Music » Soundboard

Soundboard, July 21-27

Juke Fest 2011, Wild Flag, Thee Oh Sees, Bon Iver, and other notable shows
























CLAW TOE In the Rush song "Subdivisions," Geddy Lee proclaims in his Canadian-dungeon-master voice that "the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth." The same could be said for the restless dreams of middle-aged men like Darius Hurley. Hurley, co­captain of the Criminal IQ label and the local punk scene's favorite expatriate Englishbloke, moved from Chicago to Batavia with his family a few years back, and the relative tranquility of the Windmill City has given rise to the demented punk weirdness of Claw Toe. Hurley started the band as a home-recording project—he used mostly synths and drum machines, averaging three or four different notes per song—but since then he's enlisted local three-piece Red Denizen to back up his warped vision with more traditional rock muscle. How warped? On "Geriatric Stalker," Hurley delivers his lyrics in the cadence of the chorus to T. Rex's "20th Century Boy," cranking up the absurdity with each line his antiheroic protagonist speak-sings: "I know what time / You finish up at work / You're coming on to me now, I can tell / Oh! You little berk." The silliness is refreshing, but so is the sound—it's become all too rare to hear a new rock recording that isn't glazed with a haze of reverb. —Brian Costello The Soft Moon headlines; Unur and Claw Toe open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, $10, $8 in advance.

TIMBER TIMBRE, MARISSA NADLER On its latest album, Creep On Creepin' On (Arts & Crafts), Montreal art-pop trio Timber Timbre strikes an artful balance between charisma and sleaze—front man Taylor Kirk is undeniably charming, but you just know you can't trust a thing that comes out of his mouth. The band injects the nostalgic sounds of doo-wop and 50s pop with a creepy foreboding straight out of a David Lynch movie, and the luxuriant reverb that's always applied to Kirk's voice—a post-Elvis lounge-lizard croon that places him somewhere between Nick Cave and Tindersticks singer Stuart Staples—works like a set of scare quotes. The lyrics are too cryptic to allow definitive interpretation, but they often reek of the sinister and sexually twisted: on the gently swaying, violin-sweetened title track, Kirk sings, "A night terror threw a twin into my arms / And my stomach dropped as you shifted me off to stop." String and horn parts (the increasingly ubiquitous Colin Stetson makes some strong contributions) frequently puncture the music's skin-deep retro innocence with calculated dissonance, so that despite the superficial familiarity of Timber Timbre's style it offers no solid ground to stand on at all. —Peter Margasak

Singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler got a good bit of publicity last year, both for appearing on Portal of Sorrow, the final release by lo-fi black metal act Xasthur (usually the one-man project of a guy calling himself Malefic), and for using Kickstarter to fund her latest album. It's too bad so little of the buzz has been about her actual music. There's a good reason Malefic wanted to work with her, and why 390 people coughed up a total of more than $17,000 to help her make that record, a self-titled full-length that came out last month on Box of Cedar: with little more than acoustic guitar, lap steel, occasional washes of cymbal, and her powerful, sensual voice, Nadler makes heartbreakingly moving tunes. Whether she's weaving together sheets of metallic noise with a sirenlike wail or bundling up a dreamy, acoustic alt-country ditty in a tender croon, she's both hypnotizing and rapturous. —Leor Galil Timber Timbre headlines; Nadler and Faces on Film open. 8 PM, Schubas, $14. Nadler also plays a free in-store at Reckless Records on Broadway at 3 PM.


Gillian Welch and David Rawlings

JUKE FEST 2011 When the booty-bouncing Miami electro popularized by 2 Live Crew collided (perhaps inevitably) with Chicago house, it produced a style raunchier and more addictive than its predecessors: ghetto house. The form's premier practitioner during its 90s heyday, DJ Funk, remains so today, sustaining his profile doing remix work for new-jack electro acts like Justice. In the early aughts ghetto house evolved into juke, which sped past the 145-bpm mark and upped the style's hip-hop quotient while maintaining its overall lewdness. Gant-Man has helped spark a global interest in juke with his production work for artists like Kid Sister, and Rampage (of local crew Ghetto Division) plays up juke's roots in the underground house music that powered rave scenes countrywide back in the 90s. In recent years juke has birthed footwork music, which has seen producers and DJs like Spinn and Rashad up the tempos even further and push their tracks to the point of abstraction. DJ Funk, Gant-Man, Rampage, Spinn, and Rashad are all on the bill for this show—a night devoted to juke and its relatives. —Miles Raymer DJ Funk headlines; Gant-Man, Rampage, Louie Q, DJ Spinn, DJ Rashad, and others open. 10 PM, Smart Bar, $15, $12 before midnight, $11 in advance.

SONNY & THE SUNSETS If you haven't kept tabs on the nooks and crannies of the underground rock scene over the past few years, you may not know that a whole bunch of Bay Area bands have been messing around with prepsychedelic golden-oldies rock 'n' roll. Some have been turning it into fuzzy dream-pop (Girls), others into raging sugar-punk (Nobunny). Sonny Smith usually focuses on the early part of that era, when chart-topping songs tended to lean not toward rowdy rockabilly but rather toward a square sort of vocal pop—full of oohs and ahhs, soft edges, and sedate vibes. The first Sonny & the Sunsets album, Tomorrow Is Alright, infuses sticky-sweet melodies with a sense of real weirdness that I assume reflects Smith's mental state (he's reportedly been institutionalized several times); I can just imagine John Waters creaming himself over it, especially the giddy sci-fi fantasy "Planet of Women." Tomorrow's follow-up, the new Hit After Hit (Fat Possum), is more sedate—and maybe a bit slighter—than its predecessor, but not by much. —Miles Raymer Sandwitches and Michael Lux & the Bad Sons open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, $8.

GILLIAN WELCH It's been eight years since Gillian Welch released Soul Journey, where she departed from her usual austerity by touching on autobiography rather than archetypes and fleshing out the arrangements with a relative mob of guest musicians. On her stunning new The Harrow & the Harvest (Acony) she's reverted to form, working with longtime partner David Rawlings and no one else. As usual, most of their songs sound as old as the hills, with a stripped-down efficiency that recalls American folk music forms from nearly a century ago (the melody of "Silver Dagger," for example, sounds more than a little like "You Are My Sunshine"). The beauty of Welch's writing, darker than ever here, transcends time and place, and though certain details evoke lost eras—she's been been criticized before for sounding too strictly historical—her themes cut to the heart of human nature. That said, the album's best song is also its most contemporary sounding (a relative term in this case). Welch and Rawlings deliver "The Way It Will Be" in gorgeous unison, and the keening melody sounds like something from the folk rock of the 70s, not from five decades earlier. The lyrics circle around a troubled relationship in which some awful yet unspoken act has occurred: "I can't say your name without a crow flying by," they sing. "Got me walking backwards into my hometown." That sort of tension-producing ambiguity makes era or style almost superfluous. Welch performs tonight as part of a duo with Rawlings. —Peter Margasak 7:30 PM, the Vic, $30. A

WILD FLAG So-called supergroups rarely equal the sum of their parts; in fact, they often fail to live up to the members' previous efforts. But as Wild Flag, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss (both of Sleater-Kinney), Mary Timony (Helium), and Rebecca Cole (Minders) have made one of the best straight-up rock records I've heard in the past couple of years. Their self-titled debut for Merge (due in September) juggles garage rock, classic punk, and what we called "alternative rock" back in the pre-Nirvana days. Brownstein's slashing guitar leads cut like a scythe through the saturated chords Cole lays down on organ, and Weiss steers the ship with her ferocious rhythms. Brownstein's swooping, hiccupping singing style recalls neon new wave—she sounds a bit like Lene Lovich tackling the Ric Ocasek songbook ("Endless Talk" seems to borrow a hook from "My Best Friend's Girl")—while Timony, who shares front-woman duties, delivers a more restrained but equally hooky cool. The melodies are consistently catchy, and in a pleasant departure from the members' old bands, they're crowned with irresistible harmony vocals that alternate between soft 60s psychedelia and ebullient girl-group pop. Wild Flag are the complete package—if anything, they're more than the sum of their parts. —Peter Margasak See also Saturday. Mickey and Radar Eyes open. 10:30 PM, Subterranean, sold out. 17+


MONUMENT This D.C. foursome dropped their new Sweatpants Fever! EP (Keep It Together) in the nick of time. It's packed with summer-ready tunes that hark back to late-90s emo, when the Promise Ring was the face of the genre and the genre was all about happy, college-radio-friendly power pop—not some fashion-obsessed eighth-wave bastardization with lots of screaming, shitty metalcore guitars, and "crunk" in its name. Monument are clearly indebted to the alt-rock of an earlier era, before neck tattoos and hugely gauged ears became de rigueur—the EP includes four covers of songs from the 20th century, including Superchunk's "Precision Auto" and Braid's "What a Wonderful Puddle." That's not to say these guys play like throwbacks—they're always looking for fresh approaches to their chosen style, like the ingenious mix of twinkly guitar noodling and shoegazey walls of sound on "Goddamned Claw Machine." They're not exactly re­inventing the wheel, but they drive like their wheels are brand-new. —Leor Galil The Fordists, Coping, Efert, and Damp Hay open. 7 PM, Water Works, e-mail for more info.

THEE OH SEES Oddball auteur John Dwyer has charted a strange path with his current main project, Thee Oh Sees, over the past few years and full-length releases (the group is prolific enough that either will work to chart its progress). Dwyer's previous band, the Coachwhips, raised the bar on audience antagonizing and musical weirdness—a stark contrast to Thee Oh Sees' 2009 album, Help, which contains some of the most accessible hooks of his career. Possibly in reaction to Help, on last year's Warm Slime the band indulges the same jammy tendencies that come out during its epic live performances. On the new Castlemania (In the Red), though, the group takes a whole new tack; that's most apparent in the amount of instrumentation not from the usual guitar-bass-drums-organ garage-rock palette, like the synthetic strings and (apparently) organic flute trills that gild the standout track "Stinking Cloud." The song's chorus ("Cuz we're dead / Dead / Dead as I already said") meshes with the album's overarching theme of death and decay, which feels at odds with its giddy psychedelia but fits nicely with Dwyer's bizarro tendencies. —Miles Raymer See also Sunday. Paul Cary and Absolutely Not open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, $12.

WILD FLAG See Friday. This set is part of Wicker Park Fest. 9 PM (music begins at 1 PM), Milwaukee between North and Wood, $5 suggested donation. A


BON IVER Justin Vernon's sweet falsetto remains at the heart of Bon Iver's music, but on the band's new self-titled album for Jagjaguwar, he surrounds his voice with intricate full-band arrangements that shatter the cabin-dwelling-troubadour image he established with 2008's For Emma, Forever Ago. The success of that debut (and an unexpected partnership with Kanye West) clearly emboldened the native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. There's nothing intimate or rustic about Bon Iver's opening cut, "Perth"—the intensity builds steadily as gently plucked electric guitars give way to swelling vocal harmonies, brassy fanfares, pounding drums, and ringing power chords. Listen to the album repeatedly and it gives up a bounty of detail that's sometimes appealing and sometimes appalling; I like the banjo arpeggios and distorted bass on "Minnesota, WI," but they're undercut by chintzy chimelike 80s synthesizer tones. In fact most of the record is steeped in mainstream 80s pop, and it can get painful—the execrable closing track, "Beth/Rest," sounds like a Bruce Hornsby outtake. Fortunately most of the pieces don't wallow so shamelessly in MOR radio aesthetics, and when the late-breaking chorus of "Towers" finally crashes in on a wave of Greg Leisz's pedal steel, it proves that super­ficial cues from best-forgotten stylistic eras aren't enough to keep a good melody down. Vernon assembled an excellent backing band to make the album—including saxophonists Colin Stetson (Tom Waits) and Mike Lewis (Happy Apple), multi-instrumentalist Rob Moose (Antony & the Johnsons), and trumpeter C.J. Camerieri (Sufjan Stevens)—and most of the players join him live. —Peter Margasak The Rosebuds open. 7:30 PM, Chicago Theater, sold out.

THEE OH SEES See Saturday. Football opens. 4 PM, Illinois Centennial Monument, 2595 N. Milwaukee, 773-276-3600.


CASS MCCOMBS California-born singer-songwriter Cass McCombs must have been listening to nothing but Odessey and Oracle when he wrote and recorded his fifth album, the new Wit's End (Domino); its beautiful, downcast folk-rock is full of the same sort of bittersweet melancholy that the Zombies nailed on their classic LP. Throughout Wit's End McCombs goes heavy on the keys, especially various organs, which helps give his introspective style a psychedelic patina—and whether it's that new element or something harder to pin down, the album has a haunting, mesmerizing quality I didn't hear on previous efforts. Whatever McCombs listened to while making Wit's End, he should keep it in constant rotation, especially if it means he'll write more songs as memorable as "Memory's Stain" and "County Line." —Leor Galil See also Tuesday. Lower Dens open. 9 PM, Hideout, $15.


CASS MCCOMBS See Monday. Lower Dens open. 8 PM, Schubas, $15.


STARLICKER The first time I saw Starlicker—the trio of cornetist Rob Mazurek, drummer John Herndon, and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz—it looked like all they wanted to do was blow down the walls of the Hideout. For two full sets the group sustained an awe-inspiring level of energy, but the relentless volume isn't simply an end unto itself; Starlicker's recent debut, Double Demon (Delmark), makes it abundantly clear that these guys play hard in order to saturate the sonic palette with dense, ringing overtones, so that the music's melodic and rhythmic details seem to dance around inside the din that's filling your ears. The album consists of six Mazurek originals, which he based on melodic kernels that emerged during free improvisation, and the composed material guides and shapes the band's furious swells. Starlicker occasionally uses conventional soloing, but its default mode is to think and move as a unit, with the members all girding, shadowing, and reinforcing one another. Adasiewicz creates the thickest, most resonant sound, banging out new chords while the old are still hanging in the air, but Herndon packs a wallop too, playing with blunt, crashing force—his cymbals mesh with the vibes to create a plush cushion for Mazurek's visceral blowing. The cornetist's written themes are typically elegant, but Starlicker's output is nonetheless intensely physical, even a little harrowing. This isn't music to be parsed but rather to be surrendered to—give your ears over to it, and the payoff will increase exponentially. —Peter Margasak 9 PM, Hideout, $10.

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