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Preview: Chicago Reader: Critic's Choice

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Published: Thu, 22 Mar 2018 00:00:01 -0500

Last Build Date: Thu, 22 Mar 2018 13:00:00 -0500

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Victim evokes the bad old days of sodomy laws and blackmail

Wed, 21 Mar 2018 06:00:00 -0500

(image) Dirk Bogarde stars in this 1961 British drama, a brave but compromised stab at a forbidden subject. When the British drama Victim was released in 1961, homosexual acts between consenting adults were still illegal in England, and though police had grown tired of prosecuting these victimless crimes, the British tabloids pounced on any sort of sex scandal, creating a rich market for blackmailers. Four years earlier, an influential government report had rejected the notion of homosexuality as a mental illness and recommended that it be legalized.…

Curtis Harding pours postmodern ingredients into a vintage soul template to create something fresh

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Soul singer Curtis Harding opens his second album Face Your Fear (Anti) with a wobbly wash of sampled strings that sound as if they were lifted from a 40s pop record before being chopped and looped over a descending, fuzzed-out groove that recalls vintage Bobby Womack. As that song, “Wednesday Morning Atonement,” opens up with a woozy, sorrowful atmosphere and mournful melody, Harding navigates its hooky vocal lines, swooping from his natural rasp into a biting falsetto to convey a range of emotions.…

Shopping push the wiry postpunk sound of early 80s Britain into the present

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) With The Official Body (FatCat), the third album of tuneful, wiry, and crudely funky postpunk from British trio Shopping, the group have maintained their foothold on a sound that's nearly four decades old while sounding more contemporary than on past material. Producer Edwyn Collins—who once covered vaguely similar terrain in his Scottish pop band Orange Juice—expertly accentuates the rudimentary postdisco grooves of drummer Andrew Milk, the rude yet propulsive bass lines of Billy Easter, and the scratchy guitar licks of front woman Rachel Aggs with a straightforwardness that lends the music extra frantic urgency.…

Improvising trio Bowlcut shares its interactive acumen on its promising new album, Semaphore

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) On Bowlcut’s sizzling new album, Semaphore (Amalgam), it’s easy to hear the bond that saxophonist Jake Wark, guitarist Matt Murphy, and drummer Bill Harris have formed performing together over the last few years. The group cleaves to improvisation, allowing its deeply interactive attack to direct its proceedings even when employing loose structural devices, moving easily between raucous, abrasive free jazz and cool, harnessed sound sculpture.…

Bay Area rapper Caleborate presents himself as a whole individual on Real Person

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) If you ever use Twitter to express your fandom of a famous rapper and have the “good” fortune of said rapper retweeting you, you’ll likely experience the bad fortune of receiving replies meant for the superstar from aspiring MCs thirsty for any inkling of attention. Rap spam is as common and easy to ignore as the ads that eat up space on your favorite website, so it takes a little something special to find your audience by plastering your work in online spaces where it’s generally seen as unwelcome—and 24-year-old Berkley MC Caleb Parker, aka Caleborate, has “it.” A few years ago, Parker began plugging his music in the YouTube comments section for songs and videos by hyperpopular rappers who share his proclivity for emotional vulnerability, including Chance the Rapper and Childish Gambino, and effectively built a following.…

Meshell Ndegeocello remakes 80s and early 90s R&B in her own sophisticated style

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Meshell Ndegeocello is a monster bassist and captivating singer who can mine gold in numerous styles, including funk, soul, electric jazz, pop, and rock. Her versatility once seemed to hold her back—early in her career she rapidly bounced between ideas—but she refined her style as time passed, and now she’s one of the most satisfying, rigorous, and varied artists in contemporary pop music.…

In its third year, the Exposure Series invites six up-and-comers to collaborate with Chicago musicians

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) The third installment of this annual event organized by saxophonist Dave Rempis, also the longtime programmer of the Thursday-evening improvised-music series at Elastic, shifts gears from its predecessors. In the first two iterations, a single musician (reedists Tony Malaby and Silke Eberhard, respectively) visited the city to engage in workshops and performances with local players.…

Princess Nokia embraces her dualities and self-assurance on 1992 Deluxe

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) In conversation, Princess Nokia (born Destiny Nicole Frasqueri) is soft-spoken and thoughtfully tackles subjects like blackness and urban feminism. But get on her bad side, and she’s lethal.…

With Posthuman Harm’s Way deliver one of the scariest, heaviest records you’ll hear this year

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) The progression of Chicago’s Harm’s Way has been interesting to watch. The four-piece band started out in 2006 with the intent of playing short ’n’ fast powerviolence blasts.…

Aussie singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly evokes the world-crushing power of metal

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Before Australian singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly released her debut EP on cassette last year, she played in an aggressive, all-woman band that pulled from punk and thrash metal. That musical background inspired the name of her EP, Thrush Metal, which Secretly Canadian will reissue on vinyl with a bonus track in June, and the ferocity that smolders beneath its songs’ stripped-down arrangements.…

Shanna Gutierrez presents a program of new music for flute and electronics

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) As a founding member of Ensemble dal Niente—and in the solo and duo programs she has presented since leaving them—flutist Shanna Gutierrez has consistently championed new music that pushes compositional and performance boundaries. The four pieces she’ll perform tonight include two world premieres and a work being performed in Chicago for the first time, and each one proposes a different role for her instrument.…

Pennsylvania rapper Lil Skies makes Soundcloud rap for people who don’t like Soundcloud rap

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Pennsylvania rapper Lil Skies likes to talk about his face tattoos, specifically about how his decision to permanently install a small gallery’s worth of art all over his head (and neck) provided him the fuel required to focus on a career in music—he’s well aware that no conventional workplace would hire a guy who looks like a walking Sailor Jerry billboard. Regardless of whether or not his explanation is earnest, Skies has found some musical success in music at the moment, which shows on his Atlantic debut, January’s Life of a Dark Rose.…

Colter Wall evokes the cosmic country of the 70s through a psychedelic haze on his self-titled debut

Fri, 16 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) For years now, producer Dave Cobb has worked to revive the aesthetic of 70s country—the sometimes dusky, sometimes cosmic sound adopted by the era’s most rebellious and cantankerous figures, whether outlaw stars or psychedelic singer-poets. Among the records he’s shepherded through the studio process is the 2017 self-titled debut by singer-songwriter Colter Wall, a husky baritone from Saskatoon, Canada.…

The Death of Stalin shines a light on Lavrenti Beria, head of the Soviet Union’s dreaded secret police.

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 06:00:00 -0500

(image) Armando Iannucci, creator of Veep and The Thick of It, directed this wickedly funny Cold War satire. Black comedy doesn't get any blacker than The Death of Stalin, which mines laughs from one of the most brutal and frightening regimes in modern history. Adapting a graphic novel by Fabien Nury and Thierry Robin, British writer and director Armando Iannucci dramatizes the night in March 1953 when Soviet dictator Josef Stalin—who had killed 20 million people, sent 18 million to the gulags as slave labor, and exiled ten million more—keeled over of a cerebral hemorrhage, his subsequent death setting off a power struggle between the Communist Party, led by Nikita Khrushchev, and the state apparatus, led by Stalin's first lieutenant and head of secret police, Lavrenti Beria.…

At Fort Willow David Morton and Michael Kornick have built a tree house among the faded factories

Wed, 14 Mar 2018 18:12:00 -0500

(image) Chef Deirdre Quinn’s spicy menu is the cocktail bar’s thirst-kindling reason to play there. I wish I could show you a photograph of the voluptuous grilled cheese sandwich I crushed at Fort Willow a few weeks back. That's a new cocktail bar that sits across the street from the thundering tubular machinery of the Sipi Metals copper-stripping plant.…

Moaning mold LA postpunk’s recent past for the city’s present

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0600

(image) Last month Moaning front man Sean Solomon told the record club Vinyl Me, Please, “I think we take a lot of influence from Abe Vigoda and No Age, but I don’t think it’s something people will necessarily notice.” He’s right in the sense that the LA postpunk trio sound like they could have emerged from any contemporary underground rock scene; their style befits any guitar-based genre that’s vaguely sad, or sharply employs effects pedals, or is something that people with little frame of reference for music might incorrectly describe as “goth” or “emo.” Their new self-titled debut (Sub Pop) contains sounds that verge on Abe Vigoda’s synthy solemnity and No Age’s mighty echo, but the first thing I picked up on was a shade of the sort of cold, midwestern minimalism that departed Chicago postpunk heroes Disappears played so well. Despite displaying the distinctive marks of the groups that influenced them, the members also share some of their own personalities on the album.…

Chicago’s Vamos pump their sweetly shambolic rock ’n’ roll with enough weight for Muscle Beach

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0600

(image) Vamos make the kind of slaphappy, feral rock ’n’ roll that’s got a tectonic power, which is why in 2015 local music site cum label Midwest Action asked front man Ryan Murphy which building he’d want to destroy with his band’s sound. (Murphy’s answer: “Trump Tower or the DMV.”) It’s all well and good to marvel at the band’s musical muscle, but they’re an impressive force in the local rock ecosystem because of how they move all that mass. The fuzz and buzz throughout their brand-new second album, 1, 2, 3 (Maximum Pelt), work like a megaphone; the band sounds louder and more forceful than ever before, like they’re a cacophonous crowd midriot rather than three musicians.…

Scandinavian free-jazz juggernaut the Thing returns after dropping a fiery collaboration with James Blood Ulmer

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0600

(image) Over the course of its career the Scandinavian juggernaut known as the Thing has collaborated with a wildly diverse group of musicians: art-pop singer Neneh Cherry, free-jazz warrior Joe McPhee, Japanese experimentalist Otomo Yoshihide, polymath (and former Chicagoan) Jim O’Rourke, and Sonic Youth front man Thurston Moore, among others. The trio—saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten—surveys classic free-jazz tunes by Don Cherry as well as garage-rock classics by the Sonics—highlighting the inextricable link between soul and muscularity, and digging into how sound can be both a weapon and a balm.…

Punishing improvising duo Tashi Dorji & Tyler Damon traffics in pure sound

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0600

(image) Over the last few years, guitarist Tashi Dorji (from Asheville, North Carolina) and drummer Tyler Damon (from Bloomington, Indiana) have forged an increasingly solid bond. They create harrowing improvisational duets that snarl and swagger like the most vicious storms, ebbing and flowing with passages of mayhem and temporary calm.…

Honey Dijon is as much a crowd-pleaser as she is a provocateur

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0600

(image) Born and raised in Chicago during the 1980s, Honey Dijon (aka Honey Redmond) became entrenched in house music during its original boom before moving to New York City, where she became a familiar presence in the club scene during the halcyon, pre-Giuliani days of dance music. She’s a mainstay of both the high-fashion and the dance-music cognoscenti, working with Louis Vuitton just as easily as she’ll jump on Beats in Space, but she’s spent her whole DJ career building on populist tradition.…

Jazz pianist Kris Davis pivots from her recent collaborative projects for a rare solo concert in Chicago

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0600

(image) I’ve written quite a bit about New York-based pianist Kris Davis in recent years, taking note of the versatility that enables her to not just blend in naturally in disparate contexts but make them better. She recently released a stunning collection of duets with fellow pianist Craig Taborn called Octopus (Pyroclastic), which blends rhapsodic reveries, driving rhythmic journeys, and harmonic explorations.…

Brooklyn’s Pill make a no-wavey noise-rock masterpiece, Aggressive Advertising

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0600

(image) If any band is set to fill the massive, sleazy New York no-wave void left by Sonic Youth after they imploded in 2011, it’s Pill. On their 2016 debut full-length, Convenience, the four-piece made it clear that when it comes to making arty noise-rock with a heavy dose of Brooklyn cool, they’re a hard crew to top.…

After decades playing in the Court and Spark and Hiss Golden Messenger, Scott Hirsch turns front man

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0600

(image) For nearly 20 years multi-instrumentalist Scott Hirsch has quietly sculpted rich landscapes of expansive Americana in San Francisco’s the Court and Spark. More recently, he’s collaborated with that band’s old front man, MC Taylor, on Taylor’s solo project, Hiss Golden Messenger.…

Let UK electronic producer Kelly Lee Owens be your gateway to techno

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0600

(image) Welsh producer Kelly Lee Owens arrived at techno from the world of indie: she started the decade playing bass for London dream-pop outfit the History of Apple Pie, and before that she spent time running small music festivals in Manchester, where she’d trained to be a nurse. Her 2017 self-titled solo album (Smalltown Sound) contains all the fixin’s that practically any discerning indie-rock fan would want out of music, regardless of genre; her sounds are warm, and each track contains small details that reveal themselves upon repeated listens—whole chunks of the record can nestle into the back of your mind and emerge in your consciousness during moments of solitude.…

French cellist and sound artist Leila Bordreuil diffuses and distorts bowed lines in her Chicago debut

Thu, 08 Mar 2018 04:00:00 -0600

(image) French cellist Leila Bordreuil is a rising figure on New York’s improvising scene. She casually accesses concepts from jazz, contemporary classical, noise, and experimental traditions, but adheres to none of them.…