Chicago

VIDEO PREMIERE: V.V. Lightbody - Fish In Fives

Will Shenton

V.V. Lightbody's self-described "nap-rock" earns its title on her dreamy new video, "Fish In Fives." Taken from her forthcoming solo LP, Bathing Peach, the soporific tune seems to take its bedroom-pop moniker literally, meandering among shots of the Chicago-based artist abortively trying to wake up and face the day. Awash in sleepy haze and Lightbody's soothing vocals, it's a deeply introspective song that steps back from a relationship in favor of self-discovery.

We see that self-discovery somewhat literally in the form of Lightbody's attendants, who seem to represent her own multifaceted indecision. As they lounge around her on the bed, help her get dressed in the bathroom, and watch her chop flowers in the kitchen, we're invited to see them as aspects of her own personality. It's as if she's yet to choose her own identity, but as soon as she leaves the house to lazily rollerblade around town, she's an individual once again. Her bedroom is where she retreats to grow, and the world outside is where she tries on her new self.

This is all to say nothing of the song itself, which is gorgeously groovy. Lightbody's voice, whether solo or harmonized, is the perfect vehicle for its naturalistic vignettes ("You know I'm just a little fox, babe / In its neighboring den / Sitting hens in a box"), and the understated jazz-pop instrumentals are irresistible. Warm and approachable, "Fish In Fives" is nonetheless cerebral, and the blend of concepts and styles it contains are truly impressive.

Bathing Peach is out June 15, 2018. Be sure to catch V.V. Lightbody's album release show TONIGHT (June 8) in Chicago!

REVIEW: Melkbelly - Nothing Valley

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Phillipe Roberts

For artists percolating in global DIY, “debut album” is often a misnomer. Regardless of our fixation on the LP format as the defining unit of measurement for musical expression, these bands have usually been kicking around the scene for years, nervously fine-tuning their sound in bars and basements; chances are, they’ve “debuted” dozens if not hundreds of times before your needle hits the wax.

Melkbelly, who've just released their first long player after three years as some of Chicago’s leading noise-rock luminaries, are living that storyline right now: “emerging” from relative obscurity (having opened for such famous nobodies as Speedy Ortiz and Built to Spill) with a world-conquering debut of their own. Unapologetically refusing to pare down their wide-ranging sludge voyages in favor of pop appeal (they already have it in spades, thank you very much), Melkbelly turns up both the gain and the hooks for a more-is-more approach. Nothing Valley wisely takes the money and runs for the hills.

Previous releases by Melkbelly, even last year’s Mount Kool Kid/Elk Mountain split, failed to capture the frighteningly raw power that the four-piece brings to the stage, often sounding like you were hearing them from behind bulletproof glass. Their Breeders-by-way-of-Lightning Bolt ferocity means that Miranda Winters’ sing-song melodies are prone to spectacular and spontaneous combustion at any given moment. Seeing them can feel a bit like watching Godzilla stomping through downtown Tokyo—rapturous awe at the size of their sound, and sheer terror at the knowledge that they could bring it all toppling down with a flick of the tail.

Nothing Valley captures this unpredictability like never before. “R.O.R.OB” revels in one of Winters’ most earwormy melodies and the album’s most straightforward groove, before a round-the-kit thwack from drummer James Wetzel sets off a quarter-time dirt bomb of dissonance for the last two minutes. When Melkbelly collectively stomps on their fuzz boxes, they make sure it hits. Even confined to headphones, the hard-charging final two minutes of “Middle Of” leave craters in your eardrums, with Wetzel going off on the snare against an ascendant, sinister riff that feels like it’s running away from you.

Wetzel puts in his finest performances yet, keeping the reins tight on freakout jams and eagerly leading the band up and over difficult transitions through his assertive rhythmic fervor, but the core of Melkbelly’s staying power is the ever-evolving songwriting genius of their frontwoman. Sounding like a post-apocalyptic Kim Deal still dripping with radioactivity, Winters' melodic wit has never been sharper than it is on the one-two punch of singles “Off the Lot” and “Kid Kreative.” Her voice twists and turns like a knife, commanding and unfuckwithable on their catchiest songs to date.

The Melkbelly of Nothing Valley is devious and daring, their enthusiasm for huge riffs and shapeshifting song forms absolutely unquenchable. Coming into the haunting season, it’s fitting that the affair ends with “Helloween,” a cackling inferno of a victory lap, closing out the album with its most satisfying fuzzed out solo. Playing in the mud like carefree kids, Melkbelly uncover gem after gem of urgent, unsanitized rock. Here’s hoping they never give up the dirt.

REVIEW: Chicago Afrobeat Project - What Goes Up

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Laura Kerry

For the last 15 years, a varying group of musicians has met in Chicago lofts and studios to create around their shared love of Afrobeat music. Since 2012, Chicago Afrobeat Project (CAbP) has released four albums and developed a unique sound that combines West African beats, jazz instrumentation and melodies, and a range of elements from other genres, from funk to indie.

Inviting different members and artists to contribute and leave their mark as they please, CAbP runs as more of a collective than a rigid band, and their new release, What Goes Up, reflects this structure (or lack thereof). In ten songs, the album cycles through different voices, moods, and instrumentation, crediting almost 20 different artists—about half of whom are vocalists. As a result, though the bass, guitar, synth, and horn sections remain throughout, each song carries a different tone.

Unifying What Goes Up as much as the core members of the group is featured guest Tony Allen, who plays drums on every song. Allen is a legend, landing in the top third of Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time” list and earning a number one spot in Brian Eno’s estimation. He helped create the fundamental beat in Afrobeat, playing with Fela Kuti for a decade in the late ‘60s and ‘70s. It’s a big deal for one of the genre’s forefathers to join forces with one of its most interesting disciples. Both parties seem to revel in that, producing an exuberant album.

Staying true to Afrobeat, What Goes Up is founded on complex rhythms. Led by Allen, the album shifts around West African polyrhythms—multiple patterns of beats that work with and against each other. In “Cut the Infection,” a video game synth dances with the drum kit in one of the more traditional feeling songs; in “Must Come Down,” the vocals find their own space among a dark pulse of screeching electric guitar, animated horns, and jazzy percussion; and in “White Rhino,” the fluid swirl of brighter instruments contrasts with the rigid beat. Each track is wildly complex, but not so much so that the listener can’t automatically internalize their feeling and dynamic motion. Even when songs meander, leaning closer to jazz than the comforting structures of pop, they maintain their pulsating, lively grip.

Though the rhythms dominate, they do not detract from the album’s content. True to their legacy, CAbP often tackle political themes. Over an urgent rhythm and lofty horn accents, “Race Hustle” confronts the manifestations of racism. “I won’t apologize for the fear my skin puts in your eyes,” J.C. Brooks sings, his voice rising to a near breaking point as he cries, “No I won't just look the other way / While you murder me again today.” In “White Rhino,” Ugochi sings about the overwhelming presence of bad in the world, repeating the words “too much” before a series of ills—starvation, aggression, oppression. These are powerful messages, but CAbP is at their most powerful when they deliver their politics with specificity or a touch of whimsy. In “Marker 48,” for example, humanity’s destructive relationship with earth is staged as a breakup between a normal man and woman. The metaphor draws the listener in, provoking a little bit of a chuckle and even more thought.

What Goes Up delivers as a message, a work of music, and an ode to a genre. With Allen’s accompaniment, CAbP has created exactly what a tribute to Afrobeat or anything should be: It executes on the original but also evolves it, pushing it to new and intriguing places.

REVIEW: Sunglow - Great Time of Day

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Laura Kerry

Sometimes genre speaks to musical history; bands can be post-this or neo-that. Other times, genres are giant catch-alls, like indie or alternative. In some cases, they describe a very specific feature of their performers (think hair metal).

The genre most frequently ascribed to Sunglow is “weird pop”—and that's just plain descriptive. The artist, Savannah-born, Chicago-based Daniel B. Lynch, makes pop that’s weird. Ever since his instrumental electronic debut album Jalopy (2012), he's been developing a perfect formula that merges sunny, danceable grooves with mischievous experimentation. Now, in his third full-length, Great Time of Day, Sunglow proves he's honed his craft, continuing to mix strong songwriting with a knack for strangeness.

Though Great Time of Day includes the strong vocal melodies that Sunglow began to play with in his second album, 2014’s Nothing Doing, the greatest force in the LP is its various rhythms. Lynch started experimenting with percussion as a kid, and the experience shows. Throughout the album, his varied beats—quick and nervous, deep and booming, steady and danceable, syncopated and complex—make up the backbone of his music. Emphasized by rigid structures and unfaltering repetitions, deep and reverberating bass, and lighter synth accents for balance, these rhythms give you something to sink your teeth into (or move your body to) in most of the tracks.

But for every danceable groove, Great Time of Day has an equal amount of grime. Despite his buoyant beats, Sunglow’s music often feels mired in something darker and grungier. In “Tenneco,” though the high ringing that begins the song on a near-painful note gels into funky bass-led jam, it never escapes those eerie undertones; in “Gross Me Out,” bright ‘80s synths push against deep, aggressive bass and layered, effect-heavy vocals that are equal parts playful, weird, and menacing; and in “So So Strange,” the captivating beat marches on with an almost ominous repetition, inviting odd voices to dance in and out over it. “Dunno,” with its chorus that repeats “I dunno anything,” is like a bubble gum-tinted dream (or nightmare) imagined while drifting off on a psychiatrist’s couch.

Sunglow makes music filled with contradictions—bone-dry electronic beats and liquid, reverb-heavy synths; scratchy, oddball vocal effects that alter catchy melodies; retro synths and contemporary production; pop catharsis and post-punk anxiety. In his new album, all of these opposites attract, merging into a unique sound that is weird and off-kilter, but inviting and immersive. Great Time of Day is weird pop—and it’s the best of it.

Album out now on Furious Hooves: http://bit.ly/2wN62Nl

PREMIERE: Fauvely - Break

Laura Kerry

Fauvley is the project of Chicago-based singer-songwriter Sophie Leigh, who melds folk with dream pop and a touch of shoegaze in music that feels deeply personal. The title of her forthcoming EP, Watch Me Overcomplicate This, speaks to the confessional tone of songs that range from delicately self-effacing to hauntingly sad. Leigh cites Mazzy Star, Angel Olsen, and Lykke Li as influences, and the comparisons are apt; in her last single, the EP’s title song, and in her latest, “Break,” she combines the dreaminess of Mazzy Star with Olsen’s smoky sadness and Lykke Li’s fragile pop.

In “Break,” Leigh also follows the legacy of those three artists as she captures a large swatch of emotional ground with simple gestures. Beginning with a quiet duo of guitar and vocals, the artist is vulnerable as she sings, “I think I need a break from all these voices in my head.” As the song builds to the chorus with an increasing density of guitar strums, it picks up speed and momentum, eventually introducing a full band with an oscillating rhythm that simultaneously adds a sense of release and an added nervous urgency. Leigh’s words over this new rise are direct and strangely powerful: “Sometimes I feel too much / Sometimes I don’t feel enough.” As the song swings between animated refrain and sparse verse, it’s impossible not to feel along with Fauvely.