PLAYING CHICAGO: 15 Songs to Usher in Spring

Spring is just around the corner – but this is Chicago. Anything can happen. It has snowed in April here (cue Prince). Luckily, neither the lingering chill in the air nor the ongoing pandemic can stop the city’s creative pulse. There are dozens of releases from exciting, rising musicians set to bloom later with the season – until then, these songs (some of which you might’ve missed in the last year) have been keeping us warm and dancing while the rest of winter melts away. 

Demetruest – “Blouse Undone”

In under two minutes, singer/rapper Demetruest (a.k.a Demetruis Spidle) delivers a tightly-woven rap allegory over a fierce loop of abstract beats on “Blouse Undone.” Tracking the end of day, when hardworking folks can undo a button or two and find some after-hours relief amid life’s challenges, their lyrical repetition echoes the monotony of the every day while leaving space to celebrate surviving it. Each of the songs on their EP Direction tells a story of identity, but this one’s catchiness sticks with you.

Rat Tally – “Shrug”

With this cold and fuzzy break-up tune, Rat Tally – the musical moniker of Addy Harris – reconciles the need for closure, with the help of her guitar (solo as well as swallowed by muffled layers of distortion). Her take on grunged-up pop bubbles beneath journal-like lyrics, underscored by just a hint of precociousness and wink-delivering stand out one liners like “I wanna throw a fit, fuck, then forget it.” Harris’ vocal quiver will no doubt draw comparisons to the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and others in her indie rock company, but nowhere in my book is that a bad thing.

Pixel Grip – “Pursuit”

The goth disco is open. A dark, seductive middle-finger to making “good” choices, synthesizers grind against the hypnotic thump grounding Pixel Grip’s exciting single, “Pursuit.” Described as being about “surrendering your desires to be someone who is bad for you,” singer Rita Lukea captures an almost-desperate longing vocally, as a sinister bassline heightens the track’s overall sense of urgency.

Serena Isioma – “Meadows in Japan”

“Meadows in Japan” encourages you to get lost in a fantasy before crash-landing back to reality, while warm melodies invite you into singer/rapper Serena Isioma’s sun-kissed idea of romance. A tempo change disrupts its easy simplicity and takes you to the other side – an “I love you, but I love me more” reflection that isn’t out of character on an EP titled The Leo Sun Sets. As the beat progresses, it unravels much like Isioma’s lyrical affections, culminating in a voicemail – which would be infuriating if it didn’t sound so good.

KeiyaA – “Negus Poem 1&2” Forever, Ya Girl

On her debut album Forever, Ya Girl, KeiyaA weaves observation and meditation into R&B poetry across 16 tracks – but nowhere is the synthesis more complete than on “Negus Poem 1&2.” The track captures the feel of live jazz improvisation, bucking conventional form with the exception of its chorus-turned-chant and fading into a spoken word excerpt, a sonic template repeated in interludes across the album. KeiyaA makes it clear why she’s making music and who she’s making it for: just listen.

Tenci – “Joy”

Tenci’s soft, warbly twang tells the story of “Joy” – the title could refer to a person or personified emotion, but either way, it’s devastatingly fleeting. A song that feels both hopeful and grief-stricken, the soft strumming of the guitar becomes hypnotic as singer-songwriter Jess Shoman outlines a lullaby of sorts. Set amongst other stellar tracks on My Heart is an Open Field, a bit weathered by time and heartache, “Joy” feels like the beginning of something a bit bigger.

Sol Patches – “Couleur” (feat. Dani Ochoa-Bravo)

Three years after 2018’s Blue Transitions, Sol Patches dropped Vivid Image in February. While the release itself was a surprise, its quality is not. A journey in itself, “Couleur” confronts realities of the Black, Trans experience in America. As Ochoa-Bravo leads you to Sol Patches’ no-holds-barred verse, expressing as much anger as resolution, Sol reminds you why they’ve been so missed.

Mia Joy – “Haha”

One of the most anticipated releases of the year, “Haha” was released in January as the first single from Mia Joy’s debut LP Spirit Tamer, due May 2021. Singer Mia Rocha’s amplified whisper floats above a gentle cascade of synths and strings; enveloping the listener in a beautiful – if not a bit melancholy – ambience. Ushering in change, be it physical, mental, spiritual or otherwise, can be chaotic at times. Let Mia Joy guide you with a more meditative hand.

HLDAY MAGIK – “LUV IS MDTATN (love is meditation)”

A collection of understated, lo-fi pop tracks, singer Pamela Maurer – known as Baby Money – introduced new project Hlday Magik in February with the Music 4 Ur Ears EP. Across seven songs, Maurer explores various vocal textures and the boundaries of her bedroom production aesthetic, but the must-hear is “LUV IS MDTATN.” Without overwhelming her hushed coo, minimal instrumentation serves as the glue holding the vulnerable confessional together. It’s simply lovely.

Jackie Hayes – “Eye 2 Eye”

A bass-driven rocker, Jackie Hayes found inspiration in new wave on latest single “Eye 2 Eye.” A little grimy – with the potential for a big, noisy payoff in a future live setting – the song details the frustration that comes with self-growth, reinvention, and expectation (or lack thereof). Luckily, Hayes left some space to take out said frustrations on the dance floor.

Carlile – “Restart”

A house music-inspired cardio circuit of a song, Carlile sends her brand of pop into overdrive.  A maximalist club track, “Restart” showcases the artist’s developing style and increasingly biting turn of phrase. Racing against time and dwindling patience, Carlile demands a breakthrough. Let it go.

Brittney Carter – “Prove ‘Em Wrong” As I Am

One of the best LPs of 2020, Brittney Carter’s relentlessly focused As I Am is a force. On “Prove ‘Em Wrong,” she makes sure you’ve been listening. Delivering every syllable smoothly, Carter raps with enviable self-assurance regardless of the story she’s telling. Rhythms unrushed (even sparse on other tracks), she makes sure to give every word the attention it deserves – respecting her music as a natural extension of herself.

Tink – “CAP”

Tink has had enough and she’s got a list of grievances for the fuckboys on “CAP,” appearing on 2020 EP A Gift and a Curse. She’s concise within the three-minute track, her flow poised despite “cleaning up the mess” she sings of. With a catalog of songs calling for women to stand in their worth, respect and desire, “CAP” and its earwormy hook (“too many lies, too many hoes, too many bitches”) is another one for the Tink canon.

Ashlee Bankz – “Big Boss Livin’”

Ashlee Bankz released a handful of tracks in 2020, but none were quite like “Big Boss Livin’.” In a year that needed any excuse for celebration, Bankz – undeniably dexterous vocally – directed that energy toward herself with this rapid-fire ode to moving up. There’s no filler here, no room for apology or humility. It feels good to flex; let Bankz take this minute and a half to remind you.

Astrachan – “Ladakh”

A delightful familiarity rings from Astrachan’s “Ladakh.” Its folksy, Laurel Canyon-feel dances with bits of psychedelia to lull the listener into songwriter Ben Astrachan’s memory. Building a pretty dreamy atmosphere, heightened by clever flairs of clarinet and flute, the artist’s namesake band is as charming as it is promising; be on the look out for a self-titled release due May 2021.

AF 2020 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums & Singles of The Year

In a year that’s been like no other for the music industry, it feels a bit weird to make a best of 2020 list – there have been no tours, venues and clubs across the globe are in danger of closing their doors for good, release schedules were shuffled beyond recognition, and musicians have had to find other ways to make ends meet while those in the U.S. await the next round of paltry stimulus checks. With a situation so dire, the metrics have changed – should we ascribe arbitrary value to the skill of producers, songwriters, performers, and the execution of their finished projects, or simply celebrate records that made us feel like the whole world wasn’t crumbling?

Definitively ranking releases has never been the Audiofemme model for looking back on the year in music. Instead, our writers each share a short list of what moved them most, in the hopes that our readers will find something that moves them, too. Whether you spent the lockdown voraciously listening to more new music this year than ever before, or fell back on comforting favorites, or didn’t have the headspace to absorb the wealth of music inspired by the pandemic, the variety here emphasizes how truly essential music can be to our well-being. If you’re in the position to do so, support your favorite artists and venues by buying merch, and check out the National Independent Venue Association to stay updated on what’s happening with the Save Our Stages act. Here’s to a brighter 2021.


  • Marianne White (Executive Director)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Mary Lattimore – Silver Ladders
      2) the Microphones – Microphones in 2020
      3) Soccer Mommy – Color Theory
      4) Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
      5) Phoebe Bridgers – Punisher
      6) Amaarae – The Angel You Don’t Know
      7) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
      8) Adrianne Lenker – songs/instrumentals
      9) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
      10) Lomelda – Hannah
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Kinlaw – “Permissions”
      2) Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am”
      3) Little Dragon & Moses Sumney – “The Other Lover”
      4) Yves Tumor – “Kerosene!”
      5) Megan Thee Stallion – “Shots Fired”

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Land of Talk – Indistinct Conversations
      2) Dehd – Flower of Devotion
      3) SAULT – Untitled (Black Is)/Untitled (Rise)
      4) Public Practice – Gentle Grip
      5) Cindy Lee – What’s Tonight to Eternity
      6) Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters
      7) Benny Yurco – You Are My Dreams
      8) Eve Owen – Don’t Let the Ink Dry
      9) Porridge Radio – Every Bad
      10) Jess Cornelius – Distance
    • Top 10 Singles:
      1) Little Hag – “Tetris”
      2) Elizabeth Moen – “Creature of Habit”
      3) Yo La Tengo – “Bleeding”
      4) Caribou – “Home”
      5) Jess Williamson – “Pictures of Flowers”
      6) Adrianne Lenker – “anything”
      7) Nicolás Jaar – “Mud”
      8) Soccer Mommy – “Circle the Drain”
      9) New Fries – “Ploce”
      10) El Perro Del Mar – “The Bells”


  • Alexa Peters (Playing Seattle)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Deep Sea Diver – Impossible Weight
      2) Blimes and Gab – Talk About It
      3) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
      4) Tomo Nakayama – Melonday
      5) Matt Gold – Imagined Sky
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Stevie Wonder – “Can’t Put it in the Hands of Fate”
      2) Tomo Nakayama – “Get To Know You”
      3) Ariana Grande – “Positions”

  • Amanda Silberling (Playing Philly)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Frances Quinlan – Likewise
      2) Bartees Strange – Live Forever
      3) Told Slant – Point the Flashlight and Walk
      4) Diet Cig – Do You Wonder About Me?
      5) Shamir – Shamir
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Kississippi – “Around Your Room”
      2) Sad13 – “Hysterical”
      3) The Garages – “Mike Townsend (Is a Disappointment)”

  • Ashley Prillaman (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Perfume Genius – Set My Heart On Fire Immediately
      2) Lasse Passage – Sunwards
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Good News
      4) Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
      5) Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Megan Thee Stallion – “B.I.T.C.H.”
      2) Perfume Genius – “On the Floor”
      3) SG Lewis & Robyn – “Impact” (feat. Robyn & Channel Tres)

  • Cat Woods (Playing Melbourne)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Jarvis Cocker – Beyond the Pale
      2) Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine
      3) Run the Jewels – RTJ4
      4) Emma Donovan & The Putbacks – Crossover
      5) Various Artists – Deadly Hearts: Walking Together
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Emma Donovan & The Putbacks – “Mob March”
      2) Laura Veirs – “Freedom Feeling”
      3) Miley Cyrus – “Never Be Me”

  • Chaka V. Grier (Playing Toronto)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas
      2) Joya Mooi – Blossom Carefully
      3) Lady Gaga – Chromatica
      4) Witch Prophet – DNA Activation
      5) Tremendum – Winter
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Lianne La Havas – “Green Papaya”
      2) Lady Gaga – “Free Woman”
      3) Allie X – “Susie Save Your Love”

  • Cillea Houghton (Playing Nashville)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Chris Stapleton  – Starting Over
      2) Brett Eldredge – Sunday Drive
      3) Little Big Town – Nightfall
      4) Ingrid Andress – Lady Like
      5) Ruston Kelly – Shape & Destroy
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) The Weeknd – “Blinding Lights”
      2) Billie Eilish – “Therefore I Am”
      3) Remi Wolf  – “Hello Hello Hello”

  • Eleanor Forrest (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Grimes – Miss Anthropocene
      2) Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
      3) Allie X – Cape Cod
      4) LEXXE – Meet Me in the Shadows
      5) Gustavo Santaolalla, Mac Quayle – The Last of Us Part II (Original Soundtrack)
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) CL – “+5 STAR+”
      2) Yves Tumor & Kelsey Lu – “let all the poisons that lurk in the mud seep out”
      3)  Stephan Moccio – “Freddie’s Theme”

  • Gillian G. Gaar (Musique Boutique)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Dust Bowl Faeries – Plague Garden
      2) Ganser – Just Look At That Sky
      3) Oceanator – Things I Never Said
      4) Loma – Don’t Shy Away
      5) Maggie Herron – Your Refrain
      6) Pretenders – Hate for Sale
      7) The Bird and the Bee – Put up the Lights
      8) Partner – Never Give Up
      9) Bully – Sugaregg
      10) Olivia Awbrey – Dishonorable Harvest

  • Jason Scott (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Mickey Guyton – Bridges EP
      2) Katie Pruitt – Expectations
      3) Mandy Moore – Silver Landings
      4) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
      5) Cf Watkins – Babygirl
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Mickey Guyton – “Black Like Me”
      2) Ashley McBryde – “Stone”
      3) Lori McKenna feat. Hillary Lindsey and Liz Rose – “When You’re My Age”

  • Jamila Aboushaca (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
      2) Khruangbin – Mordechai
      3) Kid Cudi – Man on the Moon III: The Chosen
      4) Tycho – Simulcast
      5) Run the Jewels – RTJ4
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Tame Impala – “Lost In Yesterday”
      2) Phoebe Bridgers – “Kyoto”
      3) Halsey – “You should be sad”

  • Liz Ohanesian (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine
      2) Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
      3) Phenomenal Handclap Band – PHB
      4) Khruangbin – Mordechai
      5) TootArd – Migrant Birds
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Anoraak – “Gang” 
      2) Kylie Minogue – “Magic”
      3) Horsemeat Disco feat. Phenomenal Handclap Band – “Sanctuary”  

  • Michelle Rose (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia
      2) Taylor Swift – folklore
      3) Shamir – Shamir
      4) Jessie Ware – What’s Your Pleasure?
      5) HAIM – Women in Music Pt. III
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Porches – “I Miss That” 
      2) Annabel Jones – “Spiritual Violence”
      3) Wolf – “High Waist Jeans”  

  • Sara Barron (Playing Detroit)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Summer Walker – Over It
      2) Yaeji – WHAT WE DREW
      3) Liv.e – Couldn’t Wait to Tell You
      4) Ojerime – B4 I Breakdown
      5) KeiyaA – Forever, Ya Girl
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Yves Tumor – “Kerosene!”
      2) Kali Uchis, Jhay Cortez – “la luz (fin)”
      3) fleet.dreams – “Selph Love”

  • Sophia Vaccaro (Playing the Bay)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Charli XCX – how i’m feeling now
      2) The Front Bottoms – In Sickness & In Flames
      3) Zheani – Zheani Sparkes EP
      4) Various Artists – Save Stereogum: A ’00s Covers Comp
      5) Halsey – Manic
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Charli XCX – “forever”
      2) Doja Cat – “Boss Bitch”
      3) Wolf – “Hoops”

  • Suzannah Weiss (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Galantis – Church
      2) Best Coast – Always Tomorrow
      3) Overcoats – The Fight
      4) Holy Motors – Horse
      5) Suzanne Vallie – Love Lives Where Rules Die
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) CAMÍNA – “Cinnamon”
      2) Naïka – “African Sun”
      3) Edoheart – “Original Sufferhead”

  • Tarra Thiessen (RSVP Here, Check the Spreadsheet)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Brigid Dawson & The Mothers Network – Ballet of Apes
      2) Ganser – Just Look At That Sky
      3) Death Valley Girls – Under The Spell of Joy
      4) The Koreatown Oddity – Little Dominiques Nosebleed
      5) Ghost Funk Orchestra – An Ode To Escapism
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Miss Eaves – “Belly Bounce”
      2) Purple Witch of Culver – “Trig”
      3) Shilpa Ray – “Heteronormative Horseshit Blues”

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Lil Baby – My Turn
      2) A$AP Ferg – Floor Seats II
      3) Polo G – The Goat
      4) The Weeknd – After Hours
      5) Teyana Taylor – The Album
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Cardi B & Megan Thee Stallion – “WAP”
      2) Roddy Ricch  – “The Box”
      3) Big Sean & Nipsey Hussle – “Deep Reverence”

PLAYING CHICAGO: Support these Musicians on Bandcamp this Friday

DEHD is one of the many Chicago-based artists you should consider supporting via Bandcamp this Friday. Photo Credit: Alexa Viscius

In case you’d forgotten, here’s your reminder: that pandemic? Still happening. Which means Bandcamp Fridays are also still happening, and one’s coming up at the end of the week. I know, I know, there are so many places to put your money at the moment, right? Consider this:

Chicago has been slower to reopen than many cities, but every day I’m seeing people walk around maskless like they have no accountability to Black, Brown, and low-income people — you know, folks who’ve been disproportionately impacted by the virus. The less masks I see, the further live music feels, too. Our mayor has permitted select venues to reopen with strict guidelines like no vocals or wind instruments. But many musicians and would-be patrons see this as a rush. Why are we being encouraged to risk our physical health for the financial health of beloved entertainment spots and the people who play them? Why is it one or the other?

In small ways, our city is lucky. Having modest local support of the arts means the city and state have provided some relief grants to musicians. And thanks to legislation shoehorned by Senator Bernie Sanders, self-employed and contract workers throughout the country have received unemployment relief, which has also covered some musicians. Unfortunately, many occupy an employment grey area that can be difficult to parse for grant or unemployment applications – and the end date for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance looms at the end of July.

As Wax Idols founder Hether Fortune explained during a phone call last month: “I’ve never made a consistent living off of my music. Writing, day jobs, shows, selling stuff online, Bandcamp — those things combined are how I’ve made a living. Now that the pandemic hit, some of that stuff is more difficult. It’s not like you can get a quick server job for a few months or whatever. I can’t do readings or solo performances. Another one of my side hustles has always been thrifting and reselling clothes, and I can’t do that.” For Fortune, who’s been weathering COVID-19 from Chicago, Bandcamp Days have been the difference between making rent and not.

Right now in America, we’re in this weird state where consumption feels like a moral imperative. Every GoFundMe is a reminder it’s on us as individuals to financially mitigate situations that are clearly expressions of larger systemic failures. This, at a time when many of us don’t have as much money in our pockets. And yet Bandcamp Fridays remind me of a popular sentiment often credited to Emma Goldman: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution!”

She didn’t actually say those exact words – it’s a popular paraphrase of something she wrote in Living My Life when a man chided her for dancing. He basically said respectable organizers should not be seen having fun. But Goldman emphasized: There is no freedom without freedom of joy and expression. These are both equally necessary for change.

With so much happening in the world, some of us really need to dance out our demons — or at least, find a temporary escape. So if you can, why not do it on the day that helps musicians the most? Here are some Chicago sounds to consider dropping money on.


NNAMDÏ announced via Twitter that he’d drop another album on Friday, but it’s worth scooping this quarantine release (especially as a luscious gatefold LP). BRAT is an introspective blend of jazz, hip hop, and math rock that resists easy comparisons. Across twelve tracks, NNAMDÏ wrestles demons, struggling to distinguish the personal ones from those shared. Complicated, playful, insistent — everything that makes the best brats exciting.


Carlos Niño and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson – Chicago Waves
In the winter, Los Angeles natives Carlos Niño and Miguel Atwood-Ferguson performed an improvised set of spiritual jazz at the South Shore Cultural Center in Chicago, which was released by Chicago label International Anthem. If staring into Lake Michigan in sub-zero temps was an album, it would be Chicago Waves. When the air is hot, we’re free to romanticize winter: recalling somersaulting snowflakes, breath tracing patterns in the air, and undulating ice as lake temperatures rise.


Pixel Grip – Heavy Handed
I’ve heard Pixel Grip referred to as “goth disco,” and whoever said it is not wrong. The trio draws on Chicago house and Hi-NRG beats — both of which owe to disco — then puts them in a dark package. Imagine a much queerer, less sexed-up Goldfrapp. That’s Pixel Grip.


KeiyaA – Forever, Ya Girl
Technically, KeiyaA has relocated to New York, but her sound is homegrown Chicago, a city where women with synths are thriving and she was raised on Afrofuturism. KeiyaA uses a microKORG synthesizer to layer sounds and samples, building complex interior worlds where she runs with desire, explores her loneliness, and affirms her worth. Whether it’s craving needlessly specific things like pineapple-pear juice (“I Want My Things”), using weed to lighten her mental load (“FWU”), or honoring the double-edged sword of her own strength (“Keep It Real”), she brings depth and originality to familiar themes. It’s an extremely compelling debut.


DEHD – Flower of Devotion
Flower of Devotion is only available for pre-order; the full album DEHD’s third studio release —doesn’t drop until July 17. But its two teaser tracks beg an investment now. DEHD is a trio that sounds like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes meets Cocteau Twins. Their song “Loner” is for dancing in your underwear when you’re sad but still energized. Emily Kempf sounds triumphant as she wails, “Yeah, you’re running-running-running from your cuts.” Right now, many of us are still limiting contact with the outside world, and certain ideas feel wildly popular and yet not popular enough. In that sense, it’s never felt more necessary to celebrate loner status.