CoSigns takes a monthly plunge into the world of music discovery, profiling five artists that you absolutely need to know about before everyone else does.
Longtime readers of the site might be familiar with our CoSigns feature, in which we spotlight emerging artists from scenes around the world. In the past, CoSigns has been one of our most reliable ways of introducing fresh, vital music to our readers while giving young artists the platform they deserve.
One of the most exciting aspects of local music is the “local” part. Taste knows no geographical boundaries, but loyalty does, and it’s always more thrilling to get turned on to a new band in your own backyard. That’s why we recently decided to freshen up CoSigns a bit, recasting it as a monthly feature that focuses on five artists from the same city or scene. Every month, we’ll go out of our way to find a diverse cross-section of artists who represent the best of a particular place’s musical tapestry. The best part? You’ll get to hear them before they blow up nationally and become total sell-outs.
This month’s CoSigns are near and dear to us because they all hail from Chicago, the city that Consequence of Sound itself calls home. We’re confident that the acts we’ve chosen — Jamila Woods, Yeesh, Oshwa, Whitney, and Trevor Sensor — represent Chicago’s insane diversity and speak to its reputation as one of the world’s best cities for music.
Now won’t you join us on a walk through the Windy City?
By Collin Brennan
Photo by Bradley Murray
It would seem that Jamila Woods has had a pretty good year. The Chicago-born singer-songwriter casually found her way onto two of hip-hop’s biggest releases of 2016, lending her vocal talents to Macklemore’s “White Privilege II” and Chance the Rapper’s “Blessings”. She also carved out some time to record and release her solo debut, HEAVN, an album on which our own Adam Kivel describes her as “[standing] tall, offering a voice not only of astute criticism and observation, but also of hope for a better future and black self-love today.” Yes, it’s been a pretty good year for Jamila Woods.
But has it, really? Listen to a song like the defiant “Blk Girl Soldier”, and it becomes clear that Woods feels the pains of her community acutely. Since the 2014 killing of Mike Brown and the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, the black community has been forced to contend with a seemingly endless series of tragedies brought on by police violence.
This environment of fear, distrust, and heartbreak has transformed Woods from a poet and a soul singer into something bigger. She can’t just write soothing, pleasant songs anymore, like she often did in her former duo, M&O. She has to be a voice for healing, for social justice, and — most of all — for radical black self-love.
So far, Woods has succeeded wildly in that role. HEAVN is an album that meets unspeakable hatred head-on with something we don’t see too often in the world these days: love, optimism, and a hopeful vision for the future. That doesn’t mean Woods is immune to feelings of rage, only that she’s found a different and equally valid means of expressing her anger. Songs like “LSD” and “Emerald St.”, the former featuring Chance the Rapper and the latter Saba, paint a vision of strength, stability, and interconnectedness that can’t help but draw attention to itself.
“It’s a wonderful day in the hood,” she sings, and despite all the evidence to the contrary, she makes us believe it with all of our hearts. Listening to Woods, it feels like music really does have the power to bring about a better world. At the very least, she shows us what that world might look like.
One of the fascinating things about HEAVN is how freely you pull from all areas of culture to promote this message of black self-love. You nod to everything from Paula Cole to The Cure, and I’m wondering if there’s some kind of intention behind using those particular samples, or were they simply the first things that came to your head while writing those songs?
I think it was often really stream-of-consciousness. In my songwriting process, I like to keep a lot of influences and source materials around me, so it kind of looks like a crazy person’s room in whatever space I’m in. I think of a song as a physical space — like my bedroom or something — and it’s nice to have things around me that I think are beautiful and that remind me of other times in my life.
I think my sampling comes from that kind of place. Like, I want to reference an Incubus song because the boy I had a crush on in 8th grade burned me a CD and put it on my desk. I have a personal attachment to those songs, and bringing them into my own songs is a way to kind of recontextualize them in my story.
There’s not a lot of bravado in your music. HEAVN is a brilliant album, but it’s very humble about its brilliance; there’s none of the Chance or Kanye stuff where they boast about their accomplishments. Do you think it’s important to present yourself as just another person — a member of a community instead of someone who’s risen above it?
That’s cool. I didn’t really think of that intentionally, but I do think of always bringing in a multiplicity of voices into whatever I do, because so much of who I am is influenced by countless other people. I think our society has a tendency to make you want to think you’re a self-made person and you did everything all by yourself. Especially in the music industry, that’s something that’s really valued, but it’s not the way that actual communities operate, you know?
I try to leave space for not just one story, but multiple voices. I really love collaboration in that way, bringing in and mixing those perspectives to make it even stronger … It’s the same thing with the samples. A lot of them wouldn’t necessarily be the “expected” sample if you’re making R&B or soul music, but for years I only listened to alternative rock, and I think that makes me a richer person for having had that experience, so I want to bring that in there.
There’s a childlike element to your music that doesn’t make it any less complex but definitely recalls a time when people were a lot more innocent than they are now. There’s a lot more hope than anger, and I’m wondering, where is the anger? Do you find it hard to stay positive in the face of all this hatred and brutality?
Yeah, that’s something I think about a lot not just as an artist but also as a person. I’m kind of a quiet person. If I’m in a room, I might be observing for a while before I’m ever speaking. So considering what’s going on in the community right now, I often have to ask myself, “What is my role?”, or “What is my strength?” Because I do feel anger and sadness and rage and all of the things that are natural to feel when what’s happening to black people in this country is happening.
But anger doesn’t always have to look a certain way. It might not always look how you expect. Some people might cry when they’re angry or some might yell, and it’s important for me that I’m a representation of that — that there are multiple ways to feel. People might try to police emotions and say anger is bad, but all emotions are useful. They’re all paths toward action, toward getting to another place.
By Nina Corcoran
Photo by Stephania Dulowski
The first time I heard Unwound, I struggled to find words worthy of their sound. Their music combined elements of post-hardcore, noise rock, and this beautiful, pensive contemplation, something that suggested both pent-up frustration and utter bewilderment with the world around them. They found a place within ‘90s rock music that had yet to be explored, a space that felt strangely comforting, edgy, and openhearted in the best of ways.
Yeesh do the same thing. The Chicago trio don’t dodge genres, but rather play around with them. They pull sections from post-hardcore styles and mix them with the grittier side of pop rock. They deliver lines with the heart of emo but the scratches of post-punk.
On this year’s Confirmation Bias, the group’s sophomore LP, Yeesh explore territory that’s equal parts noisy and introspective. They’re reviving a post-hardcore sound that touches on Japandroids’ energy and Cloud Nothings’ anger, and they’re doing it in a time of ‘80s revivalism and trap loops — that is, a time that desperately needs a rock record that can hold its own from start to finish.
Much of the group’s sound comes from the familiarity of friendship. Back in 2010, guitarist Alex Doyle and drummer Peter Reale started Yeesh while at college, taking their name from one of Rosario Dawson’s lines in the film Sin City. Two months later, they asked Greg Obis to join on bass. After a short hiatus that allowed everyone to graduate, they relocated to Chicago and started fresh in 2012.
Compared to their 2015 full-length, No Problem, this year’s album carries a tighter sense of urgency and anger. “Alex and I have been in a sort of ‘loudness war’ for the past year and a half,” laughs Obis. “Each of us just kept buying — and continue to buy — louder and louder amps, and I think that drove the music to be more aggressive and brutal as our sonic capabilities changed.”
As they look to the future, Yeesh have three goals in mind: make a living playing music, tour Europe, and get louder amps. It’s hard to imagine them not accomplishing all three. At the very least, Confirmation Bias is a big step in the right direction.
Your music wears its influences on its sleeves, particularly Unwound, Shellac, and Drive Like Jehu. How do you take those styles and merge them into something of your own?
Reale: I don’t consciously try to sound like other bands or show influences directly. Our songwriting process is entirely collaborative. No one ever brings formed songs to practice. At most someone might bring a musical idea. I’ve been listening to a lot of Nails and Cattle Decapitation.
Alex Doyle: To piggyback on Pete’s comment, our musical influences are similar but also vary pretty heavily from each other, and we are constantly critiquing and rewriting each other’s parts so we end up mashing together ideas from different sources. I’ve been listening to a lot of Drake.
Obis: I’ll definitely echo what Alex and Pete said. However, I also have tried very hard to emulate Bob Weston’s bass tone! I also work for him, which is kinda funny that we’ve drawn that comparison recently.
There’s a feeling of improvisation that pops up occasionally in your songs. Were any of the sonic or lyrical changes added last minute in the studio?
Obis: A lot of the lyrics and melodies on “Well Adjusted” were written the day we recorded it. I had a solid chorus, but only a vague idea of how I wanted the verses to sound, mostly thinking about the stream-of-consciousness writing of Parquet Courts, which I was big into at that time. It’s a new poetic voice for me, and I am very pleased with it. I plan to explore it more in the future.
From the inside looking out, what drives your record? I feel like there’s a lot of chaos and anxiety pent up in it, but that may just be my reading of it.
Doyle: I made a choice on this record not to write about the past. The songs are all very personal and the issues unresolved and up-to-date.
Obis: I definitely feel the record is driven by cumulative frustration about a lot of things in our lives. For the songs I sing, “Well Adjusted” is definitely a collage of envy and self-loathing projected onto people that I perceive as more put-together. “Speechless” is about someone very close to me who suffers from substance abuse issues, and it’s kind of this outraged scrawl of disbelief and trust issues. It felt good to write those songs.
There’s a great line in “End Results” where you talk about perfecting the subtle ways to waste a day. What’s your ideal lazy Sunday?
Reale: Not practicing, probably cooking food, and doing something outside. If we’re talking “ideal” here, record shopping, because ideally I would have some money to buy records.
Doyle: Ideally … drink coffee, work out, read and see friends, get a drink, go to bed, wake up and realize it’s not Monday and I don’t have to work.
Reale: Drinking a lot of coffee is implied in mine.
Obis: Play Civilization 5 for 12 straight hours. And drink coffee.