The Niche Qualities of Lo-Fi Pop: An Interview with Ghost Orchard

By Ava Mirzadegan

A couple weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking with Sam Hall of Ghost Orchard. On the artist’s third album, Bunny, Hall’s lo-fi trap-influenced work is moving more towards a pop sound while retaining a unique blend of his musical beginnings. 

Having been mastered by Hall, the record is a stunning accomplishment in a modernized musical climate where the strands of genre are no longer distinguishable as much as they are felt as a woven fabric of sound. Hall’s lyrics evoke the desperation felt in one’s youth as well as the pain of leaving it behind. Despite the darker overtones of the modulated vocals, Hall’s voice comes across as vulnerable and sincere as they deliver phrases about highways, clouds, fitting in, time passing, and summer.

Hey, how's it going?

Hi Ava. I'm good. How are you?

I'm doing okay. I had to work today and my feet are super tired and I came home and I was like, I'm gonna nap and then I just like couldn't sleep at all. So I'm in that weird kind of delirious state. So my apologies if I'm super weird. 

That's okay. I feel like I have to take a nap every day after work even if I don't even want to.

We talked a bit about what Sam’s job is right now. WIthout going into too much detail or getting anyone into trouble, the phrase “popcorn nepotism” was thrown around.

Were you at work today?

No I've had a really relaxing day today. We went to a park for a while. And then after we were driving back, and I was like do you want to go to the dog park. So we went to the dog park and we don't have a dog or anything, but we want one really bad. We just kind of lived vicariously through them.

I always wonder if it's like creepy to do that though. It's like going to a playground if you don't have a kid, right?

Yeah, we get a couple weird looks every time, but the goal is to stay there long enough to where everybody changes over and they're like "they've been here the whole time they must have a dog."

There's a method. Yeah, I like that. Oh my God. Okay. So that's how you spent today. How is 2019 been treating you like? 

I've been sitting on this record for a really long time. So I've been kind of losing my mind trying to get it out and that mixed with this kind of like existential dread every day about the world that we live in. It's really fucked up. So I'm just doing my best to kind of find serenity and in places.

That's beautiful. Where do you find serenity other than at the dog park and in music?

I've been watching a lot of anime. There's this one show I really love called “Haikyu!!” -- it's this volleyball anime. I've watched it like four times now. It's the most pure television I've watched in my entire life. It's my happy place. Other than that I've been taking care of plants and that's really cathartic too. Just the little things.

You mentioned that you’ve been sitting on this record for a really long time and I read online that you had like hundreds of recordings that you chose from from over the years. What did that deciding process look like? How did you pick what made the cut for how many tracks are like 16... 14? How do you go from hundreds to 14?

The whole thing kinda shared the same idea thematically, but different songs just didn't fit aesthetically with each other or as a whole, what I was going for, production-wise. There's a lot of songs that I really really really love that just don't fit on the album at all. So I've been thinking that I wanna do like a big drop of all of the loose ends from this down the line.

Yeah, you absolutely should. 

I picked these because I made them all in the same period of time so it kind of just all came together in a more natural way than just piecing something together-- which I mean like if you can do that, I love it when people do that. But there's like bits and pieces of the older recordings throughout the record like at the end of songs I sneak in old tape songs that I used to do. But yeah, I mostly did it because it sounded right.

So on this new record your voice kind of comes out, I don't know, more in the foreground than ever before. Was that a scary thing for you to do? Of it not being as muddled and not in a negative sense of the term?

Yeah, with this record I wanted to make a pop record kind of. I wanted to make something that is widely listenable and not as niche as before. And with a lot of pop music the vocals are just front and center, but I have had a really hard time coming to terms with that. Throughout the record a lot of the vocals are pitched or heavily distorted or just other ways to kind of blanket the being very raw. A lot of the subject matter in the songs are extremely intimate and things that I don't feel uncomfortable about sharing but I also don't feel completely comfortable. So it's like it's a middle ground where I can pass it off.

That totally makes sense. Are you more comfortable recording stuff and getting to fuck with it behind the scenes or are you also comfortable playing these in front of people? Like how do those effects come into play when you're doing a live show?

It's kind of tricky. I'm still kinda figuring it out. Right now I'm trying to figure out how to work the vocal modulation into a live setting and also playing the songs without having a vocal backing track or anything like that. I want to get to a point where it's an established live band or whatever. But right now it's kind of just me singing along to the song, but yeah, it's scary. I think I have a hard time playing live in general. I used to play in a lot of bands before and this is the first time where it's kind of just been me and it's definitely a whole different thing that I'm very new to. 

Photo Credit: Jeen Na

Photo Credit: Jeen Na

I wanted to make something that is  widely listenable and not as niche as before.

Yeah of course. It's definitely scary to be on your own but I feel like when it's your project and you have it fully actualized that can be kind of calming instead of being part of someone else's project and not necessarily feeling like it's you that you're representing when you play, so at least there's that. 

This is me personally telling you this-- I can't wait for this to be out so I can not have to go through my email to find the link to listen to it, just because it's been like super calming to listen to any time I've been anxious. 

(laughs) That means so much to me.

Yeah, no, of course, but I just wanted you to know that. Is there like an artist or a record or song that you turn to when you're in your feelings? What's your thing when you're like, I'm not okay right now?

So there are records where in my head I'm like, "oh I want to listen to this when I'm feeling fucked up or whatever", but then when those times actually come I can't put it on because it'll be too much almost. 

No, I feel that.

Yeah, like my favorite records are probably-- I really love this record by Julia Brown It's called me To Be Close To You. It's probably my favorite album of all time, but I can't really listen to it after because I pretty much just like cry for 30 minutes straight.

I know that feeling.

So I have to schedule like one listening per year to make sure that I still love it as much as I do. So it's that and Blonde by Frank Ocean. It just holds so much weight in my life.

I can hear that listening to you.

Yeah, I mean, he's the guy. But recently I've just been going back and listening to a lot of Alex G and Blithe Field recently. There was one Blithe Field record called Face Always Towards the Sun that came out on Orchid that was such a big record in my life. There's no lyrics on the whole thing and it just it says everything that there has to be said without saying anything and that goes a long way,

I don't know if I've actually listen to that. So I'm going to after this. That and Julia Brown. You're gonna severely fuck me up tonight, but like I can't wait.

There's one song on the Blithe Field record called "Paul's Birthday" and it is so pretty. The whole thing was just made with this little like toy keyboard and it stretches it as far as fact. It's so cool.

That's amazing. I know you use, I don't know like a Casio over like some sort of keyboard on your stuff. Where did you like start with playing instruments? Like where was your musical beginning? 

I started playing music when I was like 10 or 11. I was in this really bad cover band.

What did you guys cover?

Mostly Nirvana songs. A lot of Nirvana. I think Nirvana was the first band that really really got me into music when I was in like seventh grade or something. So after that-- I used to live in Massachusetts and I moved from there when I was like 12 years old or 13. 

Woah that's a tough age to move. 

Yeah, probably the worst time to move. I moved to Michigan when I was going into eighth grade and I feel like between 7th grade and eighth grade is when like all of the friend groups kind of form. Middle school is the worst time of like most people's lives. 

Was it rough for you? 

I mean, I was 13. But I feel like every 13 year-old's life is awful. So I'm just sitting there, angsty and smelly. But yeah, I was in a garage rock band, and I did not want to be loud anymore.

Do you think that like 13-year-old you would like what you're making now? 

Probably not. It was a time where we like denounced auto-tune and rap music. Now it's come full circle.

That's amazing that you've grown into this person that you as a kid probably wouldn't have liked.

Maybe surface level I wouldn't have liked me but maybe if I'd talked to me for a little while.

Okay, so we talked a bit about your musical beginnings and stuff. When did you start like actually doing your own project? 

Like Ghost Orchard as a whole?

Or even writing songs for yourself that you felt good about.

I started writing music around 12 or 13 but it was really bad until probably, I don't know. I think the first songs that I was comfortable with were the first Ghost Orchard songs. So 2015. I think I was 16 or 17. And yeah, that was just kind of, it was the first time that I had really like recorded my own music. I got a Macbook and it kind of changed my life. I got it with the intention of only getting it to learn as much as I could about audio and music In general. So it was kind of creative stretch of time where I wanted to know as much as I could and so naturally I started getting more comfortable with it over time

Are you self-taught on everything when it comes to like audio stuff?

Yeah. I taught myself production and mastered the album. I took guitar lessons for a little while but it was just to play songs that I knew. Ever since then, YouTube is literally the coolest resource that I've ever seen in my life, I think.

It's amazing how you can just get stuck in this like hole of learning, it's ridiculous. And so wholesome.

Yeah. I feel bad. A lot of people go to school for audio stuff, and I'm like it's all right in front of you! It's free if you want it.

I mean, I'm one of those people that's like I feel like I would do better if someone personally talked me through stuff. 

Oh yeah, that's super valid. I feel like with a lot of the stuff I learned would have been so much quicker if someone was just there to  ask questions from or just explain thoroughly instead of fucking around on the computer for like six hours.

A few more questions and then I'll let you go. Who's riding the bike on the album cover?

(laughs) I'm 6'5", so I wanted someone to ride a BMX bike on the cover and BMX bikes are really small. I'm also like really lanky. So it wouldn't really work I don't think. I thought of my cutest friend, and I asked him. His name is Micah. He is a photographer and he skateboards. But yeah, very very cute boy. I'm glad he's on there.

I am too. I'm also so glad that you've now said that he's your cutest friend. I hope you've told him that. Like he deserves to know.

We have secret crushes on each other I think.

You have some shows coming up soon, right? I feel like I saw that somewhere.

Yeah, I'm playing with Hovvdy and Lomelda. I have two shows with them.

That's a dream lineup.

I booked Hovvdy, probably two years ago, in Grand Rapids. They are really really wonderful people. So yeah, Im playing in Chicago and I wanna say Madison, Wisconsin? Yeah at the end of the month on the 25th and 26th.

Yeah. I wish I could be there!

I wish you could too.

We then talked about how the music industry and working in it can be hard, overwhelming, and can cause disillusionment. But ended on a positive note of why DIY spaces are important for the vitality of music and reminding us why music is special in the first place.

Ghost Orchard’s Bunny is out now on Orchid Tapes. 

REVIEW: Anderson .Paak at Huntington Bank Pavilion


By Meggie Gates

Huntington Pavilion has yet to fill up as Canadian songwriter Jessie Reyez pours her heart out on stage. Gates open at 6PM and devoted crowd goers sprint from 9-5 jobs to join people already staked out in the front row, waiting for a night filled with musical legends. As Reyez opens the four-hour concert, her music bleeds in to the sky. Words of poetry head to the clouds as she prepares the audience for an emotional night. Looking up hungry for answers, the crowd grips the barricade. “What is life? what is love?” She coos softly. “What is everything?” Well-dressed adults look up in awe.

They hope some of those questions are answered tonight.

Silver Surfer sits a top Thundercat’s music stand waiting for the artist. Already, the night feels like an ode to my childhood. I loved Silver Surfer when I was younger because he was smart and funny. Arguably the most chaotic neutral of them all, Thundercat emulates his energy. “I’m your opener feel free to do a bunch of drugs during my set,” he says as he brandishes a smile accented by the piercing on his dimples. The sun is halfway down as he takes the stage, a brilliant orange ball burning a hole through the sky. Thundercat shakes his pink hair out, flaunts pink sunglasses, and begins. His body eclipsed by his signature six string bass.

Thundercat fills the space with holy music, the kind you find in a church with golden dome ceilings. Working his fingers over a complex set of chords, his music is incongruous from how you’d expect it to go. He takes traditional roots in jazz and twists them to his narrative, creating afrofunk you might find blasting through the halls of Eddie Murphey’s Haunted Mansion. “This one’s for the video gamers,” he says after a four-minute riff with pianist Dennis Hamm and drummer Justin Brown. A man nearby gets on his knees and for a minute, I’m convinced he’s praying. Turns out, he’s rolling a blunt.

The performers on the lineup are determined to enjoy their set with you. The tone translated through Thundercat noodling chords at his own leisure. This night exists for everyone to experience euphoria surrounding childhood. Julys captured by parents who bought Old Navy t-shirts in bulk. Now, everything is different. The sun barely rises before June and May is soaked in rain. If the weather rips the world apart tonight, at least we’ll dance in its ashes. An unspoken agreement the minute Godzilla gets mentioned.

The first time I saw Noname was Lollapalooza 2017, where the crowd was sizeable for an artist just off her first album. Brandishing a shirt that said “Nah”- Rosa Parks, she delivered the performance to a hot, sweaty crowd also pissed about the racial issues she brought up. With Room 25, her stage presence is still politically charged but it’s softer, viewed through the lens of a childlike wonder where the world is still good. “If you don’t know, I’m a very emotional rapper” she says after her backup singer hits the highest note I’ve ever heard. “Amen” echoes through the crowd like Whitney Houston singing from the heavens. “I’m a southern civilian Cinderella petty aesthetic,” she laughs. 

I’m going to teach you the hook. I want to sing with you all,” she holds the mic to her before turning it on to the audience. “Yippee kay yippee kay yay with the no name,” airplanes fly overhead as the stadium seating behind me lights up blue and white. With Noname, it’s all about connection. The push and pull of a performer who wants to deliver to an audience who deserves it. She bounces from side to side like hopscotch and ends her set on Shadow Man. “How do you love me?” The song opens. “How do you remember me?” Every nerve in my body is electric. “Bless the Nightingale,” Goosebumps on my arm. “Darkness keeps you well.” 

The crowd has thickened in the pit by the time Noname is done. There are rows of people behind general admission and stadium seating reaches the 300’s. The stage goes dark before trumpet player Maurice Brown comes out to announce it’s time. Fire sparks the stage red and Paak ascends from below, wearing a yellow hat and a pink and white striped jumpsuit adorned with sunglasses, despite it being night. “Chicago, do you believe?” He asks before fireworks proceed fan favorite Come Down.

I run in to Noname and Thundercat in the crowd, excited as everyone else to see Paak perform. “If they build a wall, let’s jump the fence,” the entire stage holds their hands to the sky and forms their fists in to guns, slowly lowering their arms as the enormous screen behind them shows King Kong graphics bleeding in to doctors wearing hazmat suits and green nukes falling over a desolate white backdrop. It’s a fun night as much as it is a message. “There’s money to make in a killing spree. That’s why he tryna start war on the Twitter feed,” Paak sings in 6 Summers, direct lyrics aimed at the president he calls dumb in Winners Circle

The stage is sectioned off by three screens and every song tells a different story, switching between 3D tigers, space, and Lisa Frank cotton candy clouds. Everyone is on the same wave length and I feel unabashedly free. When my Uber driver asks if I was lonely, I say “only when he said Make It Better was for the lovers.” Truly, there was no way to feel alone. Paak made sure of it as he led a conga line twirling fans around to Reachin’ 2 Much. “Everyone put your phones to the sky. Get your flashlights out,” he demands between songs. I look behind me at the stadium and see stars. The kind I miss after being fully submerged in the city.

The smell of weed goes up 90% when Paak asks who still eat cereal at night to put their hands up. He leads the audience in a howl to the moon, and waves crash wash over three separate screens behind him as old polaroid’s of California pop up sporadically. He plays a long drum solo filmed overhead between the images of two strong black women, smiling in his new green bucket hat as the crowd collectively screams at how amazing a drummer he is. Each side of the stage lights up a different color before going completely white. It’s the end of his set and the beginning of an encore.

I want to stay wrapped in the memory of my childhood forever. The beginning always feels safer than the end and lately, that’s all I can think about. Endings. 2050. My sister sends a photo of my nephew after the concert and I consider Armageddon. Music stopping when the world does. As Paak’s sunglasses pan over the screen and through the lens, the entire crowd can be seen smiling and waving at the sky. I like to think there’s hope out there for our children to grow and sway to a rhythm that covers them like a warm blanket. It certainly feels that place could exist for them as the couple next to me holds each other closer. As the moon shines on Huntington Pavilion, promising another sun rise tomorrow.   

REVIEW: Beneficials Release Debut Record "Torn Cloud"

Beneficials Promo Photo.jpg

Beneficials are what I imagine happens when you meld the best parts of shoe gaze, math rock, post-rock, grunge, and space age pop. Honestly, take any genre and throw it into that list, the amalgam-rock of Beneficials is beyond comprehension and beyond impressive. Their debut album, Torn Cloud, shows the band flexing their compositional chops — with complex structures, the mostly instrumental work is some of the most exhilarating music I’ve heard all year.

There is something euphoric yet apocalyptic about each song, with glitches and clangs coming in right as the twinkling spacious clusters of atmosphere have gotten you settled in. Sitting somewhere between Alex G, Tiny Gun, and Drug Bug, the Chicago band is acting on a well-thought out vision and pulling it off with ease.

The album starts out with a field recorded “2009 - ICHC” followed by 5 minutes of solid gold with the first real track “Blue Waves”. The first two songs set the stage for what’s to come on the almost hour-long sonic journey, as they explore every nook and cranny of the Holy House of Rock and Roll. The entire record takes you through every imaginable color palette as Beneficials lays down layer upon layer onto their sanctified masterpiece of an album.

Beneficials - Torn Cloud.jpg

On “Queen of Wands” the vocals sound a bit more like Hovvdy meets Stephen Malkmus, with elements of nu-metal present in the percussive build-ups. Toying with their levels of intensity, the band creates a lyrical bed of instrumentals in the extended breaks between verses.

Clocking in at 8:19, the longest track on the album, “Sky Burial,” oscillates between a chimey blur and a more driven textural airspace. The blurry vocal harmonies only taking on one or two lines at either end of the piece, seeming almost ornamental in Beneficial’s ambitious approach music-making.

“Stone Fruit” takes the band into a whole different world, starting off with jangly-pop clangs and Beatles-esque melodies before jumping into a pool of metal riffs while the shimmery tones of the other guitar maintain dream-like state. It’s a fucking trip.

Then there are tracks like “Candy,” which takes the simplistic synth pop elements present in works such as the soundtrack to Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone We Know (by composer Michael Andrews), and confront them with a sound wall of static. The result has the listener walking out of reality and into a hazy daydream.

Torn Cloud is certainly a sophisticated work worth taking the time to experience in full.

Standout tracks: Queen of Wands, Sky Burial, Stone Fruit, Candy

Catch You By Surprise: An Interview with MODAFF About Their Two New Singles

by Matthew Gregory Holis

by Matthew Gregory Holis

I’ve been following MODAFF’s music since I saw them at an April 2018 show at Burlington Bar, with Mykele Deville, Counterfeit Madison, and Tragic Trip on the ticket. The band’s camaraderie extended beyond the players and through the room, a shared kindness between performer and fan alike.

MODAFF is the combined forces of Emilie Modaff, Chris DeSalvo, Andy Modaff, and Josh Stanley. Fast forward to September 2018, they were recording their first EP "Clean House" at Audiotree. Through a Kickstarter, their community had supported them in getting the album funded. In the recording studio, the excitement was palpable, and has continued to grow as they’ve continued playing shows around Chicago. On April 8, they played at Montrose Saloon, surprising the audience with a sneak peek of two new singles: “Pill” and "Nightlight".

Listening to "Pill", I heard a little blues, a little Marilyn Manson, and later in the song, some the Hives and Led Zeppelin. If one thing is for certain, MODAFF has never shied away from experimentation. In finding their sound, they’ve created an eclectic and honest listening experience for their fans.

I caught up with Emilie Modaff and DeSalvo to learn a little more about how things have been going.

What has been the reception of "Clean House"?

Modaff: So the reception to the record has been very positive. The feedback we’ve received has given me the confidence to throw myself completely into my music for the next few months. We’ve played a few live shows since then and they just keep getting better. As we continue to write new songs I think I’m finally figuring out what our sound is. "Clean House" is all over the place in terms of genre, which isn’t a bad thing. But it’s nice to feel everything finally coming together. Making "Clean House" taught me what kind of music makes me the most excited.

How did the process differ for writing "Pill" and "Nightlight" than the songs on your EP? What were immediate differences you noticed in the process, and what observations came once the songs had been fully formed?

Modaff: Our process is in a massive transition since our drummer, Andy Modaff, has moved to Nashville to play in his band Shelter Cove. The way we write hasn’t changed much but of course the general energy of the band is going to be different until we find a new, permanent drummer to fill Andy Modaff’s big ass shoes.

"Pill" and “Nightlight” are way harder than any of the songs on "Clean House". Are we a pop-rock band? Punk? Nirvana wannabes? Yes. All of the above.

"Pill" and "Nightlight" were both group efforts. DeSalvo (guitar and vox) brought me the skeletons of the songs and I filled out a lot of the lyrics. Stanley (bass and vox) gave us the structure of both songs and made them a lot more dynamic. I love our process. Knowing I never have the sole responsibility of writing a song makes it a lot easier to write a song.

How has collaborating with the band evolved since the EP and in the release of these two new singles?

DeSalvo: Honestly... I have no idea how to answer such textured questions. I just don’t see songwriting/collaborating as a process. I get a riff. Give it to Emilie. They and I collab on melody. Stanley pieces the whole thing together, adds/subtracts to polish and incorporates all our collective instincts, which differ in fun ways. This winds up giving us something that sounds fresh and new. I see my approach to songwriting and same way I see mine to cycling: peacefully necessary, never over thought.

What are some influences you had in making these new singles, and what do influences do you think showed up in the song creation process that you didn’t quite plan for?

Modaff: What’s different about "Night Light" and "Pill" is, most noticeably, the genre/tone. The songs are louder, dirtier, and grungier than the songs on "Clean House". For me, the greatest differences are the ways the songs flow. The breakdowns in both songs catch you by surprise, something I’ve always admired when listening to songs by Paramore.

"Pill" started off super simple and very much influenced by Nirvana. Stanley and DeSalvo reworked the structure and blew my mind. The first half of the song flows into a seemingly out-of-place and upbeat chorus, followed by a psychedelic breakdown, and then we close it out with DeSalvo, Stanley, and I screaming. I wouldn’t have come up with that structure on my own.

Outside of the band, who has influenced or helped craft your approach to these two new singles? Do you interact with and/or respond to fans of "Clean House"?

Modaff: Outside of the band, we have a strong support network of friends who believe in our music. I actually just now received a text from a friend telling me they loved the record and now I’m very freaked out because the timing was impeccable. I just want to collaborate with as many artists as possible and hear feedback from anyone who has listened to our music.

Are you working on releasing a new EP in the future?

Modaff: Another EP is absolutely in the works, but this summer we’re focusing on playing as many shows and writing as many songs as possible.

MODAFF’s new single "Night Light" is now live; “Pill” will be live today, June 3rd. You can listen to their music on Soundcloud and most other streaming platforms.

REVIEW: Julia Jacklin brings her wisdom to Chicago's Schubas

by Mackenzie Werner

Julia Jacklin just drips with charm; from the masking tape on her guitar -- telling her she can do it(!), to her inability to fight off a fit of laughter halfway through one of her saddest, quietest songs. She carries the presence of someone you could sit comfortably with in silence, she seems like she gives good advice. She carries exceptional Big Sister Energy: she doesn’t have it all figured out, but she’s one step ahead and offering comfort and wisdom from the path.

The first thing about Julia that should be noted is her exceptional taste, which was on full display with her choice of Black Belt Eagle Scout as the tour opener. Black Belt Eagle Scout front-woman Katherine Paul and her accompanying band did a wonderful job of warming the room with tight instrumentation, dynamic vocals, and no shortage of shredding. Katherine is easily one of the best guitarists I’ve seen live and if you haven’t heard or seen her you should find a way to do that soon. They released their debut album Mother of My Children last year on Saddle Creek.

(A second notable example of taste was Jacklin’s sporting of Blundstone boots, which hail from her native Australia. I’ve seen her in these boots in every press photo and live appearance for the last three  years and have to admit I broke down last winter and bought a pair on her implied recommendation, they’re incredible and I wear them every day now too. Thanks, Julia!)

Queen of the slow burn, she held the sold-out room at Schuba’s enraptured through a headlining set featuring songs from her exceptional debut album Don’t Let the Kids Win (2016), and newest full-length, aptly titled Crushing (2019), both out now on Secretly Canadian. It was a pleasant surprise to also hear “Eastwick”, a song I’ve played so many times from a 2017 7” release that I was almost surprised to experience it coming from anywhere but my record player. This was just one of the many moments from the evening when I couldn’t wipe a stupid grin from my face.

It’s always special to be in a room practically bursting with people and to realize the sea of spectators is maintaining respectful silence through each song, only interrupted by stray sniffling. I got to experience one of these sniffly moments quite intimately during the song “Turn Me Down”. The final two or so minutes of the song feature Jacklin repeating the words “please just turn me down, why won’t you turn me down”, which build from an almost timid question to an impassioned plea. Singing this live, she gained power with each repetition, clearly belting by the end, while the woman standing directly in front of me slowly progressed from stray tears to open weeping to match the energy coming from the stage. I felt a contact high of cathartic release just from witnessing, and I hope she left that room feeling better than when she entered.

There are places that a good break up record touches you that other records just can’t, in my opinion, and Crushing immediately joined the ranks of the classics when I first heard it. Up there with hard hitters like Kelela’s Take Me Apart and of course Lorde’s Melodrama, both of which were my life rafts during my last big break, Crushing manages to weave in and out of so many emotions that flood you during your rawest moments.

To become acquainted with this exceptional collection of songs is a privilege, and to be able to experience them live in a room full of other hearts that have broken and mended time and again, is an honor. The room was alive with energy with each tune as different people danced harder or screamed louder for the moments that struck them hardest.

There are the high-energy hits like “Pressure to Party”, with the line, “nothing good can come from me drinking, I would run shoes off straight back to you, I know where you live, I used to live there too,” and “You Were Right”, which perfectly captures the feeling that comes weeks or months after a separation when you realize that something you were avoiding trying out (like a restaurant, or a band) at someone else’s suggestion, or maybe insistence, is actually quite enjoyable. It’s hard to describe that comical realization, but she does it in a way that is almost revelatory. Live, it becomes a communal recognition of this phenomenon, we’re allowing ourselves to grow, and we can laugh together. There are also the ballads, like “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You”, which details the hardest considerations that arise when ending a relationship with someone so close to you that you hardly know who you are without them any longer. Or “Good Guy”, with the lines, “tell me I’m the love of your life just for tonight, even if you don’t mean it,” and, “I don’t care for the truth when I’m lonely”. I could continue on song by song, they’re each fantastic in their own right, but the point is there’s something here for everyone. If your heart is broken, if you’ve ever had your heart broken, whatever stage of healing you’re in, whatever memories you hold, my advice is to  get to a Julia Jacklin live show, and feel it out publicly with 200 strangers.

Click here for all Julia Jacklin tour dates.

Stream Crushing below on Spotify

REVIEW: Exploring the Foundation of Grandace's New EP 'Also Codachrome'

By Jaelani Turner-Williams

It was last February when Cincinnati-based artist Grandace took to Twitter to release a video snippet celebrating his 21st birthday, along with the impending release of his Feel Good EP. The video shows Grandace (born Jody Jones II) seated in front of his bed, a dim light cast over his gleaming smile as he grooves to ‘In My Mind’, a joyous ode to incessant wandering with pizza breaks in-between. A year later, Grandace’s home studio remains his creative hub, but where there was once bliss has transformed into realism on his latest effort Also Codachrome.

Fusing the once-popular Kodachrome photography film with the musical term ‘coda’, the title marks a turning point in Grandace’s life as he uses the six track EP to ruminate on his existence. On the beachy, psychedelic slide of “Elevated”, Grandace raps with staccato verbiage whilst listing his dutiful anxieties. Still, he plants divine seedlings and anticipates them coming into full bloom, haplessly admitting to fighting writer’s block.

It would be easy to compare Grandace to Childish Gambino (one of his admitted influences), but he rather mirrors the airy delicateness of Mild High Club and HOMESHAKE. Giving a nod to the latter with lingering background vocals on “Masterofdisguise”, Grandace masters floetic bounce, making no detours on his route past a 9-5.

Continuing to run laps verse for verse, on “Thumbs Up”, Grandace transmits light keyboard pluckings into longing for immeasurable time. Moving through the “Stream of Life”, he powers through, echoing the falsetto hues of Thundercat and unashamedly replicating a commercial jingle best fitting for the 50’s towards the song’s end.

Wrapping up the EP, Grandace sows “Fertile Soil” through his gravelly vocals, cracking open the portal to self-fulfillment. “A coda is the ending of a musical phrase or idea and in a sense that’s what this project is for me, literally and metaphorically…” Grandace explained in one of a series of tweets as a title breakdown of Also Codachrome. While concluding his past, Grandace moves forth into vivid actualization.

Photo by Annie Noelker

Photo by Annie Noelker


REVIEW: Bluish's New Single "Standby"

bluish standby.jpg

The kind of song you wish you’d been able to blast during your last relationship, “Standby” gives a glimpse of the blissful and emotive music to come from Brooklyn band, Bluish. Frontperson, Iris Garrison-Driscoll, has a knack for writing catchy yet poignant lyrics that convey the depth of their personal experiences. With impeccable cadence, their dreamy voice sifts through their uncertainties. 

"stuck on silly things/ see your eyes/ they're in my mind"

Speaking to an inability to communicate within a relationship and within their own mind, Bluish creates music that is opposingly brilliant and clear in its delivery. This idea of standing by takes on several contrasting meanings within the song: remaining in something despite not being present, waiting, supporting, and not being able to take action when something bad is happening. 

"I'm saying everything stuck inside/ I'm standing by"

The song describes a relational bystander effect, but it's hard to decide who falls victim to the situation. Building and releasing tension with its last lines "Is the line drawn or do I decide?" a question is posed followed by a more open ended "know there's more to you/ is there more to you and I?". It seems like they're willing to continue standing by, yet the closing guitar solo and interlude give a sense of some unresolved tension and a need for catharsis. 

Recommended listening environments: at home, at work, in transit, 2 am in bed while re-reading texts and wondering if you said something wrong, blasted in a car with the windows down, belting along with the lyrics. 

Bluish is currently recording a 6-song EP with Jesse Paller (Baby's ALl Right/Sound Engineer) set to release in early June 2019. If it's anything like their first two singles, they're already my new favorite band. 

Tara Terra Returns with a Bite On EP Couch Surfer, Lover

Tara Terra hits the ground running off their two-year hiatus. Lead singer Emily Blue released two solo EP albums, 69* and Another Angry Woman, outside the band during that time, showcasing abilities to flawlessly maneuver between indie-rock and synth pop. They were albums exploring the nuances of sexual liberation as a woman, compared to the indulgence of romance in Tara Terra’s music. Now, returning to her roots with the musical stylings of bassist Nick Soria, drummer Joey Buttlar, and guitarist Evan Opitz, Blue is once again ready to face heartache head on.

Blue busts the lock off a diary Tara Terra seemingly scattered throughout previous albums Where’s Your Light (2017) and Daughter (2014). It feels as if ‘couch surfer, lover’ is an EP Blue is finally letting her hair down in. Funny, considering the first track is called ‘hair down, for now.’ The song mirrors the fun, upbeat feeling of earlier songs like Don’t Call Me Darlin’ without such a heavy chorus. “Would you wait for me,” Blue asks as the drums and guitar slow down, “I want you to say it for me,” she addresses the subject, as if her fate is in their hands, before realizing the power of purpose is in hers. “Or do I need to let go? I need to let go,” she asks, the vocals overlaid in the second chorus, the chords upbeat and poppy, the kind you can’t help but shuffle your feet to as if a specific dance already existed.

Photo by Morgan Paije

Photo by Morgan Paije

The EP focuses on a strained romance between two people balancing their own emotional state made difficult by life on the road. Doing what’s right for yourself paralleled at the expense of another is introduced perfectly by Tara Terra’s thematic use of cheerful music. When the lyrics turn around to face how strong the narrator is, the words are so pronounced there’s no mistaking them. “I am a ray of fucking sunshine, so why won’t you let me in?” rings throughout ithaca, the band’s debut single. The song so beautifully overlays the loss of self in a relationship when you love someone so much:

“This would be heartache if I weren’t in it

This would be heartache

I could see the cracks in the floor if I weren’t sitting

Right on the part where it breaks”

The self-awareness of a fractured relationship hard to detach from carries throughout the record. The emotional rawness and intensity of ithaca bleeds in to the more subdued lions’ manes, a gut-wrenching punch to the stomach. Juxtaposed against the first half of the album, the song teases us with piano chords so soft and unexpected, it feels you’re seeing something you’re not supposed to. This is nothing new for Tara Terra, who often slow down albums to showcase talent. It’s the necessary lead in to a conclusion you know is coming, but aren’t ready for. Write My Name and Shades of Blue are two exceptional examples of this, but none split a story as effectively as lions’ manes does. A middle to a story exploring the wandering feeling of loss:

“And when we took a drive through my hometown,

I remembered the smell of the air

I think sometimes I get lost in the city

It gets colder quicker here”

Without a doubt, this lyric captures the entire essence of the EP, feeling so at home with someone else sharing the rug they’ve swept out from under you. The desire to build a home from rubble is a search that drives Tara Terra’s music towards love. Where hair down, for now and ithaca are the beginning half of a story that yearns, new york and couch surfer are the necessary revelation that comes with life. The answer to what happens when everyone takes from you and leaves nothing behind.

Opening with a melancholier start, new york gives pulse to a heart tired of pumping. The narrator finds themselves in a place they’ve never been before and realizes it’s not as scary as they initially thought. “I’m so afraid of the winter. Somehow, right now, I don’t mind.” The feeling is made stronger as the music grows more confident, starting off slow before allowing itself to grow in to a full out, rock ballad. “You’re so afraid of the future. Somehow, I’ve run out of answers,” Blue sings. The idea being that if they refuse to start, you never will.

The EP ends with couch surfer, arguably the most beautiful song on the album. It feels like this is the necessary conclusion Tara Terra has been searching for endlessly, not only on this EP, but on Where’s Your Light and Daughter as well. Blue often sings of heartache and loss connected to family ties, searching for love to make up for twisted roots, but here, Tara Terra finally finds reconciliation laid out in previous lyrics. Borrowed was one of their first songs reassuring the narrator they’ll be fine, but couch surfer is putting that in to practice. It’s throwing yourself in to the fire and stepping on the train that leads nowhere. The beauty of living is the fall and the catch. Falling in love and catching yourself after. Couch surfer, lover is about the pain of romance, yes, but it’s also about the pain of finding yourself. When you’re at the finish line helping others hobble over.

“Just let me hold your hand if it’s alright

Let me tell you how to make it alright

To be a lonely child”

The ins and outs of a relationship seem so desirable when you’re not in them. Sometimes they come so fast in the rearview mirror you don’t have time to process how close they are until they pound on your front door to remind you what pain and pleasure tastes like. Tara Terra captures this feeling so effervescently, Blue’s soft voice bursting at the seams, giving life to words flowing uncontrollably. Running without any destination in mind. ‘couch surfer, lover’ is the mixtape from high school that still aches to think about. It’s the road trip you imagined taking with a loved one before you decide to drive west without them. Cracks in the floor already existed, but now you’re at the part where they break.

Tara Terra will be showcasing their new record at Sleeping Village April 7th in Chicago, IL.

PREMIERE: Jessica Mindrum Releases Two Song EP

Jessica Mindrum - Better Now_River FULL.jpg

Jessica Mindrum has released another striking pair of songs that explore longing, heartache, and a hollow sense of loneliness. "Better Now' and "River" captures early winter stillness, one full of nostalgia and contemplation.

On "Better Now", she explores the questions that appear in the wake of a break up, the ones that you ask a million times, just not out loud. You can't help wanting to comfort her, or your best friend, or yourself when you hear Mindrum ask "Have you met her yet?.” On "River" she captures a feeling of subtle detachment with lines like "my friends sing along to songs I don't know", which perfectly invokes that sense of being "alone in a crowded room.” I'm not sure if I've heard someone quite capture the disheartening feeling of an endless back and forth like she does with the line "I'll never give you what you've always had.”

Purchase / stream the EP here and on Spotify below:

REVIEW: 'Alone At Last', Tasha

by Ava Mirzadegan

There is an abundant strength within Tasha’s radically soft words.

On her debut LP, Alone at Last, the Chicago musician and poet places her entire being into a body of work that is both ambitious yet relaxed. Her words masterfully wrap themselves around each second, leaving treasures to be uncovered in the mind of the listener.

The narrative winds its way through self-care, feminism, love, race, and queerness without giving the listener more weight to carry. Tasha aptly described the album as a collection of “bed songs,” with each song enveloping the listener in a comforter of sound.

Within overwhelming darkness and fear, Alone at Last is an album of reflection, rest, and renewal. A nightlight bringing hope of a better tomorrow.

Standout tracks: “Take Care,” “A New Place,” “Kind of Love,” and “Lullaby”

The opening track, “Take Care,” is a spoken meditation, imploring us to believe in our own inner worlds. It serves as an introduction to a new kind of activism — one of defiant self-love and a vital need for tenderness.

“Take care of your little body... Take care and repeat it ritual until the syllables run-on sentence down your spine, so that when the next deaths come, because they will, we will have vigor enough to remember their names.”

Tasha extends her words as an invitation, leading us into a world where we can seek refuge from our harsh reality and build a home within comfort. A world where rest is not synonymous with weakness and taking care of ourselves is not equated to selfishness.

She refers to this world in the following track as “A New Place.” The first step into melody maps out the expansive and shifting album. Stylistically, she seamlessly transitions from finger-picked guitar, oscillating synths, to more textured bass-driven rhythms. Her artistry transcending genre.

“Maybe we the future we envisioned all that time ago.”

Reflecting on the reality that the listeners are the future and that everything is dependent on the present, Tasha shows that their imagination is indispensable. She is the kind of figure I wish I had been able to look up to as a young girl. A poet and songwriter that not only has a strong personal voice, but one that is able to amplify the voices of the voiceless.

“Or maybe we’re destined for light now.”

In darkness, it’s hard to imagine what light would feel like. Tasha’s warm vocal tonality and thoughtful guitar serve as a reminder of what goodness can come even in dark times. The beauty of the song and album cutting through our lives within a bleak social climate.

Tasha’s composition in the fourth track, “Kind of Love,” is the kind of perfect that is almost indescribable. It is sensual and intimate, with the song’s narrative mirrored in the musical themes and instrumentation.

It begins with hazy guitar, suspending the listener in the uncertainty of new love. The introduction of xylophone and percussive human sounds reflecting the twinkling thrill of exploring someone else. The woozy bass-line and layered vocals emulating the inner voices of self-doubt and bliss that come along with relationships.

Alone at Last covers entire universes of ground, still everything is rooted in Tasha’s identity. The second to last song, “Lullaby,” is a tender blend of buzzing electric guitar, glockenspiel and overlapping vocal harmonies, allowing for Tasha’s words to offer sympathy and reassurance to a tired mind.

Black women are held up against an archetypal expectation of being “the strong black woman.” Tasha’s lullaby puts this stereotype, and all other stereotypes for model minorities, to rest, with the hope of waking to a better reality. By giving these women the room to “keep [their] magic to [themselves],” Tasha is lifting the grips of racial and gendered gravity, allowing them the freedom of flight. Even if it is just for a moment.

Alone at Last out now via Father Daughter Records.

Order link

Alone At Last

Each purchase of the vinyl LP comes with a limited edition poetry zine featuring pieces by Tasha, Imani Jackson, Keisa Reynolds, Kara Jackson, Jamila Woods, and Stella Binion -- all Chicago based, black women writers. $1 from each LP sold will be donated to #NoCopAcademy, a collective of organizers doing work to prevent a $95 million police academy from being built on the westside of Chicago.

INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Chicago's Campdogzz

Interview by Anna White

Photos by  Randy P Martin

Photos by Randy P Martin

Campdogzz are always on the road. Their music mirrors this sense of motion, conveying a similar restless feeling to driving down long, empty highways at night. Lead singer Jessica Price’s raspy vocals complemented by the band’s indie-industrial instrumentals creates a kind of dusty desert-rock that somehow still calls to mind the band’s home base, Chicago.

The five-piece is currently in the middle of a two-month long tour with label-mates Cursive, and headed homeward for a show at Thalia Hall on November 15th (which will be Price’s first time seeing a show in the venue!) I caught up with Price last week and chatted about filmmaking, road trips, and transience of youth.

You released your second full-length, In Rounds, this August—tell me a little about the record.

We kind of took our time recording it. After we released the first record, a couple of us took several months just to travel and kind of relax. We did a two-month tour—that was our first tour as a band, and that was my first tour playing music in general. It was like school for me, learning how to tour.

After that we wanted to take a break and work on writing, and we just traveled the Southwest for a few months, and came back to Chicago and kind of just jumped right into recording—It was a good process.

So you wrote the album while you were in the Southwest?

Most of it, yeah. I think it kind of started to take shape there, in the bus that we traveled in. Most of it was written out there.

Why did you choose to go to the Southwest to write it?

A couple of our friends that we met through travelling, our friend Randy Martin who took a good deal of our early promotional photos of us—he and our other friend Danielle, who is a great tattoo artist, they had spent a season working in Denali national park, and wanted come back to society a little, but also continue to travel. We just been hitting it really hard with touring, so we all put our heads together and just decided to start touring the parks. We actually went East initially, to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, and then went South to Austin and from there just kept going West and West and West until we ran out of land, pretty much.

We didn’t have a specific plan, but we knew we just wanted to not put a time stamp on anything, take our time and get away for a little bit. Randy was kind of photo-journaling the whole experience, and we were writing, and I was filming a lot of it.

You started out as a filmmaker—how do you think you translated this visual change of scenery musically?

I think just innately that [film and music] just are tied together. I met both Mike and Nick, the guitar players for Campdogzz, through filmmaking, and that’s kind of how I got into music. I don’t know, when I’m writing music I usually have some kind of visual, or if I hear music it’s visually compelling, and if I’m filming something I want to often times score something for it. It’s really exciting to have those two things play off of each other.

And with [the trip], that part of the country is just vast, grand beauty—those huge skies, and the colors—it was kind of new to me, I hadn’t spent a whole lot of time in the desert, so, I was really taken with it. I couldn’t help but let the music be influenced by our surroundings.

Aside from your time in the desert, what inspired the new album?

Probably just this time in all of our lives, and this transience, and figuring it all out. Learning about yourself, you know—there was definitely a feeling of youth but wanting to have something a little bit more solid, and just feeling like we were in between. In between something. Sometimes there was a sense of urgency in that, and other times peace in it.

That’s really interesting. Now that you’ve been working with these songs for a little while, playing them on this tour, do you feel a little less in between?

I feel like I’m less freaked out about it. That sense of urgency has kind of relieved itself naturally; I’ve lived in Chicago for about ten years now, but the last five years I’ve wanted to be in a more rural area. I just feel change coming on but there’s no clear direction. And that used to be a little frightening, or just frustrating—wanting to take action but not knowing how, but now I just feel a lot more comfortable in trusting that things are going to happen the way they do, and you don’t need to try to force any one thing. I think that time we spent travelling helped, in a lot of ways.


INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Linnea Siggelkow of Ellis

interview by Rosie Accola

With Ellis, Linnea Siggelkow’s first project, Siggelkow positions herself as a  dazzling addition to the pantheon of non-male Shoegaze vocalists. Her voice possesses the of glow of Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval; while the full band’s sound bridges the gap between shoegaze and bedroom pop. Ellis’ first EP The Fuzz, is released today, November 9th. The EP juxtaposes the quiet strength of vocals that sound more like a whispered secret, and all-consuming feedback soaked guitars. The production quality of these tracks is intricate, each listen reveals another layer of guitar or piano hidden between the warm folds of, well, the fuzz.

With just six tracks and a smattering of disposable photographs, Siggelkow creates a  world that is thoughtful, multi-faceted, and entirely her own. Hooligan sat down with Linnea over Skype to talk about the relationship between music and visual art, Mitski’s new record, public vulnerability, and how small talk is the worst.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.


Hooligan Mag (H.M.): This album has such an interesting visual component. For you, what’s the relationship between creating music and creating visuals?

Linnea Siggelkow (L.S.): I think the overall goal is to create a mood or a feeling. I’m not much of a visual artist but I’ve been incorporating photographs I’ve taken, it’s an attempt to make it more personal. I also have so many talented friends who take photos and make cool art. It’s been a really cool opportunity to collaborate with people that I love too.

H.M.: It’s interesting that you say that you’re not a visual artist because I love those photographs.

L.S.: Thank you so much! They are mostly just photos that I’ve taken on disposable cameras over the past like, ten years, so thank you for saying that!

H.M.: So you shoot all on film and disposable, then?

L.S.: It’s pretty much all disposable cameras. I know very little about photography, or to be honest, cameras at all. It’s something I’m really interested in learning more about, but it’s just been disposable cameras pretty much so far. My friend Sean and I collaborated on the album art for the EP. I shot a bunch of these floral shots just on a disposable camera and he’s an amazing designer, so he used all of them to make something that looks amazing. I’m really happy with it.

H.M.: Who are some of your visual influences?

L.S.: A lot of my friends are just amazing artists and inspire me. I don’t spend a lot of time creating visual art, but I generally love lo-fi stuff and analogue stuff. I think those are just the visuals that I’m the most attracted to. I love the look of film photography, ‘90s camcorders.

Can you tell me about where you derive inspiration from musically, and how you started playing music?

L.S.: I started playing music as a child, I played classical piano growing up so it’s always been a super big part of my life. My mom was a piano teacher so it wasn’t a choice in our house whether or not we played piano. Now I’m really grateful that I have my roots in that, and I’ve recently started teaching piano too, so it’s cool that it kind of came full-circle.

I started playing guitar when I was twelve because I saw Avril Lavigne’s ‘Complicated’ music video. I babysat for a full summer to save up for my first guitar. It was a Squire stratocaster, and I briefly took lessons around then.

I think I was always writing songs, I don’t think they were very good, but Ellis is fairly recent. I had played in another band that was sort of pop-punk, but I think my songwriting has always been a bit more melancholy. I think I just wanted to make something that sounded more like the way that I felt.

Ellis started a couple years ago alone in my room. I just started demo-ing a bunch of songs on garageband. I played a couple solo shows and realized that I don’t love performing solo. It’s been a bit of a journey figuring out how to execute it, but now I play live with a band and that’s been really cool.

As far as influences, I used to write a lot more folky stuff. I’ve sort of been all over the map but I feel like this is the sound I’ve always wanted to make. It definitely resonates the most with me, so I think I kind of fell into it after dabbling with a lot of different stuff and listening to a lot of different music. It’s been called a lot of genres, but I think it’s mostly just moody and emotional, that’s where I feel the most myself.

H.M.: The first couple times I listened to it, it reminded me kind of of old Mazzy Star.

L.S.: That’s a huge compliment, thank you!

H.M.: I was like, ‘I get Hope Sandoval vibes and this makes me excited’. I love it.

L.S.: That’s so nice, thank you!

H.M.: I feel like Shoegaze is always sort of bro-y, but then people forget that there were women and non-men in the scene. What’s it been like navigating venues and spaces with this project?

L.S.: I think that I feel really fortunate to be coming out with music at a time where women are killing it right now. I’m grateful for the people who have come before me to make it a lot easier for me to navigate those spaces. I think even a few years ago it wasn’t the same as it is now. And like, all my favorite artists right now are women or non-men, and they’re dominating the indie music scene. That’s so cool to see and so cool to get to come into and be a part of. I have been fortunate to have pretty positive experiences, and I think I owe that to the people who have come before me and carved out that way.

H.M: Who are some of your favorite artists right now? Who have you been listening to?

L.S.: I love the new Yowler record, that’s one of my favorites. The new Mitski record, obviously. Sasami is dropping hers soon, and I’m excited for that. Such a cool thing to see Mitski selling out multiple nights in Toronto. It’s unreal.

H.M.: Do you have a favorite track on your new E.P.?

L.S.: I think “The Fuzz” is my favorite song, I don’t know if it’s the best one, but it’s definitely the most dynamic song I’ve ever written and my favorite one to play live. It doesn’t seem to be that many other people’s favorites, but we’ll see.

H.M.: How do you figure out which songs you like playing live?

L.S.: At this point we’ve only got this EP coming out, so we’ve just been playing songs from that, but I’m in the process of writing the next thing right now, so there will be more songs to choose from soon and then it will get trickier to pick a setlist.

H.M.: Does that take away some of the more nerve-wracking aspects of live shows?

L.S.: Yeah, it’s been an interesting time so far because we haven’t released the full collection, just three singles now, so most people that come aren’t familiar with the songs yet. The EP come out a week from tomorrow. Maybe it will feel different when there’s a chance that people will recognize them when we play them live.

H.M.: I think they will. Can you take me through your writing process?

L.S.: Pretty much every song starts with lyrics or at least a lyric, or a verse, or a chorus, and then I build around that -- always. Usually I’ll write the melody, either on guitar or on keyboard and I sort of just build them up from there. I like to layer as much as I can on my own and demo as much as I can on my own before I get other people involved. With this project, I feel pretty possessive of it. The songs are super personal and really special and important to me, so I think I tried to form them as fully as I could before anything happens to them.

H.M.: How do you navigate that tension of being vulnerable and telling a story while also knowing that this is something that’s going to be out in the world?

L.S.: There are some songs that make me more nervous than others, for sure. Writing is definitely a process of coping and a tool I use to process things. With some songs, I feel like I have processed and moved past that feeling. They still mean something to me, but it feels separate from me now, while other songs still feel very much like a part of me, sometimes in difficult ways. I think putting them out makes me feel in control of them, like I have some sort of power over the feeling and I think that itself can be really empowering.

Also, I’m a bit of an open book. I wear my heart on my sleeve, sometimes to a fault. So sharing parts of myself has never been that difficult. Sometimes I wish I was a little more mysterious.

H.M.: I get what you mean though. Do you find it difficult to be less open with certain people? Like when you have to go buy a coffee after doing something super draining like that?

L.S.: [laughs] That’s a funny question. I think I’m good at picking and choosing who I spill the beans to, but it doesn’t take too much to make me feel comfortable to share. I hope that I’m not that person that’s like, ‘oh God, not this girl, talking about her feelings again.’

H.M.: I totally get it. I don’t know what small talk is.

L.S.: I hate small talk and maybe that’s part of it. I don’t really want to shoot the shit, I want to get deep and get on another level with people. That’s the way I enjoy to connect.

H.M.: Yeah, and I think music is such a cool way to connect with people and strip back those layers of conversational niceties because it is so direct. I was looking at your lyrics, and some of the phrasing is so beautiful. I don’t know how you finagled it into a song but you did.

L.S.: Thank you so much, that’s so kind!

H.M.: It’s so cool! Can you tell me how you learned to work with things like phrasing and the actual musicality of your lyrics?

L.S.: Oh man, I don’t know if I know how to actually answer that question. I think a lot of the best songs I’ve written have just sort of spilled out. I’m a bit OCD about rhyming and things like that, every once and awhile I will shift some things around just to make them work together. I’d love to learn more about songwriting and phrasing, I’ve never really felt that was my strong point.

I think it just starts with a line or a phrase that I hear over and over in my head, something that occurs to me and I just build around it. Probably the phrases that you notice are the ones that it started with.

H.M.: I feel like so much of writing is just shit getting stuck in your head for hours and hours.

L.S.: Totally. I don’t have much of a formula.

H.M.: Did you have a hard time finding a track order or anything?

L.S.: Honestly this particular collection of songs sort of just came together. I had written a bunch of things, but these six sort of came about around the same time and felt really cohesive, like a collection. It wasn’t extremely intentional in the way it happened, it just felt right. I feel like there’s cohesion to the sound, but also to the feelings and the words. It wasn’t that difficult a process, they sort of just came to be that way. It might be harder the next time around, but this time it felt like the pieces just fell into place.

H.M.: From a writing perspective, do you have any favorite writers that you look to when you’re working on lyrics or songs?

L.S.: I don’t know so much if I go to other songwriters for lyrical inspiration because so many of my songs are like journal entries or something. But I definitely have favorite songwriters, or songwriters where I’ll read the lyrics and be like, ‘shit I wish I had written that.’ Maryn Jones from Yowler is one of my favorite lyricists, but I could never write like her. I think I’m inspired by people but I don’t know how much I’m influenced by them. All of my songs are in first person, and all of them are autobiographical.

H.M.: How do you navigate the fact that a lot of people are hearing your work now?

L.S.: I just feel excited, to be honest. I didn’t know what to expect when I recorded these songs and I didn’t know what to expect when I put them out. The fact that they are being heard is really cool and validating.

H.M.: One last question. I was reading that you’re a Pisces sun, what’s the most Pisces thing about you?

L.S.: Oh gosh I feel like I’m as Pisces as they come! I think definitely the emotional aspect and wateriness- I cry a lot. It’s pretty accurate. Sometimes they get a bad rap, but it’s just a lot of feelings to navigate, that’s all.

REVIEW: Kweku Collins at Lincoln Hall

by Cody Corrall

It started with silence. Then a light. Christian JaLon stepped onto the stage at Lincoln Hall to a small crowd, one that would eventually balloon as the night revved up to its headliner Kweku Collins. JaLon, who emphasizes that’s “how her mother wrote it on her birth certificate,” beckons the space with a cappella resembling a church hymn.

Then the music kicks in. A sweltering cacophony of electronic instrumentation with a foundation in classic soul. The South Side singer laughs between songs of love, divinity and obsession from her recent EP “If You Let Me.” She says she loves crowd participation, encouraging the crowd to clap along or to sing back at her or to dance like nobody’s watching as she does the same on stage, drenched in blue light.

photos by Cody Corrall

photos by Cody Corrall

Joseph Chilliams takes the stage and the mood shifts: what once was a church choir has now molded itself into a comedy show. Chilliams hops and dances around the stage, waving his arms as he raps about “Mean Girls” in a Britney Spears t-shirt. Chilliams uses nostalgia for the 90s and early aughts as his vehicle for experimentation in his music. There are so many pop culture references and clever uses of wordplay that it’s hard to keep up -- but it provides a kitschy satisfaction that’s hard to find in the genre.

Chilliams played songs from his recent EP “The Plastics” and his 2017 full-length album “Henry Church,” which takes its name from a bastardised Spanish-to-English translation of Enrique Iglesias’s name. Like JaLon, he engages with the crowd directly -- making jokes and responding to hecklers with witty comebacks. Through his charming and breakneck delivery, Chilliams is able to mix commentary on being Black in America, hating Bow Wow, loving Fergie and what it means to be “slim-thick” all in one set.


As 9:30 rolled around, the venue transformed from the intimate show an hour prior into a packed house. Evanston born Kweku Collins walks to the microphone in a pair of overalls with flowers embroidered on them. He says he missed Chicago, even if he was only gone for a day.

Collins channels universal feelings in his music -- being in and out of love or being alone and wandering this planet aimlessly. His genre has been described as “romance rap,” which perfectly encapsulates his voice. His music is tender and soft -- all within the complex bounds of the genre.

Collins is also a versatile performer -- he raps, harmonizes and sings, often resembling a desperate cry to a lover or a howl at the moon.


As he performs, the crowd is electric. They sing along to his popular songs like “Stupid Rose” with as much intensity as they do his more niche releases like “Sisko and Kasidy.” Some of the attendees shout his ad libs for him, or invent new ones to go with the songs.

The show his its peak during “The Outsiders,” which let the crowd take pride in their own form of Chicago. “Can you see the sun set real good on the West Side? / You can see it on the East Side too / Can you see the sun set real good on the North Side? / You can see it on the South Side too.” There were screams of joy from those who had trekked from the West and South Sides, as a feeling of Chicago pride radiated through the amplifiers.

From gospel roots to comedic parody and romance rap, Lincoln Hall became a showcase for the indescribable, eclectic and multifaceted diversity of Chicago music.


REVIEW: 'Crush Crusher', IAN SWEET

by Anna Claire White

Just looking at the cover of Crush Crusheryou can tell IAN SWEET has evolved since their 2016 debut, Shapeshifter (Hardly Art). Crush Crusher’s sleeve features a tableau of frontwoman Jilian Medford in a blocky, blood-red landscape, reclined in a puddle of tulle—a scene that feels worlds away from the pastel-and-black illustrative cacti of Shapeshifter.

This visual difference reflects band’s sonic progression: Crush Crusher retains IAN SWEET’s characteristic playful geometry, full of dizzily staggering rhythms and calculated voice cracks, but somehow manages to come across as more 3-D. Crush Crusher feels more personal than Medford’s previous work. It presents listeners with a window into Medford’s personal insecurities, anxiety-laced infatuation highlighted rather than obscured by glossy guitar swells. There are moments that are unequivocally romantic, like the chorus of “you are the beautiful half of everything” on the album’s final track “Your Arms Are Water,” but more often than not it feels like Medford is thinking herself in circles, self-critical and uncertain. “I don’t know if this is what I want,” Medford admits on “Falling Fruit,” and she doesn’t provide us with an easy answer to what that might be.

Crush Crusher instead feels like Medford laying out all the facts, showing emotions and specific memories, and allowing listeners to draw their own conclusions.

Listen to Crush Crusher on Spotify below

PREMIERE: Debut Song from New Chicago Group WHITE PPL

White Ppl is Ano Ba (producer, vocalist), Elly Tier (vocalist) and Cado San (vocalist). They are an all POC hip-hop trio that is bringing something wildly innovative to the Chicago music scene. With each member having an eclectic music background, their first single is a bop. Ano Ba, AKA Mylo Reyes, has projects ranging from rap / hip-hop to emo / garage rock. Elly Tier is classically trained, and has dabbled with singer-songwriting themselves. Cado San is a force, just like the rest, bringing in something energetic and exciting to the scene. It combines 90's R&B, mumble rap, emo rap, Chicago house, tropical island drums, bombastic brass leads, and traditional marching band drumlines (in the bridge) to put something magnetic together.

When describing the song, Ano Ba says, “We want you to party and feel emotions and feel okay in doing both.”


The song is mixed by Kevin Cairns //

White Ppl’s first show will be on November 24th

Lala Lala Finds Purpose and Beauty in Transformative New Record "The Lamb"

The most fitting way to describe Lala Lala’s second record, The Lamb, is that it’s intentional. Intentional in its songwriting. Intentional in its instrumentation. Intentional in its production.

The Lamb reveals itself song by song to be a mature and beautifully crafted record. Songwriter and guitarist Lillie West was emboldened by a vision to create a meaningful work that reflects how her life has changed since Lala Lala’s debut. The 12 tracks represent an opportunity to absolve prior transgressions and meditate on how to truly live from here on out.

“It was intentional writing in a way that I had never done before,” West says. “I had never written in that way before, so it was interesting to see that I could do it.”

It’s a radical shift from the Chicago-based band’s first album, Sleepyhead, released in 2016.

“I was writing emotionally only, but I didn’t consider the recording process,” West says. “It just happened.”

The Lamb is different, mainly because West, 24, is different. She’s becoming sober, which she describes as a decision that she has to make every single day.

“In some ways it was challenging,” West explains of the process of going sober. “In some ways it will always be challenging. It was easy in that I didn’t have a choice anymore.”

West artfully sifts through these changes in “Water Over Sex.” Her ethereal voice glides over the words, “You think I’m good / Well I want to be gooder,” and she rejoices in the fact that she is “suddenly full / here is belonging.” Guiding the pulsing guitar, West traces her continuing transformation and finds comfort in progressing from her self-destructive past to her honest present.

It would be a disservice to reduce West’s path to sobriety and wellness to simply black and white. There will still be days where she struggles with addiction and times where she becomes even more paranoid than before.

“It’s not pretty or absolute,” she says.

Now, West is able siphon out her soul to explore the nuances of her sprawling feelings. She feels loneliness. She feels surprise. She feels love. Acutely self-aware, she connects and deciphers these intense emotions throughout the album to explore how far she has come and how much more she has to go.

But despite her resolve to make herself better, West grapples with being able to extend that wish onto those she loves. The driving chorus of “When You Die” is in essence a mantra: “Keep my friends safe night and day / Keep my friends safe now and always.” West simultaneously recognizes the security of a deep-seated desire to save one’s friends from harm but also the futility of it.

The album is bound by introspection such as this and is dotted with animal imagery, as if West has stitched together her own book of nursery rhymes.

One such song, “Dove,” is tender yet chilling to the bone.  West’s voice climbs from a low murmur to raspy angelic heights as she sings: “I did the right thing, / And for what? / For some prettiness / That I don’t believe.” After experiencing heartbreaking loss, West manifests her pain in “Dove” to make it the most emotionally devastating yet undeniably the most beautiful song on the record.  

The most distinct symbol, though, comes from the succinct album title itself: the lamb. The title ties together the storied strings of loss, love and, perhaps most importantly, metamorphosis.

“The album is about me relearning how to be a person after becoming sober,” West says. “I’m a lamb. I’m a baby sheep discovering other things for the first time.”

PREMIERE: John Cyrus’ Pop Fantasy ‘Party’s Over’


by Scout Kelly

John Cyrus, a dream pop project from Nashville, is ready to share some new music in 2018 with a two track release, I Know I Know I Know, that will render you both melancholic and ready to dance. John Cyrus have often found their way onto my playlists for this exact reason. Their single, “Playin” from last year drew me in with an upbeat spin on the process of watching a love unwind right in front of your eyes when there’s nothing you can do about it.

The trio, made up of Nathan Klages, Darin Rajabian, and Madeline Privott, have a knack for making songs that don’t shy away from the part of the heart where anxiety and desire meet. Each song is something like a fantasy, where the musician and the listener both enter a world with fog machines and confetti. You want to dance with someone across from you, but you’re too scared to ask, so you wind up dancing alone.

“Party’s Over” is a lovely pop track that that details that paralyzing nature of emotions, how easily you can go through an entire story in your head before making a move, but before you know it- the party is over and everyone has to go home, even if you aren’t ready.

What I love about each John Cyrus track is the music often contradicts the mood. They offer a glimmer of consolation, hope, and an opportunity to dance out whatever gloom might befall the broken-hearted or emotionally-hungover.

Click here to pre-save the tracks and follow John Cyrus on Spotify

PREMIERE: Dilly Dally's New Music Video "Doom"

interview by Anna White

Dilly Dally are back from the dead. After the touring cycle preceding their 2015 release, Sore, the Toronto based four piece nearly dissolved. Heaven is the band’s first new material in three years, a powerful return to form—lead singer Katie Monk’s signature raspy vocals are ever-present, but the sonic backdrop is more refined, mixing in ambient influences and elements of doom metal.

Today we’re premiering the video for “Doom,” a track off of this new album. Monks alternates between angelic and possessed, the video a medley of performative live footage, what appears to be Monks mid-exorcism, and the band wandering through the woods by torchlight like Brother’s Grimm protagonists. I caught up with Monks last Wednesday and chatted about moving past depression, making music for your friends, and her new Flying V guitar.

We’re premiering the video for “Doom” off your new album, Heaven. What was the inspiration behind the video?

Basically the inspiration for that video came from when the album stopped being a dream and started becoming real, and I started becoming very romantic about the live show and what that experience was going to turn into.

So is the video your ideal live show?

No, it’s kind of a dreamy fantasy version of that.

It feels very ritualistic.

Yeah. I just had a vison about it, I want it to be just kind of a trance.

I love that. What is the song itself about?

When I wrote it was at a time in my life when a lot of people around me were struggling with depression and so was I, and it’s one of those moments where you don’t really have a friend to cheer you back up, because everyone was feeling down. The song is about digging really deep inside yourself, and finding something to hold onto, some piece of hope and happiness.

When did you begin writing your new album, Heaven?

Essentially at the beginning of 2017, which was when we were all exhausted with the whole thing. There were a lot of question marks going on as to how we were going to move forward, and what that would look like, what configuration of the band it was going to be—it was a hairy time. I think it was hard as well for my bandmates to see what the next step was going to be, because they hadn’t heard any new material. So they were kind of like, we’ll see what happens.

Were you having a hard time writing new material?

I think at first. At first I was certainly blocked, everyone was just tired.

How did you move past that?

I started treating it like it was a 9 to 5 job. I just woke up every day and I would write in my journal and meditate, and I bought some new pieces of gear to kind of mark a new chapter. The Flying V guitar was a huge part of that. It was like a middle finger to anyone who told me what was a cool guitar and what was not. I was like, it’s art and I can do what feels good and be myself, despite what’s trendy or cool right now, and I just thought it was pretty and it felt good to play.

And I got a looping station – I was playing around with making new sounds. I made an ambient album with my brother, I was kind of exploring, it was back to the beginning, like when you’re a teenager—to explore again and have it feel like a new thing.

I can definitely see how the ambient inspiration works its way in.

Yeah, in little ways. There’s a freedom to it, and I think that’s what we felt when we were making this album, we felt like this freedom about it because we all felt like this might not have happened. So, fuck it. I don’t think anyone cares about how people were going to perceive it, it wasn’t like “this will be a good next step for the band”. It was like, let’s make some art, and it was just really free. There were no rules.

By Anna White

By Anna White

That’s great! It’s so important to be evolving.

Yeah, if it comes naturally. I’m a very complicated person I think, there are a lot of different sides to me. I like being a bit of a chameleon, I’m very dramatic.

Do you think Heaven shows a lot of your different sides?

Yeah, there’s a lot of new sides to the band, that we didn’t even know we had. And there were definitely moments of fear! Like, oh shit, this is pretty different, I hope the punks are gonna like this one! When I say the punks, I just mean all my friends. That’s the only audience we care about, our friends.

PREMIERE: Chicago-Based Experimental Band Ze'ev Releases New Record

Interview by Rivka Yeker

Ze'ev is comprised of Balto, Clyde, and Zack. The band deliberately bends genre and defies expectation of direction and influence. They are one of Chicago's most innovative bands, and GTP is filled with both chaotic twists & turns and smooth comedowns. Hooligan was able to sit and discuss the record itself and Ze'ev's overall sound / intention. 

photo by Kelly Butler

photo by Kelly Butler


In what ways is this record different than your previous releases?

Clyde: Kismet, and our previous EPs were very much in the vein of longer drawn out instrumentals and a bit of what I was writing at the time as a small foundation. We were really just starting as a band and building our sound and still are. GTP is a result of what happens when everyone is involved in the writing process as a complete unit.

What message(s) do you want Ze'ev to give to your listeners? 

Balto: We literally tolerate no bullshit. We’ve had our fair share of experiences that have made us so tired. This is an album for a marginalized group made by a marginalized group and we hope for those who are struggling, you feel the love and support we have for each other in this album and take those positive vibes with you.

There is a lot of genre-bending in this record, which is so sick. How did you choose what kind of artists you wanted to be featured on the album since there is no one direction its going in?

Zack: Thank you. Our collaborators were all fellow artists who we've been lucky enough to meet and meld minds with over the years. While creating the record, we knew we wanted to have a full collection of voices driving home the themes on this record, not just our own, and we started contacting people who we knew would be able to take our concept and add their own perspectives, strengthening the overall message.

What makes something "Experimental"?

Zack: Experimental is a hard term to define in an overall sense, but I know Ze'ev uses this term as a description to rid ourselves of boundaries. All three of us bring so many disparate influences and experiences to this project and we never want an arbitrary genre label to hold us back. Saying we're an "experimental band" is a way for us to leave every idea we have on the table and never to be afraid to explore anything, musically or otherwise, that we vibe with. It's always been a goal of ours to shapeshift strictly based on our collective intuition, and in my humble opinion, you keep that communication open by allowing it to stay abstract and unlabeled.

I know your tastes vary. The album feels like a mix of skramz, post-rock, sludge, jazz, and twinkly emo. Who and what inspired the record?

Clyde: GTP stems from so many things. Inside jokes within the band, personal struggles, etc. We could talk forever about musical influences but Funkadelic, Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Unwound, Charles Mingus, and of course, Lil B the Based God are deeply rooted in this album.

What do you hope people feel after listening to GTP?

Balto: I hope people feel love, peace, and patience while listening to this album and what I mean by Patience in particular is that I urge you to really hear what everyone has to say throughout GTP.

Bury Me at Mitski's Rodeo

by Katie Burke

In a dark bar, clutching a phone to my ear, is where I decide that Mitski has a catalog of my sins. Someone has pulled up Lonesome Love and it’s my first time hearing it. When she sings, Nobody butters me up like you do and nobody fucks me like me, I feel an immediate urge to call a lyft. To go home to my apartment, light a candle for myself and put my ass to bed.

The first thing I do when I listen to a new Mitski album is think about myself.

Listen. I do the thing we all do. I beg to relate to whatever it is that I find beautiful or interesting. I assign a relationship or an experience to each song, and then I make it mine. Mitski makes this, not necessarily easy, but wonderfully possible. Like honesty. Like shifting weight.

There is more of a pop aspect to this album than there ever has been in Mitski’s music. There are bops like, “Why Didn’t You Stop Me” interspersed between the expected guitar-heavy ballads like, “Geyser” or “Pink in The Night”. Songs to scream-cry to.

I want to talk about the bops. Get in your car, or get on the train, or the bus while you listen to “Why Didn’t You Stop Me”. Look out the window and feel how everything can move as quickly as your heart does. How buildings can turn to blur as quickly as you begin to feel the twinge of shame from the lyrics I know I ended it, but why didn’t you chase after me? You know me better than I do. So why didn’t you stop me?

Put your hands on your head. What you’re feeling is whiplash.

There are multiple songs that function like breaks between paragraphs. A breather. Songs under two minutes that allow your heart to relax, to mend from all her honesty. Like the line in “A Horse Named Cold Air”,

I thought I had traveled a long way
but I had circled
the same old sin

I need a week in bed.

The first time I heard Mitski was in 2014 when Bury Me at Makeout Creek was released. I wrote a review of it. I had never felt compelled to review anything before. I wrote that it made me feel young, like a teenager. I wrote that I felt thankful that I was no longer in my teens, but my twenties. How did I imagine this being easier? I don’t want to assign an age to this album. But there is definitely a clarity to the sadness. Imagine a light getting turned on inside a room which darkness’ you have already adjusted to. Everyone is always getting older.

We should be thankful that Mitski has let her art become this kind of time capsule. A museum of what she was feeling at the time, with enough room for everyone else to engage. Space to say, I have felt this way, I have placed my hand on something marked OPEN FLAME and felt satisfaction. I have made the same mistake. Again. And again.

This album says here is what your desperation can sound like; beautiful. Here is how you are alone, and that is how you are always winning.


Stream Be the Cowboy below