pillars and Tongues - 'The Pass and Crossings'

By Reagan Healey

The recent return of gothic sensibilities to popular music has been a strange one. Artists like Zola Jesus, Chelsea Wolfe and Former Ghosts seemed to appear practically out of nowhere, and their recent success has been just as inexplicable. This is the changing face of the dark. This is where the eerie side of pop was apparently hiding these past few years, and it’s this same strange alcove where Chicago three-piece Pillars and Tongues draw the somber yet incessant energy for their 35-minute release The Pass and Crossings. They haven’t exactly altered their sound since Lay of Pilgrim Park; they haven’t even really expanded it. To the contrary, with the release of The Pass and Crossings, Pillars and Tongues seem more focused than ever, relying less on vocal loops and sampling for a sound that is poignantly spare yet abyssal.

The influx of apocalyptic imagery and spooky arrangements into music’s mainstream doesn’t really fit neatly into what we’re accustomed to calling “gothic” in popular culture. Gone are the vampires, tombstones and overwrought theatrics. In fact, Pillars and Tongues are not exactly unique in that they tread much more closely to the traditional associations of Gothic literature as opposed to music. In The Pass and Crossings, nature is an ever-looming presence, cast in an eldritch, threatening light and endowed with an almost mystical significance. In “Oaky (Doting),” Mark Trecka moans: you are wading in your springs / you are an oaken ash / you are come upon your veils / you are wild grass. A sublime sensation of destiny and doom has replaced the old clichés of “goth,” and the sad truth is we don’t really have a good word for it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Show review: Shonen Knife at the Empty Bottle, 11/12

By Gene Wagendorf III

Yamano sings "Rock N Roll High School"
30th anniversary tour. The words bring images of bloated, wrinkled musicians and hired-guns wistfully stomping through cookie-cutter set lists and audiences split between those blinded by the thrill of their favorite hit and those left coldly disappointed by an impotent showing. Enter Shonen Knife and throw out everything I just said.

The pop-punk trio from Osaka, Japan opened their set Saturday with "Konnichiwa," from 1998's Happy Hour, immediately turning The Bottle into a grimy, sweaty basement party. Blunt drumming tussled with Ritsuko Taneda's rippling bass lines, instantly rubberizing knees and necks. The bassist jammed in sync with founding singer/guitarist Naoko Yamano, going for what looked like a kind of ZZ Top-meets-Devo thing. Serrated distortion shimmered through the bop of "Rock Society," the first of several songs played that justify the plethora of Ramones-comparisons associated with Shonen Knife. Built for fist-pumping, the tune is of the positive and playful punk that tends to be forgotten when talking about "real music." Yes, it can be difficult to take a band who earnestly plays songs like "I am a Cat" seriously, but any listener with their nose so upturned that they can't enjoy simple things like great melodies, stupid, giddy lyrics and a great beat is a fool who I didn't need to run into at the show anyway. The aforementioned kitty-themed song was sung by drummer Emi Morimoto, whose pixie voice pleasantly swayed over polished guitar flourishes.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Show review: Mister Heavenly at Subterranean, 11/13

By Andrew Hertzberg

Now that the buzz over Michael Cera being in Mister Heavenly has diminished, we can get a better look at what the Man Man / Islands / Modest Mouse members can do with the talents that have given all of their original groups such unique sounds. As all of the previous bands can be defined by a sound that rates on the higher end of the quirky scale (well, older Modest Mouse at least, but Man Man and Islands for sure), Mister Heavenly is a more refined, even conventional outfit. Keyboardist Ryan Kattner is without his all white tennis uniform, facepaint and handlebar mustache he is so accustomed to wearing on stage with Man Man and Nick Thorburn from Islands (and previously the Unicorns) is just a very straight-laced, suspenders-wearing guitar player. Opening Sunday night at SubT with “I Am a Hologram,” the impression is already made that this is a more straight up rock and roll show. In fact, it only took until the eponymous second track they played that you could tell where their self-described genre of "Doom-Wop" comes from. Likewise, it is an interesting juxtaposition between Ryan's Tom Waits growl with Nick's more clean-cut vocals. Kattner hits the lower octaves on the keyboard to make up for the Cera-less bass and the drummer threw a maraca to the most enthusiastic crowd member in the front row (the kid was later awarded "Best Person Alive" by Nick; kudos).

Although a little lackluster at the beginning, the trio only built up the energy throughout the evening. Kattner began to add in some of the chaos and dissonance that he is known for in Man Man (where he is known as Honus Honus) and that energy met its climax five songs in during the bridge of "Reggae Pie." The track that started out as an ominous lounge-jazz/reggae jam erupted into a violent destruction of the keyboard, Kattner unable to contain himself, punching and sitting on the ivories; the song expressed an energy unexplored on the album version, even Joe Plummer letting loose from behind the kit. It was easily the highlight of the evening and the band did a great job of keeping the energy up. They followed with the Buddy Hollyesque '50s rock of "Charlyne," a cover of Cody ChesnuTT’s "Look Good in Leather" (despite none of the members proving it fashionably), and the cryptic "Diddy Eyes."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Show review: Supreme Cuts, Memoryhouse, Balam Acab, 10/11

By Reagan Healey

Supreme Cuts
Chicago duo Supreme Cuts refuse to be labeled “post-dubstep,” preferring instead the more whimsical “future R&B,” even musing on their Twitter that post-dubstep should sound “like Godspeed but with wobble bass” (ha ha ha). But despite their professed distaste for the Skrillex cult, there is a pretty striking similarity between most sample-based music and pretty much all dubstep: as a general rule, the most inebriated guy in the room is usually the only one who knows how to dance to it. That said, Supreme Cuts are an absolute trip, a local treasure. They’re like a fucked-up Yin-and-Yang that smells of menthol cigarettes and blunt smoke--that last part isn’t a metaphor, by the way, Slack Kevorkian damn near knocked me over on his way for a cigarette after Friday night's show at the Empty Bottle, and he really did smell like weed and more weed.

Slack Kevorkian (also known as Magical Options) and his bandmate Mike Perry seem onstage like the kind of opposites you find in an '80s cop-comedy. Mike Perry looks like a slightly younger, more wholesome version of Alan Palomo of Neon Indian. Slack Kevorkian looks like someone who would overcharge you for hydrocodone. Clad in a Gucci Mane hoodie, his long, stringy black hair pulled out of his eyes with a dirty Bulls cap, he seemed part early Jack Donoghue, part Jay from a Kevin Smith film. If he didn’t have the habit of constantly gushing over his favorite artists (which range from Waka Flocka Flame to James Ferraro), he really would have run the risk of coming off too sketchy for his own good.

Supreme Cuts are in between records at the moment: their debut EP Trouble is currently available through Small Plates Records, and their first LP Whispers in the Dark is slated to come out sometime in the spring. Given the duo’s unapologetic admiration of smooth R&B acts like R. Kelly and Keith Sweat, it doesn’t take long to guess where they might have found the latter title. If leaked single “Belly” is any indication, though, it’s an apt name. The duo’s absolute wealth of samples, although distorted and layered out of recognition, seems culled from obscure early-'90s soul compilations designed specifically for sex. Every good sample-based act needs an angle--that is, an essential feeling to the bits of sound they dig up and manipulate. Supreme Cuts' sound is uniquely their own: sleaze layered on with a heavy, sweaty hand.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

EP review: Ian Hoffman - 'Dome Swan'

By Sasha Geffen

I noticed recently that EPs and shorter records are going to make up a surprisingly large portion of my top releases of 2011 list. It seems that online distribution hasn't reinstated the single as the primary form of release, as some predicted, but the EP instead. The iTunes and now the Bandcamp models of selling music may have shortened the length of breakthrough records, but we're still seeing the best new music emerging as whole multi-song worlds. Maybe our attention spans have shrunk, or maybe the space of 20-30 minutes better holds the zeitgeist. Either way, it's become increasingly clear that artists can create entirely satisfying new work in the space of four to eight songs.

The latest release from Ian Hoffman, for example, feels more like a whole forest than a grove. Just four songs long, Dome Swan went the route of the mp3 and vinyl-only release. Boycotting the nearly obsolete compact disc is quickly becoming the new standard--why pay extra for a physical vessel of digital song files with shrunken artwork when a good analog press sounds better and the tactile engagement with the vinyl is just more fun? While I didn't get the opportunity to review the 7 inch release of Dome Swan, I can imagine it suits the medium perfectly. 

This warm and incredibly lush miniature release marks Ian Hoffman's first venture under his own name. The former leader of Needers & Givers retains his predilection for tight, urgent songcraft, and to be honest, Dome Swan hardly sounds like a solo record. The accompanying efforts of Denise Hradecky (who both mixed and performed bass and vocals on the EP) and Christopher Hoffman ensure that the woodsy, acoustic sounds fill a great space. The depth of sound created by layers of guitars and vocal harmonies makes Dome Swan sound expansive, much in the way Elliott Smith or Jeff Mangum have never really sounded like one man in a room with a guitar. 

The highlight of the album has to be the title track, which plays out like a midnight venture through a haunted thicket. High, eerie tones hang in the air above Hoffman's guitar and sprinkled percussion like yellow ghosts above knotted branches. But Hoffman paints a lovely unease on all four songs, sculpting out melodies sure to hang around your skull long after they stop playing. Dome Swan places pop structures under a mottled autumnal light, letting sweetness and oblique fear chase each other in and out of the shadows. Its simultaneously intimate and mythic qualities lift it above the typical connotations of the indie-folk tag.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Show review: tUnE-yArDs, Pat Jordache at Lincoln Hall, 11/10

By Andrew Hertzberg

tUnE-yArDs' Merrill Garbus
TUnE-yArDs and Pat Jordache hit up Lincoln Hall for the second of two sold out shows Thursday night. I knew tUnE-yArDs was the real deal after seeing the commanding power of the Merrill Garbus led group at the Pitchfork Music Festival over the summer, but I had no idea how great last night was truly going to be. As is often the case with sold out shows, most of the crowd was there for the headliner. Considering Pat Jordache’s connection with Merrill Garbus, I thought more people would have been interested in seeing what he can do on his own. Alas that wasn’t the case, although I can’t say for sure that they missed anything entirely special. Like Garbus in tUnE-yArDs, Jordache makes very off-kilter music, centered around highly unconventional vocals and compositions, drawing from a myriad of influences. Backed by two drummers and a guitarist, Jordache primarily handles the bass, often opting for chords as opposed to a rhythmic backline. This was definitely their biggest advantage live.

Jordache’s debut from this year, Future Songs, can get a bit monotonous in its effect-heavy production, but the two drums and bass chords become so much more alive and pounding on stage, particularly in the patient revenge fantasy "Get It (I Know You’re Going To)." The weird thing about Jordache is despite the fact that he can’t sing, he can actually craft great melodies, as in standout track "Phantom Limb." I couldn’t help be reminded by his baritone of Bowie’s theatrical "The Bewlay Brothers" as it was often countered with a higher harmony, creating an eerie sound. Although despite the acid-washed jeans Jordache was sporting, he wasn’t entirely revivalist. Abstract drumming, competitive guitar and keyboard and a vague sense of the tropical combined with minimal pop breakdowns reminded me of newer Peter, Bjorn and John, Icy Demons and even TV on the Radio. The set closed with the upbeat "Salt on the Fields," changing time signatures half-way through, ending things on an upbeat, albeit still dreary note.

Tonight: Martin Bisi, Whales, Light Coma at Quenchers

By Frank Krolicki

If you'd like to start your weekend off by getting properly lost in a psychedelic sonic haze, a trip to Quenchers tonight should do the trick. Long-time producer and solo musician Martin Bisi will be taking over the Saloon, previewing his upcoming release Ex-Nihilo, due out next year. Martin's racked up a pretty impressive resume since getting started in the early '80s, having helped bring to life albums by Sonic Youth, Swans, The Dresden Dolls, John Zorn and many others at a studio started with Brian Eno in Brooklyn. Actually, "psychedelic sonic haze" probably doesn't do his sound total justice; you could also throw in "post-rock" and "no-wave," but the better bet is to take a listen to Ex-Nihilo's intro track, "Suffer the Moon," below.

Also on the bill are Chicago's Whales, who offer up a tasty combination of shoegaze, post-punk, noise-pop (and do it very well, as detailed by WCR's own Sasha Geffen in her review of their self-titled LP), Light Coma, who also seem quite adept at making good noise, and Mark Shippy (of Snailboy, Shorty, US Maple, Miracle Condition).

Things kick off at 9 p.m. and you can see it all for a mere $5 donation. 21 and over. 2401 N Western Ave.
Martin Bisi - Ex Nihilo - Suffer the Moon by orchidpromotion

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Win VIP tickets to see The Drums this Friday & Saturday

Want to score VIP tickets to see the Drums in Chicago this weekend? We've got a couple pair to give away and want to make 'em yours.

The band will be in town this Friday, November 11th and Saturday, November 12th to play launch parties for the Windows Phone 7.5, and we have one pair of tickets for each night up for grabs. They include guaranteed entry to the event as well as food and drinks.

To get in the running, all you have to do is send us an e-mail with the subject line "The Drums" plus your first and last name and whether you'd rather go to the Friday or Saturday event. We'll accept entries until 6 p.m. CST this Thursday, November 10th, and then randomly select winners for each night. We'll notify winners by the end of the night on Thursday and let them know the location of the show. Winners have been chosen. Thanks to all who entered!

If you don't win the VIP tickets, you can still RSVP for a chance to get in here (admission through this link is based on capacity). Both nights are 21 and over.

Show review: Wooden Shjips at the Empty Bottle, 11/5

By Andrew Hertzberg

Listen to a couple tracks by Wooden Shjips and it’s pretty easy to guess that they call San Francisco home. From their set-opener--"Black Smoke Rise," the hypnotic first track off this year’s West (released on Chicago’s Thrill Jockey) throughout the entire set at the Empty Bottle Saturday, the most appropriate adjective to describe their sound would be “psychedelic.” Now, yes, I understand that is a vague and inexplicit term. But for all of the connotations and associations that word brings up in your mind, Wooden Shjips hits them all. The drums and bass repeat relentlessly, the six strings scream and the electric organ drones.

Most songs follow a similar structure and are so fuzzed out that it can be difficult to tell where one ends and another begins (save for birds tweeting in-between songs). Really, tempo changes were the only way to differentiate, the improperly titled "Lazy Bones" one of the more upbeat and energetic of their catalogue, played early in the set. At one point, Ripley Johnson grinded the neck of his guitar against the mic stand. The action looked so unconscious that it was difficult to tell if on purpose or not. It was sort of odd how he also took the anti-frontman role, the only member constantly in the shadows, despite a projector aiming visual nonsense at the band. It added to the effect though, his baritone and already obscure vocals almost seeming to come out of nowhere.

Wooden Shjips make music I would generally think of as "background." But live, they command attention. If not for volume then because of the shear absurdity of repetition used. Yeah, the keyboardist looks bored, but the other three make up for it, even with minimal chord changes or progressions, sometimes opting for even only one or two chords to center an entire song around. In the end, it’s the subtleties that make the difference. You think you’ve been listening to the same thing for a while, before you realize you didn’t even notice the drummer add in a ride cymbal, or when the soloing switched from the keys to guitar. As West so implies, the theme of the album is about movement, finding new territory and exploring the unknown. Wooden Shjips aren’t exactly achieving that, but they do take the best of their influences (Velvet Underground, Spacemen 3, the Doors, even) and scramble them into one noisy omelet.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Show review: Electric 6 at Double Door, 11/4

By Andrew Hertzberg

In the early 2000s, there was a swarm of bands that really seemed to care about making you dance. The biggest names grew into your Franz Ferdinands and your Killers. Those who wanted something a little left of center however, looked for the Detroit outfit Electric 6, fronted by the ridiculous and flamboyant Dick Valentine. Their breakout album was Fire back in 2003, and through various lineup changes, the group has managed to keep it together, releasing seven more full-lengths after. And if the turnout at the Double Door on Friday (their 12th appearance there) was any indication, they’ve been going non-stop to build a devoted fan base.

Surprisingly, the set didn’t entirely focus on tracks from the recently released Heartbeats and Brainwaves, and in fact, the first six songs were all from different albums. The night kicked off with "French Bacon," a driving synth guiding the tune as if Ric Ocasek took the Cars on the Autobahn. Likewise, the cheeky "Body Shot" ended with a little reggae jam. The crowd loved all of the left turns that the band was throwing out, but I certainly didn’t expect "Gay Bar" to pop out in the middle of the set. The romantic tune (and kinky but historically accurate and certainly NSFW music video) certainly got the best response, especially when it went into a psych-jam psych-out before returning to "Gay Bar Part Two" from 2008’s Flashy. Appropriately, this was followed by "She’s White," referenced at the end of the previous song. Bouncing around genres again, "Formula 409" was a saxy almost no-wave jam about the multi-purpose cleaner, complete with extended soloing.

Although the group first got real notice in the 2000s, they originally started out as the Wildbunch, formed in 1996. Fifteen years later they’re still playing material from the early days, and treated the diehards at Double Door to "Don’t Be Afraid of the Robot." Throughout the set, you could notice Valentine wasn’t always willing to hit those falsettos that sound so crimson on wax (or 0s and 1s), but he commanded the dance that night. As such, it was quite the tease to end the set with "Dance Commander" and then leave us to our own devices. But if the past is any indication, Electric 6 will make a welcome return to the Double Door sometime soon.

Monday, November 7, 2011

A few Chicago music news bites

By Frank Krolicki
  • 2012's Tomorrow Never Knows fest--set for January 11-15th--confirmed an initial batch of artists, including The Walkmen, Grouplove, Chairlift, Tycho, Active Child, Caveman, Nadastrom and more. Stay tuned for additional announcements and get a jump on tickets starting this Friday at noon.
  • Gapers Block wrote up the Halloween weekend show at Double Door featuring two Chicago rock powerhouses: White Mystery and JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound. It's complete with photos of the festivities, so you can see the White siblings rockin' out in their Wonder Woman and Spiderman costumes.
  • Kilo Records announced that Chicago's one-man musical force of nature Netherfriends has joined their roster of artists. They're so excited about working with Shawn Rosenblatt that they even photoshopped him into a picture of the Dream Team. The first Kilo/Netherfriends release will be called Middle America, consist of the first 12 songs from Shawn's 50 Songs 50 States project, and come out in February 2012.
  • Logan Square bar/music venue The Whistler is having its second annual talent show this Thursday, November 10th, and are looking for participants. All talents welcome, they say, so sign up here and show 'em what you've got.
  • Sound Opinions hosts and music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot will lead a discussion on the future of music this Friday, November 11th as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival. Details here.

Free show tonight: Bird Names, Cave, Running at the Empty Bottle

By Andrew Hertzberg

The Empty Bottle strikes again. Free Mondays never fail, especially when all of the bands playing are super solid. As their name implies, it’s sort of hard to know exactly when to catch Running (some of that may be their pseudo-Luddite opposition to social media). Either way, their 12-minute post punk noise is always welcome at the Bottle, and it may be awhile before we let you know when they’re playing again. Still riding buzz off the recently released Neverendless, Cave brings their trance-like kraut-rock to the stage second. As movement seems to be the theme of the night, here’s a video of the four-piece playing on the back of a flatbed. From bipeds and trucks to flight, the night closes out with Bird Names (one of the silliest bands I’ve ever Googled without a modifier like "music" or "Chicago"). As the name of their most recent album Metabolism: a Salute to the Energy of the Sun implies, expect a freaky psychout that will most likely leave you fawning over the cosmic vibes and saying things like "far out" and "groovy."

Tonight's show is 21+, starts at 9:30 and is totally free. The Empty Bottle is located at 1035 N. Western Ave.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Show review: Omar Souleyman, Black Bear Combo, Pillars & Tongues at Empty Bottle, 11/2

By Reagan Healey

Omar Souleyman
Omar Souleyman might have the most enchanting backstory I have ever read. Before he was the venerable mascot of world dance music he most definitely is today, young Omar apparently worked as a factotum in Northern Syria, taking whatever jobs he could to support himself during the decades that saw the Lebanese Civil War and the Hama Massacre. Souleyman’s own biography makes pre-millennial Syria sound like an altogether shitty place to live, but the young Omar was able to amuse himself by, of all things, taking the stage at weddings to belt out what I can only imagine to be the Syrian versions of karaoke favorites. Yeah, Omar Souleyman was that guy.

Twenty years, 500+ wedding albums, a few Björk remixes, and a handful of festivals later, Souleyman has become a bona fide star of everything frantically danceable. He appeared this Wednesday night to an enthusiastic audience at The Empty Bottle with local opening acts Black Bear Combo and Pillars and Tongues. I was surprised to learn that despite his overwhelming success in the West, Souleyman remains largely unknown in the Arabic world outside of his native Syria, where his unmistakable image can be found on the shelves of virtually every convenience store and gas station.

Honestly, it’s not that surprising. Souleyman’s appearance at The Empty Bottle was in support of his newest album, Haflat Gharbia (The Western Concerts). According to Sublime Frequencies, the album “represents an hour of the best moments from the western tours between 2009 and 2011.” What it fails to mention is that in that time, Souleyman has hardly returned to Syria at all. The album may as well have been subtitled “The Only Concerts I’ve Performed for Three Years,” because while Omar Souleyman is nothing if not hardworking, his Western audience needs to come to terms with what’s quickly becoming an undeniable fact: his Western audience is his primary audience.

Books, booze & brunch: An Empty Bottle book club

By Andrew Hertzberg

Well, these are just a few of my favorite things. As if the Empty Bottle wasn’t a great enough venue on their own, they’re now starting their very own book club. The first selection is The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson, his second novel detailing the events of over-indulgent journalists hanging out in Puerto Rico. Apparently it’s been given the Johnny Depp treatment recently, but I think the agenda is to stick with the original work. It’s free to participate, open to everybody who’s interested (spread the word!) and there’ll be some grub from Bite Café next door. So bring your book, a friend, an appetite and an idea for the next month’s book. The inaugural meeting goes down Sunday, November 13th from 1 to 4 p.m.

If you feel like sticking around, there’ll be some experimental tunes from Fortieth Day + Noise Crush, Lori Felker, and the Southbridge Slow Electronics DJs (7 p.m., $3). Finally, at 10 p.m., they'll continue the Everyone’s a DJ series with DJ Larissa. Now that is a Sunday Funday.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Show preview: Le Butcherettes at Subterranean, 11/4

By Andrew Hertzberg

(Photo Credit: David Summers)
Halloween may have come and gone, but that doesn’t mean it's time to give up on live gore and campy horror. If Le Butcherettes' set at Lollapalooza was any indication, their show this Friday should be something not to be missed. They had probably the smallest crowd of anyone I saw that weekend, but I think every one of us walked away knowing we wouldn't see anything better for the whole event. Musically, the trio links the Cramps with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Lead singer Teri Gender Bender (originally from Guadalajara, Mexico) ran around the stage like a possessed madwoman, her smock covered in (hopefully) fake blood. She threw her shoes into the audience, bounced around a lot, pounded on the keyboard and six-strings and referenced Henry Miller. Let’s see…oh yeah, the drummer vomited before the last song and still managed to finish the set at breakneck speed. Ummm, yeah, it was a great show. I can only imagine it getting wilder in a more intimate venue, like say, maybe the Subterranean this Friday, November 4th (9:00 PM, 17+, $10, tickets here). This deal is equally sweetened with the addition of opening sets by locals White Mystery and Gypsyblood. Get ready for some noise and chaos.

Le Butcherettes - New York by Cargo_Promo