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Savor this week

| April 4, 2012

Public schools have been on spring break so driving on the northwest side has been a dream. No surprise this weekend’s shows feature First Aid Kit, Willis Earl Beal, Bahamas, Nero, White Rabbits, 200 Years, All-American Rejects, The Hobart Brothers, Paul Doffing, and, allegedly, Kevin Tihista. Plus, did anyone else feel ripped off that April Fool’s Day was a Sunday?

Part of the pushback in the “Is Taylor Swift really country?” borefest is a retaliatory swipe at the No Depression/alt-country world, which, as Chicagoans should well know, teems with cultural emigrants and tourists. What would they say about First Aid Kit? Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg would seem to have an easier time passing themselves off as heirs to a Hollywood fortune than credible ciphers of the steaming mass of contradictions that is the American South. Any defense that they’re actually Americana gets shredded by some of the first words on the new The Lion’s Roar (Wichita), when the duo pledge to be a June or Emmylou to their beau’s Johnny or Gram. Luckily, the South is a hospitable place (no matter how often the Söderbergs curl up the word “goddamn” in their throats). The harmonies are appropriately intuitive, the overall tone mild if slightly assertive, and quite the companion for a pitcher of sweet tea. (Friday@Lincoln Hall with Peggy Sue.)

Of the risks in playing the savant card is immediately establishing a camp of listeners who treat your art like a curiosity or, worse, an exploitation. Willis Earl Beal hasn’t quite come level with the late Wesley Willis or Daniel Johnston, but by issuing Acousmatic Sorcery as a debut album XL Recordings seems entirely too willing to play along. A series of home recordings bound by little more than their impromptu demeanors, Sorcery offers far too little information to discern if Beal really has something to say — plenty of the lyrics feel like stream-of-consciousness, rhythmic placeholders — or if his trance-like incantations and raw howl will add up to something more. When it drifts into voyeurism it doesn’t feel good, and sounds worse. Posted live videos reveal a refined and muscular soul shouter, further catering to a caricature with loaded racial overtones. I hope he’s in control of this in more ways than one. (Saturday@House Of Blues with SBTRKT.)

Primarily a singer/songwriter affair, BahamasBarchords (Brushfire) gives the sense of a kid who’s only allowed an hour of TV each day — only in this case, it’s playing his guitars. Alfie Jurvanen shows touches of gospel, islandesque surf, and Red House painting, and each affecting cut harangues itself for a clearer picture of love, purpose, and worth. But they’re also invariably party to a threatening volume swell, cantankerous reverb, Leslie cabinet, or hyper-harmonized fill that suggests if Jurvanen doesn’t confine himself to a chair and a Eels-like croak, that he could duck-walk the fuck out of her at any moment. (Saturday@Schubas with Fort Frances.)

Nero probably could have found a more interactive name than the Roman emperor who ignored the city as it burned — for an electronic/DJ act, it seems doubly troublesome. On the conceptual Welcome Reality (Interscope/Cherrytree), the British set elude accusations of listlessness by genre hopping dubstep, drum and bass, and ambient techno as if they’re being chased by men with guns. The stray bullets kick up all manner of sounds, which are equally proggy and epic and occasionally rip the album from its focus. Nero’s bread-and-butter, however, has become dubstep, and they litter the landscape with and endless supply of drops that can be overwhelming and certainly do enough to shock Reality back into view. (Saturday@Congress with Dillon Francis and Lobounce.)

White RabbitsStephen Patterson didn’t take too kindly to my inference that his band took on certain elements of Spoon by working with Britt Daniel on their second album, 2009’s It’s Frightening. It turns out my concerns were unfounded. This spring’s Milk Famous only retains Patterson’s Daniel-esque falsetto; otherwise, where Spoon tend to go minimal, the Rabbits drape their third in effects and integrate innumerable escape routes. At first listen, it’s a fractured, muttering mess, that comes together through the Radiohead-inspired “Danny Come Inside” and silky “I Had It Coming.” (Sunday@Metro with Gull and The Hudson Branch.)

200 Years make their self-titled Drag City debut sound like it was recorded an hour ago. Magik Markers’ Elisa Ambrogio and Six Organs Of Admittance mainman Ben Chasny quite possibly recorded its 10 tracks in the living room of an empty house with hardwood floors, and Ambrogio’s cloudy vocals — “Waiting for a message/waiting for a sign” — hint that she feels responsible. The sparse arrangements occasionally have room for some of Chasny’s guitar tomfoolery, but otherwise they’ve left a lot of open spaces that could use some carpet and furniture. (Monday@The Burlington with Axis: Sova and Deep Sleep.)

Somewhere I got it in my head that The All-American Rejects — the name, maybe — were an emo-pop construct. The Oklahoma-born outfit, however, draw on sounds more closely associated with heartland alt-rock drizzled with high-calorie dressing. Kids In The Street (DGC/Interscope) sounds much more like Better Than Ezra and The Fray than Fall Out Boy, loaded with precious anthems that coo, “You’re a pretty little flower/I’m a busy little bee” and “You go fast/I go slow/It’s gonna be all right/’Cuz it’s you and me tonight.” Perhaps because their debut was recorded with a drum machine, AAR’s defining characteristic has become their manipulation of effects in lieu of having to cultivate personality, and that’s certainly true here. A power-drill solo breaks into powerballad “Heartbeat Slowing Down,” which comically recalls the wedding band in Old School; a discordant buzzing provides all the intensity “Out The Door” can muster; though it’s not until “Affection” that these tricks are woven into an equally interesting song, even if it spills into a self-indulgent pomp that would make Queen, Styx, or Meat Loaf blush. (Monday@Metro with A Rocket To The Moon.)

You have to be really careful to be coed sibling bandmates, lest someone misinterpret a love song. (Digression: if he had to do it again, would Jack White of The White Stripes infer that he and ex-wife Meg were brother and sister?) The Hobart Brothers with Lil’ Sis Hobart don’t really have to worry about getting caught stealing a glance, because they’re actually Freedy Johnston, Jon Dee Graham, and Susan Cowsill. At Least We Have Each Other (Freedom) goes light on innuendo but heavy on neo-Depression stomping. The sound is dirt-caked boots, stringy hair, and poor tippers, authentically authentic half-barrel roots rock for the 99 percent. (Monday@FitzGerald’s.)

An ideal world would have a lot more of Paul Doffing types: singer/songwriters who shut their mouths and just play instrumentals when they’ve nothing to add to the conversation. It doesn’t hurt Doffing that he’s a virtuoso acoustic guitarist, playing canyon-deep chords and fingerpicking tastefully and effortlessly. When he does exercise the pipes, his weary, Neil Young-meets-Damien Jurado tone evinces more gravity than any lyric sheet could ever muster. (Monday@Elbo Room with Shenendoah Davis.)

Finally, April also finds in its grace a rare Kevin Tihista appearance. Tihista was an integral part of local ’90s attraction Triplefastaction, and he spun off a solo project whose lush, hushed balladry evoked Elliott Smith and Pernice Brothers. His three studio albums for Parasol are still available and widely recommended. (Monday@Double Door with Goldenboy, Kerosene Stars, and Open Land.)

— Steve Forstneger

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