Chandeliers @ Subterranean, Chicago 1.31.08

When I spoke with Dianogah a couple of weeks ago, they mentioned they had little to do with the Chicago music scene. Although they recorded in Chicago, it was more of a necessity due to where they lay their hats. Despite my complete devotion to Dianogah as a band, this brought me down a bit, so I decided to find a band that is fully immersed in some relevant community. Some intangible collective that is doing its part to actively be involved in an organic gathering of souls dedicated to music and art. Ahhh, Chandeliers, a refreshing drink.

The Thrush, the new album due out in Europe on Pickled Egg in March and stateside courtesy of Obey Your Brain on June 15th, is a recording of Chandeliers’ intuitive approach to creating songs. Bassist and keyboard player Chris Kalis describes it as “very spontaneous and based on improvisations that the band randomly does,” which is evident in both the live show and, surprisingly, the record as well. I was not expecting the record, which consists of nine songs all less than four minutes save for the closer, to be such an accurate sonic representation.

Given that the energy and sheer loudness are difficult to produce on tape, the album, mixed by Blue Hawaii, is not a bad calling card for an indescribable sound that even the band members decline to attempt: “We’ve always had a hard time describing our sound and not in a pretentious way, but just, like, it’s not contrived. We all didn’t hear a band and then try to do that. We all have different tastes. Some of us are more electronically inclined, some of us more into eastern music and, obviously, 70’s Kraut Rock. German and Italian electronic music is pretty much right up our alley. When I pressed them to do my job for me, Kalis replied, “Live-played electronic music.” To which fellow keyboardist Dan Jugle laughed and said, “That doesn’t really help.” Whether or not Chandeliers can actually aide journalists doesn’t really matter because, as Kalis declares, “We’re doing our thing and it’s exciting because it’s different to us.”

While Chandeliers offered up great sounds, they also brought in a video display that the band describes as an attempt at creating “ synesthetics,” something that filmmaker and friend TJ Hellmuth developed for three songs on the new record. “We’re very interested in the idea of what you hear representing what you see.” Fresh off a tour with percussionist Harry Brenner’s favorite live act, Video Hippos, maybe something rubbed off on them. But it seemed out of place in a Chicago bar scene that consists of more hands in pockets than feet moving. I asked the band what their crowds have been like given the propensity for experimental music to be cautiously received in our fair city. “If the crowd is into it, it makes us play more songs. We try to stay aware of the crowd. For music that merits dancing, there is a lack of it. A lot of chin-scratchers. When we play outside of a venue, more of a gallery setting, there’s more dancing. We used to play more loft parties and we’ll try and get back into that. We’re going to get away from places like the Bottle and the bar scene.”

But, back to my original intention: the community. Is there one? “I think we’re part of an important community, but I don’t think a lot of people know about it,” Kalis says in a hoping, optimistic tone. “If we could play shows like this, where we know enough people will come out to see all the bands playing, we know that it will bring out some good people that are interested in seeing all the bands play and not just leave after one band.” This explains many of the collaborations on The Thrush. Members from Bablicon, Icy Demons, Mahjongg, Michael Columbia, and Mucca Pazza all contribute to the record, echoing the band’s self-described fluidity. “We’ve always been a band that’s been about sort of functioning as a unit or unified whole. There’s no front man; it’s just always been open to collaboration, and we’ve shared a lot, and the lineups have changed a lot in the past few years, and we have a lot of talented friends that we’re always open to playing with.”

Included in that lot of talented friends is Griffin Rodriguez, member of Bablicon and better known as Blue Hawaii. The man behind the mixing of The Thrush was the lone element that never changed throughout the mixing process. While the band recorded the album in pieces, some of it with Dave Mc Donnell (Bablicon, Michael Columbia), some of it with Mahjongg’s engineer, and a lot of it on their own, Rodriguez mixed the entire album. “For us it’s always been easy to work with Griffin because he’s been our friend for a while. We definitely seem to have similar sonic intentions in terms of mixing. He was with us mix-wise the whole way through. He’s kind of like the invisible sonic mastermind of Chandeliers.”

Mitchell Bandur