Never Mind the Critics | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Never Mind the Critics 

Here’s what local musicians (and other tastemakers) were listening to in 2009.

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LATHAM ZEARFOSS
Co-organizer for all-inclusive queer dance party Chances Dances

Yoko Ono: Between My Head and the Sky (Chimera)

Shakira: "She Wolf" (Epic)

Whitney Houston: "Million Dollar Bill" (Arista)

Le Loup: Family (Hardly Art)

click to enlarge Latham Zearfoss
  • Latham Zearfoss

Yoko Ono's Between My Head and the Sky was my favorite album of the year. I am a huge Yoko fan and have been for a long time, and I feel like this record has been the best thing she's done in a while. It's technically Plastic Ono Band, but it was collaborative with folks like Cornelius and other vanguard Japanese and Japanese-American artists, and it's collaborative and messy and beautiful. Of course it's very political, in the way that her work has always been. She's acknowledging that there is sadness and cruelty and devastation, but she's always looking forward. Her optimism isn't about naivete. It's awareness that things can get better, we can change—that there is power in collective imagination and revisioning things.

I am also really into the Shakira "She Wolf" and Whitney Houston "Million Dollar Bill" singles; they have a very unique sound, despite being really pop. They conjure disco and soul; the Shakira has an 80s new-wave disco sound. Right now, music tends to be so overproduced, but these songs—they have identifiable real instruments, they have peculiarity to them. They are about going out and the possibilities of being out in a club environment, from a feminine perspective. They both are staples of Chances—they unify the dance floor, rally the troops.

The other thing I loved was Le Loup's record Family. It has a very Appalachian lullaby folk-chord structure in all the songs—there is a lot of lamentation, very pop accessible, but not too derivative of other folk-pop records. It's very familiar. There is something that they do that Animal Collective does well, too—which is where the vocals are decentralized, through effects or multiple voices. There is no central location of the singer. There is something about that that really opens multiple entry points into the music. It's less about how it's said, more about the feelings and how it's being sung—and Family is really like that.

KEN VANDERMARK
Jazz reedist (Vandermark 5, Sonore, Frame Quartet)

Johannes Bauer, Clayton Thomas, and Tony Buck: Aus: Live in Nickelsdorf(Jazzwerkstatt)

Peter Brötzmann, Toshinori Kondo, Massimo Pupillo, and Paal Nilssen-Love: Hairy Bones (Okka Disk)

Various artists: Legends of Benin (Analog Africa)

Andy Moor & Anne-James Chaton: Le Journaliste (Unsounds)

Various artists: Ililta! New Ethiopian Dance Music (Terp)

click to enlarge Ken Vandermark
  • Ken Vandermark
  • Andy Newcombe via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

There's a record called Aus with Johannes Bauer, Clayton Thomas, and Tony Buck, and I'd been hearing about the trio from musicians in the scene as being totally amazing. I finally got the record and it is pretty amazing. It's great to hear a new group that's so strong. It's all improvised, but it really has its own personality, with a lot of tension and velocity to the music.

Hairy Bones with Brötzmann, Kondo, Massimo Pupillo, and Paal is super great, and it reminds me of a cross between the Die Like a Dog quartet and Last Exit, in the best sense. It's so great to hear Peter and Kondo together, and Massimo and Paal are such a strong rhythm section.

The Legends of Benin on Analog Africa—everything they've put out has been incredible. There's so much that you could never hear—like this amazing stuff from Benin 20 or 30 years ago—you would have never been able to hear then.

There's a duo with Andy Moor and Anne-James Chaton called Le Journaliste that I really love. Chaton delivers a kind of poetry, but the discipline of his recitations is totally amazing. I heard him at the Ex 25th anniversary in Amsterdam and he was doing solo stuff, and of all the extraordinary music his thing jumped out the most. I'd never heard text used the same way.

Terrie [Hessels of the Ex] knows so much about what's going on [in Ethiopia] from traveling there so much—he knows what's happening now. So Ililta! New Ethiopian Dance Music is totally burning—it's great.

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