2013 was an eventful year in Chicago. As we look to 2014, we wanted to take this opportunity to look back on the year that was, including some of the incredible stories that helped make this year, for better or worse, so special. We reached out to some of the city's most respected trendsetters and influencers in music, food and drink and more to share some of their "year's best" picks, in addition to weighing in ourselves. We'll be rolling them out on the daily through New Year's Day.
From various local flavors of rap to experimental electronic dance, Chicago's music scene continued to thrive in 2013. So when a local artist releases mind-melting experimental jazz or explosive garage rock, the Chicago Independent Radio Project is usually the first one on it (in fact, it's probably the first place many listeners will hear it).
Once again, our friends at CHIRP culled the huge output from all corners of the Windy City music scene to present their favorites from 2013. Presented in no particular order, CHIRP Music and Programming team members Patrick Masterson, John Lombardo, Billy Kalb and Shawn Campbell shared their picks for the albums that rocked Chicago this year.
Chance the Rapper / Acid Rap (self-released)
Lil' Wayne rasp, Kendrick Lamar heart – add a touch of reggae patois and you're getting close to rap wunderkind Chance the Rapper, the South Side kid who turned a 10-day high school suspension into the #10Day mixtape and launched a promising hip-hop career that peaked with free mixtape Acid Rap early this summer. Chance balances his neighborhood cred and troublemaking impulses with startling thoughtfulness; frequently introspective, waxing about true love, and seething about the murder rate – in short, everything a "socially conscious" rapper should be.
Panda Riot / Northern Automatic Music (Saint Marie)
Even though My Bloody Valentine stole all the shoegaze headlines in 2013, Panda Riot's second full-length deserved just as much attention for its dedication to the form on Northern Automatic Music. Roaring guitar atmospherics and lush percussion balanced a pop sensibility with hooks you could hum and Rebecca Scott's otherworldly vocals. It was subtle mastery of a timeless sound.
Cave / Threace (Drag City)
Initially we were skeptical that there was any way Cave could one-up the excellent Neverendless, but with Threace, they have produced something still more impressive. The new line-up is even tighter, the songs are even more epic (adding in sax, flute, and congas), and their live show is even more dizzying!
Fake Limbs / The Power of Patrician Upbringing (BLVD)
On album number two, this mighty Chicago quartet continued to refine its talent for pumping out pummeling guitar rock with goofball attitude -- what you might get if Les Savy Fav performed the complete works of the Jesus Lizard for one night only, except that, lucky you, this comes on a slab of vinyl that you can listen to over and over again. Patrician Upbringing is a punch to the jaw that puts a big stupid smile on your face. It's a fun kind of pain.
Matt Ulery's Loom / Wake an Echo (Greenleaf)
Ever-reliable jazz bassist and band leader Matt Ulery followed 2012's expansive, cinematic By a Little Light with a more intimate but no less masterful outing in this year's Wake an Echo. Ulery's take on contemporary jazz draws on classical traditions, Eastern European folk, and film scores, among other influences, resulting in music that not only pushes the genre in exciting new directions but should manage to appeal to the jazz-averse as well.
DJ Rashad / Double Cup (Hyperdub)
Footwork pillar Rashad Harden kept the fire burning in the Teklife camp with the future-forward Double Cup. Collaborations with Spinn and Taso, plus UK producer Addison Groove and up-and-comer DJ Earl, revealed a paranoid and volatile style featuring a strong hip-hop bent. It was the most modern-sounding of the three big footwork LPs this year; it may also be the best.
Bottomless Pit / Shade Perennial (Comedy Minus One)
In a year that saw fine new records from indie stalwarts like Sebadoh and Superchunk, the latest from Bottomless Pit -- featuring former members of Silkworm and Seam -- arrived with relatively little fanfare. That's a shame, because few bands hit the '90s rock sweet spot this year quite like these guys did. Plaintive vocals, chewy guitar work, and expertly crafted hooks make Shade Perennial a deeply satisfying listen.
Circuit des Yeux / Overdue (Ba Da Bing!)
Channeling Nico's deep brooding vocals and pairing them with swarms of sampled strings, Haley Fohr's fourth album is equal parts gripping, sparse, and alien. A powerful, intense listening experience all around.
Tim Kinsella / Tim Kinsella Sings the Songs of Marvin Tate by Leroy Bach Featuring Angel Olsen (Joyful Noise)
Local major leaguers Tim Kinsella, Leroy Bach, and Angel Olsen team up to give new life to Chicago poet & performance artist Marvin Tate’s tales of love, loss, and physical transformation. Jarring, utterly unique, and addictively catchy.
RP Boo / Legacy (Planet Mu)
Kavain Space aka Record Player Boo is one of Chicago footwork's old hands. Originally part of the South Side House-O-Matics dance crew in the early 90s, he soon after took to DJing and helped ghetto house evolve to where it is today. Legacy is Planet Mu's first attempt to compile a decade’s worth of his beats and the style should feel familiar – footwork was built on lots of hi-hats, minimal bass, rhythmic change-ups, 145+ BPMs, and repetitive vocal sampling. From jazz to Justin Timberlake, funk to Phil Collins, the hits are here.
To hear more of the best local and national independent music, tune in to CHIRP Radio's online station at CHIRPradio.org to listen live or learn how to tune in on your mobile device. You can also support the mission of independent radio with a tax-free gift.