A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.
Kevin Warwick, Reader associate editor
The return of John Bender In the early 80s Cincinnati’s John Bender released three obscure cassettes of minimalist, Krautrock-influenced electronic music and then vanished. Well, not vanished, but pivoted to become a therapist and head for the straight and narrow. Those rare, rudimentary recordings became relics of groundbreaking experimentation in electronic music and have slowly been getting reissued by labels such as Vinyl-on-Demand and Superior Viaduct. At the Queen City’s inaugural No Response Festival in late June, Bender made his first live appearance in more than 30 years.
Ceremony, Rohnert Park Let us fondly commemorate the Bridge Nine Records era of Ceremony, before they signed to Matador and watered down their abrasive hardcore punk till it basically sounded like a neutered version of Pissed Jeans. Their best record, 2010’s Rohnert Park, can get so volatile and worked-up it often seems to sputter uncontrollably with fury. Front man Ross Farrar sounds like he’s gargling pieces of his own esophagus atop the band’s chugging SST-brand rhythms and brittle, tinny guitars. This is where the band found their sweet spot.
Lucking into catching Empress Of at Pitchfork Pitchfork’s Blue Stage fell desperately behind schedule on its final day. That meant I was privy to about 30 minutes of Lorely Rodriguez (aka Empress Of) as she playfully bounced around onstage and pushed out a blend of dreamy synths and charismatic, delicate vocals. A welcome surprise.
Kevin is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .
Ray Martinez, editor of No Friends zine
Chris Gethard The Chris Gethard Show is probably the most creative and unique program on TV right now. I recently caught him at Thalia Hall, where he did an entire comedy set focusing on his depression, attempted suicide, recovery, and life with mental illness. It was simultaneously raw as hell and funny as fuck. He also has a podcast called Beautiful Stories From Anonymous People, on which he talks to random strangers about whatever they feel like talking about. On paper, everything this guy does should not work—yet he pulls it all off magnificently.
Zine holdings at the Harold Washington Library I spend at least one evening a month poring over stacks of bound zines at Harold Washington, both for inspiration and for my sanity. They’ve got every issue of Maximum Rocknroll and tons of classic Chicago punk zines, including The Gabba Gabba Gazette, The Coolest Retard, and Matter. It’s shocking how much DIY and underground zine material they have (though it’s noncirculating). Anyone with a library card and an ID can look, and there’s even a scanner for you to use!
Traitors, “Fuck You I’m a Cop” A departing roommate left a CD of Everything Went Shit in our basement two years ago, and I just found it and have been blasting it nonstop. Great punk lyrics, or greatest punk lyrics? Thirty-three seconds of cynical punk-rock perfection by a criminally overlooked 90s Chicago band who are unfortunately still relevant. ACAB forever. RIP #PhilandoCastile RIP #AltonSterling #BlackLivesMatter
Ray is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .
Alicia Gaines, bassist and vocalist in Ganser
Xiu Xiu, Plays the Music of Twin Peaks I didn’t think it was possible to make the music of Twin Peaks more unsettling. But Xiu Xiu do just that on this ambitious album of covers, using experimental instrumentation and live-sounding production to capture the immediacy and horror at the heart of the series. It sounds like the sinking feeling in your stomach when you realized what Twin Peaks was all about.
David Rakoff, Half Empty I may know this book by heart. The final essay collection by the late David Rakoff is a warm comforter for pessimistic creatives—albeit one that sometimes turns icy with self-awareness. He casts aspersions without being smug and surprises with warmth and wit. When I write, I remember his advice: “The only thing that makes one an artist is making art. And that requires the precise opposite of hanging out; a deeply lonely and unglamorous task of tolerating oneself long enough to push something out.”
Lower, Seek Warmer Climes Postpunk seems to return in waves, each with favorite sounds and inspirations. But its best feature is its ineffable, tangential quality—it touches on punk, no wave, goth, and more. Lower’s Seek Warmer Climes has been a favorite since its 2014 release (though the band has since split). The Copenhagen group’s angular, muscular sound matches wordy, off-kilter vocals to hooky grooves that churn and change as though uncomfortable in their shape. I hope other bands carry on with Lower’s renewal of the old. Isn’t that what postpunk is about?