Whitney, Al Scorch, Lionlimb, Matchess, Waco Brothers, Crown Larks, Absolutely Not, KO | Hideout | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader
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Whitney, Al Scorch, Lionlimb, Matchess, Waco Brothers, Crown Larks, Absolutely Not, KO 

When: Sat., March 12, 12 p.m. 2016
The annual Hideout SXSW send-off party.

Multi-instrumentalist Whitney Johnson has become one of the cornerstones of Chicago’s underground scene. A musician with wide ears and even wider eyes, she adds depth to everything she touches without ever getting in the way. Johnson sings and plays keyboards in the psych band Verma, and she’s turned up playing with ethereal pop project Via Tania, psych-folk explorer Ryley Walker, spacey transcendentalists Bitchin Bajas, and oddball chanteuse Circuit des Yeux—she’s also recently combined forces with minimal-synth artist Gel Set to create the duo Simulation. But nothing conveys her hypnotic range, beauty, and intensity like her solo project Matchess, especially the work captured on last year’s Somnaphoria (Trouble in Mind). Her processed vocals make it hard to understand the lyrics she says were inspired by Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, and Charles Baudelaire, but there’s no missing the spooky layer of sound their electronic tone creates, or how they accentuate the primitive drum-machine beats, viola drones (both pure and electronically processed), pizzicato phrases, undulating keyboard arpeggios, and unidentified murk. Johnson effortlessly juggles ideas gleaned from sources as disparate as kosmische, classical minimalism, psychedelia, new age, and pop—and she pours those notions into one cogent if often amorphous mass of pulsing sound. Keep an eye out for a new album come May or June called The Rafter; it’s being released via Monofonus, and she explains that it’s only a “temporary diversion” from the Matchess trilogy she’s been working on (she’s currently recording the final installment).

To begin to understand the eclectic art-rock explorers in Crown Larks, may I suggest listening to the last 40 seconds of “Blood Mirage,” one of the seven psych-treated, space-cadet tracks from the locals’ 2015 debut full-length, Blood Dancer (Space Lung)? That short stretch is a deconstruction in which skronky sax rapidly tumbles alongside a frenetic nonrhythm on drums and discordant, gashing organ lines. And those several seconds should startle you well enough to brace you for the rest of the album, which is primarily an off-kilter blend of dreamy, nearly ambient soundscapes (“Fog, Doves”) and colorful, Kraut-influenced journeys of avant-garde experimentation (“Defector”). The prevalence of straight-up jamming and improvisation is plenty worth taking note of as well—because neither path feels overwrought during the band’s meandering execution. The droneful and solemn male and female vocals that sweep in and out of the clatter aren’t really much needed to augment the already fantastical world occupied by Crown Larks, but thankfully they don’t distract too much.

— Peter Margasak, Kevin Warwick

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