If Chicago’s tourism committee was serious about a new theme song—one that made people want to come to Chicago rather than, you know, kill themselves—they wouldn’t have chosen Chicago (the band), Buddy Guy, and Umphrey’s McGee. They would’ve chosen Mucca Pazza.
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Album after album, few artists are able to maintain a distinct sound while pushing (and sometimes breaching) boundaries. Taking songwriting to new heights and depths while adhering to one’s own musical identity is something that doesn’t happen often enough. But Andrew Bird is one such artist. Ever since his breakout 2005 album, The Mysterious Production of Eggs, the former Squirrel Nut Zippers member has become an anomaly, melding together straightforward song-craft with whimsical idiosyncrasies.
Now the Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist has orchestrated a new album that is sonically arresting, even for those who have grown accustomed to Bird’s musical style and tendencies. Break It Yourself marries Bird’s more straightforward songwriting, featured prominently on his last few releases, with the progressive sounds of his 2010 instrumental release, Useless Creatures. The new album makes a home in the middle ground, and prospers for its entirety.
My Brightest Diamond: “Reaching Through to the Other Side”
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Detroit-based singer/songwriter Shara Worden has long made a career as an indie-pop mercenary. Over the past decade or so, she has lent her talents to Sufjan Stevens’ Illinoisemakers, collaborated with The Decemberists, covered Radiohead for an OK Computer tribute album, appeared on numerous compilations (including her excellent cut on Dark Was the Night), and contributed to the chamber ensemble yMusic (which also includes Bon Iver, Antony & the Johnsons, the New York Philharmonic, and Rufus Wainwright).
Clearly, Worden has no problem keeping busy. But even in the midst of her many endeavors, Worden has found time for her indie-pop pet project, My Brightest Diamond, without ever skimping on musical quality or integrity.
Such is the case on All Things Will Unwind, My Brightest Diamond’s third effort on Asthmatic Kitty, as Worden’s talents are as focused and as strong as ever. Indeed, the most engaging aspect of My Brightest Diamond is undoubtedly Worden’s voice. With such grace and skill in tow, it’s no wonder that so many acts enlist Worden as a hired hand. Her voice is so pure, so strong yet delicate, so confident and dynamic, that there is no denying the presence of an immense talent. Swaying between sweet, soft-edged crooning (“She Does Not Brave the War”) to full-on, forceful belt-outs (the latter half of “Be Brave”), Worden knows exactly what she’s doing. The songs swell and sway, kept adrift — and often take flight — thanks to Worden’s cosmic vocal work.
Percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Martin Dosh, better known as simply Dosh, is known both for his electronic-based solo venture as well as his work with Andrew Bird, with whom he’s toured and recorded. The instrumental track is Dosh’s specialty; “Simple Exercises,” which first appeared on Dosh’s 2004 release, Pure Trash, reappeared on Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha in 2007 as “Simple X” with an addition of lyrics. In the piece below, Dosh explains what drew him to instrumental music and how a few classic, lyric-less tracks continue to inspire his own music.
The Alchemy of Instrumental Music by Dosh
I think my interest in music and sound really began when i was around nine or 10 years old; that is to say, that is when I really began LISTENING to music, to the ways instruments and voices worked together, trying to separate the sounds in my mind, trying to understand which sounds were being made by which instruments, and even what the people that played the music may have looked like. I can’t recall what the first song that really captured my imagination was, but it was likely by Devo or The Cars, maybe Billy Squier. I’ve always listened to the music first and digested the vocals and lyrics later. When I first discovered Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, I found the vocals to be distracting. I couldn’t understand why they were there; they seemed like an afterthought.
Once I started playing drums, when i was 15, that was all I really heard when I would listen to a song: the drums. And I played a little bit with some friends, but I didn’t truly discover the joy of volume until I went to college two years later. I spent more time listening to music in my first two years than I spent doing anything else — usually as loud as possible. I was lucky enough to have a few friends who had massive record collections, and I listened to everything.
Whistling, violin-toting troubadour Andrew Bird just finished a makeshift residency at Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church. Bird played three successive dates with Chicago jazz fixture and Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker. It’s not the first time that the cavernous venue has played host to Bird and his classically inspired pop, and judging by the reception — all three nights sold out far in advance — it won’t be the last.
Contributing photographers Sanchez and Kitahara captured these images of the December 15 performance.
Texture and muted color schemes create the gritty but expensive feel of Garrett Karol’s work. “I really like to print on cream paper and off-white paper too,” the Missouri-based designer says. “It looks nice.”
Whether intentional or not, Karol’s use of subdued color palettes paired with dark overlays has become his brand and can largely be attributed to his success.
Running from August 7-9 in Chicago’s Grant Park, one of the world’s biggest summer festivals is back, including headlining performances by Tool, Beastie Boys, Depeche Mode, Jane’s Addiction, The Killers, and Kings of Leon. Check out the rest of the massive lineup below.
Pummeling mid-tempo rock icons The Jesus Lizard will briefly reunite; idiosyncratic rapper Busdriver performs live with a jazz band tonight; minimalist folk group Phosphorescent has recorded a disc of Willie Nelson covers. Read on.
Femi Kuti confirms US tour dates, Ennio Morricone will write music for Quentin Tarantino, and we have previews for new albums by Andrew Bird, Burnt by the Sun, William Elliot Whitmore, and Powersolo. Read on.