By Frank Krolicki
Damn. At this point the last thing the world needs is another year-end list, but here goes. I tried to resist adding to the mountain of existing roundups, but after seeing so many people write about their favorite releases of 2011 I started to think more about mine and what I might say about them in a sentence or two. In keeping with the spirit of this site all of my picks are releases from Chicago-based artists, some who I previously highlighted as favorites in years past and others who I heard for the first time in 2011. I'm not going to say they're the "best" because of course it's all subjective--I'm sure even my fellow WCR writers would have very different lists--but below are 15 releases that I enjoyed the most, in no particular order.
Company of Thieves--Running From a Gamble: For their second LP, COT managed a bolder, sharper, more memorable set of tunes to create the opposite of a sophomore slump. The crazy-good vocals of frontwoman Genevieve Schatz move effortlessly from sultry to snarling, and so does the guitar.
Pet Lions--Houses: Introducing themselves with straightforward guitar pop on 2009's Soft Right EP, Pet Lions expanded on that foundation with greater depth and more atmosphere on their debut full-length.
The Kickback--Mea Culpa Mea Culpa EP: Four solid tracks of muscular, hooky alt-rock that make me really curious what these guys will come up with on their first full-length, currently in progress. Plus, "Sting's Teacher Years" is quite possibly my favorite song title of the year.
Gypsyblood--Cold in the Guestway: Speaking of alt-rock, there's plenty more high quality, guitar-driven specimens on Gypsyblood's debut, which goes the extra mile by throwing in the occasional curveball like the strangely twangy "Dirty Thieves."
Architecture--When We Were Young EP: Dream pop that’s equal parts sweet and eerie. Sort of like music for a haunted dollhouse, which I can't say about anything else I heard this year.
Smith Westerns--Dye It Blonde: I still can't figure out why Smith Westerns are one of the only current Chicago bands people are willing to give buzz outside our city, but that doesn't take away the fact that this record's exuberant glam pop is worthy of praise.
Village--Local Moves: A great big guitar record loaded with power pop hooks, psychedelic undertones and pure rock 'n' roll energy.
My My My--Wishing You Whatever’s Best EP: One of Chicago's most consistently fun bands returns with more slightly off-kilter singalongs, this time with a dancier, synthier touch.
Pinto & the Bean--The Waiting Place: Electro-tinged pop/rock with a twist of quirkiness and a sound that comes across as much bigger than the product of a duo.
White Mystery--Blood & Venom: Just like you can count on the sun to rise, you can count on White Mystery for some good-time garage rock. Turn on their second album and let the rock and roll party start (there's even a track called "Party" to make sure you know what to do).
Tiny Magnets--Time to Try: This is a release so low-key that last time I checked you couldn't even buy it online (it's totally worth tracking down a hard copy from the band). Power pop jangle meets folky strum meets panoramic indie rock, all tied together with top-notch songwriting.
The Bright White--Until Then EP: Simply well-crafted rock songs that don't need any gimmicks to catch your ear and stay in your head for days.
Save the Clocktower--Carousel: On STC's second release, there are dreamy electro waves galore to grab onto and ride into blissful places.
Bailiff--Red Balloon: Bailiff is another band whose sound evolved in a great way from EP to LP, stretching their original bluesy vibe to something more varied and captivating.
Blah Blah Blah--Thank You Thank You EP: A strong set of charming, slightly melancholy tunes that reference new wave and Britpop. Think the Smiths, but more wide-eyed than cynical.