So much great stuff going on in Chicago this year that it was actually harder for me to make this list than my normal Top Ten. A good sign for the Chicago music scene and for fans around the world.
I don’t have a lot to say before we jump in except a big thank you to all the great artists who have allowed us to be a part of their worlds, both through meeting or talking with us and sharing their great ideas and feelings through music.
10. Unicycle Loves You — Mirror, Mirror (review)
After writing my review, I felt like it may have sounded a bit harsh. The fact is, I dug the album quite a bit. There’s always a lot going on when you listen to Mirror, Mirror. Enough that it requires a second and third listen before you can really say you’ve HEARD it. These guys are partnered up with Girlie Action Media, same as Free Energy out of Philly, so I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more from then in the future.
9. California Wives –– Affair EP (review)
These guys are great. Not just from a musical perspective, either. Talking to them after the Apple Store show, I got a really good feeling from them. When Kari and I ran into Jayson later that night at the Secret Colours show, he stood and talked to us for another 20 minutes or so. Very sweet chap. The music on Affair EP is cool percussion-driven synth pop that gets stuck in your head in the best way. They’ve had some success with “Blood Red Youth” and “Purple,” so I think it’s safe to say that when they put out a full-length, it will be worth the wait.
8. The Autumn Defense — Once Around
What do you do when there’s no Wilco album coming in 2010? Well, you wait for the next release from John Stirrat and Pat Sansone’s side project, The Autumn Defense. Full of ’70s-era AM radio sensibilities and soft, sweet vocals, it’s hard to complain too much that Jeff Tweedy needed a break to work with Mavis Staples. These guys don’t write tunes as deep or as interesting as the stuff they work on in Wilco, but they’re great musicians, and I think they get better every time out.
7. Welcome To Ashley — Beyond the Pale (review)
Coley Kennedy gave a tour de force performance when I caught these guys at The Empty Bottle a few months ago. They played a lot of tunes that were not on this release, which I was perfectly fine with. But the songs on Beyond the Pale seem to be a bit richer both musically and lyrically than their previous work. Specifically the tracks “Thursday” and “What A Day It Was For Dying.”
6. Buddy Guy — Living Proof
The absolute personification of Chicago blues. If you’ve never listened to Buddy Guy, I don’t even want to look at you. The man has influenced bands like The Rolling Stones and Cream, as well as played with some of the true legends of the genre. Hendrix . Yes. BB King. Yes. Howlin’ Wolf. Yes. Muddy Watters. Yes. Hell, the dude has played with EVERYONE and blown them all out of the water. He has a duet with BB on this one that is nearly as good as his albums with Junior Wells, which is saying quite a bit.
5. The Congregation — Not For Sleepin’ EP (review)
Coming out just slightly above the old school jams of Mr. Buddy Guy is the newest addition to the Chicago blues family, The Congregation. I reviewed this record just a couple weeks ago, and I don’t have much to add. If you like the blues, or, more specifically, Rhythm and Blues, give this a shot. Gina Bloom’s voice is as powerful as it is soulful, and the band backing her up is dynamite.
4. Remaindermen — Border States (review)
This record will always have a warm spot in my heart. The first real gig that I got offered to write was a surprise to me in that it was actually really good. Like, really good. My favorite track is still, and forever will be, “Prey on You.” “Tides In” and “Miami St” are also really good tracks. I was impressed mostly with the fact that these guys started out as an instrumental group, and added vocals much later. It seems like it would be very difficult to change the whole process from one to the other, but according to them, it wasn’t. Hard not to take their word for it based on the quality. Really good stuff.
3. Joe Pug — The Messenger
I’ve been a big supporter of Pug for a couple of years. I love his two EPs and always have a good time at his shows. The Messenger is a great example of songwriting skill and honest displays of views and feelings. WXRT regularly plays the closing track, “Speak Plainly, Diana” on their station, so Joe definitely has a good amount of Chicago exposure working for him, but I’m guessing some of you still haven’t checked out this album. Do so and be rewarded.
2. Volcanoes Make Islands — Sick City EP (review)
I’m not entirely sure what it is about this release that makes me love it so much. It’s only four tracks, but each one is better than the next. I really dig the vocal work on the song “Granola,” which closes the EP. The whole thing had a kind of Radiohead-but-not vibe. It’s a bit hard to explain, but I definitely recommend checking Volcanoes Make Islands out whenever you get a chance.
1. Chaperone! — Cripple King EP (review)
I listened to this record innumerable times. Sitting at the computer, riding the train or bus, walking around; it’s great for all forms of travel. It’s also great live, as their show at Subterranean proved. I’ve missed their last two shows here in town due to work, and I really had to consider whether I would rather have a job or go see another Chaperone! show. The job thing won out, but it was close. The album has a slight Appalachian feel, which apparently no one picks up on but me, which is fine, but it’s one of the aspects I love most about it. The song “Thomas!” is easily the most recognizable song to Chicagoans, but my personal favorite is still “Witches and Sailors.” I could listen to it all day long. But they’re all good, which is why this record is at the top of my list. It’s only 13 minutes long, but damn it’s a great 13 minutes!
Now, obviously there was a lot of music I didn’t hear this year. If you think I missed something, feel free to send me a copy. Or, if you have very strong feelings about how terribly misinformed my list is, feel free to flame me in the comments.