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New York is for losers

| October 20, 2011

The CMJ Music Marathon runs this weekend in Manhattan and Brooklyn. It’s more dignified than South By Southwest, but still an unforgiving task to distinguish a cadre of hipster acts who all sound the same. Chicago? We have Amon Tobin, The Bo-Keys, The Sounds, Phantogram, Juicehead, The Misfits, Exitmusic, and a benefit at Unity Church.

If you want a glimpse into Pitchfork‘s early years, search Amon Tobin on its site. The Brazilian — who musically matured south of London in Brighton, England — was the vanguard of IDM in the ’90s, and the nascent blog graded each of his albums a 9 or higher, reaching all the way to 10 for 1997’s Bricolage. It ensures that skeptical newcomers will disagree in a huff, another case where critical raves hurt an artist. But Tobin was and is the real deal. A constant experimentalist, ISAM (Ninja Tune), his 2011 outing, twists and pulls sounds into shapes and inside-out until they snap back, so that when he tracks and reprocesses his own voice it sounds — unequivocally — like a woman’s. Though he’s set aside his fascination with field recordings (we think), he’s ventured into DJ Shadow land by reducing samples to microscopic fragments and rebuilding them like one of those wedding collages where one image is built on several thousand miniscule reproductions of itself. Of course, nothing’s fragile, and the drum and bass fugitive supplements his science film-score with crushing, industrial-wreckage beats that make you wonder if you should nod or run. (Friday@Congress Theatre with Lorn and Emika.)

Of the more remarkable features in the soul-band revival is how Memphis-centric the sounds are. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound, and Eli “Paperboy” Reed all base themselves heavily on the Stax/Volt template: tight, dry, horn-driven funk. The Bo-Keys, however, were actually there. Featuring members of the B.B. King, Stax, and Hi Records bands (plus Ben Cauley, the lone survivor of the plane crash that killed Otis Redding), Got To Get Back! features vocals by William Bell, Otis Clay, and Percy Wiggins and is performed with a jump no doubt helped by some fresh blood. The dozen tracks revive all the versatility of the vaunted Stax singles boxset, from the aching ballads to wipe-your-brow Sam & Dave stomp. (Saturday@Double Door with Soul Summit DJs.)

While unapologetically surfing a retro, new-wave crest, Swedish quintet The Sounds keep guitars-in-hands as a bridge back in case the dance rhythms got too bouncy. With Something To Die For (Side One Dummy), they hedge closer to life without strings attached. They reach into their pockets for guitar picks, and often come out with handfuls of confetti. A dirty bassline drives “Dance With The Devil” before the disco ball starts spinning, and the guitar provides no more a base than it would have for Pat Benatar 30 years ago. Where “The No No Song” and “Diana” recall The Strokes (via The Cars) and No Doubt, respectively, “Better Off Dead” and “Yeah Yeah Yeah” nod to Bis and Pink. (Saturday@Vic Theatre with The Limousines, K. Flay, and Kids At The Bar.)

Conspicuously missing from Riot Fest earlier this month — well, you could probably blame it on Danzig: Legacy — were The Misfits, whose horrorpunk pedigree is unimpeachable with or without their diminutive cofounder. Jerry Only‘s crew (with Black Flag’s Dez Cadena) also happens to have a new album to promote, The Devil’s Rain, on their own label, chock full of metallic anthems that celebrate ’50s sci-fi if missing some of the occasional nastiness that cemented their reputation as the ultimate outsider ghouls. Chicago-based opener Juicehead have their latest Misfits Records release to celebrate, How To Sail A Sinking Ship. What the band lack in theatrics, they pack a wallop in classic, Oi! fist-pumping anthems — though some of the 20 tracks could probably have been dropped to make it a little tighter. Either way, frontman Rob Vannice continues his crusade against shitty government and shittier girlfriends — he just saves the honor of offing them for his bosses. (Sunday@Mojoes.)

For as striking and cinematic as it could be, trip-hop got co-opted and shoved into the background rather quickly. Perhaps sensing this, Phantogram have followed their mysterious, moody, Barsuk debut, Eyelid Movies, with an EP that makes you chase it if you want to catch it. Written late at night and sometimes while the sun rose, Nightlife takes the poppier elements of Hooverphonic and turns them out onto the floor. Even, like on “Turning Into Stone,” when Josh Carter and Sarah Barthel don’t feel like heading out again, the beat’s relentless fizzle and pop suggests that the right phone call could change their minds. Fans of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” should arrive in time for Exitmusic, which costars Aleksa Palladino. She and partner Devon Church (in the year of the film-related coed duo, a la Cults and Cat’s Eyes) pop in just in time for Halloween, cultivating darkness and leaving the windows to fly open and slam shut in the storm. On the From Silence EP (Secretly Canadian), “The Sea” catches Bjork under a big, bad moon, “The Modern Age” pits existential discontent against dancefloor exhilaration, while the closing cuts drop the tempo and the bass and forget to let you up for air. (Sunday@Metro with Reptar.)

Finally, The Unitarian Church Of Evanston hosts hometown International Jazz Hall Of Fame pianist Junior Mance performing live with his quartet at 7 p.m. The 83-year-old’s storied career has included sessions and tours behind Dinah Washington, Cannonball Adderly, Dizzy Gillespie, and Joe Williams. (Saturday@Unitarian Church Of Evanston.)

— Steve Forstneger

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