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  • Karina Natis
  • Crown Larks

On its recent full-length debut, Blood Dancer (Space Lung/Land Breathing), the hard-working, young Chicago combo Crown Larks demonstrates a learned appreciation for the city’s recent underground musical history (particularly the ongoing collisions between improvised music and art-rock, which has marked the scene for more than two decades). The material is rooted in a hazy strain of expansive psychedelia, with loose grooves that suggest a Krautrock band wrecked on some strong weed: together guitarist Jack Bouboushian and keyboardist Lorraine Bailey sketch out tentative licks and patterns that flicker, ring, and crash over Bill Miller’s drumming.

A lot of what’s written about the band (at least that I’ve read) makes a fuss about the presence of horns, and indeed, there aren’t many rock quartets with an improvising saxophonist (Chris Boonenberg, who also plays keyboards). But those caterwauling horns, further enhanced by some strident clarinet by Bailey and guest contributions from reedist Kevin Ohlau and trumpeter Peter Gillette, form a cumulatively chaotic patch of sound that’s inextricably woven into the sonic fabric draping the band’s lurching rhythms. A song like “Fog, Doves” may sound jazz-like—it opens with somewhat formless patterns and some abstract trumpet—but ultimately Crown Larks are very much a rock band.

The band still has a ways to go when it comes to songwriting—most of the songs are either too loose or fussy (in a prog-rock way) and Bouboushian’s singing does little to elucidate any melodies buried in the din. At times he recalls a young Thurston Moore, albeit one with a vocal pitch that rivals Jandek’s. (On the other hand, Bailey can definitely carry a tune, but on the record she’s rarely given the chance). The band has just returned to Chicago from a lengthy U.S. tour, so I imagine they should be playing at a high level—the quartet thrives on charged internal interaction. They play the 5:30 PM opening set at the Do Division festival on Friday.

Below you can check out one of the album’s sharpest and most driving tunes, “Chapels.”

Today’s playlist:

Ossie All Stars, Leggo Dub (Hot Pot)
Jean Ritchie, Ballads From Her Appalachian Family Tradition (Smithsonian Folkways)
Noah Preminger, Haymaker (Palmetto)
Yannis Kryiakides, Resorts & Ruins (Unsound)
Marko Nikodijevic, dark/rooms (Col Legno)