Cheer-Accident Credit: Vilma Jovaisa

Cheer-Accident has been Chicago’s most ambitious and versatile prog-rock band for decades, but within the sprawl of its intricate arrangements and bizarre humor the beauty and tunefulness of much of its material can get lost. If anything characterizes the band’s new album, Fades (Skin Graft), it’s those melodic gifts: on opening track “Done,” one of numerous cuts with guest vocalists (Elizabeth Breen and Lindsay Weinberg, in this case), the band clings to post-motorik grooves, and on “The Mind-Body Experience,” a flinty art-rock song a la Henry Cow, the plaintive singing of the band’s sole founding member, Thymme Jones, recalls the tender fragility of Robert Wyatt. Cheer-Accident’s revolving cast of musicians and singers rarely indulges in extraneous gestures or overwrought solos; while the lead guitar of Jeff Libersher on the creepy “Monsters” veers toward the processed sound of Robert Fripp, the arrangement is otherwise lean and unfussy, with Todd Rittman of Dead Rider banging out rhythms on the piano in lockstep with Jones’s swinging drums. Dawn McCarthy, whose Faun Fables opens the evening, lends her dark alto to the song and is answered by distant, ghoulish laughter. One of the album’s most sublime moments arrives courtesy of singer Sacha Mullin, whose gorgeous, pitch-precise voice gets an unnecessary Auto-Tune tweak on the quasi-operatic “I’m Just Afraid,” a song that also contains an unexpectedly lyric trombone solo by Mike Hagedorn. I’m not too crazy about the songs that feature the theatrically eccentric singing of Nils Frykdahl (including “House of Dowse,” which is appended by a rhyme for former Chicagoan Bethany Schmitt, aka the Buttress), but even those would be hard to resist with less mannered vocals. Thirty-seven years into its run, Cheer-Accident is better than ever.   v