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Chicagoist's Best Local Bands To Watch In 2013

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 30, 2013 5:00PM

Asking us to name the best local bands to watch seems nigh impossible, especially since Chicago is currently experiencing a surge in great music being created in our fair city. While some cities tend to see a growth in one musical genre or another at a time, Chicago seems especially fertile all across the board. And while there's not exactly an all-encompassing sense of community between bands in Chicago nowadays, the scene is no longer as aggressively silo-ed as it was in years past. One could argue that one of the best parts of our scene today is the lack of a "scene."

The unifying trait shared by all bands on this list is a dedication to create music that is true to themselves and thus can't help but resonate with even the casual listener. We decided to highlight bands that seem to have the best chance of breaking out of the regional scene to gain larger national attention, meaning the list below is a mixture of bands old and new.

So with that in mind, here's a few Chicago bands to keep an eye on in 2013.

Archie Powell & the Exports photo via their Facebook page

Four years after releasing a psychedelic tropicalia-pop masterwork, Es Tiempo, the Chicago trio Alla are returning with not a pair of new albums, as previously reported, but with three new albums. The best part? The three hours of new material will be absolutely, positively free. The first album, Feed The Dragon Vol. 1, sees release on Feb. 27. The band has been steadily trickling out new material that you can listen to on their Soundcloud page, or sample newer material here and here. - Jon Graef

An amalgam of expert provocateurs and workman from decades of Chicago underground rock and metal music, Anatomy of Habit’s music simply defies categorization. But we tried to describe it recently, saying “this is a group that knows how to hold listener attention … lulling [listeners] into gothic ambiance one minute, and then snapping them out of it with whiplash-inducing fury on loan from metal and hardcore the next…” The band just released a compendium CD of the group’s previously released EP and LP. They’ve just finished up recording album number two, which saw Tortoise’s John McEntire playing the drums. Peruse their Bandcamp to hear for yourself, but give yourself plenty of time. Average song length is about 10 minutes. - Jon Graef

Archie Powell & the Exports have been popping up on local best-of lists with greater frequency and the attention is well deserved. The band writes ultra-catchy workingman's rock that manages to keep its tongue in its cheek while wearing its heart on its sleeve. And when it comes to ebullient, over-the-top energy and live shows that actually turn into rock and/or roll dance parties, there are few bands nationally, much less in Chicago, that can compete. One listen to their last album Great Ideas In Action will surely find you just as addicted to the band as we are. - Tankboy / Jim Kopeny

Chella H photo via her Facebook page
Chella H, the first lady of Chicago rap (‘Chella Obama, they call her) released, then re-released, her 2012 mixtape, The Morning After Pill, the latter version of which featured underground rap establishment like Freddie Gibbs and Chicago’s own King L. Chella H has a knack for huge, simple hooks that dig into their listeners’ skulls and don’t let go until they completely take over every fiber of their being. Last month, Chella H released “Ugg Boots,” an irresistible blast of pop-rap that would’ve crushed the likes of “Hollaback Girl” and “Drop It Like Its Hot” had it been released around the same time. With new videos on the way, now’s the perfect time to check out Chella H before the March 5th release of her mixtape The Realest Bitch In It. Check out some of her more provocative material here. - Jon Graef

Named after a Ride song from Going Blank Again, Chicago metalgaze act Chrome Waves have started writing material for a new album, which will be recorded later in the year. Fans of atmospheric, dark and dense psychedelic rock with metal touchstones should be frothing at the mouth. For those who love soundscapes and blastbeats with equal regard, this offshoot trio featuring present and former members of The Atlas Moth and Nachtmystium, amongst other Chicago metal titans, will be manna from hell. Chrome Waves’ debut EP is sold out, so you’ll have to check out their video for “Light Behind A Shadow” as a representation of the group’s sound. - Jon Graef

I saw one of Dastardly's first gigs in the basement of the Chopin Theatre and was just floored by how tight they sounded. Their blend of alt-country and indie rock, mixed in with wonderful harmonies, humor, and the occasional yodel make them a great band to listen to and see live. - Paul Leddy

Brendan Losch, is another artist I saw at a showcase at the Chopin. Brendan is such a prolific writer and you can hear his love for all musical genres come out in his songs. His new album, Low was one of the best I heard in 2012. He has a real ear for harmonies and song construction. - Paul Leddy

Has there been a more perpetually underrated emcee in the city of Chicago than Mikkey Halsted? We wager not. On the heels of a 2012 that included two stellar mixtapes, Castro and MMM Season (which followed up a terrific 2011 album called The Dark Room), Halsted is set to release another tape, Bulletproof Dreams, soon. Download “Castro,” wherein Halsted describes himself as the “common denominator between Chief Keef and Common” (as good an indicator of where his music is as there ever was) here. - Jon Graef

Soft Speaker have been rather prolific lately, and this year sees them continue that trend with the simultaneous release of both the new International Schieße, Dummkopf! EP and the Turkish Mindbathers LP from the band. The former sees the group zooming along in a more straightforward rock and/or roll approach, while the latter sees them further exploring their psychedelic tendencies and both are great listens. When you couple this with the band's always exciting live show, we think that 2013 might be the year that the band makes inroads to ears and hearts outside Chicago. - Tankboy / Jim Kopeny

Tight Phantomz

Sometimes it can appear that the only people holding Tight Phantomz back from becoming huge are Tight Phantomz. Frontman Mike Lust took his sweet time releasing their latest album Silk Prison, reportendly finished since 2008 but only released last November. The double album--all 36 tracks of which can be downloaded here and here--is a sprawling piece of work that sees the band stretching its musical chops well beyond the punky and rawk freneticism of their live shows. Underneath the beaten up leather jackets draped over the louder numbers there beats a soft rock heart and this tension pulls at itself throughout the entire album. And live, Tight Phantomz is well-placed to inherit the underground arena rock party band title left behind by The Hold Steady a few years ago. This is one longstanding Chicago outfit we'd love to see break big in the coming months. - Tankboy / Jim Kopeny

Wild Belle's Natalie Bergstrom. (Photo credit: Chicagoist/Lizz Kannenberg)

The sibling duo of Elliot and Natalie Bergman, aka Wild Belle, was riding a rising wave of critical acclaim months before they became the breakout act of last year's Hideout Block Party/A.V. Fest. Their music, a a mélange of trip hop, ska, and Afrobeat, is anchored by Elliot Bergman's arrangements and roots in Chicago's local jazz scene. Natalie Bergman is the star of the show, however. Her vocals owe a great debt to reggae and ska in her phrasing, her tone draws parallels to British soul singers like Amy Winehouse and Alice Russell. Her stage presence, at least at the Block Party, was still a work in progress but she showed she was on a fast learning curve. Wild Belle's major label debut, Isles is slated for a March release, which could position the band to break big nationally. - - Chuck Sudo