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No Expectations 043: bad summer
13 albums I missed in 2022 and a Chicago show invite to see Villagerrr on Saturday.
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A lot of new subscribers signed up for No Expectations this week because I posted about The State of Music Journalism on Twitter a few times. I’m happy you’re all here and I hope you stick around. If my tweets about the importance of highlighting under-the-radar artists over the biggest acts resonated with you, you’ll probably find a lot to like here. I appreciate you giving this totally independent, anti-algorithm music newsletter from some guy in Chicago a shot.
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Come see Villagerrr’s first Chicago show at Gman Tavern on Saturday
Saturday is going to be one of the busiest nights for live music in Chicago all year. That said, if you’re not already seeing Mo Troper or Bob Dylan, you should catch Columbus act Villagerrr play a full-band set at my favorite bar GMan Tavern. I’ve written at length about how much I love songwriter Mark Allen Scott’s tunes whether it’s under Villagerrr or his Cantuckee moniker (“Barn Burnerrr” is a favorite). This will be a special one because his first time in Chicago. I’d love to see a bunch of friends at the gig. Buy tickets here. Hell, I might even buy a few readers a beer for showing up.
13 Albums I Missed in 2022 (Part One)
I have a lot of gripes with the way Online Music Journalism is set up and they’re well documented in this newsletter: the low rates, the dwindling full-time jobs in the industry, and the obsessive editorial focus on already famous artists. But one thing that’s always bugged me even though I understand why it exists is the album cycle. If you’re a band putting out an LP, you have a chance for your work to be written about in the lead-up to its release, the week it’s out and if you’re lucky, you could end up on a year-end best of list. If not, wait for the 10 or 20-year anniversary piece. Other than that, good luck getting a writer to land a pitch about you at a publication. If your album came out the year prior, there’s little chance it’ll ever get a press feature if it didn’t go mega-viral on TikTok or something.
Publications want to stay current and there always has to be some sort of news peg (i.e., “This cool band has a new album out Friday” or “Most famous pop star in the world is now dating an athlete”) if they’re going to write about an artist. That’s understandable in the sense that magazines and websites have to chase advertising revenue and show they have their finger on the pulse but it’s a bummer because so many great things get lost in the shuffle. You can work for years crafting an album, spend thousands of your own money to get it finished and released, and once it’s out, you barely see the needle move at all. That doesn’t mean your album wasn’t worthwhile—it’s just that this industry is set up in such a way that there’s always a shinier new thing every week no matter what you do.
Say what you will about this newsletter but it isn’t in the business of chasing clicks. I chase emails—there’s a difference. Plus, I’m my own boss and can’t lay myself off, which means I can go against the grain a little and just write about albums I love that aren’t necessarily timely. Each full-length listed here came out in 2022 and I firmly believe they are all worth your time right now. I decided to divide this up into two parts because there are a lot of albums from 2022 I would love to hype up and whenever I write about more than a dozen LPs in a single sitting the blurbs start to become a little incoherent. Part two probably come a little later in the year.
The framing here is intentional too. I’m not going to insult your intelligence by saying these are “13 Albums You May Have Missed in 2022.” Some publications do this headline format for albums they never wrote about in the first place yet they still blame their readers for their own omission. It’s baffling! Make no mistake: I missed these LPs when I wrote my 60 Best Albums of 2022 list last December, which was the inaugural blog post on No Expectations.
Some of the below are albums that didn’t make the cut but I grew to love this year, others I only discovered in 2023, and a couple of them are full-lengths that I just totally forgot about while compiling 2022’s EOY list. An album being worth your time should be a newsworthy enough peg so I hope you find something to dig into here.
outtakes from “bad summer”
Nathan Tucker is a Philly-based musician who’s in Strange Ranger but also has a remarkable solo career as Cool Original, his left-field home-recorded pop project. In 2022, he put out an off-kilter but instantly accessible album called outtakes from “bad summer” (which, as far as I know is not literally outtakes from an unreleased LP called bad summer). Glitchy electronics and vocal samples pepper most of the 11 tracks here but it’s disarmingly welcoming and infectious throughout. Tucker also released a great, breezy, and slightly twangy album with Portland musician Tim Howe under the moniker First Rodeo, which is an incredible band name.
The first time I saw Chicago’s Dos Santos play I thought it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen thanks in part to drummer Daniel Villarreal, who was adventurous, unconventional, and just a total ripper. Villarreal, who is now based in Philly, has been a Chicago mainstay. You’ll see him DJ your favorite bar and he also is one-half of Valebol, the experimental pop duo he founded with Friend of the Substack V.V. Lightbody (new music out soon). Panamá 77 is his solo debut and it’s a stunner: a mind-melding fusion of jazz, heady Latin grooves, and dense psychedelia. Jeff Parker rounds out a massive list of collaborators on this gem.
If You Knew Would You Believe It?
Madison’s relentlessly prolific, playful, and chameleonic Graham Hunt opened up for DAZY at Sleeping Village in January, which marked my proper introduction to him. Like his billmate that night, Hunt possesses a deep reverence for ‘90s alt-rock, writing hooky choruses, and churning out densely packed tunes that don’t waste a second. His songs are undeniably guitar-forward and packed with memorable riffs but what’s really striking is how Hunt can shift from snotty rock to stargazing psychedelic and introspective folk at the flick of a switch. It all works over the nine songs on the LP.
I Looked Out
I’ve devoted so much of the newsletter this year to singing the praises of this Greg Freeman album that even I can’t believe I didn’t include it in my best of 2022 list. Here’s the thing though: I simply had not heard it until a week or two after I published that blog. The Burlington, VT songwriter made what’s probably my favorite album of the last few years. It’s the LP I’ve listened to most in 2023 and one I know I’ll be coming back to for a long time. First, you’ll notice the thunderous guitars and plaintive pedal steel twang anchoring these songs, but with each listen you’ll appreciate the striking emotion of Freeman’s unconventional delivery and percolatingly vivid lyrics.
Voicemails from loved ones fill in the gaps on this marvelous LP from the Chicago-based hemlock. When you take this LP full of introspective, raw folk as a whole, these phone missives add resonance and heart rather than filler. What Carolina Chauffe, the songwriter behind this project, does so well is find revelation and grounded observations in intimate, mundane moments. It’s an LP written and recorded in nomadic bits and starts but the songs always feel like home. Chauffe is a prolific writer and performer who I’ve seen play locally too many times to count this year, and whatever hemlock does next is undoubtedly going to my most anticipated Chicago LP.
Face the Wall
Maryland’s Jordana makes bedroom pop that never takes itself too seriously while simultaneously excavating some powerful emotions. Face the Wall is a thrilling listen for the way she makes infectiousness effortless and for the playful ways these songs are produced. Across 10 songs, Jordana and her co-producer Cameron Pope use a sunny palette to flesh out these songs but it’s never cloying. These tracks are so much smarter and so much more nuanced than most of what gets elevated in the genre that it feels almost criminal that she isn’t more universally acclaimed.
With Greg Freeman’s I Looked Out being the 2022 album I’ve listened to most this year, Kiwi jr.’s Cooler Downs is the LP from 2021 I’ve come back to most in 2023. The Toronto indie rock outfit has three impeccable albums starting with 2020’s Football Money and culminating with last year’s Chopper. Take a quick tour through their discography and you’ll see why they’re indie rock’s premier opener with Guided By Voices, Pavement, The Walkmen, and the Lemonheads all tapping them for shows. Chopper adds synths and a little bit of sheen to the sardonic indie rock formula this band has mastered. On “Parasite II,” singer Jeremy Gaudet has one of my favorite lines when he takes the plot of Bong Joon-ho’s film and wonders, “There's gotta be another man in the house who's drinking all my beer.”
One of my favorite bands of the last decade is Finom (fka Ohmme), the Chicago duo of Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart. While it’s more than likely Nashville’s Lou Turner hasn’t heard this art-rock band, she does share their whimsical melodic sensibility and inviting delivery on her folk LP Microcosmos. It’s not as wildly experimental and harmony-forward as what Finom are able to pull off. It’s its own thing: conversational, homespun, and endlessly rewarding.
Centrifics is a capital-A album, one that feels timeless and the platonic ideal of the art form. Each song flows well and there’s an obvious Side A and Side B. There’s a reason Carole King comes up when writers talk about the Los Angeles-based songwriter. I first heard Allen when she guested on Sylvie’s “Falls On Me” and “Further Down the Road.” Her mesmerizing voice palpably elevated those songs but here, her keen and delicate writing is the most powerful weapon in her arsenal. Highlight “Or Else” boasts one of my favorite opening melodies of the year with her singing, “Why do I sing my song for you when I know if I don't / I'll still leave with you / Looking down at my drink, its residue / Do stains tell the truth?”
Few songwriters have as much of a zeal for classic power pop songwriting as Mo Troper. Just read his 2021 Talkhouse treatise on the genre and you’ll find someone who thinks not just deeply about process and intent but operates on a whole different level. That said, his wellspring’s worth of knowledge and intellectualizing never make his own music feel cold or distant. MTV clocks in at just a half hour even though it boasts 15 all-killer, no-filler tracks. It’s the kind of album where you going to come out with a new favorite after each listen. Right now, it’s “Play Dumb,” “Power Pop Chat,” or “No More Happy Songs,” which features the all-timer line, “They've never suffered for their art / It's got all the depth of a wet fart.”
The Namby Pamby
In February, I saw Fort Wayne trio The Namby Pamby play one of the Empty Bottle’s Free Monday shows. My experience there was basically Proof of Concept for why Free Mondays are one of the best cultural institutions in Chicago that I hope never goes away. Even though I didn’t know anything about them at the time, I’ve kept coming back to their 2022 LP Marketplace. I had a great time and was so impressed by their sparse but pretty indie rock. There are some great songs on here (“Poached Egg” and “Sardines”) that are slow-burners but totally satisfying. It feels like they are on the cusp of releasing a future AOTY contender.
Nicks and Grazes
RIP Palm who ended their unmatched run this fall as one of the 21st century’s most innovative bands. The Philadelphia four-piece makes wildly off-kilter indie rock through unconventional means: MIDI guitar effects controllers, guitar strings wrapped in gardening wire, and meticulously unpredictable time signatures. Despite the risks and leaps this band took while songwriting, the finished product was always hypnotizing and immersive. While it’s occasionally beguiling music, it’s never alienating and worth whatever work is required to warm up to these songs. Nicks and Grazes is a hell of a record to end a run on.
Louisville’s Wombo makes propulsive and pummeling post-punk that actually feels spooky. Each track on their LP Fairy Rust is imbued with a sense of eerie dread even when the songs are soft and pretty. That’s a tough balance to hit but this trio does it well throughout the 13 songs here. Mixed by Chicago’s Dave Vettraino, the LP marked another hit for New York label Fire Talk, who put out stellar LPs from Cola, Mamalarky, and more that year.
What I listened to:
Palm, “Touch and Go”
Greg Freeman, “Colorado”
Mo Troper, “Power Pop Chat”
Cool Original, “waiting around”
Kiwi jr., “The Sound of Music”
hemlock, “garbage truck”
Lou Turner, “Microcosmos”
Marina Allen, “Or Else”
Jordana, “Pressure Point”
Graham Hunt, “Speeding Towards a Wall”
The Namby Pamby, “Sardines”
Cool Original, “u and me both”
Palm, “Parable Lickers”
Daniel Villareal, “In/Out”
Gig report: Mapache at Empty Bottle (9/30)
I went on a whim Saturday to the Empty Bottle to catch the Los Angeles duo Mapache live. They’re a band that’s been consistently recommended to me for years but for whatever reason their earliest records never really clicked. It was clear that they were obviously talented musicians but I don’t know man, it felt too “we make sunny folk-rock and we’re from LA.” I love when I’m wrong about bands because their new album Swinging Stars is fantastic (“French Kiss” is such a killer tune) and co-frontman Sam Blasucci’s 2023 solo LP Off My Stars is great too. I bought tickets and brought my bud to the gig.
Instead of a typical gig where a headliner brings on an opener, that night was all Mapache. They opened for themselves by doing a half-hour acoustic set. The Empty Bottle is one of the best venues in Chicago but it’s not ideal for acoustic one-mic setups—it was a Saturday night and their fans like to have a drink and chat. But besides the ambient chatter from the back bar, they sounded immaculate: gorgeous harmonies and deeply reverent songs. They took a 20-minute break and came back for an 80-minute full band set. I had a blast. They covered The Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Hot Burrito No. 2,” a song that’s unbelievably in their wheelhouse, and Smokey Robinson’s “I Second That Emotion.” They killed it. Saturday was another reminder to give bands that at one point didn’t click for you another shot. Hell, see em live and let them win you over. It’s always worth it.
What I watched:
How To Blow Up a Pipeline (Hulu)
This was a masterfully paced eco-thriller about a group of activists who set out to sabotage a Texas oil pipeline. Based on the 2020 manifesto from Swedish writer Andreas Malm (which, no, it doesn’t tell you exactly how to go about something like that), the film moves with an all-encompassing sense of dread. It’s a brutal watch but it’s worth it for its excellent cast. You’ll recognize actors from It Follows, The Revenant, Sharp Stick, American Honey, and more, who just kill it. Friend of the Substack Olive Jane Lorraine was also great in a supporting role. One of the best films I’ve seen this year.
What I read:
Chicago indie rock mourns Ryan Deffet of Space Gators (Chicago Reader)
Last week, a friend of Deffet’s launched a GoFundMe to benefit his parents, brother, and fiancée, and it surpassed its initial $20,000 goal within 24 hours. The outpouring of love for Deffet doesn’t surprise Nolen—he’s seen his friend light up the faces of complete strangers with his encouragement. “One of the phrases he commonly used when meeting new people, he would say, ‘Everybody’s a space gator,’” Nolen recalls. “They’d say, ‘I can’t dance, I can’t sing, I can’t play the tambourine, I can’t fucking hit a bongo.’ Ryan would want you onstage—because everybody’s a space gator.”
Post-pandemic ‘crisis’ in Chicago’s cultural arts scene is real (Sun-Times)
The findings paint a picture of a cultural arts landscape plagued by: dwindling audiences and subscriptions; increased costs and shrinking budgets; declines in private funding and sponsorships; and an uncertain future in the wake of the end of government funding, such as the Paycheck Protection Program and Shuttered Venue Operating grants for local arts organizations.
The study, commissioned in January by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and titled “Navigating Recovery: Arts and Culture Financial and Operating Trends in Chicago,” looked at trends from 2019 through 2022 at a wide range of organizations with annual budgets of less than $150,000 to those with more than $1 million.
Excerpt from Lou Reed: The King of New York (Will Hermes, NYMag)
In the end, not even Lou Reed wanted to die in New York City. He and Anderson went out to the house on Long Island, near the ocean he was raised by and that had informed his imagination for a lifetime. He spent his last days with friends, listening to music and floating in the heated pool. Willner and their friend Jenni Muldaur stayed overnight. “We didn’t talk much,” Willner recalled. “We just lay there with him, and he had me DJ. And as we were [listening], he sat up and told us that ‘I am so susceptible to beauty right now’ and just lay back down … I can still see the goosebumps on him.” Willner’s playlist included the Shangri-Las’ “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” Frank Ocean’s “Forrest Gump” and “Sweet Life,” Radiohead’s “All I Need,” Valerie June’s “Tennessee Time,” Nina Simone’s “When I Was a Young Girl,” Big Joe Turner’s “Lipstick, Powder and Paint,” Roberta Flack’s “Ballad of the Sad Young Men,” Jonathan Richman’s “Roadrunner,” and unsurprisingly, Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman.”
The Weekly No Expectations Chicago Show Calendar:
Thursday, Oct. 5: Generationals, mmeadows at Thalia Hall. Tickets.
Thursday, Oct. 5: Violent Femmes, Elizabeth Moen at Riviera Theatre. Tickets.
Friday, Oct. 6: Bob Dylan at Cadillac Theatre. Tickets.
Friday, Oct. 6: Worriers, Brendan Kelly, Kali Masi, Pelafina at Chop Shop. Tickets.
Friday, Oct. 6: Patter, Floatie, Moontype at Empty Bottle. Tickets.
Saturday, Oct. 7: Villagerrr, Kneafsey at GMan Tavern. Tickets.
Saturday, Oct. 7: Chris Farren, Mo Troper, Gay Meat at Beat Kitchen. Tickets.
Saturday, Oct. 7: Bob Dylan at Cadillac Theatre. Tickets.
Saturday, Oct. 7: Kate Bollinger, Sam Burton at Empty Bottle. Tickets.
Saturday, Oct. 7: Yumi Zouma at Lincoln Hall. Tickets.
Saturday, Oct. 7: Margaret Glaspy, Tasha at Sleeping Village. Tickets.
Saturday, Oct. 7: Zulu, Soul Glo, Playtime at Subterranean. Tickets.
Sunday, Oct. 8: Bob Dylan at Cadillac Theatre. Tickets.
Sunday, Oct. 8: Bonnie Raitt at Chicago Theatre. Tickets.
Sunday, Oct. 8: SNÕÕPER, Citric Dummies, and more at Empty Bottle. Tickets.
Sunday, Oct. 8: Scowl, Militarie Gun, Big Laugh, Enervate at Subterranean. Sold out.
Sunday, Oct. 8: Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, De La Soul at United Center. Tickets.
Tuesday, Oct. 10: yeule, Sasami at Metro. Tickets.
Tuesday, Oct. 10: SZA, d4vd at United Center. Tickets.
Wednesday, Oct. 11: Arooj Aftab, Vijay Iyer, Shahzad Ismaily at Harris Theater. Tickets.
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