It’s the end of 2018 and time to look back on another amazing year in music! Click the links below to see what were the favorite records in the WNUR community this year.
Ellise Shafer, Sophomore, Rock Show/Media Team
Favorite album of 2018: Safe In The Hands of Love by Yves Tumor
Safe In The Hands of Love surprised me in every way. Coming from experimental dance artist Yves Tumor, this record spills over way more into the alternative/indie genre than I expected. More so than Tumor’s 2016 album Serpent Music, it features Tumor’s vocals and a sound rooted in drums and bass guitar, evoking a sort of ‘90s nostalgia. Though electronica remains present, standout tracks “Honesty,” “Noid,” “Licking An Orchid” and “Lifetime” in the middle of the album provide beautiful commentary on love, mental illness, and self-awareness against a near cacophony of instrumentals. This album’s genre-bending quality blows my mind and makes me increasingly curious to hear what Tumor will do next. Being such an elusive artist, it is entirely unclear – and I am absolutely intrigued with the uncertainty of it all.
Isabelle Johnson, Junior, Media Team
Favorite album of 2018: Sonder by TesseracT
“Djent is love. Djent is life.” If you’re familiar with the heavy metal scene, you’ve probably heard of the subgenre known as “djent.” Generally, it is an onomatopoeia for a low pitch, palm muted technique on the guitar that creates a unique and incredibly pleasing sound.
TesseracT, a progressive metal band, falls under this subgenre and is one of the most well-known djent bands in the community. Their 2018 album Sonder features only seven songs, and even though it is markedly shorter than many of their previous albums it is by far my favorite of their releases.
Sonder combines the conventional, chugging riffs of djent with more melodic and celestial sounding vocals and rhythms. Lead singer Daniel Tompkins’ beautifully high-pitched voice perfectly complements the syncopated, 7-string guitars, and his poetic lyrics soar above the band’s down-tuned instruments and otherworldly backtracking effects. Even the names of songs are unique; softer tracks such as “Orbital” serve as a reprieve from unrelentingly heavy numbers such as “Luminary” and “Smile.”
In my opinion, the climax of this album comes when the incredible dynamic between the two extremes of melody and brutality culminate in a powerful, musical conversation in “King.” I think even nonmetalheads could enjoy a band like TesseracT, and Sonder would be an excellent introduction to metal that doesn’t totally throw gutturals and screaming into your face.
Jamie Lee, Community DJ, Freeform
Favorite album of 2018: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: Season 3 (Original Television Soundtrack) by the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Cast
Musical TV shows are rare, especially ones with original music. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has proved for three seasons (with a fourth currently airing) that it is much more than its title suggests. Clever, subversive and hilarious, these songs are also often deeply relatable, with an underlying story that may surprise those who just came for the humor.
If you want an R&B song about leaving the clubs, drugs, and women behind to go to the zoo, a Cabaret-inspired song about a therapist hoping her patient finally makes progress, or an inspirational pop song about poop, you can find it here! Written by the brilliant trio of Rachel Bloom (the show’s co-creator and star), Jack Dolgen and Adam Schlesinger, and sung by the show’s many talented cast members, these songs (including cut songs and demos) cover a massive array of genres. Some have two versions: a “clean” version that aired on TV, and an “explicit” version. Whether you watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or not, these tracks will make you laugh, feel, and, inevitably, sing! The next time you’re grocery shopping, I dare you not to hum the joyful ABBA-style song about “seeing a man” for the first time.
Thomas Kikuchi, Sophomore, Rock Show/Media Team
Favorite album of 2018: You Won’t Get What You Want by Daughters
Daughters manages to capture the anxiety and fear and general unpleasantry that I’m experiencing currently. Whether it’s their horrific guitar tones, their thundering drums, or Alexis Marshall’s equally jarring lyrics and delivery, this album managed to come to me at an oddly perfect time. It’s this kind of discomfort I look for in music like this, and personally it’s made the most impact outside of just musical influences for me.
Paul Brown, Sophomore, Jazz Show
Favorite album of 2018: Twio by Walter Smith III
Though this may be a record of primarily standards, it is far from generic. Walter Smith III thrives in the trio setting he has created for himself, effortlessly flowing through his unique and clever arrangements. Props to Harish Raghavan and Eric Harland for holding down the rhythm section so in-the-pocket that the lack of a piano is not felt at all, and special guests Joshua Redman and Christian McBride also shine. Twio is not just the refreshing take on trio jazz that we didn’t know we needed, it is also a wholly fantastic record, and tops my chart of best new jazz records of 2018.
Francisco Gumucio, Senior, Rock Show
Favorite album of 2018: Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves
The music in this record just resonated with me in a way that very few releases can these days. Every song is meticulously produced and arranged and sounds just incredible, but it’s the fantastic songwriting that makes this my favorite album of the year. I am not a big country fan, but this is might be my favorite country album. If you usually love pop country, give this album a chance. If you usually dislike pop country like me, give this album a chance.
Finn Hewes, Sophomore, Media Team
Favorite album of 2018: Eternal Return by Windhand
This triumphant October release is the band’s fourth full-length studio recording, and combines a floatious, ethereal vibe with the heavy, intense, grease-ridden, earthy riffing for which the band is known. Lyrically, Windhand delivers an anguished, deeply personal account of their universe told through the lens of lead singer Dorthia Cotrell’s groveling voice. The band launched a full tour to promote their new album, and I caught them at Subterranean in November. You can read my review of the live show here.
Chloe Fourte, Senior, Jazz Show
Favorite album of 2018: ASTROWORLD by Travis Scott
This album was in the mouths of the masses, so it might come off as a basic answer, however I think the dynamism and ingenuity of Travis’s approach to hip-hop render this album a timeless classic. Travis proved himself a mainstay in the hip-hop world and really came of age weaving his signature computerized vocals, with hauntingly memorable lyrics and explosive beats. Paying homage to the history of hip-hop with tracks like “RIP Screw” and laying his heart on the line in “NC-17” and the closer “Coffee Bean,” Scott sent a message to naysayers who think that hip-hop is all frenzy with no feeling. With ASTROWORLD, Travis Scott showed his full range of motion and as the mainstream crowd-pleaser “SICKO MODE” proved, that he’s an MC that is here to play and stay in the game. R.I.P. Screw and R.I.P. my heart because this album bangs forever.
Nathan Salon, Junior, Rock Show/Airplay
Favorite album of 2018: NTS Session 2 by Autechre
The greatest electronic outfit there ever was proves that they’re the greatest jam band of all time too.
Leah Dunlevy, Junior, Media Team
Favorite Record of 2018: Lush by Snail Mail
Lindsey Jordan is a singer and guitarist that records under the name Snail Mail. In June 2018, Snail Mail released its first album, Lush, with Matador Records. Lush is an iconic album in the indie-rock world for many reasons. Despite being Snail Mail’s first album, it is relatively comprehensive with 10 songs. Each song is dynamic, emotionally complex and provides unique musicality. Each song can easily stand alone, but put together, the tracks of the album retain their strength yet it functionally flows as a single musical story.
Jordan’s songwriting is intelligent beyond her 18 years, and her voice somehow feels incredibly relatable. Her almost disillusioned singing overlaid on top of an elevated musical backdrop, complete with bass, drums and of course more guitar, can fit any listener’s mood. Through Lush, Snail Mail captures an unparalleled emotional depth and range that easily comes across as genuine. There is no doubt that Snail Mail will quickly rise in the indie-rock world.
Clay Mills, Junior, Rock Show
Favorite album of 2018: Deep Dark Trench by chris†††
Deep Dark Trench is exactly what the title implies. It grabs your ankle and yanks you into the abyss that is the post-9/11 world, where the United States is dead yet its soul seems to live on in an international purgatory, exactly the same as the living world except more ridiculous. It’s perhaps the first album that can unironically be described as post-vaporwave. DDT’s samples hit cultural reference points that are neither nostalgic nor contemporary. They exist in a bizarre cultural uncanny valley, which only further disassociates the listener from the late stage capitalist hellscape that they’ve known their whole lives. Any sample that the listener manages to derive real nostalgia from simultaneously forces them to call into question that nostalgia: “how could I hold any warmth in my memory for something so stupid?” By the end of the album, it offers a terrifying proposition that could fill even the most ardent stoic with dread: that after September 11th, there was no real moment where the U.S. rose “from the ashes,” it’s simply been collapsing for so long that everyone has gotten used to the feeling of falling into a void.
Emily Pappin, Sophomore, Media Team
Favorite album of 2018: Opening for Steinbeck (Live) by John Craigie
John Craigie’s live shows are infamous for featuring his quick sense of humor, and Opening for Steinbeck is no exception. Half touching Americana lyrics and harmonica runs and half perfectly timed stand-up comedy, this record is something to keep coming back to whenever you might need a pick-me-up. His serious song efforts are beautiful and touching, as in the haunting “Resurrection Bay,” but those numbers are mostly kept to his studio albums. The real gems are his lighthearted tracks that show off his major songwriting talent in a humble, surprising manner. Craigie sings about messing up his own name, using the word “pants” in England, the Burning Man experience, the Apollo 11 mission, and a host of other seemingly random topics he weaves into a cohesive narrative. His storytelling skills are evident with “Presidential Silver Lining” in the way he takes our current political climate and spins it into anecdotes that carry a heavy weight but still get his audience laughing. He points out on this track that Republican presidents correlate with better music, and with the release of this album, along with the entire list of evidence he provides, joyously ripping on many famously bad acts, I believe him.
William Minor, Graduate student, Streetbeat
Favorite album of 2018: See Without Eyes by The Glitch Mob
This album exemplifies the Glitch Mob’s rhythmic and harmonious style, sitting somewhere between their last two albums in terms of intensity. It achieves a very cohesive and unique electronic sound that puts it above most other electronic albums of this year. Standout tracks include “Disintegrate Slowly” and “I Could Be Anything.”
John Williams, Senior, WNUR General Manager
Favorite album of 2018: Unfold by Gábor Lázár
There were only a few records released this year I find myself returning to or inserting into my mixes whenever I get the chance. Most are because the tracks are uniformly beautiful and emotive. Unfold, released on Presto!? however, was the only one I listened to cover to cover this year that was strictly off-kilter, nearly impossible-to-mix dance music. It doesn’t have the same emotive soundscapes or earworm melodies that tend to mark records I hold near and dear. Why is it my favorite release of the year, then?
Zoë Huettl, Sophomore, Media Team
Favorite album of 2018: Negro Swan by Blood Orange
Negro Swan manages to be many things at once. Devonté Hynes dives into the politicized lives of queer communities of color for his fourth record as Blood Orange. Blending genres like R&B, alt-pop and rap, it creates a distinctive sound both complementary to Hynes’ previous releases, though much less conventionally constructed. The record hopscotch-jumps around a landscape of anxiety and sadness, focusing on different angles and voices.
While mixing R&B vocal runs with alternative beats, rapping, and spoken word, Hynes also cycles through describing different experiences of marginalization. The album features artists like Diddy, A$AP Rocky, and Tei Shi, but still holds together through Hynes’ vocals, an ethereal backup, and a consistent dreamy overtone. Despite spreading itself across many different topics, it doesn’t lose depth to do so. Hynes’ reflection on life as an ‘other’ is scattered, vulnerable, and stunning.
Luke Cimarusti, Junior, Rock Show
Favorite album of 2018: 2012-2017 by A.A.L. (Against All Logic)
Nicolas Jaar has been a longtime music crush of mine. Not only is he super hot, he’s been consistently pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a DJ. He runs Other People, a label putting out some great best electronic music, he’s a political activist, he does performance and sound art (look up his MoMA PS1 performance), and he makes just plain old incredible dance music with a twist only he can manage. So when “2012-2017” dropped without warning this year, you know I jumped on it immediately. And boy am I glad I did.
A “new” collection of tracks that Nico had been working on since 2012 under his Against All Logic moniker (or A.A.L.), the record is much more sample-based than Jaar’s previous work, and it’s by far his most fun. Every track has an undeniable groove, mixing house-inspired sounds with the oddball production Jaar is loved for. The ghostly-but-soulful voices floating throughout the mix lend the album the feel of a kind of post-apocalyptic disco. It’s one of those records that I listen to from beginning to end every time.
Optimal listening conditions: dark subterranean club where everyone came to dance alone.
Highlights: “I Never Dream,” “Know You,” and “Rave on You”
Jessica Collins, Senior, Continental Drift
Favorite album of 2018: Goat Girl by Goat Girl
Goat Girl’s self-titled debut is a well-rounded record spanning from trance beats and off-kilter riffs of the opener “Salty Sounds” to harmonious country twangs of “Viper Fish.” The south London band brings a new sound to the table in 2018, pointing out all that is wrong with modern society, with a gentle sneer. This record is not an easy listen, in fact it leaves you uneasy and a little queasy. And yet the trip around a dreary modern London is worth it.
Listen closely to the lyrics and you will notice this is an intensely political record dressed up with jokes (much like modern politics). Goat Girl is an ambitious first record, and should be listened to as an album, all the way through. It is representative of a wave of London rock bands that are shifting what guitar bands sound like, look like and talk about. The recording often has a DIY quality, so chaotic at points you wonder if they will hold the songs together, and yet out of the mist a discordant discontent erupts and refuses to be told to quiet down.
m50, Community DJ, etc radio
Favorite album of 2018: The Book Room by Kilchholfer
This fascinating full-length was my introduction to Benjamin Kilchhofer. It’s affective, airy, agile. It constantly shifts between tempos, the muted timbres effectively blur the lines between synthesized sound, acoustic instrumentation, and field recordings. Often, the short, playful tracks revel in polyrhythms, odd cadences, and a variety of melodic modes.
These are songs without vocals, without pop song structure; they tend to explore one mood or pattern through subtle variation before moving on. Their brevity seems to hint at a sketchbook-quality to the collection, but each is actually mindfully structured, composed; rarely does a song conclude with any impression of loose ends. They can come across as quite natural, even primitive and instinctual, and then in the next moment move to almost alien fragments of cobbled-together intercepted transmissions.
Songs occasionally hint at some contemporary dance, but they also suggest much earlier roots. The moody abstractions and melodrama are reminiscent of some of the futurism of Artificial Intelligence sounds. This contradiction puts Kilchhofer in the fine company of contemporaries Simon Pike, Geir Jenssen, and Stefan Schwander. While the gentle touch and tonal palette this album tends to fall on the softer side, the intricate rhythmic content rules out a facile “ambient” classification.
Vishnu Venugopal, Graduate student, Streetbeat
Favorite album of 2018: Care For Me by Saba
Why: This record made me stop and think about hip-hop completely differently again. It’s not often that happens, and it’s especially not often that storytelling marries emotionality the way it does on this album. Saba is a talent we are so fortunate to have, and the wave of Chicago talent he’s a part of feels like an embarrassment of riches. Watching him and the rest of that group (which includes folx like Noname and Smino, who both had stellar records themselves this year) has already been so beautiful, but I’m so excited to see how they continue to grow and evolve.
Kevin Eisenstein, Junior, Rock Show
Favorite album of 2018: Mount Vision by Emily A. Sprague
Slow, deliberate synthesizer drones are reflected by simple piano compositions. Sprague uses Mount Vision as an unhurried detour into serenity and calmness.
Lydia Weir, Sophomore, Rock Show
Favorite album of 2018: Chris by Christine and the Queens
With her 2018 record, Christine and the Queens, born Héloïse Letissier, debuts her newest iteration of herself– Chris (also the title of the album). Chris is a 23 track album, with the same 11 songs written in both English and French (as well as one bonus track in French!) that explores gender and sexuality through catchy pop tunes. With strong beats and hooks that will stick in your head all day, Chris is the new soundtrack to your gay dreams. (Now go watch her “5 dollars” music video and thank me later.)
DJ broken36, Community DJ, Hidden Forms Radio
Favorite album of 2018: Darkened Windows by Underfelt
In my ears, Réal T. Cardinal can do no wrong. I first encountered his work in 2009 under the project Comaduster and have had him in regular rotation on Hidden Forms with every new release, in whatever incarnation. His Underfelt debut this year, Darkened Windows, courtesy of Canadian label Smokey Crow Records, is an evolutionary heartbeat of Réal’s years in the Vancouver bass scene, with foundations calcified in time spent as a professional game sound designer and music composer. You might recognize his work bleeding through scoring he’s provided to some of your favorite video games – Anthem, Mass Effect 2, Dragon Age, and Gears of War 4. Not surprisingly in this regard, his soundscapes are otherworldly.
From the opening track “K712,” a rhythmic, yet teasingly chaotic birth, to the haunting shudders of an awakening singularity in “Mother Is In There,” through the “Frictionless” finale of dystopian shadows in a future reminiscent of a Philip K. Dick novella, Darkened Windows is unbridled by genre with thick atmospheres and resonant timbre. Electronic alchemy give rise to a warm-blooded, sentient life-form to fear and embrace. Extend your Underfelt experience with two bonus tracks from netlabel Onset Audio, “The Depravity / The Observer Effect”.
Al Finley, Community DJ, BoTh KiNdS
Favorite album of 2018: The Crossing by Alejandro Escovedo
It’s hard to believe that a quarter of a century into his solo career, Alejandro Escovedo is delivering not only another career album, but also a potential personal best and his most timely album yet. The Crossing is an old-fashioned album that gains power when you listen to it from beginning to end. Alejandro and his collaborator, Antonio Gramentieri, address the immigrant experience from the viewpoint of two young boys who are experiencing life and searching for their identities in America.
Alejandro is backed by Gramentieri’s band, Don Antonio, that have been together since they were boys themselves. The band may be from Italy; but they play American rock and roll with abandon and finesse that is enriched with Mexican and other Latino influences that permeate the southwest US. It wasn’t surprising to find out that Gramentieri’s favorite band growing up was Los Lobos. The album also includes great guest appearances from MC5’s Wayne Kramer, the Stooges’ James Williamson, the Only Ones’ Peter Perrett and The Flatlanders’ Joe Ely, who contributes an especially poignant song. All in all, it’s a breathtaking album that I find hard not to press play again as soon as it ends.
Claire Fahey, Junior, Rock Show
Favorite album of 2018: Grid Of Points by Grouper
Grouper really did it again with this emotional and sparse record. Upon first listen, I felt myself hanging onto every static-y word. It’s incredibly soothing and intimate. This album fills you up and digs deep. It’s only 22 minutes long and worth every second to take a breath and slow down in this hell-fire year of 2018.
Ben Moskow, Freshman, Media Team
Favorite album of 2018: Daytona by Pusha T
Earlier in 2018, Virginia Beach rapper Pusha T shook the rap game to its core with his Drake diss track “The Story of Adidon”. The track cemented Push’s name in the conversation for the greatest diss track of all time. “The Story of Adidon” garnered 1.7 million views on Genius and gave listeners a preview of what was to come on Daytona.
For those who still appreciate the craftiness it takes to construct impactful lyrics, Daytona is the indisputable Album of the Year. This is the type of album that makes you want to sprint for twenty straight minutes. Daytona is a great argument for the seven-track format, as the quality never drops throughout the crisp 21:10 running time.
Daytona is not fit for radio. It won’t get stuck in your head, but it will inspire awe for Pusha’s skills in alliteration, imagery and wordplay. Pusha is the antidote to mumble rap on this album, punctuating every last syllable. You can feel the emotion and the intensity in every line he delivers and every picture he paints. Push juxtaposes his drug-dealing past and his current lavish lifestyle throughout the album. On “If You Know You Know”, he takes us inside a trap house with the line “The trap door’s supposed to be awkward,” and on the very next song, he describes a luxurious spa treatment: “Caviar facials remove the toxins” (in “The Games We Play”).
Push’s signature style may not be what the mainstream wants to hear right now, as evident by the fact that Lil Pump currently has over 30 million monthly listeners and Pusha has fewer than 4 million. Yet this speaks more to the current priorities of hip-hop fans than Pusha’s skill. No matter what the masses have to say, Push is going to “believe in [him]self and the Coles and Kendricks” (Infrared) to deliver top-tier lyrical rap. Give DAYTONA a listen right away, it’s just 20 minutes of your time after all….
Isabella Soto, Senior, Rock Show
Favorite album of 2018: El Mal Querer by ROSALÍA
Explicitly influenced by her classical training in the Spanish vocal and dance tradition of Flamenco, ROSALÍA put out arguably my favorite album of the year and has found her way to the top of countless year-end lists by merit of her gorgeous, all-encompassing experimental-adjacent flamenco. I’m a sucker for albums with narratives or based on literature, and El Mal Querer (which translates to “the bad desire”) is based off the 13th-century Romance of Flamenca, whose author is unknown. Each song is meant to reflect one of the chapters of the romance, and though its original published language is no longer in use, ROSALÍA manages to translate its drama with stirring, sweeping orchestral arrangements, passionate handclaps, beautiful and skillfully deployed samples (Justin Timberlake! Arthur Russell!), tinges of electronic production that border on experimental, and of course, her commanding voice. Plus the girl can DANCE, and her equally stunning visuals that accompany these grandiose songs leave me no doubts that ROSALÍA is onto bigger things, El Mal Querer being our introduction.
Nick Rueth, Junior, Rock Show
Favorite record of 2018: Now Only by Mount Eerie
Phil Elverum sings, “To be still alive felt so absurd” on “Now Only”, the title track of the album. The album is, and has been called, a counterpart to 2017’s A Crow Looked At Me, a reflection on death and loss, though it reminds me equally of his work with The Microphones. And that is where the album’s beauty lies. It is an intersection of past and present, The Microphones and Mount Eerie, old relationships and new, past experiences and current reflections. On this album, the past is always present, just as much as the present.
The narratives Elverum reiterates through his lyrics contrast with the music that provide his current emotional meditation on those event’s effects. The steady strums of his familiar acoustic guitar and the tremble in his voice remind us that there is a man that has lived the stories he tells us, put to music so that we might understand the blunt realities he tells us, just as he has realized them.
The album’s last song, “Crow Pt. 2”, reminds us of death once again, and his now disassembled family. And we cannot help but feel that to be alive, without those we love, is absurd.
DJ Daki, Community DJ, Hidden Forms Radio
Favorite album of 2018: Noire by VNV Nation
This is my favorite new release from a founding member of the futurepop / dance industrial genre. It’s easily the best work they have created since FuturePerfect landed back in 2002. Noire is the perfect blend of dance beats and melodies that can be a gateway into a new style of music for people.
Nicholas Guiang, Freshman, Freeform
Favorite album of 2018: Bambi by Hippo Campus
The release of Bambi by Hippo Campus was a huge step for this Minnesota band. In their sophomore album, they took a risk by moving away from the sound their fans had come to know and love, and it paid off. Moving away from the groovy picked guitar melodies and indie rock sound, they focused on melodies that were more indie pop than they had produced before. This album is different on so many levels. Emotionally, this album hit all the aspects you want. Hippo Campus never fails to create an album that not only seamlessly takes you on an emotional rollercoaster, but also feels fluid and cohesive. Hippo Campus has an amazing couple years ahead of them, and the release of Bambi in 2018 makes it clear they are headed in the right direction.
Elizabeth Solleder, Freshman, Rock Show/Media Team
Favorite album of 2018: NOIR by Smino
Smino began his rise to fame in 2017 with his release of blkswn, an album showcasing his unique beats and range of vocals and flow. Blkswn caught the attention of artists and producers like T-Pain and Mick Jenkins, elevating Smino to a level of production that set the stage for NOIR. Produced by Monte Booker, the 18-track album features artists like Dreezy, Jay2, Bari, and Ravyn Lenae.
As is usual with Monte Booker production, the unique, chilled-out beats on NOIR take a major spotlight. No song is the same; I’m never bored listening to this album. That being said, it’s obvious that Smino isn’t interested in producing the hard, bass-boosted songs Top 40 charts eat up. The focus is left instead to musicality: to quote Smino directly, “But I love chords. If you got those chords, but it bounce, people are like damn, what’s this?” He’s not wrong. That, combined with the surprising and frequent vocal harmonies and clever lyrics, make NOIR a truly individual piece, distinctive of Smino’s growth and rise as an artist. Seriously, just listen.
Brock Stuessi, Community DJ, Handpicked
Favorite album of 2018: Mark Kozelek by Mark Kozelek
The critical apparatus has largely given up on Kozelek, but I simply can’t. Koz continues truly experimenting in the guitar song-writing genre on this release, with songs that challenge a listening public of shorter and shorter attention spans:
“Then a sort of happiness overcame me as I began realizing
That for a connection I’ll never stop trying
Even if it results in my eyes crying
When I stop caring is when I’m dead inside
My heart was now reviving
My lips were now a-smiling
Then these words I began compiling
And a melody started forming”
From “My Love for You Is Undying”
Anna Laffrey, Junior, Rock Show/Freeform
Favorite album of 2018: Tell Me How You Really Feel by Courtney Barnett
In 2018 music releases, I found an eternal source of feminine force, from Janelle Monáe to boygenius to Courtney’s Tell Me How Your Really Feel. For me, Courtney led that charge. Her new tracks stray from the folksy lyricism that filled previous releases and brought a crazy sense of awareness (and in turn, anger) to idle listeners like me! I also got to see Courtney at the Chicago Cultural Center the day after the album’s release; it was magical.
Sue Kessell, Community DJ, Folk Show
Favorite album of 2018: The Tree of Forgiveness by John Prine
The first album in 13 years from this Illinois native with his classic songwriting, wit and knowing truths, reinforces why he’s a beloved songwriting icon.
Maddy Ashmun, Senior, Media Team
Favorite album of 2018: Historian by Lucy Dacus
Lucy Dacus’ Historian is the kind of record you listen to while you’re driving around your hometown alone in the dark. With orange street light and warm guitars washing over you, it forces you to contemplate all kinds of loss, from the passing of a family member to the loss of one’s religious beliefs.
“Night Shift,” found on breakup Spotify playlists everywhere, is the record’s towering six-and-a-half minute opener. An aching reflection on a past relationship, the track is grounded by Dacus’ resonant voice and uncomplicated guitar playing which gradually expand and distort as the song booms with increasing anger and urgency.
While critical consensus might suggest that “Night Shift” is the highlight of Historian, there are many other songs on the record that show Dacus’ stunning ability to distill deeply emotional ideas and moments into deceptively simple packages. “You threw your books into the river / Told your Mom that you’re a non-believer / She says she wasn’t surprised but that doesn’t make it ok,” she sings in “Nonbeliever,” a soaring track that explores Dacus’ relationship to her small-town religious upbringing.
Historian is a masterclass in effective songwriting and sparse instrumentation. In a year of full of exciting releases from female artists like Mitski, Snail Mail, and Courtney Barnett, to name a few, Historian stands out as one that is strikingly raw and relatable.
Beck Dengler, Freshman, Media Team
Favorite album of 2018: TA13OO by Denzel Curry
An album of the year (aoty) cannot be merely a good sounding album. Neither can it be a great or outstanding sounding album. Denzel Curry’s consistently fast, catchy, addictive bars aren’t enough to earn him aoty. NEWS FLASH: lots of albums sound good; music is dope.
A true aoty needs that special sauce. Denzel Curry’s album TA13OO has the SAUCE!
1. Each track has a title in English followed by the same title written with seemingly random differences (ie. the tracks “BLACK BALLOONS | 13LACK 13ALLOONS” and “SUMO | ZUMO”).
2. Denzel Curry wears whiteface clown makeup on the album’s cover. It’s really weird and I love it.
3. Curry released the album in three separate parts, going light to dark thematically. Delaying the listening experience let each song sink in and AMPED ME UP.
4. TA13OO features JPEGMAFIA and J.I.D, two amazing artists who each also dropped amazing albums this year.
5. The line, “They only know Denzel Curry, but they really don’t know Denzel,” hits me hard. We all just want to be understood, right? Right?
Jamaican-born singer Masego is an innovator. He coined the term “TrapHouseJazz” to describe his sound and he flexed his versatility on his viral collaboration with French producer FKJ on “Tadow”. Recorded in futuristic Red Bull Studios in Paris, the eight-minute experimental piece features the two on just about every instrument you could imagine. I was intrigued to see how Masego’s upbeat energy in the studio would translate to a live performance.
As I entered the main floor of the Metro, I was greeted with billows of fog-machine smoke. The intimate venue featured an overwhelmingly millennial crowd, but its racially diverse makeup indicates that Masego’s sound appeals to more than just one demographic.
R&B duo VanJess kicked things off. I had not previously heard of them, but the soulful siblings certainly made their mark on the Metro. What VanJess lacked in name recognition, they made up for with powerful stage presences and upper-echelon vocal performances. It was clear that the duo felt comfortable with each other; they seemed in sync with their movements throughout, whether it was a staccato shake of the hips or a synchronized toe-tap.
Several songs fit into the “low-key banger” category, reminiscent of Syd’s “Body”. However, they offered some deviation with the vulnerable “Honeywheat” and the up-tempo, KAYTRANADA-produced “Another Lover,” which got the crowd dancing after a powerful bass drop.
VanJess heated things up, but Masego had the audience going wild from the moment he hit his first saxophone note. Rocking a bright red Hawaiian shirt, acid wash jeans and sunglasses, he lived up to his early declaration: “Y’all give me the energy, I’ll give it right back!” Whether it was moonwalking during “Lady Lady,” conducting drum rolls with shouts like “Give it to me four times!” or a personal favorite, engaging in a saxophone battle with his keyboardist on “You Gon’ Learn Some Jazz Today”, he never let the energy sag.
Throughout the set, I saw the full spectrum of cramped concert dancing. Masego’s performance featured as many jumping-with-hands-in-the-air songs as it did casually-swaying-side-to-side songs. He lulled the crowd into a relaxed happiness on “Black Love”, then had them cheering their loudest when he punctuated each high note in “Shawty Fishin’” with a deep knee bend. To maintain the energy, he relied heavily on simple call and response, specifically with an “ee-ee-eee” on the bouncy “Prone”. The crowd engagement didn’t end there, though. I saw just how devoted Masego’s fans were when they screamed out the chorus of “Old Age”, which details a man’s affinity for older women: “I need me a sugar momma, old lady, foxy mama, sophisticated,” without the slightest hesitation. By the end of his set, he had the crowd begging for an encore and he obliged, playing three more songs before closing with a particularly electric performance of “Navajo.”
For fans of up-and-coming artists, I would advise keeping an eye on Masego and VanJess in the future because I have confidence that their talent will continue to develop over their next few projects. They may never sell out arena shows, but both did a damn good job of filling the Metro with good vibes tonight.
VANJESS SONG YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO: “Honeywheat”
MASEGO SONG YOU SHOULD LISTEN TO: “Prone”
VanJess’s debut studio album Silk Canvas available on streaming services now!
Masego’s second studio album Lady Lady available on streaming services now!
On a cold and relatively quiet Saturday night in Logan Sqaure, Chicago’s first Windy Popfest opened at the Burlington Bar. The bar provided a small and intimate setting you wouldn’t often associate with the words “music festival” but it was the perfect backdrop for the performances of the evening. In between sets, various DJs filled the space with melancholy yet upbeat tunes, which seemed to be a theme.
Chicago is home to a massive independent music community, encompassing pretty much any niche genre you could think of. Windy Popfest itself was a collection of independent artists across the US centered around dreampop, a genre that has gotten really popular in recent years. Dreampop is loosely derivative of shoegaze, but rather than muddy, distorted guitar tones creating a monotonous dirge, it opts for simple melodic lines in reverb soaked sound, or floating synth arpeggios weaving in and out of the mix. The sound has been popularized by bands like Beach House, Alvvays, Wild Nothing, and M83.
Girl Valley opened the night with some simple yet heartfelt and catchy singer-songerwriter ballads. Her new EP Eternal Picnic reflects her very stripped down sound, but has some subtly catchy choruses and clever lyricisms. Following her brief set, Avishay, a singer-songwriter from Brooklyn brought a little more energy to the space with his earnest power-pop. The next set also featured solo artist Kevin Hairs but had a little more punch thanks to some interesting, improvised beat loops off an iPad. His new release Freak in the Streets, available on Bandcamp or via cassette, features a full band, has some memorable songwriting.
A local band, Star Tropics, played the first full set of the night and their jangle-pop sound was infectiously happy. Having a full band in the space immediately changed the energy, and the crowd seemed to grow quickly. Their bouncy guitar riffs and sunny sound were simple and fun, a reminder that music does not have to be complex or overly intricate to be good.Everyone seemed to take notice of the stage setup in preparation for the following artist, Gloom Balloon. A blowup bottle of Miller Lite and an RV shaped tent sat in the corner as found footage from commercials played on a loop through the projector. After a couple minutes of this, the artist finally arrived, hopped on stage, and pressed play on his laptop. We were immediately transported into the absurdist world of Gloom Balloon, backed by choir of found sound samples and his own recordings. He spent most of the set sprinting around the audience and half-singing, half-imploring them to appreciate his stream-of-consciousness ramblings. It toed a line between unbearable gimmick and captivating performance art, and it was unsure which he truly intended but it was FUN.Panda Riot, another Chicago band rounded out the night with some cuts off their new, fantastic album Infinity Maps. Their performance almost felt choreographed but captured the exact same sound as their studio recordings, something I thought would be impossible. Definitely check them out if you are into dreampop, and keep an eye out for Windy Popfest in the future!
At the Riviera last Thursday, Courtney Barnett set up two poles between which every song in her set fell.
At the start of the show, she brings out some of her coldest and darkest material:“Hopefulessness” a track that carries a numbness and anger that glow like red-hot coals.
On the other end, in the encore, Barnett’s at her softest, with a soaring solo cover of Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free,” warmly lit by strings of twinkly lights.
Barnett, a master of the “straightforward” approach in both her lyrics and her arrangements, constructs her live show in a way that follows suit. On songs like “Small Talk” and “Are You Looking After Yourself?” she reveals herself to be an extremely able live soloist—something we’re not treated to on her studio albums—but generally speaking, she stays pretty close to the arrangements you’ll find on her records.
For the most part, Barnett’s clear-cut approach is most appealing, but a few times it’s to her detriment. When played live, “Depreston,” “Walkin’ On Eggshells,” and “Need A Little Time,” push ahead in a way where Barnett doesn’t give herself or her band enough time or room to dig in to the few ballads she has.
In a set that’s packed with impossibly witty, guitar-driven, up-tempo tracks, Barnett misses an opportunity to expand the already broad spectrum of tempos and emotions she’s set up for herself.
Closing out her several month long tour in support of her second studio album Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett has crafted an effective live show that is true—perhaps too true—to the straight-shooting spirit she’s become known for.
“If you’re fucking with Junglepussy, you know growing is all we do!” Shayna McHale, best known by her stage name Junglepussy, declared this past Saturday at Chop Shop in her first-ever headlining set in Chicago.
With her second studio album, JP3, out this past May, Brooklyn-born Junglepussy has been doing plenty of growing over the past three years – she’s been streamlining her sound and steadily expanding her following with the help of early advocates like Lil’ Kim and Erykah Badu.
After a brief but punchy opening set from Bay Area native Rayana Jay (with an appearance from local R&B up-and-comer Jean Deaux), Junglepussy slinked on to the Chop Shop stage, opening with “Ocean Floor,” a smooth, dance-worthy track off JP3.
“Make some noise if you don’t give a fuck – you ask for you what you want!” Junglepussy said after “Picky Bitch Checklist,” an explosive track from her debut mixtape and the second song in her hour-long show. Junglepussy quickly set the tone for the night and moved through her set at a blistering pace, pulling the crowd in with her charisma and her messages of self-love and not giving a fuck.
“Trader Joe,” which came towards the end of the night, was easily one of the highlights of the show and a great case study in Junglepussy’s appeal. “I think I like him more than I like Trader Joe’s / I’ll swallow kids if he start eatin’ vegetables,” she opens, her razor-sharp wit on full display, wrapped in a sleek, hook-laden package.
With the energy and confidence Junglepussy infuses into her music, it’s clear that she tries to transmit that to her fans. “I want you to leave this show just feeling and believing in your awesomeness,” she tells them, as if they weren’t going to leave feeling that way already.
Get ready for a whiplash-inducing weekend of back-to-back-to-back sets, because Riot Fest is here! After much speculation about the festival’s lineup, scheduling and general occurrence, Sept. 14-16 are finally upon us. Daily schedules were released Wednesday morning and reflect headliner Blink-182’s recent replacement by Weezer, Run the Jewels and Taking Back Sunday. Regardless, we are all now swimming in a confusing sea of set times, stage names and conflicting performances.
To help, I’ve teamed up with Stella Frentress, who’ll be covering the festival with me, and WNUR’s Content Coordinator Finn Hewes to provide an extensive, jam-packed schedule of our picks that you can either follow, reference or scoff at. Your choice.
Hydrate and eat a big breakfast, kids, because this is going to be a big one.
Speedy Ortiz: 1-1:30 p.m., Roots Stage
This four-piece band, centered around singer and guitarist Sadie Dupuis, will kick off the weekend with her earnest voice to the tune of her band’s deep bass and lively arrangements.
Direct Hit!: 1:35-2:05 p.m., Riot Stage
For 11 years, this pop-punk band has been releasing a steady stream of upbeat anthems and guitar breaks with some serious drive.
Typesetter: 2:30-3:10, Rebel Stage
New song alert! This brash and loud band put out a new single, Monogamy I, last Friday, putting exactly one week between its release and this performance. Amazing.
The Aquabats!: 3:15-4, Rise Stage
Ska-punk gets big with this 8-piece (minimum) band. Get ready for a wide open sound from a ton of different overlaying instruments.
The Front Bottoms: 4:40-5:25 p.m., Riot Stage
The duo caught our attention with their interesting blend of pop, rock and punk influences and lyrics that ebb and flow in never ending waves.
Matt & Kim: 5:30-6:30, Roots Stage
This pair of Brooklyn musicians has been around for what feels like forever–which is not even close to a bad thing. Their sixth album, ALMOST EVERYDAY, came out this past May, adding to a long, happy history of quirky jams.
Bleachers: 6:35-7:35 p.m., Riot Stage
Built around the lyrical genius of Jack Antonoff, this rock outfit will have get you on your feet, shouting lyrics to anthems we love.
Young the Giant: 7:40-8:40 p.m., Roots Stage
In case you missed this whimsy and spirited band’s headlining set on Dillo Day (shame!), I’ll remind you: it was magnificent. Pouring rain and an animated on-stage presence ended the night with a bang.
Dropkick Murphys 8:30-9:30, Rise Stage
This is going to be a wild one, full of this band’s high-energy signature Celtic punk. I can’t even imagine how fun, weird and spirited this will be live.
Weezer: 8:45-10, Riot Stage
End your night by catching the last part of Weezer’s set, aka feel good, guitar-heavy pop rock. You’ll definitely be singing along.
The Districts: 1:05-1:50 p.m., Riot Stage
Start off your day with a softer, indie/anti-pop that feels genuine, intuitive and timeless. This one has the potential to be quite special.
The Frights: 1:55-2:40 p.m., Roots Stage
Don’t let the name feel you–you’ll enjoy a youthful set with a beachy vibe, and hear raw, relatable lyrics. Listening to frontman Mikey Carnevale on the band’s August 24th release, Hypochondriac, you get the feeling that he’s been through some shit.
Mannequin Pussy: 2:30-3:15 p.m., Rise Stage
Distinctly feminine vocals receive sharp contrast against a punk rock backdrop and thick guitar bridges.
Bully: 3:45-4:30 p.m., Rise Stage
Lead vocalist Alicia Bognanno adds a cheeky edge to this band, with a voice that could fit either gossip-filled brunch with the girls or sassy back talk to a mom that’s ~so~ uncool.
Wolfmother: 5-5:45 p.m., Radicals Stage
The gritty, leather-clad rock our parents grew up to gets psychedelic twists and turns under Andrew Stockdale’s distinctively campy voice.
Twin Peaks: 5:30-6:30 p.m., Roots Stage
This group of four Chicago natives is coming home, bringing along ‘60s influences and a snug sound that will create a buffer between you and the real world.
Elvis Costello & The Imposters: 6:35-7:35 p.m., Riot Stage
Elvis Costello, a man of many hats and many bands, is an absolute icon. Catch him now and you might hear unreleased tracks from his upcoming album, Look Now, set to be released in October with The Imposters. It will be his first in five years.
Interpol: 7:40-8:40 p.m., Roots Stage
I hate to do this to you–and to me–but it’s time to run. After hitting up Interpol, whose set should heavily feature their August 24th release, Marauder, make a break for the Rise Stage to catch the end of The Jesus Lizard’s set.
The Jesus Lizard, 8-9 p.m., Rise Stage
You made it, great! Formed in the late ‘80s, this Chicago band is authentic underground noise rock. They broke up, then got back together, then broke up again, and are now, well, together again. Once you’re done enjoying this band, run to the Riots Stage for Beck.
Beck: 8:45-10 p.m., Riot Stage
Colors, a seamless blend of alternative roots and today’s bright, electronic trends, was the first album I ever bought on vinyl. And with a discography going back 24 years, I doubt I’ll be the only one in my happy place during his return to Chicago.
Mom Jeans.: 12:20-12:50 p.m., Riot Stage
Fitting right in with any arrangement of ‘90s garage rock bands, this group will be a fresh, bustling way to start the day.
Beach Goons: 12:55-1:25 p.m., Roots Stage
Their Aug. 24th release, hoodratscumbags, showcases their energy-driven breaks overlaid with urgent and sincere vocals.
Calpurnia: 1:30-2:10 p.m., Riot Stage
The indie rock foursome is beachy, light and airy. We’re looking forward to jamming out with big smiles.
Spitalfield: 3-3:45 p.m., Radicals Stage
Started in Chicago, this punk rock band is melodic and smooth. They haven’t put out anything new since 2006, so I’m expecting their performance to feel more sophisticated and professional.
Bullet for my Valentine: 3:45-4:30 p.m., Rise Stage
This band a staple for any metalhead–which I’m not–but I can imagine it’ll be great to experience the adrenaline of their music firsthand .
Suicidal Tendencies: 4:40-5:40 p.m., Riot Stage
Keep the energy going with these quick-tongued punk rock pros, who’ve been producing music since the early ‘80s.
Dillinger Four: 5:45-6:45 p.m., Rebel Stage
Busy and strong, their arrangements are highly concentrated and fast-paced. Maximum amounts of headbanging is achievable here.
The Wonder Years: 7-8 p.m., Radicals Stage
Melancholy but hopeful, this punk rock band’s sound is dynamic and full. You’ll be able to both dance and wave a lighter during this set.
Father John Misty: 7:55-8:55 p.m., Roots Stage
No explanation needed. Just go. Please.
Run the Jewels: 9-10 p.m., Riot Stage
End the weekend with a bang. This legendary duo is the only hip hop group on our schedule this weekend, but I’m okay with that because of how incredible this will be live. Let’s GO.
Marketed as “summer’s last stand,” North Coast Music Festival was not only a celebration of the last rays of summer sun, but also of urban, tourist-free Chicago. From August 31 through September 2, Union Park was transformed into a lively stomping ground for downtown’s resident creatives and music lovers. Stages were filled with a good amount of local musicians, drawing crowds full of passionate listeners. Meanwhile, a curated lineup of artists created colorful installations with hip hop and street art themes.
But let’s not forget that nighttime performances were literal last stands against a never-ending mass of thunderclouds and pouring rain. Attendees missed out on two nights’ worth of heavy-hitting headlining acts. Despite an outstanding showing from those who did perform, the weekend’s exuberance took a heavy hit. However, a miraculous final day full of music brought both heat and proof of the city’s dedication to beating negativity with a good time.
Keep reading for my short notes on the sets I hung out at, and stay tuned for artist interview podcasts from Sonic Sanctuary’s Brennan White.
Iris Temple: My favorite of the day! The Chicago-based duo gave a gorgeous sunset performance, even though it was only seen by two rows of people. A romantic change of pace from the edgier acts. Picture perfect lighting on a small stage, and vibier synths and vocals.
Snails: The complete opposite of Iris Temple, which allowed me to get my trap fix for the weekend. Killer first half, but cut short by the storm. Lots of spirited steppers and aggressive head-bangers, which was to be expected.
Robert DeLong: A crazy person, in the absolute best way. He ran around onstage with a Wii remote, used to control three different electronic setups, followed by a bouncing head of platinum hair.
RL Grime: I saw him in May, before the release of his third album, NOVA, and was thrilled to hear the new set. It went above and beyond my expectations. Some drops fell a bit flat, but hearing the album live with an entire sea of people made up lost ground–and then some.
Cashmere Cat: Unconventional drops, glistening pops and quirky arrangements. A nice change of pace. He opted out of using visuals, adding emphasis on the music, and ended up being an impromptu headliner when gates once again closed early due to storms.
Maddy O’Neal: A female in electronic music! O’Neal’s chill beats and heavy, pared down bass lines were right on brand. Compare to artists like Manic Focus.
The Midnight: So sweet! So soulful! I sat down in the grass with some friends for this one, swaying and vibing out.
Mura Masa: Alex Crossan, the reserved, artistic Brit known as Mura Masa hung back with his instruments, playing everything perfectly and causing a storm of dancing bodies. Crossan was joined onstage by Fliss, who handled most of the vocals and provided a welcome contrast with her power and liveliness.
Jamiroquai: Returned to the city for the first time in over a decade, and frontman Jason Kay proclaimed he would pick up right where he left off. Such a confident and eccentric performer. Truly entertaining and classic.
Special mention for the silent disco, which provided a necessary break from main stages and was the most consistently packed area of the entire park. Featuring local DJs, it maintained an anything goes, basement concert vibe.
Today I am providing you with the first interview from the series of conversations I had with artists at North Coast Music Festival last week. This was a special interview for me since I had the privilege of talking to a guy I have admired as both a producer/DJ and a tastemaker for quite sometime. The artist’s name: Barclay Crenshaw.
It’s hard to know where to begin when introducing Barclay Crenshaw. The producer and DJ who often performs under the alias Claude VonStroke has created his own brand of funk-infused techno and house records and toured the international circuit playing many of the hottest venues and festivals on the planet: from headlining Movement Festival in Detroit this year to appearances at Coachella, Creamfields, and Tomorrowland (among many others over the years). Crenshaw is prolific and seemingly tireless. In 2016 DJ Times named him the Best DJ in America. And beyond his own productions and DJ sets, he has also established one of the most respected labels in the dance music industry, Dirtybird Records, which was named label of the decade by Mixmag just last year.
From the get-go, Barclay Crenshaw has done things differently: Although he had been making his own music for years, Crenshaw launched his music career out of a film project. In the early 2000s he worked on the documentary Intellect: Techno House Progressive with the intention of getting into the minds of successful DJs and producers and figuring out how they operate. After finishing the film, he subsequently began to produce and release his own records and DJ across the U.S. He established Dirtybird Records in 2005, released his debut album Beware of the Bird in 2006, and created a Fabric mix for the illustrious Fabric club in London in 2009, all the while quietly building a steady and loyal following in the American underground techno and house scene. Now, Crenshaw’s meticulous productions and distinctive style have made him an internationally recognized name in dance music and a respected tastemaker both at home and abroad. Moreover, he’s brought his own events to cities and towns across the country: his Dirtybird barbecues-which often feature street food, outdoor games, and of course, music-have helped solidify his brand and his label’s prowess-from LA to Brooklyn. Yet in spite of his many achievements, Barclay’s ethos has remained down-to-earth and unpretentious: based on the performances I have seen and the time I spent talking with him, it appeared clear to me that he focuses on presenting his listeners with danceable music that does not take itself too seriously or masquerade as something it’s not. It’s about having a good time and truly enjoying the atmosphere and mood music can create for the audience or even the casual listener. So without further ado, here is my conversation with Barclay following his evening set at North Coast Music Festival:
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Brennan White: Alright this is Brennan White with the Sonic sanctuary show for WNUR 89.3fm Chicago, Northwestern’s radio station. I’m here with Barclay Crenshaw, also known as Claude VonStroke, the Dirtybird label owner, the man behind it all! Barclay, how are you doing?
Barclay Crenshaw: I’m doing great, thanks for having me on the show!
Brennan White: Of course, we’re happy to have you! So, you grew up in the Midwest, right?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yes, I did.
Brennan White: So you’re originally from Cleveland and you had some of your roots in Detroit. What’s it like being back in Chicago and being in the birthplace of house? How does that feel?
Barclay Crenshaw: Chicago’s always been a really fun city to come and play. It’s always been a little more wild than other cities. I don’t know why, I can’t really explain it. It gets a little crazy here, so I enjoy it.
Brennan White: Ah, Yeah, for sure! So, I read that you had a radio show in high school. Is that correct?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yes that is correct.
Brennan White: I’m wondering how that show influenced your perspective on music from an early age, and how did it affect how you think about music and presenting it to an audience, or a crowd, or anyone else on the other end?
Barclay Crenshaw: I haven’t thought about that show in a really long time, and when I think about it I did the show with this kid Derek Ordway who is now deceased. Rest in Peace Derek. He was into punk rock and new wave and all that kind of stuff, and I was only into rap. So the radio show would be like I play Eric B. and Rakim and he plays Nitzer Ebb, and I play a Salt-N-Pepa track and he plays Depeche Mode.
Brennan White: Was that back to back?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah! the show was very eclectic.
Brennan White: So it was jumping around a bit?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah, but we both talked, and the way we would get people to listen to it is we would order a pizza every night and we would give the pizza away outside the station to the winning caller. So if you listened to our show you could always get a free pizza.
Brennan White: [laughs] Did you find that helped your show out a little bit?
Barclay Crenshaw: No, it helped the calling in but it didn’t help the show [laughs].
Brennan White: Because I was gonna say, in the 21st century sometimes it feels like radio is a bit of a dying art form.
Barclay Crenshaw: If it’s live then you should just give away some pizza!
Brennan White: That’s a tactic I’ll have to adopt because I certainly need some more people calling in on my show!
Barclay Crenshaw: People love pizza… But not only do they love pizza but they love hanging out with the host of the radio show while they eat their pizza.
Brennan White: You brought them into the studio sometimes? Or…
Barclay Crenshaw: No we would hang out outside.
Brennan White: It was a nightly show? once every week?
Barclay Crenshaw: Weekly, weekly.
Brennan White: Gotcha. Cool! So I know you have a background in film. You worked on the film Intellect: Techno House Progressive. So you learned a tremendous amount from the dance music scene from that film, right?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yes I did.
Brennan White: So you learned some of the benefits and glories as well as the downsides. Can you talk about how working on that project impacted the beginning of your career and what [ideas, concepts, information] you took into account when you were launching your career as a DJ and as a producer?
Barclay Crenshaw: I did that film basically to launch my career. I interviewed all of the most famous techno and house DJs to kind of find out how they got famous because I had been making music since I was 11 but I couldn’t figure out how to get past the stage of just making music. And I couldn’t get to the getting it out there and getting gigs stage. So, I basically just asked everyone how they did it and made a movie about it.
Brennan White: Are there any key elements of advice that stuck with you? Some of our listeners are aspiring producers and DJs.
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah, I mean one of the best interviews on that whole thing is a guy from Chicago named Derrick Carter who really told me how when the outside public looks in at djing they’re like “oh it’s so easy you don’t really have to do anything,” but Derrick Carter told me “it’s really hard, it’s only gonna get harder, and even when you make it, it’s only gonna get five times harder.” So you have to work your ass off.. Like every second.
Brennan White: And would you say some of those difficulties come from, I mean, obviously increased pressure, but also just larger crowds, you have more scrutiny from people in the audience or if you have a radio show, or if you’re releasing records with Dirtybird you’ve got a large audience?
Barclay Crenshaw: It’s like time management, doing everything, and being able to be on when you’re supposed to be on. Like playing six gigs a week and every single person that books you, pays you money, wants it to be the best set that you’ve ever played…
Brennan White: Absolutely. So there’s that constant pressure. So another question I’ve got for you is with the Dirtybird barbecues. With Birdhouse Festival next week in Chicago, you’re taking your brand to all these different cities, and I’m wondering how you decided to focus on cultivating this grassroots house movement within America, and it seems also that you’re not preoccupied with Europe: labels like Defected, Diynamic. You’re doing your own thing!
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah, I really feel like the opportunity is in America. And we’re one of the only people actually taking advantage of it and really building the community properly and getting the data and making events for people to go to outside the massive corporate rave system.
Brennan White: Definitely.
Barclay Crenshaw: We’re doing our own thing. If you look at the market, it’s so obvious that we should be doing what we’re doing. Like no one else is doing it. It’s crazy. I don’t understand it. Like why isn’t anyone else doing it? It’s so weird!
Brennan White: Yeah, for sure. So I want to ask you about one of your recent remixes. You were tapped by Mark Ronson and Diplo for the remix on Silk City’s “Only Can Get better.” Can you talk a little bit about how that remix came together?
Barclay Crenshaw: I originally went in the studio with Mark Ronson to be a writer on that track, and then I kind of just hung out there for a little bit, and I’ve been friends with Diplo. He remixed “the Whistler” before he was Diplo. He was Diplo, but he wasn’t “Diplo.”
Brennan White: [laughs] Was his name Wesley or something?
Barclay Crenshaw: No, his name was Diplo but you know what I mean! He wasn’t like Megatron Diplo.
Brennan White: Yeah.
Barclay Crenshaw: So [Mark Ronson and Diplo] were like we didn’t really use your bits on the track but we want you to do the remix. It was kind of a weird flip flop, but whatever. I did the remix and because of it Mark Ronson’s playing at Dirtybird Campout, so it was cool!
Brennan White: really! I didn’t even know that he was playing there. That’s amazing.
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah. It’s like a good thing. You know who always says yes to everything? You will never believe it.
Brennan White: Who’s that?
Barclay Crenshaw: William Shatner!
Brennan White: No way, seriously?
Barclay Crenshaw: [laughs] Shatner’s like, “that’s the secret to my life. I always said yes to every request.”
Brennan White: He’s a yes man, I guess!
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah. Don’t say yes to every request…Unless you want to be William Shatner.
Brennan White: It would make you insane. I don’t know how he lives his life [laughs]… So another question I have for you: we see pop music is now embracing a little bit of the house music style: if you look at Calvin Harris’s recent records and Diplo and Mark Ronson linking up with the Silk City project, what do you make of that and how do you think, especially in America, house is moving?
Barclay Crenshaw: I still wouldn’t call that like house house. But…
Brennan White: Yeah, I agree with you. But you can see the house influences at least?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah.
Brennan White: And What do you make of that?
Barclay Crenshaw: Really smart highly successful producers just get on whatever’s going. Like Whatever’s the hot shit. And I feel like this is starting to be the hot shit like for five minutes and that’s what’s gonna happen.
Brennan White: Yeah.
Barclay Crenshaw: Who knows if it’s going to be a long-term thing? It’s something rappers have been good at for ages. They find out what’s good-or not what’s good-what’s smoking hot, and then they just sample it or get that producer in to make something for them. It’s just an intelligent way to work.
Brennan White: yeah, I mean we saw that with the most recent Cardi B record, right?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah.
Brennan White: And I even saw Don Diablo had a recent record that sampled am old house song from the late 90s, or not that old, but… [this was a reference to Don Diablo’s record “Momentum” which samples Fatboy Slim’s 1999 dance hit “Right Here, Right Now“] Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah, that’s old. That’s pretty old!
Brennan White: yeah. So I guess my last question for you is: with Dirtybird, you’ve managed to curate a specific sound, but it seems like there’s not really any compromise on the parts of the artists that contribute to your label.
Barclay Crenshaw: No there isn’t!
Brennan White: So how do you go about being so specific and scrupulous with picking tracks but still allowing people to have that energy, you know?
Barclay Crenshaw: Yeah I don’t actually sign anyone, sign as in contractually-
Brennan White: So you sign tracks?
Barclay Crenshaw: I just sign individual pieces of music. And that gives me so much freedom. Because when you sign an artist you’re committed to everything they make and sometimes I don’t wanna go that direction.
Brennan White: Yeah.
Barclay Crenshaw: So I’m like a purist in that sense.
Brennan White: that makes sense.
Barclay Crenshaw: So we’re only signing tracks. But there are people who have made a lot of tracks that come out on Dirtybird, like Justin Martin…People I think that are amazing that I sign a lot of records from. But I never actually sign them. And the other thing I notice is, this is a big life lesson that I learned, the more you try to clamp down and tell people what they have to do for you the less they want to be involved. And the more you just let them do whatever they want and tell them that they can be involved just if they feel like it, the more they want to do with you.
Brennan White: Uh huh.
Barclay Crenshaw: Which is like counter intuitive; You think you have to control everyone but really you just have to be like “I’m just having a fun party do you want to come?”
Brennan White: Yeah, and I think it was Richard Branson, who had some part in that thinking. With his work with Janet Jackson, I know it he didn’t sign her to a [long] contractual agreement, it was like we’re gonna release this song and these couple records but I’m not gonna own everything that you do next and you’re not obligated. It’s kind of an interesting way to free up the artist but also allow yourself to continue to produce what you want.
Barclay Crenshaw: Everything is based on relationships anyway so if the artist feels good about working with you, then they’ll work with you. If they don’t feel good about working with you then it doesn’t even matter if they have a contract. They’re just going to tank it or figure a way out of it or just fuck it up.
Brennan White: Absolutely.
Barclay Crenshaw: It doesn’t do you any good to have bad vibes going down.
Brennan White: For sure! Alright so I think that brings us to the close of this interview. Barclay I appreciate you spending time with us!
Barclay Crenshaw: Thank you. Come to the Birdhouse Festival next week in Chicago!
Brennan White: Birdhouse fest!
Barclay Crenshaw: It’s at the plumber’s industrial toiletries Union! [sarcastically] Brennan White: [laughs] You’re kidding me!
Barclay Crenshaw: I don’t know where it is!
Brennan White: Everybody should be there regardless of where it is.
Barclay Crenshaw: It’s in a great spot. It’s where the Dirtybird festival was three years ago.
Brennan White: Okay, we’ll post that on the website [CLICK HERE FOR TIX!] . This has been Barclay Crenshaw, AKA Claude VonStroke. Thanks again Barclay, this was the Sonic Sanctuary show with Brennan White!
Barclay Crenshaw: Cool!
A complete version of the audio interview will feature on Sonic Sanctuary on the website on Sunday September 9th and on air from 12:00am to 1:00am on September 14th. Thanks for reading!
And grab your tickets for Birdhouse Festival right here! I will be there so you know it’s gonna be a fun time 🙂
Brennan White (Landon Sea)
Mura Masa playing at Concord Music Hall this past November. Photo by Yasmeen Wood
I hope you are having a great week!
North Coast Music Festival is nearly upon us, and that means it’s time for my preview of the event!
This weekend much of the Chicago music community will descend upon Union Park for the 9th iteration of the 3-day festival. North Coast has touted impressive lineups in previous year featuring names such as: Deadmau5, Gucci Mane, Zedd, Snoop Dogg, David Guetta, the Chemical Brothers, Moby, and many more. If that small sampling of past performers tells you anything, it’s that North Coast is willing to spend budget to bring in the big guns.
So, this year I expected no less. And I’ve gotta say, the lineup does not disappoint.
The weekend is shaping up to be fantastic and will offer everything from your mainstay headliners: Miguel, Axwell Ingrosso, DJ Snake, Vulfpeck, and co. to auspicious newcomers such as Chicago’s very own Ric Wilson and KAMI. I think North Coast has done a great job booking talent this year, considering there is a great deal of variety across genres. For the 21st century Soundcloud rap consumer you’ve got Juice WRLD, Smokepurpp, and Landon Cube among others, for the more seasoned millennial with a taste for synth-pop, indie-electronic and alternative, you’ve got the obvious picks: the Polish Ambassador, the Revivalists, Moon Taxi, Knower, and many more, for the more electronically inclined (bass heads!) you’ve got Snails, RL Grime, Crywolf, Midnight Conspiracy, and Chicago natives Porn & Chicken.
And for someone like me? Well, here are my picks!
This list will certainly include names you know, and perhaps a couple you might not. These are acts that I both appreciate for their artistry as well as their reputation as performers and people.
So with these picks, you can take it or leave it, but at least you will know where to find me 🙂
In order of date and time.
Monte Booker: 3:45-4:30 at the Coast stage.
Barclay Crenshaw: 5:00-6:00 at the Coast stage. Absolute legend in the house & techno scene. The Dirtybird boss, who also works under the alias Claude VonStroke, brings a funky style to the dance music scene, and is a must-see act for me this weekend. Also, I will hopefully conduct an interview with him for the Sonic Sanctuary show, so stay tuned.
Two Friends: 5:30-6:30 at the Attendee.com stage.
Juice WRLD: 6:00-6:45 at the North stage.
Snails // DVSN: Snails plays 7:45-8:45 at the Attendee stage while DVSN plays the same slot at the North stage. This one is a toss up for me so I will likely go to both.
Headliner: Miguel // Axwell Ingrosso. : 8:45-10:00 at the Coast stage and Attendee stage respectively. I have seen both performers before, and I would weight my experiences close to being equal. I saw Miguel at Governor’s Ball in 2016 (partially rained out so didn’t get the full experience) and Axwell x Ingrosso at Governor’s Ball in 2014. These days I am much more of a fan of the live set than the DJ set at music festivals, so I lean heavily towards Miguel when considering which one to attend; however, Axwell Ingrosso does throw down one of the best mainroom / big room EDM sets you’ll hear, if that’s your flavor.
Ric Wilson: 2:45-3:45 at the Coast stage. Chicago native and homegrown talent, show some love!
Knower: 4:45-5:45 at the Coast stage. seasoned indie-electronic duo that makes some interesting noise…
The Polish Ambasssador x Diplomatic Scandal: 5:45-6:45 at North stage.
RL Grime: 6:45-7:45 at Coast stage.
Cashmere Cat: 7:45-8:45 at North stage.
Headliner: the Revivalists: 8:45-10:00pm at Attendee.com stage.
I picked the Revivalists over DJ Snake in the head to head main stage match-up because I think they offer more to the viewer in a live space. I have seen DJ Snake in the past, and while his dirty house style fused with Middle Eastern and Caribbean influences is great for your frat party or Saturday night pregame, I don’t think it is the best use of your time at a major festival. See the live band here. The 7-piece band (the Revivalists) features pedal steel guitar, your mainstay drummer, guitarist, keyboardist, bassist and vocalist, as well as saxophone and trumpet. And when a live band is mic’d and mixed well live, it is a sight to enjoy and a pleasure for your ears. I’m in.
NoMBe: 3:30-4:30 at North Stage.
KAMI: 4:30 – 5:30 at Attendee.com stage. Another hometown talent!
Jacob Banks: 5:30-6:30 North Stage. English-Nigerian singer songwriter. Fantastic voice.
Moon Taxi: 6:30-7:30 Coast Stage.
Mura Masa: 7:30-8:30 North Stage.
Headliner: Jamiroquai: 8:30-10:00 Coast stage.
Once again, the question between headliners Yellow Claw and Jamiroquai comes down to your attitude towards the final act of the festival. Are you trying to have a wild time, or are you trying to finish your weekend with a more mellow vibe? Jamiroquai made their name in the 90s with consistent success on the U.K. dance charts. They combine house sensibilities with funk and soul influences. I personally find that sound more appealing these days than some of the more drop-oriented electronic music that acts like Yellow dClaw tout, but to each his own. Sometimes it’s fun to let loose!
So this brings me to the end of my preview. I will leave you with this last word: I will be conducting interviews at this festival so you can expect on-air content as well as some additional material on the website and on WNUR’s socials. I am finalizing my interview schedule, but it’s shaping up to be fun. Stay tuned. I’m excited for you to hear these interviews!
Check out Brennan’s music coverage and interviews at www.sonicsanctuary.live