Multi-instrumentalist Liam Kazar has been so crucial to my evolving understanding of Chicago’s bustling, magnanimous music scene that I felt a little heartbroken when he moved to Kansas City in 2019. He’d risen to national fame in the early 2010s as part of the youthful fusion ensemble Kids These Days, whose idealistic collision of jazz, rock, and hip-hop worked thanks to the personalities involved, among them Macie Stewart of Ohmme and rapper Vic Mensa. Kazar has since established himself as a key player, helping the city’s music community thrive while doing his part to make sure the borders separating its microscenes stay porous; he cofounded underappreciated indie group Marrow, and he’s been part of live lineups for several nationally renowned rock bands, most notably Tweedy, the duo of Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and his son Spencer. It seemed like Kazar was on the bill at every show I saw, and even when he wasn’t, I’d half-expect to catch him in the crowd. Before he moved away, Kazar worked at the Hungry Brain, and at the start of the pandemic he released a covers compilation to benefit the venue.
Kazar has long been a team player, so it’s a delight to finally hear him pour some of his considerable energy into his own material. His new solo debut, Due North (Woodsist/Mare), rests on the firm foundation of his pop know-how, but it also oozes with funk swagger and glam panache to spare. These songs glide so smoothly you’d almost believe Kazar is utterly relaxed, even though it’s clear he’s thought out every last one of the frizzled guitar riffs and squelching keyboard notes that he uses like pointillist brushstrokes on the technicolor “Shoes Too Tight.” Due North also showcases Kazar’s powers as a front man, and his subtly soulful voice guides you tenderly through the album’s easygoing highs and lows. On “Frank Bacon,” when he embellishes his pop-minded sound with a touch of southern-rock twang, it’s positively sublime. v