ISSUE #36 / NOVEMBER 15, 2018

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J. Fernandez
Occasional Din
Joyful Noise , J. Fernandez

The psych pop of J. Fernandez has been capturing the attention of Chicago music fans since his first EPs started to drop early in the decade. With the release of his sophomore full length, Occasional Din, he has structured a layered multiverse of sound that is equally thought-provoking and sonically mesmerizing. Taking inspiration from the seventies soundtracks, American psych-pop and Italian-produced pop music of the era, Fernandez has taken a freewheeling sound and brought it to the present, capturing the collective solitude and anxious side-effects of modern technology. For example, “Volcanic Winter” explores climate change and our seemingly apathetic view toward the subject; “Rewards” is cleverly structured as an online survey; and “Don’t Need Anything” tells of a man who never needs to leave the house. This whole album is wrapped in a rather joyous pop sound with melancholic breaks that bring you back to reality for a split second before sweeping you back up into his elegant compositions. Top it all off with a mixing job by CAVE and Bitchin Bajas member Cooper Crain; and it is no wonder that Occasional Din is a wonderful effort from one of the most interesting musicians to call Chicago home. Give it a listen.


He just had an album release party last Saturday at The Hungry Brain and has yet to announce any more dates.

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Bleach Party
Bleach Party

Garage rock is a loose genre used to describe any band that doesn’t really fall into one category, and the surf-punk stylings of Chicago’s own Bleach Party is exactly that: difficult to categorize. (Which is probably why we love em so much.) On their debut LP NOLA, they slam into gear with opener “Other’s Luggage”, only letting off the gas a couple times during this race down the highway of rock. Meg MacDuff’s howl brings back visions of X Ray Spex’s own Poly Styrene; and Kaylee Preston’s drums drive every song from up high in the mix, well above the guitars of MacDuff and Bart Pappas that float below. It’s an effect that works incredibly well to ground these tunes with a steady, solid back-beat (well, “front”-beat really) via Preston’s popping snare, which contributes to the hardcore feel that this album takes on. Check it out here.  


They also just had an record release party at The Empty Bottle last week and don’t have any upcoming Chicago dates.

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Saltwater Tap
Bittersweet EP

A funky trip through frontman Garren Hudson’s brain, Bittersweet is the debut EP from this suburban Chicago outfit, filled with a collection of tunes that were penned while Hudson was still in high school. Apparently they felt that these tracks needed to be laid down in order to close out that chapter of Hudson’s life. So they spent a week in Transient Studios and emerged with six hummable tracks that avoid falling into the traps that many early songwriters so often get caught up in. Each tune flows into the next as a cohesive whole until the climax of closer “Chinese Restaurant”, which sounds like the start of a party as they finished this thing. (Which makes sense since some of the recording days stretched into the early morning hours as friends helped Hudson and his collaborators lay out these tracks.) Hudson is a songwriter with quite a bit of promise, and we’re hoping for big things from Saltwater Tap in the future. You can check out the title track and opening tune “Bittersweet” here and the full EP is out on Spotify.


They are finalizing the details of their EP release party as we speak. When we know, we’ll let you know.

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Laura Jane Grace & The Devouring Mothers
Bought To Rot

Always unexpected, the music of Laura Jane Grace has consistently surprised us over the past several years. After a career playing straight up punk rock in Against Me!, she has recorded a solo effort that touts a more singer-songwriter feel than the hard hitting rock that she’s known for. Four years ago, while still with Against Me!, she released Transgender Dysphoria Blues to critical acclaim and audience praise. TDB was their first album since she had transitioned and was a confessional masterpiece examining gender roles in society and so much more. Bought to Rot continues the journal like tunes that dominated TDB and is peppered with tongue in cheek humor that truly shows you don’t have to be hardcore all the time. The breakup song “I Hate Chicago” is the perfect example as she berates her adopted hometown with hilarious putdowns. So is the collaborative, rambling tune “Manic Depression” which describes how the condition can rule one’s life to a slogging beat from current Against Me! drummer Atom Willard and bassist Marc Jacob Hudson (also Against Me!’s Sound Engineer). Adding to the confessional nature are tunes that don’t really have actual titles, as in “The Apology Song”  or “The Airplane Song”, a rocking love song in which she muses: “What do pleasures of the flesh mean anyway? / We’re all growing old, all in decay.” Fans of Grace should have plenty to chew on until her next effort—in whatever form that takes. Till then give this one a listen.


They are playing Lincoln Hall on November 29th. Tix are $25.



Back in January, cupcakKe dropped the critically acclaimed Euphorize, which launched a year of firsts for one of Chicago’s  raunchiest rappers. Ten months later, she’s gifted us with her most personal work to date. Not to say she has left the profane behind: comparing her vagina to “Garfield” or encouraging her lover with dirty talk in “Typo”. But there is plenty of seriousness to chew on with the diatribe on racism in “Cereal and Water” or “Fabric”, which has her putting down her critics. There is even a song about Autism, which she claims was written to make her any of her fans that may have the disorder more comfortable at her shows. Many of these tracks were recorded in the same sessions as Euphorize, but the growth the rapper has made since even a short  year ago is apparent. Her flow even more forceful and her confidence at an all time high. These are all bangers, even the slowest tune could rule the club. It’s a shame she isn’t bigger yet. She will be though, she will be.


She just hit up Thalia Hall last week and we heard it was slamming. She’ll be back and we’ll let you know when!


Zero Fatigue , Downtown , Interscope

After dropping critical hit blkswn last year and earning himself a Pitchfork set and world wide tour, the Chicago (by way of St. Louis) rapper/singer could have gone even more serious or plaintive. But the electro funk smoothness and lyrical gymnastics of NOIR point to a more complicated performer: one entering into artistic maturity. With the same producers as before, including his Zero Fatigue roster partner Monte Booker, his rhymes flow with ease over the flawless production. There are plenty of layered beats and odd samples, and the two complement each other to the point of perfection. His varied vocal delivery caters to each song with a specific mood or flavor. One second he’s vocalizing high and squeaky, the next low and slow; sometimes both at once, harmonizing oddly with himself. The bottom line is that from the title, which is of course a reference to darkness or blackness, to the slow jam production, to his insane vocals and gorgeous rhymes, it all works. This is hip hop today. Smino is joining the ranks of Saba, Noname, Mick Jenkins and CupcakKe, who are all pushing the Chicago scene over the top in 2018.


At the moment he has no Chicago dates.

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Charles Bradley
Black Velvet

Last year the world lost a legend. And though he had only been in the public eye for eight years, he brought every ounce of heart and funk into his art, and the soul that poured forth was like a screaming eagle, as his nickname proclaimed. This posthumous release collects ten tracks recorded over the course of his three records, and is a fitting goodbye from one of the most generous and loving spirits. In celebration of what would have been his 70th birthday, his friends and family assembled this collection with Daptone Records (Bradley’s only label). There are new tunes like the amazingly affecting “I Feel A Change” or the crooning “Fly Little Girl”; covers such as Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold”, which he transforms into an epic symphonic number, and a shimmering soul version of Nirvana’s “Stay Away”. Plus rarities like the live band version of “Victim of Love”, that is so red hot it made me grieve all over again. As a fan who caught a rose mere months before you passed, thank you Mr. Bradley for all you gave us.



Simulation Theory
Muse , Warner

Muse’s 8th studio album Simulation Theory, is an homage to this 80’s sci-fi, Philip K. Dick, Tron, Terminator, Back to the Future essence all formed and mixed into one album. The English rock band has brought synthesizers, orchestral instruments and choruses, and intense lyrics from frontman Matt Bellamy to create this socially conscious piece. The band experiments with some simplistic melodies such as the song “Propaganda”. The beat hits the bass/drums hard on the chorus, but tunes down when Matt is singing. Other songs go all out instrumentally, such as “Algorithm,” with hard synthesizer chords, and 80’s drum beats merging into piano melodies and violins. “Break It To Me,” with its hip-hop like turntable scratching an eerie horror movie melody, showcases the band evolving past classical instrumentals. This track’s intensity reminds me of Blade Runner, especially with lyrics like, “this means war with your creator,” I’m reminded of the replicants questioning their existence. The music video screams 80s sci-fi, with older computers screens, Terry Crews portraying a scientist who also works outs on his spare time, and Tron-like vehicles driving through black-hole-like roadways with giant robots. Simulation Theory is a cohesive 80’s rock opera that does well to allow the band to step out of their own comfort zone. Towards the end of the album, Muse created remixes to the tracks with different melodies, like “Propaganda” with UCLA’s band playing the beat and a gospel twist in “Dig Down.”  Although this album is different than what fans expected, sometimes artists needs to steer away from what they normally produce and bring something new to the table. That new is Simulation Theory, Muse successfully brought the 80’s back from cryosleep and neon colors and all.  


Muse will be at the Aragon for Q101’s The Night We Stole Christmas on Dec 9th. Tickets are sold out, but there are plenty on third market sites.

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J. Mascis
Elastic Days
Sub Pop

With a penchant for the melancholy and killer guitar work, the Dinosaur Jr. frontman, and consummate rock journeyman, has been around the block many times and it’s these experiences he shares on his latest solo effort Elastic Days. From the first single and opening rocker “See You At The Movies”, to the acoustic closing verve of “Everything She Said” each tune is a chapter of this musical novel. His guitar work, while more understated than his slaying of a Dinosaur Jr. solo, is still a standout as he finds room for some climax solos on “Drop Me” or “I Went Dust”. These are just a sample of the precision a lifetime of mastering an instrument can produce. One of the godfather’s of grunge (as many refer to him), Mascis has collected a near perfect set of tunes to create an aged rockers swan song, though we sure hope he’s not done. Give it a listen.


He’s doing two nights at City Winery next week. Shame on you for not already selling out these shows Chicago. Grab tix for Tuesday 20th. $38 - $54. Or Wednesday 21st. $38 - $54



Celebrating her 20 year solo career since her days with teen group Timbiriche, Mexican pop star legend Thalia releases her 14th studio album. The title translating to Valiant, it brings together features from other famous artists new and old and themes like cheating, love, sex and happiness; to create an album that showcases her long lasting career and represents the changing times in the music industry. Radio Hit, “No Me Acuerdo,” featuring Dominican artist Natti Natasha, discusses the theme of partying with a girlfriend, meeting a man at the club and cheating. As Thalia and Natti Natasha are being questioned and confronted by their significant others for being with another man, all the girls can sing is “no me acuerdo”, or, “they don’t remember” their late night shenanigans from the night before. Thalia’s tracks also feature Colombian pop stars Fonseca and Carlos Vives in a pop infused Colombian Cumbia, and a romantic acoustic love song. Overall, Valiente is a great addition to Thalia’s discography. For a 47 year old artist, she has proved she can still top the latin music charts with hits and still produce love songs similar to those she sang when she was starting out.  


Thalia is only performing for one night in California. No other tour dates have been announced.

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The Beatles
The White Album (50th Anniversary Edition)
Calderstone , Universal

Fifty years on and if this record came out today it would still be groundbreaking. You see the greatness these four had together while glimpsing the amazing solo acts they would all become. This celebratory collection boasts 107 tracks with a new mix by Giles Martin (original producer George Martin’s son) and Sam Okell that separates out some of the musical blending to where you can pick out each performers guitar part and a brightness comes forth that was always there, just waiting to shine through their darkest recording. There is the Esher tapes, released here in full for the first time. The demos recorded at George Harrison’s English country home in the summer of ‘68 give a first rate glimpse into who they were as a creative force and how they wrote and collaborated. There’s also so many (really a ton) of outtakes and alternate versions that show how willing they all were to experimentation and perfection. This masterpiece of an album deserved this kind of treatment on this milestone; and even better to hear that it may have not been as much of a slog to make as has always been believed. Martin insists that he found little of the infamous arguing or negativity on any of the recorded material, most of which his father saved and which Martin has listened to in entirety.