Intense, surreal, remote, dynamic. Come along with us as we chronicle the adventures of the soul through psychedelic, drone, noise, experimental, pop music based around Chicago bands in particular and local bands everywhere.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Autobiography #3: Chicago

Throughout winter and spring 2015, it feels as though Chicago has been bringing their absolute best in performance, recording, and art. Momentum gained in 2014 by the City's throngs of independent labels compounded this year, to the point where one can seemingly turn the corner and run into a fantastic show by Chicago artists. The spring series of ELASTRO at Elastic exemplifies this, but even citing one single space or series feels like a shortcoming. There is simply, obviously, a lot that is noteworthy right now, which is a great for Chicago's labels and artists.

Recently, a weeknight show at Elastic demonstrated precisely the range of energy and acumen exhibited by Chicago experimenters in 2015. Along with touring artist Snails & Oysters, Gardener, Cinchel (with Neil Jendon), and Muyassar Kurdi ranged from self-styled "power ambient" drives to slow, unfolding waves, and ritual vocal experimentation. While Circuit Des Yeux and Toupee rightfully gain expanded press with recent videos, this show is a great reminder that there is more talent lurking within Chicago's spaces awaiting release. So they churn.

Servant Girl from Eryka Dellenbach on Vimeo.

From her stunning album White Noise, Muyassar Kurdi's most recent video release, "Servant Girl," finds the artist visualizing one of the album's most haunting and difficult tracks. For those seeking reference, one might note that Kurdi's delivery invokes Rune Grammofon's tradition of "abstract" vocalization (from Maja Ratkje to Sidsel Endresen & Stian Westerhus to (/and even) Jenny Hval), or Panoptic Prism on the local scene. While Kurdi's album was song oriented, her recent performance at Elastic was grounded in amplified auto-harp (from my view) and vocal exercises that materialized as tests in range, power, and endurance. The set was challenging in that it forced the listener to be consistently aware and on-alert, which allowed Kurdi to open channels of communication without words. "Servant Girl" bridges the gap between some of the album's more "structural" songs and her recent performance, but this time by playing on the perception of silence, or quiet stabs.

Kurdi's album is provocative, but where it draws power is through the immediacy of her voice. Even when one expects that her exercises are the of most inward, and self-searching motives, she undoubtedly confronts a listener who now must accomplish the same.

Muyassar Kurdi Summer Tour
July 23: Indianapolis
July 24: Pittsburgh
July 25: Philadelphia
July 26 (noon): Philadelphia
July 26: New York
July 27: Providence
July 28: Boston
July 29: Portland, ME
July 30: Burlington, VT
July 31: Toronto
August 1: Columbus, OH

In Elastic Arts' new space on 3429 W. Diversey, there is more space between the speakers, and a larger room in general, that allows certain forms of ambient music to simply roll through space. Gardener and Cinchel both took full advantage of this arrangement, the former using synthesizer and the latter pairing his guitar with synth stylings from the aforementioned Jendon.

Gardener released a limited tour tape called Slab, and both sides also appear to be drawn from live sets (Bandcamp confirms this). Here, Gardener places to tape what listeners at Elastic experience during this show, which is subtle and unending waves of sound that appear to roll in sequence, gently coming to the fore and retreating. Even when there is a constant hum or base of sound, Gardener plays with textures and frequencies in a way that heightens the stillness of the performance, calling attention to the slightest changes or passageways. This translates perfectly to the live stage, where the power of PA makes Gardener's technique a much more direct confrontation with the listener. Gardener plays June 15 at Beat Kitchen.

Cinchel's Worry is a tape that also is a fine complement to his collaboration with Jendon, which the artist aptly names "power ambient." By combining delay/echo-flooded amplification and laptop processing to form his guitar sound, Cinchel effectively used stabs of chords and notes to churn rippling sequences throughout the space. Churning throughout the set, the volume developed its own layers or overtones that enhanced the warmth of the delay. This effect also appears throughout Worry, where Cinchel intensely layers sound, which advances some of his softer or more droning approaches, or playfulness with specific frequencies and more prominent "glitching," on other recent tapes. Live, Jendon colored the proceedings with the slightest synthetic charges that added a "beat" or soft punctures to Cinchel's heavy guitar. Worry aligns with this brand of ambient composition to produce a monolithic vision that may be the artist's heaviest work yet. Cinchel plays at Transistor on July 24, and WNUR on July 31.

From Denver, Snails & Oysters presented a stark detour from Cinchel and Gardener, which was a welcome and challenging listen. Using looped electric guitar, tape, and acoustic guitar, Snails & Oysters created layers that were more percussive than atmospheric, and much more distorted than delayed. With this naked feeling, compared to the all-encompassing sound of the other sets, Snails & Oysters placed the focus more on lead-playing and technique. At any given point, the listener could work with loops, lead playing, or distorted imprints from the tape and sustain to engage with a wide set of textures.

This combination of challenging work, heavy, enticing drones, and ranging, abstract vocals is simply one snapshot of a night in Chicago 2015. As exciting as it is to see the recent progression and press related to other Chicago groups, it's even more exciting to see the base camp working harder than ever to maximize their artistic and sonic deliveries.