Music » Soundboard

The List, September 17-23, 2009

Critics' Choices and other notable concerts: Laura Barrett, Circulatory System, Health, the Fruit Bats, Obituary, and more

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Laura Barrett
Circulatory System


The Fall Tribute and Lawrence Peters Benefit
Paul Hartsaw, Kristian Aspelin, Damon Smith, and Jerome Byerton


Fruit Bats, Iran


Fruit Bats, Iran


James Falzone's Klang


LAURA BARRETT On her appealingly peculiar full-length debut, last year's Victory Garden (Paper Bag), Toronto singer-songwriter Laura Barrett (also a member of the Hidden Cameras) serves up homemade pop-folk that ditches the usual guitars for cascading kalimba, pulsing marimba and vibraphone, and slaloming strings and winds. The twinkly arrangments complement her wispy, swooping voice, which imbues her wandering melodies with a veneer of childlike naivete—but no matter how whimsical her music may sound, everything in these unapologetically arty songs has been been charted meticulously. Most have no hooks or choruses—each proceeds as a kind of wide-eyed exploration—but once your ears adjust to Barrett's idiosyncrasies, it's easy to get drawn in. Though her lyrics are often hard to swallow—"I still have to use your etiquette / Inclusive of your monikers and novelty shows / Whose lie detector's onto us / Interrogating motive / Opportunity (no easy route)," goes one dizzying passage—her vocals are easy enough to digest as pure sound. For this performance Barrett will sing and play kalimba and a set of organ bass pedals, joined only by Ajay Mehra on banjo and glockenspiel. The Driftless Pony Club headlines; the Embraceables and Barrett open. 10:30 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Peter Margasak

Circulatory System - JASON THRASHER

CIRCULATORY SYSTEM Circulatory System's new second album, Signal Morning (Cloud Recordings), is darker than the Athens band's self-titled 2001 debut—but not as much darker as you might expect, given the circumstances. Part of the reason for the long delay was that lead songwriter Will Cullen Hart was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. According to a recent NPR interview, he almost went blind, but after medication put him back on his feet he started recording sketches of new songs, which his bandmates fleshed out and edited together into the album. Though Circulatory System had an affinity with sunnier psychedelic pop like Elf Power and the Olivia Tremor Control (Cullen Hart's previous band, which he says is working on new material), Signal Morning complicates that innocence right from the start: the bright melody atop the first track, "Woodpecker Greeting Worker Ant," is almost swallowed by a huge distorted one-note bass throb, swarming squiggles of electronic noise, and staggering, disheveled drums. Even when Cullen Hart reverts to gentle guitar strumming or Panglossian lyrics like "Why not try breathing along with the universe?" there's always something sinister to undercut him. For every hushed, pretty vocal harmony or shimmer of jingle bells, the band adds a minor-key interlude or some creepily buried singing. This tension provides the magnetic heart of the new album, and its pull only gets stronger with repeated listens. Nesey Gallons and Pipes You See, Pipes You Don't open. 10 PM, Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, 866-468-3401, $12. —Ann Sterzinger

HEALTH With its jolting energy, frenzied ritual beats, and brick-wall transitions, Health's 2007 self-titled debut was an often disorienting mess, but the band's electrifying live show had me looking forward to their next album anyway—it was pretty obvious that if these guys started firing on all cylinders they were gonna blow some minds. That sophomore album, Get Color (Lovepump United), released this month, is half science experiment, half mesmerizing psychedelic freak-out, combining the best elements of the first record—apocalyptic synth sounds, chattering guitar clamor, stampeding drums, and Jacob Duzsik's billowy, haunting vocals—with a relatively mature aesthetic that's more epic soundscape than jump-cut collage. Here the blurts of noise don't just cut the songs into pieces but instead work almost like stage directions, prodding you back to attention after you've drifted off into the looping, rippling rhythms. Now that Health have an album that lives up to their onstage intensity—when they really cut loose, they flail around like whips made out of dude—it's sure to recruit just as many true believers as their shows do. Pictureplane, Bird Names, and Daniel Francis Doyle open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-267-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10. —Kevin Warwick

  • Joe Wigdahl
  • Owen

OWEN Though Mike Kinsella is a veteran of Cap'n Jazz, Owls, and Joan of Arc, in those groups he was rarely a major creative engine. But that's not to say he's a wallflower—in American Football and his subsequent solo project, Owen, he's established himself as one of Chicago's best emo/indie songwriters (let's pause to remember that "emo" wasn't always a bad word), capable of orchestrating glittering, drunkenly swirling guitar arrangements whose melodies call to mind the storied bands in his past. In the three years since the release of At Home With Owen, Kinsella has become a husband and father, and his fifth album, New Leaves (Polyvinyl), is the wry statement of a family man growing older in the scene he helped build. He closes the record's best song, "Never Been Born," with his creaky voice dropping to a whisper as he sings, "I'm shitting blood / I'm puking piss / Sweating bile and awkwardness / It's a young man's game / About time I quit." At both of tonight's record-release shows Kinsella will be backed by a five-piece band that includes his cousin Nate (Joan of Arc, Make Believe) on bass and Bob Nanna (Braid, Hey Mercedes) on guitar. Nanna opens the early show and Davey von Bohlen opens the late show. 7:30 and 10:30 PM, Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont, 773-281-4444 or 866-468-3401, $15, $12 in advance, early show all-ages. —Kevin Warwick


THE FALL TRIBUTE AND LAWRENCE PETERS BENEFIT No band is simultaneously easier and more daunting to cover than the Fall. Their songs are usually fairly simple, and since they've tackled everything from rabid garage blowouts to clubfooted rockabilly stumbles to gleaming techno rave-ups, all you have to do is pick what you can already play and you're set. That is, until it comes to the singing—anyone who even approximates Mark E. Smith's fractured diction and wayward word choices just sounds like a copycat. This is the second annual Fall tribute organized by Kennedy Greenrod of the Thin Man and Lawrence Peters of Plastic Crimewave Sound, and the lineup runs the gamut from twangy, gothy indie rock to bad-trip psychedelic punk. The concert doubles as a benefit for Peters, who missed a couple months of work this summer after fracturing his heel—he's still having a little trouble getting around, but he's mended well enough to play drums with PCWS. Blasted Diplomats open, followed by Bleary, Plastic Crimewave Sound, Grimble Grumble, and the Thin Man. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Bill Meyer

PAUL HARTSAW, KRISTIAN ASPELIN, DAMON SMITH, AND JEROME BRYERTON For the 2007 release Ausfegen (Balance Point Acoustics), this transcontinental quartet—bassist Damon Smith and guitarist Kristian Aspelin from the Bay Area and saxophonist Paul Hartsaw and drummer Jerome Bryerton from Chicago—set out to pay homage to German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys. But as Smith explains in the liner notes, they weren't sure it was worthwhile to simply claim they were inspired by Beuys, so they decided to make the connection more explicit. For the art piece he called Ausfegen, Beuys swept Berlin's Marx-Engels-Platz, then encased the broom and all the detritus he'd collected in a vitrine. On the album Ausfegen, the cuts have titles like "Garbage," "Sand," and "Paper," and for one track Aspelin laid his guitar flat and played it with a broom. Of course that's not to say the listener needs to know any of this to appreciate the group's tensile and tactile free improvisation. The clanging and clattering commotion is daubed with terse, fluid phrases—a postbop gesture by Hartsaw, a rumbling arco flurry by Smith—and each player manipulates fast-flying extended technique in carefully calibrated communication. 10 PM, Heaven Gallery, 1550 N. Milwaukee, second floor,, donation requested. —Peter Margasak

IDA MARIA It's one of the great feminist fuck-yous of contemporary pop: Ida Maria Sivertsen, fresh out of Norway's avant-garde punk scene, was working with a producer who told her he didn't think she had a pop song in her. She took his doubt as a dare, and her drive to show him just what kind of pop song she could write turned into Fortress Round My Heart (Mercury), a Top 40 album in the UK that's best known for the bawdy hit "I Like You So Much Better When You're Naked." Her songs are concise intersections of pop pleasure and punk fury, so it's not surprising that they've got both calculated craft and sublimated anger behind them—tracks like "Oh My God" and "Stella" are perfect for girls too mature for emo and too smart for Pink. And onstage Ida Maria has just the sort of the self-assured sauciness and rock-star moves you'd want and expect from a woman making music like that. Ladyhawke, Semi Precious Weapons, and Sliimy open. Update: Ida Maria has canceled. Natalie Portman's Shaved Head is now headlining this show. 7:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $17.50. —Jessica Hopper


Fruit Bats - ANNIE BEEDY
  • Annie Beedy
  • Fruit Bats

FRUIT BATS, IRAN Former Chicagoan Eric Johnson has long thrived as a sideman—he first made his mark in Califone, and more recently he's been part of Vetiver's live lineup and joined the Shins as a full-time member. But his erstwhile home-recording project the FRUIT BATS has been a proper band (albeit an intermittent one) since 2000, and as a leader he favors rustic, sunny pop-rock and pastoral reveries. It's been five years since the group's previous album, but on the new The Ruminant Band (Sub Pop) they pick up right where they left off: their sound is still invitingly lived-in, and Johnson is still singing about romance and nostalgia in his sweet, high-pitched voice. On "Beautiful Morning Light" he invites his lover to join him up in a tree to enjoy "the foggy waning dawn," and the narrator in "Singing Joy to the World" describes a brief, largely unrequited romance that's forever linked in his memory to songs by Three Dog Night and Prince. The Fruit Bats' melodies are stuck in the 70s, their rollicking tunefulness untouched by cynicism (and by any style of the past two decades), and the band's current lineup—which includes drummer Graeme Gibson, who also produced the new record—brings them to life in unfussy arrangements that readily give up their pleasures to anyone who can still listen to the Drive unironically. —Peter Margasak

Of course people are going to compare Brooklyn duo IRAN to TV on the Radio: Kyp Malone is half the band, and their full-length from February, Dissolver (Narnack), works the same shadowy-sensual turf that TVOTR has basically trademarked. But it's more enlightening to look at the differences between the two groups. Most of the songs revolve around the vocals of Iran's other half, Aaron Aites (codirector of the recent black-metal documentary Until the Light Takes Us), and though he's going for lush and soulful like Malone or Tunde Adebimpe, his voice is weaker and he strains a little for the high notes. Most front men would suffer in comparison to TVOTR's, of course, so that hardly means Aites is a bad singer—his style is well suited to the songs' ramshackle feel. Iran's ambitious sonic palette includes synth, organ, piano, and layers and layers of guitar, but in another departure from the TVOTR template, underneath all those overdubs the songs are actually pretty straightforward. With their slanted, bummed-out vibe and occasional snatch of classic rock (there are quite a few ripping guitar solos, sometimes recorded in reverse), they sound like Sebadoh tunes tidied up and run through a steam press. —Miles Raymer

The Fruit Bats headline; Iran and Kevin Barker open. The Fruit Bats play a free in-store at 3 PM today at Reckless Records, 1532 N. Milwaukee. See also Monday. 7 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $14, $12 in advance.


FRUIT BATS, IRAN See Sunday. Kevin Barker opens. 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $14, $12 in advance.

MICKEY Mac Blackout, aka Mark McKenzie, is one of the most genuinely weird weirdos making rock music in Chicago—and I should know, since I was in the Functional Blackouts with him till the band imploded in 2006. On top of playing in the Daily Void, he's now fronting a new group, Mickey, with four like-minded knucklehead savants (meaning they're just as likely to get kicked out of a club), and it's giving him the chance to bring the feral bubblegum he's been recording at home for a few years to full flower onstage. Mickey's beautiful, ferocious scum-glam has all the rock-on catchiness of T. Rex and Milk 'n Cookies without the "let's pretend we're bisexual and our balls haven't dropped yet" bullshit that often comes with the territory. Blackout leaps off the stage and paces back and forth, wearing an absurdly confrontational grin like a cross between Alan Vega and Tomata du Plenty, and the band's party-puke cover of the Bay City Rollers' "Saturday Night" is a crude and joyful post-ironic celebration—like binge-drunk Cubs fans yelling along to "We Are the Champions" at a karaoke bar, except far more entertaining. Davila 666 headlines; the Smith Westerns, Mother of Tears, and Mickey open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600. —Brian Costello


CHAIRLIFT The marketer who first heard Chairlift's "Bruises," from their 2008 album Does You Inspire You (rereleased this year by Columbia), must have shit himself with joy. With its bubbly bass line, tastefully applied electronics, and incredibly twee and catchy female vocals—not to mention a balance of swooning sweetness and slight melancholy worthy of a Wes Anderson flick—it's practically the Platonic ideal of iPod commercial music. So nobody was surprised when it turned up in a Nano ad. But Does You is nowhere near as annoying as "Bruises." It touches on a dozen different kinds of electro-pop, from the Sugarcubes-ish "Evident Utensil" to the chilly faux-French "Le Flying Saucer Hat" and the new wave-y "Planet Health," which employs a thumb-popped bass tone that's such a spectacularly bad choice it's almost admirable. Phoenix headlines. 7:30 PM, Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence, 773-561-9500 or 312-559-1212, $21. —Miles Raymer

JAMES FALZONE'S KLANG Earlier this month at the Chicago Jazz Festival, Klang celebrated the small-group music of Benny Goodman, but the local quartet's new album, Tea Music (Allos Documents), pays homage to another late, great jazz clarinetist, Jimmy Giuffre. Giuffre is often remembered for the radical chamber jazz he introduced in the 60s, which bandleader and clarinetist James Falzone honors with subtle dissonances, rich harmonies, and meterless interludes on the melancholy "Lament on Ash Wednesday" and the acerbic "Oolong With Multiplicity." But elsewhere drummer Tim Daisy and bassist Jason Roebke's light-stepping rhythms and sprightly interjections recall the more ingratiating, unabashedly swinging music Giuffre played in the 50s, and the melodies all three men write are similarly accessible and openhearted. Among the group's members only vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz didn't compose for Tea Music, but his instrumental contributions—the tart accents he rains upon "#32 Busonius," the clouds of sound he suspends over the languid "Giants"—are essential to the group's personality. Klang plays two sets tonight; Fred Lonberg-Holm spins records. 10 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $7. —Bill Meyer

OBITUARY Sometimes I realize I'm not going to come up with a way to describe a band that can top what they say about themselves. Florida death-metal legends Obituary immodestly include the following on their Web site: "Such aural abrasion can only be heard on an Obituary album or the live circumcision of a thirty-year-old man, the choice is yours." Uh-huh. Formed in the mid-80s, Obituary deserve a lot of credit for pioneering a distinctive sound—a chugging, oppressive, bass-driven grind, with what passes for human consciousness communicated via John Tardy's abraded holler and guttural gastrointestinal growls. Having helped create that sound, they've stuck to it, even through a hiatus of several years; their new album, Darkest Day (Candlelight), is the band's best since reuniting in 2003, and sounds like it could've been recorded in their early-90s heyday. I suppose the passage of time has little effect on the undead. Goatwhore, Krisiun, Berzerker, and Warbringer open. 6 PM, Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie, 312-559-1212, $25. —Monica Kendrick

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