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No Expectations 018: New Leicester
14 new songs and albums to check out, a Louisville weekend, and RIP Ryuichi Sakamoto.
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This past weekend my partner and I drove to Louisville, Kentucky to celebrate our dear friends Steve and Bailey getting married. It was a perfect trip: saw friends I haven’t seen in years, met new ones (including longtime Twitter mutuals), drank some Yeungling, tried something called a “Hot Brown,” ate great burgers at Hammerheads, danced to crowdpleasers at the reception, and laughed with buds and avoided doing Malört shots at Mag Bar until the wee hours of the morning. One of the greatest things about getting into your thirties is being able to witness the full lives your friends have built in the years since meeting them. It’s a real joy.
I didn’t really open my laptop once that trip, which ruled but also means this will be a different type of newsletter this week. Lately, I’ve sort of accidentally written a lot of pretty pessimistic takes on AI, the dire state of media, and general tech vulturism. While I’ve enjoyed writing those pieces and think it’s necessary to talk about that stuff, it’s not really why I started this newsletter in the first place. I really just wanted an outlet to talk about the music, art, and writing I love.
So, this week, I decided to simply highlight some albums, songs, and artists that deserve it here, which is probably why most of y’all have subscribed anyway. This isn’t a best-of list for Q1 2023 but rather a mix of things I’ve been into that I haven’t really written about in the newsletter yet. I’m hoping this will give me a little bit of a break and maybe give you something new to check out. Win-win.
Friendship, Love The Stranger (out now)
I included Friendship’s Love the Stranger in my 2022 year-end list post but I didn’t blurb it because I didn’t want my first newsletter’s word count to spiral further out of control. However, out of all the albums that came out last year, I’ve been coming back to Friendship’s incredible Love the Stranger most in 2023. Fronted by Dan Wriggins, an Iowa City-based poet, the Philly band’s songs contain a gentleness and a curiosity that make their laid-back pace especially potent. This is patient music—one that demands you listen to the lyrics over the vibe—and gets more rewarding with each listen. Wriggins is evocative, direct, and often funny as a writer opening songs like “Alive Twice” with “Under your eyeball spell / I was losing myself / Not in the good way.” Other songs like “Ramekin,” “Chomp Chomp,” and “Hank” feel like all-timers: introspective and open songs perfectly suited for road trips and Sunday mornings.
Gladie, Don’t Know What You’re Into Until You’re Out (out now)
Philadelphia’s Augusta Koch once fronted Cayetana, a band I loved throughout the 2010s. That trio, who I’d seen tour with bands like PUP, Waxahatchee, Jeff Rosenstock, the Menzingers, and more, called it quits in 2019 but Koch has been making solo records as Gladie since 2020, most recently last November with Don’t Know What You’re Into Until You’re Out. I didn’t get around to checking it out until this past week (I’m famously bad at clearing the queue of albums I know I’ll dig), but it’s unsurprisingly fantastic. There’s a lot to love here if you were a Cayetana fan—crunchy guitars and big choruses—but where Koch stretches out and tweaks the seamless formula makes for the real highlights. Though not a single “Hit the Ground Running” is the most immediate track while “Soda” is another earworm.
Kara Jackson, Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? (out April 14)
Kara Jackson has long been one of the most exciting Chicago songwriters and her new album Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? Is getting her some deserved press acclaim. Britt Julious wrote a fantastic and thoughtful Rising feature on her music, growing up in Oak Park, and how one of her best friends Maya died from cancer while they were in high school. The title track serves as a heart-wrenching ode to Maya and a meditation on Jackson’s grief. Her songs can be impressionistic short tunes or stretch out to almost eight minutes but throughout the album, they’re given the necessary space to breathe. I was floored by Jackson’s voice and writing from her 2019 EP A Song for Every Chamber of the Heart as well as when she opened for Lala Lala at Thalia Hall and I can’t be happier to see other folks catch on to her undeniable talent.
The Drin, Today My Friend You Drunk the Venom (out now)
I found out about this band from Friend of the Substack Ian O’Neil (of Happiness and Deer Tick), who’s been regularly hyping this ripper of an LP on Instagram. The Drin is a six-piece post-punk outfit from Cincinnati that made an album that’s both kinetic, out-there, and palpably menacing. I love post-punk but there are too many bands in the genre that either sound too lifeless or too much like their more talented peers. Today My Friend You Drunk the Venom, the Ohio band’s third album, is a refreshing exception. It’s legitimately weird but always anchored by an actual groove. Funnily enough, it’s also their most accessible release yet with songs that venture out into garage and psych sensibilities as well as palpable pop hooks too.
JD Clayton, Long Way From Home (out now)
If you like swampy country rock, this JD Clayton LP from earlier this year will hit that specific sweet spot. Hailing from Fort Smith, Arkansas, and now based in Nashville, Clayton’s songs are approachable and familiar but the more you listen, the more you realize what a tasteful and smart songwriter the dude is. There’s a fine line between feeling like you’ve heard a song before and feeling like it’s derivative but Clayton manages to exude timelessness throughout. There’s the single “Goldmine” and the Bobby Charles-evoking “American Millionaire,” which highlight his versatility and his proclivity for golden and twangy melodies.
Warm Human, Hometown Hero (out now)
Meredith Johnston, the songwriter behind Chicago’s Warm Human, is a good friend of mine but professional disclaimers shouldn’t deter you from checking out her new album Hometown Hero. For the past few years, Johnston has been making smart and evocative synth-based pop music but this album is her guitar record. Despite the fact that it’s a new lane for her (she picked up the guitar for the first time as a pandemic impulse buy after a breakup), she sounds effortlessly comfortable. As a songwriter, her tunes consistently highlight her sardonic humor, and hearing that in the context of an alt-rock song is a perfect match.
B. Cool-Aid, Leather Blvd. (out now)
B. Cool-Aid is a duo composed of rapper Pink Siifu and producer Ahwlee, who occupy a mesmerizingly hazy and laid-back zone throughout Leather Blvd. Despite the languid, downtempo nature of these songs, both artists are tangibly adventurous. Ahwlee’s meditative beats float and bubble to the surface while Siifu’s dynamic voice contorts itself to latch on to whatever groove it can. Big fan of the track “soundgood,” which best exemplifies the silky effortlessness between these two artists.
Charlie Hill, Chuck Pond (out April 7)
Nashville’s Charlie Hill has been featured in the No Expectations newsletter a couple times thanks to the undeniable singles he’s put out promoting Chuck Pond, out Friday. There’s “Dive In” and the breezy chiller “L.A. Fever” but the whole thing is out tomorrow (if you’re reading this when the email sends out). He’s a good friend of the Vermont crew of musicians I’ve written about here like Greg Freeman, Noah Kesey, and Dari Bay. If you dug those artists but want something a little more clean-toned and with ample pedal steel, Chuck Pond is the album for you.
Superviolet’s Steve Ciolek fronted one of my favorite bands of the past decade The Sidekicks. Now that the iconic Ohio punk/emo/indie rock band called it quits, he’s back with a new solo project that fully leans into his power pop songwriting and it’s probably my favorite thing he’s ever done. There are two songs out now, “Overrater” and the more subdued “Big Songbirds Don’t Cry.” They’re both excellent. The first Superviolet album Infinite Spring comes out on April 21 and I bet it’ll be an album of the year contender.
Charlotte Cornfield, “You and Me”
If “You and Me,” the new single from Canada’s Charlotte Cornfield is any indication, her upcoming album Could Have Done Anything (out 5/12) will be her best yet. This feels like a Tom Petty song in the best way.
Anna St. Louis, “Phone”
It’s been a minute since Anna St. Louis released an album so I was excited to see that she’s back with a new one on Kevin Morby’s Woodsist imprint Mare. The lead single “Phone,” which sort of reminds me of Allen Toussaint’s “Southern Nights,” might be my favorite thing she’s ever done.
McKinley Dixon, “Run, Run, Run”
McKinley Dixon is a rapper who recently moved to Chicago from Richmond, Virginia. I wrote about his last album a bunch when I worked for VICE but now I think he’s topped himself with the forthcoming Beloved! Paradise! Jazz!? which is coming June 2nd. You can listen to a few of the singles already including “Run, Run, Run.” Everything he does is jaw-dropping and good.
Joey Nebulous, “Break”
Joey Nebulous is the band/recording project of Chicago’s Joseph Fargo, who also performs with No Expectations favorites Jodi and Tenci. This week, two new songs from Nebulous dropped along with a Dear Life Records singing announcement and news that there’s going to be a new album out sometime this year. “Break,” one of the tracks,” clocks in at under a minute but makes the most of it with a guest appearance by Frankie Cosmos and Fargo’s striking voice and ear for infectiously efficient hooks.
Jess Williamson, “Hunter”
I’ve enjoyed Jess Williamson’s songwriting for almost a decade now, first when the L.A. and Marfa-based artist released her 2014 release Native State which featured a track called “Seventh Song” that I absolutely rinsed back then. This past year she was busy with Plains, her band with Katie Crutchfield, but now she’s back with a new album called Time Ain’t Accidental. The first taste of that LP is the expansive and memorable “Hunter.” It’s killer.
RIP Ryuichi Sakamoto
One of my favorite musicians of all time Ryuichi Sakamoto passed away last week. He was one-third of Yellow Magic Orchestra, an inventive composer, a humanitarian, and just an incredible pianist. I loved the way he thought about music and will always find an opportunity to tell folks the anecdote about him making a playlist for his favorite restaurant because the music they played was bad. His YMO bandmate Yukihiro Takahashi died this year too, which has made 2023 pretty brutal. If you haven’t seen the documentary on him Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda yet, please sign up for MUBI and check it out.
What I listened to:
Report: Kevin Morby and Erin Rae at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville (Sunday 4/2)
If I’m traveling, I’ll always check local show listings to see if a band I like is playing in the city I’m visiting. More often than not, it works out like last weekend in Louisville where I was lucky enough to catch Kevin Morby and Erin Rae play Headliners Music Hall the day after the wedding. Both Morby’s This Is a Photograph and Rae’s Lighten Up were 2022 favorites and it just so happened that this Louisville gig coincided with Morby’s 35th bday. I managed to corral some of the folks here for the wedding including the bride and groom to tag along. It was a great night and the venue, which I had never been to before, was a perfect spot to see a show. Friendly staff, reasonable drinks, and a nice outdoor space to take a breather. What more could you want?
Fellow Substacker Morby is obviously a great songwriter on record but I think he particularly thrives live. His band is especially great right now and not just because it features Chicago buds Liam Kazar and Colin Croom. Since maybe 2016, I’ve made a point not to miss Kevin, who’s long been my favorite person to interview, and every time is just excellent, especially that night’s rendition of “Dorothy” which I haven’t heard live in a minute. The true highlight though was simply bringing a bunch of buds who had never seen Kevin play to the gig. There’s something special about showing people you love the music you love and seeing them have a great time too. Music and friendship rock!
What I watched:
John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum
The John Wick franchise is a lot of fun. Keanu Reeves is a perfect action star, the premise is solid enough to get folks onboard to root for a killing machine, and the fight scenes are stylized and impressive enough to feel truly revolutionary. While I had a blast watching John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum, I kept wanting more from the movie and the franchise in general. Besides the outrageously entertaining action sequences, the actual movie feels pretty hollow. I don’t really get a sense of Wick’s motivations or feelings and it seems like the byzantine structure of the assassin organization seems created solely to put the movie’s hero into a pickle. Whatever, I’ll still keep watching and will probably see John Wick 4 before it leaves theaters.
What I read:
I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since Roger Ebert passed. His website, which thankfully has lived on as a necessary and excellent site for all things film, has compiled a touching tribute full of his best reviews.
Grief permeates the album, and Jackson is unapologetic about hers. Why Does the Earth Give Us People to Love? is dedicated to her best friend Maya, a fellow musician who passed away from cancer during high school. Being faced with grief is overwhelming and unnerving, potent and confusing. It can also be isolating. We are often denied room to grieve publicly, and supposed loved ones sometimes lack the words to comfort us. It is in that place of incomprehension and despair that Jackson is most adept at articulating her feelings in song. “I remember having to lay the vocal tracks down and thinking, I don’t know if I’m gonna cry in this session or not,” she recalls.