Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The year in music: best Chicago albums

Posted By on 12.27.11 at 11:10 AM

NUM036CD.jpg
Lately the beginning of year-end-list season has crept Christmas-like into the weeks well before the actual end of the year, but the Reader hasn't succumbed to the trend—our issue looking back at 2011 is coming out as close as we can get it to the very end of the year, which means this Thursday. Our music staff and a few friends will run down some of their favorite releases of 2011, but until then, I'll be getting into the list-making mania that tears through the music-geek community every December all this week on the Bleader.

First up, after the jump, my favorite local releases of 2011.

The top five, in alphabetical order:

Bloodiest
Descent
(Relapse)

Whether or not Bloodiest is a metal band is a matter of debate—the band themselves say they aren't—but whatever you want to call their music, Descent comes through on metal's promise of overwhelming, world-altering heaviness. It's not an oppressive heaviness, though. In fact, Bloodiest's sprawling, richly textural compositions are not only among the most brutal things I heard all year but also the most beautiful.

Disappears
Guider
(Kranky)

These Kraut-garage hybridists' 2010 debut, Lux, was a model of musical efficiency. In my profile on the group, guitarist Jonathan Van Herik told me, "Every month it dawns on me that I could be playing even less," and judging by Guider the rest of his band shares the sentiment. Disappears give the lie to the old adage about how all a rock band needs is three chords and the truth—actually you can do just fine with two.

DJ Diamond
Flight Muzik
(Planet Mu)

Footwork music has always valued functionality over artistry, but as it makes its way from accompanying dance battles to entertaining an audience that doesn't even know how to footwork (and probably has no intention of doing so) it was bound to get a little artsy at some point. Flight Muzik has all of the form's requisites—hyperspeed tempos, hypnotically looped samples—but handles them with a consideration and sonic adventurousness that's several steps past bedroom producers who spend five minutes at a time knocking out Fruity Loops beats.

Various artists
Cult Cargo: Salsa Boricua de Chicago
(Numero Group)

Histories of Chicago music largely overlook the city's salsa scene (maybe it's too niche, too far out from mainstream pop), so it was heartening to see the mad archivists at the Numero Group do a little bit to correct that. It was enlightening too: The salsa scene in 1970s Humboldt Park had an idiosyncratic personality that set it apart from contemporary musical communities in New York City and Puerto Rico. The groups collected here explore intriguing Afro-jazz spaces without ignoring their audience's need to have their asses shook.

Mickey
Rock 'n' Roll Dreamer
(HoZac)

It seems that the hope shared by a number of people in the local garage rock scene—namely that Rock 'n' Roll Dreamer would catapult local scuzz-glam band Mickey into rock superstardom—have been dashed. As of this writing they aren't causing any teenage riots in London or booking shows at the Budokan. I'm not sure where to place the blame, but it definitely doesn't go to the album, which sounds every bit like something you'd hear blasted over an arena-size PA.

Honorable mentions:

Eternals: Approaching the Energy Field

Smith Westerns: Dye It Blonde

Gypsyblood: Cold in the Guestway

Indian: Guiltless

Void Pedal: Omni Color

Tiger Bones: Go Over Here

Dawn Golden & Rosy Cross: Blow

Cool Kids: When Fish Ride Bicycles

Zavala: Dark Time Sunshine

Welkin Dusk: Born Into a Dying World

Flosstradamus: Jubilation EP

Golden Birthday: Illusions

Fotosputnik: Ideolects

Weekend Nachos: Worthless

Nikki Lynette: Roses N' Guns 2

King Louie: #MANUPBANDUP

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