On the scene this week: Who’s playing where

Rob Underwood shows us what Chicago bands are playing around town this week.

By Rob Underwood

Sons of the West (Garage rock/psychedelic blues)

Not since the Black Keys has there been a band so hell-bent on seizing the garage rock resurgence marked by the White Stripes and taking it to unique places. Comprised only of a standard guitar, drums, and bass, instrumental minimalism is a staple of Sons of the West. Yet all three members are consistent in trying to wring as much noise from their instruments as possible. When not pummeling their equipment—they mix a unique blend of narrative-style garage rock and early-’70s psychedelic tones—high-pitched and bubbly guitar licks punctuate a heavily distorted blues riff, while Doors-style keyboard organs help lift hammering drums out of sonic oblivion. Sons of the West have taken what is a difficult genre to make anew and placed what will hopefully prove to be an indelible stamp on it.

Watch them play on Sunday, November 7, along with Crash Hero and Twin Peaks at Beat Kitchen, 6 p.m., $10

Marnie Stern (Melodic noise/math rock)

Extremely technical finger-tapping matched with digitized and static-y blocks of noise are a staple of Marnie Stern, a Chicago native currently based in New York. All within her realm of possibility are combinations of Dale-esque surf riffs with reeling drum fills, a Van Halen solo paired with a growing wail of vocals, and even a noise rock cover of “Don’t Stop Believing.” Though idiosyncratic in their origins, these mixtures illustrate a totality which Stern always seems to exude. Her guitar work skillfully straddles the line between melody and noise when playing off the rest of the instruments, spiking substantial drum and bass fillers with pointed arpeggios, or in creating her own distorted hooks to fill in the cracks left behind amp static and sharp drum fills. For anyone still skeptical of more severe noise outfits, Stern is both an original study in genre crossover and undoubtedly the introduction one needs to see the more obvious merits of the genre.

See her play on Wednesday, November 10, along with Heavy Cream and Electric Hawk at the Empty Bottle, 9:30 p.m., $5-12

Owen (Pastoral/experimental acoustic)

Just one of the many side projects scene staple Mike Kinsella has helped sprinkle around Illinois, Owen stands apart in that it’s his only official solo endeavor. Sentimental tenderness is a hallmark Kinsella produces with his earnest (if not at times somewhat gag-inducing) lyrics and singing style. Generally beginning songs with sophisticated and calming acoustics, he slowly pairs his emotion with undeniably extraordinary instrumentation which any mainstream band would envy. Though his guitar serves as the binding agent throughout, Owen slowly arrays isolated “accidental” sounds of the guitar and amplifier equipment (squeaks from the strings, knocks on the body, feedback distortion) to match progressively more frenetic and complex melodies. A helpful analogue might be Nick Drake with a better studio. Owen never compromises the sentimentality his disposition yields, but the deep subtlety with which Drake imbued his seemingly commonplace melodies here gives way to ambitious and swelling orchestration. It is all the more impressive since it’s only one guy.

See him play on Thursday, November 11, along with Johnny Flynn at Mayne Stage, 8 p.m., $15

Gypsyblood (Alternative indie)

Indie rock’s recent turn from highly intimate tones and relatively uniform song structure to more ambitious orchestrations precipitated the unfortunate penchant for musicians to drown each other out in musical largesse. It’s not so much that anyone wants to steal the show (or any clichéd variant), but rather that some bands have taken on a grander sense of what their genre encompasses. Gypsyblood, for everything it takes from this “grandiose” sector of indie rock—repetitive and hammering drums, asymmetrical overlays of feedback and various distorted washes of noise, ominously intoned lyrics matched with choral chanting. But rarely do its songs sound cluttered or overbearing. Though some technical influences can be sensed relatively quickly (Arcade Fire most strongly, but also perhaps Interpol), the band streamlines these techniques by designating certain ones for various “sets” throughout the songs. Moving away from the common trope of slowly surging to the finale helps retain a sense of originality in using common techniques and will hopefully help Gypsyblood develop a truly original style.

See them open for Fang Blood on Friday, November 12, at Lincoln Hall, 7 p.m., $12