Patty Griffin at The Athenaeum by Doyle Armbrust

Had the cataclysmic storm prophesied by meteorologists last night brought with it a violent flood, it's unlikely Patty Griffin fans would have taken notice till the waters reached chin-level. Touring in support of American Kid, her first album of original material in more than six years, the Maine-born singer-songwriter made quick work of selling out the Athenaeum Theatre, and the venue proved a cozy harbor for her poignant and vital brand of Americana.Hailing from Taos, New Mexico, opener Max Gomez drew back the curtains with deft and often thunderous finger-picking. You can plan on hearing the solo guitarist's earnest songwriting and formidable chops on an episode-closing TV drama some day soon, but Gomez was at his most compelling with his tender cover of John Hartford's timeless "In Tall Buildings."

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Top 10 Classical Concerts This May by Doyle Armbrust

Eighth Blackbird with Shara Worden, Bryce Dessner and Nico Muhly
Save that tax refund, because May is going to be lousy with brilliant live music. Bridging the Apr/May divide are local heroes Eighth Blackbird alongside My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden, the National's Bryce Dessner and composition/piano paragon Nico Muhly. Other than Philip Glass's Two Pages (1968), the program is comprised entirely of music written in the past five years, including works by Tristan Perich, Steve Mackey, David Lang, Muhly, Dessner and Worden. We are especially curious to hear a world premiere original by 8bb pianist Lisa Kaplan, scored for piano four hands. 

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Nicholas Cords - Recursions by Doyle Armbrust

The authentic voice of the viola lies somewhere between melancholy and introspection, hued in lustrous ochres and burnished golds. Though the instrument is fluent in countless dialects, it’s this dark patina that violist Nicholas Cords is drawn to on his elegant solo disc, Recursions. With no less than seven composers featured (including himself), the album covers a broad expanse of the instrument’s repertoire while unapologetically sequestering itself to a warm, embracing sound world.

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Jace Clayton - The Julius Eastman Memory Depot by Doyle Armbrust

That equal rights for gay couples are currently being debated before the Supreme Court makes the release of Jace Clayton’s The Julius Eastman Memory Depot all the more poignant. Eastman was a gay, African-American, post-minimalist composer working within the largely white, conservative idiom of classical music in the 1960s–’80s whose radical brilliance has long remained in obscurity. Clayton, better known as DJ /rupture, is a paragon of social consciousness and a preternaturally talented purveyor of sound who aims to amend that with this tribute.

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Kim Gordon & White/Light at MCA by Doyle Armbrust

New Yorkers traipsing through MoMA last weekend can boast they saw Tilda Swinton napping in an aquarium. Chicago may have lost that round of the Marina Abramović Pastiche Olympics, but those lucky enough to have queued up early at the Museum of Contemporary Art tonight were treated to something far more memorable and exhilarating. As the final offering on the MCA's artistically fertile Face the Strange series, Kim Gordon drew an impressive loop of freezing, wind-slapped fans around the museum. With Sonic Youth's schedule indefinitely blank after Gordon's split with bandmate Thurston Moore, devotees were eager to get their hands on one of the very limited, very $0.00 tickets and see what new paths this sonic vanguard is embarking upon.

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R We Who R We - [Self-Titled] by Doyle Armbrust

Listening to Ted Hearne and Philip White’s R We Who R We is a bit like attempting to force the beaters of an electric hand mixer through one’s nostrils and into the brain, then flipping the power on…and this is an unequivocally good thing. Using Top 40 hits like Ke$ha’s “We R Who We R” and Madonna’s “Material Girl” as a point of departure, vocal hellion Hearne and electronic conjurer White hook listeners with the familiar while hurtling through often confrontational and exceptionally potent sonic deconstructions. Other than the lyric content, almost nothing remains of the source material, offering not pop-tune covers but compositional reinventions.

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Suzanne Farrin - Corpo di Terra by Doyle Armbrust

Each selection on Corpo di Terra seeks to be a “song without words,” which may be why composer Suzanne Farrin’s music feels so familiar. Structured around texts of the Italian poet Petrarch, with the exception of “Time Is a Cage,” these solos and duets play like field recordings from inside the cerebral cortex.

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Georges Lentz - Works for Orchestra by Doyle Armbrust

The first thing listeners should know about Georges Lentz is that his entire compositional oeuvre is rooted in an existential fear of the sheer magnitude of the universe. That’s right, NASA junkies, you’ve found your composer. The Luxembourg native’s ongoing Caeli enarrant… (“The heavens declare…”) project includes works for prepared piano and string quartet among others, but two orchestral pieces and one concertante work comprise the celestial track listing on Works for Orchestra, a fresh take from the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg and conductor Emilio Pomarico.

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Mariel Roberts - Nonextraneous Sounds by Doyle Armbrust

In the laboratory that is new music, with its accumulation of extended techniques, there are two kinds of performers: those who play “at” these often intractable methods, and those who organically inhabit them. Cellist Mariel Roberts spends the entirety of her outstanding debut album, Nonextraneous Sounds, in the latter category, executing demanding scores with the familiarity of a Bach cello suite.

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Jonny Greenwood - The Master (soundtrack) by Doyle Armbrust

The sumptuous, Copland-esque chords of “Overtones” draw back the curtains on The Master: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, but within seconds they’ve devolved into a low-frequency swarm. Similar to the Scientology-like sect at the heart of the film, this early contamination of Americana tonality in Jonny Greenwood’s score feels familiar at first, then disorienting. Employing a full orchestra for his second collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson (the first being 2007’s There Will Be Blood), the Radiohead guitarist draws on the sonorities and harmonic landscapes of composers like Ravel. Take “Alethia,” where a harp’s altered pentatonic scales buoy a languid clarinet and flute duet, begging for a full-frame shot of a face curled in silent conflict.

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Kim Kashkashian - Kurtág/Ligeti: Music for Viola by Doyle Armbrust

The latter half of the 20th century in classical music was nothing if not an exploration of the beauty to be found in realms beyond that of consonant tonality and traditional lyricism. New compositional vernaculars require fluent translators, and concert soloist Kim Kashkashian “speaks” Kurtág and Ligeti with the eloquence of a poet laureate. For her latest release, Music for Viola, the Armenian-American exquisitely executes György Ligeti’s vocabulary of extremes and György Kurtág’s concise sonic fragments in one of the year’s most exceptional albums.

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The Lumineers at Riviera Theatre by Doyle Armbrust

Friday Night Lights must be resurrected for one more season, if only so folk trio the Lumineers have the opportunity to close each episode with their endearing pigments of nostalgia and hope. That the music is TV-ready should not be a surprise, given that a large quotient of Thursday night's Riviera Theater audience likely became aware of the band by way of its hit single "Ho Hey," featured on the CW Network's Hart of Dixie. TV-ready is not pejorative in this case, though, as the trim set quickly proved with tightly constructed stomper after clap-inducing stomper.

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Heikki Laitinen and Kimmo Pohjonen: Murhaballadeja by Doyle Armbrust

It’s not often real-life killers grace the covers of classical-music releases, but it’s also not often we come across an album so bleak, weird and captivating. A collection of Finnish reki songs, Murhaballadeja includes ballads of both praise and loathing for the perpetrators of violence. Accordion phenom Kimmo Pohjonen doesn’t so much accompany the brutal texts delivered by fellow Finn Heikki Laitinen as musically conjure horrifically disorienting scenes.

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Lollapalooza 2012: Of Monsters & Men by Doyle Armbrust

The Icelandic quotient of my LP collection is often reserved primarily for the shortest, bleakest, dark-lord-take-me-now days of the Chicago winter. Often heavy on the string arrangements and disolate, atmospheric textures, the country has been steadily exporting arresting albums from artists like Ólafur Arnalds and Anna Thorvaldsdottir...and that other group performinging today. Cigar something? Bringing us the cheerier side of North Atlantic patchouli-pop for an early-evening set was Reykjavík's Of Monsters & Men.

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Lollapalooza 2012: Jack White by Doyle Armbrust

There was a time when the words "Fiji Mermaid" or "Lobster Boy" painted on the side of a canvas tent would send chills up the vertebrae, and entry would produce gasps and the need for smelling salts. It's a brand of wonderment that's time has come and gone. The often self-embellished narrative of Jack White, and the aesthetic scrupulousness with which he drapes himself, his shows and his albums, stems from this kind of augmented reality. The black and blue palette of his first solo record, Blunderbuss, and the tour's gear and constuming is a study in semiotics. If anything, it draws the listener in deeper, creating a kind of synaesthetic fort, and Sunday's headlining set was just one stop short of the Kentucky Fried Movie Feel-A-Round experience.

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Lollapalooza 2012: tUnE-yArDs by Doyle Armbrust

Ecstasy. No, not referring to the re-uptake-inhibited ragers over at Perry's stage. "Ecstasy" is the single best descriptor of a tUnE-yArDs set and the maniacal-yet-ordered ululations, yips, and caterwauls of aural mastermind Merrill Garbus. Scrambling to reset the stage after the festival-emptying lighting storm, Garbus rallied with tour mates Nate Brenner (bass), Matt Nelson (sax) and Noah Bernstein (sax) to dispatch one of the most creative displays of the festival, accomplishing this in a mere 30 minutes for the abbreviated set.

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Lollapalooza 2012: Black Sabbath by Doyle Armbrust

Chicago, all hail! The Prince of Darkness has arisen to reclaim his devilish throne!

Sort of...

Look, all of us Sabbath-worshipping, first four album-clinging fans knew what we were getting into. We've seen the black-clad figure shuffling and muddling around his estate before exploitive cameras, chipping away at our memories of this forerunner of the heaviest of metals. It didn't, though, dissuade us from posting up early at the Bud Light stage, hungry to see three of the original four—Osbourne, Iommi and Butler—on stage together, at long last, for a full concert.

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Lollapalooza 2012: Sharon Van Etten by Doyle Armbrust

For music best-suited to under-the-covers, blinds-drawn listening, a live 3pm set in sun-drenched Grant Park is a formidable artistic hurdle. Not so for Brooklyn's Sharon Van Etten. Following a glowing delivery from London-born singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka, and after somehow managing a sound check beneath the Black Angels psych-blowout across the way, Van Etten delivered one of Lollapalooza's most exquisite performances in recent history.

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Third Coast Percussion - John Cage: Works for Percussion 2 by Doyle Armbrust

The Works for Percussion 2 reminds us just how undeniably groovy John Cage’s percussion canon can be. In “Third Construction,” 3CP moves beyond precision to nimbly demonstrate the mesmerizing quality of Cage’s rotating rhythmic structure. David Skidmore breaks into an ecstatic, double-fisted kashishi breakdown, as Peter Martin shoots blasts from a conch shell.

The apex is reached in the final four tracks, “Living Room Music.” Filmed within the red steel rib-cage of the Ruth Ford House in Aurora, the local quartet of Skidmore, Martin, Robert Dillon and Owen Clayton Condon strike floor lamps, handrails and walls with spoons, spatulas and hands. Martin taps out a rhythm of bleeps on a laptop’s space bar. For these details, opt for the DVD package over the CD-only version. Artfully captured on video and masterfully performed by 3CP, the sophomore album deserves an emphatic water-gong crash of approval.

- Doyle Armbrust

published in Time Out Chicago on June 21st, 2012

Sō Percussion - Cage 100: The Bootleg Series by Doyle Armbrust

The new-music scene is in for a heavy dose of John Cage during his centennial this year. Sō Percussion’s Cage 100: The Bootleg Series could very well be the primer for the composer. Gathering some of the Cage’s best known works as well as original scores and collaborations with indie-electro dynamos such as Dan Deacon and Matmos, this sampler album arrives in a limited-edition run of 300, including a blank LP (think 4'33") cased in a handmade, gaffer-tape-decorated sleeve with a download of live, full-length performances.

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