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Alien lanes

| October 19, 2011

Digging up the past never seems to go well in life, but in music it’s lucrative. Mostly. Some artists manage to get snagged on invisible tastemaker defenses that arbitrary decide who get plaudits, and who don’t. This weekend stars Cymbals Eat Guitars, Vagabond Opera, Big Tree, and Cory Hart.

You can bet they don’t find this the least bit hilarious, but Cymbals Eat Guitars have found themselves in this position after only two albums. Elements of ’90s indie rock smother every inch of Lenses Alien (Barsuk), but while a stripped outfit like Yuck get a pass for ultimately sounding like Pavement, CEG get hammered for overt nods to reunion-phase Sunny Day Real Estate, Modest Mouse agit-guitar, Built To Spill/Dinosaur Jr. squall, and droplets of maybe-they-heard’a-’em-maybe-not Steel Pole Bath Tub. True, Joseph D’Agostino’s reverbed wail favors affectation over comprehension, and the eight-minute drag of stop/start opener “Rifle Eyesight” points to art-rock pretense. But everyone has influences: it’s what you do with them that matters. That the listing “Shore Points” and “Another Tunguska” don’t sound like any one of them should land CEG all the credit they deserve. (Friday@Lincoln Hall with Hooray For Earth.)

Vagabonds aren’t quite the same folks as nomads or gypsies, though all three generally exist outside of societal conventions. Their collective music deserves the label “folk” more than American folk music does these days, though it’s just as ripe for exploitation. That’s the dilemma with Vagabond Opera, a Portland, Oregon-based ensemble with such mastery over Roma instrumentation and arrangements that it feels more studied and academic than handed-down and lived-in. Of course, “authenticity” issues have plagued musicians from Tommy Dorsey down to Dave Brubeck and Bob Dylan to The Rolling Stones. Truth be told, once Sing For Your Lives! gets swinging — and does it ever swing — you tend to care less about the background of the narrators than when it’s time to stop clapping along. (Sunday@Skokie Theater.)

Back when the mammals were trying to steal IE’s eggs, we called music like Yonkers-born Big Tree “indie pop.” The occasionally lurching arrangements, folksy group harmonies, and imprecise execution screams of artists knowingly not knowing what they’re doing. But if the first round of groups got stumped when they developed and didn’t know how to retain their charisma, Big Tree come with their own mostly formed talisman: Kaila McIntyre Bader. The band’s primary vocalist and songwriter, Bader manages to lead from the front and emit an enthusiasm that dispels any doubts about the band joining an increasingly crowded, anonymous field. Opener “This Fall” stomps and pops, with Bader just atop the chorus. This New Year may occasionally veer into coffeehouse R&B, but Bader and her invariably tasteful rhythm section are streetwise enough to step back when the songchart gets predictable. (Saturday@Panchos with Little Light and Diana & The Dishes.)

When Irv Gotti spilled that he and Death Row honcho Suge Knight had discussions about founding a musicans’ union, the mind reeled not only to recreate the scene in the imagination, but what the parameters of such a union might be. Surely, they dreamed up a SAG-like provision to eliminate the name-doubling that hurts Corey Hart, who is neither the ’80s wonder behind “Sunglasses At Night” nor the Milwaukee Brewers’ right fielder. The Madison-based singer/songwriter is a vocal doppelganger for Damien Rice, and his Winter Bones EP struggles with similar bouts of loneliness. An emotional drifter, Hart’s at his best comparing himself to a seed blowing through the wind and in need of purchase. (Saturday@Uncommon Ground on Clark.)

— Steve Forstneger

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