With figurative chisels in hand, Chicago-based multi-instrumentalists Steven Hess and Mike Vallera have carved the names of a score of projects into the vast concrete expanse of the city they call home. Hess has battered consciousnesses as the percussionist of avant/post-metal champions Locrian, and crept through the ethereal fringes of the underground in groups like Pan-American, Haptic, and Ural Umbo (to select a few). Vallera explores guitar-based composition under his given name, and exudes dark ambient electronic rhythms as COIN, in addition to lending six-string accompaniment to new school American Primitive luminaries like William Tyler and Ryley Walker. As their catalogs and collaborative networks expand, Hess and Vallera have each traced out a signature sound that runs as the mainline vein through their would-be disparate projects: concentrative darkness, gravity, stone-jawed deliberation coupled with third-eye-opening surreality.

When united as Cleared, Hess and Vallera approach the stripped-down avant-“rock” duo format as a workshop for extended atmospheric performance and finely sculpted tonal details. Drown, their third full-length LP on Chicago’s Immune Recordings, showcases a series of patient trudges built around martial tom thuds, low-end drones, and chiming guitar figures — all conflated into a hypnotic whole with pronounced time-distorting capabilities. On the album’s title track, Hess provides a steady pulse as Vallera’s guitar performance channels the likes of archetypal dream-pop/shoegazers Vini Reilly and Robin Guthrie. His brittle tone, cushioned in washes of chorus, slides through an arpeggiated chord progression flecked with moments of major-key hope and half-step descents into darkness, as Hess’s muffled hi-hat and bass drum bursts ripple through the reverb-heavy haze.

You can pre-order Drown before its May 20 release date, or spring for a three LP shipment of Cleared’s vinyl catalog via Immune Recordings.

• Cleared:
• Immune Recordings:



copeland, best known as Inga Copeland (former member of Hype Williams), is releasing her brilliant, fantastic, amazing, clinquantly effulgent debut solo LP Because I’m Worth It sometime this month. It’s great. Has a Lynchian streetlight, city-as-possibility vibe that’s complemented/offset/juxtaposed by noise, hypnotic beats, and copeland’s detached yet close-to-mic intimacy.

But before that drops, copeland has released a surprise 7-inch with exclusive non-album tracks. “Smitten” is its A-side, a song that’s a bit more vocal forward and overtly chugging than the tracks on the album, but still curiously has that dragging uplift, meaningful drudgery, and exhilarating tedium that copeland somehow evokes in her music.

The 7-inch is available now in extremely limited quantities.

• copeland:


Hypnosis Display [trailer]

Desolation is something that few people can encapsulate well into an image. It is not something that is easily conceivable to people in this modern era, for it speaks of an emptiness that the world spends excessive amounts of time filling. The massive amounts of noise, action, and other variations do a good job of creating an image that is filled with some sense of action, even in the darkest of places. What desolation requires is a certain stillness. Not a complete stillness, mind you. Just a certain amount that could create a still image that etches slowly into your head. The image created would be unending, even if one were to revisit the place in the exact same spot, only with new objects or with people involved.

Some would say that desolation appears best in areas where civilization has abandoned its touch, for whatever particular reason that suits their interest. However, because stillness is the main point for which desolation draws its strength, one could be at the core of civilization and find shreds and fragments of it in the places that people avoid, and sometimes the places that people walk through everyday. Cities become bastions of desolation in the right circumstances. What is pivotal is timing: Society’s movement is in constant flux, and thus can exist a few moments or hours where an area that is constant with the hum of people is suddenly not. In those moments, these places tend to feel like people were never there in the first place. Trying to paint over or brighten an area, as is seen in cities such as San Francisco, tend to only exacerbate the desolation when it becomes apparent.

If one were to fill their thoughts with these moments, it becomes apparent that desolation, rather than being something that exists outside the realm of the normal, is instead a constant within that realm. Desolation exists like a floater just moving around the periphery of one’s iris: To actually take the time to see it requires focus, requires being still and letting it surface. When it does, though, we seek to get rid of it in some way. For emptiness, like the floater on the eyeball, scares us.

• Grouper:



Like a well-lit discoball slowly spiraling in the middle of an empty dance floor, Sketching lingers in the most sentimental and endearing way. It’s all at once a memory you have from your youth, but it’s muddled between dreams, television, and actual reality; forgetting your jacket and coming back while the area is still lit, but empty. Music echos out through a few dark hallways sounding exactly how Sketching is recorded. You follow the sounds to some kid living in the basement of the school, he turned on the discoball lights, and left the door open for a smoke earlier, but forgot to lock up. He takes out a small black box and teaches you something dark that still sometimes inhibits your living.

That’s is the depth Sketching brings in the new self-titled album Sketching. There’s lots of surface area, like a jello mold, yeah? And the further you dive in, the stickier and thicker and darker it gets, and then you realize you’re just dreaming again about some pizza you order in the basement of your high school after-hours, both thinking of the excitement of risk and the depression of being AT school AFTER class. Thus, if it’s raining out, Sketching is super fitting. Or maybe just driving to nowhere at night. That works too.

Listen to Sketching below and expect more to come soon:

• Sketching:



Immerse yourself:

Benjamin Wynn is a “high-profile ambient artist,” which is a title I just created. It means he’s a film composer, and releases his music in 5.1 surround sound instead of on cassette tape. As Deru, Wynn has collaborated on subterranean scores for documentaries and had his own music re-worked by producers like Baths and Virtual Flannel. His new project, , catches me somewhere between being hilariously maudlin and genuinely cool. 1979 is an album presented in the form of a $500 digital projector laser cut out of a single block of walnut that slightly resembles a cross between mid-century Braun and the Scottish Parliament building. Shipping will fo-sho be another $75, and you may want to buy this nice marble pillar to sit the Obverse Box on while you’re at it. Just saying.

Nine short films accompany the music, with contributions by Nigel Godrich and Amon Tobin. Judging from the short film below – in which a child finds a (maybe) illegally downloaded copy of the Obverse Box buried underground – Wynn and his collaborators have worked to create a piece whose identity will stand within the fascinating grey area of “sound art” and “music.” I joke about 1979’s absurd price and therefore its self-imposed sense of status, but for those of us who can’t afford such a sleek machine, the tactile and enveloping nature of Wynn’s project should be admired. Taken, as Wynn puts it, from the definition of nostalgia, a combination of the Greek words nóstos and álgos “homecoming” and “pain,” the album is both a audio/visual time-capsule and a physical piece of art. When the films are inevitably released on YouTube, I expect to see arresting images that pinch a little at the nerve one loses awareness of when they leave adolescence behind forever. Isn’t it interesting when a song you’ve never heard before takes you to a memory you promised yourself you would visit but forget how to get back to? And what do you do when you get there?

Listen to the title track:

• Deru:
• Friends of Friends:


“She’s on a Different Trip”

Through the clout of mind spirals out I I’M EYE MY. Deeply meta-stricken within a harnessed mind’s eye, “She’s on a Different Trip” is more of a statement about the listener than the pronoun’d protagonist, “She.” As the video imagery suggest, color and perception is of the viewer/listener/observer, so leave her be, and enjoy the ride yourself. Personally, it’s all about the mushroom spirals, pyramid-light temples, magna stars, tree veined growth, and disintegration of shape. However, the images of actual reality in the video for “She’s on a Different Trip” are from the movie Where The Sun Has a Mustache.

Not Not Fun can’t stop killin’ it, you know? They’ll be slaying that modern kraut scene until it’s ready to trip again. And I I’M EYE MY brings exactly that on their new tape release entitled 7 Transmissions, which is out NOW, and melting more than just faces. But at this point, that’s expected within the Not Not Fun dynasty. In the shipping-time, you can conjure up your own ideas of these ever-forming vexed-out shapes in their video for “She’s on a Different Trip,” or hit up Decoder for I I’M EYE MY’s single “Streetcat Bonfire.”

Snoop Not Not Fun immediately for the new I I’M EYE MY cassette 7 Transmissions and enjoy the ride below:

• Not Not Fun:


CHOCOLATE GRINDER is our audio/visual section, with an emphasis on the lesser heard and lesser known. We aim to dig deep, but we'll post any song or video we find interesting, big or small.