clearance – “haven’t you got the time?”

– featured image courtesy of alexa viscius – 

the chicago quartet clearance craft a particular brand of guitar-pop that effortlessly absorbs salient traits spanning the genre’s entire existence, resulting in a final product that is as infectious as it is immediate.  after a string of singles in 2013 and a debut full-length two years later, the band will release its sophomore effort, at your leisure, at the end of the month.

honing in on that aforementioned immediacy is clearance’s latest single, “haven’t you got the time?”  a prominent lead vocal lives in the foreground, examining the vestiges of a relationship, its status couched in the titular question and the static arrangement that initially supports it.  as “haven’t you got the time?” ventures further, the band sprawls out into the bridge and beyond, a gradual wall of distortion encroaching on the soundscape until the track reaches its terminal.

at your leisure is due july 27th via topshelf records.  listen to “haven’t you got the time?” below.


saba – “church / liquor store”

featured image courtesy of bryan allen lamb –

chance the rapper may be the most visible entity in chicago’s vibrant, multi-faceted hip-hop community, but so many integral cogs in that machine exist just beneath the surface.  three such cogs collide on “church / liquor store”; the track may bear saba’s moniker at the forefront, but it hinges just as much on cam o’bi’s liquid production and noname’s dexterous guest verse as it does on the west side native’s vivid word painting.

in a year that has already delivered coloring book, mick jenkins’ the healing component, and noname’s indispensable telefone mixtape, the latest cut from saba’s forthcoming bucket list project feels like a warranted punctuation mark, another visceral examination of adverse daily life.  take a listen to “church / liquor store” below.

mick jenkins – “spread love”

– featured image courtesy of lawrence agyei –

for mick jenkins, the end game has always been the healing component.  the chicago-based rapper began garnering widespread critical acclaim with his cerebral 2014 mixtape the water[s] – though stalwart fans recognize his catalogue dates back even further – and punctuated that success with last summer’s wave[s], a comparatively lighter collection of songs that also served as his first commercial release.

while both the water[s] and wave[s] are impressive, fully-realized bodies of work, they serve as precursors to the healing component, jenkins’ frequently-mentioned magnum opus that will double as his proper debut album.  today, jenkins erased the final smudges of ambiguity surrounding the project; the healing component is set to drop september 23rd via free nation, and accompanying the album’s announcement is its lead single, “spread love.”

the track hinges on producer sango’s combination of swirling electric piano presets and stuttering drum programming, which together carve out ample pockets to accommodate jenkins’ rapid-fire bars.  but “spread love” arguably reaches its full potential when jenkins eases into its titular hook, elongating syllables in a descending cadence that echoes his propensity for low-key melodic exploration on prior works.  take a listen to the song below.

owen – “settled down”

owen shervin lainez
photo courtesy of shervin lainez

the first single from owen’s upcoming album, the king of whys, is certifiably bucolic.  “lost” is firmly grounded in mike kinsella’s voice and the subtle, rhythmic strums of his acoustic guitar, with lilting pedal steel phrases peppered in for supplemental texture.  it’s a logical outcome when kinsella’s minimal confessionals get paired with arrangements played by a lauded collective of eau claire session musicians; quite frankly, an entire album’s worth of material like this would be more than welcomed.

“settled down” isn’t exactly the antithesis of its predecessor, but it is maximal in comparison.  a polyrhythmic drum beat, reminiscent of kinsella’s work behind the kit in their/they’re/there, anchors the track, with steadily-arpeggiated chords weaving through a fuzzed-out foundation to create a series of sweeping passages.  the sparse interludes that do occur feel that much more impactful as a result; indeed, the coda is a particularly arrest respite from the dissonance that threatens to bleed through prior to its arrival.  a listless song with natural disaster as a central metaphor shouldn’t be this beautiful.

the king of whys arrives july 29th via polyvinyl records.  listen to “settled down” below.

owen – “lost”

owen shervin lainez
photo courtesy of shervin lainez

owen is sonically a far cry from mike kinsella’s work in seminal chicago outfits like american football and joan of arc, yet its sparseness and vulnerability still nestles in close to the rest of his output’s affecting tendencies.  for his latest solo effort, the king of whys, due out july 29th via polyvinyl records, kinsella decamped to justin vernon’s april base studio to record with sean carey and a host of eau claire’s finest session musicians.  the more collaborative nature of these sessions shows on lead single “lost,” with kinsella’s soft acoustic guitar strums bolstered by pedal steel swells and tasteful orchestral pads.  it’s a gentle offering, swaying peacefully in the summer’s breeze.  take a listen to “lost” below.

whitney – “no matter where we go”

whitney sandy kim
photo courtesy of sandy kim

whitney is the end result of an effortless songwriting partnership between max kakacek and julien ehrlich; the chicago-based duo works primarily within a medium of soothing, psychedelic-tinged folk rock so lush it necessitates four additional members when performing live.  while earlier singles “no woman” and “golden days” read a touch somber and reflective, the band’s latest effort, “no matter where we go,” is comparatively breezy, as ehrlich’s falsetto and kakacek’s deft lead lines intertwine atop a light yet propulsive foundation.

all three songs will appear on whitney’s debut album, light upon the lake, out june 3rd via secretly canadian.  watch the accompanying music video for “no matter where we go,” directed by alan del rio ortiz, by navigating away to this link, or stream the audio directly below.

mick jenkins – “the artful dodger”

mick jenkins
photo courtesy of the artist

chicago rapper mick jenkins has been hinting at his debut album for years, and now it appears that the healing component will arrive sometime in 2016.  for now, jenkins has shared a new track called “the artful dodger” that boasts a deep, who’s-who roster of prior collaborators; kaytranada, thempeople, and badbadnotgoood tag-team the samples and production that serve as fodder for jenkins’ rapid-fire verses and languid hooks.  listen to “the artful dodger” below.

listen to a new song from mick jenkins

mick jenkins
photo courtesy of the artist

mick jenkins has been enjoying a swift ascension into the upper echelon of contemporary hip-hop artists.  after releasing last year’s excellent the water[s], jenkins will return with a similarly-themed ep, water[s], out august 21st via cinematic music group.  the nine-track effort features a fair amount of production from thempeople and kaytranada, although jenkins enlists the help of fellow chicagoan stefan ponce on its newest single, “get up get down.”  jenkins’ dexterous delivery waxes and wanes with the intensity of ponce’s bass lines before mellowing out for the song’s final third.  take a listen to “get up get down” below.

listen to a new song from mick jenkins

photo courtesy of the artist
photo courtesy of the artist

water has become more than just a metaphor to mick jenkins: it’s his primary identifier as a musician.  water is fluid; water is a necessity to the continuation of life, much like jenkins’ raps are to the evolution of hip-hop.  following the success of last year’s the water[s] mixtape, the chicago-based rapper is set to release a new ep entitled wave[s] in the near future.  jenkins teased the ep’s opening track, “alchemy,” yesterday, a rich, lee bannon-produced effort that finds jenkins acknowledging his tropes and more importantly, justifying their continued appearance.  take a listen to “alchemy” below.

interview – american wolf

american wolfchicago’s american wolf have spent the better part of the past five years meticulously honing a craft that blends stadium-caliber rock music with more introspective, sprawling atmospheric sounds.  the culmination of that work can be found on last fall’s my main sport, an album that quietly found its way onto our best of 2014 list.  we recently caught up with the quintet to talk about the songwriting behind that album, the chicago music scene, and the band’s essential mix of songs.  check out the transcript below.


my main sport is your third full-length effort as a band, so i’d imagine you all have been at this for quite some time.  can you give a quick american wolf backstory?

the band was initially started as a solo-acoustic act by sal in 2010 in chicago.  he had a collection of songs that he self-recorded that year and called the advantages of being deaf, so i guess you could call that our first “record”.  eventually, he began looking for other members to play these songs with and american wolf was born.  since then, we’ve gone through a couple of line up changes and like you mentioned, released three studio records and a couple of eps.  additionally, we’ve tried touring and playing as much as possible.

there’s a stylistic shift from myriad to my main sport that could be perceived as moving away from smatterings of technical lead guitar work and more towards a cohesive, spacious soundscape dictated by the entire band.  did you have any particular sonic or textural goals while writing the new record, or was the outcome pretty organic?

it’s definitely a mixture of both.  myriad was made with two past members who actually left as soon as the record was done.  that definitely contributed to the way that record was created.  as a band, we took a completely different creative process with my main sport.  we had a chance to really step back and figure out where we wanted to go without feeling rushed or obligated to anything.  we wanted to try stepping into simpler musical arrangements with a more cavernous and atmospheric sound.  we’ve always been really into weird and surreal ideas so we wanted to incorporate that into our music.  but most of all, we wanted to say more with less.

talk a bit about the songwriting process on my main sport.  was the approach any different from previous efforts?

we definitely had more time to write my main sport than our other stuff.  we try to be active listeners and truly digest our influences.  it helped us revise and further develop our ideas in a way that we hadn’t before.  being our third record, we were more knowledgeable about the whole process and how we wanted to execute our ideas.  we tried experimenting with an array of ghastly and ethereal sounds.  musically, we wanted to create musical movements with lesser chords and fewer words.  it was definitely our most collaborative effort to date.

i think i’ve compared you sonically to silversun pickups, partially due to sal’s vocal range, and i’ve read other reports likening you to brand new.  who do you draw inspiration from, either collectively or individually?

we definitely love those bands and have been directly influenced by them.  we are always listening to new music.  i think that as musicians, it’s part of your job to listen and constantly ingest new stuff.  at any given moment we could all be listening to the same thing, or the complete opposite.  we’re really digging flying lotus and mum right now, and we’re really excited for radiohead’s new record as well.  they’ve always been a tremendous collective influence of ours.

where do you see yourselves within the spectrum of the chicago music scene?  do you have a support group of other artists and bands that you like to perform and/or collaborate with, or have you carved out your own niche?

chicago’s scene is always changing; it has a mind of its own.  it’s a city rich with talent and so many bands.  i think that the city has so much talent that people almost take it for granted.  i guess it’s somewhat understandable as any given night you can catch amazing music.  the good thing is that we get to play with so many different acts.  i guess that makes it hard to create a niche, but it helps us network and stay connected with bands.  most importantly, we’ve honestly just tried to establish ourselves as a band that loves what they do.

who have you guys been listening to as of late?  what collection of artists would constitute the essential american wolf mix tape?

track list as of late:

mum – “we have a map of the piano”
polyenso – “falling in rain”
muse – “starlight”
pup – “reservoir”
copeland – “like a lie”
st. vincent – “huey newton”
the decemberists – “make you better”
flying lotus – “coronus, the terminator”
tycho – “awake”
sigur ros – “isjaki”

essential list:

elliott smith – “ballad of big nothing”
owen – “bags of bones”
bob dylan – “don’t think twice, it’s alright”
jimi hendrix – “little wing”
thrice – ”open water”
periphery – “the walk”
led zeppelin – “good times bad times”
radiohead “2+2=5”
the beatles – “don’t let me down”
radiohead “knives out”

what’s on the docket for american wolf in 2015?

we’re going to be releasing a new music video for our song “cave fantasy” in a couple of months.  additionally, we’ll be playing a ton of shows until august or so and then we’ll head into a writing cocoon.  we’ve tried to make a point to travel outside chicago as often as possible, and we’ll be performing at audiofeed festival this year down in champaign, illinois.  we’ve already begun writing some new stuff and exploring where we’d like to head; we’re not sure if we’ll be releasing an ep or another full length.  it’s become increasingly difficult to release records every year as we are becoming more and more meticulous about the stuff we release.  we’ll see.


those in the midwest would do well to seek out an american wolf show in the coming months.  the band plays a haunting brand of alternative rock that doesn’t quite match anything else coming out of the region, and their increased affinity for dreamy soundscapes makes the follow-up to my main sport that much more enticing.  look for more coverage when the “cave fantasy” video hits later this spring, and click on the links below to hear more of american wolf.