DJ C It’s hard to call an album “fun” without seeming like you’re damning it with faint praise, and artists rarely talk about setting out to provide an enjoyably low-key, pleasant listening experience. All the same, those are the qualities I really like about DJ C‘s new album, Umami (released by local blog-and-label Mashit). Recent trends in dance music have focused on extremes—neck-snapping rhythmic twist-ups, Adderall-level tempos—but as exciting as that sort of thing can be, it’s also really exhausting. (Try composing a coherent e-mail while listening to a 160 BPM cumbia track without having a panic attack.) DJ C’s spin on dance music is innovative without being quite as in-your-face; his blend of dubstep, tropicalia, and electro-pop is clever and sounds futuristic, but he’s not trying too hard to impress you with it. The message I get from “In This Dub”—which reimagines Usher’s hit “Love in This Club” as a chiptune-dubstep hybrid, complete with a sample of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone”—boils down to “stop overthinking shit and go jump up and down on that couch over there.” —Miles Raymer Mega Mike, Boogymon, and Sam Gray open. 10 PM, Smart Bar.
DENNIS COFFEY Detroit guitarist Dennis Coffey belongs to the rarest and most distinguished breed of session musicians: people know who he is. A key member of Motown house band the Funk Brothers, he also appears on loads of non-Motown R&B records, from Funkadelic to Quincy Jones. He can exert his personality without being obtrusive, bringing a hard-driving, often psychedelic touch to any session. His instrumental records under his own name have become sample fodder for countless hip-hop artists: his 1971 hit “Scorpio” turns up on songs by Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Geto Boys, the Fugees, and Mos Def, among many others. Coffey was busiest in the late 60s and throughout the 70s; since 1980 he’s only put out a handful of albums, but two of them have been in the past five years. His new self-titled LP on Strut Records posits him as a Motor City elder; most of the tracks are soul classics on which he originally played, recut with younger singers like Mayer Hawthorne (the Parliaments’ “All Your Goodies Are Gone”), Mick Collins (Funkadelic’s “I Bet You”), and Lisa Kekaula of the Bellrays (100 Proof Aged in Soul’s “Somebody’s Been Sleeping”). The album also includes some new instrumentals in a heavy psych-funk mode. Coffey will be backed by Detroit funk band Will Sessions and New York-based singer Kendra Morris. —Peter Margasak The Stepkids and DJRC open. 9 PM, Lincoln Hall, $20, $15 in advance.
ALELA DIANE On her new album, Alela Diane & Wild Divine (Rough Trade), Portland-based singer Alela Diane gives her once-pastoral folk-rock a firm backbeat and lean, immediate arrangements, driving it into more mainstream terrain. This is her first record with a steady working band—her husband Tom Bevitori and her father Tom Menig man the guitars—but their road-honed attack doesn’t tread on the sorrowful duskiness of her gorgeous, graceful melodies and even prettier singing. Diane’s shimmery delivery reminds me of Tim Buckley’s less extravagant performances; she pushes and pulls her melodies against a backdrop of strummed acoustic guitar, woozy pedal steel, and economical electric leads. Her lyrics are equally enigmatic and dark: on “The Wind” she sings, “Death is a hard act to follow,” and on the murky, beautiful “Of Many Colors,” a song written for her husband, she sings, “He’s indigo in evening skies / Ebony on moonless nights.” The album was produced by longtime R.E.M. cohort Scott Litt—who allegedly ended a seven-year hiatus after hearing Diane’s demos—and he leaves the intimacy of her aesthetic intact, subtly but forcefully framing her powerful voice. —Peter Margasak The Parson Red Heads and the Singleman Affair open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, $10.
HANGGAI, AURELIO MARTINEZ On the new He Who Travels Far (Four Quarters), its second album available in the West, Chinese folk-rock band Hanggai beefs up the rock side of its sound—hardly a surprise, since bandleader Ilchi grew up in Beijing and played punk rock in a group called T9. He started Hanggai after becoming so obsessed with the traditional overtone singing called hoomei—long practiced in his father’s homeland of Inner Mongolia—that he paid a visit to learn what he could about it. The group’s music is similar to the Tuvan folk of Huun-Huur-Tu and the Tuvan-rock hybrid of Yat-Kha, but on the new record—coproduced by Ken Stringfellow, who’s played in the Posies and the re-formed Big Star—it’s the electric guitars that really stand out. Most of the songs are traditional, with galloping rhythms, twangy guitars, and nasal singing that recall American cowboy music.
With this year’s gorgeous Laru Beya (Sub Pop/Next Ambiance/Stonetree), Honduran singer Aurelio Martinez established himself as the obvious heir to Belize’s Andy Palacio, the previous ambassador of Garifuna music, who died suddenly in early 2008. Not only does Martinez share Palacio’s passion for public service—in 2005 he became the first person of African descent elected to the National Congress of Honduras—but he casts a wide net with his rich music, expertly produced by Ivan Duran, in the process making explicit the connections between Garifuna culture and some of its African sources. Many of the tracks have a strong reggae vibe, illustrating the interaction between African and other Caribbean styles. Martinez spent an extended period in Senegal being mentored by Youssou N’Dour, and Laru Beya includes vocal contributions from N’Dour, members of Orchestra Baobab, and hip-hop crew Sen Kumpe. —Peter Margasak Hanggai headlines and Martinez opens. 6:30 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park.
SPIRAL JOY BAND The members of Pelt back up their claim to being the Hillbilly Theatre of Eternal Music by making explicit the connections among La Monte Young’s electrified strings, Indian classical music, and the rich sonorities of Appalachian mountain music. Harmonium player Mikel Dimmick founded Spiral Joy Band ten years ago in Blackburg, Virginia, with Pelt’s Mike Gangloff, and he brought the name with him in 2009 when he joined another Pelt member, Pat Best, in Wisconsin. The migration has transformed Spiral Joy Band’s sound. While the Appalachian version, which still plays whenever Dimmick heads back to the hills, is completely acoustic and often features keening mountain-music fiddles, the Wisconsin edition strips out all references to genre and immerses itself in pure, violent sound. Atop the harmonium’s churn, Best’s amplified violin does ferocious electrified battle with the coarsely scraping viola of newest member Troy Schafer. For this set, which kicks off the Neon Marshmallow Festival, the trio will be joined by local guitarist David Daniell. —Bill Meyer Lucky Dragons headline; White Rainbow, Rene Hell, Mountains, James Plotkin, Michael Zerang/Michael Colligan/Jim Baker, Spiral Joy Band, and C V L T S open. Beau Wanzer spins. 7 PM, Empty Bottle, $25, $70 three-day pass.
JOACHIM BADENHORST Belgian reedist Joachim Badenhorst gets around—not only does he colead groups based in six European countries (Iceland, Ireland, France, Austria, Belgium, and Denmark), he’s developing several projects in New York, where he recently relocated. And in case you’re wondering whether this quantity comes with any quality, Badenhorst also played in the first trio ever led by the great Dutch drummer Han Bennink. The music he makes in these various groupings is just as diverse as their locations. His trio Equilibrium (with Danish singer and saxophonist Sissel Vera Pettersen and guitarist Mikkel Ploug) just released its second album, Walking Voices (Songlines), a prismatic blur of sweet-toned, lyrical chamber music. His Austrian group Taro Badenhorst gravitates toward minimalist free improvisation, and on its terrific self-released album Flaechten his voluptuous clarinet and bass clarinet float, stumble, and chortle over a restrained, levitating arrangement of prepared piano, prepared banjo, and electronics. Rawfishboys, his duo with French bassist Brice Soniano, creates pin-drop intimacy on last year’s Pianoworks/Pianoworksn’t (Spocus), alternating between sorrowful melodies with seductive timbres and extended techniques that sometimes make it difficult to tell not only where one line ends and another begins, but who’s doing what—something you wouldn’t expect from a bass-and-clarinet duo. For his Chicago debut Badenhorst will improvise with bass clarinetist Jeff Kimmel and drummer Frank Rosaly, and based on everything I’ve heard from him, he’ll figure out how to make this unusual combination of instruments fly. —Peter Margasak A trio of Daniel Fandino, Nick Mazzarella, and Aaron Zarzutzki headlines; Badenhorst, Kimmel, and Rosaly play first. 10 PM, Heaven Gallery, donation suggested. A
PELT Pelt was the band of my heart for many years. Mike Gangloff (currently a reporter for the Roanoke Times), Skip James Connell, Pat Best, Mikel Dimmick, and Jack Rose spent the 90s fusing a dazzling array of influences into an organic, mesmerizing music that as near as I can tell was totally without precedent. Back-porch drone, hillbilly raga, backwoods space jamming, call it what you want—this Virginia-based avant-garde band reimagined the Theatre of Eternal Music/Velvet Underground sound as something rural rather than quintessentially urban, and they did it while referencing lots of Blue Ridge Mountains locales (Max Meadows, Big Walker Mountain) that I know so well from my childhood. If anyone has released a more beautiful psychedelic album than their 2001 double CD Ayahuasca (VHF) in the past couple decades, I haven’t heard it. During their heyday, guitarist Jack Rose and his dazzling post-Fahey fingerpicking moved to the fore and stayed there, and the line between Pelt and his side projects blurred—then it all came to a tragic halt with Rose’s sudden, shocking death from a heart attack in December 2009 at age 38. This is the band’s first Chicago appearance since. —Monica Kendrick Pelt headlines the second day of the Neon Marshmallow Festival. Oneohtrix Point Never, Bill Orcutt, Sickness, Outer Space, Sword Heaven, Dylan Ettinger, and Leslie Keffer open. John McEntire spins. 7 PM, Empty Bottle, $25, $70 three-day pass.
VEE DEE After this self-titled third album from long-running locals Vee Dee, released by fledgling Chicago label BLVD, it’s going to be hard to keep calling them garage rockers. The band is reclaiming some heavy grunge glory (think Mudhoney and swampy 70s antecedents like Blue Cheer), and their psychedelic tendencies have become all the more pronounced, chronic even—the lumbering blues of “Gypsy Iron” gets lost in riff after riff of wah-wah guitar. Front man and guitarist Nick D’Vyne is unrepentant in his soloing, but double rainbows of scuzz are often more of an asset than an annoyance. The trio also keeps with a midwestern tradition (a Chicago one in particular), topping everything with casual, sneering aggression that balances out the stoner jams and tambourine jangling—this isn’t some enchanted neon psychedelia, it’s the burning hate rock of bad trips and ultimate bummers. —Jessica Hopper Mannequin Men and Outer Minds open. 9 PM, Pancho’s, $5.
BLACK TWIG PICKERS When West Virginia’s Black Twig Pickers first came to Chicago in 2004, their unhurried tempos and loose ensemble playing betrayed their status as newcomers to old-time music. Today Nathan Bowles (banjo, percussion), Isak Howell (guitar, mouth harp), and Mike Gangloff (fiddle, banjo) still hold down day jobs, but that’s the only thing that’s amateur about them now. They show off their strength on their recent recorded collaborations with Minnesota folkie Charlie Parr, Glory in the House and EastMont Syrup, proving equally adept at fiery acoustic gospel and sprightly instrumentals. But it’s their Thrill Jockey debut, last year’s Ironto Special, that’s the best measure of the skills they’ve honed playing regular gigs near their home—the titular Ironto—including a monthly jamboree at Virginia’s historic Floyd Country Store. You’d have to be a pretty crummy dancer to trip over your feet whilst moving in time to their precisely syncopated version of “Bonaparte’s March Into Russia,” and even though you’d best hold onto a partner’s hand when the band blows through “Pickin’ Out the Devil’s Eyes,” the trio never makes a false step. The Twigs’ singing keeps things from getting too squeaky clean; their lusty bawls on “Last Payday at Coal Creek” make you wonder if they haven’t already drank half the night’s door money. The Twigs will perform as a duo without Howell, and will play outside in front of the Hideout. —Bill Meyer The Northside Southpaws open. 6 PM, Hideout, $5-10 suggested donation.
MIKE SHIFLET On last year’s terrific self-released Llanos, Mike Shiflet tempers his penchant for harsh noise with glimmers of melody. A sound artist from Columbus, Ohio, he’s created something like the sonic equivalent of crayon scratch art—rainbows of color, covered in black, exposed in patterns wherever the top layer is scraped away. Beneath his pulsing, noisy, richly textured drones, he’s added washed-out, shoegazer-grade electric-guitar melodies, which sometimes peek through. Elsewhere he departs from his MO in other ways: on “Pink Meadow” he focuses on microscopic gestures and subtle shading, constructing a hyper-concentrated and almost soothing study in static, and on “Sunbathers” he lacerates lumbering, slowly shifting low-frequency masses a la Sunn 0))) with high-pitched ripping and shrieking. —Peter Margasak Shiflet plays as part of the Neon Marshmallow Festival. Morton Subotnick headlines; the Rita, Pulse Emitter, Telecult Powers, Shiflet, Sick Llama, Beau Wanzer, and Tiger Hatchery open. Massacooramaan (aka Dave Quam) spins. 7 PM, Empty Bottle, $25, $70 three-day pass.
KEREN ANN With her recent sixth album, 101 (Blue Note), French pop chanteuse Keren Ann stumbles for the first time in a recording career that began in 2000. She departs here and there from her beautiful narcotic sound, trying to incorporate new musical ideas but often just disrupting what might’ve worked about the song. In the past she’s evolved organically and inconspicuously—the difference this time is that you can’t help but notice the attempt. Album opener “My Name Is Trouble” rides atop a polite, muffled house beat, and on the chorus she uses ethereal post-Lilith Fair vocal swoops that sound undignified coming from her. The title track is tediously minimalist, with just a single constantly repeating groove—no melodic development, not even a chorus—and its lyrics take what feels like forever to count down from 101 (“Seventy-seven developing nations / Seventy-six trombones / Seventy-five springs”), arriving finally at “one god.” That’s not to say that all the departures flop: “Sugar Mama” has a twangy “Wipeout” guitar lick and a dose of campy badassery, and she gooses it with energetic playfulness. And of course she’s still good at what she’s always been good at—on songs like “You Were on Fire” and “She Won’t Trade It for Nothing” you can hear how totally she’s mastered bittersweet melancholy. —Peter Margasak Chris Garneau opens. 8 PM, Lincoln Hall, $14, $12 in advance.
MAMIFFER Because Mamiffer‘s new Mare Decendrii (SIGE) features contributions from members of so many beloved underground metal bands—Melvins, Earth, Circle, Sunn 0))), Wolves in the Throne Room—it’s likely that most of the people who listen to it will be weird metalheads. And indeed there’s a lot for the beards ‘n’ bongs set to love in the album’s glacial pacing and forays into drone. But the duo at Mamiffer’s core—pianist Faith Coloccia and her husband, guitarist and former Isis front man Aaron Turner—is far from a metal band. Despite the layers of guitar distortion, Mamiffer’s compositions have more in common with the work of Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and John Adams than they do with the output of your typical hirsute amp worshippers. “Blanket Made of Ash” is five minutes of masterfully sculpted minimalism that feed directly into “Eating Our Bodies”—which, like the 20-minute “We Speak In the Dark” (their song titles are pretty metal too), sounds like an excerpt from an absolutely terrifying opera. For this show the band will be Coloccia, Turner, and regular collaborator Travis Rommereim; they’ll play overlapping sets with Turner’s long-running project House of Low Culture, which will consist here of him, Coloccia, and James Plotkin (Khanate, Jodis). —Miles Raymer Locrian headlines; House of Low Culture, Mamiffer, and RM74 open. 9 PM, Hideout, $8.
TOMBS, A STORM OF LIGHT I used to be pretty dense when it came to sludge metal. In my mind it just meant trudging, Vicodin-laced riffs, sluggishly bludgeoning their victims into a coma—I didn’t think it had any room for urgency or adrenaline. If I were able to travel back in time a decade or so, I’d smack myself upside the head and hand off a copy of the new Tombs album, Path of Totality (Relapse), to show myself what sludge could be. Produced by John Congleton, who’s also done records with Explosions in the Sky and Baroness, the Brooklyn trio’s sophomore full-length starts with the thick and muddy pillars of guitar that Neurosis made into an archetype, but often branches out into tense ambience or buzzing, frenzied black metal. The album pushes and pulls throughout, juxtaposing Isis-like moments of atmospheric intricacy with barrages of chugging hardcore ferocity—and guitarist Mike Hill keeps the intensity redlined with his guttural, commanding vocals, even when the songs aren’t hammering you with body blows. Totality exemplifies everything that sludge can do right, from hypnotizing guitar dissonance that swallows you whole to drum blasts that beat you into submission.
Fronted by Neurosis visual collaborator and former Red Sparowes guitarist Josh Graham, A Storm of Light dabbles extensively in atmospheric postrock on its third full-length, As the Valley of Death Becomes Us, Our Silver Memories Fade (Profound Lore)—way more than Tombs does. Most of the songs are longer than they have to be (only one lasts less than five minutes), but the band’s sound—the heavy swing of Baroness and the Melvins wedded to the grandiosity and austerity of Isis or Jesu—is at least a fine place to spend some time. —Kevin Warwick Tombs headline; A Storm of Light, Wolvserpent, and A Story of Rats open. 8 PM, Pancho’s, $10, 18+.
RIHANNA Six summers ago Rihanna put her Barbadian heritage front and center on her debut single, “Pon de Replay”—it combined a dancehall rhythm and a chorus so thick with Caribbean patois that most American fans probably had no idea what they were saying when they sang along, except that it had something to do with a DJ. The song’s success appears to have taught her to embrace the things that set her apart from other post-Beyonce singers, and she’s since established a spot at the leading edge of pop tastes. Sometimes she goes a little overboard in embracing new influences; lately she’s often seemed to be aping M.I.A. (a pattern that reached its apex in the video for “Rude Boy”) or trying to outdo Lady Gaga in the “emulating vintage Madonna” department (see for instance her recent “S&M”). But Rihanna’s willingess to take radio R&B to weird places—like the unexpectedly dark corners explored in “Disturbia” and the Kanye/Jay-Z collabo “Run This Town”—can also bring some much needed freshness to the airwaves. —Miles Raymer B.O.B. and J. Cole open. 7:30 PM, United Center, $19.75-$99.75.