Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’


High Rule - "Touch"

High Rule_Touch

I’m a sucker for best friends making music together, and Chicago’s High Rule (Zelda reference, check!) is just that. Their debut single and video for ”Touch” is a modern and twisted love story wherein screens replace faces, texts replace conversations, and the technological disconnect can all too easily betray you. It’s a story that’s almost too easy to relate to these days.

And make sure to stick around for the end of the video.

Kevin Carey

"Water Qualm"


The absurdity of synthesized sounds (and humans) has been the focal point of many of my favorite albums of the past half-decade, and the intense focus that albums like R Plus Seven or Quarantine put on chintz and kitsch has only heightened the bar for self-awareness in musical performance. Irony is a theater of misdirection, and employing campy instrumentation is a tool used by some of its greatest actors of the past few years.

“Water Qualm” comes from Kevin Carey, a Chicago-based artist who crafts amorphous liquid rhythms out of industrial soundscapes, like a manufacturing plant melted down into a metallic lake. Shattered glass slices through pan pipes and a rolling, pulsating bass, the mechanized, clattering rhythm approaching something like Vektroid on poppers. Listen closely and you can hear gasps of breath, voices singing microsecond melodies, and a “Drop It Like It’s Hot” sample. It’s an understatement to call “Water Qualm” a journey. It feels more like a DMT trip—deceptively brief but monumentally affecting.


"The Shots"

Gawain_The Shots

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.

Hear Loyal here, and purchase the cassette via Patient Sounds.

Mister Lies

"Flood You"


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.

Tink ft. Jeremih

"Don't Tell Nobody"


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.

DJ Moondawg/Various Artists

We Invented the Bop


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.


Winter's Diary 2


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.

Julie Byrne

Rooms With Walls and Windows


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.