Aurora Nealand's theatrical art pop is a natural fit for The Music Box, which wraps up its spring season this weekend. 

aurora nealand photo
Aurora Nealand

Who: The Monocle Ensemble
What: Accordion-based art pop with dancers
When: Friday and Saturday, May 26-27, 7 p.m.
Where: The Music Box, 4559 N. Rampart St.
Why: Aurora Nealand has the kind of range and ambition that should be showcased on The Music Box's array of unusual instruments/installations/snowball stands. She has played traditional jazz, improvised music and twangy guitar rock—why not accordion-based art pop? On KindHumanKind, Nealand is The Monocle, playing all the instruments and singing all the parts as she sings songs for Life During Trumptime, even though the album was recorded last year. Anxiety rides shotgun in every song, and desperation is the houseguest that won’t go home. In that emotional space, Nealand tries to create moments of fragile beauty and tentative human contact from all the junk shop pieces of her record collection—art song accordion, girl group backing vocals, and Laurie Anderson’s low-tech tech for starters.

In Nealand’s entry video for NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest for The Monocle, she puts on a pair of glasses, she visually echoes Esperanza Spalding’s Emily’s D+Evolution, and like Spalding, Nealand’s broad musical knowledge leads her to make interesting artistic choices. At times, the songs feel almost overstuffed with ideas, but better too many than too few, particularly if she’s also going to have a modern dance troupe choreographed by Shannon Stewart literally giving the music legs. And more often than not, those ideas translate to things you’re glad you saw or heard. In the Tiny Desk Contest entry video, she makes reading the paper into a rhythmic bed—something I’ve never seen before, and something that will make her a natural for the possibilities offered by The Music Box.