Mahmoud Ahmed Credit: Adrian Boot

A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.

Philip Montoro, Reader music editor

Jaap Blonk at Constellation on Wed 11/4 A vocal performance by Dutch improviser and sound poet Jaap Blonk is always a splendidly, brain-erasingly absurd experience. It’s fun to watch the folks who’ve never seen him before trying to decide whether it’s OK to laugh—at this show, they seemed to get off the fence when Blonk erupted into a stream of squawking raspberries that sounded like Donald Duck turning into a motocross bike.

Mahmoud Ahmed at the World Music Festival This legendary Ethiopian singer’s biggest Chicago concert yet was my favorite show in years, if not ever. Just as moving as Ahmed’s music—soulful, slinky, psychedelic, poignant, and joyful—was the crowd, packed with deliriously happy Ethiopian expats who’d pushed aside the security barriers so they could dance right up to the lip of the stage. I remember thinking that it might be impossible for someone who lives in the country where he was born—someone like me—to feel the kind of excitement those fans were feeling. But I tried as hard as I could!

Grouper Recently a friend played me Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill (2008) and The Man Who Died in His Boat (2013) back to back, and I guess a large dose is what it took to make me a fan of Grouper, aka Oregon singer and composer Liz Harris. Her lovely, borderline ambient songs combine blurry amniotic intimacy with a feeling of ghostly, impenetrable solitude.

Philip is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .

Aye Nako's "gay aliens" tank top
Aye Nako’s “gay aliens” tank topCredit: Courtesy Stephen Sowley

Stephen Sowley, vocalist for Fake Limbs, host of Cold Storage on

Mozart, The Tick The gall of the people in this band! The members of Mozart (you might know them from Cold Beat, Yi, or Heavy Bangs) play instruments they normally don’t and turn out raw weirdo punk that’s miles ahead of their contemporaries. (Cheat sheet: the Inmates circling down the Urinals’ plumbing.) In Mozart’s world, repetition and rage are no longer about hating your existence—instead, they’re the cosmic energies needed to shatter it into small slivers of light against the decay of urban reality.

Obnox Lamont “Bim” Thomas has been a fixture on the Ohio circuit forever, churning out a seemingly endless amount of what he calls “reefer on wax”—he’s put out three (great) albums just this year. As Obnox he plays a mix of blown-out Clevo-­punk and red-eyed soul with funky breaks for daze, maintaining the kind of absurd quality control that most bands only dream of. Buy everything, see all the shows, give your baby a standing ovation.

Aye Nako’s “gay aliens” tank top Brooklyn band Aye Nako sing from the heart about identity and survival in our white, patriarchal, capitalist society. When they passed through Chicago in support of their bold new EP, The Blackest Eye, they were selling these “gay alien” tank tops (“because you really should have some gay aliens on your chest”). I’ve got severe body dysphoria (I know, shocking if you’ve seen my stupid band perform), but wearing this, I forget about it. I feel dreamy and, for once in my awful life, attractive. Get some gay aliens in your life.

Stephen is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .

Protomartyr, <i>The Agent Intellect</i>
Protomartyr, The Agent Intellect

Matthew Barnhart, tour manager, engineer at Chicago Mastering Service

Courtland Green at Dove’s Luncheonette It says a lot that one of the best things about Dove’s Luncheonette in Wicker Park isn’t the food (outstanding Texas Mexican, not Tex-Mex as they claim) or the thorough mezcal collection but rather the impeccable music library of Courtland Green, who tends bar and DJs there. (You may know him as Supreme Court, or from Sheer Magic at Danny’s.) I’ve often had one more drink than necessary just so I could wait out the end of a side he’s playing.

Octagrape If you’re like me (at the trailing edge of Gen X, pretty lonely), Trumans Water holds a place of high regard in your record collection. San Diego band Octagrape (featuring two TW members as well as the principal from Soul-Junk) combines that older group’s off-the-leash guitar attack with a fuzzed-out, euphoric garage sensibility that leaves me smiling every single time—look up the “Eternal Hair” video for a great example. First hearing Aura Obelisk, Octagrape’s new double LP (it came out last month on Sounds Familyre), and finally seeing them onstage in August at LiveWire Lounge surprised and delighted me like few things in recent memory.

Protomartyr, The Agent Intellect They’re easily the best band in America right now, if not the world—good enough to endure an outdoor block party in February for—but I think my friend Andrew Morgan said it best: “They should sell all three Protomartyr records over the counter at Walgreens/CVS for people ‘going through stuff.'”  v

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. You can also follow him on Twitter.