It’s been a big year for Chicago music. The city mounted two new music fests, Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment finally dropped their highly anticipated Surf, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago christened its first artists-in-residence musicians. A few great albums from local dynamos may have fallen by the wayside amidst the hype, so we’ve rounded up our favorite ten here.
1. Aviary Act 1, Eryn Allen Kane
Kane has had an impressive year: She kicked off The Social Experiment’s Surf and collaborated with Prince in May, then put out her debut EP in November and appeared in the controversial movie Chi-Raq earlier this month. If her padded resumé isn’t enough to entice you, her powerhouse howl and soul-steeped instrumentals just might.
2. Homme, Homme
Between penning her alt-rock outfit Marrow’s September debut, Macie Stewart teamed up with local musician Sima Cunningham on this beautifully offbeat EP. The duo breathes new life into bouncy indie pop and coffeehouse acoustics with eccentric lines such as, “Let me slowly turn into a piece of your furniture.”
3. Winter’s Diary 3, Tink
Timbaland’s latest protégé added a sixth project to her prolific repertoire in July, showing off the assertive rap-sing style and honey-sweet R&B she’s made her trademark. As in the previous installments of her Winter’s Diary series, the 20-year-old flaunts lyricism that is at once soul-baring and remarkably mature.
4. Primrose Green, Ryley Walker
Conquering the revivalist craze with aplomb, Ryley Walker plies his sophomore LP with elaborate, finger-picked acoustics and freewheeling gusto. His unlikely collaborations with local jazz musicians breeds music more improvisatory than austere, making this recorded set a rarity.
5. Goodbye Tomorrow: A Journey Through the Mind of a Non Believer, Goodbye Tomorrow
The Internet erupted when this enigmatic collective anonymously released “Jay Z” back in February, and again when they dropped their first full-length in August. Their identities are still a well-crafted mystery, but their quick-witted wordplay and pummeling bass are enough to tide you over until the inevitable reveal.
6. Chico, Santah
Santah sounds like Beach House on happy pills, wrestling with self-examination amidst indie pop that’s lush, dreamy, and light. It’s a stunning comeback for the Chicago-via-Urbana fivesome, who haven’t made a full-length since 2011’s White Noise Bed.
7. Broad Shoulders, Taylor Bennett
Taylor Bennett takes cue from older brother Chance the Rapper on his debut album, shifting between happy, spastic rap and slow-poured jazz production. He pays tribute to the city with features from a stack of local artists, including Donnie Trumpet, King Louie, Joey Purp, and Talia Stewart.
8. Ruby, Lili K
After years as Chicago hip-hop’s go-to crooner on tracks such as Chance the Rapper’s “Pusha Man” and Vic Mensa’s “Hollywood,” the 24-year-old vocalist stepped out on her own with April’s effortlessly seductive Ruby. The record sees her return to the slinky, no-frills jazz she cultivated at clubs such as the Velvet Lounge in the South Loop.
9. Brother, Meat Wave
Loud, thrashing drums and jackhammer riffs make Meat Wave’s second LP a high stress quick fix. Brother is actually the first of two records released this year by the locally beloved garage rockers. It’s shorter than September’s Delusion Moon, but packs more of an adrenaline rush.
10. Pets Hounds, Pet Symmetry
From Into It. Over It. and Their / They’re / There’s Evan Weiss, Pet Symmetry is a catch-all reincarnation of the emo, pop, and punk that ruled the early aughts. The trio’s first album is built for rerouting bad days, stuffing cheery hooks, distorted guitar, and a plethora of jokes into a swift 26 minutes—just long enough to pump up your after work commute.
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