Chroma Artist Picks: December (By Dave Mantel)


This month’s playlist is brought to you by Dave, who just released a brand new NAAL album a few weeks ago. This playlist isn’t about slow music, though (that was his backup playlist). I’ll let him explain what this month’s theme is all about. But you can get listening right over HERE on Spotify!


I used to be the guy who said, “I just don’t really like bands with female leads.” I don’t think I was trying to be sexist. I think I was just an idiot. Today I wanted to make a playlist for that past version of myself. And for you too: a list of some of my favorite recently released or (recently discovered by me, in a few cases, maybe) tracks by amazing female artists.


Mitski- Nobody

I saw Mitski live for the first time as she opened up for Lorde and Run The Jewels earlier this year. That is not a joke. She and her band played a blistering 20 minute set of mostly songs off of Be the Cowboy, her as of then unreleased smash album. It was weird seeing a pop/shoegaze band play this giant arena for people who, for the most part, didn’t know who she was. Most of them were young teens and twenty-somethings there for Lorde, while a few bros in Rick and Morty shirts were obviously there for Run the Jewels. But that didn’t deter her or her band. Mitski blasted through those 20 minutes, hardly stopping between songs, only saying a quick hello, and then she was gone. But the energy and passion that she left on the stage with which she intended to capture the attention of as many of those several thousand people as she could in that short time blew me away. When Be the Cowboy came out later this year, full of powerful bops about relationship failure, lopsided affection, and unrequited love, I was hooked. Oh, and Nobody has two key changes in the same chorus. Also not a typo.


Angel Olsen- Shut Up Kiss Me

I’ll admit it: MY WOMAN takes a little bit to get going. When I first heard all the hype surrounding the album I got pretty excited- I’ll give anything from Jagjaguar a shot- but when I started the album the first few tracks had me feeling like I had been duped. Then Shut Up Kiss Me hit and I understood what it was that everyone was fascinated by. A pop sensibility with the passion and fire of her more indie oriented contemporaries, Olsen grabs on and doesn’t let go at this point. Sappy, happy, raucous and just fun! This song slams.


Paramore- Idle Worship

If you had told me one of my favorite albums of last year would be a Paramore album I would have laughed in your face! But here we are. It’s 2018 and I’m still rocking After Laughter. Idle Worship is easily my favorite song on the album, but the whole group of surrounding tracks are so good, too! There are so many things that shouldn’t work on this album (you can start with literally the first like Donkey Kong sounds you hear when you start it up) but when you let it go it absolutely rips!


Lucius- Gone Insane

Lucius is an incredible duo of Robyn look-alikes who are queens of power ballads and pop bops alike. They pack so much energy into their studio recordings it’s insane. You can feel the dynamics of every belted harmony and hook. Speaking as someone who records a lot of bands, let me tell you: that is a rare thing to be able to capture. Gone Insane is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Listen to the tension between them as they sing together. It’s incredible.


Lorde- Perfect Places

My friend Caleb and I went to, as I said earlier, see Lorde earlier this year. I’m not usually one for big pop shows but I couldn’t miss the lineup, especially since I loved Melodrama, Lorde’s sophomore album, so much! Caleb told me once that listening to that album made him nostalgic for relationships he had never had. It’s hard to explain how a young popstar like that can communicate so clearly about teenage angst and, literally, melodrama in a way that makes a 29 year old drone musician say “YES!” but, again, here we are. Perfect Places is like all of my immaturities being captured and put on display, as if there was some younger version of myself pulled out from my existing self and was like, “Here I am and here are my thoughts on everything!” which is kind of how Melodrama is in general, but in the best way.


Sia- Alive

Chances are very low that you have not heard of Sia. But let me tell you about this project anyway. Before Sia was the international big haired pop sensation that she is now, she was a ghostwriter for a label. Her album This Is Acting is a collection of songs that were turned down that she decided to record herself and put out as a collection of works, which I think is a fascinating showcase of a part of her life not often thought about until now. When I hear Alive, I have to ask myself what INSANE IDIOT turned that song down. It is absolutely killer. The performance from Sia brings it way over the top to MEGA BANGER territory. I’m serious. This is like the most extreme song ever. There is a two hit drum fill that I think is up there with like Phil Collins In the Air Tonight as far as best drum fills in music. You’ll hear it when you listen.


Robyn- Missing U

Robyn returned after a long absence with a brand new album this year and did NOT disappoint. While I think Honey is definitely more of a grower than, say, Body Talk, there are still some amazing tracks to grab ahold of right away. Missing U, one of the pre-release singles from the album, is definitely one of those instantly-latch-on-to tracks. It’s everything I want from Robyn, it’s danceable, it’s melancholy, it has a great hook, the synth sounds are amazing. Total package. Forget dancing your problems away, let’s dance TO our problems. That’s been Robyn’s theme since day one, and it’s still here on this new one.

Gordi- Aeon

Gordi’s debut, Reservoir, is definitely a first album. But dang it if there aren’t some amazing moments. I think Aeon is the strongest song on the album, and is pretty much the perfect representation of her project, to me. Beginning very delicate but ramping up in to a powerful expression of her organic flavored indie pop, I will scream along with this song whenever it comes on my radio. For real. Gordi and I sing in the same range. It’s great.


Half Waif- Lavender

I think Half Waif was a Spotify recommendation for me. I hadn’t heard of her and then all of a sudden WHAMO Lavender Burning came on and I was like, “What is this?? This is great!” All ultra dramatic, a mix of pop but mostly slow indie, key based tunes, the album really speaks to me. Back in Brooklyn has, in my opinion, the best moment on the record: when Nandi sings “The farther away I walk the more I’m a whisper/Listen for me now/You’ve gotta listen for me now” is so intense, and the irony of the lyrics being about her as a whisper being the most powerful moment on the album… Just so cool.

Ex:Re- Romance

I had already finished this list- written everything I had to say, and then I listened to Ex:Re’s debut self titled album. The solo project from Elena Tonra, frontwoman for the folk inspired shoegaze band Daughter, this album plays like an amazing mix of ambient electronic backing and minimal guitar or keyboard shape, with amazingly intricate vocal melody that remind me of the best Jose Gonzalez tracks. Sometimes relaxed, sometimes surprisingly driving, each track is not only musically rich in its minimalism, but lyrically dense and poignant. Romance covers the feelings of being in an abusive relationship. The imagery is powerful and the performance captivating. Highly recommend listening to this whole project.


Lucy Dacus- Night Shift

I found Dacus’s album because of her involvement in boygenius. Sure enough, her album does not disappoint. Her frank, sometimes shocking lyrics (see opening line of the album) are only half of the charm here. Her guitar work- fuzzy, powerful rhythm with really thick lead lines- and sense of melody make this album shine. Night Shift is a funny yet tragic idea of having to avoid an ex forever by working the opposite part of the day from them (“You’ve got a 9 to 5, so I’ll take the nightshift/And I’ll never see you again if I can help it”). But dig that guitar solo, too! So good.


Phoebe Bridgers- Smoke Signals

Like some of the other artists I’ve mentioned on this list, Phoebe Bridgers is definitely an emerging artist. Her album Stranger in the Alps has some shining moments, and I think Smoke Signals, the opening of the album is one of those. She describes very frankly a lot of the same thoughts many of her peers have been having- dealing with death and relationships and celebrity and what it all means. I think it’s really great.


Julien Baker- Hurt Less

I couldn’t have the other two members of boygenius without including Julien. One of the most enthusiastic musicians I’ve ever seen, and someone who is almost singlehandedly forging a way for young solo female singer/songwriter artists in a space that has been very often dominated by men, her anxiously awaited second full length has some amazing moments on it. Hurt Less is quintessential Julien Baker- chimey guitar, reverb, her very exposed vocal performance, and themes of the struggle of sobriety in many forms. You’ll have a hard time not yelling along.


The Staves- Make It Holy

The Staves, a trio of sisters from Watford, England, are some of my favorite musicians. I originally found them through their work with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) for the recording of their latest full length, If I Was at his studio in Eau Claire. I have a little bit of an obsession with that place and those people. But as soon as I heard the early teases of the music The Staves were cooking up, I knew it would be something spectacular. I think Make It Holy is the perfect picture of what that whole aesthetic became. The simple guitar work, the rich harmonies (including Justin and some of the other guys who helped on the album at April Base), the song ramps up and really gives me an image of what my favorite aspect of making music with other people is: the community. The song is beautiful by itself, but there’s an X factor for me that makes it more than just the sum of its parts. It’s something really special.


Boygenius- Salt In The Wound

Alright, I’ve mentioned them several times, so here it is: my favorite track on the boygenius album. I think this track is really the highlight of what happens when each of the respective members (Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus) bring their individual strengths to the table and really collaborate. Each song on the album (even this one) leans pretty obviously in the direction of the primary songwriter for that song, but I think Salt In The Wound, more than any of the other tracks, really gets to the feeling of this being a cohesive project. I dig it a lot.


Anais Mitchell- Ships

I really struggled with which song from Anais’s mindblowing album Young Man In America to include in this playlist. Ultimately, though, I thought I would end this playlist the same way she ends her album. Ships is a slow burning ballad. But man. What a closer to an incredible record. When I showed this album to my friend Caleb (who I mentioned earlier), he said, “Man. This music really sounds like it’s from SOMEWHERE.” And I really like that. Young Man In America is really the most Americana sounding album I could think of. Each song is not only lyrically very grounded in a physical place, but the sounds are so… I don’t know. America. In the best way. The way I want America to be.


Remember, you can follow THE PLAYLIST to get treated to more expertly curated playlists like this one every month from one of our artists! And don’t forget to check out Dave’s new album over on HIS WEBSITE, or stream that on SPOTIFY, too!

Community, Based in Music, Bleeds Activism

November was a busy month for me with various annual benefit concerts and it got my head spinning on why exactly our local music scene has become such a hotbed of fundraisers for various causes. Here’s what I’ve been thinking about:

It’s sometimes useful for the sake of thinking through things to create a dichotomy based on two ways of approaching music; as entertainment and as art. In communities where there is focus on the artistic identity of music, a certain sense of community is easy to find.  The meaning and motivation of the art and intent of the artist rises the surface and unlike an entertainment focused view of the musician, this art-focused viewpoint invites the listener to become emotionally invested in the message of the art. When many people become emotionally invested or feel represented, it is this mutual feeling that starts to draw connections and form a community of fans around an artist.  This community is comprised of folks who have this thing in common and can find some sense of empathy for each other.

As the motivation or message of the artist becomes social or political in nature, it shifts the community from introspective to outward-facing.  Combine an emotional investment in the artist with a social statement to get behind and be energized about. Here you’ve got the primordial soup of music-centered social activism.

For example: One punk is pissed off about abuse of power in their gov’t. That punk starts a band and writes some songs about being pissed off. Others enjoy the music, and come to realize that they also care quite a bit about the imbalance of power.  They just happen to be in the midst of a convenient group of people who all feel strongly about this thing and they find power in numbers and validation of their feelings which drives the whole group to be motivated about taking action.

Now the dichotomy of art vs entertainment is not fair and never pure, in fact the entertainment quality of music helps to create an emotional experience from a performance which aids in the process of drawing personal investment to an artist’s message.  Community driven by artistic vision coupled with positive experiences given by high quality entertainment is an ideal combination that can be used to very effectively leverage social and political action.

I’m hoping to explore in the future what the active expression of the community to affect these issues looks like.  I’ll be spending a lot of time considering the pitfalls of creating an echo chamber and choosing actions that make real change to the causes that we care about. Thanks for visiting my mind.

NAAL's Latest Full-Length Album "0-0-0" Out Now!

Today marks the release of 0-0-0 (or “Aughts”), David Mantel’s latest solo ambient effort. You can listen to it right now on Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play, and Bandcamp. You can even pick up the digital deluxe edition or a physical copy of the album over on Bandcamp or

If you haven’t already, read more about the album’s inception here on our blog!

Chroma Artist Picks: A New Monthly, Curated Playlist and Blog Series


Hello, everyone! As 2018 comes to a close and we found ourselves on the cusp of a new year, we here at Chroma are still plucking along, slowly exploring new ways to meaningfully connect with you all. One of our goals here at Chroma has been to try and help showcase great art in spaces where, for whatever reason, it might be otherwise overlooked. In that spirit, we are going to start using the idea of music playlists to help introduce you to some things that you may otherwise have overlooked, as well as to help you get to know our individual members a little bit better!

All of that being said, we are launching our first playlist series today, called Chroma Artist Picks! Once a month we will have a different member of Chroma curate some songs for you to dive in to. In addition, you’ll find a sort of read-along companion right here on the blog with thoughts from the curator on why they included each song on the playlist.

We hope this will be a fun thing for us to share in together. Also, I’m happy to share with you the first playlist right now, curated by Erica of Dead Birds! You can find her writeup below, and start listening to the playlist by clicking HERE. And make sure to follow the playlist to make sure never to miss when we update it next!


One of my favorite things is catching the warm sunlight on a Saturday morning, making coffee and a good breakfast, and spinning a record as the world and my house wake up. These are the songs I often choose to fill that space:

1. Everything Is Free by Gillian Welch

If you listen to the music I write you’ll know it’s undeniably influenced by this incredible songwriter. She’s one of my all time faves, and this song that came out in 2001 is somehow more relevant to my life now than ever. This song talks about art as a commodity and what it means to be an artist creating things because you love them, not necessarily because you’ll get paid for them. It’s beautiful.

2. Cracked Windshield by Hiss Golden Messenger

Hiss just seems to be the soundtrack to most of my drives these days. This song in particular speaks to me as a touring musician and life on the road.

3. Another Mother’s Son by Phil Cook

This is the most beautiful and poignant commentary on guns, violence, pain, and death. I love this song because it starts out so unassumingly simple, then breaks out into a gospel choir singing, “no more silence!” and “no more bodies!” at the end.

4. Pale November Dew by The Dead Tongues

We’ll just keep the Hiss train rolling (Ryan Gustafson who plays music under the name The Dead Tongues, also plays in Hiss Golden Messenger at times). This song takes me away to a long drive through some wide expanse out west. My favorite parts are the flute interludes; they’re absolutely gorgeous.

5. Rivers by The Tallest Man On Earth

This song describes lost love in a way I could never have dreamt of on my own. All of the elements combine perfectly to create 4 minutes of everything it means to have lost someone you loved. Hang on til the end.

6. Rang Tang Ring Toon by Mountain Man

I love music that is sparse yet so full at the same time. This song is a guitar plucking two notes a fifth apart and the voices filling in to take us on chord progressions you would have never guessed by listening to just two notes. An ode to summertime if I’ve ever heard one.

7. Knockin’ on Your Screen Door by John Prine

Speaking of summertime, this tune brings me a lot of sunshine and always makes me smile. One of my favorite songwriters, John Prine killed it again with his latest album.

8. Jaybird by Charlie Parr

This song is the sunrise: slow and steady, captivating and haunting, bright and warm.

9. Your Lone Journey by Sam Amidon

Written by Rosa Lee and Doc Watson back in the early sixties, this tune is a tender ballad about love and death. I think a lot about the way my grandma must have felt when my grandpa passed, and I wish I would have shared this song with her. Sam Amidon’s is my favorite version of this song (and Bill Frisell’s guitar playing takes it over the top).

10. Sunflower River Blues by John Fahey

No lyrics, just a sweet simple guitar tune to accompany a morning walk or meditation.

11. Going Down The Road Feeling Bad by Elizabeth Cotten

No one knows who wrote this song, but I’m fairly certain Libba did by the way she sings it. There’s a sweet simplicity to this song, her singing, and her guitar playing that make me feel good.

12. I’ve Endured by Ola Belle Reed

North Carolina clawhammer banjo player Ola Belle Reed captures life in Appalachia in a way no one else can. Her voice and banjo playing are mesmerizing. “I’ve endured, I’ve endured, how long can one endure?”

13. Take Your Burden To The Lord And Leave It There by Washington Phillips

I first heard Phil Cook cover this song during a solo set in Austin. It was composed by minister Charles A. Tindley in 1916, and was recorded by Washington Phillips in 1927. There are several versions of this song, but this one is my favorite.

14. Your Cheatin’ Heart by Hank Williams

A classic. This is a good one to sing along to while you’re flipping french toast and dancing with your dog.

15. I Fall To Pieces by Patsy Cline

Patsy sings like no other, she’s the queen, and this song is so perfect.

16. Red River Valley by Amber Rubarth & Joe Purdy

I grew up in Chile learning American folk songs from a songbook and accompanying tape I found in our house. They captivated me with their simplicity and nostalgia. This song and this recording of it capture that so well.

17. Color Song by Maggie Rogers

My husband, our dog and I recently went camping in a northern national forest on the shore of a small lake where we cooked over a fire and listened to the loons. This song reminds me of that time we spent together and of the sun setting over our small campsite, alone yet together in a great wilderness.

Listen to the whole playlist on Spotify right HERE, and make sure to follow it for future updates from more Chroma artists!

You can hear some music by Dead Birds by listening HERE or watching THIS VIDEO of Erica playing guitar in an elevator.

NAAL 0-0-0 Album Announcement

I’m excited to share news about a new album release from founding Chroma Collective member, Dave Mantel.  Mantel will be releasing a new NAAL record titled 0-0-0 on November 9th, 2018.  NAAL is known for his work taking the form of slow, ambient soundscapes in stand-alone full length albums like A703 (released in 2017) and in collaboration with other artists like filmmaker William Prince III for the film Claire McKenna.

In the time that has passed between the release of A703 and the beginning of creation of 0-0-0, Mantel has struggled with depression like so many people that we all know.  In the midst of mind-numbing depression, he thought he would never again pick up a guitar to create another NAAL album. He notes:

I had never been suicidal. Until all of a sudden I was. I’m one of the lucky ones who has stepped to the ledge and been helped back on to solid ground. Not everyone can say that. Not everyone makes it back to the ground.

Replacing unhealthy coping methods with intentionally non-destructive ones led Mantel to sit down and write music once again.  In a writing binge that lasted 3 days, a majority of 0-0-0 had been written, though this time not on guitar like much of his previous work, but at a keyboard.

0-0-0 is a record that was born out of facing the reality of depression and the overwhelming mounting hardship that causes us to feel alone and hopeless.  Through the process of creating the record, a quote from author John Green offered a steady mantra: “Your now is not your forever.” This refreshing thought is met with the subtle changes in writing style and instrumentation that are fleshed out in 0-0-0.  This new record is recognizably a departure and growth from A703 but yet familiar and certainly a cohesive piece to the greater body of work.  

You can preorder the new record now and please don’t miss out on the cassette and limited edition shirt. Hop over to the NAAL page here on the Collective for further info about NAAL and his other releases and projects.

Dig Deeper

I am not very fond of eating food. I find the routine inconvenient and the act itself with a low ceiling of enjoyment. That being said, watching The Great British Bake-Off showed me how food can not only be about taste and texture (and required sustenance), but also form, composition, presentation, patience. I may still eat microwave ramen alongside pita bread and hummus for lunch every weekday, but I have at least been given the tools needed to enjoy the depth of a meal, should the occasion arise.

Perhaps you’ve had that disappointing conversation with someone about a piece of art you are quite fond of. You can recant all the careful details, intricate references, and compelling commentary, and yet they find a singular point of dismissal (e.g. criticizing the unbelievable nature of the plot), dismissing the work entirely. Were you frustrated that they couldn’t see the value you did? Maybe you more relate on the other side of the conversation, exasperated at the contrived practice of “over-analysis”.

If I may defend close reading of art, it would be from the argument that there is no loss from doing so. To extract the implications of a word choice pattern in a poem you already find simply “pretty” is to potentially discover something even more nuanced beyond that surface level feeling. Shakespeare wasn’t the first person to use irony to imply layers of meaning; the forces at work behind any creative person combine the entire history of a technique with the unique composure of a peculiar, 1-in-a trillion human. Screenwriters, illustrators, drummers, cinematographers, chemists, and bakers are often more clever than what’s given at first glance.

Casting a wider net upon your world view will not only bring greater appreciation for all sorts of things, but it will allow you to communicate with others with the enhanced ability to listen and share. Toss aside gut-level judgement and posture of taste. Interpretation of art is highly subjective, so rather than always finding a way to establish “what’s actually happening” or a hierarchy of one artistic work beside another, relish in differences of perspective and opinion, in the opportunity to learn something new about the world and the person you’re communicating with.

I want to encourage people who are considering these ideas for the first time to take it slow. A gradual approach will let you develop your own methods for observation and contemplation at a comfortable pace. There is no need for an essay of critique the first time you watch the new Star Wars; start your exploration of deeper analysis by branching off of what you already feel confident in observing. If your peers have already started on this journey, they should be patient with you. The process is unending. You’ll be learning your whole life.

Introducing Bloodline Festival

I remember arriving at my first Cornerstone Music Festival like the back of my hand. It was 2001 and the excitement of seeing MxPx at such a big festival caused me to vibrate in my seat as I made the 6 hour trek to rural Illinois after work.

We pulled in, the campgrounds seemed like utter chaos. In the dark, our car headlights scanned from campsite to campsite with no clues of the location of our pre-cell phone friends that we were supposed to meet up with, our experienced guides for the week.  Just as our despair felt insurmountable, we turned a corner and laid our eyes on the little red car that we had been searching for and our first real festival experience began.

Through the next few years, my experience at Cornerstone drew me deeper into the community that I had lightly brushed at local punk shows.  Festivals like Cornerstone became a very important place for me, each year I realized how increasingly important the family and community aspects of festivals like this were in addition to the art and music.

After Cornerstone there was Audiofeed. Alongside that came Take Hold Fest and Flood City Fest.  Many of us in Chroma Collective are now involved with a new festival which will be held in just a few weeks in South Bend, IN.  We’re hoping to see many familiar faces from these festivals above.

Bloodline Fest is a 2 day festival in South Bend, IN on November 9th and 10th featuring bands who are active in the DIY community, mostly focusing on the Midwest.  We’ll be hosting 3 stages, with artists on a wide spectrum of sounds. I suggest you check out some of the names on the lineup. You’ll find hardcore, ska, singer/songwriters, poets, etc.

The Well, 2410 Mishawaka Ave, South Bend, IN 46615

We’ll be asking for a $10 suggested donation to help the bands with their travels.

Hit us up, we may be able to help you with a carpool or a place to stay while in town.

See you at the show!


Know Your Audience

Last week, Dave said something very poignant that settles the anxiety of seeking validation for one’s creative works. “Look, there's nothing wrong with making things and wanting people to like them. That's human nature. But that should never EVER be the primary reason you make something.

What subsequently sprang up in my mind is a two-part question: why and when does intended audience matter? For the purpose of today’s exploration, let’s presume the place we create from is healthy and self-confident, meaning we’d create even if it weren’t feasible to share or profit from it beyond satisfying the urge that we simply must create.

Goals. The #1 aspiration people peg for artists is to make a living doing it. While that may be true for plenty of hard-working creatives, it may not always be the case, and hardly ever is it the entire picture. What’s important is to define these goals for yourself before deciding the best way to share with others.

Do you want to make money doing it? Don’t worry about how right this second, just answer yes or no! Do you have an action-oriented purpose behind your work, like social justice or spiritual contemplation? Do you want to have fun? Do you plan to devote a half-hour every day to practice? Is this all just an excuse to meet people and make friends?

The list could go on forever, which is both overwhelming and exciting. As the artist, you get to determine these goals for yourself, which also means analyzing your capabilities and limitations. It is important to be realistic, but that shouldn’t mean forsaking your values if you can help it. Be patient with yourself and your collaborators so you can all grow and do your best!

Alright, so you’ve considered what you wish to accomplish. If none of those things involve sharing your creations with others, consider continuing along with the article so that you can assist others you know who value sharing their work.

It is typically expected of artists to share their work with as many people as possible (i.e. being “paid” in “exposure”, getting a label deal, playing festivals, etc.). Let’s consider the possibility that this may not be the most effective approach in accomplishing your goals, especially if you are not financially driven. There’s nothing wrong with increasing the accessibility of art, but let’s consider what it looks like when attention is sought in the wrong places.

Imagine showing a painting to everyone in your downtown area by carrying it around and sticking it in their face (a price tag, conveniently marked on the corner of the frame). While yes, you would be showing it to the greatest number of people you could in a short moment, they are probably going to be annoyed and without space to properly appreciate what you’re sharing. (There are lucky people who could probably get this to work for them, in which case I say more power to ya.)

The people you share your work with are going to have goals regarding what they engage with, including how they engage with it. Having a fundamental of respect for patron (viewers, listeners, attendees, etc.) needs and desires the only avenue to start a mutual creative discourse. Once you figure out the demographic you are creating for, that’s when you search for mediums and compromises to connect with them in. The hopeless, disgruntled kids in a basement want to hear from a voice who genuinely understands them; the critic wants to be shocked by the skill and creativity in a composition; grandma is happy hearing you tap out “Moonlight Sonata” note-by-note.

Whether you are a beginner or a lifetime creative, there is always room to grow in our consideration of others while also esteeming our personal values. We aren’t capable of perfect empathy, which is what makes art and interactions so interesting. So often are we challenged by the fresh perspective of people who share our biases in part. We will never have all the bases covered, and it is because of this we must be deliberate in conveying our passions. Be true to yourself and give people a chance to clearly see who that is.

A Thought on Process

What is the point of all of this?

That's a question I find myself asking a lot these days. Not just in this space, but in a lot of the areas I'm finding myself, lately. And the truth of it is, in the moment, sometimes I don't have an answer. Sometimes I just feel lost. In some cases, really lost.

I recently took a trip to a film festival that is known for being one of the top in the country- constantly on shortlists. I'd never been to a film festival like that before. One of the only touchstones I had were the images in my mind of that episode of Entourage where the boys go to Sundance (that should have been my first red flag, let me tell you). I was there because I had the opportunity to score a short film that was being shown at this festival. So I flew out with delusions of grandeur. I had scored a film! I was very proud of my work. And it was being shown around the country at film festivals! I got so wrapped up in the presumed glamour of it all that I forgot that film is just like any other art medium: it's hard!

To make a long story short, the showing was plagued with technical difficulties, and the already small audience didn't feel like sticking around for the crew to get them sorted, so we (the director, producer, and I) ended up showing the film in a less than stellar setting, and then doing a Q&A for four people. This was not what I had imagined.

But it was also not altogether unfamiliar territory for me. Not at all. I constantly play music in less-than-ideal venues for small numbers of people. That doesn't bother me anymore. So why did this?

I think in the moment I really just wanted the validation that the thing we had been working on was good, and would be liked by people. First mistake. I think I also wanted to have my ego padded a little bit. Second mistake.

Look, there's nothing wrong with making things and wanting people to like them. That's human nature. But that should never EVER be the primary reason you make something. Which, in the age of feeding off of the dopamine releases we get from social media likes and retweets and hearts and shares and virality and whatever else... It's hard. It's hard to readjust your mind to the idea of creating just to create. Making something because you HAVE to. Because it's inescapable. Because there's something inside of you that needs to come out.

After the showing we all talked together about the experience for a long time. And frankly, as much as I was talking with my friends and partners in the creation of this film, I was reassuring myself. I had to remind myself that the thing that I loved I had already done. We had already made the film. And it was good. We were proud of it. We had so much fun making it, and it was a huge learning process for all of us. We came out better for having made it. All of this other stuff- the festivals and the PR and marketing and all that stuff- that was fine, but it was not the point. I had to remind myself that if I was not enjoying the process while I was making something- if I was making something just to reap the likes or downloads or whatever after it was done, then it was a wasted effort because none of that stuff is guaranteed. The only thing that is guaranteed is what we're doing right now. The process. And if you lose sight of that, you're bound to be let down later.


Spatial Motivation

Have you ever sat and considered how the place where you are and the things that surround you affect your emotions and experience?  It seems obvious to word it that way, but really consider how much of an influence your surroundings have on you. A few weeks ago I wrote about finding artistic motivation and freshness in collaborating with artists that operate in different mediums than yourself.  Today I’d like to explore the idea of being focused on your surroundings and finding distinct spatial motivation and influence on your art.

The common trope of a band venturing to a cabin in the woods to spend time writing their next big hit is seriously played out but there is value in the heart of the concept. For many years bands like Bon Iver and Into it/Over it have packed up their gear, theoretically turned off their cell phones, and marched into the woods to hole up in some cabin to chase the art that is hidden deep in the foliage.  The idea is to create some space between the artist and the everyday distractions that keep us from being able to focus and also to introduce a new primordial soup of textures and sounds that are more raw and organic than the buildings and sidewalks and automobiles that we are generally surrounded by.

The way that Sigur Rós embraced the textures around them in their DVD Heima (which means ‘at home;) has inspired me in a large way. The path that the documentary traces of the band’s return to their home country after a world tour, playing free concerts around the country, and discovering sounds and textures based on the places that surrounded them. The story is not one of a band that sits in a remote place and waits for something to happen, rather we see vignettes of the band turning over rocks, testing the acoustics of old buildings and caves, and really searching for the sounds of their surroundings. Interacting with their environment and allowing that to shape the process, not just on an emotional level but in a direct tonal way.

In my own creative experience, while working in collaboration with the dancers and choreographers in Fischer Dance we were allowed the opportunity to work in abandoned warehouse spaces in South Bend, IN which carried decades of dirt and history of past industry, economic blight, and cultural rebirth.  The depth of the space we were working in gave light to themes and stories that begged to be told through some artistic creation. I see artists pulling this sort of detail out of their surroundings and using it to appeal to listeners and supporters in new and fresh ways; not just as entertainment but as a platform for learning and awareness.   

Implementing this sort of spatial exploration in your art can come in many forms, from very simple  to immersive and interruptive to normal life. Pick up a pen and a pad of paper and maybe a simple instrument.  Find a place to be. Sit and be aware of what’s happening around you. How does this place make you feel? If there are others around you, how do you think they feel?  How does this space affect your relationship with the people around you? Find the flavor and texture of life and share that with others.

Listen to Everything, Even Country and Rap

“Electronic music isn’t real music; there’s no skill involved.”

Someone actually said that to me in high school and no, they were not joking. I was learning how to write chiptunes on a Gameboy using relatively complex software on a physical cartridge and had just finished writing one of the few pieces I ever composed with the medium. My friend’s argument relied on an arbitrary point that specifically aimed to sustain their one-dimensional understanding of music. Instead of allowing space to, at the very least, observe what I was doing, their singular aim was to shut me out from all they considered to be “music”.

Thankfully, exposure to sounds and styles across countless different artists had successfully instilled an ideal in me to give most things a chance. I did not heed their discouragement and am still here writing about music.

There are many of compelling viewpoints to find in the developmental history of music genres (thanks, music history class); there’s much to be said for the cultural context music often finds itself in (shout outs to intersectionality). Those topics alone have books written about them; today I want simply want to encourage openness to the possibilities found in music. There are countless perspectives to be communicated, influences to shape sounds and lyrics, opportunities found in unpredictability; music genres should exist to help us dive deeper into what we already appreciate, not serve as a tool for dismissal.

Hopefully if you’re reading a music-oriented blog you’re aware when we talk about music it is often classified into genres. Genres identify commonalities in the music of various artists and provide a more unified language when discussing various musical elements, such as style, physical context, or creative intention. They provide grounding for conversations about music, this mysterious and often abstract thing humans have loved for thousands of years.

Since there are so many things to enjoy about music (sonic quality, social importance, personal connection, etc.) people often take the elements they are most passionate about and construct value hierarchies. While this might help a person or group of like-minded folks better hone in on their appreciation for certain kinds of music, these constructs can sometimes be communicated in a way that suggests entire styles of music are not worthy of consideration.

Here are some common criticisms that people use in rejecting entire styles and cultures of music:

Jazz: “It all sounds like elevator music.”

Country: “I don’t want to hear someone whine about their life.”

Rap: “All rappers talk about is money and ego.”

Metal: “I can’t understand what they’re saying.”

Ska: “Trumpets? No thanks.”

Now imagine that all those excuses to ignore each genre weren’t simply a matter of personal preference, but a learned response resulting from narrow experiences and bad first impressions. Each argument is easily deconstructed when you look closer and find you can hardly compare big band to smooth jazz, deathcore to hard rock, and so on. Humans are hardly ever so easy to write off, why would music be?

Part of the artist roster here at Chroma (cheap self-promotional plug) aims to lead by example when it comes to open-mindedness toward music genres. Currently we have a range including folk, soul, emo, worship, ambient, pop, and hardcore. Then consider how each artist is teeming with their own stylistic nuances, songwriting approach, and artistic intention; these are all elements which transcend information a genre-grouping can convey. Heck, since 2014 I’ve had no clue what to classify Every Day as (cheaper self-promo).

If you love music, then it’s all worth investigating. There are no “guilty-pleasure bands” because, as they say, “you like what you like” and you aren’t required to validate your taste to anyone. You do, however, owe it to yourself to explore the untouched worlds of sound and poetry. It’s a beautiful galaxy populated to infinity with cavernous, expansive, breath-taking planets. Grab some headphones, muster up some courage, and give something new a chance.

Cross-media Collaboration

I have experienced that the arts communities in any given town or small to mid-sized city can so easily be compartmentalized and isolated from each other with borders popping up between platforms and mediums. Several years back, I was pulled into a conversation with some folks around our community working to break through some of those barriers and by creating events and opportunities where the disperate arts communities canshare spaces and even venture to collaborate with each other on projects.  There’s a freshness and a richness that I experience with the outcome of this type of collaboration. It’s the product of artists seeing into each other’s worlds and pulling, drawing, stretching the creativity of each other.

Some of the most fulfilling creative experiences I’ve ever had as a musician have been in collaboration with non-musical artists. I’ve had many opportunities in the past few years to write, perform, and record with dancers, poets, painters, and videographers.  As a musician I’ve become stuck in certain patterns and rhythms of my creative process that can prove to be rutty and uninspiring at times. Almost 10 years ago I started collaborating with Fischer Dance in South Bend, IN. The process was much like learning to play with a new band member, but one that speaks a different language and has a largely different cultural background than me.  It brought about questions of ‘how’ and ‘why’ regarding the basic processes that I’ve been so comfortable with. I learned to consider a new viewpoint and allowed those collaborators to speak into my process in ways that I would not and could not reach alone.

The benefits of this sort of collaboration are rich, not only in personal fulfillment and forward progression of each artist, but also in the social and cultural development of an area. The cross-pollination of enthusiasts from different areas of the art world  help to strengthen and further the story of a town/city/region. I write this as an encouragement to artists to step out and initiate conversations about cross-platform collaboration. I write this as an encouragement to supporters of various arts scenes to support adjacent art forms and to specifically experience and support collaborative artists.

Concerts with live painters. Dance performances around light sculptures. Writers composing poems in reaction to photography.  This isn’t your parents’ art scene.

Music Reviews and Mindfulness

Band: “We’ve finally done it… We’ve passed the test. We’ve created the perfect album!”
Band Grandma: “What’s all this racket?”
Band: “But Grandma… They gave us a 10 out of 10. You don’t like it?”

It's pretty easy to establish that the enjoyment of music is subjective. There are cultural and personal influences (there may even be others, such as instinct and genetics) that shape and define what we enjoy and seek out from music. As social creatures, with friend groups, opinion-centric public platforms, and economic agendas, we find it relevant to listen and share what music we enjoy with others. Nothing problematic so far.

Consider how we communicate personal taste. There are technical descriptions, emotive expressions, lyrical dissections, contextual observations, and so on. In any descriptive case of a subjective matter, there are points that can be described objectively (e.g. notes that were played correctly, genre identifications), but elements of personal connection (let’s call it ‘bias’) color our perspective (e.g. relating to lyrical topics, valuing an artist’s moral stance). 

A general “X out of Y” score for an album cannot stand as an accurate account of the nuances of a reviewer’s opinion. Even if a following a clearly established rubric, subjective standards can easily be factored into whether or not a game receives a “positive” or “negative” score. Then consider the reader, how they are subject to various numerical grading standards across various review outlets only to decide that nothing less than an “80%” rating deserves their time. What’s worse is how easy it is to skip the heart of a review, the body text, in favor of the quick judgment made in reading a number.

So what can we do to get the most out of music reviews? 

On the writer/publisher side of things, some outlets, such as geek culture website Kotaku, fancy a review summary technique that gives a quick rundown of likes and dislikes, as well as the reviewer’s experience with the subject being reviewed. This not only encourages the reader to refer to the body text for greater detail, but it serves as a reminder that this is a human (not a robocorp) interpreting their own limited experience into words, which are also limited. This is not the only way to form a summation (some may even argue summations hurt reviews), but it is a step closer toward more clearly communicated opinions.

Some summary formats to consider:
Album likes & dislikes.
A general recommendation: "yes"; "no"; yes (but).
“For fans of” (commonly tagged at the bottom of a review “FFO: Qajaq, B.B. King, Slayer”)
“If you like X song from the album, you’ll probably enjoy the whole thing.”
No summary; emphasize processing body text of the reviewer’s opinion.

On the reader/listener side of things, the goal is mindfulness. Be aware that the review you read, listen to, or watch comes from the opinion of someone whom you may or may not agree with. Your own listening is similarly limited and uniquely valuable, so keep the compatibility of your biases in mind. Don’t forget to respect the opinions of others as well! The comments section is, too often, a dark place...

The music world/industry can be pretty tough as is. Then throw in the hinging of attention, reputation, and revenue on an arbitrary number and matters are all the more daunting. We can create a more patient and intentional attitude toward sharing new music by thinking critically about the endless wonders of music and the human lens we view it through.

A Canopy Above Our Endless Sky, Qajaq's Latest, Out Today!

Click here to skip the reading and listen now!

A Canopy Above Our Endless Sky. That which encapsulates all we know and experience. Qajaq has always held a fixation on the fabrics of existence: the things that drive us forward, hold us back, that which binds us together. Canopy, with its war cries, private contemplations, and interpersonal pleas, is an exploration of the intimate, yet esoteric infinity that we are all a part of.

It’s been 3 years since the release of The Light of Everything, Qajaq's debut full-length. Since then, they've taken to a busy tour schedule this last year, eventually incorporating new songs in their live shows. We’ve finally reached the day of satiated anticipation, as those new songs, such as “The Bad Year” and “Arrow in Flight”, make their recorded debut on Canopy. The release features production work that reflects a fresh musical vision, departing from the 5+ person indie band to wind a careful, solemn spaciousness throughout this collection of songs. But what’s striking is how each track is uniquely arranged, instrumentally, dynamically, atmospherically, conceptually. It’s as if they all took the responsibility to represent the heart of Canopy alone. This album is a glorious snapshot of the perpetually refining Qajaq we’ve come to know.

You can listen to and download A Canopy Above Our Endless Sky on Spotify, Apple Music, and Bandcamp, as well as on all the other major streaming services. There’s physical merch, a CD and t-shirt, to accompany the release as well, which you can purchase through their website

And if somehow you’re still on the fence, sit down with the music videos for "The Bad Year," “Sun and Rain,” and "What They Could Give You, I Could Not Give You Better." Maybe you’ll change your mind.

Shout Out to the Archivists

This week I want to give a big old shout out to the folks that spend their time documenting and archiving their local music scene.  We all know the importance of the people that organize shows and the people that form bands to play those shows and those that house and feed bands etc. but I’ve been thinking lately about the importance of individuals who spend their time taking photos, videos, recording audio, as well as collecting fliers, t-shirts, ticket stubs, records, and any other relics of the scene they can get their hands on with the intention of sharing the treasures with others.

This is important to me because of how difficult it is to recognize the importance and influence of the current music community on future iterations and the cultural story of an area. I look around to the people making it happen in our local music community and I can see the growth that they have influenced.  Each of those people can all point back to a certain venue, a certain set of bands, or one specific friend that represents the scene and the community of the time that set them on the course to do this work in the future. Showing the path that paved the way and lighting the path currently being built can raise visibility to those who may not know what’s going on and quite often encourage the next generation of facilitators.  

We’re living in a time when a lot of technical and cost boundaries in the audio, photography, and videography worlds are being torn down. Cell phones can take decent photos and video, DSLRs with video capability have become reasonably affordable, multi-track recording gear is well within reach to any hobbyist.  Capturing performances in these ways not only provides a great record of what’s alive and happening, but the content can also be very useful to young bands as promotional material as they grow and work to get projects off the ground.

Capturing live music is not the only way an archivist can work within a scene.  Every good show is illustrated with a flier. The history of a music scene can be beautifully described with a collection of t-shirts and cd’s or a well curated documentary featuring early band footage and interviews.  Find a way to be involved and go out to leave a mark in history for your local scene. Write a zine, record a band, packrat away some fliers and cds. Borrow a camera, see if they have A/V equipment available at your local library, YouTube some basic editing skills. Spread the knowledge, the history, and the influence of inclusive music community.


Artist Spotlight - Dead Birds

I remember vividly the first time I saw and heard Dead Birds.  I was very familiar with Erica’s music through Families and her contributions to Qajaq, but there I was sitting on the couch at House Fitzgerald in early 2018 at one of their many house shows featuring Chroma artists, watching a combo Qajaq/Dead Birds set.  Erica took the lead and calmly carried the whole room into a new space. Though I had never heard these songs before, I was singing along before I knew the words (which I most certainly guessed at, and incorrectly so).

This Erica that I’m referring to is Erica Johnson of Chicago who began finding dead birds as she walked along the sidewalks.  She photographed them and they eventually became the namesake of her new solo music project. Erica blends the simplicity of folk music with wanderlust that comes from traveling across the country. Whether fingerpicking a delicate acoustic guitar melody, strumming an electric guitar, or claw-hammering a banjo, her music evokes a feeling of nostalgia and invites the listener to take part in the story. These are songs that stem from people and places that have left their mark, songs of loss and hope.

Dead Birds’ upcoming release Here We Are (expected in September) is a memento of relationships and a social commentary. Driven by hope but willing to wrestle with doubt, this collection of songs invites both to the table.

In the meantime, be sure to check out this live session that Dead Birds recorded here.  And check out these upcoming tour dates. More info will be available on the Dead Birds Facebook page or Chroma page as details develop.

  • 9/2/2018 Louisville, KY - Surface Noise
  • 9/3/2018 Lexington, KY - Cosmic Charlie's
  • 9/4/2018 Huntington, WV - Ft. Nothing House Show
  • 9/5/2018 Columbus, OH - Hotel Show
  • 9/6/2018 Cleveland, OH - House Show
  • 9/8/2018 Pittsburgh, PA - The Cove
  • 9/9/2018 Lancaster, PA - EastSide Market
  • 9/10/2018 Lock Haven, PA - Avenue 209 Coffee
  • 9/12/2018 Allentown, PA - House Show
  • 9/14/2018 Roanoke, VA - Leftovers
  • 9/15/2018 Carrboro, NC - Open Eye Cafe
  • 9/18/2018 Chattanooga, TN - House Show
  • 10/8/2018 Anderson, IN - The Nest
  • 10/9/2018 South Bend, IN - The Well