Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Cole M. Johnson



Previously recording under the name Wih’lo, Chicago-based musician Cole M. Johnson has crafted something special with “Keeper,” his newest single, the B-side to “I Was Sinking Into Your Arms.” Nearly 9 minutes long, “Keeper” folds inward on itself through changing moods. The first third sinks otherworldly choral voices under a bath of lurching drone and soft keys. It drops out and leaves just the keys alongside Johnson’s voice, brutally honest lyrics akin to something you’d hear from someone like Mister Lies: “I don’t care if you think you’re funny.”

Eventually it clips into gear, a rapid drum beat wrapping around the same noise from the first half, hinting at a transcendent climax. But just as the groove feels comfortable, airy synth pads blow like a tornado over everything, wiping clean any remnants of melody or rhythm. It’s gorgeous in a pure musical sense; but also a glimpse of a songwriter who may be knocking down doors with more stunning music soon.


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.