two people posing close together in front of a metal accordion gate and illuminated by a flash
Soft and Dumb: Elena Buenrostro and Travis Newgren Credit: Ryan Kuk

Chicago indie rockers Elena “Lanie” Buenrostro and Travis Newgren, better known as Soft and Dumb, have spent much of the past year writing and recording their forthcoming sophomore album. A few weeks ago, frustrated by the length of that process, the duo paused work on the LP to record a handful of fast-and-loose songs on a four-track. On Friday, November 17, they’ll put them out as the EP Heaven. “We were really ready to release something,” Buenrostro says.

Buenrostro and Newgren met at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and started dating in 2019. Newgren was already playing around in Urbana’s DIY scene, but Buenrostro had never performed live. “I was pretty scared and anxious about even playing music with other people,” she says. “But I definitely had this secret desire to perform.” Buenrostro and Newgren formed Soft and Dumb six months into their relationship.

“The first time we ever sat down, like, ‘Oh, let’s write a song together,’ was December of 2019,” Newgren says. “Then our first show was March 7 of 2020, seven days before the COVID pandemic—which was just a basement show in Champaign-Urbana.” Soft and Dumb have since found a home in Chicago’s young DIY scene. Last year, when they self-released their noisy, rough-around-the-edges debut album, Soft and Dumb, they packaged it with the zine SAD, which features an interview with Chicago youth-scene workaholic Eli Schmitt.

Buenrostro says her romantic relationship with Newgren feeds into the music they make together. “I’m always writing about Travis, just because we spend so much time together,” she says. “I’m very confessional in what I write, which is kind of the antithesis to my personality.” Judging from the lyrics on Heaven, Newgren and Buenrostro are a solid couple. “I guess this EP is really surrounded by love,” she says. “I’ve described it as love obsessed and incredibly juvenile, because that’s often the place that I write from.”

Heaven is now available on CD and seven-inch vinyl, with a cassette release forthcoming.

It’s also drumless and almost entirely acoustic, unlike their debut album. Soft and Dumb have been recording their LP in Buenrostro’s parents’ Forest Park basement, and Heaven sounds different because the duo moved some gear upstairs for a change of scenery.

“It’s really hard to be creative in an unfinished basement, where it’s cold and dingy and whatever,” Newgren says. “So we just took some guitars and a very stripped-down setup—just a four-track—up to Lanie’s room, where there’s nice natural light and you can chill out.”

a bedroom in bright daylight, filled with recording equipment and musical instruments such as an acoustic guitar, a cassette four-track, several effects pedals, and a microphone on a stand; a person is seated on the floor in the foreground, back to the camera
Soft and Dumb’s recording setup for Heaven Credit: Travis Newgren

They finished Heaven quickly. “We gave ourselves three days,” Newgren says. “There’s parts on this EP that I straight-up listen to, and I’m like, ‘That shouldn’t have been recorded.’ But no, that’s completely what this is—accepting that, accepting flaws, accepting that we’re busy, accepting that you only get so much time on this earth.” 

Soft and Dumb celebrate Heaven at Color Club on Thursday, November 16, playing an acoustic set at Eli Schmitt’s monthly all-ages showcase, New Now. They hope to have CD copies of Heaven on hand, and the EP is also coming out on cassette via Hallogallo Tapes, the label run by Lifeguard front man Kai Slater. Teen postpunk trio Uniflora headline, because their EP Plastic Sturgeon comes out that same day.

two women stand facing the camera, one in the foreground and the other behind her and off to one side, in dim purplish light in front of a multicolored pattern like a brick wall
Jess Robbins (center) and Jamie Semel of the group Course Credit: Savannah Scruggs

Gossip Wolf first got acquainted with singer-songwriter Jess Robbins through her standout 2018 solo album, Lightfield, which drifts between lush folk and atmospheric indie pop. In 2019, Robbins founded the group Course, which features a shifting lineup of crack producers and backing musicians, with backing vocalist Jamie Semel key among them. In 2020, Course were in Texas with producer Dan Duszynski, tracking their debut album, A Late Hour, when COVID-19 stopped the sessions. (After several months of remote work, the album was released in 2021.) Last month, Course released their next album, Tight Feathers, also recorded remotely, this time via Zoom with Nashville producer Kyle Andrews using his studio in Wisconsin. The only in-person sessions came late in the process—Andrews met the band to record vocals at Chicago’s Jamdek studio—but the songs nonetheless have an intimate feel. On “None of Us Are Good Enough” and “Fur Coats in Bars,” Course hit a lovelorn sweet spot worthy of the XX. The album is the perfect soundtrack to a reflective, solitary rideshare home after a loud night on a crowded dance floor. Course’s next gig is at Constellation on Saturday, January 13, with Steve Dawson of Dolly Varden.

YouTube video
The video for “None of Us Are Good Enough,” created by Jess Robbins

Got a tip? Tweet @Gossip_Wolf or email