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Nagant: The Best Chamber-Folk You’ve Never Heard Of

Catch a night of Chicago’s darkest folk artist tonight at the Chopin Theatre

PHOTO: COURTESY OF NAGANT 

Don’t expect a chorus of mandolins and a stage littered with sundresses tonight at the Chopin Theatre: this chamber folk-night features the genre’s heavy and dark sides. The doom-flavored group Nagant headlines, playing songs from its recent album The Writer Sits. This duo lives and works in Chicago, and they’ve been slowly rising to the surface of the local folk radar despite being a relatively new project. Their first release, The Sparrow and the Wolf, raised curiosity—primarily in circles of chamber music enthusiasts—but this newest release is bound to expand their listenership well beyond the classical realm.

Unlike popular indie groups such as Beirut or Devotchka, Nagant’s music isn’t centered around vocals. Instead, the group’s sound is built on supporting layers of piano and strings. Lead singer Noah Harris’s soothing mid-low vocals hover above the instrumental lines, his emotionally heavy tone landing the group somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Rufus Wainwright. Harris, a songwriter from Champaign, has been building solo material for years with piano and acoustic guitar. (In addition to Nagant, Harris has collaborated with his wife on Chicago chamber-epop project Elanors.)

The other half of Nagant is Nathan Swanson, the duo’s string guru, who writes and records with violins, viola, and cello. His furious bow work in the opening of ‘Cannon Report’ is at first startling, then entrancing. His dramatic movements sound baroque at times, and gypsy-inspired at others.

It makes sense that Nagant chose the amazingly furnished 1918 Chopin Theatre to perform in—the slightly eerie venue will pair nicely with its tormented sound. For this particular show, Nagant will be accompanied by three members of Chicago’s New Millennium Orchestra, including executive director and principal violist Dominic Johnson.

Ellis Swan, the internet-famous folk-noir musician, kicks off the night with an air of mystery in a rare live appearance.

May 8 at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division, chopintheatre.com; $10

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