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Local Springtime Listening: Tensei and Sonoi

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 13, 2012 7:00PM

2011_11_3_PTI.jpg Today we recommend two albums—one released a month ago, and one that comes out today—as two prime examples of Springtime listening. Behold, new efforts from instrumental electronic hip-hop duo Tensei, and experimental pop act Sonoi.

First, let's start with the new. Sonoi, a Chicago trio featuring former members of Manishevitz, will release its second proper album, Tropics of Holland, today, Tuesday, March 13. The band will celebrate the release of Holland with a show at the Hideout on Thursday, March 15.

As one might surmise from the title, Holland is a breezy affair, an airy and companionable mood-piece perfect for background springtime listening. Comprised of 13 songs, four of which are instrumental ambient "etudes" which act as segues between different sections of Tropics of Holland, Sonoi find themselves further refining the sound of their previous album, 2010's self-titled effort.

The best part of Holland is that it's the sound of Chicago's past and present effortlessly intertwining, with the essential blues shuffles of the city's past co-mingling with the city's present as a churner of exceptional experimental talent. (The swing and detours of first single "Cotton" are a good example of this dynamic, while "Micro Coliseum" more explicitly nods to the Motorik revival currently inspiring the city's underground).

The worst part of Holland is that, as is a risk inherent in crafting a mood-piece, no one single track or part stands out. It all blends together, for better or worse, and once you start paying closer attention, the band's tendencies toward doofy 70s singer-songwriter-ness ("Canteen") on later tracks become clear. The folk songs also start fading into the ether. Still, pop Holland in, and start reading a great book, and you'll be in springtime heaven. Guaranteed.

Watch Sonoi on WBEZ's "848":

Sonoi open for Chandeliers on Thursday, March 15 at The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave. Show is 21+. 9 p.m., $8.

Sonoi performs 'Cotton' on Eight Forty-Eight from WBEZ on Vimeo.


But suppose you're a more active spring participant, and want to take your boots walkin'. (Because, after all, that's what they'll do). Download the month-old EP by Chicago electronic instrumental hip-hop duo Tensei, and you'll have a fantastic fusion of electronic, jazz and g-funk, comparable in parts to artists like Flying Lotus and Erykah Badu.

First track "Acid Reign" kicks the EP off right, with a freewheeling, jazz-influenced breakdown that coalesces into a sensual, modern neo-soul groove. Those who want something a little harder-hitting (but not too hard-hitting) can just wait a track for "For The Love," which is a mid-tempo g-funk hopstepper. More electronic experiments like "The Minotaur" and "Three's" display a more dexterous touch, with the latter track being highly reminiscent of Minneapolis soundsmith and Andrew Bird drummer Dosh.

Not everything is perfect. Douche-reggae track "Smash Mouth" should have been banished to the Entourage episode from whence it came. But that is one misstep in an otherwise stellar and compact EP. The duo gave One away for free, and I haven't stopped listening to it since. Below are some samples:

Summertime may be when the living's easy, but these two efforts prove Spring is no slouch either.