Weedeater Credit: Markus Shaffer


>Critic's Choice<

Dirty Beaches


>Critic's Choice< Yann Tiersen, Breathe Owl Breathe




>Critic's Choice< International Contemporary Ensemble with John Luther Adams

Randy Newman




Low Anthem


>Critic's Choice< Weedeater


>Critic's Choice< Ramma Lamma

>Critic's Choice< Rival Schools


CLEARED Percussionist Steven Hess (a Chicago fixture who’s played with the likes of Haptic, Locrian, and Pan American) and guitarist Michael Vallera (a relative newcomer who acquitted himself well on the 2010 Complacency Records compilation Offstrings: Inventions for Guitar) find common cause in Cleared, a brooding ambient project that emphasizes distortion, delay, and sonic decay. On their terrific self-titled debut for Immune Recordings the duo produce most of the sounds using conventional drums, electric guitar, and bass, but they give their minimalist output a maximalist treatment via live processing, looping, delay, speed manipulation, and resampling. With the exception of its closing track, “False Mornings”—whose quavering, resonant guitar drone and brittle but fierce drum pattern make it sound like a grinding This Heat song played through a transistor radio—the album celebrates how signals break down, with passages bounced repeatedly among different analog media until they become unrecognizable. The cavernous, percussive blows peppering the milky hiss of “When the Ground Is Close” could have been produced by a drum or a guitar, and in the end it doesn’t matter which. White Car and Ken Camden open. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Peter Margasak

DIRTY BEACHES I have a friend who used to love coming up with fictional band names that could mean something different out loud than they did on the page—the Gaze, for instance, or the Black Guise. I’m sure he’d kick himself for not coming up with Dirty Beaches first. The culprit behind that one is Alex Zhang Hungtai, a Taiwan-born Canadian and sonic provocateur whose forthcoming Badlands (Zoo Music) is sure to delight fans of Suicide and tape hiss. At heart his songs are straight-up pop rockabilly lifted from the 1961 Billboard charts, but they’re slightly unstable and don’t always follow the script. Hungtai’s tendency to dilate tunes hypnotically or intersperse sweet crooning with blasts of guitar noise—not to mention the fact that the album sounds like it was recorded from the next room through a closed door—suggests that deep down his motives are deconstructionist. Dum Dum Girls headline; Minks and Dirty Beaches open. Dirty Beaches also play a free in-store at 5 PM today at Reckless Records, 1532 N. Milwaukee. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $14, $12 in advance. —Miles Raymer


Breathe Owl Breathe
Breathe Owl Breathe

YANN TIERSEN, BREATHE OWL BREATHE French musician and songwriter YANN TIERSEN is best known for his soundtrack work, which really took off after he matched Amelie, kilo for kilo, in preciousness. But his sweeping, evocative album Dust Lane (Anti-) is insurgent, melancholy indie rock that forever builds to something just shy of tuneful cacophony. (Call it the Arcade Fire Effect™.) Tiersen’s Frenchness (his real name is Guillaume!) is especially evident on this record, on which he sings in heavily accented English. On “Chapter 19” he sounds hungover and heartbroken, sighing more than singing, adding dollops of mandolin and accordion. If his music doesn’t make you think of a dark, smoky cafe on a cobbled Paris street, with a sad Yann crying into his Chateau Latour while he sits at a piano, you simply aren’t giving his charms a chance. —Jessica Hopper

Micah Middaugh, front man for Michigan folk-rock trio BREATHE OWL BREATHE, has trouble keeping track of the line that separates whimsical and eccentric from cloying and mannered. (Yes, the band has a song about a princess and a dragon who are pen pals. The dragon has excellent penmanship.) But the group’s latest album, Magic Central (Hometapes), abounds with pretty melodies and inventive, exquisitely detailed arrangements, so that I’ve learned to overlook Middaugh’s cutesiness—right down to his slack-jawed faux-Jonathan Richman delivery. Breathe Owl Breathe’s secret weapon is Andrea Moreno-Beals, who tempers Middaugh’s irritating quirks with her unflashy parts on cello or cheap keyboards and her sweet but soulful harmony singing—her contributions give the songs wonderful little jolts of surprise. —Peter Margasak

Tiersen headlines and Breathe Owl Breathe opens. 9 PM, Bottom Lounge, 1375 W. Lake, 312-666-6775 or 866-468-3401, sold out, 17+.


BATHS For a moment it seemed like Baths, aka Will Wiesenfeld, was going to be a flash in the pan purely because of bad timing. Like every other kid sired in the 80s who makes music on a laptop, Wiesenfeld got called “chillwave.” And by the time Baths’ debut album, Cerulean (Anticon), hit the streets in July, the bloom was off that rose—a year in the real world is at least a decade in Internet time, and chillwave hadn’t aged well. But Cerulean set Wiesenfeld apart from the nostalgia-addled bedroom-pop pack with its unexpected twists and turns: his dense, stimulating sound includes complex piano melodies, jagged rhythms, skittish laptop funk, and avant-garde hip-hop. His haunting vocals—which waver between a soothing coo and an overwrought croon—tie the package up with a pretty bow. Wiesenfeld sometimes coats his tunes in layers of distortion, an approach he has in common with many laid-back indie-leaning electronic artists, but as a whole Cerulean is far more engrossing than it is “chill.” Braids and Houses open.  9:30 PM, Subterranean, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600 or 866-468-3401, $10, 17+. —Leor Galil

BELPHEGOR Austrian blackened death-metal band Belphegor has seen a bewildering number of members pass through its lineup since 1991, with drummers in particular apparently using a revolving door. (No word on whether any of them choked on someone else’s vomit or suffered bizarre gardening accidents.)That constant turnover notwithstanding, the group has just released its ninth studio album, Blood Magick Necromance (Nuclear Blast), and I’m pretty sure the passage of time will prove it to be the best one yet—the cover art is worth mentioning too, because it illustrates the title of 2008’s Bondage Goat Zombie better than its own artwork did. Vocalist and guitarist Helmuth, the sole remaining original member, has clearly found his happy place in songwriting, and Blood Magick Necromance doesn’t suffer overmuch from “black-metal blur,” where you can’t quite remember which song you’re listening to. Melodic guitar trills rise out of the morass as sharp as polished blades, then fall back into the churning maelstrom. It makes me wonder what heights Belphegor could achieve with a little more personnel stability. Deicide headlines; Belphegor, Blackguard, Neuraxis, and Pathology open. 7 PM, Reggie’s Rock Club, 2109 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $30, $25 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

John Luther Adams
John Luther Adams

INTERNATIONAL CONTEMPORARY ENSEMBLE WITH JOHN LUTHER ADAMS In a new International Contemporary Ensemble podcast, percussionist Steven Schick interviews Alaska-based composer John Luther Adams, who says he wants his music to take listeners “to a beautiful, expansive, sometimes frightening place” so that they can get “hopelessly lost in it.” Adams is one of America’s most important experimental composers, and if it seems like you’ve been hearing his name a lot lately, you have. Last fall the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performed his piece Dark Waves, and in January Eighth Blackbird performed his The Light Within. He was awarded the 2010 Michael Ludwig Nemmers Prize in Music Composition at Northwestern University, and as part of his residency there he was interviewed by prominent classical critic Alex Ross in October. This weekend ICE presents two long-form Adams works. The masterpiece In the White Silence (1998), conducted here by Schick, is a luminous evocation of Alaska, a rolling, gorgeously meditative, Morton Feldman-esque epic built around the seven notes of the C major scale—the white keys on the piano, suggesting the whiteness of winter. Strings ripple and float behind melodies played mostly on richly reverberant bell-like instruments: celesta, vibraphone, harp, crotales, chimes. For the second part of the evening, which begins at 9:30 (tickets can be purchased separately), the music moves from the MCA stage to the second-floor gallery hosting Without You I’m Nothing: Art and Its Audience. Schick will perform the solo percussion piece The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies (2002), which Adams wrote for him. “All noise contains pure tone,” the composer explains. “And the complex sonorities of percussion instruments conceal choirs of inner voices. In The Mathematics of Resonant Bodies my search is to find and reveal those voices.” The composition calls for seven different instrumental setups for its eight movements—one uses four snare drums, another eight suspended cymbals, a third a single air-raid siren—and in Schick’s recording of it for Cantaloupe Records, you can certainly hear multiple voices in sections like “Rumble” and “Roar,” where the sounds are tonal, rippling, and almost spooky. Some parts are processed electronically, and others allow the listener to simply luxuriate in the natural acoustic resonance of struck, rubbed, and bowed percussion instruments.  7:30 and 9:30 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010, $28, $22 members, $10 students. —Peter Margasak

RANDY NEWMAN These days Randy Newman is best known as a soundtrack composer, piling up Oscars and Grammys and scoring beloved Pixar hits. But pop fans know him as a skilled songwriter who’s been making great music under his own name since the late 60s. Newman is a composer of vast stylistic knowledge and sophistication as well as a lyricist of blistering wit and honesty—his best songs ripple with dark humor that cuts right to the heart of American hypocrisy. The 1974 track “Rednecks” is a searing indictment of racism, both in its old-school southern version and its equally pernicious though less obvious northern strain, and the more recent “A Few Words in Defense of Our Country” predicts our hubris-driven demise. In 2003 Nonesuch released The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1, which departs from the usual heavy orchestrations of his studio albums for a stripped-down piano-and-voice recital of his strongest material. This puts the focus squarely on his writing chops, which is certainly a wise choice—Newman never had an impressive voice, and these days it sounds like he’s singing from the bottom of a bowl of lumpy oatmeal. Songbook Vol. 2 finally comes out in May, and Newman will use the same just-a-piano setup for this rare Chicago performance, which should include plenty of his sardonic asides. 8 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage, 773-929-5959, $58, 18+ —Peter Margasak


BEETS Garage rock is by nature a backward-looking genre, but some of its practitioners are a little more faithful to the past than others. Hailing from Jackson Heights, Queens, the Beets have 60s rock realism down pat on their recent second album, Stay Home (on buzzy young label Captured Tracks). With its trashy fidelity and Neanderthal blues licks, Stay Home could easily be mistaken for something by a Nuggets band. There’s a little bit of Black Lips in the Beets’ vocal melodies and a little bit of the Monks in their jaunty clatter, but overall they sound most influenced by the countless bands who tried and failed (often in spectacular ways) to be the next Herman’s Hermits. Campfires and Distractions open. The Beets also play a free in-store at 5 PM at Permanent Records, 1914 W. Chicago.  9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 877-435-9849, $8. —Miles Raymer


LOW ANTHEM Low Anthem‘s recent third album, Smart Flesh (Nonesuch), is their best to date. This combo from Providence, Rhode Island—now a quartet with the addition of Mat Davidson—have given their peculiar spin on folk rock a broader instrumental palette as well as greater emotional and dynamic range. With Smart Flesh, Low Anthem—whose members all play multiple instruments—retain their penchant for hushed meditations even while indulging in a greater number of rockers. Their sound still evokes old-timey fundamentals thanks to the banjo, acoustic guitar, and pump organ, now joined by musical saw and harmonium; the band’s lyrics retain their gothic-apocalyptic tone, and Jocie Adams’s gorgeous clarinet thankfully hasn’t gone anywhere. The group recorded the self-produced album in several unconventional spaces, including an abandoned pasta factory, and the use of room miking gives it an exquisite faraway quality that complements their style. Best of all, the songs on Smart Flesh are strong enough that Low Anthem’s occasional fetishization of the past doesn’t drag them down. Bobby (the band) and Daniel Lefkowitz open.  8 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $14, 18+. —Peter Margasak


WEEDEATER North Carolina sludge-metal trio Weedeater endured a forced hiatus early last year, just as they were scheduled to begin recording their fourth full-length, Jason . . . the Dragon (Southern Lord), with Steve Albini—bassist and front man “Dixie” Dave Collins accidentally shot off his big toe while cleaning his favorite shotgun. (I wonder if he has a new favorite now.) But no pain, no gain, I guess: Jason . . . the Dragon has a lot more fresh air in it than the band’s usual reeking-of-bongwater murk. Southern boogie and mutant blues inflame their thick down-tuned riffs, and the album sometimes sounds like a Molly Hatchet LP at 16 RPM. Collins’s raspy vocals, meanwhile, make him sound like the kind of guy who loses appendages all the time. The goofy wit on display in album titles like . . . And Justice for Y’all and God Luck and Good Speed hasn’t gone anywhere—there are songs called “Turkey Warlock” and “March of the Bipolar Bear”—and even if the gist of it is nothing more nuanced than “We’re rednecks and we like drugs” (which was pretty obvious from the get-go), it’s gratifying to see somebody take such a jokey approach to this dire-sounding genre. In combination with the album’s front-porchy acoustic interludes, it gives you the sense that you’ll be welcome at this ugly party—provided you manage to survive the homemade land mines in the pot patch. Zoroaster, Bible of the Devil, and the Reptoids open. 8:30 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace, 773-463-5808 or 877-435-9849, $15. —Monica Kendrick


RAMMA LAMMA Someday, someone will compile a box set of all the bands Milwaukee husband-and-wife team Ryan King and Wendy Norton have been in, together and separately, over the years—what, you’ve never heard Jane Doe & the Cop Haters? The Kill-a-Watts? The Monitors? Plexi 3? The Flips? The common thread in all these projects is high-energy, hook-heavy pop that’s utterly devoid of art-school pretension and bursting with rock ‘n’ roll knowledge. Their latest spin on this aesthetic is Ramma Lamma, a three-piece where King and Norton take turns on guitar, bass, and vocals. On their debut seven-inch, released by upstart label Certified PR from Saint Petersburg, Florida, the songs are split into sides according to who wrote and sang them. Norton contributes “Tiger Don’t Change Its Stripes” and “Good Tyme Johnny,” shimmy-shaking post-malt-shop power-punk numbers heavy on enthusiastic nonlyrics like “Whoo!” and “Oh yeah!” The songs on King’s side, “Truthin'” and “Kiss You,” are, well, not all that different—they’re odes to truthin’ all over town and wanting to kiss you all over your face, respectively. While most married couples don’t make anything but babies, King and Norton make fun music—something the world actually needs more of. Christ, they even have a song called “Wet Denim”! What’s not to like? Cheap Time headlines; the Zoobombs and Ramma Lamma open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Brian Costello

RIVAL SCHOOLS When Rival Schools dropped their 2001 debut, United by Fate (Island), it felt like comfort food for fans of a certain kind of melodic, emotive hardcore—the kind that front man Walter Schreifels helped popularize in the mid-90s with his prior group, Quicksand, and that in the early aughts was losing ground in the punk scene to fashionable powerviolence bands like the Locust and the encroaching electroclash fad. Ten years and several major shifts in the countercultural zeitgeist later, they’re releasing a follow-up, Pedals (Atlantic/Photo Finish), and it feels even more like a reassuring throwback. Rival Schools’ four members, all hardcore veterans before forming the band, have strayed from its sound in the aughts playing with other projects—one even did time in both Limp Bizkit and the exceedingly fey and underrated emo-pop act Nightmare of You. But aside from maybe a touch of hip-hop or an homage to floppy-haired new-wave acts, you’d be hard pressed to find much evidence on Pedals that they’ve spent the past decade listening to anything but old hardcore records. Which is pretty much what their fan base wants. All Eyes West and Team Band open. 7 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, $14. —Miles Raymer