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The hottest music from Chicago & beyond

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Tuned In: Jena Friedman

photo by David Szymanski
Tuned In is a feature in which special guests from the world of pop culture share a playlist of songs based on a topic or theme of their choice.

Jena Friedman is the definition of a multi-hyphenate. She’s been a field producer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and a correspondent for National Geographic Explorer. She’s written for The Late Show with David Letterman, and is currently hard at work on her first film Serial Dater, starring Imogen Poots and John Cho. She wrote and is directing that one. So yeah, you could say that she’s got a lot of talents, and has been putting them all to good use. It’s left her plate very full, yet you might not know it because she’s not in front of the camera that often.

On a personal level, I found out about Jena Friedman a few years back via her stand-up comedy. She is tremendously funny and possesses that rare quality of being able to make you laugh about some of the darkest and most challenging topics facing our world today. Her recent, pre-election stand-up special American Cunt dives headfirst into politics, feminism, abortion, guns and religion without losing sight of our shared humanity no matter what your personal opinions might be.

After getting her start in comedy here in Chicago more than a decade ago, Jena Friedman is coming back to town next Friday, June 2nd for a set at her old stomping grounds, The Hideout. It is part of the Onion/A.V. Club’s 4th Annual “26th Annual Comedy Festival,” and promises to be a hilarious late night of stand-up with plenty of whip-smart insight about the pitch black turn our world has taken in recent months.

Jena Friedman
Friday, June 2nd at The Hideout (1354 W. Wabansia Ave.)
10:30 PM / $15 / 21+
Buy Tickets

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Show Preview: NE-HI at Empty Bottle [2/24]


It feels like every calendar year there are about two or three local Chicago rock bands that manage to raise their profile high enough to earn attention and praise on a global level. Such hallmarks are important for any local scene as proof it is thriving, and to serve as an inspiration for those little guys trying to get their various music projects off the ground. In 2016 for example, Twin Peaks grew larger than they ever had before, earning steady radio airplay and touring around the globe. The same can be said for Whitney, though those guys had an obvious leg up by forming from the ashes of another higher profile Chicago band Smith Westerns.

So what local rock collective is set to break out in 2017? I’d put my money on the guys in NE-HI. They’ve grown a tremendous amount in the last couple of years, really expanding their sound into new corners beyond Wire-esque post-punk while also giving new focus to their songwriting. It all comes together in spectacular fashion on their sophomore record Offers, which is out on February 24th. Not coincidentally, their tour will lead them straight to the Empty Bottle that very same day for what promises to be an unforgettable hometown album release show.

Beyond sounding prolific and incredibly catchy on record, NE-HI are perhaps best known for their wildly fun live shows. Their songs get transformed into these hulking behemoths on stage that rattle your body in the best sort of way. It makes perfect sense that most of Offers was recorded live to capture that blissful yet intense energy. The riffs are tighter and the hooks that much more addictive than ever before. In certain ways it feels like they’re channeling the sunny and meandering side of Real Estate mixed with the garage rock heft and psychedelia of The Velvet Underground. It works surprisingly well, and I encourage you to check out the tracks below to hear exactly how that shakes out. Also, if you’re in Chicago please come out to the show and support local music!

NE-HI / Deeper / Cafe Racer
Buy Tickets
Friday, February 24th
9PM / $10 (advance) / 21+

Pre-order Offers on Bandcamp

Stay Young

Offers

Sisters

Show Review: Priests, Stef Chura + Blizzard Babies [Beat Kitchen; Chicago; 2/9/17]


“Fuck Trump! Fuck Pence! Fuck Jeff Sessions! Fuck Betsy DeVos! Fuck Steve Bannon!” Priests vocalist Katie Alice Greer yells, arms stretched high above her head, middle fingers extended. The crowd at Beat Kitchen cheers loudly in agreement. It’s only a couple songs into the band’s set, but even before that explicit statement Priests have already revealed their rebellious spirit. They tear through songs like someone throwing a tantrum, and it is loud and exhilarating and profound and life-affirming. And that’s so very important, especially in these challenging times.

Later in their set, Greer clarifies her position: “Lots of people want to call us a political band, but we’re trying to distance ourselves from that label. I said those things earlier not because it was a political thing to do, but because it was the human thing to do.” Therein lies the power of Priests. Their music connects because it pushes back against the status quo and encourages exploration beyond our current reality. It asks us, with the subtlety of a baseball bat to the side of the head, to wake up from our complacency and fight for the betterment of ourselves and others. Or, summed up in lyrics from their song “Puff”: “My best friend says, ‘I want to start a band called Burger King,’ and I say, ‘Do it! Make your dreams a reality!'” Oh yeah, and they’re funny sometimes too.

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Show Preview: Priests at Beat Kitchen [2/9]



There’s a phrase that I’ve heard quite a lot in recent months, but particularly since the election and subsequent inauguration of the new President. “This is not normal.” Recite it like a mantra, and continue to remind yourself that those day-to-day pleasures and sense of comfort have given way to a general unease at the state of our country and world. These are dark times, indeed. And we need art and culture more than ever to help us survive and ignite our will to fight for our causes and against injustice. Enter the Washington D.C. punk band Priests. Not only do they present a voice of dissent direct from our nation’s capital, but their debut album Nothing Feels Natural might as well be another way to tell the world “this is not normal.” Of course, despite its timely release, the album was written and recorded well before the terrifying political events of the last couple months. It just seems awfully prescient given the state of our world today. Yet Priests are less of a political band and more of an anti-establishment band, raging against oppression of any type no matter which side of the aisle it falls on. They’re pushing back against the idea of normal, which means different things to different people. And they’ve never sounded more confident.

While it’s relatively easy to classify Priests as a punk band because of their ethos and hard-charging guitars, Nothing Feels Natural feels a little like a departure from the EPs and singles they’ve released in the past. Their sound has become much more nebulous, incorporating a wide variety of elements from a multitude of genres thereby making it more challenging to classify. That’s by design, and it’s part of what makes this band so unique. There’s little regard for adhering to any sort of convention or mining familiar territory unless there’s a real reason to. Part of the fun is guessing where they’ll go next, which is why one minute you’ll get distorted guitars and Katie Alice Greer singing like she’s about to die, and then the next minute you’ll have a full orchestra rising to a gorgeous, jazzy instrumental. Surf rock and saxophones get their due as well, because why not? Varied though the listening experience might be, there’s a very visceral nature to the entire record that holds it steadfast and commands your attention. You can tell they believe in what they’re doing, and understand that even if one fight ends, another one has already begun. We’re all very lucky a band like Priests exists to inspire and remind us that we make our own paths in this life, so stay true to yourself and forget what you think you know about being normal or natural.

Priests are currently on tour in support of their incredibly great new record, and will be in Chicago next Thursday, February 9th. The wonderful Stef Chura as well as Blizzard Babies will be opening. I strongly urge you to check out this all ages show! Details:

Priests / Stef Chura / Blizzard Babies
Buy Tickets
Thursday, February 9th
7PM / $13-16 / All Ages
P.S. – $1 from every ticket purchase goes to Casa Ruby, which helps the LGBT community in the Washington D.C. area.

Show Preview: Mitski + Fear of Men + Weaves at Thalia Hall [11/5]

Photo by Ebru Yildiz
As young adults, we are led believe that with time and age comes a greater sense of maturity, stability and overall well-being. We think our parents have these things figured out, and so will we once we reach their age. If making more money and starting a family of your own count as figuring things out, then that’d be an accurate impression. But in a broader and more emotional sense, we slowly come to the realization that nobody ever truly pulls their life together and we’re all still struggling to make our way in this crazy, mixed up world. Things don’t get easier or clearer, and in many cases get harder and cloudier. The sooner we understand and embrace the chaos, the better we are able to manage it.

The struggle to define our identity and find a path to consistent happiness are the primary themes of Mitski’s latest album Puberty 2. And while songs about depression and anxiety might not sound like much of a good time, the emotions they wring out of you are so relatable and cathartic you can’t help but be compelled to keep listening. Then there’s her overall sonic approach, which feels very ’90s in nature. Distorted guitars and catchy choruses provide some surface sheen, but dissonant noises are also buried in the mix and reveal themselves through close listens. The depth is what keeps you coming back, along with her dynamic vocals, which stretch from smooth crooning to aggressive ferocity to desperate pleas at the drop of a hat. Mitski exercises control in all things, and that’s a big part of what makes her music so brilliant.

That same brilliance translates extremely well in a live setting. Unconstrained from the studio, Mitski’s songs tend to feel like exposed nerves when performed on stage. This rawer, more primal nature reveals alternative interpretations that often change your perspective of the recorded versions without lessening their impact. The drama and intensity are even more heightened along with the fragility as everything consistently teeters on the edge of falling apart. Her voice is the primary conduit for those emotions, but the times when she trades her bass for an electric guitar feel like an ascension to her firing-on-all-cylinders highest self. It is an awesome thing to behold, and if you’ll be in Chicago this Saturday you have the opportunity to do exactly that. Mitski is headlining at show at Thalia Hall, with the excellent Fear of Men and up-and-coming band Weaves also on the bill. Really it’s the rare show where you should arrive early and stay late, because the music will be great from start to finish. Check out the full details and hear some songs below:

Mitski – Your Best American Girl

Fear of Men – Trauma

Weaves – Tick

Mitski / Fear of Men / Weaves
Buy Tickets
Saturday, November 5
8PM / $18 (advance) / All Ages

Show Preview: Dinosaur Jr. + Steve Gunn at Metro [10/8]


Good old fashioned rock n’ roll doesn’t get nearly enough attention these days. People are so interested in finding the next great innovation in genre that they fail to remember that certain styles of music are truly timeless and can still offer fresh surprises at every turn. Not only that, but who’s so jaded they aren’t impressed by a complex guitar solo? It’s a certain skill that very few can truly master, so all credit should be given to those that can. Case in point, this Saturday at the legendary Metro here in Chicago you have the unique opportunity to see two of the greatest rock guitarists still making music today do their thing: J. Mascis and Steve Gunn.

Dinosaur Jr. has been around for what seems like forever, and in the musical world 30+ years kind of is. Of course they were inactive for eight of those years, so that gap decreases their legendary status just a little bit. But that’s neither here nor there, because they’ve been back in action for the last decade and have arguably eclipsed the great work they did in the 80s and 90s that earned them a place among alternative rock royalty such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Mascis may be their anchor, what with his aching vocals and fuzzed out guitar solos that are distinctive enough that you can easily pick them out of a crowd, but don’t discount a force of nature like Lou Barlow, who is a spectacular bassist and singer in his own right (as evidenced by his work in Sebadoh). Should I compliment their drummer Murph too? Oh, sure. He does an excellent job keeping the rhythms tight and heavy in the face of each song’s relative unpredictability. Dinosaur Jr’s new record Give a Glimpse of What Yr Not only reaffirms all of these assertions, and proves their inspiration and creativity remains sharply intact even after all these years. The question at this point is how long that will last. This latest revival of the band has already lasted longer than their first two stints, and with any luck it’ll stick for many more records. Or not. Best to see them while you can. If you’ve never witnessed J. Mascis destroying guitar solo after guitar solo right in front of you, that’s something to put on your bucket list. It’s a genuine joy to watch him and the rest of the band work.

Lesser known but no less talented is Steve Gunn. The Brooklyn-based musician first earned his stripes by playing in Kurt Vile’s band as one of The Violators. Of course he’s also been releasing solo albums for nearly a decade now, at a pace of about one per year. Toss in some collaborative efforts as well, and the guy becomes positively prolific. While much of his early work has been rooted in gorgeous lo-fin instrumentals, by the time 2014’s Way Out Weather arrived he felt like a fully formed entity, complete with a backing band and confident vocals. A big part of what makes Gunn’s music so compelling is his ability to compose these complex folk and rootsy songs while making it all seem completely effortless. Nothing is ever hurried or panicked in both voice and melody. You put on his records while relaxing with a beer on the porch or cruising across the heartland of America. That’s particularly true on his new album Eyes on the Lines, which is thematically embossed with the call of the open road. Simplistic as his songs may seem on the surface, closer listens reveal light touches of psychedelia, krautrock and blues, among other genres. Solos bob and weave through otherwise standard melodies, like eels writhing around in the ocean. Think about My Morning Jacket or a less jam-heavy Grateful Dead or The War on Drugs as bearing similar or shared sonic markers with Gunn and you’ll gain a much better understanding of what he’s all about. In a live setting, it’s equally relaxed and thrilling to watch him work through songs as they divert down unexpected paths and tear through the fabric of expectation. Don’t miss him if you can help it. The Metro show this Saturday is virtually sold out, but here are the details anyways in case you’re lucky enough to get tickets.

Dinosaur Jr. / Steve Gunn / Thalia Zedek Band
Buy Tickets
Saturday, October 8th
9PM / $31 / 18+

If you miss Steve Gunn this weekend, the good news is that he’ll be back in Chicago next Saturday (October 15th) for a performance with Jim Elkington at the Logan Square Food Truck Social. Tickets for that one are $5 and you can find out more information here.

Lollapalooza 2016: Lineup Recommendations

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This year, Lollapalooza celebrates its 25th anniversary as a music festival. It’s had some ups and downs, including a couple of years when it went away entirely, but since settling down in Chicago back in 2005 things have been smooth sailing. Things have expanded exponentially in the last decade alone, with more stages, more artists and now more days than ever before. Yes, for the first time ever (and in celebration of this milestone), we’ll have four full days of music and mayhem. If three days and 130 artists somehow wasn’t enough to make your head spin, four days and 170 artists practically crosses the line between enjoyment and punishment. I’ve nearly killed myself in the past attempting to cover every single day of this festival for the last 11 years, and in all honesty I’m quite concerned with how I’m going to survive year 12. Don’t overextend yourself, drink lots of water, and wear comfortable shoes are just a few pieces of advice I can offer and will be abiding by myself.

That said, with four days of music it gives you an even greater opportunity to enjoy some of your favorite bands and discover some great new ones. Instead of analyzing every artist on the lineup, or even taking an hour-by-hour look at the insane schedule, let’s try something a little more sensible and manageable for 2016. In honor of 25 years of Lollapalooza, I’m going to recommend 25 can’t-miss artists who will be performing at the festival this weekend. They’re broken down by day, and distributed evenly across the weekend with the exception of Sunday, which has one extra artist just to hit that magic number. The only downside in limiting this to recommending six (or seven) artists per day is that a few really cool acts inevitably get left out. If you’re going all four days it’ll be tough to catch everything worthwhile as it is. The way these picks are structured, there’s not a lot of time slot conflicts happening, so you could theoretically see just about all of these artists if you play your cards right.

Join me after the jump for the full list of 25, complete with multiple audio/video streams from each. Best of luck to you if you’ll be in Grant Park this weekend. I’ll see you on the battlefield. Follow my Twitter and Instagram feeds for live, on-the-ground reports all four days.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2016: Sunday Recap

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There were a surprising number of people in Union Park at 1:45pm on a Sunday, but I suppose that’s what happens when quality acts are booked to start the day. Porches kicked things off on the Red stage with what can best be described as dance music for lonely people. Indeed, Aaron Maine and his band used synths, bouncy bass lines and the occasional saxophone assist to settle into a groove, and the modest crowd shuffled around entranced while staring at their feet. Many of them may have been nursing hangovers or were simply tired from the previous two days, but at the very least they were moving. While the songs would undoubtedly have sounded even better under the cover of night, Porches still managed to inspire and help people get motivated for one more full day of music.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2016: Saturday Recap

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Saturday at Pitchfork was the best day. The sort of day that makes you believe in the power of live music. The sort of day that makes nine hours spent in hot conditions feel like two. It’s a grand reminder of why the Pitchfork Music Festival is one of the best places to see and break new bands, as well as celebrate the classic ones. There’s so much to cover and I don’t want to waste much more time expressing general platitudes with this intro. So join me after the jump for a full recap of all the artists I saw at the festival on Saturday. As a reminder, there will be plenty of photos to share at the end of the weekend. But if you’d like some live reports straight from the grounds along with a few visuals, check my Twitter and Instagram for all of that fun stuff. Onward and upward we go!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2016: Friday Recap

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One day down, two left to go. The start of the 2016 Pitchfork Music Festival was plagued with a light rain shower, followed by gray clouds that seemed somewhat ominous for the rest of the day. Thankfully it was a largely dry day, and the music was sunny enough that the skies didn’t matter so much. I’ll have all kinds of photos and other goodies once the weekend wraps up, but in the meantime please join me after the jump for a brief recap of everything I saw and did on Friday.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2016: Sunday Preview

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Sunday at Pitchfork Music Festival is set to be just about the sexiest day of any music festival ever. To quote Tracy Morgan, “Somebody’s gonna get pregnant!” The lineup is stacked with all kinds of R&B and freeform jazz that’s designed to put you in the mood for some lovin’. Not sure how perfectly that pairs with sun and 85 degree temperatures, but we’ll find out, right? At least things will be steamy one way or another. If you’ve been to the fest for two days already, the generally slower and more relaxed vibe on Sunday should be a nice change of pace. The slightly later start time than usual is an added benefit. Gates may open at noon, but the first music doesn’t start until 1:45, so sleep in an extra 90 minutes or at the very least stay off your feet for that period of time. As with the other two days though, there are some serious benefits to showing up early and catching those first bands of the day. Join me past the jump for the hour-by-hour breakdown of who’s playing when, and what artists you simply can’t miss.

Also, in case you missed them, here are the Preview Guides for Friday and Saturday as well as audio streams from every artist on the lineup.

Thanks for reading. If you’re headed to Pitchfork this weekend, I’ll see you in Union Park!

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2016: Saturday Preview

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Let me use today’s introduction to offer a few festival tips and tricks to help you survive the weekend at Pitchfork Music Festival. Six years of coverage has helped me get this down to a science, so if you follow my lead I guarantee everything’s gonna turn out great for you (you know, within reason). First, the general outdoor festival stuff. Stay hydrated. Drink at least 3-4 full bottles of water each day. That is a minimum. I know it’s tempting to have a few beers, and you realistically still can, just don’t make that the only liquid you drink all day. You’ll sweat tons in the 80+ degree heat and will be on your feet pretty much all day, so those fluids need to be replenished unless you want to wind up in the medical tent. Next up, sunscreen and bug spray. Use both liberally. If you get sunburned on Friday, the rest of the weekend will be painful. You also don’t want to scratch a bunch of bug bites either, so protect yourself.

Don’t overexert yourself. There’s a temptation to go hard and try to see just about every band. It’s possible too! Union Park isn’t that big, and with three stages you won’t need to do that much walking. Just remember to take breaks and sit down from time to time. Eat food – probably more than you’d otherwise have – to maintan energy while you burn calories. Explore! There’s plenty of fun things to do, including the CHIRP Record Fair, the Flatstock poster sale, Book Fort, Craft Fair and Kids Area. A bunch of brands have tents/booths where free food and merch is given away. Lifeway frozen kefir bars are typically being given away near the basketball court, so that’s a nice cool treat on a warm day. You can probably screen print a t-shirt for free too, if that’s an interest. If you’ve got some down time or don’t like any of the artists performing, wandering around the festival grounds can make for a great time.

So that’s about all I’ve got in terms of tips. Well one more – be good to others! In my experience, everyone at Pitchfork is very chilled out and friendly, so treat them in kind. Join me past the jump for an in-depth, hour-by-hour look at the schedule for Saturday. There’s plenty of great stuff to recommend.

Also, in case you missed them, here are the preview guides Friday and Sunday as well as audio streams from every artist on the lineup.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2016: Friday Preview

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So you’re planning to attend the 2016 Pitchfork Music Festival. Congratulations! You have made a very wise choice. It promises to be a great time in a great city with a great collection of artists. Speaking of those artists, one of the challenges with any music festival is looking over the schedule and trying to figure out who to see when. In the cases where you only like one artist performing at a particular time, the choice is easy. In the cases where you like two artists performing at the same time, the conflict can be tragic. But what about the artists you’re not familiar with? There’s always at least a few at any large festival, and even the most avid music fan has some knowledge gaps. The great news is that it’s easy to learn, and maybe just a little easier to make a crucial decision about a conflict, if you’ve got some outside help. Welcome to the first of three installments of the 2016 Pitchfork Music Festival Preview Guide! Here you can find out information about every artist on the lineup, and see recommendations on who you should be seeing at any particular time. So if you wouldn’t mind, please join me after the jump to check out the comprehensive guide to who’s performing on Friday. Let’s go!

Check out the preview guides for Saturday and Sunday as well as audio streams for every artist on the lineup.

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Pitchfork Music Festival 2016: Hear the Lineup

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As is tradition, I’m very pleased to welcome you to yet another year of Pitchfork Music Festival coverage! Once again there will be a full week’s worth of focus on Chicago’s premiere boutique music festival, complete with day-by-day previews, recaps throughout the weekend, and plenty of photos so you can see some of the action too. It’s extremely comprehensive, so if you’re planning to attend or just wish you could, I hope you’ll keep a close eye on the site to learn more about the lineup, who you need to see, as well as reports straight from the festival grounds.

We begin with an audio introduction to all the artists performing at this year’s fest. Those familiar with Pitchfork know they carefully curate the lineup every year to highlight important, often up-and-coming acts. That inevitably leads to a fair amount of obscure names you might not recognize. For example, you may be wondering, “Who is Jlin? What kind of music does he or she or they make?” Well, hopefully this post answers those questions with relative ease.

After the jump, you’ll find a full list of every artist performing at this weekend’s Pitchfork Music Festival, complete with links to their website or Facebook or Tumblr or Bandcamp or whatever their primary web presence might be. You’ll also find links to stream two songs on YouTube or Soundcloud from each one, so you can get a basic idea of what they happen to sound like. Artists are grouped by the day they are performing and arranged in alphabetical order. If you prefer to stream your music using Spotify, you can find a full playlist at the very bottom of this post, also featuring two songs from every artist on the lineup. Those are grouped in order by day and set time.

Really what I’m saying is, no matter your audio preferences, there should be a format here that will give you access to the music, which is of course the most important part of this whole festival equation. So sit back and get familiar before spending the weekend in Union Park, so you can go in with a head full of knowledge and impress your friends.

Check out the preview guides for Friday, Saturday and Sunday!

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Show Preview: Moderat at Concord Music Hall [5/21]


For those who know a thing or two about the indie electronica scene, the trio known as Moderat have every right to be called a supergroup. Their name is a combination of the two projects from which they’ve sprung, specifically Modeselektor (Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary) and Apparat (Sascha Ring). Separately, they’ve released some of the most dynamic minimalist electronic music of the last decade. Together as Moderat, they’ve crafted three full lengths and an EP, a majority of which was spent testing out new and experimental directions with varying results. It seemed to be a product of them trying to feel each other out rather than a lack of competence or care. Just because three people can make really great music on their own doesn’t mean they’ll immediately work well together. On their new record III, it seems they’ve finally reached the next level of their collaboration, resulting in one of the most sonically cohesive and engaging collections of beat-driven tracks this year.

Sonically the songs on III fall somewhere on the ambient electronic soul spectrum between Four Tet, James Blake, Burial, Jamie Woon and Atoms For Peace. That’s a lot of quality references that for the most part feel earned. Beats skitter, vocals soar, synths glide, and a wounded sort of sexiness oozes from just about every note. Fans of The xx will find plenty to love as well. That beautiful darkness also lends itself to dramatic performances. Unlike the candy-coated laser beam dance parties of today’s EDM festival headliners, Moderat use style and substance to channel an epic intimacy that you’ll want to dance to. Powerful visuals projected behind the trio, combined with staccato lighting effects and liberal use of smoke machines create just the right sort of atmosphere to elevate the songs to an otherworldly level. It’s an intoxicating mixture that means their live shows are less performance and more experience.

Moderat will be transforming minds and hearts at Concord Music Hall this Saturday, May 21st. Not to be missed if you can help it! Teflon Tel Aviv and Abstract Science open. Details:

Moderat, Teflon Tel Aviv and Abstract Science
Buy Tickets
Saturday, May 21
9PM / $25 (Advance) / 18+

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