Regular Impose readers by now are most familiar with the phenomenon that is Chicago’s Crown Larks that wield a sound that soars with the only the most regal of songbirds & art pop/art-school dropouts. With a catalog that consists of Blood Dancer & Catalytic Conversion; Chicago’s best-kept-open secret returns & rises yet again with Crown Larks’ world premiere presentation of their new album Population available May 5 from Already Dead Tapes / Satellite Records. A record of harmonic discord & artistic dissonance, Lorraine Bailey, Jack Bouboushian, Bill Miller & Matt Puhr unleash the a creative concoction that creates new academic music schools of sound in the name of catharsis.
Population offers up news of the world, as Crown Larks reclaim their scepters & tiaras in a reigning fury of intelligent arrangements that are heard occuring according to the feel of a type of happenstance that the group nurtures throughout. The opener “Howl” for instance is assembled out of a cacophony where CL’s allow their chords, keys & brass to fall where they may in a kind of well orchestrated conducting of controled, beautiful chaos. Like the wild siamese-twin-looking album cover courtesy of photographer Emily Esperanza, Crown Larks howl their way with a nu-jazz type of sensibility that caters to their own observations, visions & whims. This can be felt on the carnival of “Circus Luvv” that is experienced like a view into the anarchic ways of amor expressed between carnies in love with a romantic & detached sort of experimental acid fusion of elements that fire forth like phasers orignally cast onto an ancient dub plate (resurrected in only the way that Crown Larks seem to know how). Knee-jerk responses & reactionary expressions are entertained on the soul wrenching “React”, that rises & falls into a classic math-rock-esque groove that combines motorik rhythmic rolls of notes & beats that unbottles a wealth of expressions that words alone cannot express. Reprieve from the towering inferno is found on “TFZ Interlude” as Lorraine saves the rest of the band from the ensuing array of distorted aural destruction, leading the group to the ever-assuaging cool waters of “Lithops Life” that moves with the tranquil motions of a forest creek where meditative & enchanted ethereal textures takeover. A memorial & tribute to the legendary activist & revolutionary “Swoon (for Fred Hampton)” sends out a free-form & forelorn jazz number that seeks wisdom from the beyond the grave as a way to figure out what to do during the current crises in effect right now in Chicago. The extremities between destruction & chaos are entertained in a jazz-punk blitz of “Burn It Down” that surely some of the vintage masters of brass, rhythm & experimentation would look & listen with favor & head nods of approval. Perceptions of the natural/supernatural are heard on “Watchful, Spellbound” that features a duet between Lorraine & Jack that builds up toward titanic heights on “Goodbye” that continues to engage in the more sentimental side of Crown Larks as “Goodbye” offers up an adieu of earnest expression with woodwinds and Spacemen 3/Sonic Boom style fuzz guitar where it feels like the group could burst into something fantastically beautiful, brilliant & violent (but they don’t). The event closes with “Stranger (Unce Down to the New Store)” as that familiar turned up electricity is heard running rampant through all available XLR cables where chords stack up with a rush of momentum that stands as one of the powerful performances from the group. From here, it sounds as if Crown Larks can fly toward wherever they want to go. Dedicating this album to Adam Bonner, David Bowie & Tamir Rice; join us after the debut listen of Population for an exclusive roundtable interview with Crown Larks’ Jack, Lorraine, Matt & Bill.
First off, what’s the latest & greatest in Chicago right now?
Jack: TALsounds, ONO, Ben Lamar Gay’s Bottle Tree, other art and music, winter being over and everybody feeling better because the city’s fucked up otherwise.
Lorraine: Health&Beauty, ADT, Grün Wasser.
Matt: Wei Zhongle, Mykele Deville, Nude Model.
Local activism items & events worth noting?
Jack: Activists here are trying to start a Civilian Police Accountability Counsel. I like activism that’s also a lab for how things might work in a better world. Even if society overcomes this insane lust for military-style armed police and cameras on every block, and replaced them with some kind of mediators to help people work through disputes, who watches the watchers…so learning to do oversight of police, even if it’s undermined from the start, can help us figure out something better.
And Feminist Action Support Network’s still out there helping make the DIY scene more accountable to some of the values a lot of us spout but don’t hold to enough—no one does, no scene is inclusive enough. Some are better than others—Chicago, Atlanta, NYC, I think progress has been made. There’s a backlash—e.g. guys complaining about call out culture, stop rapin bro—which shows that.
Lorraine: Three of us live in Logan Square, where our city council person just attended a community dinner to talk about gentrification in the neighborhood…that cost $50 a plate. Somos Logan Square held a protest there, some of the few good chants you’ll ever hear, “50 bucks a plate, means my rent is late!” And those fights have to be local too.
How has your local environments & personal experiences contributed to the new Crown Larks album, Population?
Jack: Compared to our first record, Population‘s darker, both musically and lyrically, but also more ecstatic and explosive. More unsettling (“Watchful”) and manic (“React”) and silly (“Stranger”) and brutal (“Swoon”) and fun (“Circus Luvv”). I like Chicago as a home base because the beautiful and the ugly are here in spades. Too much good rap, theater, punk, graffiti, jazz, noise, activism for one city. Too much corruption, police brutality, malls, pollution, displacement too. It’s a good place to get to know how harsh modernity is, but also how much potential for random good shit it holds. It’s tragic, but it’s absurd too. You dissociate, you suddenly laugh to keep from crying—and how good is my life with the people and opportunities I’ve gotten, so who the fuck am I to really be a spokesman for that, but I learned it from people who started with less and have to face way more. So I want to write music that’s politically engaged without beating you over the head with it. Better to talk to people—maybe dose em?—than preach at the choir.
On a personal level, death is there—my brother died at the start of the Blood Dancer tour, and I’m afraid most of my best friends won’t see 35. But I’m interested in that idea that in such an ugly time the true protest is beauty. Sure I wanna explore how modernity’s destroying the world and fragmenting our psyches—or whatever, jeez!—but I don’t want to just make a soundtrack to my misery. I think that’s been the default for too many musicians—mostly white guys who know where their next meal is coming from—for too long. Raphael Saadiq’s been through more horrible shit than you can imagine but his music is consistently joyful, ecstatic, brings people together. Punk rock and noise show how the ugly and the aggressive can do that too too. If you tell me there’s something red in the next room, I can picture that, but beautiful is always undefined. It’s subjective but you experience it as communal and universal I think…so seeing Suicide or ONO scream madly over industrial beats is beautiful too. So the music tries to flow between ecstatic/joyful and dark/ugly/difficult…
From Catalytic Coversion, Blood Dancer to Population—how have Crown Larks expounded upon various algorithmic & alchemic approaches to musical conceptions?
Lorraine: Population is a lot more calculated, more rhythmically technical, more vocal-centric, but there’s still the sense of organic spontaneity and collaboration. Some songs, like “React” or “TFZ”, Jack or I wrote all the basic parts, but things always come to life in the basement and on stage. Touring and seeing what stuff we wanna keep because people dance and get happy and what stuff we wanna keep because people get freaked out and not happy is part of the uh…alchemy…
Jack: Still trying to find a way to keep it raw and visceral and basement-y but also experiment with structure and songwriting. Some of the material still grew out of improvisation and tried to maintain the feel, but it’s much more written. Just the other side of the balance maybe, and we’ll always keep exploring that interplay. That probably reflects broader things and politics—not seeing dissonance and harmony as opposites, not wanting to reduce everyone to a certain type, letting goals emerge instead of imposing them, leaving room for chaos.
Matt: We probably seem more improv because of the crowds and scenes we play. If it was a jam band crowd or a jazz crowd or something with more blatantly extended sections and randomness, we’d be the pop band. But at rock shows, if our songs stretch out a little bit, we seem loose and jammy.
Thoughts on populous & advance schools of jazz pop constructs that contributed to the creation of Population?
Jack: Population‘s more a post-punk, no-wave kind of record to my ear. A couple tracks have that old school Crown Larks krauty-freakout-with-horns vibe. Most of them get deeper into weird interlocking rhythms and vocals. But our approach is still inspired by the AACM-style free jazz notion of having free individual expression directed toward a common purpose. And jazz also shows how music can be politically engaged and emotionally resonant even if it’s not a straight-foward let me tell you about this thing kind of song. It’s flattering to be asked about it though, if there’s any way we can commune with the jazz tradition among the other things we’re doing more explicitly, that’s great.
Lorraine: Yeah, the jazz influence doesn’t show as much this time. But as for how the songs came together, the politics of how we create and how we wanna share, yeah. And of course sonically it’s still there too, just not so out front.
What have you all been listening to a lot of?
Bill: Yeezus, Portishead, Exploded View, Wei Zhongle, Nico, U.S. Maple, Elliott Smith, Stevie Wonder, Ying Yang Twins.
Lorraine: ANOHNI, Prince, Kate Bush.
Jack: Parlor Walls, Pharaoh Sanders, Burial, Joni Mitchell, Max Roach + Abbey Lincoln, Ready to Die.
Matt: J Dilla, Mad Lib, Ween.
Must read books we should know about?
Jack: Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red, Andrei Bely’s Petersburg, George Lewis’s A Power Stronger than Itself. Right now I’m digging Henry Miller’s Big Sur because he understands what a hero and also what a total asshole he is. Trying to figure that out.
Lorraine: Elena Ferrante, Thomas Piketty, lately.
Must see shows/cinema of interest?
Lorraine: Come to Chicago and see Stalker (Tarkovsky) in 4K restoration at the Music Box, one of Chicago’s best independent theaters, while we’re on tour, this’ll make you miss our Tucson show. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Paradjanov.
Matt: I always dig the 70mm festival at the Music Box. They have a really cool David Lynch retrospective coming up that’s going to have all his films, plus random bits of commercials and behind the scenes stuff to coincide with each film that was put together by my friend and Lynch buff Daniel Knox.
Bill: Everybody’s already seen Get Out right? Maybe The Witch since some of our new songs have conjured up similar imagery for some people.
Thoughts on the future? Summer plans?
Lorraine: Tour ends June 19, it’ll be good to just hang in Chicago, the energy’s always great here in summer.
Jack: #3’s starting to take shape. More dubbed out, more Lorraine singing, more drum machines, less sudden changes maybe?