Monday, December 27, 2010

Ten great Chicago music releases of 2010

Posted by Frank

Village, a band I dug in 2010 (photo: Amelia Moore)
At the end of every year I come to the same conclusion: I suck at making year-end lists. I hear so much music I like within the course of 365 days that it's incredibly hard to narrow it down. Plus, it's impossible to take in everything put out during the course of a year, so who can say what's really the best? But because I love spreading the word about music that makes me happy, I wanted to write a few words about some of the releases from Chicago artists that I've played and enjoyed the most this year. I won't declare that these are the "best of" anything, but below, in no particular order, are ten of my personal favorites from 2010. I'd love to hear your thoughts and your own picks in the comments.

Village - Minimal Animal
Chicago singer, songwriter and guitarist Stephen Ucherek started Village last year after disbanding his previous group, The Living Blue. I was a big fan of that band, but based on Minimal Animal, I'm an even bigger fan of Village. You could use a bunch of different words to describe this record - from psychedelic to power pop to garage rock - but I'd say it's best described as simply some damn fine rock and roll. Take a listen to stellar tracks like "Trash Palace" and "So Long" to hear for yourself, and watch for a brand new record in early 2011. 

Check this out: Indiesomnia podcast - interview and live session with Village

King Sparrow - self-titled LP
I've been doing my best to spread the word about power-trio King Sparrow ever since I first heard their debut EP and saw one of their seriously rocking live gigs, and this year's debut LP has made me even more determined to champion the band. In fact, it's probably the record that I've played most this year (which is saying a lot since it didn't come out until October). The songs are tight, compact and hard-hitting, but also have a keen sense of melody that quickly pulls you in and keeps you coming back for more. 

Check this out: In the recording studio with King Sparrow 

Tiny Magnets - Daughters of the Frontier
This introductory EP took me by surprise. It's reminiscent of old school alternative rock, which is a very good thing. To me, it sounds like Chicago. It's unassuming, unpolished and tough in spirit, but not without beauty and a bit of a nostalgic vibe. Not to mention some very cool guy-girl vocals. I fell in love with no less than three of the tracks ("Olivia," "Gary's Song," "CTA") after a single listen, and the rest of the tracks followed soon after. I really hope we hear more from Tiny Magnets soon. 

Check this out: Daughters of the Frontier EP review (with mp3)

The 1900s - Return of the Century
I've been a long-time fan of The 1900s' folk pop, but the band's sophomore LP takes it to a new level. This record sounds extremely lush, from the smooth vocals of the band's three singers to the instrumentation to the production. It also finds the band streamlining their sound and playing up the pop elements, resulting in concise, meticulously-crafted songs that don't take long to leave an impact.

Check this out: Return of the Century record review

My My My - Leather Silk
I can't think of another band that sounds like My My My and that's why I love them. As heard on their latest LP, Leather Silk, their style is both catchy and unconventional. There are plenty of pop elements present to lure you in, but also some serious quirkiness and unpredictable song structures that give the band their unique style and prevent the songs from ever becoming pedestrian. Also worth hearing is their excellent single-only tune, "War Party."

Check this out: Leather Silk record review (with mp3)

White Mystery - self-titled LP
When seen live, red-headed brother-sister duo White Mystery are a noisy whirlwind of garage rock. Their debut album captures the raw energy of one of their gigs while also incorporating just enough melody to get you hooked. Matter-of-fact lyrics and Alex White's soulful howl help the two stand out just as much as their hair does. It's impossible to ignore White Mystery and this album is good proof why. 

Check this out: Review of a recent White Mystery gig

Mavis Staples - You Are Not Alone
I'd have never suspected an album from a gospel singer to become one of my favorites of the year, but here it is. I became an instant fan of Mavis when I saw her set at Lollapalooza and really enjoyed her subsequent Jeff Tweedy-produced release, You Are Not Alone. The woman is an amazing singer and tackles a mix of soul, rock, blues and gospel on the album with ease.

Check this out: Review of Mavis Staples at Lollapalooza 2010

Manwomanchild - self-titled LP
This one was a late addition to my 2010 favorites. It didn't come out until mid-December, and I just wrote a review of it last week. Even though I haven't had the chance to play it quite as much as some of the other releases on this list, I'm confident it's an album I'll be coming back to again and again. The sound is glam rock meets new wave and the songwriting is top-notch throughout.

Check this out: Interview with Manwomanchild's David Child (with mp3)

Gold Motel  - Summer House
Sometimes you just need some sweet, poppy tunes, and I can't think of any Chicago band that does sweet, poppy tunes as well as Gold Motel. I had their debut LP, Summer House, on heavy rotation this summer, then again this winter when I wanted to pretend it was summer again. 

Check this out: Interview with Gold Motel's Greta Morgan

Warm Ones - Sprezzatura
Warm Ones and their debut LP Sprezzatura cover a range of rock styles, but for the most part focus on slightly gritty, Chicago-style power pop. What really sets Warm Ones apart on their debut is the quality of the songwriting. This stuff is hook-heaven. They sound great when they rock ("Bacteriostatic") and their poppier tunes ("Love for a Week," "Small Spies," "Quiet Epilogue") are as addictive as they come.

Check this out: Interview with Warm Ones frontman Tony Sackett (with mp3)

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