Music » Soundboard

The List: April 15-21, 2010

Critics' Choices and other notable shows: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Best Coast, Finntroll, Hot Chip, the Amir ElSaffar & Hafez Modirzadeh Quartet, and more

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Thursday15

Best Coast
White Hinterland

Friday16

Tomomi Adachi
Chicago Sound Map
Amir ElSaffar & Hafez
Modirzadeh Quartet

Fintroll
Three 6 Mafia

Saturday17

Chicago Sound Map
Graham Parker

Sunday18

Cheer-Accident
Vernon Garrett

Monday19

Hot Chip

Tuesday20

Ambrose Field & John Potter Updated

Wednesday21

Charlotte Gainsbourg

thursday15

BEST COAST Recently a number of acts—most notably Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls, and Dum Dum Girls—have been borrowing garage rock's low fidelity and pop nostalgia, but instead of delivering their hooks with the snarling badassitude that garage has relied on since the mid-60s, they go off on dreamy, reverb-laden sonic explorations that show the influence of shoegaze's more lotus eater-y moments. One of the better acts to emerge from this trend is Best Coast, aka Bethany Cosentino. On a handful of singles released over the past few months she's shown a talent for putting together songs that find a better balance between hooks and sonics than many of her peers'. She's a dedicated Californian—she returned to her native LA after suffering through one New York winter—and you can hear it in songs like "Something in the Way" and "Make You Mine," which beam sunshine even though the lyrics are about "imaginary boyfriends" (as she recently told the LA Times) who embody the prototypical untouchable girl-group-ballad heartbreaker. Light Pollution opens.  10:30 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12, $10 in advance, 18+. —Miles Raymer

Best Coast
  • Best Coast

WHITE HINTERLAND On the 2008 album Phylactery Factory, Portland's Casey Dienel (aka White Hinterland) used quasi-orchestral arrangements to give her songs a veneer of florid psych folk, but on its follow-up, the new Kairos (Dead Oceans), she strips all that away. Instead she sets her voice against an austere backdrop of twitchy, restless programmed beats, wan synthesizers, and simple, driving bass, all coated in a milky wash of reverb. I'd applaud a bold reinvention like that in any case, and here I've got an extra reason to, since the change seems to have had a positive effect on Dienel's singing. Her favorite affectation on past recordings was to unravel a note with fluttery vibrato, which tended to aggravate her problems with pitch control; now it's gone, replaced by a quirky quasi-soul style that suggests a less eccentric Bjork tackling the Dirty Projectors songbook. That sounds like it'd be a total train wreck, I know, but Kairos is one of the freshest and most exhilarating albums I've heard this year. Dosh headlines. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Peter Margasak

friday16

TOMOMI ADACHI One of my old editors hated the term "sound artist" because she thought it screamed pretentiousness. Japan's Tomomi Adachi calls himself a lot of things—"performer, composer, sound poet, installation artist, occasional theater director"—and he makes sound art that's not the slightest bit pretentious. His aesthetic is wonderfully absurd, often goofy—he claims he's the only Japanese artist to have performed the Kurt Schwitters Dada classic Ursonate—and his playful curiosity manifests itself not just in his novel, entertaining performances but also in the low-tech electronic instruments he builds. The recent Early Works & Live 1994-1996 (Omega Point) includes plenty of sound poetry, from zany originals to an obscure 1920s piece by futurist painter Hide Kinoshita, plus what Adachi calls "newspaper singing" and pieces for homemade electronics, piano, and violin; the 2003 album Yo (Tzadik) is a hilarious effort by his eight-member Royal Chorus, a "punk-style choir" that compensates for its amateurish singing with careful arrangements, energetic rhythms, and the liberal use of nonverbal animal sounds. For his Chicago debut, the first concert booked by local experimental-music presenter Lampo since it lost its Chicago Avenue space last summer, Adachi will perform sound poetry and show off some of his inventions, including a monophonic oscillator he calls the tomomim and a device that consists of amplified springs and wires meant to be struck, brushed, or rattled—both of which are built into Tupperware containers. He'll also demonstrate his infrared sensor shirt, a gesture-driven device that controls a crazy variety of vocal effects by monitoring the positions of the ten sensors attached to it. You can see video of some of these contraptions at www.adachitomomi.com/a/video.html. 8 PM, Columbia College, 916 S. Wabash, room 214, 312-282-7676, $10, $5 students. —Peter Margasak

EVGENI BOZHANOV Starting with the low bench that he travels with—affording him the hand position he finds essential for his sound—26-year-old Bulgarian pianist Evgeni Bozhanov is anything but conventional. Yet even his most questionably idiosyncratic performances are delivered with such incredible quality of sound, gorgeous and wonderfully varied, that they are difficult to resist—like a disjointed film that compels with the power of its visuals. The program opens with the imposing Busoni transcription of Bach's Organ Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564, followed by three works he performed at the 2009 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, where he was a finalist. Schubert's profoundly searching Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960, and Schumann's ever shifting Davidsbundlertanze present tremendous artistic challenges: balancing the writing, making it coherent, and doing it justice are so difficult; at the Cliburn Competition Bozhanov was better with the Schumann. These 18 short character pieces, which veer from impetuous to sublime, lend themselves to his probing approach and wide range of color. Last is a waltz from Gounod's opera Faust, as arranged and embellished by Franz Liszt into a finger-bending rollick. 8 PM, Bennett-Gordon Hall, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook, Highland Park, 847-266-5100, $20. —Steve Langendorf

CHICAGO SOUND MAP The Chicago Sound Map festival is a local expression of an international phenomenon: the growing interest in composition shown by improvising musicians. The border zone between the two strategies, once the province of a lonely few—Cornelius Cardew and Roscoe Mitchell come to mind—is now bustling with activity. Composers and improvisers, united by an interest in process, have brough a myriad of sounds and organizational methods into play around the balance point between freedom and discipline. They welcome any suggestion that will push the music in an interesting direction, but they won't let instructions get in the way of their own good ideas. The ensemble for Chicago Sound Map's fourth iteration consists of ten musicians: Jason Stein, Boris Hauf, and Keefe Jackson (reeds), Liz Payne and Anton Hatwich (strings), Michael Hartman and Steven Hess (percussion and electronics), D Bayne (piano), and Brian Labycz and Todd Carter (more electronics). They'll perform works by two composers on two succcessive nights. This evening is the U.S. debut of Judith Unterpertinger, an Austrian-born, London-based pianist and performance artist who describes her main interest as "the realisation of musical-performative architectures, particularly mechanical, psychological and urban conditions of form." On the program are Intimacy as well as two movements of a larger work called Zone 3#1, which is intended as a comment on surveillance culture: Unterpertinger's graphic score is based on drawings she made from surreptitious photos taken of people's legs and feet as they walked around London. The composer will be present but will not perform. See also Saturday. 10 PM, Heaven Gallery, 1550 N. Milwaukee, second floor, heavengallery.com, donation requested. —Bill Meyer

AMIR ELSAFFAR & HAFEZ MODIRZADEH QUARTET In 2007 New York trumpeter Amir ElSaffar, an Iraqi-American born in Oak Park, released the dazzling Two Rivers (Pi), a marriage of postbop and Iraqi maqam whose depth and rigor made it a rare success in a field littered with superficial fusions. Since then he's been working with a fellow traveler from California, Iranian-American saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh, who's undertaken a similar combination of jazz and Persian dastgah—like maqam, it's a group of governing modes and patterns rather than a genre, and both systems use microtonal intervals that sound vividly strange to Western ears. The two horn men achieved a breakthrough on the new Radif Suite (Pi), dissolving the orthodoxies of all three idioms and reconstituting a new improvisational practice from elements of each. Even their approach to the scale was transformed: "My perception of pitch shifted," writes ElSaffar in the liner notes. "All intervals—no longer pixelated on the Western grid system of equal temperament, nor tied to the Eastern single-tonic system of maqam or dastgah—were now able to co-exist along a steady continuum of frequency." Considering all this, it's a little surprising that on first listen the music on Radif Suite sounds so much like the classic Ornette Coleman Quartet with Don Cherry, particularly the easy give-and-take commentary between the horns. But soon the group's freedom with intonation announces itself: the unfamiliar intervals, whether bounding leaps or microscopic shifts, create harmonies that vibrate and shimmer, summoning a mood that's both joyous and sorrowful. ElSaffar and Modirzadeh each contribute a lengthy suite, and they get great support from bassist Mark Dresser and percussionist Alex Cline (twin brother of guitarist Nels), who plays an elaborate extended gong solo on "Facet Ten." All four musicians from the album will perform at the group's Chicago debut. 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, $12. —Peter Margasak

FINNTROLL At seven members this Finnish band is larger than your usual metal raiding party, with a correspondingly huge sound—one you won't hear anywhere else. Devoted students of a traditional Finnish hoedown music called humppa, Finntroll play a demented, trollish kind of metal that sounds like an amplified version of a sing-along at a Scandinavian folk festival; they sing in Swedish, because they find the sound of the language better suited to the monster lore that informs many of their lyrics. If you don't happen to be acculturated to the band's source material, you might occasionally picture an orc wedding dance or a marching legion of zombie garden gnomes, but that's really your problem (if you insist on seeing it as a problem at all). Their new Nifelvind (Century Media), their sixth full-length, is a dizzying synthesis of the jaunty and the brutal, the exotic and the familiar, the shamelessly romantic and the namelessly evil—it leaves me wondering how Finntroll can pull off some of the cheeseball moves they do (those keyboards, yikes) and still sound so powerful. Maybe Finland is just so metal as a country that once you've tapped into its ancestral heaviness it doesn't matter what else you do. Moonsorrow, Swallow the Sun, Something Beautiful, and Apocrypha open. 8 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $28, $25 in advance, 17+. —Monica Kendrick

Three 6 Mafia For the first decade of their career the Memphis crew Three 6 Mafia—producer DJ Paul, MC Juicy J, and a rotating cast of supporters—developed a cultish fame with Dirty South hood rap steeped in ditch-weed paranoia, heavy-metal T-shirt art, and syrup-sticky hedonism. But an unexpected Oscar in 2005 for "It's Hard Out There for a Pimp," on the Hustle & Flow soundtrack, brought the group to a mainstream audience that they attempted to satisfy by toning down their freakiness and starring in a reality show. Judging by what's made its way to the Internet, their upcoming Laws of Power (Columbia) will either be a return to form, if you believe Juicy J's recent mix-tape single "Ain't Shit Changed," or an embarrassment, if you go by their collaboration with Dutch douche jockey Tiesto. Yung Joc and GS Boyz open.  8 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee, 773-842-1483, $25, 17+. —Miles Raymer

saturday17

CHICAGO SOUND MAP See Friday. Local trombonist Jeb Bishop, best known as a jazz musician, is the second featured composer of Chicago Sound Map 2010. His piece, tentatively titled Chronarcy, will pit the acoustic and electronic factions of the ensemble against each other; Bishop will be among the performers. 10 PM, Heaven Gallery, 1550 N. Milwaukee, second floor, heavengallery.com, donation requested. —Bill Meyer

GRAHAM PARKER It's been decades since GRAHAM PARKER was an angry young man breaking out of the British pub-rock scene alongside Elvis Costello. He's undergone a creative renaissance in the past ten years, though, and has been cranking out catchy, soul-streaked pop rock that feels neither fashionable or dated; certain songs on his new album, Imaginary Television (Bloodshot), would fit in on his better 80s records. That said, Imaginary Television could use some of the bite that made 2007's Don't Tell Columbus so great—Parker does himself no favors borrowing from Lesley Gore for "It's My Party (But I Won't Cry)." The new album is almost all originals, which Parker says he was inspired to write after two TV themes he'd done on spec were rejected by producers—he set out to create music for nonexistent shows of his own invention. Instead of printed lyrics we get silly synopses, which sure look like they were cooked up based on the songs rather than vice versa. Parker's tunes could use some of the detail he lavishes on these plot treatments—the lyrics to "Always Greener," about a rich, bored housewife trying to find herself, are pretty cliched, but in the synopsis she's captured by Somali pirates, who eventually let her go because she's such a pain in the ass. The hard-rocking Figgs have backed Parker on some his best recent recordings, but only guitarist Mike Gent appears on Imaginary Television, playing drums; the whole band will support him here, after a set of their own. 7 and 10 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln, 773-728-6000, $22, $20 members, $18 seniors and kids. —Peter Margasak

sunday18

CHEER-ACCIDENT It's tough to keep up with Chicago's longest-running art-rock institution—not only do Cheer-Accident fly below most radar, they sometimes move at air-splitting speeds. They're working on three full-length albums, all due in 2011, which bandleader Thymme Jones assures me sound nothing like one another; they plan to use this show to try out new material. Since last year's Fear Draws Misfortune (Cuneiform) they've also got a new lineup, with keyboardist D Bayne and singer Carmen Armillas—the first permanent front person in the band's three-decade history—joining Jones and regulars Jeff Libersher, Alex Perkolup, and Andrea Faught. (Tonight, as usual, there will be a parade of guests—seven at last count.) Cheer-Accident will have copies on hand of a brand-new DVD that collects four episodes of their terrifyingly deadpan Dada sketch-comedy show, Cool Clown Ground, now in its 17th year and still broadcast Sunday nights on CAN TV's channel 19. There's also a single coming out this summer called "Barely Breathing," which Jones compares to an early-60s pop song. "If it were 50 years ago," he says, "we would be about to make some record company guy a lot of money." Sleepytime Gorilla Museum headlines; Cheer-Accident and American Draft open. 8 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, $15, 17+. —Monica Kendrick

VERNON GARRETT Vernon Garrett's coruscated baritone is the aural equivalent of steroid-ripped biceps, but he coaxes remarkable subtlety, suppleness, and versatility from it. His best-known song, "I'm at the Crossroad (Pt. 1)," issued in 1977 on Al Bell's ICA label, is a characteristically fervid testimonial to tough choices and their consequences, and his catalog is packed with funk-driven barn burners. But it also includes such unheralded gems as the noirish dreamscape "Midnight in the City" (ICA, 1977); his heart-stopping duet with Brenda Lee Eager on the classic soul ballad "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby" (Evejim, 2002); and the gospel tour de force "Mother Bowed" (Video Uptown, 2005), which starts off with some of the most achingly tender vocals he's ever summoned and slowly builds to a house-wrecking call-and-response rave-up. Last year's I'm Too Far Gone (Video Uptown) is pretty straight-ahead blues, consisting almost entirely of mid- and up-tempo 12-bar shuffles and ballads with mostly elemental backing sans horns or synths, but Garrett's blend of toughness and elegance shines throughout. The occasion for this gig is Artie "Blues Boy" White's 73rd birthday; White has suffered some serious health setbacks in recent years, but he'll likely summon the strength to sing at least a couple of songs here. Sherman "Moody" Thomas, Johnny Drummer, and special guests TBA open.  7:30 PM, Mr. G's Supper Club, 1547 W. 87th, 773-445-2020, $30, $25 in advance. —David Whiteis

Hot Chip
  • Hot Chip

monday19

HOT CHIP Anyone still clinging to the hoary myth that electronic dance music has no soul should spend a little time with the Hot Chip catalog. Songs like "Over and Over" and "Ready for the Floor" are every bit as tracky and repetitive as any house 12-inch, but Alexis Taylor's vocals are so loaded with emotion—on the former a delirious anxiety, on the latter a hopeful wistfulness—that I find myself struggling with whether I should go dance or sit in the corner and think deep thoughts. "Keep Quiet," the draggy, dirgey penultimate cut on the recent One Life Stand (EMI), proves that the band is best when it stays focused on making bodies move—and for most of the album it does. Highlights are "Take It In" and "I Feel Better," songs that display the group's love of cheeky genre pastiche, with digital piano riffs and synth figures seemingly lifted from early 90s club-pop superstars like Technotronik and Cathy Denis. The XX opens. Hot Chip also DJs at Smart Bar at 10 PM. 8 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine, 773-275-6800, sold out, 18+. —Miles Raymer

tuesday20

AMBROSE FIELD & JOHN POTTER Ambrose Field and John Potter don't seem likely collaborators. Field is a forward-looking electronic composer, and Potter—one of the most flexible and daring singers in the classical world—was for 17 years a member of the Hilliard Ensemble, a vocal group specializing in early music. But they found common ground on last year's gorgeous Being Dufay (ECM). Potter recorded fragments of pieces by 15th-century Burgundian composer Guillaume Dufay, from which Field created seven new works, processing eight minutes of singing into an album nearly an hour long: he mixed drifting synthesized tones with Potter's delicate, crystalline tenor, creating ghostly harmonies and refracted melodic shapes from the interplay among the electronics, the manipulated vocal sounds, and the singer's original track. For this British duo's live performances Field has developed software that enables him to tweak the prerecorded material on the fly and respond spontaneously to Potter's voice with sampling; their concerts, which also include video by Michael Lynch, are much more than mere reproductions of the album. Update: Field and Potter are unable to make it to the States due to flight cancellations caused by the ash cloud from Eyjafjallaj√∂kull. In lieu of a live performance the Cultural Center will present a high-resolution surround-sound version of Being Dufay created by the artists. 7:30 PM, Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. —Peter Margasak

wednesday21

CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG When Charlotte Gainsbourg was 15, her famous father wrote and produced an album for her, Charlotte for Ever (1986). Since then, however, she's spent most of her career in acting—it can't be easy to go into music when you're Serge Gainsbourg's daughter, doomed to be measured against some of France's most iconic and influential pop songs. Four years ago she gave it a shot, making a pleasant but tentative record called 5:55 with Jarvis Cocker and Air; the songs were all molasses slow, and Gainsbourg, who doesn't have a particularly powerful voice, sang in an anemic whisper, as though she were afraid of drawing attention to herself. On the new IRM (Because/Elektra), though, she breaks out of her shell with help from Beck, who produced the album and wrote most of the material—his fingerprints are clear, especially in the music's patchwork of styles and roomy, roughed-up layers of sound, but a bit of the sinister sexiness of the elder Gainsbourg creeps in too. For her part Charlotte comes across as more than just an enigmatic movie star with a pretty face and a jones to make a pop record. She suggests several different personas by modulating her voice: the breathy, sweet-and-sour sneer on "Master's Hand," the forceful and strangely detached proclamations on "IRM," the gentle but assured French-language cooing on "Le Chat du Cafe des Artistes," the sweetly vulnerable Beatlesque melody on "In the End." And that's just the first four tunes. Gainsbourg only started playing live recently; she's certainly figured out what to do in the studio, and with any luck she'll find her feet onstage quickly. AM opens. 8 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage, 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212, $20. —Peter Margasak

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