I've been lucky enough to call Chicago home for the past week or so. Since it's only a temporary stay, I wanted to make the most of it. In order to fill you in on some of my favorite finds I thought I'd pair the list with my favorite albums of the year so far.
These are completely subjective choices - they're the records I haven't been able to stop playing. Each comes with a suggested Chicago activity in tow. So if you're in this neck of the woods soon, you'll be all set.
This album should absolutely come with a warning label. If you've listened to it without crying then I both admire your strength and also think you should get that checked out. Its frank lyricism, brutal honesty, and stark instrumentation cut in an acute fashion. This record is the aural companion to getting the wind knocked out of you. Put it on as you stumble home at daybreak. Might as well lean into that sting left behind by last night's whisky, right?
No concrete suggestion here, other than to be up for simply walking. Duck down a street that's not Michigan Avenue. Follow the smell from a nearby bakery. Enjoy the fact that you're getting the chance to wander in a new city - be it at daybreak, sunset or any time in between.
This lovely, English import could be aptly described as a happy marriage between Grouper and The Cranberries. You can practically feel rays of sun darting in alongside those shimmery guitars. The redemptive qualities of Fear of Men are evident enough in the mantra of "Waterfall" - "I'm not alone in this." A perfect pick me up following Benji. Don't get me wrong, the shadows are still there. They're just easier to take on in the light of day.
So far my favorite coffee shop is The Grind - located in Lincoln Square (where I'm staying) it brews Counter Culture Coffee as well as Intelligentsia. Plus they've got bendy straws, which earns high marks in my book. With top notch pastries, baristas that you feel like you could be friends with, free WiFi, and cozy seating it's stolen my caffeine addled heart.
One listen and I'm flush with dreams of the South. Pair this listen with a walk down the shore of Lake Michigan - let your thoughts breath. You're not the only one wrestling the gap between past and present. (Insert metaphor about the snarl of the current beneath the waves mirroring your inner struggle.)
There are a lot of places you can access Lake Michigan. This photo's from a spot just north of Navy Pier. I'm partial to it because it allows you to get to the beach - so you can dip your toes in if you've been walking all day. But it also has big, concrete stadium seating that's ideal for lounging and watching the water.
Homespun textures drawn out with new-fangled contraptions awash in a haze of guitar - these are the key ingredients for a Chad VanGaalen album (there's also a healthy dose of pedal steel this time). His odd lyricism and knack for sonic experimentation make for a weird, beautiful listen. Whenever I listen to one of his records I feel like I'm going on an adventure.
I should preface this by saying that I spent at least three hours in the Art Institute of Chicago (and could easily go back for more). Shrink Dust would be an excellent listen while wandering the galleries - especially the modern wing. Even better? Watch the clouds change shape from the rooftop, sculpture garden.
I love this record so much I want to start a fan club for it. Playing favorites within my favorites. Seething, chaotic, and fuzzed out - it catches you on your heels. If you're not paying attention you'll miss the emotional wallop packed in the lyrics, not unlike a kick in the teeth. The beauty (yeah I said it) lies in the flux between feorcity and slow burn. Weirdly triumphant in its bleak nature, this will prompt a late, whisky soaked night ("Come & See" = case closed). Now we're back at the beginning. See? Time really is a flat circle.
Chicago has excellent brewery options for kicking off your night. I'm partial to Half Acre, but that's just me. Their signature brew is the Daisy Cutter Pale Ale - which is "chock-full of dank, aromatic hops" if that gives you an idea. I stopped by their tap room, which is within walking distance, and tasted a bunch of different beers. Ended up snagging a howler (half growler) of Golden Tuna - an American Pale Ale with notes of citrus and a touch of pine.