Emeralds, Sun Circle, Bird Show, Joe Grimm | Empty Bottle | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Emeralds, Sun Circle, Bird Show, Joe Grimm Recommended Soundboard Critics' Picks

When: Sun., Dec. 7, 9 p.m. 2008

Ever since the early waxings of Pere Ubu and Devo, Ohio art-rock has reflected the beauty and decay of the state’s postindustrial cities. But EMERALDS look elsewhere: guitarist Mark McGuire and synth players Steve Hauschildt and John Elliott named their trio after the chain of nature preserves, affectionately called the Emerald Necklace, that surrounds their hometown of Cleveland. They’ve released a heap of cassettes, CD-Rs, and split LPs on noise-oriented labels like American Tapes, Chondritic Sound, and Ecstatic Peace, but their sound is more reminiscent of vintage German kosmische musik than midwestern underground squall. On “The Quaking Mess,” one of two tracks on their first proper CD, the short but splendid Solar Bridge (Hanson), the electronics burble like a brook through a glade, only to be washed away by a flash flood of deep, droning bass. And the ascending layers of synths and E-bowed guitars on “Magic” seem to bear you aloft, like those Popol Vuh-soundtracked aerial shots of cruel verdant vistas in Aguirre: The Wrath of God. —Bill Meyer Long-distance duo SUN CIRCLE—former Chicagoan and “laptronica” artist Greg Davis, who’s now in Vermont, and Montana-based Zach Wallace, who also plays bass in Memorize the Sky with another former Chicagoan, reedist Matt Bauder—stick to sustained drones on every track of theirs I’ve heard so far. One piece on their self-titled debut CD-R is built around intersecting vocal chants—low, guttural notes, drawn out Tibetan-monk style and amplified till they’re strident and grainy, a la Tony Conrad—but most of their material is purely instrumental, combining organ, bowed strings, and gongs in slowly shifting epics that sometimes hover and sometimes pulsate vigorously. Beneath its surface each drone swarms with microscopic activity—tiny changes in texture, density, and pitch that keep your ears busy once you surrender to the sumptuous sound. —Peter Margasak The self-titled third album from Ben Vida’s BIRD SHOW (Kranky) doesn’t look too promising. Track titles like “Pan Pipe Ensemble and Voice” and “Mbira, Harp and Voice” sound lifted from a demonstration record by an ethnomusicologist, and the cover image—an assortment of traditional ethnic instruments, neatly arranged on a Persian rug—just reinforces that impression. But the music, which Vida made with the help of his brother Adam, Michael Zerang, Greg Davis, and Robert Lowe, among others, is thoroughly hypnotizing; it takes advantage of the sketchiness of its premeditated structures to play with rhythm and density, opening up, collapsing in, and stretching out. A few tracks, like “Two Organs and Dumbek,” are obviously composed, and betray their minimalist inspirations pretty blatantly—Terry Riley, anyone?—but overall Bird Show seems to be abandoning even the vestigial bits of written-out music from its previous records, moving instead into uncharted country. For this gig Vida will play a new solo piece for synthesizer and voice, accompanied by projected video from former Chicagoan Siebren Versteeg. —Peter Margasak Emeralds headline; Sun Circle, Bird Show, and Joe Grimm open.

Price: $3

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