Updated: Nov 9
This post is written by Justin "J Co." Corp - engineer at Second Street LLC. Justin has worked at several recording studios in Chicago and has a Bachelor's Degree in Commercial Music from Millikin University.
Playing music brings such indescribable joy and fulfillment. I'm not necessarily talking about pressing play on your phone/computer/cassette player - which is plenty fulfilling too - but the act of grabbing an instrument and creating something out loud. It's something that skilled musicians often take for granted. I went to school for studio production and recording, and it's become easy for me to sometimes think of instruments in a very utilitarian way. But in actuality, playing an instrument does much more than fill space on a record. Music is a way of painting time and space in a universal, yet very personal way. For all of the musicians reading this: don't forget to spend quality time with your instrument. For the music lovers that don't have proficiency in any instruments or musical tools: don't be afraid to play at your own pace.
There are two reasons that I picked this topic today. (1) I'm back to playing at a volume (hah) that I haven't done in years, and it feels so liberating and creatively satisfying. (2) It's easy to notice an artist that uses music as an expressive outlet and a means of communication instead of a technical talent. The new record North to the Future by Rust Ring showcases a competitive level of playing, but the true delight of the album is the intimacy at the center of it all. After all - emo does stand for emotional. As a listener, I felt I was able to visualize the songwriting process on my first listen of the project. With graceful guitar licks, poetic lyrics, and a sincere delivery from start to finish, North to the Future is an album that carries the audience into the very heart of the band by embracing the freedom of their instruments.
If we've learned anything over the course of the "On The Block" series, it's that there's no shortage of brilliant new bands on the Chicago scene. Rust Ring is an exception to this - not because they're anything short of brilliant - but because they've been rocking the Chicago circuit for over 7 years now in different forms. From "cassingles" (cassette singles) to their first streaming releases, and now their second full-length project, there have been two pioneers that have been with the emo/math/punk band all along. Joram Zbichorski is a true multi-instrumentalist, playing bass with Direct Hit, keys with local ska band Devon Kay and The Solutions, and vocals just about everywhere. The other half of the duo is the dynamic William Covert, drummer for Rust Ring since its 2016 conception. The link between these two musicians is clear in the songwriting, music videos, promotional material, and any other creative aspect of the group.
With special help from bandmate Ian Terry (bass, vocals, and sometimes trumpet), as well as Jaclyn Nora (guitar and vocals), Rust Ring reached its current roster while emerging from their COVID-era-absence. In the productive month of June 2022, Rust Ring had reinvented itself with a new lineup, new setlist, new gigs, a new image, and a new album. North to the Future had a gradual rollout, with the first release being dropped soon thereafter in July 2022.
What Does It Sound Like?
Rust Ring leaves behind the digital instruments, electric keyboards, and glitter of modern rock in their sophomore release. Instead, we're brought back to the great punk records of the past two decades with power chords and massively layered vocals. Frontwoman Joram Zbichorski is able to pull off the wailing vocals and hype that's required of pop-punk with seemingly effortless execution. Her voice sounds present and emotive through any set of speakers or headphones, without sounding overproduced like a pop record.
The very first track on the album is "Outline Alaska," a song that sets the overall tone for the record. Everything is panned to the max, leaving a huge center stage for the vocals where they matter most. The math-rock roots of Rust Ring coexist with the iconic punk-rock textures nicely throughout the album. There's a gentle obsession with time changes, free rhythm, and transcendent guitar licks which is especially present in "Incognito" and "Tiny Frame," two tracks that were originally released as singles leading up to the album release this February.
"Three Sunrises" forgoes a majority of what I've noted so far due to its huge synth presence. A simple arpeggio chugs along and other classic synth pads soar alongside the four-piece band. As the album enters a slower, more vulnerable series of songs, my focus is drawn to the cleanliness beneath the foundational grit of this album. The pristine guitars, singular vocals, and rich lyricism serve as a reminder that "punk" is more than just protest - it's a vehicle for silenced voices to proclaim anything and everything they please.
What Does It Feel Like?
At first glance, this album seems like it should cruise through like a classic punk album - short, coarse, rebellious songs until the very end. And "Guilty" does fit that bill exactly. There are influences of ska, math, and garage rock that give this two minute song great density. And yes, it finishes with a huge half-time chorus that absolutely knocks it out of the park. However, North to the Future is host to a deeper beauty that resides within the project. The lead guitar licks are brilliant and effervescent. The tenderness of songs like "CRT" and "Drupe" carry incredible emotional weight. In fact, lead singer Joram had intended for this album to be a concept album about the beauty of metamorphosis and transition, and a highly optimistic message pointing to the future.
North to the Future gifts us with a surplus of exciting singles and some very different views of the punk genre. And as a whole, the album creates a mosaic that functions as one unit from beginning to end. This is all thanks to the lyricism, groove, and punch that the band provides. As the album comes to a close, moments of tension melt into release, and right back to the tension again. All of this movement helps to give the final track a dramatic finish without losing the character of the album. The final notes leave everything unresolved - but not at all in a disappointing way. It's a rewarding moment that holds ties to the past while keeping an upward trajectory.
There were several years between the first full-length album and this sophomore release, but this band is all wound up and ready to go. Rust Ring has been featured several times in recent sessions on the Live From The Rock Room series. The next time that you can catch Rust Ring is just two days away at Beat Kitchen on Belmont. Plus, the merch is really sick. They're constantly booking shows and putting out music videos, so be sure to follow them on Instagram with the link below. Now - go listen!
On The Block...
"Do You Remember How We Used To Run?" - Superdime
The debut E.P. by this nostalgic, eccentric group captures the sensation of a house party in the scope of a four-track release. Superdime may have only just come together last year, but the smooth guitar phrasing, raw vocals, and captivating presence of this group will likely keep them in our spotlight for a long time coming.
"LUCIDITY" - Western Bisexual
DISTORTION! This caps-lock-loving band brings a level of grit to trance music, and their highly productive year is only just beginning. If you really dig this new project, check out "WESTERN BI-FESTIVAL" - a student filmmaker event full of short music videos for every WB release this year.
"I Know Who You Are" - emi be like
emi be like delivers an anthemic, bittersweet release that embraces her signature e-punk style. Shimmery synths and vocoded vocals are always expected, but the "wall of guitar" sound is what brings this tune an immense amount of energy. Her June EP "No One Said It'd Be Easy" is on the way soon -- catch her at Golden Dagger tomorrow!