Jonn Wallen of Oui Ennui made a torrent of genre-hopping albums while battling long COVID

In the past year or so, whenever a friend has asked me to recommend music, I’ve pointed them at Chicago multi-instrumentalist Jonn Wallen, who creates omnidirectional experimental electronic albums under the name Oui Ennui. A self-described hermit, he’d already spent decades making music largely in private and for his own satisfaction when COVID-19 hit. After Wallen contracted the virus in April 2020, though, he completely shifted his approach. As he told Reader editor Jamie Ludwig last year, he decided to release an album per month straight to Bandcamp, often on Bandcamp Fridays (monthly promotions when the site passes along its usual portion of sales revenue to artists and labels). It hasn’t been easy for Wallen. “I had long-haul COVID, and there were several times throughout my process of releasing an album every month where I thought that I wasn’t going to make it for the next one,” he told Ludwig. “I felt like shit for 13 or 14 months in a row.” 

Despite the physical and psychological challenges of long COVID, Wallen has kept the spigot open on this firehose of music. The cinematic and ambient Abyss, You Are My Mother, which came out on May 6, is his 31st release in the past two years. (All his albums come with detailed, almost diaristic liner notes, in case you’re looking for even more material from him.) Wallen pulls off daring stylistic leaps from album to album, so that his ever-expanding catalog is basically a one-man boutique record shop—there’s not exactly something for everyone, but if you like music that’s designed to envelop you, you’ll find plenty. I’d recommend beginning with L’esprit de L’escalier, a February 2021 collection of liquid house tracks tinged with psychedelia; the September; the September 2021 archival drop Reverse!, whose freewheeling, sun-bleached soul Wallen recorded with vocalist Clarence Spencer in 2006 under the name Cotton & Hate; and October 2020’s Message From the Daoui, a celestial jazz-rap collaboration with clarinetist, keyboardist, and vocalist Angel Bat Dawid. Wallen has the unusual ability to simultaneously overwhelm me with the volume of his output and soothe me with whichever one of those albums I’m listening to at the moment—which is lucky, because they just keep coming.

Oui Ennui Part of day one of Do Division, which runs Fri 6/3 through Sun 6/5. On the East Stage, Nnamdï headlines; Cadence Weapon and Oui Ennui open. On the West Stage, Oso Oso headlines; Carriers and Kate Stephenson open. Fri 6/3, 5:45 PM (gates at 5 PM), Do Division Street Fest, Division between Damen and Leavitt, $10 donation, all ages

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