When I’m sitting with an album, I’m listening for something a live performance can’t give me. I have an anxiety disorder that limits how much live music I consume, so recordings have always felt precious for the way they let me feel connected to a larger audio community. More than an escape from my unease, my ears like an energy or polish that helps me justify consuming information alone with my headphones instead of with people at a show. That’s changed since COVID-19. As quarantine stretches on, not even having the option to go out has me prioritizing music that transports me places I can’t go.
At the earliest, Chicago’s shelter-in-place orders won’t relax until June, but it’s unclear when live music will be possible here without a vaccine. Being forced to stay home hasn’t been much of an adjustment – hello, total hermit here! – but now I’m living in memories of moments like being jostled by bodies, sweat gleaming on my skin and feeling satisfied not knowing if it’s mine. With that said, here are some Chicago releases that have been getting me through lockdown. They speak to the diversity of musical styles that thrive in Chicago’s eclectic scene, which I’ll be covering in a new column for Audiofemme: Playing Chicago.
CB Radio Gorgeous EP
This band has an unparalleled stage chemistry no record will capture, but since all its members are Chicago punk veterans, no surprise CB Radio Gorgeous’s four-song debut still delivers something exciting for the at-home experience. Frenzied and fun, they’re X-Ray Spex meets Wire, and provide the perfect soundtrack for donning neon turquoise sunglasses and day-drinking Schlitz on rusted lawn chairs with friends.
Melkbelly – PITH
PITH features Sonic Youth-style guitar, Lemuria-like vocals, and atmospheric chaos that distantly echoes the complexity of Lightning Bolt. Both spritely and dark, playful and moody, it’s what I imagine playing outside the bathroom at the Empty Bottle while I’m smirking knowingly at a Sharpie-scrawled warning on the wall. Another woman catches my gaze in the reflection and says, “Right?” and I feel like we’re now bonded by a bathroom secret only select women will even register. Then we emerge, and everything’s casual.
I love the retro vibe of this, and it’s equal parts fun and soulful. My favorite track is “Chicago Bae,” which celebrates what low-stakes, long-distance love with a Windy City sweetheart could be. The line, “Let me show you all the city the commercials never see” hits hard – a universal sentiment of anyone who’s lived in a tourist-heavy city that still feels personal to each listener’s understanding of their town. They Call Me Disco features six tracks perfect for that wait for the 49 bus on Western Avenue, sun heavy in the sky, running late to meet a friend but feeling right on time.
Hitter – Hard Enough
If Donita Sparks fronted Motörhead, you might get something that sounds like hard rock quartet Hitter. Their debut full-length introduces a sound that’s vintage but not dated, owing in large part to the gravelly voice of singer Hanna “Hazard” Johnson, who howls and wails with a rock ‘n’ roll confidence that feels liberating just to bask in. Music for shoving assholes who spill beer on your leather vest.
Floating Gardens – Ephemerals
Fans of Mort Garson’s Plantasia will be drawn in by the familiar, lofty synth of Ephemerals’ opening track, but it descends into something that combines new age vibes and nature sounds – hard to do without getting corny, but somehow, Floating Gardens strikes the right balance. From experimental electronic label Chicago Research, Ephemerals is apt and meditative reminder of the mysteries and beauties of the natural world at a time when many of us can’t access them.