That says “Void Meditation Cult” up there.

A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.

Philip Montoro, Reader music editor

Void Meditation Cult, Utter the Tongue of the Dead On Halloween this Ohio group released the first full-length of its plodding, filthy, ragged black metal—you can almost smell the centuries-old cerecloth trailing behind these songs. The drop-tuned guitars have a fat, bristly tone, like a band saw slowing down as it chews into gristle, and the vocals are even better: sometimes they’re a cadaverous, aspirated hiss, and sometimes they’re a gurgling growl that sounds like a Lovecraftian nightmare spraying bloody phlegm from all three of its throats. Is it possible for a record to be so evil that it becomes funny?

“Playing” dry ice with metal I’d seen Michael Colligan do this in the Friction Brothers, so of course I screwed around with the unattended blocks of dry ice at Arriver’s Comfort Station gig last month. Touch a block with a piece of metal, and the sublimating gas trapped beneath it buzzes, screeches, and howls as it rushes out. The aluminum hoods of the venue’s shop lights worked great!

Steve Coleman & Five Elements at Constellation Coleman often composes his distinctive avant-garde jazz by transcribing his own improvisations, and its hall-of-mirrors grooves can be a challenge to parse—the electric bass might cycle every 17 pulses, but nobody else will be in that meter. I’ve never spent an entire two-hour set trying and failing to get a handle on music that uses regular tempos and repeated patterns—I can’t help but think of how ordinary trees create essentially infinite complexity with nothing but branches and leaves.

Philip is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .

SiaCredit: Tonya Brewer

Billie Howard, pianist and violinist for Akosuen and Aperiodic

Formidable Dreams by Sara Zalek and Eugene Sun Park Sara Zalek and Eugene Sun Park‘s recent “expanded cinema” performance filled Silent Funny with immersive sound and visuals exploring the search for identity through the “shadow self.” Dancers turned movement into sound (and vice versa) with great restraint, using silence and stillness to transport the rapt audience into a dream state. Handmade instruments by Jason Soliday shaped the organic yet futuristic atmosphere. It’ll be interesting to see how Zalek, Park, and their collaborators evolve this project.

Julie Christmas, The Bad Wife At first listen, the catalog of metal queen Julie Christmas is an aggressive beast, all full-body screams and a band playing so hard it’s no wonder they rarely tour. Christmas gives her entire self to her music, with vocals ranging from a ghostly whisper to an immense, almost operatic howl. And surprisingly, beneath all the music’s harsh extremity are carefully crafted art songs.

Sia’s Nostalgic for the Present Tour When Sia’s Nostalgic for the Present Tour stopped here last month, it was a chance to see an artist craft the presentation of her work with a refinement not often shown by 21st-century pop musicians. All she needed was a pristine, white-box set to fill the United Center with her creative intention—rather than focus on her status as a celebrity. Modern dancers in minimalist costumes and lush lighting changes helped give this evening of storytelling and community an emotional arc. Props to Sia for making us second-guess the reality we see.

Billie is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .

Anderson & Roe in the video for their version of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”
Anderson & Roe in the video for their version of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”Credit: From the artists’ YouTube channel

Kathryn Satoh, violinist for Bow & Hammer

Anderson & Roe Squeezed between the need to revitalize classical music’s audience and respect its conventions, Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Roe have found a niche in music videos. Featuring Mozart or Vivaldi as well as self-published arrangements of Taylor Swift or Michael Jackson, this piano duo’s efforts are hardly typical YouTube recitals (though they have plenty of quality concerts recorded too). Written, produced, and edited by the ensemble, they’re consistent in their artistic integrity—and help make fabulous classical music “cool” in this thumb-swiping technology age.

YouTube video

Kaia String Quartet If you like tango, this is your group. The Chicago-based Kaia String Quartet works to promote composers and music from Latin America. Their second album, Quartango (2016), creates a portable milonga with the collaboration of composer and bandoneon player Richard Scofano. Each piece oozes with a perfect combination of sensuality and class—the only drawback to this record is that you may find yourself stepping some ochos down a CTA platform.

Kishi Bashi Kishi Bashi transports his violin into ultimate looping heaven, creating a full electronica/indie-rock production in front of your eyes. He beatboxes, sings, and dances while playing legit shredding licks. Having toured with established artists, started a rock band (Jupiter One), and survived music school (Berklee) before going solo, he’s well-rounded and puts together amazingly balanced shows, videos, and albums—they’re smart, wacky, original, lyrical, and danceable.

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. You can also follow him on Twitter.