Living amongst the immense musical talent in a city like Chicago is eternally inspiring. But standing apart from the crowd can be a never-ending challenge. So Canasta came together in early 2002 when six friends joined forces and augmented the standard rock set-up with piano, violin, keyboard and trombone, in an effort to craft a more ambitious strain of majestic, ultra-melodic, orchestral pop. Canasta songs are nothing if not eclectic; youll hear everything from bouncy, horn-spiked ditties and sweeping, heart-breaking epics to moody, country-tinged narratives and rollicking, guitar-driven anthems. But whats constant is an emphasis on sophisticated songwriting, dramatic dynamics and meticulous orchestration that has won them comparisons to Arcade Fire, Belle & Sebastian, The Decemberists, The New Pornographers, Sufjan Stevens and Wilco.
Canasta has performed for sizeable audiences all over the country, including stops at the SXSW Festival (Austin), CMJ Music Marathon (NYC) and CMJ Rock Hall Fest (Cleveland). In their hometown, they have headlined the legendary Metro, held the esteemed Practice Space residency at Schubas and played sold-out gigs at Double Door, Subterranean and Schubas. Theyve shared stages with artists such as Wilco, Grizzly Bear, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Macy Gray, Kaiser Chiefs, Devotchka, Menomena, White Rabbits, Sloan, Lucero, The Lemonheads, Voxtrot, The Delgados, The Dears, The Posies, Jeremy Enigk, The Clientele, The New Amsterdams, Crooked Fingers, American Music Club, Longwave, Earlimart, Nebula, Imperial Teen, Califone, Annuals, The Cool Kids, Adam Green, Elf Power, Jill Sobule, Starlight Mints, Aqueduct, Nicolai Dunger, The Rosebuds, The Ladybug Transistor, Eleventh Dream Day, The Week That Was, The Earlies, Page France, The Autumn Defense and The Kingsbury Manx, among others. Theyve also done a number of charity performances to benefit domestic-abuse, rape advocacy, urban education, sustainable architecture, independent radio, AIDS and arts organizations.
Canastas recording career began in late 2003, with the release of their debut EP, Find the Time, which was mastered by Keith Cleversley (The Flaming Lips). It brought the band to the attention of the critics, who called the record splendid (Chicago Sun-Times), boundary-pushing (Chicago Tribune), lovely (Chicago FreePress), delightful (Madisons Coreweekly), unpredictable (Madisons Badger Herald) and pure chamber pop bliss (Splendid). Meanwhile, the albums success led Illinois Entertainer to name them one of Chicagos Best Unsigned Artists and earned them airplay on major radio stations WXRT, WKQX (Q101) and WBEZ (Public Radio), plus countless college frequencies and webcasts nationwide.
Fast forward to 2005, when Canasta released its first full-length album, We Were Set Up. The records thirteen tracks were recorded with Ted Cho (Poi Dog Pondering) at North Branch Studio, home to Smog and Jeff Tweedy, and mastered by Mike Hagler (The New Pornographers). The album featured guest appearances from vocalist Edith Frost, upright bassist Barry Phipps (The Coctails), trumpeter Max Crawford (Archer Prewitt), pedal-steel guitarist Steve Dorocke (Freakwater) and cellist Alison Chesley (ex-Verbow).
The record moved UR Magazine to label Canasta one of the most vibrant pop sounds to emerge from Chicago in years and Chicago Readers Monica Kendrick to call them one of Chicagos best pop bands. Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim Derogatis described their music as effortless, effervescent pop that doesnt call undue attention to its carefully constructed layers of intertwining melodies, while The Onion wrote that it brims with bright, lush melodies, a suitably askew mix of instruments and smartly constructed songs that balance traditional pop and indie-minded subversiveness. Touring brought terrific national press as well: PopMatters exclaimed that each song is a barrage of hooks and nuanced performances and All Music called the album subtle mesmerizing stunning. A bright future was predicted too, as NPRs World Caf said the band looks primed for a considerable breakthrough, and New City claimed that their impressive orchestral pop really could catch on at any moment in a big, big way. Some of Canastas biggest exposure would soon follow, as songs began landing in TV and radio ads, along with the trailer for the Matthew Broderick / Alan Alda film Diminished Capacity.
Once We Were Set Up had sold out its first pressing, anticipation was high for something more. So while preparing demos for their sophomore follow-up, Canasta invited talented friends to remix that records songs, resulting in We Were Mixed Up. All in all, its nearly 100 minutes of music, re-imagined by some of Chicago's best and brightest, including members of Office, The Hood Internet, Brighton MA, All, Roommate and others. As a thank you to their fans, this digital-only release can be downloaded for free on the audio page of this site!
But Canastas proudest moment arrived when the band was invited to join Barack Obama at Chicagos gorgeous Riviera Theatre (capacity: 2500), as part of a fundraiser for his Democratic Primary bid. More recently, as Obama turned his attentions towards the presidency, Canasta was asked to supply music for a number of videos in his online campaign. Though incredibly honored to participate, the band was certainly surprised to find its unassuming brand of indie pop chosen to represent such an important figure. But then again, perhaps his campaign organizers simply recognized that much like the candidate himself, Canastas music captures something reflective, hopeful and uniquely Chicagoan.