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.

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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.

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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.

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PREMIERE: Beach Bunny’s ‘painkiller’ Lets You Dance Away the Heartbreak


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Stream the single off their upcoming EP Prom Queen now.


Alternative pop music has had a reawakening. From Paramore’s 2017 release ‘After Laughter’ to Mitski’s newest single ‘Nobody,’ artists have learned to craft upbeat, dance-y tracks to underscore feelings that are often hard to deal with.

‘painkiller,’ the newest single from Beach Bunny, is the latest addition to the dance-away-the-heartbreak genre that’s taking over alt-pop. Beach Bunny is the project of Chicago native Lili Trifilio, whose lyrics over surf rock inspired grooves enchanted audiences with her 2017 release ‘Crybaby.’

‘painkiller’ is the first single off of Beach Bunny’s upcoming EP Prom QueenThe music video, which was surprise released on Thursday, features Trifilio alone in a poofy pink dress, looking dejected as she watches people couple up and take prom pictures. In efforts to console her, Trifilio’s mom comes up to her and says that “boys will be boys.”

The single perfectly encapsulates all of the feelings of a nasty breakup through medical motifs. She starts with a comparison to pulling teeth and gets more macabre as the song goes on: lyrics like “all of your apologies are only empty calories” and “is it reconstructive surgery? / can’t fix my anxiety” are contrasted by a sparklingly infectious dance track.

Halfway through, the song breaks down musically and lyrically. Bandmates Matt Henkels on guitar, Jon Alvarado on drums and Aidan Cada on bass show off their talents in a irresistible riff reminiscent of dancing by yourself on that perfect summer day. When joined by by Trifilio’s repetitive and melancholy lyrics, it quickly turns into a haunting trance you can’t help but dance to. “Take me to the hospital / I need pair of setamol / tramadol, ketamine / I just need some pain relief.”

Dancing to a list of painkillers seems odd on the surface, but Beach Bunny makes it effortless. Their enchanting musical style can make the most heartbreaking lyrics sound like candy – and it’s what makes them so special. They don’t compromise emotion for pop melodies, or vice versa. This has been a staple for the band from the beginning, but is especially prominent in their newer tracks: it’s going to get a little sad, but we’re still going to have a good time.

Historically, pop music has been pretty surface level. The burden of being a commercially viable genre is the limitations on what is allowed to be written about. Many artists have found them confining to music that’s widely relatable but still not a total bummer, resulting in songs that are overly repetitive and even emotionless. Beach Bunny, among many other acts, are challenging that standard by putting difficult emotions at the forefront without sacrificing great upbeat pop sensibilities.

Breakups and heartbreak are normal. It’s okay to sit with your emotions and understand them, even if they’re sad or hard to deal with. Sometimes processing those feelings is seen as unattractive, or results in dramatic metaphors and exaggerations – but it’s easier when someone, or something, understands it in the same way you do. And sometimes the only thing you can do is dance away the pain.


Stream painkiller Below:


by John Tuanqui

by John Tuanqui

GET ON BOARD: A Celebration of Women's Skateboarding featuring The Kills at House of Vans Chicago


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All photos by  Cody Corrall

All photos by Cody Corrall


by Cody Corrall

Skateboarding is no longer a boys club. Dozens of women varying in age, race and experience level congregated at the House of Vans in Chicago on Saturday night for a girl’s skate jam. The event, known as “Get On Board,” aims to encourage young women to not only to start riding, but to use skateboarding as a tool to promote confidence and self discovery.

Members of The Skate Kitchen, a New York based skate collective, were invited to the event and were grateful that safe spaces for women in the skateboarding scene existed. “It was an incredible experience having so many girls in a safe space,” they said in an Instagram post. “It's so gratifying to be learning alongside so many passionate ladies.”

Skateboarding has a powerful impact on Nina Moran, a member of The Skate Kitchen, and it has the ability to empower others. “When a girl starts skateboarding, something magical happens” said Nina Moran in her TedxTeen talk. Skateboarding is not just an hobby or a sport. To many, skateboarding can be a lifestyle, and that comes with tight knit communities. This is especially so with women in the scene, who often stick together and build a strong community to engage with their passions in safe environments.


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The venue was decorated with murals and artwork by Robin Eisenberg, a graphic illustrator based in Los Angeles. Eisenberg was one of the first women artists to collaborate with Thrasher, the renowned skateboarding magazine. For the event, Eisenberg designed and painted the space with various women on skateboards and sold prints and pins at the artist market.

The event closed with a performance by British-American rock band, The Kills. The duo, composed of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince, performed at the skate jams in Brooklyn and Chicago. Mosshart credits her ties to skate culture growing up for her interest in music and her success today.” I loved the artwork on decks and I loved all the punk rock music that went with the imagery,” Mosshart said in a personal essay. “I skated just to hang out and then at one point [my friends and I] decided to form our own band, at around 14.”


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Mosshart is stage presence personified. She contorts her body and whips her hair, chaotic but purposeful — moving perfectly in tune with Hince’s guitar. Mosshart and Hince are opposites on stage: Mosshart dons thigh-high black boots and can’t stand still as she spitballs intense lyrics while Hince is cool and collected, accompanying Mosshart’s wild side with leather loafers. And yet, Mosshart and Hince are effortlessly in tandem — no doubt due to having 18 years of working together under their belt. They know each others idiosyncrasies like the palms of their hands, making for an eccentric performance.

Get On Board encourages young women that all you need to skate is to pick up a board, fall down and get back up again. What needs to happen next is to figure out how to maintain this sense of community outside of this event, so that skateboarding can be fun, accessible and life changing to women everywhere.


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REVIEW: Lorde and Partying Away the Pain

It’s hard to imagine what we did in Lorde’s four year absence. Since the New Zealand singer released her debut album Pure Heroine when she was 16, Lorde became the pop star on everybody’s lips. She was unconventional: lyrics dreaming about fancy cars and jewelry underscored by big percussion not generally seen in the genre, all while being thrusted into stardom because of it. Melodrama, her triumphant return, and her first Billboard No. 1 album, is a fuzzy, fragmented portrait of her life in her absence.

In its most basic form, Melodrama is a break-up album. But the ways in which Lorde pieces it all together is what makes it so raw and authentic. Especially in “Hard Feelings/Loveless,” where she comes to terms with her breakup, but just wants to dwell on it a little bit longer. She’s growing, she’s prioritizing herself and her feelings instead of her relationships, “I care for myself the way I used to care about you.” Then the tone shifts completely, including the music style, and it becomes a song about “fuckin' with our lover's heads” and repeating over and over that this generation experiences love differently, if at all.

She’s been very open about how true to her life this record is, and she’s given herself the space to be vulnerable. While she’s still younger than most popular artists, she has grown up from her Pure Heroine self, and is incredibly self aware. She knows that being a teenager and being in love comes with being irrational and obsessive, and losing your cloud of judgement -- but she also gives validity to the melodrama of it all.

The underlying crux of this album is the that going from a normal teenager in a small town to a world-wide name took a toll on herself and her relationships. In “Writer in the Dark,” she realizes that she has to compromise her relationships because of her stardom. “Stood on my chest and kept me down/Hated hearing my name on the lips of a crowd/Did my best to exist just for you.” She tried to separate her fame from her relationships but she couldn’t, and it drove her ex-boyfriend away.

Lorde took a few years to be a teenager, and it didn’t go how she planned. She spent most of it dealing with her breakup, either through partying or waking up in other peoples beds or obsessing about her old flame. She tried to make a classic “teen anthem” song with her singles “Sober” and “Perfect Places,” and both times she finds herself coming to terms with the fact that she’s lost. 

“Sober” starts off with a disconnected repetition of lyrics, mimicking someone trying to remember what happened the night before. She’s enjoying herself and finding new people to talk to, but she’s dependent on the drugs and the alcohol to maintain her relationships, “but what will we do when we’re sober?” she asks.

In “Perfect Places,” Lorde hits the nail on the head concerning what’s wrong with these “teen anthems,” which usually have a loud chorus about how being a teenager means you’ll live forever. She’s navigating all those emotions through parties, and realizes that she’s genuinely terrified of being alone.

“I think I’m partying so much because I’m just dreading sitting at home by myself hearing my thoughts hit the walls,” said Lorde. “I think parties are a really interesting mental exercise/take on a few different layers when you’re feeling like this.” She’s become dependent on how parties make her feel, but who is she when she gets home? That’s the conflict she’s afraid to face.

Melodrama was well worth the wait. In the interim, Lorde  gave herself time to experience life, which she then reflected and commented on in a masterfully conceptualized portrait of her emotions. Teenage emotions are irrational, but Lorde shows how real they feel in the moment, and gives power and validity to them when they are so often written off as melodrama.

TOMBOi Is Building The Future They Want For Themselves: An Interview with the Band

Photo by Hayden Palmer

Photo by Hayden Palmer

TOMBOi is unlike anything you’ve ever heard of. The queer electro-pop band from Jacksonville is made up of Alex E on vocals, Paige McMullen on guitar, and Summer Wood on drums. They merge bubblegum dance grooves with gut-hitting lyrics that tackle homophobia and sexual freedom. Their first full length album Spectrum embodies their experiences as a collective of queer women in the south, while putting a rhythmic beat at the center of it all. We got to chat with them at the tail end of their tour about activism, the DIY music scene, and all things Spectrum.


YOU’RE JUST COMING OFF YOUR SPECTRUM TOUR. HOW’S THAT BEEN?

PAIGE: This is the first time that we, as a band, have gone to the west coast. It’s been so cool to run into so many friends around the country; and people that you don’t know that you maybe just connect with online via social media. It’s amazing to see how far the music community and the queer community is everywhere and you can always find friends.

WHAT’S IT LIKE BEING SUCH A VISIBLY QUEER BAND IN THE SOUTH?

ALEX: Things have started to change for sure. There’s been a huge push to pass the Human Rights Ordinance in Jacksonville  and that finally passed this January. I think through that push, the outreach in the community, conversation, and that dialogue has really evolved in Jacksonville. Not to say that it’s easy for the queer community as a whole in Jacksonville. Some people can’t even use the restroom without being given a hard time. That being said, traveling the United States, the South is pretty much everywhere.

PAIGE: We were driving up the coast of California and Alex pointed out a confederate flag and we were like ‘what is that doing here?’ That mentality exists everywhere.

ALEX: But we’ve also found that what counteracts the negative exists everywhere too.

But I am cautious when we’re in certain places just because I know that out of the three of us, if someone were to have an issue with queer people, I’m the one they would probably mess with the most.

DO YOU THINK YOUR MUSIC IS POLITICAL?

ALEX I think being queer, or being a marginalized individual, whether you like it or not, you are political. Your existence and wanting to be visible is kind of this political statement.

Writing for TOMBOi, I never intended for it to be a political thing, but as we were diving more into queer scenes and queer culture and really embracing what that means.  You can’t help but be influenced by [it].

I just wanted it to be really pop-y, happy love songs that you can dance to and have a good time to the same way you can to a mainstream pop song. Most music still has this heterosexual undertone to it, so I just wanted to write the opposite of that.

But through that you meet people who tell you their stories, and you’re part of a community and we’re all involved politically on some level of just wanting where we’re from to be better for the next generation. I don’t know that we’re the best at it but we at least do what we can and we try. We’re not saviors by any means.

PAIGE: People have personally asked me about the fact that we label ourselves as a queer band. Because people think our music isn’t gay, but it is. And it’s also a way for queer youth and people who are looking for media that addresses them and their specific marginalized situation and something that speaks to them.

Photo by Hayden Palmer

Photo by Hayden Palmer

LET’S TALK ABOUT SPECTRUM. HOW DID THE NAME COME ABOUT AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU?

ALEX: [The name] Spectrum came about as we were touring and working on putting this album together and having conversations with various queer communities up and down the east coast. I think there’s a national dialogue going on about how mental health is on a spectrum, sexuality is on a spectrum, how identity is on a spectrum. There’s more than these very black and white terms that we’ve come to know.

We’ve really been fortunate to get to know these rad youths from a local high school called Douglas Anderson. We performed at an event that they held for their gender and sexuality alliance called Spectrum. It really signified that this idea of a spectrum is very relevant to a younger audience and maybe to an older audience that wishes this dialogue had been there. I can say that, I wish that the dialogue was a little more progressive when I was their age.

HOW WAS RECORDING THE ALBUM DIFFERENT THAN THE EP?

PAIGE: We did a lot of things differently this time around. For one, we fundraised through IndieGogo. It was a good way to get people hyped about it and to get people involved in the process.

These songs we’ve played for the past couple years to hone in on them and perfect them, so it was a more concentrated and conceptual album. The first one we were like let’s get some songs out there and this one we all worked independently and as a group on our various parts.

ALEX: I had my laptop stolen, Paige and friends and I were held up at gunpoint. They stole some stuff from the show, and it was terrifying. It made us realize that if they stole the more analog gear that I had that was the real basis of what TOMBOi was doing in the beginning, then it would be really hard for us to play the show the next night. The community fundraised and they got me a new laptop and I put some money in and got a controller and modded them together and bada bing bada boom the next generation of TOMBOi was born.

When making Spectrum I mixed and mixed and mixed and mixed for like six months and I still hate it.

PAIGE: There’s definitely a point where you have to say it’s finished. We’re not gonna keep working on this. But for musicians and creatives, nothing’s ever finished.

SUMMER: For the full length we used photography and wanted to show all the colors of the spectrum. I worked with Hayden Palmer to collaborate on the visuals for the packaging. I was thinking of some kind of visual collage that represented all of the songs and us and our background. I came up with a list of items that I felt were representative of those things, like a playing card of a king and a queen that would represent PGP and gender. There’s probably like 30 things in that collage and all of them connect with us somehow.”

YOU OPERATE IN THE DIY MUSIC SCENE. WHY IS INDEPENDENCE SO IMPORTANT TO YOU AS ARTISTS?

PAIGE: The minute you’re indebted to someone, whether it be a record label or anyone in general, you have their expectations, and it can alter what your original concept was. It’s definitely intentional, the fact that we do everything ourselves.

ALEX: We’re from Jacksonville which isn’t necessarily known for its record labels and outreach and support for musicians. So instead of waiting for people to come and offer us things we built the future that we wanted for ourselves. We talked as a band about how to be a sustainable entity and not just be three friends who are making music. We wanna do this and we wanna do it in a way that makes sense and is actually kind of practical which sounds so un-rock star.

You’re kind of conditioned to think you’re not supposed to think about business or the logistics, that it’s just getting on stage and partying. We decided to turn ourselves into a business. We have a band agreement that, say, if there was any money how that money breaks down.

PAIGE: It’s been a learning experience in terms of navigating the music industry as a DIY band, and we’ve done it largely out of necessity. It’s benefited us because we know our rights, and it allows us to help other people succeed within the DIY community and we’ve also received help in that way from other musicians. It’s a two way street.

HOW HAS THE QUEER SCENE IN JACKSONVILLE EVOLVED SINCE TOMBOi STARTED?

ALEX: We didn’t start this band to make a queer scene and I don’t even think that we’re responsible for it because it takes a group of people to do it. But I definitely think that when we were starting a dialogue in the community, it was at a relevant time for people and really encouraged other artists to come out and prove that you can do this.

PAIGE: As far as the Jacksonville scene, we’re largely indebted to Girls Rock who helped to filter an environment for queer artists and lift people of color up and queer artists up and give them safe spaces. Summer is involved in Girls Rock and has put on a lot of events that brought a younger generation out and inspired them that if you want to make music you got this safe place. The community and the support is what makes people feel safe to come out.

ALEX: It takes a community for sure to build a safe zone. Even though it is the south and there’s some things for sure that we’d love to change about our city, there are some things that are just changing about Jacksonville. The way people are starting to grasp more inclusive dialogue, you usually find yourself in a conversation in Jacksonville where people are trying to understand and they’re trying to be an ally in some way shape or form.

WHAT’S COMING UP?

PAIGE: Right now the big thing we’re pushing is our newest music video that just came out that was directed by Keagan Anfuso. It’s for the single Rainbow Warrior which is the first single from Spectrum. We wanted to incorporate all parts of the spectrum into that video.

Spectrum is available on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud, and be on the lookout for a vinyl record of Spectrum set to come out in the next couple months.


You can find TOMBOi everywhere at @tomboiband and tomboiband.com.