Charlie Parr, the Duluth-based folk-blues crooner, kicked off yet another tour here in Chicago this past Thursday night at Lincoln Hall. He’s accompanied on this tour by his friend Phil Cook. I’ve been a fan of Charlie’s since I first stumbled across his work in 2016, when Stumpjumper— an album I still play on repeat at least twice a week– popped up on my Spotify. Nervous and excited, I arrived at the venue early and took a seat by the window. After a few minutes of waiting around, a bewhiskered Charlie humbly ambled out to meet me, having just finished sound check.
The following is a transcription of our brief conversation, slightly condensed for length.
I wanted to ask you a bit about your songwriting process… An older Citypages interview said that you write from the perspective of 1931 in a lot of your songs, drawing from old blues acts. Is that true?
Yeah well, not all the time… There were certain songs written using stories my dad told me as starting off points. He was born in ’22. During the depression he was a teenager, and he left home and bummed around the country for a long time and had a lot of good stories about that… I didn’t write any songs at all until he died. I think the main reason I even started writing songs is because I was having a really hard time figuring out how to grieve for him, because we were really close. So, I wrote down a lot of things that turned into songs that were inspired by all those stories he told me about the depression and hopping freight trains and all those crazy things he did… I guess I still go back to that occasionally, but it’s not so much the time, but the grief. I’m motivated more by that than anything else.
I noticed that some songs appear multiple times across different records in your discography… Does the meaning of the songs change for you over time?
For sure. Songs are never done… For me anyway. I mean, this is personal, but songs are never really finished. You know, if you’re a writer or a painter, you create your art and you give it away or sell it, and it’s theirs. They can do whatever they want with it. You can’t break into their house and edit it. But as a musician, every night I get to recreate the art that I made again—brand new. Because I haven’t made anything at all. When I play, nothing is created. You’re just moving air molecules around. And when you’re done, the air molecules will move back to where they were when you started. There’s really nothing there. It’s the most Buddhist form of art there is. So, songs get kind of rewritten every night, in a way. Certain songs that never felt finished in the first place keep piquing my interest until I re-record them, because they don’t feel the same anymore. Like you said, they’ve taken on a new meaning for me.
I think it’s alive.
I read somewhere that you play up to 250 shows a year?
I have—I’ve played up to 275 shows a year, but I don’t have a job, so I got nothing else to do. This past year I did way lower than that. I broke my shoulder this past August, so I was off the road for like two months. But I play as much as I can. If somebody asks me to play, then I’ll play, because all I want to do is play the guitar.
You also have a family– two teen children– how has that impacted your musicianship and touring, et. cetera?
Umm, not well. Or maybe it’s the other way around. You know, this lifestyle destroyed my marriage. The challenge of being a parent and living this lifestyle is daunting. I’ve tried to make it okay by the time that I am home, trying to be mindful and present—awake—for my kids. They’re in their teens, so sometimes they don’t really want me to be there, but you know, if they do want me, and I’m in the house, I want to be there and say yes to them and what they need. When I was a kid, my dad worked in the packing house. He was a great guy, but he worked 12 hours, sometimes 14 hours a day; when he came home he was tired. His body was there, but the rest of him was not… I’m gone for a couple of weeks, so when I am with my kids I make it my duty to say yes to them and spend time with them, and just do what I can.
So, we mentioned your shoulder earlier, I’ve read you were also diagnosed with focal dystonia…
Yeah, that was years ago.
How has that made an appearance in your work?
Well, what happens is your rhythm goes away… You feel like you don’t have a hand anymore—you have a flipper. It’s really hard to deal with. When I got the hang of it and started changing the way I play the guitar, the way I hold it, the way I attack it, then it seemed fine again. And it’s plateaued at that spot for 7 or 8 years now. So, I’m comfortable now. There’s still a lot of stuff that I physically cannot do, because these fingers are not usable anymore… I can only play with my index finger and my thumb, and for a finger-style player, that’s not really enough. But I took a lot of comfort in the fact that a lot of amazing guitar players like Reverend Gary Davis and Booker White and Doc Watson pick with two fingers, so I could look to them for inspiration.
And you play a lot of slide was well.
Oh yeah, sure.
Do you mess with different tunings often?
All the time, yeah. I love alternate tunings. I don’t use a lot of them in performance, you know. There’s some that seem really specific to like one or two things and it takes a minute to get there. Some are a strain on certain strings and you’re always afraid you’re gonna break something on stage, so during a performance I might use two or three different tunings, but rarely more than that. At home when I’m practicing, I’m really interested in exploring a lot of different tunings, so I have a few guitars that just hang around the house and are tuned odd, so I can play around with those.
You alternate between a resonator and a guitar at times.
Normally. My twelve string is kind of in rough shape, so I’ve got two resonators tonight set to different tunings.
There’s some harmonica in some of your recordings, do you ever break that out on stage?
Well, that’s a friend of mine that plays that. And he’s a freight train engineer, so he doesn’t travel unless he’s got time off. I’m trying to talk him into retiring, because railroad pension’s pretty good. You could just hit the road and play music.
Yeah, that’d be nice! Another question: I saw online that you had a pdf, sort of minibook format of some of your writings, and song lyrics, and what have you. What inspired that idea?
That was my friend Ryan, who does the website. I don’t have a computer so it’s hard for me to figure that stuff out. He’s like an archivist, librarian. Really good at it. So, he wants me to send him lyrics, so he could put them online. Well I don’t have a computer, so I mailed him some notebooks and he scanned the notebooks and sort of put them all together that way. And then I just started sending him everything, and he started compiling it, scanning it, putting it on the website.
Do you do any illustrating?
You know I do, I do painting, watercolor painting, but it’s terrible. [Laughs] It’s a mental health therapy so I don’t show those around too much.
I know depression has been a constant theme for you, and it’s evident in a lot of your songwriting, but can you talk about what that’s been like for you, if you’re comfortable?
Yeah, I’m getting comfortable with it. There’s been too much of my life where I wouldn’t talk about it because I was ashamed of it. When I was 14 through 16 I had several suicide attempts. I was in and out of the state hospital around where I lived, umm, and then for a while it kind of subsided. You know, depression’s weird. For me, anyway, depression manifests itself in this situation where you don’t feel much of anything. You know, your motivation goes away completely, you don’t feel particularly sad, you never feel particularly happy, you know you just don’t feel much of anything. And it’s dangerous. When I was in my late 40s, and I’m 52 now, it came back with a vengeance. I had a few more suicide attempts and decided to actively start seeking some sort of therapy for it, and it’s been going well. So that’s what I do. I play music and I practice kind of a walking meditation daily, that helps me a lot. But it’s there, and it’s powerful.
Your work, at least the way I see it, has a way of reaching out to people in similar situations, feeling similar things. You’re a walking example of overcoming it in a sense.
That would be an honor. That’s hard sometimes. It doesn’t feel like I’m overcoming it. It’s such a present part of my life, you know. Depression comes along with a weird kind of social anxiety I have that sends me running to the most private place I can find. I wanna just get away. It’s weird, playing shows, and you’re in public, and people are around, sometimes a lot of people, and you have to find a way to deal with that. And I always appreciate when someone comes up and says, “I have it, I’m suffering as well.” And it’s not something where I can say I’m doing great, but at least you know you’re not alone. There’s more of us out there when you think. There was a time when I was a kid, a teenager, when you didn’t say anything to anybody because there was such a stigma around it. People called you terrible names. Think about a 14-year-old kid who takes a bottle of pills because he’s done living, and he goes back to school, and people make fun of him for it. It’s freaking terrifying. Anything I feel like I can do—I can’t help anybody, because I haven’t found a way out of it myself—but if I can say you know I’m here too… Sometimes that’s good. But that’s all I’ve been able to do so far.
On a lighter note, are you working on any new projects?
Yeah, Red House [Records] is putting out the next record in August, which is more of a solo record. It’s actually a little bit of a retrospective. I wrote some new songs, I covered a couple of songs I’ve wanted to cover for a long time: a Spider John Koerner song and a Grant Hard song. And then, like we were talking about earlier, I revisited a couple of old songs that I feel like I really wanted to get another run at, because they’ve been around for so long and they’ve changed over the years. The meaning has shifted for me, so I wanted to take another crack at it. So that’s going to come out at the end of summer. And I’m always writing a lot for the next thing, but nothing’s really coalesced yet.
Alright, well we look forward to hearing it! Thanks Charlie.
Thank you, Finn, I appreciate it.
In discussions about the music industry, graphic artists are often overlooked — a strange fact considering that we adorn our walls with posters of our favorite bands, buy t-shirts depicting the same artwork, and sometimes even etch iconic album covers permanently into our skin… I Googled “music poster industry” and the first page of results was chock full of RedBubble advertisements and Amazon links, but surprisingly sparse in journalistic content. I did, however, find three articles on the topic: one relatively recent but intensely narrow article by Smithsonian Mag, focusing only on Chicha music, and two with slightly broader perspectives, written in 2004 and 2014 respectively. Clearly, this is a topic that has been overlooked.
If you’re anything like me, you admire and appreciate great art, especially art that promotes a band you love. While attending South By Southwest in Austin this year, I took a stroll around Flatstock 69: the part of the festival dedicated to showcasing the graphics industry and the visual artists behind some of our favorite designs. I sat down with a long time family friend and seasoned music-industry veteran and we talked a little bit about his job. He’s had the privilege of working with big-name clients, including The Arctic Monkeys, Jay Z, Death Cab for Cutie, Spoon, Guided by Voices, The Alabama Shakes, Jack White, Kia Motors, Wonka Candy, and Vans Warped Tour to name a few.
What follows is a slightly condensed version of said conversation in Q & A format.
Would you mind introducing yourself?
Yeah, my name is Andy Vastagh, President of the American Poster Institute and the owner and designer and printer for Boss Construction… my design company.
So, you’re self employed
And how many employees do you have working for you?
Uhh, zero. [Laughs] It’s all me.
That’s really cool, can you talk about your path to where you are today… how you got here?
Yeah so, I was making artwork for friends’ bands, for these little shows. That was kind of my way to get into the shows because I was always wanting to go to the shows but didn’t have enough money to actually pay to get through the door. So I found a way to align with the bands and get to be a part of the scene without knowing [how to play] music.
So you’ve worked with some pretty well-known artists. Do you usually work with the artist directly, or is it through their manager, or label… How does that work?
It can be a variety of things, between management, venues, promoters… but often it’s me and somebody in the band who sort of has the lead on creative direction and we just go back and forth. Like Adam from War on Drugs just emails me when he has an idea or he asks me to send him some ideas. I work directly with him because he likes to have a hand in that kind of stuff.
Okay, that brings me to another point; how does licensing and permissions work when you make art for, or sometimes with, a group?
Well, we have a couple of different arrangements. One, they can buy the artwork outright. That’s the top-level fee. A lot of times, they go for the middle tier fee… Essentially I give them a little break on design or printing, with the agreement that I can keep a portion of that limited edition run and sell it myself, via my website or poster shows at festivals, that kind of thing. That one usually works out best; they save a few bucks in the end, and I… have the good will to exhibit and sell them myself. And I make more money that way. IF they sell, that is.
How competitive is the industry? How hard is it to get gigs lined up?
I’d say most people start kind of slow and low… Mostly [working with] smaller tier bands, local bands, or working with venues. But when you start to get the venues that are getting decent sized touring acts coming through, you can connect with bands like that, then it kind of starts to evolve. Then, promoters at the bigger venues see what you’re doing with these smaller guys, and say, “We wanna do that too!”
I started with probably one of the smallest clubs in Nashville when I started really getting serious into it, and now I do stuff for like their giant arena… But it wasn’t right out of the gate that I was doing stuff for Bridgestone Arena.
So you’d say most of your business is word of mouth?
Yeah, word of mouth, or just being out. Doing little local things, or doing things like this. Flatstock here in Austin, or the one we do in Chicago, you have a lot of people (especially at SXSW) that are in the industry, wether they’re bands or management or they work for a record label. And they’re always looking for something to kind of step up their brand.
You can walk through here and see seventy-five different artists’ work. It’s kind of like a living, breathing catalog of amazing artwork and different things. And you can meet the people who are making it in the same place.
So I first met you at Warped Tour in Nashville, and now again in Austin. You also mentioned shows in Chicago. Sounds like a lot of travel!
Yeah! Especially in the summer, I do a lot of traveling. Starting in May, and going through November. I do larger festivals between Bonnaroo and Firefly Festival and Pitchfork in Chicago. After this one, we go to Barcelona at the end of May for a festival called Primavera Sound. This will be my seventh or eighth year. It’s a good excuse to go to Spain, and it’s an amazing festival. It’s probably 80-100,000 people for four days, it goes from 5pm to 5am… it’s wild.
But travel can be tiresome and I’ll miss my dogs and my bed and then I get to enjoy coming home. But yeah, I’ve gotten to see a good bit of the world [based] on the sole fact that I make and design concert posters.
Awesome! On a closing note, what’s one thing that you’ve come across or learned, be it about yourself or anything, that you didn’t expect to.
I learned to be confident in whatever is is that I’m doing and to make it as authentic to my instincts and aesthetics and beliefs and not worry so much about making something that’s gonna match with someone’s couch, ya know? Just make it for you, and if it’s honest enough, you’ll find the right audience.
This is the second part of a two-part article. You can find the first part here.
Additonally, all of the videos we produced to go along with this piece can be found on our YouTube page, as well as the individual links found below, as we come across these artists in the wild.
I began my day at Shiner’s Saloon in downtown Austin. The cozy “family” bar was dark, lit mostly by a row of windows behind the stage and a neon Shiner beer sign.
The first band to play was The Golden Fleece: a psychedelic rock band from Peoria, IL. Their set began with a plague of sound issues that were quickly corrected. By the third song, the band was at full swing.
The drummer beat the absolute shit out of his kit, displaying a level of confidence easily matched by his bandmates. Characteristic of 70’s era psych rock swagger, the Fleece were masters of changing the pace. Meandering psychedelic melodies gave way to frenzied guitar solos, expertly sprinkled with moments of pregnant silence.
Being Peoria natives, the Fleece will likely present plenty of opportunities to experience them live. If you just can’t wait, they do have a new record, Mind Mirror, set to be released this April. The band is selling presale-edition vinyls at their merch tables on tour, as well as online.
Fans of Hendrix, Zeppelin, Sabbath, and anything in-between will appreciate tracks, “Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya” and “Crowd,” the former of which being from their debut EP Kill the Time, the latter a single from the forthcoming LP.
Next to take the stage was a band that hails from even closer to home. Deeper is a Chicago-based quartet that toes the line between post-punk, emo, and something else altogether. Pitchfork compared them to Deerhunter last summer, and while I never made that connection myself, similarities are there.
The band was pretty subdued in terms of their performance, shoegazing the day away. Shiraz, the drummer, was celebrating his birthday, and played exceptionally well. His frenzied pace-making shook the floor of the small venue and set a rigid backbone for his three bandmates to lean on. Guitar/vocalist Nic Gohl’s voice was tinged with urgency, lending an almost emo-band quality to the music.
The guys were very matter-of-fact about the show, played their forty minutes and made way for the next group to set up. I expected more ego from a band with opening credits for bands like Whitney, Ne-Hi, and more. I’d point you to their self-titled album, but their 2018 Audiotree Live session is too good to pass up and is readily available on Spotify.
I fought my way through the sea of people on Sixth Street to BD Riley’s Irish Pub in time to catch yet another local group, The Curls. Fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will appreciate that these guys looked like the McPoyle clan with instruments. Their concept was reminiscent of Dead & Co., but their sound carried more of a funk influence. They’re hard to pin down. Maybe that’s why nobody quite knows how to describe them online. They describe themselves on Facebook as “art funk/piss jazz.” So there you have it.
The set was goofy from start to finish. After the first song, vocalist Mick asked the stage manager how much time they had left. He responded to her look of confusion by saying, “Alright cool, we’ll just play the rest of the songs we had planned to play then.” The second half of the set saw Mick not-so-politely ask the crowd for sponsorship/endorsement deals.
Despite the fun and games, the band was musically solid. They would change time signatures and chord sequences seemingly without warning or hesitation, making for a unique-to-them sound. You can catch The Curls at Sleeping Village on April 23rd and check out their music online anytime! I recommend singles “Bad Boi,” “Tidal Wave,” and “Prickly Feelings.”
From Denton, Texas, the self-labeled “suburban rock” group Sad Cops took to the stage behind the Mariott hotel. These guys were definitely the youngest group I met at South By, but it didn’t show. More on that later. The project is a 5 piece that I would label Midwestern emo/math rock, reminiscent of bands like American Football, Mineral, The Hotelier or Tiny Moving Parts. They’re a prolific young band, producing two EP’s, a single, and an album since 2015—all while still in high school.
“You can tell we’re a DIY band because none of our pedal boards ever work,” said lead singer Grayson Harris, troubleshooting his gear between the first and second songs of the set. The performance was full of banter, back and forth between the group. Paired with a technically solid musical performance, this easy confidence sold the band as seasoned industry veterans rather than punk kids from the Texas suburbs. Harris followed this comment by saying, “We didn’t know these sets were forty minutes… we usually play house parties and most people can only stand us for twenty at most.” As cliché as it may sound, I was reminded of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged special… “What are they, tuning a harp back there?”
Speaking of DIY, Harris also pointed out a friend in the crowd who had shot the music video for the band’s most-popular-by-far single, “Honey.” Check that out on YouTube, or head over to Spotify and listen to singles “Numb Hand” and “Best Friends.” Sad Cops was impressive on a number of fronts; rest assured, we’ll be hearing the name again.
Replacing Sad Cops on the Mariott’s backyard stage was Spanish-language band Tribes from El Paso, Texas. I met Mike, who I would later learn is the band’s founder and guitarrón player, before Tribes went on. We talked about math rock and jazz and funk metal and everything under the musical sun, highlighting cross-genres and creative sources of influence, as well as lamenting the struggles of academic performing arts. I stuck around to see what Mike had promised to be an electrifying Mariachi-rock set. He wasn’t wrong.
I’ve seen plenty of mariachi music and had more or less written it off as another culture’s homogeneous-sounding folk music (like polka, or hick hop…) and never paid it the individual attention it deserves. Tribes was a pleasant surprise. The band played beautifully. They managed to make three strings players (vihuela, guitarrón, and guitar), two trumpeters, a drummer, a violinist, and a singer sound uncomplicated, synergetic, and uncluttered. Gisselle Lopez supplied powerhouse vocals to contend with any singer out there.
Music video and vinyl accompaniments for their single “Night Future” are available now, the former on YouTube and Facebook: @tribestx
If you’ve read any of these articles, you know about my British Music Embassy fetish. I went almost every day, I just couldn’t stay away. This time, I showed up at Latitude 30 early, eager to get a good photo spot for The Blinders: an alt-rock band from Doncaster. The band has been together since 2015—since their founding they’ve released seven singles, an EP, and a full-length album. Their Facebook page proclaims that their influences range from Dylan and Lennon, to Mark E Smith, to Kerouac and Rimbaud, predictably Orwell and S.Borroughs, and even Manson and The Devil. In a 2016 interview with Clash Music, the band referred to their sound as “A spellbinding punkadelic-esque Roman orgy.”
Their music stands for itself; nothing I can say here will do it any justice. You need to listen for yourself. I can, however, describe their performance as best I can in so many words. They started strong, killing all of the lights and blasting “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) over the venue’s loudspeakers. The three-piece leapt on-stage, and they did so in style. Bass player Charlie McGough sported a sparkly pinstripe shirt and suit. He likes to out-dress his audience. Matty Neale, drummer-extraordinaire, kept it casual while Thomas Haywood, the group’s lead singer/guitarist and frontman, emerged with his shirt unbuttoned and his face painted up Skyrim style. Non-gamers, think Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger, but more culturally sensitive.
They gave an all-over-the-place show, clearly influenced by the hayday of 80’s British rock groups. McGough would plant a foot on a stage monitor and headbang while Haywood would give the back of the house a thousand-yard stare, just over the heads of the audience, while sort of squat-crawling with his guitar slung back and microphone in hand. It was loud and big and sweaty rock n’ roll.
The Blinders were one of the bands I was most excited to see, and for good reason. The band is presently touring, but unfortunately doesn’t have any US dates planned. Check out their debut album, Colombia, specifically singles “L’etat C’est Moi,” “I Can’t Breathe Blues,” and “Free the Slave.”
Friday night was the night of Arlyn Studios’ Homecoming Party. Since opening in 1984, Arlyn Studios has worked with some of the best musical acts in the world: Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, Frank Ocean, Hillary Duff, Phish, Sublime, and even Willie Nelson and Waka Flocka Flame. They’ve amassed a mindboggling portfolio and have had a hand in some of the most successful recording projects of all time. Almost the entire building was open for the public to meander through, though it was too crowded to do so easily.
After peeking my head into one of three state-of-the-art booths and nerding out for a second, I began the upstream battle to get as near as possible to the recording-studio-turned-stage. Canada-born and now Austin-based sleaze rockers Kevin McKeown (guitar and vocals) and Eric Owen (drums) swaggered out of the back room and were met with the correct (read: absurd) amount of whooping and screaming from the crowd.
The duo lit straight into it, Owen beating his drums within an inch of life, McKeown planting off of the kit and showing off his high kicks. Music journalists have described these guys as high octane before, but that word fails to encapsulate the glory… It’s like these guys had killed a six-pack of Redbull each and had Guitar Hero’s star-power mode activated for the entirety of their set.
The hip 35-year-olds were packed in like sardines. I saw a shorter woman whose feet couldn’t reach the ground, pinned between the shoulders of her bearded friends in suspended animation, unable to find any purchase amidst the stream of writhing people. I found some random amp to stand on (reminder, this is happening in a functioning commercial recording studio) and was able to get a few shots of the band, but my plane of vision was mostly obscured.
Black Pistol Fire came to melt faces that night, like they do every night. The band is in the midst of a US tour, with a mid-May stop at Metro in Chicago. You’ll wanna be there; I know I will be. The band hasn’t released an album since 2017, but with a recent single, “Black Halo,”, we might soon be in for a treat.
After hauling ass across downtown Austin on a Bird (super cheap rental electric scooter things—a Capitalist Plague, but admittedly sort of fun) and narrowly escaping certain death, I entered The Velveeta Room. The venue was predictably a weird spot. One wall was lined with mirrors and neon, the other with a strange assortment of murals, including but not limited to: a can of EZ-cheese, a lava lamp, a can of spam, and a scene from an unidentifiable 50’s era comic book with a cigarette smoking alligator man.
Magic Potion, a fuzz-pop/psychedelic slacker-rock four-piece hailing from Stockholm, took the stage under a dreamlike canopy of pastel-colored china balls. The surreal venue and stage were a nice pairing for the laid back, psychedelia-tinged sound for which the band is beginning to garner a reputation. Rounding the corner of the stage to shoot from some different angles, I noticed the drummer was pounding away in his socks. The rest of the band gave a fairly subdued performance but managed to avoid looking like mannequins—tough to do when shoegazing.
Magic Potion’s “Rest Yr Skull,” a single from their 2018 sophomore album Endless Graffiti contains a 10-15 second segment that is my favorite 10-15 segment of any song out right now. Call it an earworm, I don’t know. I just know I can’t get “Maharishi my maaaaan…” out of my head, no matter what I try. It’s got to be something about the wafting, idyllic vocals that seem to come from decades-old recordings (similar to the feeling I get from Ohtis). Or maybe it’s attributable to the guitar tracking that delicately toes the line between laziness and scalping angularity. Either way, these Swedes are doing something special. Settle for checking out Endless Graffiti on Spotify or Bandcamp, as the band has no public US travel plans anytime soon.
Southern California’s indie quintet Private Island took over BD Riley’s Irish Pub that night: the night before St. Patty’s, no less. They’ve been promoting their own brand of retro-funk infused rock for the better part of a decade, releasing A Good Look in 2014. The five-song project, technically labeled a single, contained their two most popular singles to date, in “Dissolve” and “Bear Hands.” Their sound draws many comparisons, from slenderbodies to Del Water Gap to Young the Giant, and even Kings of Leon (for the top-40 normies out there).
The band gave a great performance, leaning more heavily on their funk influences than is evident in their recorded works. In fact, the first song of their set was a jam-style funk cover that they explored for over five mins. They were well received by the crowd, who seemed at least somewhat familiar with their more popular songs. This was their last of three shows this South By, and they voiced their love for the festival and the city of Austin in general.
The cascading, feel good power behind songs like “Drugs,” “Bear Hands,” and “Tito’s Grand Adventure” garnered favorable reactions from the mostly innocuous crowd. The announcement of the title of “Tito’s…” was met with a, “Hey I love Titos!” from the back of the bar. I don’t know if that’s funny.
The band closed the set with “Pillow Case,” a single from their forthcoming album, 5xx set to be released April 23rd of this year. “Pillow Case” is unavailable online, and the band didn’t state any intention to release it ahead of the full album, nor do they have any tour dates posted online at the time of this article’s writing, but I expect a promoting tour announcement soon, what with the late-April album release.
Aussie duet The Gooch Palms followed Private Island for a goofy set at BD Riley’s. The “Antipodean party machine” consisting of Leroy and Kat tore Austin a new one, flying through a DIY garage-punk discography oft-compared to Pist Idiots, The Pinheads, Mini Skirt, and Lunatics on Pogosticks. The band has been active since 2011 and are getting back in the swing of touring after a new deal with Ratbag Records attached to a third studio album.
Combining catchy shout vocals, grumbling, throaty guitar licks, and simple time-keeping drum beats with an absurdist stage presence, “The Goochies” are a fun live act to witness. The night I saw them, Kat sported the same sweater she wore in the “Are We Wasted?” music video. Leroy dazzled us with a leopard print blouse and a too-big fake chain and keep-you-honest compression shorts. The minimally-geared twosome looked and felt more at home on the small stage than some of the larger bands who had occupied it beforehand (cough cough, The Curls).
They’re currently touring the US with almost twenty dates between now and the end of April, though this article won’t be published in time to alert people of their Chicago stop at the Empty Bottle. Recent singles to check out: “Marfa Lights,” “Summertime,” and “Busy Bleeding.”
After an interview with the British dream-pop duet that you can catch here, Ellise and I caught a Her’s set underneath the pink parachute at Cheer Up Charlie’s. The two arrived from Liverpool to play their second South By, kicking off their first “full” US tour, with nineteen dates. They bathed a large afternoon crowd in a haze of spectral dream-wave bliss and paired it with a relaxed and friendly stage presence.
Vocalist Stephen Fitzpatrick was fighting a “Texas flu” that other bands had mentioned as well, but the rasp was a welcome addition to the warm, psychedelic fuzz waves emanating from the stage. Between the two real humans and the life-size cutout of James Bond tasked with manning the drum machine, the crowd was treated to a show. They made it sexy.
Any listener could easily tell that the two share a genuine love of the craft. “All we wanna see is that little crease in the side of the mouth, that’s enough for us. Don’t even pay us… ever!” Norwegian bassist Audun Laading exclaimed.
Her’s was a band on the rise, making waves within an already-hot genre. “Cool With You” from their 2017 debut album and “Under Wraps” from their more recent 2018 release are personal recommendations. 2016’s “What Once Was” was also a Cheer Up Charlie’s crowd favorite.
Just a week and a half after our interview with the band, they were involved in a fatal head-on collision while traveling from Phoenix to California. This tragedy was caused by a wrong-way driver on the interstate. The crash left no survivors. Stephen and Audun were warm, inviting, and charismatic individuals, aside from being amazing musicians. They made the world a better place in their short-lived lives, and we love and appreciate their memory.
Aussie psych-rockers Psychedelic Porn Crumpets—or is it the Psychedelic Prawn Trumpets? —took the stage in Radio Milk’s Austin backyard Saturday night for what would prove to be a gut-churning monster of a set. “We didn’t know if you’d approve of this type fing,” frontman Jack McEwan said jokingly after wrapping up the first song. The crowd loved them.
I’ve followed the Porn Crumpets closely since 2016’s release of High Visceral, Pt. 1. After the mid-January release of the single “Keen for Kick On’s,” I expected the band to be blazing a fire-spitting, face-melting psychedelic trail across the radio charts, but they have yet to surpass a quarter of a million monthly listeners on Spotify.
I exited the backyard venue and went around behind the stage to get a fresh angle, reached high overhead with my camera, and was spotted by McEwan who laughed and gave me a thumbs up. My heart set aflutter! They forged through the rest of their set in characteristic blinding-hot, psychedelia-tinged hard rock.
Now is your chance to “get it while it’s hot,” because these guys won’t wait around. They orchestrated and headlined “Dr. Noggin Floggin & the Liquid Friends Festival” this past December and were met with great success. With tour plans to the UK and EU in a few months and aforementioned recent single release, you have to wonder if there’s more in the works from the active Aussies. Check them out on Spotify.
Another of our interviewee’s, Del Water Gap, played his and my last official set of South By at Seven Grand on Saturday night. He took the stage to beautiful purple and teal split lighting, with mounted deer heads standing guard behind him. Guess that’s Texas for you.
Holden played a solid set, traipsing gracefully through 5+ years of releases, culminating in his announcement of an upcoming April record. His songwriting was highlighted in singles “High Tops,” and, his latest release, “Chastain.” I won’t ramble on here, as you can watch our full conversation with Holden here.
I will say, however, that my overpriced Lyft ride home that night was bittersweet. With Holden’s silken voice and thoughtful prose ringing in my mind, it was all over. South By Southwest was a blur, and more fun than I ever could have imagined. If you’ve read this far, that much should be obvious (and thanks for scrolling!). But there’s always another festival around the corner—more people to meet and more fun to be had. Back to Evanston and Spring Quarter and back to real life.
The Sunday just before Reading Week, I packed my bags and boarded a flight to Austin, Texas for the 32nd iteration of South by Southwest—a Cerberus of a festival with Film, Interactive, and Music components, spanning ten days. Music was scheduled for the last 7 days of the festival, and that’s where I come in. After months of researching and emailing, I had my schedule picked out and interviews booked. What follows is a recap, as concise as I could make it. I’m including links to our YouTube page, where we post artist interviews, and a Spotify “best of” playlist, chosen from sets I saw or interviews I conducted (some of the tunes had yet to be released). I’ll also link to individual interviews as we come across the artists in the wild, so stay tuned!
I showed up in Austin and made my way over to Hotel Vegas—what I would later learn to be one of the weirdest venues in the already weird city. After waiting in line for longer than I would have liked to, I was allowed into the crowded back yard and made my way to one of the venue’s four stages, hoping I was at the right one. A standup comic kept the crowd at bay while the band finished setting up, with insightful and witty commentary on life’s everyday ailments—like failing to impress your dad with your promiscuity and the annoyance of Buddhist, cum-eating ants.
(Thee) Oh Sees themselves put on an absolutely wild show. The parentheses denote the fact that the band formerly known as Thee Oh Sees now goes by simply Oh Sees. The band was all over the place, seemingly playing at 2x speed (so maybe 8x the speed of any other band). People weren’t just crowd surfing, they were fighting their way to the front so that they could plant their feet on the rails and backflip on to the rest of the writhing crowd. It was insane. The music was predictably great, thanks to (Thee) Oh Sees eclectic blend of surfer rock and post-punk-psychedelia, led by John Dwyer’s raspy vocals, high pitched “woo’s” and cargo-shorted crazy legs.
If you don’t know (Thee) Oh Sees sound by now, you have no excuse. Crack open another ice-cold YouTube tab and revisit this article in half an hour or so. Their latest release is Smote Reverser, but I’d personally recommend 2017’s Orc, or their early 2017 performance on KEXP.
I arrived at the next venue on my list (Mohawk) a bit early and was able to catch the tail end of a Priests show. One thing I liked about SXSW was its pub crawl vibe. Most venues are a 15-minute walk apart at most.
After spending what felt like forever on sound check, Deerhunter took the stage. The synth-rock band (who describe their sound as “ambient punk”) began bathing the crowd in shoegaze’s characteristic swelly and distorted guitars, simplistic drum beats, and ethereal synths. Cover Me Slowly was a clear crowd favorite. Bradford Cox was a vocal powerhouse.
The bar/venue itself put on an amazing light show, and the band sounded great. They had a weird stadium thing going on, with a tiered upper level extending two or three staggered layers above the ground. Part of the upper deck wrapped around the stage, so if you were lucky, you could stand almost directly over the band—although when it’s as slammed as it was pretty much the entire time that South By was happening, it’s enough of a challenge even getting in the front door.
The venue Latitude 30 partnered up with the Department of International Trade (wtf, right?) to present the British Music Embassy’s showcase this year. Acts of all genres from all over England were highlighted. I went there to see King Nun (“Hung Around”, “Chinese Medicine”) and was surprised to see a different band start setting up. They were banging all around, dropping a bass guitar and knocking mic stands over.
My pessimism was up-ended, however, by the first song. Brighton’s hardest dream-pop band, Thyla, was playing like they had something to prove. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a tight band, playing like they had some experience. They were sort of poppy-sounding but would dive into heavier channels from time to time, rounding out their sound. They played as if they shared the same brain, some British musical superorganism making an effort to prove itself.
They played a few songs from their newest release and first EP, What’s On Your Mind, a five-track with only two fresh songs. You might like Thyla if you like The Ninth Wave, Speilbergs, or Sports Team.
I arrived at the Historic Scoot Inn exactly 24 hours early than I had intended to, or so I was told by the guy working the gate when I asked if Slow Pulp would be starting soon. I had nothing else planned for that time slot, so I stuck around to see what was up. And again, I was pleasantly surprised by a band I hadn’t intended to see!
Pink Sweat$ emerged in a Naruto shirt and, you guessed it, pink sweats. He was accompanied only by NYC guitarist (and apparently LGBTQ+ activist, as my inbox was keen to inform me) Daisy. They engaged the crowd in a laid back, chilled out, and stripped-down R&B set, with a hearty blues backbone. Daisy laid down tight, consistent chord patterns, that sounded fresh but familiar, occasionally barking out a bluesy solo phrase or two.
Pink Sweat$ voice is an absolute angelic powerhouse. Paired with a commanding stage presence, it’s easy to see how the young musician has so quickly amassed a sizable following, with his first release coming in 2018 and already accruing over three million monthly listeners on Spotify alone. His latest release, Volume 2, is another five-tracker: three of which he performed live. Side note, whoever runs his branding is killing it, all of his cover art is both interesting and thematically consistent. At any rate, he’s taking off at a breakneck pace. Check him out.
This quick backyard set at Icenhauer’s bar still feels like it didn’t happen. I’ve been head over heels for Trudy and the Romance since their 2016 single “He Sings” was released. By some stroke of luck or divine intervention, I was able to see their first set in the US in a weird little bar backyard with plasticky fake grass and an ugly wooden fence.
“We’re called Trudy and the Romance… Trudy like the girls’ name—Trudy—and the Romance, like love—not the Romans. Romance.” And then it was happening. The “50’s Mutant-Pop” foursome was ripping through their set-list at an unsustainable pace. They looked the part, sporting oversized dress shirts, clashing patterns, and stringing their Jazzmasters well above the waist.
Oliver Taylor, frontman and vocalist for the band, was crooning from all parts of the stage, dancing in a way I can compare only to Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show. It was otherworldly, or at least other-time-ly. If you’re hot dog on your internet culture, the entire set was personified in The Aristocats dancing gifs you see floating around. The set list covered their entire discography, and the crowd was there for it.
The band wrapped things up, “Thank you so much for watching, we’re Trudy like the girls’ name and the Romance like the love, thanks,” and announced their debut studio LP, Sandman, set to release on May 24th. Just less than a week ago, they released a music video accompaniment for the song “Doghouse,” from the Sandman album to come. My words do no justice to their vibe. Listen for yourself—you won’t regret it.
Next up, I popped over to Edwin’s Sports Bar, home of New Dutch Wave’s SXSW showcase, to catch Iguana Death Cult. Iguana Death Cult is a four-piece new wave/post-punk outfit from Rotterdam, but they’re hard to pin down in just one sentence. The first song they played, for example, showed very obviously punk influence. The following song included polka-inspired bass lines and moved at a more rockabilly canter. Think Violent Femmes in their versatility.
Their stage performance was electrifying, and definitely a sight to behold. It may have been too much, even, for the unsuspecting crowd, as everyone seemed to keep their distance from the stage. “Come on, I know I spit a little but I’m not contagious,” frontman Jeroen Reek pleaded, “come join us at the front for a dance!” Ask and you shall receive, I suppose, because after that gentle prodding, the crowd dove in head first and started dancing and thrashing around to the music.
This is the power chord band. They sing songs with 30 second sections of the same word yelled over and over. They come complete with a shirtless bass player with three oddly spaced black and gray arm tattoos. They run in place and shout at the mics. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but they’re fun. If you like the Talking Heads, The Clash, The Psychedelic Furs, Gang of Four, Interpol, or DEVO, you may want to check these guys out.
I caught the last show of the night at BD Riley’s Irish Pub, a laid back local venue with an extremely small, raised wooden stage. The bar felt very homey but was a challenge to navigate due to high top tables and chairs strewn all around the place. What wasn’t seated space was standing room. This made it tough to get around, but looking past that, the venue was quite intimate, and allowed the band to feel like they were right in your face.
The California-based group Spooky Mansion took the stage and wouldn’t be deterred by the limited elbow room. The four-piece played a funky, synth infused surf rock set, complimented nicely by lead singer and experienced house-sitter Grayson Converse’s unique voice and flamboyant performance. Their music will sit well with fans of Paul Cherry, Ceramic Animal, Trudy and the Romance, and lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to.
The band reposted ~without tagging; credit the artist please and thank you~ the video from my Instagram story of Converse’s absurd dance moves with the caption, “hips n nips, baby!” thereby confirming alleged ties between the upcoming group and Rickety Cricket’s management team. But seriously, this is a great band that I was lucky to catch before they blew up. Their latest release, a single entitled “Brink of Death” was released early last October, so keep your eyes peeled for new projects on the horizon.
This time, arriving at the Historic Scoot Inn, I was in the right place at the right time—more so than I ever would have guessed when leaving my Airbnb that morning. Not only would I meet Wisconsin-born and Chicago-based four-piece Slow Pulp, but I would do so while eating crawfish. I f *cking love crawfish and these were shining examples of the delicacy.
The laid-back, backyard honky tonk vibe of the Scoot Inn stood in stark juxtaposition to the dream-punk sound cultivated by the foursome, but made for a homey show. At first, it felt like they were playing someone’s lakehouse party, and we (the crowd and myself) were there to soak up the sun, and oh yeah, there’s music. But just one or two songs into their set, the vibe changed. People were standing, dancing, and encroaching on the lonely-looking stage.
Emily Massey’s too-sweet voice drifted in and out of the warped melodies and crisp drum beats created by the band, who played a solid set, pulling from the entirety of their young band’s discography. Their latest release, “Steel Birds,” and “Preoccupied,” from their 2017 release EP2, were clear crowd favorites.
The band kicks off a quick summer tour with esteemed colleagues Remo Drive on May 31st, with a hometown show at Bottom Lounge. It should go without saying, but that’s a show you shouldn’t miss.
After a short food truck intermission, I made my way over to Hotel Vegas’s Volstead stage, indoors. What a weird spot. It felt like a bad acid trip set to interiors from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. There was ugly pattern wallpaper, mismatched chandeliers, roughly double the acceptable amount of wood paneling, and a tapir (?) head mounted to the back wall. That being said, the set started right at sunset, and the light spilling through the doorway was breathtaking.
The band was set and ready to go, utilizing a very minimal setup. The drummer’s kit was comprised of only a drum pad, a tom, and a single kick drum. There was a lap steel, glossily strung through a pedal or two. And then there was the cat-gut playing, and smooth crooning Sam Swinson. His antique voice was perfect accoutrements to the weirdo Western sailor parlor amalgamation of stuff that was the Volstead stage.
Ohtis has existed as a band for more than a decade, but has struggled with various ailments throughout its entire existence. Addiction, rehab, and relocation behind them, the group has truly found their voice, making dark-folk Americana tunes with just a hint of country twang and a healthy dose of lessons hard-learned. The band has just released a short film inspired by their single, “Runnin’,” and has announced an official end-of-March release date for their debut studio album, Curve of Earth. Ohtis is definitely a band to keep an eye on. They bare their souls and don’t hide nothing from nobody. Just don’t listen with the expectation of unsubstantiated radio fluff. Listen to singles “Runnin’” (and watch the short film!) and “Pervert Blood” in anticipation of their new LP!
Returning to the British Music Embassy showcase at Latitude 30, I was excited to see a band I’d only recently discovered on Fender’s YouTube channel, playing The Great Escape Festival in 2018. I had done some preliminary Spotify research as well, but entered the venue with a largely open mind. Their live sound, from what I thought, was quite different from their studio sound, and that notion held true.
The Howl and the Hum took the small stage to an almost uncomfortable level of haze. Whoever was working lights really wanted his fifteen minutes… The band tore into what proved to be a very active live show. They were all over the place. The music expertly toed the line between thumpy and playful, but was certainly heavier (and louder!) than their studio work. It felt like a more evolved sound for the band. Their Facebook page boldly states, “They combine dark hypnotic pop with post-punk influences, pierced with lyrics that will make you call your mum the next morning.”
At the beginning, they would talk a lot between songs, explaining the thoughts that went into the writing process, and chastising the crowd for pronouncing “vitamins” wrong on this side of the pond. As the set progressed however, they wouldn’t leave as much breathing room between ‘miserable discos,’ diving headfirst into the next song seemingly before the first was over.
The band clearly had a sense of humor and came to perform. Horn-rimmed glasses and carefully pomaded pompadours were head-banged out of place, and the proper, sweater-vested boys next door took on their final form as a hard-nosed rock band. They really put on a show. The Howl and the Hum are, obviously, a British group, and don’t have any US tour dates planned as of the writing of this piece. It has been almost a year, however, since their latest release; logic would suggest that they’re working on something new. Keep them in the back of your mind.
I made a quick pitstop at Friend’s Bar on the way to my next set. There I caught French for Rabbits tearing down their stage in preparation for Million Miles, the solo keyboardist and vocalist. Her outfit was eye-catching, with a sparkly twilight mauve shirt that perfectly matched her keyboard case, and flowy black pants with elegant looking cranes circling the pant legs.
The bar was the perfect venue for this type of set. It was a mostly older crowd, either seated or crowded around the aquarium/bar area to grab a Tom Collins or whatever 50+ year olds are getting ripped on nowadays.
Million Miles is a French/British singer songwriter who artfully infuses folk, blues, and soul, with perhaps a hint of R&B. Her voice is angelic, and the notes from her piano elegantly float just beneath it, never competing for attention. Singles “Ice Cream & Cigarettes” and “Do I Wanna Know?” were crowd favorites, the latter of which being a February ’19 release. Million Miles is perfect music for a de-stressing walk around the block or a lazy afternoon at home.
The last set of the evening saw Bane’s World take the stage at Palm Door on Sixth with some truly beautiful instruments: the pièce de résistance, an off-white Gretsch hollow body. Originally a solo project, Shane (Bane) tours with some musical backing. They played well together and were a well-oiled jazz machine. The set felt more like a laid-back jam session than a music festival set. The music was happy-sounding, but not so much so that it felt “peppy” or overly sappy.
Near the end of the set, Shane said his little piece, finishing with “thanks for hanging out with you… wait, I mean me.” He laughed out loud and continued, “Fuck, I’m tired,” and finished her off with some robot noises before diving into the final song of the set. The young musician’s laid-back, lighthearted energy was infectious, and the music even more so.
With only one studio album to his credit, which was released in 2016, you should expect new work from Bane’s World on the horizon. We also met up for an interview a few days after this set. To get to know the man behind the music, check out our coverage here.
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.