Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Who’s next

| June 19, 2012

A highly condensed South By Southwest was supposed to land on Chicago this week, as an accredited roster of on-the-verge artists busk for your pleasure: Gotye-siren Kimbra, Future, Japandroids, Cadence Weapon, and Death Grips. Unfortunately, two have canceled, but we’ll just pretend.

The decision to give Vows the click-clacking percussion that identifies it with Gotye‘s “Somebody I Used To Know” may have been on purpose, and it detracts from Kimbra‘s wishes to debut as an individual. Otherwise, the decision to issue Vows while Gotye’s hit reaches its saturation point is completely redeemed. While nimble enough to exist on the more bankable side of Lily Allen, Kimbra mostly bares her blue-eyed soul in so much as one can hear a link between Daryl Hall and Duffy. The sultry R&B side of “Old Flame” doesn’t clash with the Tin Pan Alley jump of “Cameo Lover,” while “Something In The Way You Are” draws cues from Bjork’s vocal experiment Medulla, while “Posse” rolls up on New Jack Swing with a speaker-busting distortion. She’s more than ready to introduce more outright hip-hop, which is mysteriously absent. (Wednesday&Thursday@Congress with Foster The People and Tokyo Police Club.)

Cameos by R. Kelly and Drake suggest that people of means see something in Future, even if he doesn’t yet. Pluto (Epic) attempts to capitalize on some hot tracks the Atlantan released in the past year, including a starring role on Young Chris‘ “Racks.” Pluto has the potential for transformative party hip-hop like Kid Cudi and Frank Ocean have managed, but he blows a few chances. Isolated behind his signature vocal effects, he spends most of the album building a consistent portrait of distance, and even when in love on “Neva End,” pleads, “Let’s put the past behind us/And go far away where nobody can find us”; even his ode to fellatio, “Parachute,” invokes the strange metaphor of skydiving. On “I’m Trippin,” he invokes Ocean’s numbness (“I can’t feel my face”), but then he and guest Juicy J make a hash of it by resorting to gangsta claptrap. His reprise of earlier single “Tony Montana” — only the 9 billionth hip-hop tribute to Scarface — completes the backhalf’s slide into fluff, betraying Future’s alleged readiness for the spotlight. (This show has been canceled.)

Drake may have Canadian hip-hop on the map (for good or bad), and Snow may have set it on its dangerous path, but in the interim Cadence Weapon provided some stability and respectability. The sometime-Pitchfork scribe has vied for top-indie-album prizes up north, and comes back with the long-awaited, and highly varied Hope In Dirt City. Far from stiff-backed piledrivers like the old “Oliver Square,” he brandishes a growling singing voice that doesn’t remotely resemble Drake’s pensive cooing, and does reggae (“Small Death”) and ’80s dance rock (the title track) with equal confidence and clarity. (Thursday@Lincoln Hall with Japandroids.)

Japandroids landed on enough Top 10s in 2009, but never would they have been considered “Band most likely to take three years to make another album.” Perhaps most of that time was spent wondering if whitewashed garage punk indeed had a future. Conceding that their original sound was very limited, Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl) does a Hüsker Dü-worthy pirouette into more considered, but still frenzied modern rock. “Fire’s Highway” takes great care to make its chords jangle while “whoa-ohs” build from the back. Somewhere between countrymen Constantines and Bruce Springsteen, “The House That Heaven Built” exults, while “The Nights Of Wine And Roses” comes almost straight from the Paul Westerberg playbook. It’s still not clear why these songs frequently stray two minutes past their more logical lengths — as with their touring, Japandroids need to learn how to stop themselves. (Thursday@Lincoln Hall with Cadence Weapon.)

Despite its chaos, the most inscrutable thing about Death Grips‘ label debut, The Money Store, is that Sony subsidiary Epic Records chose to release it. The faint of heart will usher it into the corner with Odd Future and MF Doom, but its underlying pop structures actually make it more accessible than the fringe ends of experimental hip-hop. The challenge is to battle through the thicket of whirring effects and colliding rhythms, parts of which recalls late-’90s Tricky or the savage drum and bass Goldie produced when on his game. “Double Helix” reverts to a chorus more directly than openers “Get Got” and “The Fever,” but the foundation is laid by those two. We’re led to believe that there’s something to be angry about, but the listener’s struggle derives from Stefan Burnett’s polarizing delivery, which vaguely points to a slightly drunk Hugo The Abominable Snowman. (This show has been canceled.)

— Steve Forstneger

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Category: Stage Buzz, Weekly

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