Crow’s Nest 37: 080922
Excising ‘Groovy’ From My Vocabulary After This One
It’s still sticky and gross here, but welcome to issue #37 of Crow’s Nest. Thank you for taking the time to open this and read within, I appreciate it. It’s already August so let’s get to it.
I don’t review individual concerts in Crow’s Nest—not that I couldn’t, but the desire to do so is lacking, especially as many I attend wind up being lackluster relative to expectations or otherwise bloodlessly forgettable, and I’m not under contract to put words to ink for cash for the next issue. Music festivals, which I do review, feel more substantial given their higher costs and possibility of being a more comprehensive snapshot of the music world at that moment (or at least their slice of it). A new venue though? Sure, why not.
This past Tuesday I attended the first concert at the Salt Shed, a new music venue from local food/booze/music group 16 on Center, whose on-site predecessor was the Morton Salt facility. Located in the same stretch between the Kennedy and the post-industrial Chicago riverfront as the Hideout and what is one of the city’s frontlines for gentrification/displacement development, it feels in many ways like the large, urbane, post-hipster descendant to the beloved dive. Certainly the same schlep to it along North Avenue felt about the same. The indoor area is still being set up, which presented logistical difficulties even for being a deliberate undersell, per the Reader, but snafus like that on the first day seem expected and weren’t debilitating. Though I do see how this might lead to frustration if you didn’t get in line for Pizza Friendly Pizza early for this school night concert with a 10 PM curfew like I did.
The outdoor stage is shaded by the namesake structure, and the audience standing area seemed to have a gentle decline to provide decent sightlines for those in the back. The layout reminded me of Pitchfork Music Festival’s Blue Stage spreading to the food and partner tents, full of booths and offers for 16 on Center members and similarly spirited businesses. The relationships feel a bit incestuous, with the term ‘Independent’ thrown around like a lifestyle brand you enjoy but don’t have an equity stake in. But the amenities are a step above those at competing venues, and while they’re definitely not inexpensive, it doesn’t feel like a deliberate cash grab like at the Aragon or Chicago Theater.
The music itself—a jazz bill of Nubya Garcia, Sons of Kemet and local headliner Makaya McCraven—felt like an appropriate introduction to the space. Opening the evening, Garcia and her backing trio brought a relatively mellow but joyous feeling to the Salt Shed, which certainly felt appropriate as an opening statement. Sons of Kemet, on their farewell tour as the members focus on other projects, brought the same deliriously seasick, polyrhythmic assault I caught a few months ago indoors at Lincoln Hall, and will be missed. I’ve never gotten a good grip of McCraven’s style of jazz, even as he is key to Chicago’s contemporary scene—his backing sextet was constantly moving between primary instruments and auxiliary percussion, and frequently it would take me 8-16 measures to realize someone was soloing. Not that that wasn’t bad, it was just a bit hard to figure out what was happening onstage and what to focus on. It was a solid show all around and well worth the price of admission.
Overall, I like the space. I am intrigued by the possibilities of what a multistage venue unconcerned with maximum profitability will do for Chicago. As the city contends with heated debate over the use of public parklands for private music events and what to do with Soldier Field as the Bears halfheartedly try to wrangle bribes from the city to not decamp to Arlington Heights, the idea floating around to convert that part of the Museum Campus into a permanent festival space seems the best case scenario for all parties involved. And yet, wait too long to strike here and someone may beat you to the punch—and the Salt Shed has a compelling case to offer the city in place of some larger events. The pandemic may not be over, but Sterling Bay and its proposed Live Nation concert behemoth has been cut down to size. The activism this prompted for the Hideout led to CIVL, which inspired NIVA, which helped keep many independent venues afloat across the country. If we can consider the Salt Shed a sort of prize for this, it’s a pretty swell deal, and I have to give everyone who advocated for this and saw it through to fruition more credit than they got coming onstage to welcome everyone and celebrate its opening.
There’s a certain minor unpleasantness I feel when I recall going to college at the University of Oklahoma and, immediately after getting my degree, returning to Illinois. My head was up my ass for most of the time I was there and I didn’t have a car, which made getting around and connecting with people and communities off-campus difficult, and while I’m not the activist type, the fact that I didn’t do much of anything much about the cruelties and hardships faced by those even a short distance outside the ivory tower leaves me feeling a bit guilty. In my self-interest I took advantage of what the place had to offer then left once it no longer suited me. It’s not that I regret going or don’t appreciate my friends there … but I’m sure you know how being a passive witness to injustice feels. You can leave, but those who remain still have to deal with, say, the 200-foot tall piles of lead tailings that fueled WWI munitions and ultimately ruined the town of Picher.
It’s from those toxic mounds that OKC noise-rock band Chat Pile take their name. Living there, they have no time or interest in wallowing within, or overintellectualizing their situation. Their debut album is a harrowing, immaculate sounding record of the harsh realities of the place they call home. Ugly deaths, pothead metal riffs, singer Raygun Busch’s searching, hysteric upper register and more combine for a horror show you can’t find yourself looking away from. Opener Slaughterhouse sets the menacing, lumbering pace. Their call to action on homelessness Why is no doubt being examined by IDLES as a sacred text on how to advocate through songwriting without coming across as didactic. The atrocities pile up and press against human capacity for comprehension, closing on I Don’t Care If I Burn and grimace_smoking_weed.jpeg—the former a murder ballad that Burial could have produced, the latter a psychosis episode confrontation with the titular meme that I read as a struggle against complacency—the pair easily worth considering as the current era’s Frankie Teardrop.
A press photo for the group features one of the pseudonymous members wearing a Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series shirt. It’s a peculiar sartorial choice for any group that doesn’t regularly gig in the bars right outside my apartment to its west, but I am reminded of Game Seven by it. Watching it with my Native American roommate at an off-campus bar, he was also supporting the Cubs (and picked up my bar tab) less as a fan but, as he put it, to ‘fuck the Tribe’—their opponents from Cleveland then being named the Indians. It’s an intriguing juxtaposition: what if the Cubs won the World Series every 5 years? What if justice was dealt out equitably? What if our more marginalized members of society didn’t constantly endure indignations both big and small? What if people didn’t live outside? Chat Pile do not so much hold a mirror up to society as force you to confront the realities of living in it, doing all they can to get you to work to make the world a better place. The main thought I’ve had listening to them is ‘I need to start donating money to an abortion fund’. Welcome to God’s Country indeed.
One of the weirder mosh pits I’ve been in was the time I saw Kikagaku Moyo at Thalia Hall. I unintentionally got very drunk at a work event beforehand, dropped off my work bag at my brother’s nearby apartment in Pilsen, scarfed down some barbecue (no drinks there) at a place next door to the venue, bought a ticket at the door, and got in to see opener Minami Deutsch, the group I went there to see. Probably one of the most lit persons there, during the final song’s motorik buildup I got shoved into a small group going for it, and had a moment’s good time. Afterwards I retreated to the back, got another drink, and took in KM, who were fine but not anything I cared much for. Heading out I nearly vomited from the booze and cold, grabbed my work bag (I don’t think I changed clothes for this) from my brother’s and went home. I don’t think I woke up hungover the next day; my brother has no memory of this occurring.
Minami Deutsch, as you might discern from the name, are self-declared “repetition freaks” who decided to form a motorik krautrock band following oodles of time spent listening to minimal techno. Largely eschewing the brutalist melodies that anchored previous album With Dim Light, Fortune Goodies seems to focus on life’s little treats, whether a snack that gets you through the day or the pleasure of an exquisitely crafted groove. Thankfully, the band possess keen editorial ears that keep the songs tight and the palette shifting, whether it’s throwing in an acoustic guitar lead or field recordings echoing a convenience store run to break up the monotony of repetitiveness. After all, it’s one thing to indulge in little pleasures, it’s another to linger too long while doing so.
Bay Area recording producer Maryam Qudus, who’s likely produced a slept-on experimental pop record you’ve enjoyed this past decade, steps out on her own for her debut record as spacemoth for Sadie Dupuis’s (Speedy Ortiz, Sad13) Wax Nine label. Broadcast and Stereolab are the obvious touchpoints for this psych-pop record, but to my ear there’s something grander and more ambitious to this record buried beneath the synthesizers. The opening one-two punch of ‘This Shit’ and ‘Pipe and Pistol’ ought to be sufficient enough for many, but around the time stately mid-album highlight ‘Waves Comes Crashing’ finishes this is clearly something special. If Attia Taylor’s Space Ghost from last issue was a tribute to a TV show, No Past No Future sounds like the soundtrack to a similar animated show—in a psychedelic 80s Technicolour style, no less. Do yourself a favor and spin this one immediately.
There’s echoes of punk on this one—as in, this is a very echo-drenched punk record. Imagine a standard punk band that happens to have a modular synth player in the lineup, The Dead C’s Michael Morley filling in on a house show, or someone’s band deciding ‘fuck it, we’ll do it live’ when one of their pedal boards is chirping out an effects death rattle after getting on stage, and you’ve got a good idea of what GLAAS sounds like. Perfect for when you need a noisy palette cleanser during the day. Another excellent release for the Static Shock Records catalog.
My recent reading highlights:
From The Baffler:
-Noah Kulwin takes a look at recent crypto speculation and draws historic political parallels to the Savings and Loans Crisis of the 1980s to see how the future of the industry might play out
-Jasper Craven chronicles a trip he and a friend took last year trucking a giant Harambe statue across the country for a crypto project’s stunt
From The New Yorker:
-Tad Friend profiles door-to-door salesman Sam Taggert and takes a look under the hood of what keeps this industry booming
-Dhruv Khullar examines the toll India’s ‘Next Level’ heat wave has had on those living through it
-Nathan Heller examines the life and ideas of the Liberman brothers, and their idea of selling corporates shares of themselves as an investment product. Their backstory and philosophical implications surrounding fiscal equity are certainly worth examining, at least.
Los Angeles psych rock band Hooveriii don’t exactly break new territory on this album, but when the tunes are this solid, there’s no need to consider that as criticism. Finding inspiration in classic rock highpoints and a newfound appreciation for making the most of time due to the pandemic, the underground jam band-adjacent group have tightened up their track times for this record (allegedly, I’ve not gotten to their back catalog). This is a solid suite of groovy tunes that sounds great with or without some cannabis in your system. Catch me at their show at the Hideout in a few weeks under some sort of intoxication.
The fertility of the 80s Pacific Northwest underground has been endlessly explored and archived, and yet there’s still more to found in this well-trod territory. In the early 80s, Cheri Knight played around with the opportunities afforded her at Evergreen College in Olympia, and the results of that have been compiled by Freedom To Spend for this archival release. Wonderful experimental/minimalist post-punk of the Blackest Ever Black sort abounds—imagine Carla dal Forno fronting Kidi Band and you’ve got the gist of it. I’m particularly taken by lead single ‘Primary Numbers’ on this one.
Northwest Indiana punk fixture Mat Williams’s latest group Liquids seems to have the Robert Pollard bug of endlessly writing great songs from his outpost in the Midwest. Making more out of 90 seconds than most groups do with 180-540, these tracks (and one Meat Loaf cover) are destined to be future underground classics for as long as there’s restless youth in sleepy towns with garages and unfinished basements to make noise in. With 27 songs on this release, the record feels more overstuffed than underdeveloped relative to the average track length. Just in time for this issue Drunken Sailor Records has a vinyl pressing of this for ya.
If you thought you might get through this issue without any dance music within … well, you’ve gotten this far at least. Holger Zilske’s 2 tracks for Hypercolour aren’t exactly peak time bangers, but their electro elements and the uncanny valley vocals within keep my ears engaged. Nothing like something that sounds like a 90s cyberspace odyssey every now and again.
I’ve never tried opium or any products derived from it—I’m a bit of a square in that regard, and everything I know about it and myself makes me think that would be a very bad idea—so I can’t really say with any authority whether this record, tagged twice as ‘opium flirt’, lives up to such a descriptor. Tracy Wilson at Turntable Report describes it as “Kraut-dub for Francophiles”, though more on Popul Vuh side of that genre than the motorik I usually include. Does that appeal to you? The band takes its name from the word for the Mafia code of science, and while I’m not saying (partial) participation in similar manners to that enhances the record, it did sound pretty good under a different drug’s haze a couple times through.
As much as some people (like me) might try to keep up with everything notable in the indie worlds, inevitably much falls through the cracks, and groups you encountered in passing once a couple years ago reappear in passing playing bigger venues than expected, leaving you going ‘what the hell’? That’s the feeling I get from twen, an indie rock duo who have evidently put in the work on the road to build a following that bypasses your Pitchforks and Stereogums, write quality songs, and land an opening spot in the big rooms for Rainbow Kitten Surprise. Spinning One Stop Shop makes it evident that the momentum for their lightly psychedelic, radio friendly indie is only going to grow, and soon will be getting significant FM airplay and festival slots in legible font sizes. Not a bad thing by any stretch! Get into them and better connect with future Hinge matches while you can.
Louisville post-punk trio Wombo’s latest album seems them move into a more mystical, hazy era. Nothing on this album resembles the taut jams on their previous 9-minute EP Keesh Mountain; any 3-song run here is likely to be longer than that one in its entirety. The dominant feeling I get is split between the math-rock adjacent art rock freakouts on the first half, and New Long Leg downcast moments on the second half. Louisville has a rich history of groups and players contributing to underground and experimental music scenes, and I’m glad to see bassist/singer Sidney Chadwick, guitarist Cameron Lowe, and drummer Joel Taylor continuing to fly this flag and excited to see where they continue to go with their sound.
It’s always nice to have a random Bandcamp follow occasionally email you about a repressing or archival piece from a related project that turns out to be a hidden gem. This happens quite frequently with (former) Leeds based group The Blanche Hudson Weekend’s page and their myriad other projects. From 2017, this is an enjoyable, understated piece of indietronica not indietronica from the British indie pop underground.
Without more time to listen to more records, it would be foolish not to call it an issue at this point. Thank you for taking the time to read Crow’s Nest, I hope you found something within that you enjoy. Until next time, stay hydrated and take care, it’s still really hot and humid out there.