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?
Cover art courtesy of Biker Gang Booking
Sara King is one of three new female artists recently picked up by talent agency Biker Gang Booking, known for managing bedroom pop favorites like Bane’s World, Inner Wave, and Michael Seyer.
A native of Dallas, King studied at her local School of Rock and began covering songs on YouTube, eventually forming her sound coined as “glitter pop” – catchy synths and drifting vocals, all supported by an indie pop backbone.
Her debut single, “Dreamz,” out today, seems to provide the perfect portrayal of this moniker. Essential guitar chords are hidden, but not disguised, with poppy beats and King’s ethereal voice. Her riffs on simple “do do do’s” are enough to transport the listener into a dreamworld, which, according to the lyrics, is also the only place King can be with her love interest. An ever-so-relatable topic in today’s world filled with social media and mixed signals, “Dreamz” is sure to resonate with its audience.
Although King’s sound is audibly influenced by the likes of Kali Uchis and Clairo, she seems to have a flair that’s all her own – something that is sure to be explored further when her EP HEAT drops later this month.
Listen to “Dreamz” below.
The North Shore Center for the performing arts was filled with soulful music Thursday, October 20 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Jung Yup, a member of the Korean ballad group Brown Eyed Soul, had agreed to sing as part of a fundraising concert jointly hosted by Korea Daily Chicago and the Korean American Sports Association of Chicago (KASAC).
Jung Yup is a nephew of the president of KASAC, Hong Byung Kil, who organized this event to raise funds for KASAC’s entry to the 19th Korean American National Sports Festival (KANSF) set to be hosted in Dallas, Texas, June 2017.
The stage felt as though it was set in an orchestra (to be fair, North Shore Performance Center also hosts orchestra performances). The audience were all formally or semi-formally dressed, a completely different vibe from a hip hop or rock concert where people are much more energetic. When Jung Yup came up onto the stage himself, he gave a sincere promise to the audience that he would do his best to convey the emotions embedded in his songs, which are predominantly ballads.
Jung Yup, Guitarist Park Juwon, Pianist Uniqnote, Bassist Ahn Byungchul and drummer No Yongjin performed jazz covers of Jung Yup’s songs and famous pop numbers. Tracks ranged from Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World and Maroon 5’s Sunday Morning to Nothing Better, Jung Yup’s signature cover, and Unrequited Love.
Park is the most renowned jazz guitarist in Korea, while Ahn and No were both active session members in the Korean indie music scene. Uniqnote is a singer-songwriter who wrote songs for groups like Fly to the Sky and Brown Eyed Girls. The acoustic collaboration between Park and Jung Yup were especially poignant, awing the audience with covers of YB’s Cigarette Girl and Yoo Jae-ha’s You in My Arms.
Surprisingly, unlike at a vast majority of concerts, there were only a few phones out to record the show throughout the concert. When Jung Yup started off the show with What a Wonderful World, everyone was silent and listened in as they immersed themselves in the performance. They seemed to be pointing out that our own eyes and ears are probably better suited for concerts than cellphone cameras are.
Due to Brown Eyed Soul’s legacy as a group of lush R&B-flavored vocalists renowned for their harmony, it was hard to initially fathom how Jung Yup would be able to fulfill that expectation on his solo concert. Jung Yup and the band pleasantly surprised the audience with a wide variety of arrangements, starting from the moody acoustic covers to groovy and jazzy tunes. The audience had little time to be bored.
Jung Yup was relaxed and enthusiastic on stage, taking his time to talk with the audience. He also tried to share his enthusiasm with the crowd as he set up the audience for an interactive session during one of his songs, so everyone could sing along in the chorus. He walked off the stage into the aisles while singing a Bob-Marley-inspired reggae/jazz interpretation of Peter Frampton’s Baby I love your way, taking selfies with the audience and passing the microphone to them. At this point, the show was not just a place to relate and immerse oneself into the songs, but it became a place where everyone had fun in an opportunity to sing with their favorite singer.
Saving the best for last, JungYup ended with Its Love, an OST for the Korean TV series Doctors. Before he sang his last song, he told his fans that if enough people screamed “encore” after his song, he would come back onto the stage for one more song. He even went off to say that he always stands at the edge of the stage behind the curtain, preparing himself for the encore. Once the song ended and people excitedly screamed “encore” to call him back, JungYup returned and joined forced with the guitarist Park in an acoustic rendition of You, In My Arms, an original song by singer Yoo Jae Ha that Jung Yup had covered on Yoon Do-hyun’s MUST, a Korean music TV show hosted by the leader of the rock band YB.
Overall, the concert was a fun and interactive experience. Jung Yup told us that people are welcome to ask him anything they wanted to ask about his personal life. His female fans took advantage of the opportunity to scream how good looking he was and ask whether he had a girlfriend. Jung Yup comically welcomed them, requesting them that they send in more praises as it “makes him feel like a star.” And a star he was indeed.
Special thanks to Korea Daily Chicago for providing the materials for this publication.
If you want to learn more about Korea Daily Chicago and its event schedule, check out their website and social media.
Andy Mineo, an up and coming rapper from New York City, recently released his sophomore album, Uncomfortable, which meshes confession, faith and old school hip hop with jazzy undertones to create an eclectic sound style that is, as Mineo said in a phone interview, “uncomfortable in its approach.”
The album’s title track hit No. 3 on Hip-Hop/Rap iTunes charts just after a day of being released and Mineo has since interviewed with Billboard Magazine and is rumored to attend the BET Hip Hop Awards this year.
After touring with Christian hip hop artist Lecrae, who in the Urban Daily he describes as a mentor figure, Mineo decided to debut his own tour as a headliner. The Uncomfortable Tour came to the House of Blues Chicago on Saturday, October 17 and Mineo invited the WNUR Media Team to cover it.
After an hour-long opener by R&B singer SPZRKT and spoken word rapper Propaganda, the pumped-up crowd held its breath before the darkened stage in primal excitement.
Suddenly, a cube-shaped screen in the center of the stage lit up in a bright flash, displaying black-and-white video footage of a city. As soon as the unmistakable intro chorus of “Uncomfortable” started blaring, the crowd erupted in a roar of joy and chanted along, Andy Mineo still nowhere in sight. As the chorus came to a finish, a purple light erupted from the top of the cube, revealing the bespectacled rapper standing upon it as he spat his first verse of the show.
It was a breathtaking intro that set the tone and pace of the show to an extremely high bar. And like an eight-ton truck with a busted brake, the show refused to slow down. By the time the second track “Know That’s Right” came on, the crowd was jumping so hard I could feel the ground shake from the second floor balcony. Without giving the crowd even a second to rest, Mineo charged on with “Now I Know,” then brought the pace down with the mellow beats of “Hear My Heart.”
The burley Caucasian rapper filled the small stage of Chicago’s celebrated House of Blues both physically and charismatically. Each bar he spat and each stomp he took across the stage emanated confidence, and his lyrics overpowered the deafening bass and live drum set.
“Welcome to the Uncomfortable Tour, Chicago,” Mineo finally said, greeting the crowd for the first time after a four-song intro to the already adrenaline-soaked performance. It was impossible to tell that this was the 27-year-old rapper’s first headlining tour. He was calm. No, not calm—he had the composure and dazzle of an experienced performer. He even found time to crack up the fans by playing around with his vocal harmonizer.
No time to waste: After a brief banter with the crowd, Mineo jumpstarted the show again with “Vendetta,” followed by the banger “Desperados.” At this point, I was certain the balcony would break as the crowd jumped up and down in synchronized seismic jolts.
What followed for the next hour-and-a-half of the jam-packed show was a slew of bangers and hits including “Paisano’s Wylin’,” “Uno Uno Seis” and “Uptown.” Each song was met with rap-alongs and frantic jumps from the fans. Even the somber intermissions with messages about Christian faith (which was met with unfaltering enthusiasm from the crowd) didn’t seem to slow the show down.
Perhaps what made Mineo’s show so energetic and engrossing was not only the charisma of the black-rimmed rapper himself, but also his onstage crew that carried each song to another level: DJ Dre The Giant mixed the show along flawlessly, Propaganda dropped prophetic bars to intermittently break up the pace, and the live drummer Black Knight went ham on kick and snare to give each performance a high-octane boost.
During one hilarious intermission, the entire Uncomfortable tour crew came to the stage to participate in what could only be described as a spontaneous dance-off to various love songs ranging from Beyoncé’s timeless pop single “Crazy In Love” to Haddaway’s Eurodance megahit “What Is Love.”
The crowd loved every moment. And one could tell the Uncomfortable crew did, too.
With the brilliant chemistry of both the crowd and the talented crew, Mineo stormed up the House of Blues with a wild show. He’s charging his way full-throttle through the seven-week tour that spans 26 cities in 19 states, and it seems like he isn’t going to slow down any time soon.
WNUR: I wanted to start with talking about your development as a rapper, you grew up in Syracuse if I’m not mistaken and moved out to New York City. I’m interested to know if hip-hop was a culture you were surrounded by from a young age and who you looked up to?
Mineo: Yeah, basically my brother bought me a Jay-Z CD and a pair of New Balance sneakers for Christmas one year and that kind of began my journey in listening to hip-hop. And then my other brother listened to Pantera and my sister listened to Usher so I had a very eclectic crew of people around me. They shared many different kinds of music with me and I think that’s why music is very eclectic but it has a hip-hop foundation.
WNUR: For sure, and definitely something you can hear in Uncomfortable. So talking about that album you’ve said your “other albums have sounded like playlists, this is a more focused body of work. It’s uncomfortable in its approach.” I wanted to ask what you mean by “uncomfortable in its approach.”
Mineo: For this project I really wanted to try to create a cohesive body of work, where it felt like the same producer or producers worked on it the whole way through. Instead of a jumble mixed thought I wanted to showcase a cohesive thought and that was a challenge for me because in the past I’ve just kind of let all my influences splatter onto the canvas in a sense. So I kind created a self-limiting system for myself and the guys we created the project with to try to push the boundaries in a different way creatively. For me it’s uncomfortable in its approach in a lot of ways: For one, every song is unique, every song is different, there’s no song on that album that is the same song twice even in format or style. And then also we’ve broken a lot of song structure norms, so these aren’t just your typical 16-bar rap verses, 8-bar choruses, songs. These are songs that evolve and grow and have different sections, and it’s kind of a journey for the listener. The songs tie in together thematically and musically as well.
WNUR: I really dug the jazz sample based, old school hip-hop vibe underlying a lot of the record. Is there something specific you were listening to when you were working on Uncomfortable?
Mineo: Nothing specifically, but I think a lot of my influences, just like loving the golden era of hip-hop and feeling that alot of the hip-hop today just kind of sounds the same, very trappy, southern and singy. I wanted to do something that I was inspired by and not just follow the trends of today. And that was a risk because it’s not popular and I was okay with embracing that risk and trying something that wasn’t sure to work, because one of my goals as an artist is to distinguish myself and set myself apart from other artists with not just my content but also sonically.
WNUR: Along that vein of being comfortable about what you are presenting, one of the big things I noticed listening to your record was how personal it is. Many of the songs touch on very personal subjects and then within that you tend to put your faith out there. Could you talk a little bit about that? Have hip-hop and your faith always been interrelated?
Mineo: I think hip-hop has always been a place for people to share who they really are or who they want to be. There is a high value placed on being ‘authentic,’ being ‘real,’ so I think I’ve just been following that trajectory. My relationship with God informs my entire life, and that’s why I tend to shy away from the term “Christian Rapper” because it feels like a gimmick to me. My relationship with God informs the way I do life, the way I do money, the way I do marriage, the way I do friendship, all those things, it even informs the way I think and the music I make. So the ideas of God and faith are all throughout my music because that’s a real part of my life, something that is more woven into who I am rather that sitting on top as an identity.
WNUR: I can definitely agree with that as a listener. Unfortunately that’s going to be our time, anything else to add?
Mineo: That’s it man, just come out to check out the concert. Andymineo.com has those tickets for The Uncomfortable Tour 2015.
These are our favorite Jazz & Improvised Music albums that came out in 2013. If you listened to the Jazz Show (M-F 5am-12pm) sometime in 2013, chances are you heard us giving one of these a good spin. It was a really tough choice to narrow it down to the top 10, but you’ll notice we have a convenient 6-way tie in the 10th position (^_-). Big congratulations to the artists on this list—may you continue to create amazing records long into the future. We are also extremely grateful to the labels and promoters who hooked up WNUR with so much fantastic music last year, keeping Chicago’s Sound Experiment as new and bold and fresh as ever.
By Svyat Nakonechny ’14
On my way to the DakhaBrakha show, as the cold and lonely after-rush-hour Chicago swam by, the band’s solemn “Nad Dunaem” (“Over Danube”) came on in my headphones. Between the pauses of the melodic vocals and the distant hums of the harmonic, I zoned out, only to come back to the far less pacific cannons of the Red line. And such was their concert – an alchemy of familiar tones spiced with crafted peaks of DakhaBrakha’s brilliant voices.
By the time Marko Halanevych thanked the generous audience for the first time (after the opener), the room was theirs. Then came “Oi za lisochkom” (“Far by the creek”), a fine crescendo of vocals and tender bass, a composition in the realm of its own. Iryna Kovalenko poured her sharp Old Ukrainian dialect into Nina Garenetska’s somber cello, then Marko’s resonant vocals stole our ears, all to Olena Tsibulska’s colorful drum tone.
Then there was a jazzy twist, a rhythmic tune about how to plant Ukrainian beans, but what DakhaBrakha sang mattered far less than how they did it, how they organically merged their poised voices and skillful multi-instrumentalism with the unknown to most of us ethnos, a mystical land that has seen much agony and far less joy, peoples firm in their melodies and witty in their tongue. Spontaneously all this cliffs back to Marko’s echo, back to a bizarre bag pipe-sounding flute, to the vivid atmosphere of the show.
Like true Ukrainians still hibernating after their late Eastern Orthodox Christmas, DakhaBrakha produces a schedrivka, a traditional well-wishing and celebratory tune, one I’ve never heard before. Again, splendid. Even my Peruvian neighbors agree.
In my conversation with Marko after the show (I admit, I pretended to have recorded it – “Can we do an interview for our listeners?” sounds substantially less preying than “I just want to talk about this music of yours”), a colleague interviewer asked about the environments in which the group prefers to play. The truth is that this journalist-y query fades behind DakhaBrakha’s virtuous performance, regardless of the venue or the quantity of hands clapping. With this band comes some strange ambiance, one that no mic can amplify and no record can reproduce. To an unfamiliar ear it’s all a beautiful sound contraption – mysterious, profound, virgin. To this humble servant, it’s a summer’s trip into the dense Ukrainian woods my six-year-old self used to make; it’s my grandmother’s painful but sweet lullaby, one I will never fathom hearing but will always shiver when I do.
All that’s left to do is pick up our jaws from the ground, for DakhaBrakha’s diapasons and vocal ranges are second to none. And all I can do is convulse in the ecstatic rhythm of “Carpathian rap.”
At some point I put my phone down and stopped taking notes. It’s shameful, but I couldn’t rack up bits and pieces of this mosaic. It’s unjust. To the quartet, to the audience, to the reader. I zone out again, then wake up to “Howard is next, doors open on the left on Howard.”
In case you missed this Friday’s Sonic Celluloid event at the Block, here’s a chance to listen to some of what you missed. Autumn Drones opened the night with a great score to Stan Brakhage’s “Prelude: Dog Star Man.” He posted it to his Soundcloud, so here it is in its entirety:
This edition of Torn From The Bible is dedicated to some of the more eccentric back-pages of the Rock Bible. Recommended reading for any fans of wacked out [sic] music.
Gratitude and appreciation, as always, to the Rock Show staff of yore who contributed these pages; some of them give themselves credit, and some don’t, but they’re all probably rad people.
Local label Thrill Jockey has been celebrating its 20th anniversary throughout 2012, with numerous shows and events across the country in Portland, New York, and Los Angeles. Tomorrow, the celebration will culminate at the Empty Bottle with a concert featuring Man Forever, the Sea and Cake, and Tortoise.
Since its inception, Thrill Jockey has supported a consistently fantastic roster of artists, from Tortoise to Daniel Higgs to Boredoms, and you can frequently hear Thrill Jockey releases on WNUR. I contacted some of the label’s artists to see why they think Thrill Jockey is a record label worth honoring, as well as their picks for their favorite Thrill Jockey records.