ISSUE #70 / August 1, 2019

Chance the Rapper
The Big Day
Chance the Rapper 

Chance The Rapper is going to be the mayor of Chicago one day. I believe this with the same certainty that I believe the sun will rise over Lake Michigan tomorrow. Chance is not the first artist to make a name by being unabashedly Chicago in both content and style, but there is a purity to his love of the city. Still, the story often goes that a musician who cuts their teeth in Chicago, eventually needs to leave the third coast for better opportunities and bigger stages. It felt inevitable that as a result of Chance’s monumental three mixtape run culminating in a Grammy win for 2016’s Coloring Book, that Chance would be the next in a line of artists who outgrow Chicago. A funny thing happened in the time between Coloring Book and today, however. Chance doubled down on his hometown. Everything from price-fixing a local concert to ensure equal participation from fans in all income brackets, to a million dollar donation to Chicago Public Schools, to hosting any number of benefits including the 50th anniversary of the Special Olympics, Chance has become as much of an activist icon as a musical one. 

With the release of his “debut” album, The Big Day, we find the 26-year-old figuring out where he fits in at once: his community, his family, and the music industry as a whole. This is a massive, 22-track (19 songs, 3 skits) journey that will feel wholly unique, yet familiar to Chance loyalists, while welcoming in newcomers with Chance’s signature blend of buttery-smooth beats and manic, blink-and-you-missed-it lyrical barrage. What’s new, however, is a sense of joy and gratitude that seeps through every track, alongside a clear-eyed maturity about accepting one’s responsibility. In short, this is still the Chance of Acid Rap and Coloring Book (moreso the latter if we’re splitting hairs), but a little older, a little wiser, and a lot more contemplative. This is contrasted by the beats, which still borrow from different corners of the Chicago rap scene, namely the step scene, and uses this to contour a soundscape that is somehow even warmer and lighter than the angelic Coloring Book. He is not here to preach the gospel according to Chancelor Bennett, rather, he’d like to sit on the shores of Lake Michigan on a balmy July day and tell you about how he’s doing with all of this.

It’s one thing to name-check summers in South Shore; it’s another entirely to make it sound utterly authentic. On “Do You Remember?,” Chance paints a picture of endless summers and where that fits into the man he’s become, though there’s a sense that he’s still in the process of becoming. On “Roo,” we see an even deeper level of reflection as Chance and his brother, Taylor Bennett, look back on the impact their father had on them as individuals and as a team. Speaking of teams, the soaring namesake, “The Big Day,” takes you into the mind of the man on his wedding day. Keep your headphones at a reasonable volume for this one, as an interlude by Francis & The Lights is sure to startle with its string of discordant profanity, giving an up-close look at Chance’s excitement and terror at taking such a big step. We still get a massive helping of Chance’s version of rap-star braggadocio, with “Hot Shower,” but even here we see Chance talking about the toll his work has taken on him. “5 Year Plan” is the most straightforwardly adult song on the album as Chance talks about how he plans to create a future, and finally, maybe, just maybe, take a much-needed vacation. 

There is just so much here, at every level of the album. If we’re still going to insist on calling basically-an-album Coloring Book a mixtape, then the only logical way for Chance to make the jump to a traditional album was to go bigger. Clocking in at 77 minutes, the length is the first place we see how much bigger Chance is willing to go. The features, though, is where he goes positively monumental. Gucci Mane, DaBaby, CocoRosie, Ari Lennox, Death Cab For Cutie (it works so much better than anyone could have anticipated), Shawn Mendes, Randy Newman, John Legend and two separate appearances from Nikki Minaj are only some of the names that pop up across The Big Day’s songs. They’re joined by Keith David and John Witherspoon on the skits. Then, you have the familial connection, wherein the aforementioned Taylor, himself an incredibly talented rapper, is joined by father, Ken Bennett, who appears both in a skit and as a writer on “Eternal.” Oh, and we can’t forget guest production from the likes of Justin Vernon. Chance has thrown absolutely everyone and everything into The Big Day, and while this makes it a daunting listen, and one that- at times- feels like a bit of a slog, it’s fundamentally impossible not to have fun marveling at the sheer spectacle of it. 

The question that plagued Coloring Book was, “is this a worthy successor to Acid Rap?” and to some, the answer was no, but that question assumed that that album could only succeed by occupying the same space that Chance himself, no longer occupied. So, to ask if this album serves as a sonic continuation of the previous outputs is unfair and incorrect. The Big Day is something more akin to Chance explaining his development as a human. If Acid Rap was puberty in its exposed-nerve vulnerability and frenetic, drugged-out energy, then The Big Day is the first step into adulthood. It’s a fascinating step and one that signals that Chance is growing into the man and musician that is a fitting standard-bearer for the city he loves. 


Chance The Rapper will be at The United Center September 28 (pre-sale begins August 2) as well as The NFL 100th Anniversary show in Grant Park on September 5 (details to come; expected to be free.)


American Queers

Chicago native, true lyricist, instrumentalist, and all-around badass; Trans artist Ellie Kim embraces the moniker SuperKnova and tells her audience the story of her personal battles and who she is. American Queers gives out Kim’s truths and events in her life while coming out and reacting to the world around her.  While mixing electronic and hip-hop beats, like in eclectic song, “Glitter and Blood” to an epic and distorted guitar solo in “Shot and A Pill,” Kim self-produced, recorded, wrote, and mixed everything making her a bold and outstanding super-artist.  While Kim is a known player in the Queer Pop genre, fans can relate to her more with her struggles in self-identity within her lyrics. While in the somber, “Shot and A Pill,” Kim explains her uphill battle for self-love, wishing she was someone else but in the electronic-based melody, “Genderfluid Jubilee,” Kim self-proclaims and reassures not caring about what she or anyone wears gives herself and us a transitional period between the dark and the light.  American Queers is an amazing story for those in need of a good walk in someone else's shoes and for someone who made this all by herself, it is pure art.


SuperKnova will be at the Uncommon Ground in Lakeview on Aug 27th, tix are $10.


Conrad Merced
Tender Beats
Conrad Merced

Tragedy can shape one's whole perception of the world. Conrad Merced took to music to try to heal after the unexpected death of his mother. After ten years away from his guitar, Merced began writing songs again. With Tender Beats the Chicago native, and second generation Filipino, brings forth a compelling and thoughtful debut that flows through the soul with ease and grace. Using his breathy croon, Merced recalls memories of his mother, coming of age, and learning to cope with grief, over soft stroked guitar and dulcet backing tracks that perfectly match the records tone.  From taking care of his Mother through tough times in “Against the Grain,” through recalling his youth in “A Dog in the Fight,” to closing tear jerker “Still Can’t Walk Away,” Tender Beats is an enthralling account of dealing with tragedy and life and coming out the other side.  


He’ll be at The Elbo Room in their upstairs Acoustic Lounge tonight August 1st at 7PM. It’s FREE!


Much The Same
Everything Is Fine
Much The Same

Born from the third wave punk movement of the late ‘90s Chicago’s Much The Same reformed a few years back after an eight year hiatus to bring their melodic skate punk to a new generation. Their new record, Everything Is Fine, their first since coming back together, is chock full of all the tried and true tropes of the genre, heavy riffs, pounding speed and a knack for the personal politics of youth all work in harmony that will please even the pickiest of punk fans. With their recent 20 year anniversary and guitarist Dan O’Gorman’s victorious battle with Cancer, there is plenty for Much The Same to celebrate, but they keep the serious tone throughout with tunes like “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” “You Used to Have a Garden,” and closer “Passenger” their political and personal messages are clearly linked, they only deviate for the ukulele tune “In the Event of . . .” a nice break in the tone before powering ahead, Always looking forward, telling it like it is, and feeling at home in your own country, your own skin.    


No hometown shows planned at the moment, but they’re hitting Europe this August so hopefully they do a homecoming show when they get back. 


Will Bennett & The Tells
All Your Favorite Songs
Jewel Box 

All Your Favorite Songs is a raucous, soulful effort from Chicago-based quartet Will Bennett & The Tells. With an alt-country bent reminiscent of Uncle Tupelo or the Old 97’s without being straight-up imitators, they bring a quality of ease to their tunes that is unforced, yet focused. Will Bennett’s lyrics cover the breadth of the genre’s subjects, from confessional love songs in “Caroline,” to road tunes like “Just Looking,” to the state-of-the-country music industry with “In Nashville,“ All Your Favorite Songs packs plenty of substance in with toe-tapping twang and easy-going vibe. With plenty of local flavor, (especially bar crawl tune, “Tumblin’ Down,”) Will Bennett & The Tells have a great Chicago Country album on their hands. 


They just had their album release last Friday, so we’ll have to wait to see them again. 


BJ The Chicago Kid

Just in time for the heavy, humid days of August come the smooth grooves of BJ The Chicago Kid with his second release for Motown, 1123. The golden-voiced Chicago native, (born Bryan James Sledge to choir director parents on the Southside), brings his patented R&B swing and passionate persona to play in every track on the inventive and varied record. Elements of gospel, soul, hip-hop, and R&B all flow into one sound that is never forced or becomes too derivative. From weak-knee love songs like “Time Today” and “Rather Be With You,” to dance groove jammers in “Feel The Vibe” and “Back It Up,” it won’t take long for BJ to have you twisted around his finger, ready to vibe to his every whim. 


His next hometown show is at House of Blues on November 30th. Tix are $25.


Rayland Baxter
Good Mmornin

Rayland Baxter had not heard of Mac Miller until 2016 when he stumbled upon his set at Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival. Baxter did not even mean to seek out Miller’s performance but rather saw a mass of people flock his stage, and Baxter thought, might as well see who all of these people are going to see. It turned out he was in for a life-changing experience. Baxter recalls Miller coming out and the crowd elevated with Miller’s energy. Baxter was instantly a fan and began digging into Miller’s catalog. The concept for the EP Good Mmornin started when Baxter was going to do a Paste Magazine session and they asked him to do a cover: he chose, “Come back to earth.” Baxter made the EP consisting of Miller’s Watching Movies with the Sound Off, Swimming, The Divine Feminine, and GO:OD AM. Baxter keeps the songs close to the originals while adding a little of his Americana/country flair. The songs chosen are some of Miller’s deepest pieces showing how troubled he was towards the end. The slow ballads fit Baxter since he is known for writing introspectively and being aware of his surroundings. It is hard not to get sad while listening to these songs and remember another artist gone to soon. 


Rayland Baxter does not have an upcoming Chicago show. 


All Out War
Crawl Among the Filth

The past two years have seen a remarkable resurgence in the popularity of certain strains of heavy music. From the crossover thrash of Power Trip, to the Youth Crew revival of Turnstile: if you were a hardcore kid back in the day, then the neighborhood kids all probably want to borrow your record collection. Most surprising of any of these popular resurgents are metallic hardcore gargoyles Code Orange and Knocked Loose, both of whom owe no small debt to New York’s steely pioneers, All Out War.  The group’s 1998 album, For Those Who Were Crucified, is widely cited as one of the earliest and best examples of metallic hardcore, and their seventh LP Crawl Amongst the Filth continues in this tradition of crushing German thrash-influenced punk. From the opening track “Divine Isolation,” All Out War make good on the promise of their name, opening up with a burst of combustible rhythms which dip below and buoy upcutting riffs, and rattling bass lines give gusts of pressure-cooked hell-fire. The churning venom of their signature charging Kreator-core chord progressions is preserved on the heatstroke-inducing fury of “Gehenna Lights Eternal,” and the rushing “Judas Always Crawls” comes close to matching the intensity of their malevolent metallic brethren Ringworm, with its sink-hole riffs and carnivorous, tooth-baring vocals. Despite its name, Crawl Amongst the Filth is surprisingly clean and balanced-sounding compared to past efforts, a fact that ensures none of the intensity of these performances are lost in the mix. Whether you’re a longtime fan or merely curious about the masochistic experience, a band like All Out War can deliver. Rest assured, their latest effort ranks amongst the group’s best. See you knuckleheads in the pit! 


All Out War currently have no plans to lay siege to Chicago.


Living Room Art
Park The Van

Hailing from Michigan, Minihorse makes use of Chicago talent Anna Burch on a number of tracks. Her crystalline vocals makes for the perfect harmony to his breathy mid-range. Feels like the perfect icing on the title track, "Living Room Art." The effects-laden guitar and whisper-textured vocals are resonate of shoegaze, but the journey wanders through psych, grunge, and bedroom pop. Minihorse changes the landscape of the songs to make us want to see what is around the next bend. "Been Around" picks up to a jaunty traveling-down-the-road pace. When it morphs to a psych wash for the next track, I felt like I was floating away. When I saw that the title "Unstuck," I had to smile, but it’s the lyrics that I will enjoy unpacking as I listen and re-listen to this album. "Erase my head, maybe now I'll go back to bed, now I'm wondering if I'm part of it all."


Nothing on the books right now, hopefully Burch will get them to come through town soon.


De Lorians
De Lorians
Beyond Beyond Is Beyond

Led by multi-instrumentalist Takefumi Ishida’ De Lorians is a progy, dizzyingly complex jazz quintet out of Japan. It’s next to impossible to get all five of your figures around the tail of their sonic excursions long enough to discern the direction they are headed in for more than a few seconds and trying maybe as foolhardy as chasing a shooting star. But this restless, transformative forward-motion appears to be the point of the band. Like a lava lamp that has come to life and is attempting to communicate some clarifying point of Greek philosophy to you through dancing chord progressions and lightly radioactive harmonics, it’s a tripping undertaking that is demanding on your attention with the promise of extraordinarily intellectual returns. The meandering progressions lope and mince through time and space, transporting you in place to a garden populated by friendly alien forms. It’s lounge music for our future’s future, set in motion in anticipation that we will one day catch up with it after having acquired the wisdom to tune into its wavelength and unravel its mysteries. If you are looking for a cool means of skipping out on this solar system for about forty minutes, or maybe just a reprieve from the summer swelter, consider giving De Lorians’ debut spin.


De Lorians don’t appear poised to stop in our neck of the Milky Way this summer.


B Boys
Captured Tracks

Never ones to take themselves too seriously, Brooklyn indie rockers B Boys have followed up their 2017 effort Dada with the epic and loose Dudu. The swirling guitar of Britton Walker flies around Brendon Avalos’ bass, which is heavy in the mix, and the pounding drums from Andrew Kerr to make the perfectly rhythmic power trio sound that is at odds with the modus of the day. In a world full of glossy indie rock, these three are producing raw, intense tunes that reflect the mess of day-to-day life in New York City. With clear influences drawn back to late ‘70s post-rock like Wire, early Talking Heads, and Gang of Four along with modern sounds from Parquet Courts and Ought, (among others), B Boys have grabbed the wheel and steered us all into their odd and fierce universe. 


B Boys will be at Empty Bottle on October 15th. Tix are $12.


Broken in Refraction
Pure Noise 

After giving heads a 180-spin with their debut EP The Infringement of God’s Plan, Long Island upstarts Sanction make their case for canonization into the new school of metallic hardcore with their expectation-shattering debut LP, Broken In Refraction. Drawing influences from such bereaved sources as upper east coast death metal and numerous metalcore forbearers, the band puts as much of a premium on atmosphere as they do on intensity by integrating unmusical sonic ephemera like baby laughter, half-heard conversations, overhead flights, radio static, and other industrial sounds into the mix at surprising intervals lends to the claustrophobic sense of horror the band created. “Mirror Syndrome” in particular benefits from the group's sonic experimentation with an injection of mechanical drum loops in the intro which serve to jump-start the gnashing, chaotic stutter of the drum work and sets the tone for the dizzy sucker-punching grooves that propel the track. “Radical Lacerations” skids and stumbles like it's being chased by ravenous wolves in the rain, and the chuck-and-plunge of “Cordia” wants to drag you to hell with it whether you are ready to meet your maker's rival, or not. One of the more exciting tracks on the album is the desperate death metal ripper, “Paralysis” which makes use of a heart monitor sample in tandem with a murky creeping rhythm to give the impression that it is taking place in a sinister infirmary, or other such institution, with no apparent exit. Sanction’s debut is both punishing and promising; a dark reflection of a world fragmented by anxiety, heartache, and dogged by the inexorable march towards oblivion. Worth a spin if you haven’t already gone mad with terror this week.  


Sanction currently has no plans to stop through Chicago again this summer. 


Thy Art Is Murder
Human Target
Nuclear Blast

Deathcore, blackened death metal, modern metal with death vocals and breakdowns... there is no shortage of descriptors for Australia’s Thy Art is Murder. This may be due to the intensity of their fan base, who want to save the band from being lumped in with bands like Job for a Cowboy and Bring Me the Horizon, or it may be due to "real" rock critics’ bafflement with the group’s combination of cavernous metalcore and Polish death metal.  Whatever the case may be- deathcore is the right answer. If this was your answer, pat yourself on the back and buy yourself an ice cream. I really can’t think of a band that exemplifies this carnivorous synthesis of mid-aughts extreme influences save Whitechapel (especially now that Bring Me the Horizon have gone pedal to the floor for radio pop), and if you were looking for an entry point into the genre, you could find a worse starting point than Human Target. TAiM has released five studio albums to date, and with Human Target, we see the band taking their Hate-infused approach to death metal and binding it to their more progressive influences such as Gojira and Meshuggah-style djent, in refinement and fulfillment of their sound. These laser-hot, spiked chugging chords give songs like the opener and title track, “Human Target” a feeling of inevitability in the way the song progresses (and oppress,) squeezing out every last ounce of pain that can be eked from the choking guitars and fills. It constantly feels like singer CJ McMahon is trapped in your speakers, prowling and pawing for an exit; this is particularly true on “Welcome Oblivion” where McMahon’s death vocals lurch and snarl like a tiger at the zoo after spotting a particularly delicious-looking small dog on the opposite side of some protective glass. This is probably the band’s most reflective album to date as well, considering that the lyrics of the lip-chewing, mirror-shattering dirge “Atonement” deal specifically with the band’s previous flirtations with misogynistic content (an extreme, unfortunate, trend in emo and certain strains of hardcore during the 2000s, of which TAiM did there ignominious part in promoting on early releases). Human Target may not be the best album in TAiM’s discography, but it is their most fully realized effort and a thoroughly entertaining listen, from first hook to last bash. 


Thy Art is Murder is sticking ot the EU Festival ciricuit this summer and probbaly wont make it to the states for a while.