Aaron Landgraf previously recorded under the name Ambassador Engine, and hasn’t released music in over three years. Reborn as Gawain, Aaron just released his latest effort Loyal on the amazing Patient Sounds imprint late last month. The album is a bedroom-produced narrative, each track telling more of the story, through both the music and Aaron’s soft and disarming vocals. You’ll see why he calls Gawain a “music and literary” project.
Earlier yesterday morning, New York via Chicago producer Mister Lies unexpectedly unveiled two new standalone songs. It might not seem like a long time, but it’s been a over a year since Nick Zanca has released any new music, and that’s a lot longer when you consider the scope of music releases that accrue over a full year.
The new songs definitely fall in line with everything Zanca has released up to this point, but the singles are both enveloped under an entirely new vision. “Flood You” captures the producer’s growth since his last release as the track cycles through acoustic riff arrangements over obverse vocal samples and leads into the sullenly Thom Yorke-reminiscent “Medusa,” which uniquely features original vocals from Zanca himself.
Stream both tracks via Zanca’s Bandcamp.
After the release of her impressive mixtape Winter’s Diary 2 earlier this year, R&B singer and rapper Tink is receiving attention that is both expected and deserved. As a result, we now get to hear her share a track with fellow Chicagoan Jeremih. “Don’t Tell Nobody” is a perversely jubilant jaunt through the perks and pitfalls of infidelity. Or, if you need a more concise hook to pique your interest, you can direct yourself to the tagline at the bottom of the song’s SoundCloud description: “Two words; summer smash.”
This weekend we received the heartbreaking news that footwork pioneer and all-around revolutionary musician DJ Rashad had passed away. In an act of tribute, Parisian producer Moresounds has re-shared an old Teklife-inspired track on his SoundCloud. This homage does a perfect job of expressing the magical and infectious rhythms that Rashad’s work could bring to any style of music. Tracks such as these are proof that Rashad’s legacy will continue to impact the world of music for a long time—and for that, at least, we can be grateful.
I must admit that when I set out to review this compilation, I had my doubts. Not about its quality, of course—the music constantly churning out of the third largest city in America is always worth paying attention to, if not through a strictly formal or technical lens, then at least a cultural one. New York and Los Angeles, although perhaps more diverse in bands and styles, truly do not hold a candle to the solidarity and enthusiasm of Chicago’s musical identity. And perhaps this is exactly the reason why I had doubts—doubts about my ability to successfully capture in writing the zeitgeist of Bop, to articulate a new genre’s features and characteristics. I listen to many different types of music with a deliberate intent to learn about them, I know some things about drill and even more things about footwork, but I am no scholar of musical subcultures.
But the lovely thing about this mix is how it is a curation in the most effective sense—it truly edifies, bestows knowledge in a way that is both accessible and formative. Chicago’s premier radio personality and discoverer of talent, DJ Moondawg, begins the mix with a reassuring and orienting introduction, and then begins the slew of tunes, one after another, flowing with a uniformity and consistency of vibe that any other artistic movement should envy. As I listened to the mix, the anxieties about my own ignorance melted away, and the review began formulating in my head. This is always a lovely feeling, the realization that in that void above your eyes, your writing has begun to exist—yes, it is chimerical, prone to unexpected changes or even complete transformation, but it is there.
Right before I began my writing, I made sure I had not come to any egregiously incorrect conclusions by reading Meaghan Garvey’s favorable assessment on Pitchfork, the one other review of the mixtape I could find, besides the one that was beginning to wiggle its fingers and toes in my own brain. And then came a shocking moment of both affirmation and dismay—everything I was planning on saying was right there, already put down on (figurative) paper. “An active defiance of perpetuated violence” manifested through “aggressive positivity”—this was my thesis, the exact idea that I had been checking this review to make sure was not a symptom of my foolhardy college student naivete. So, my opinions were confirmed valid. But this could no longer be my review.
Instead, this review is about a musical genre that, in the very beginning of its formation, is already putting forth material so stable and self-knowing in its conveyance, that two people who have never talked to each other have come to the same conclusion about it. This review is about a city that for years now has been archiving its psyche, translating it into a language that anyone can understand. This review is about writing down sound, about the intersection between the body and the mind, and how it is sometimes the most visceral music, that which is most grounded in pure feeling, that can be most easily and substantially intellectualized.
We Invented the Bop is out now—click here to download.
I keep a diary regularly. Sometimes I’m embarrassed by this habit, sometimes secretly proud. “The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one,” Joan Didion writes in her essay On Keeping a Notebook, “inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.” The ideal image of diary-writing is the one depicted on the cover of Tink’s new mixtape Winter’s Diary 2: curled up by a window in placid solitude, enjoying a sort of introspective spa retreat. In reality it is a much more furtive, ugly activity. When I write, I am more often curled up in a tight ball than peacefully reclining, as if engaging in an addiction that many others share, but few talk about.
And then there is the problem of what goes in a diary—that is, both the best and worst parts of you, depending on the day. Almost everyone who keeps a diary knows the wriggling embarrassment of looking at an old entry written in a fit of expired passion. The lesson that a diary teaches you is that there are many, many parts of the one person you assumed you were, and you can really only recognize those parts when looking back at them.
Tink seems to know this very well about herself—on Winter’s Diary 2, she shares fifteen songs and fifteen personalities. Some of them are rational and reasonable, others overrun with lust, others are imbued with love and compassion—and one, on the eerie closing track “Confession,” is driven by rage to a brief and abrupt fantasy of violence. With “Money Ova Everything,” the singer encourages with a literal working relationship with her lover behind the beat’s gentle shuffle: “let’s get money, babe,” she moans with monetary desire. Fast forward six tracks and it seems she’s outgrown the partnership, as she spits with venom the fact of her financial autonomy: “You think that designer make up for this shit? / I buy my own Prada man, that’s not the problem / The problem is you too caught up with that bitch.” It would be easy to believe that these two songs were made by two entirely different people (I mention this not only because it supports my little theme here, but also because it speaks to Tink’s diversity and range as a performer; her craft as a singer is effective in the same way that the craft of acting is).
“Who was I back then?” Track 13 Tink might ask of Track 7 Tink, Just as I have said when I picked up a journal from my middle school years and saw an all-caps rant about the fact that I was being given fish for dinner that night—now I crave tilapia regularly. Those moments of extreme self-consciousness directed to a self I feel barely related to sometimes makes me wonder if it’s even worth picking up the pen in the first place. Is there a correct way to write a diary?
Perhaps the key is pure, unabashed gusto—that seems to be the way that Tink does it, and even in moments when she is exploring her greatest weaknesses, it sounds beautiful. Her beats are bursting with honest expression, each one overflows with commitment to the story being told. On the standout track, “When it Rains,” the bassline descends with cathartic booms as sounds of thunder accompany Tink’s fevered submission to the desires that, as the weather changes, begin to swell within her and catalyze questionable decisions. That is the catch with diary writing, or perhaps, any form of expression: if you are going to be revealing yourself, you’d better do it confidently, or else not do it at all. Sure, you may cringe in half-recognition at some stale version of yourself, but what are the alternatives? Not create anything at all? When it comes to a talent like Tink, I can only hope she chooses to stay vulnerable.
Winter’s Diary 2 is available for download now via Dat Piff.
When I think about homes I’ve had, the one that keeps coming to mind is a third story walkup in the Lower Allston neighborhood of Boston, where I lived for a year after graduation. I shared a room with a friend, beholden only to a month-to-month commitment. She attended grad school during the day, while I stayed home and read my way through her library. At least initially, everyone in the house was dead broke. We lived off of bread, Earth Balance, and produce from the day-old shelf at the Star Market. I learned to make cowboy coffee by boiling the grounds and straining them out through a paper towel. The house itself was very “old New England”—comfortable but crumbling. We had too much time and not enough money, so domestic tasks which would normally have been automated became the focal points of our days. Time was marked by drinking tea, feeding the finches, fixing the plumbing, working on our bikes, cutting each other’s hair, always reading, always discussing, always learning to speak honestly.
Most people who filtered through that house existed in non-normative bodies and were recovering from years of being pathologized. We had lived most of our lives under the tyranny of productivity and the fear of “wasted time,” and most of us had never learned how to take care of each other or ourselves. We had many patron saints we looked to for guidance, with Audre Lorde ranking especially high up on that list. Someone could often be heard quoting her famous words on self-care: “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Up until then, most places I had lived in were sites of self-negation. Roommates spent their home lives getting high and watching television. I began to equate domestic life with dull complacency, and privilege going out as the only way to actively live life. For all of its faults, the Lower Allston house was one of the warmest homes I’ve had, particularly because it reclaimed “home” as something to actively engage with.
I am currently living in an art space where the domestic sphere is actively related to as a site of creation. The space exists to blur the lines between home, art, and work. It is here that I first heard Julie Byrne play and here that I holed up for the duration of the polar vortex, listening to Rooms With Walls and Windows on a near-daily basis.
Rooms With Walls and Windows is made up of material from two pre-existing tapes. Side one is drawn from You Would Love It Here, (Solid Melts, 2012), informed by the presence and dissolution of a relationship, written and recorded while living in a DIY space in Chicago (largely sans walls, and other trappings of privacy usually equated with home life). These songs, shaped only by vocals and finger-picked guitar, are story songs—driven by a meandering, organic momentum and conversational, insightful lyrics.
“Attached to Us Like Butcher Wrap,” one of the most striking songs on the record, pauses on the refrain “black coffee / brown sugar / and cream,” followed by Julie singing “I want to tell you stories / but sleep, I will be there when you wake / and we’ll have toast and one fried egg / and the bad feelings will have all gone away.” It’s a familial sentiment—simultaneously romantic and maternal, but it’s also a sentiment prefaced by the question, “How long can my body be loyal?” Processed together, the two thoughts speak to the continual nature of bodies, conflating caring for another with caring for oneself.
For all the recent albums tagged as “bedroom,” most are bedroom only in recording technique or in introspection. Rooms With Walls and Windows is the rare album that calls attention to material interiority—tactile realities, the textures of things.
“Holiday” is another deftly written song, telling the story of lovers meeting and leaving in clear lines like “we could have lived together and given up on dreams of wandering.”
Side one closes on “Butter Lamb,” which contains the line that, to me, feels like a thesis for the album—“still people need small things—the feeling of water, of labor, and of sleep, and the freedom to leave.”
For the vinyl, Owen Ashworth (Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Advance Base, Orindal) has lovingly remastered songs which were already warm in form and content to give them fullness and weight, enabling them to fill a room the way it feels they are meant to. The songs on the second side, pulled from the 2012 self-titled Teen River tape, written in a more stable living environment, are especially illustrative of this. Songs are built around stable melodies and words are buried deeper in the mix, making it easy for the songs to wash over you so fully and naturally that you could even forget that you are listening to something. (Though, upon closer inspection, the side is carefully structured—“Prism Song,” “Marmalade,” and “Vertical Rays” form this side’s core, and the “Piano Music” tracks bracket it on each side.)
Julie’s powerful voice and traditional folk instrumentation will inevitably get her comparisons to Angel Olsen and Chan Marshall, and those comparisons are well-earned. But as an album, Rooms With Walls And Windows feels closest to Bjork‘s Vespertine—a sanctuary in winter, self-described by Bjork as an album for making sandwiches to. In an earlier interview, we spoke at length about living in show spaces, living in different types of cities, living on tour, living alone. By crafting an album informed by multiple ideas of home, Julie’s music subtly recenters domesticity from a site of complacency to a site for art-making and a source of power.
Rooms With Walls and Windows is out now via Orindal.
Conversations is an interview series in which we discuss a specific component of an artist’s work.
In this edition, Nina Mashurova catches up with Julie Byrne before the release of her new album Rooms With Walls and Windows to talk about the new album, living in different cities and spaces, winter, and ideas of home.
You’re out in Seattle now right?
Yea, I’ve been living in Seattle since August. Seattle’s really beautiful and the landscape is really lush in comparison to Chicago, where I lived before.
There are a lot more trees.
You have the ocean, and all these beautiful islands you can get to really easily.
It’s one of the most beautiful places. I really want to live in the Pacific Northwest at some point.
A reason why you should move to the Pacific Northwest is because there are bioluminescent algae and plankton that wash up on the shores and live in the water. I always thought it was a real drag that there were no fireflies – I grew up in the Northeast, where summertime is lush with fireflies, but there aren’t any fireflies in the Pacific Northwest. But when I moved here, I went to this cabin in Forks, Washington with my friend, and we were sitting on the beach, and whenever you would walk on the sand or brush your hand, the movement would stimulate all these plankton and their bodies would illuminate and it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.
I’ve never seen that, I want to see that. I think that does make up for fireflies.
It’s a fair exchange.
As long as something is glowing.
You said you moved out there from Chicago, but you’re from the Northeast?
I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York, and I lived in Chicago for a couple of years, and then this past summer, I went on a few tours and in-between them I was living in Lawrence, Kansas with my friend Chris [Luxem] (C.S. Luxem / Whatever Forever Tapes)—we were doing a work/trade for this really small house that had a huge garden in the back—and then we went on this five week tour and it ended in Seattle and I stayed there.
I really want to go to Lawrence, Kansas. So many great people are from there.
It was life-changing. I think partially, it was so great because of my friendship with Chris, but also the pace is so slow and I felt so revitalized after my time there.
Yea totally, that’s how I met Drew. I moved into a space called Ball Hall, which was really long-running. It’s defunct now but it had been running for like five years. Drew moved there like two weeks before I did. It was really cool, it was this four story brick building in Humboldt Park and it was one of the tallest buildings on the block. We lived on the third floor of what used to be a dance hall, it was this a huge open space that people built weird rooms in out of salvaged material. It was wild, we were really active, it would get pretty crazy.
It was a really interesting part of my life.
Was that your first time living in a show house?
No. but that was the first time that I ever lived in a space like that, where that’s the reason why people were living there, where the common thread was that we were all really interested in supporting that. It was also the first time I ever lived in a space where it was so cheap to be there, but it you had no privacy, you could hear every breath, everything.
When I first moved in there, I was living in one of the lofted rooms – actually Drew and I were living in a lofted space, and there was a partition between our rooms, but our walls were just curtains. It’s kind of a really surreal way to get to know all of the people around you, especially when you’re moving from a different city entirely.
Before that, I lived in a different house in Buffalo, and we would have shows there. It’s something that I was always driven to facilitate, no matter where I’ve been living.
Yea, I’m living in a partitioned loft in a show space now, so I totally understand that. It’s really fun but it’s a lot. You just…get to know people really well..
It was a lot. It was really challenging and crazy in a lot of ways, but now I sort of look at it as a really beautiful part of my life, and it might be because it was so uncomfortable at times. It’s really interesting.
You really really appreciate quiet and privacy and being able to maintain your internal world after living in something like that.
Was that how you started releasing work on Solid Melts and Teen River?
Yea. I was going to school in Chicago and I had dropped out and I was working part time at a grocery store, which was enough to live off of, but not enough to really occupy my time. I was really really broke for those months until I was able to find a second job. In the meantime, that’s how [I started recording with] my friend Jake Acosta (Famous Laughs / Solid Melts / Lake Paradise) who recorded the tapes, the Solid Melts tape and the Teen River tape, it was just kind of a way to fill space. We started recording and he was living in Ball Hall at the time, so it was really fun. We would go to this warehouse that he rented with a couple of other projects, and then we would go to this 24 hour diner called the Golden Nugget, and it became a pretty fun tradition.
My friend Owen [Ashworth] (Advance Base / Casiotone for the Painfully Alone / Orindal Records) is putting out the record. He just asked me if I would be interested in doing a reissue of the two cassettes on vinyl, and it was just an opportunity that I wasn’t afforded before. Owen has been really supportive of me and I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that he wanted to invest time and energy into it. There’s been enough time that it feels completely separate. on this. It means a lot that it’s happening.
Did you re-record or remaster the songs?
Jake had recorded the original versions of the songs straight to tape, and then for the vinyl, Owen remastered them.
It’s a really great winter record. It’s so warm and homey, and there are a lot of references to food and rooms and all these private domestic home things that you really start to appreciate when it’s really cold and you don’t want to go outside.
I think about that sometimes now that I’m living on the West Coast. I mean, Seattle definitely has its own atmosphere, it isn’t entirely pleasant all the time since it’ll just rain for seven days straight and it’ll just be so consuming. But, I feel like I really identify with having grown up in Buffalo, experiencing seasons, and experiencing such a brutal, confining winter. I feel like that’s a really big part of me – that space in me is where things are still made from, and it’s weird living in a part of the country that doesn’t experience seasons like that.
Yea, sometimes I think I want to live in the Bay Area where it’s beautiful all the time, but winter is actually really good for getting a lot of work done. And for drinking a lot of tea.
Were the home themes on the record inspired by either living in a place that is so public or, the opposite, living in a place that is your own?
I think it’s both—the first cassette was all written while I was living in Ball Hall, and it was such a strange distraction for me because I was going through a lot of really transitional things, it felt like I was really changing the trajectory of my life. I had moved to Chicago for someone I had really loved and we ended up splitting up, and I also dropped out of school. But the thing about living in a space like that, you’re never really alone, you can always find people just living their lives or doing their work or washing dishes or playing music.
I think the first cassette was probably written from a place of really intense longing for a different vision that I had of my life, but it also evolved into me realizing the strange role this atmosphere was playing and what I was becoming. It became this really mystical distraction that I invited so much into my life in a period where there was this vast space in me.
And then the second tape was written after everyone had gotten evicted from Ball Hall. I was living in a two bedroom apartment at that point and a lot of it was written right near the summer. I spent a lot of the time at home listening to the radio – going to work, coming home, listening to the radio. I had no phone for a couple of months around that time, so it was just a lot of space to process.
That’s a pretty drastic change. Probably a really necessary one.
I’ve recently been thinking about how in life I’ve never really been a domestic person, I used to just go out all the time, and the first time I started to really appreciate the feeling of having a home was when I was living in a show space. There’s all this energy and all these people, and then quiet moments like buying groceries and washing dishes start to become really romantic.
Oh I totally agree, yea, it’s a totally different practice. It’s like, you have a kitchen, but when you live in a show space, a kitchen means something entirely different from when you live alone or with one other person. It’s great, I love it, I don’t think I’m ready not to have it, I think I’d miss it terribly.
You had said you had moved to Chicago with someone. Was that the person you sing about on “Holiday”?
Yea, nearly all of the songs [on You Would Love It Here] are about the same person. We didn’t live together. We both lived in Buffalo for a while and I had kind of known him or known of him for a while before moving up, and I spent a lot of time with him, definitely a lot more time than I spent settling into Ball Hall when I first moved there. It felt like his world was more mine than my own was.
The lyrics on that tape are really specific, you can tell that they’re about a real person.
I think writing those songs really helped me resolve my feelings in a way that nothing else really could have.
I’ve also been thinking about the title of the record – it’s funny because most people take it for granted that rooms would have walls and windows, but, living in DIY spaces, it’s pretty rare to have both. Like, my friend just moved from a loft space into an apartment recently and she was so excited to finally have a door.
It’s funny that when you live in a show space or loft, walls and windows and doors can turn into some sort of notion that represents a different kind of life, one that seems like it would be easier or better. It’s also funny because I lived in ball hall for longer than any other space since I moved out of the house I spent my childhood in. I think it was the same for a lot of my friends who lived there too, so it’s cool to think about what that place gave us in exchange for our privacy, or the love and freedom that turned it into more of a home than anything else could’ve been for us at that time. There’s this grainy picture of my best friend Christina (who the record is dedicated to), cooking in our kitchen, standing with her back to a sink full of day old unwashed dishes with a huge bowl of candy raspberries on the counter beside her. it was taken before one of the movie nights we’d have in the winter there, we’d invite a bunch of people over, push all the furniture in the middle of the hall and watch double features on our projector. anyhow, for some reason that photo kind of expresses the calm in that time.
What are your plans for 2014?
I’m working this job until late February and then my best friend, who I actually dedicated the record to, she lives in Chicago and I live in Seattle and I miss her more than words, we’re meeting in Buffalo and then flying to Oakland together to start a tour I’m doing with my friend Greg [Smaller] who plays as labs. He lives in San Diego, so we’re meeting in Oakland and we’re gonna tour down through California and through the Southwest and then down to Austin for SXSW. Then we’re gonna head back to Southern California, where I’m meeting my friend David [Courtright] who’s from Atlanta who plays as Suno Deko. David and I are touring up through California, then through Oregon and back to the Pacific Northwest. Then Cameron [Potter] from Little Spoon is meeting up with us, and the three of us are touring through all that craziness and then to the Midwest and to the Northeast where we’re meeting up with my friend Stephen Steinbrink who’s coming back from a four-month U.S./European tour.
All in all it’s hard to think of it as a solid thing because there’s so many holes and it feels like a dream plan, but we would return in May, so it’s March 1st to May 1st.
My friends in Seattle and I were saying that 2014 is the big year of going for it, just throwing caution to the wind in blind pursuit. i feel like now for me that is very very true, just not to let reservation halt any impulse, or any freedom, or anything.
Rooms With Walls and Windows is out on January 21st via Orindal.
Since its birth, auto-tune has been thrust in and out of various roles: a springboard towards pop music’s immaculate ideal, a minion of that big bad wolf Conformity—but also a tool that, when subverted, can actually push music forward. With “Lullaby,” Tink keeps auto-tune safe within its familiar harbor of modern R&B, but manipulates the device with such intensity and assuredness that the result is something brand new. Her expansive melodic range and virtuosic vocal trills craft a slow jam that, though grounded by its sensuality, sounds otherworldly.
“Lullaby” is off of Tink’s upcoming mixtape Winter’s Diary 2: Forever Yours, available for download January 10th via DatPiff.