ISSUE #47 / February 14, 2019
Mike Walker has collaborated with his friends to produce Nature’s Neighbor records for this entire decade. Twelve albums, to be exact, some recorded continents away; but his home base has always been Chicago. A rotating cast of characters have graced the recordings over the years and for Ur, released last Monday, and his last record of the two thousand teens, he recruited some of the best local up-and-comers on the indie scene: recording wiz and drummer for many bands including Great Deceivers and Options, Seth Engel; along with Nnamdi Ogbonnaya and Sen Morimoto of Sooper Records, V.V. Lightbody’s Vivian McConnell on flute, Conor Mackey of Monobody on bassoon, and many more. Plus Walker playing every instrument you can think of. He said the album grew out of a conversation between himself and Engel about writing songs beginning with drums instead of the traditional guitar. They recorded at Bridgeport-based Pallet Sound over 13 ten-hour sessions from February to August last year, but the record is as cohesive and expansive as they come. There are small intimate moments such as the twinkling piano in “转悠转悠 (Zhuan Yuo)” juxtaposed with the jazzy undercurrent of highlight “Tower of Owen,” but it all fits together perfectly like the pieces of a gorgeously interwoven puzzle. With influences that run the gamut of genre, this a near-impossible record to describe (an overjoyed moment for a writer), Ur is a stunner, sure to impress even the most picky listener.
We were unable to uncover any concert dates for Nature’s Neighbor but be on the lookout!
Chicago has always been an incubator for interesting acts, and local rockers Stoop Goodnoise definitely fit the bill. Bordering on just about every major rock genre, from punk and emo to garage and alternative, their hard nosed style and emotive subject matter fills new record Twelfth House with enough substance to mortar these ten tunes together into a solid wall of sound. The band was formed in high school by brothers Adrian (guitar and vocals) and Luis Angel Aguilar (drums) and has been recording since 2012. Their first album in five years, Twelfth House is loosely themed around the 12th House of Astrology (see our interview with them this week for more info) and the very prevalent theme of self-discovery seems to run through the record in waves. Opener “All My Friends” sweeps us up with its driving drums, catchy guitar hook, and chanted anthemic chorus, setting the stage for the journey with highlights like the compelling anthem “Hydra” and the layered guitars of “Driftwood” before coming to a close with our personal favorite, the quietly evocative “Canfield.” Twelfth House is a solid third record, and here’s to hoping we won’t have to wait another five years for more.
They just had a release party last Friday at Sub T, but they are playing the Burlington on March 31st.
Experiencing Twin Talk’s new release Weaver is akin to traveling through a sonic meadow of golden sax warmth laced with percussive stalks of syncopated beats. All pulled together through bassist Katie Ernst’s stunning, mainly wordless vocals. The Chicago-based nu jazz trio, Dustin Laurenzi (reeds), Andrew Green (drums), and Ernst (bass / vocals), have spent several years perfecting this sound with plenty of improvisational sets over the years at many venues around town; and the result is rather breathtaking. It’s clear that their frame of jazz stretches the classic bonds of the genre into very different territory bringing to mind the many experimenters that came before. But what appeals about Twin Talk is their stripped down approach. However, usually their forebears filled every corner of their compositions with sound; but these three are not afraid to let the tunes breathe, playing with silence as a fifth instrument. Ernst’s bass lines flow and blend over Green’s usually muted drums applying a texture to the mix, while Laurenzi’s sax remains the dominate melodic force till it breaks down into warbling paths of rhythmic storytelling. Weaver requires attentive, multiple listens to really appreciate the skill these three bring to their off-the-beaten-path take of an often stale genre.
Twin Talk is playing Elastic Arts on March 18th for a $10 cover.
Angel Bat Dawid
You won’t need to consult a mystic to discover the magic that swirls throughout the debut album from Chicago clarinetists, and avant-garde jazz scenester, Angel Bat Dawid. The Oracle is the realization of a dream that was furloughed when Angel was diagnosed with brain cancer. She was just twenty-two at the time and a junior at Roosevelt University. She spent the following seventeen years building a life for herself in the margins of Chicago’s hip-hop and jazz scene while working off her medical debt. . Eventually, her many musical ventures, such as producing rap tracks, rhyming with local MC DeLundon, running her own artist’s collective (the Participatory Music Coalition), and performing improvisational jazz with the likes of Ben LaMar Gay and Jaimie Branch, proved too small of a musical commitment for her. So she quit her job, cashed in her 401k, and recorded The Oracle. She recorded and produced the album entirely on her own, using only her cellphone and an overdubbing app. The result is a magnificent example of what can happen when determination meets destiny. “Destination” opens with twinkling piano keys and the soft caress of Angel’s clarinet. “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black” was the first track to be written for the album and rises up with harps and a ripple of gospel-flavored vocals. Later, the wandering, upright bass-anchored “We Are Starzz” slides between the ears like a softly textured ribbon made of love incarnate. And the irrepressible “Capetown” barely feels its length at fifteen minutes, bearing witness to a philosophical exchange between Asher Simiso Gamedze’s insistent drum fills and the chiding whinny of Angel’s clarinet. The Oracle feels like a window into a private place, one that you are welcome to peer into provided your intentions are pure, and your curiosity is informed by compassion.
Angel Bat Dawid currently has no scheduled performances in Chicago, but you can bet she’ll make many appearances at jazz shows around the city in the coming weeks.
Live in London
The last remaining sister from the legendary Gospel/Soul sensation The Staple Singers has been making music for nearly seventy years. She started singing with her family in South Side churches in 1950 at age eleven. The Chicago-based family-act had a string of gospel hits in the fifties before achieving mainstream success in the sixties and beyond. Mavis Staples rounds out a stellar seventh decade, with the release of t four records of original material and covers (three with local legend Jeff Tweedy). One of which Live in London, is a raucous affair that was recorded over two nights at Union Chapel which she claims is “[...] the best place in the world to sing.” From the Staples’ classics “What You Gonna Do” and “Let’s Do It Again,” to covers of Ben Harper’s “Love And Trust,” and George Clinton’s “Can You Get To That,” her enthusiasm is contagious as she runs through hit after hit from her past and present. And her song featuring Jeff Tweedy, “No Time For Cryin,’” beautifully speaks to the modern refugee crisis. While she may be hitting eighty this year, it sure doesn’t look like Mavis Staples is showing any signs of slowing down. As the album art from this project so precisely depicts, she is ready to go down fighting. This is a glorious recording from a Chicago legend that is sure to leave many teary eyed as she hits the final notes of classic “Touch A Hand” and encourages the crowd to “Make a friend! Touch somebody! Make a friend!” If this record doesn’t touch you, you’ve got ice in your veins.
She currently has no Chicago dates planned.
Halfway between the anthems of John Cougar Mellencamp and Paul Westerberg’s romantic solo tunes, lies the classic rock/folk-tinged tunes of Michael McDermott on new album Orphans. Coming to popularity in the crowded 1990’s, McDermott may have never gotten his full due. A great songwriter in the vein of the legends of the past, this is his third record since returning from the throes of some difficulties with drugs and finances. And it hits all the right chords. There’s a bit of Irish in “Ne’er Do Well,” harkening back to his days playing Harrington’s (now Harrigan’s) on Halsted in Lakeview. (In fact his first record was titled 620 W. Surf.) Some of his coffee-house days live on in “Los Angeles a Lifetime Ago,” and a full on Boss-style opus pops up mid record with “The Wrong Side Of Town.” In another day and age, this would be a massive hit of a record, with clear radio singles that could rival Bryan Adams and even Tom Petty; but we now live in a world where commercial rock radio hasn’t played anything new in decades, leaving artists like McDermott out of the public's eye. Which is too bad, because Orphans deserves more attention than it’s likely to receive.
McDermott has a three show run March 15th and 16th at Hey Nonny in Arlington Heights. There are only tickets left for Friday 15th. Limited Seating GA tix are on sale for $20.
Girl With Basket Of Fruit
Girl With Basket Of Fruit is a hair raising, provocative album that feels more like a score to a twenty first century horror film than a record. Known for their honest portrayals of real life events set to everything from indie rock to electronic to experimental, Xiu Xiu has been producing their art house styled tunes for seventeen years. Dark and disturbing, this record hits all the right chords to produce goose bumps; which is most likely the point given the description on Bandcamp (click the album title link and just go read it, nothing explains better the hundred different directions this record pulls itself in). Titled after the Caravaggio painting, Boy with a Basket of Fruit, the gender switch in the title is to call attention to disparities facing women in classic art and modern times. There really is no better way than letting the artist explain, and here is a Talk House article that serves as a visual explanation from band leader Jamie Stewart. It shines a spotlight on what is going on here, but if you’re not willing to dive that deep, this is most likely not for you anyway. If you prefer challenging and engaging musical experiences, this is one to chew on for months, perhaps years.
Xiu Xiu is swinging through The Empty Bottle on May 17th. Tix are $15 ($17 doors).
Bob Mould’s Sunshine Rock is one of his best albums to date. (Yes, I’m counting the legendary output from Hüsker Dü and Sugar.) With blistering guitar-rock and personal lyrics not often seen from him, there’s a fierceness I didn’t know the 58-year-old icon still had in him. Thank your lucky stars he’s had a change of heart regarding that whole “I’m done with rock” phase. In this fourth outing of the latest chapter of Bob Mould’s career, he’s enlisted the help of potentially the best backing band we’ve seen in the 2010s. Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster have the pop sensibilities of Sugar and heavy hitting rhythms of Hüsker. The lyrics deal with a man coming to terms with his failings and facing them head-on, determined to make the later decades of his life the finest he possibly can. Unfortunately standard for a Mould record, he’s a bit drowned out in the mix. It doesn’t truly detract from the impact though, as his records should be heard the first few times before busting out the lyric card, strapping in and following along from the backseat of an unrelenting half-hour of pure rocking joy.
Only 11 minutes to spare? Hit play, and you’ll quickly be through the strongest four-song intro I’ve heard in many years:
What Do You Want Me To Do (This song fucking rocks. It will probably end up as my most played song of 2019.)
Sunny Love Song
Thirty Dozen Roses
Kemado / Mexican Summer
A perennial traveling troubadour is the image L.A. based musician Jessica Pratt exudes. Quiet Signs is her third record with as many labels, and her music’s soft edges have always belied the serious nature of her subjects. Her gorgeous pastoral folk revels in simple melodies and stripped down instrumentation, relying on Pratt’s stellar songwriting skills to drive the record along. The latest result glitters with her lilting lyrical style and subtle acoustic strums while an organ, piano, or strings provides atmosphere to the glow. It’s a style that has fallen out of favor over the years but brings to mind the giants of 60’s folk, like Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell to name a few; trailblazers who opened the gates for female musicians in the folk and rock world. Pratt holds onto their legacy throughout Quiet Signs, while making sure to keep faithful to the sound she has established. The background hum of the studio is still there (a feature on her previous two records as well) adding to the intimacy. As if she is in the room with you as the needle travels the grooves. Her quiet, earnest songs arrest the attention before taking it to far off places of beauty and warmth.
Sleeping Village is hosting her on May 17th. Tix are a mear $15.
Heavy, lewd, loud, and irreverent is everything we ever want in a garage punk band and Liverpool’s Queen Zee delivers on all counts with their self titled debut. Building a fanbase over the last several years with their raucous live shows (dubbed “The Rocky Horror Picture Show on steroids” by the BBC) and crazy stunts (once sending a different band to perform as them, and often having their friends pose as part of the band in promo shots) they have made a name for themselves through sheer force of will and an infectious humor filled explosive rock that doesn’t ever let up. From “Lucy Fur” with it’s chanted chorus of “Fuck God! Hail Satan!” to “Porno” which claims it’s subject “fucks like a porno movie, that’s such a let down;” there is no escaping the balls to the wall, no fear, material and the hard edged guitar rock that just keeps rolling all the way through closer “I Hate Your New Boyfriend.” This contagious record is already on repeat on our playlist and it should be on yours. What a way to battle the Hallmark Holiday blues.
It doesn’t seem like they have any tour plans outside the U.K. Somebody pick them up and bring ‘em across the pond for a tour! We need them in Chicago!
Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited
Partisan , Mercury Rev
Bobbie Gentry is a country icon, and Mercury Rev is revisiting a criminally underrated, upon initial release, album in her catalogue. I find it fitting that this band should record such an album, as Mercury Rev’s first three albums were criminally underrated in the ‘90s. With both Bobbie and the experimental indie band, the releases are widely accepted today for the genius that they are. Sonically as well, I can’t think of a better band to cover this grand folk-country-pop record on Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revistited. Mercury Rev were always great at playing grandiose pop through a filter of Americana, and that’s no different here. Deftly balancing the retro sound while staying true to their persona is of particular note – glockenspiels, whistling, sprawling brass, and harmonicas don’t seem contrived or campy.
The band does a great service to a great record, but it wouldn’t come close to working without the all-star cast of female vocalists that were enlisted to take on Bobbie. Margo Price absolutely destroys “Sermon” with her powerful twang. Norah Jones’ spacious and shadowy vocals on "Okolona River Bottom Band" give the opener an ethereal vibe that envelops your very soul. If you don’t smile when Laetitia Sadier describes the “Mornin’ Glory,” then you might want to check your pulse. And finally, while not included on the original record, you can’t really discuss Bobbie Gentry without mentioning "Ode to Billie Joe,” and boy am I glad they took this one on. Lucinda Williams has a gritty realism to her style of singing that makes you just feel her swagger through the passionate take on a true classic.
Kin Ships Sampler: States I’ve Called Home
Joyful Noise / C.J. Boyd
After ten years of touring non stop, experimental indie musician C.J Boyd has marked the occasion of his decade “InfiniTour” with a massive collection of 51 songs, each recorded in one of the fifty states with Washington D.C. included. Plus each song is cover of a musician from that state he has shared a stage with over the years. Kin Ships is a monumental achievement that involved 80 guest vocalists and 175 musicians that he met in his travels who came to his aid in recording throughout the country. The sampler, State’s I’ve Called Home, is composed of thirteen tracks captured in the states he has actually lived in over the last decade. Boyd’s bass (his natural instrument) is joined by countless other sounds and players throughout this small sample of the otherwise huge project. The album in full serves as a document of a life well traveled and experienced. It’s an experiment in range and limits that ultimately pays off beautifully. A celebration of one musician's journey through this expansive and dynamic nation and the music he has experienced along the way.
He currently has no Chicago dates but that could change anytime so be on the lookout.
Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch
An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil
The lute is not an instrument one would peg as a candidate to be used in the creation of experimental soundscapes, but Jozef Van Wissem has made a career out of using the instrument to not only perform classical lute compositions but to create his own darkly atmospheric, immersive arrangements. An Attempt to Draw Aside the Veil is his third album with filmmaker and guitarist Jim Jarmusch (who he has scored films for as well). The two players feed off each other as their penchant for grand and sweeping gestures is stripped down to the essence of spatial music. Long drawn out chords and expressive silences exist together in single pieces, and the recognizable lute moments sound like nothing else out there right now, with a near Asian influenced echo that runs through a good portion of the record. Cinematic to say the least, this compelling recording will stick with us for weeks to come.
The duo only have one show in the U.S. planned this Spring in New York.
The King of Endicott
The music world has finally caught up with Gary Wilson. A New Wave synth pop pioneer, his first home recorded record appeared in 1977, he inspired countless musicians and DIY labels; but now his bubbly, rolling pop gems fit perfectly in the age of bedroom recordings that span every genre and subgenre out there. Around the early eighties Wilson disappeared from the musical landscape, only to return twenty years later with same bizzare and lovingly compelling style that made him an indie rock icon. Ever since he’s released a steady stream of new material culminating in his latest The King of Endicott. His quirky synth pop style is still the focus; as well as his, at times, uncomfortable stories of his real life experiences. It all results in a joy of a record that may sound immature on first listen, but subsequent listens reveal the real genius and thought provoking composition that made him so influential. A legend doing what he does best.
He has no tour dates in the immediate future.
thank you, next
Pop singer Ariana Grande had a very emotional year, spurring new album thank you, next. Unlike her breakup songs on previous albums, thank you, next follows Grande on both her emotional inclines and declines as she processes her recent breakup with fiance and SNL actor Pete Davidson and the unfortunate death of former boyfriend and hip hop artist Mac Miller. Hit singles “7 Rings” and “thank you, next” foreshadowed the album being about Grande finding space to self love herself amidst the hurt, but after hearing the album in full, her emotions ran darker as she confessed to her fans how she really felt.
On “Ghostin,” violins and eerie tones create a somber supporting melody as Grande narrates the raw truth of her feelings as she navigated crying at night over Miller’s death, while she was engaged to Davidson.
Happier songs are also present as Grande talks about self love and friendship. The electronic pop beat of song, “NASA” plays while Grande sings about being with another person but prefers not being emotionally attached to them because she is the universe and space, and they are NASA. Other songs on the album such as “make up”, “imagine” and “needy” describe Grande’s relationship-driven personality. Her newest hit, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” portrays her scandalous side as she pursues a man who isn’t yet hers. Although Grande’s vocal range is a little softer compared to previous albums, the self-restriction lends well as Grande pours her personal life into her lyrics and songs. This album is a mature one for Grande, and it opened the doors to allow for more emotionally inclined music..
Ariana Grande will be at the United Center June 4th and 5th. Tickets range from $110-$700 and can be purchased here.
ALBUMS WORTH REVISITING
December 7th, 2018
What were you up to when you were twelve? Playing Sonic the Hedgehog? Picking your nose and wiping it on the dog? Eating pizza bagels like it was your job? Cool. In 1980, Chandra Oppenheim was fronting a no wave band backed by former members of Model Citizens. Before she was a freshman in high-school, she was performing at the Mudd Club and touring with a band named after her. I’m not saying who might have been the cooler preteen, but while you were leaning tensely against the gymnasium wall at junior prom trying to look disinterested, Chandra was paling around backstage with Madonna. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about who’s led the better life.
Transportations is a collection of Eps reissued as a single LP by Cantor Records and functions as a retrospective of Chandra’s career. The first four songs cover her work with Eugenie Diserio and Steve Alexander, originally released as a vinyl 45, while the following four tracks were recorded with a band more closely aligned in age to their front woman called the Chandra Dimension, and the last two tracks are previously unreleased demos. While each of these sections have their own distinctive sound, they are tied together with the through-line of Chandra’s precociously observational songwriting style, spikey melodies, and paranoia-pushing vocal delivery.
Opener “Opposite” rolls along a rubbery baseline, gathering momentum from a creepy-crawly melodica groove while it slowly flows downstream, dipping into pockets of ESG call-backs, before dropping off into a wiry, dry post-punk breakdown. The claustrophobic careen of “Subway” packs the space with circular rhymes and shouting keys, depicting the perils of small body navigating the subterranean labyrinth of the NYC public transit system (the Avalanches sampled the track for a song by the same name for their 2016 comeback album). Noteworthy, later cuts include the new wavey, shimmy-shake rattle of “Get it Out of Your System” and the melancholy water-logged electro-funk of “A Day Without Success.” If there is one lesson to be drawn from the rerelease of Transportations, it’s that you’re never too young begin coming to grips with yourself as a part of the world and begin transforming your self-realization into art.
Chandra embarked on a short tour in support of Transportations at the end of last year. She currently has no plans to perform live in 2019.
Bring Me the Horizon
January 25, 2019
How does a band debut an album at number 14 on the US Billboard Top 200 and still have a dismal first sales week? I have two answers: 1) the market for pop music currently undervalues rock music, and 2) Bring Me the Horizon did not release amo to make friends. Despite an alarming 75% dip in market performance from their previous album, (2015's That's the Spirit), Bring Me the Horizon seems reasonably comfortable in their new, fancy elector stadium rock-sized sound, and future releases will likely walk the same line of consternating pop-perfection. amo (meaning “I Love” in Portuguese) completes the single focused, pop arch of the band’s career in the 2010s. Beginning as an unusually tight deathcore outfit, the British band rose to international stardom in the ‘00s, before trading in their serrated guitar grooves and mauling death vocals for booming synths and nasally, R&B-inflected clean singing. You can’t say that the band isn’t taking chances here and you definitely can’t decry them for adopting a sound artificiality in a gambit for success either. amo is beatifically produced (an achievement owed entirely to efforts of singer Oliver Sykes and keyboardist Jordan Fish), the performances are propulsive and confidently executed, and the band clearly couldn’t care less about how many fans their new sound costs them (in the press campaign leading up to this release, Sykes trolled fans by implying BMTH would open for Justin Bieber during the UK leg of his international tour). Comparisons have been made in parts of the music press to U2 and other “big sound” rockers, but a better parallel exists with Fall Out Boy’s recent pure-pop forays, ablate BMTH’s incursions into this field are more self-assured, memorable, and frankly, tolerable. Not every moment on amo works, but on the whole, it hits the right chords more often than it doesn’t. If you need a taste of pop-confection with some genuine rock 'n roll muscle behind it, give this a spin. (Although, if you’re really hard-up for wiry, blurry-eyed deathcore, Whitechapel will have a new album out at the end of March. Nothing is stopping you from listening to Suicide Season on repeat until then.).
Bring Me The Horizon just played Aragon Ballroom on February 5th. They have no plans to return to Chicago anytime soon.