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Best Of 2014: Some Of Our Favorite Local Music Moments And Releases

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 31, 2014 4:20PM

Chance the Rapper at Lollapalooza, photo by Jessica Mlinaric

As we still work on compiling our favorite albums of the year over all—look for that sometime in the next week and not a second earlier—we thought we'd share some of our staff's favorite local musical moments and releases from the past year. From country to hip-hop to doom metal and everything in between, it looks like our staff found enjoyment in all corners of the musical landscape, showcasing just what a diverse array of sounds our city has to offer. So let's check in and see what concerts and local releases rocked our staff in 2014. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy


Kanye West at AAHH! Fest
Kanye West’s anxiety towards success and his role as an international entertainer (often misplaced as “craziness”) is obvious in almost every project he pursues and appearance he makes. That’s why his (not so) surprise set at AAHH! Fest in September made for such a special night. When was the last time you saw West have that much fun?

Mask-less, Yeezus mountain-less, Kim-less, his scheduled three song appearance quickly turned into a 30-minute performance. Even then he didn’t look ready to leave the stage. An a capella rendition of “Homecoming,” with the bright lights of the Willis Tower shining down on Union Park, brought tears to this writer’s eyes and his closeout collaboration with good friend (and festival founder) Common on “Get ‘Em High” is something we may never see again. — Katie Karpowicz

Miley Cyrus at Allstate Arena, photo by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy
Miley Cyrus at Allstate Arena
Bonkers, bonkers, bonkers. This mega-show allowed Cyrus' songs to accompany an astounding array of visual stimuli that left us breathless. It was one of the more surreal big budget shows I've ever seen, but it also showcased the performer at the center as a force to be reckoned with, and an artist fearlessly indulging herself without resorting to naval gazing. Over the last few months, Cyrus has increasingly shown that when it comes to her performance—both in life and in music—she's going to forge her own path and deviate from the usual trails trod by other pop divas. Cyrus is fearlessly freaky and this concert was an early indication that she is smarter and more creatively adventurous than most suspected at the time. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Failure at Metro
Failure came to an abrupt halt about 17 years ago, but back in May the band returned to Chicago during its first U.S. tour since Ken Andrews, Greg Edwards and Kelli Scott got back together to play the old songs. The Tree of Stars Tour was more of a victory lap, as the band delved into its past catalogue playing two sets that night. The tones these guys achieved through their Fractal systems literally made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and send shivers down your spine. They were huge, and wicked. Add that the band was in fine playing shape and it congealed into a rock’n’roll force that knocked you out. They left the stage smoldering and the crowd begging for more. Failure has been working hard on new material, are threatening a new album and we can’t wait to see them again with fresh tunes. — Casey Moffitt

Chance the Rapper at Lollapalooza
2014 saw Chance the Rapper step up to Lollapalooza headlining status. As he closed out the last night of the mega festival in his hometown alongside a live band, Chance was joined for a few notes by R. Kelly. Chance had commanded the stage just fine on his own, so the appearance felt like more of a favor to Kells. It's exciting to follow the cultivation of local talent, and chances are the best is yet to come from Chancelor Bennett. — Jessica Mlinaric

Patti Smith at Riot Fest, photo by Jessica Mlinaric
Patti Smith at Riot Fest
The poetry in motion that is Patti Smith is a moving experience to witness under any circumstances. It was especially poignant watching Smith perform in Humboldt Park this September where she spent her early childhood. The sun may have been setting on the third day of Riot Fest, but Patti's fist was in the air. — Jessica Mlinaric

OK Go at Lincoln Hall
These Chicago ex-pats took an extended break from touring so this show was a real treat for longtime fans, as well as a chance to hear a bunch of new material from there at-then-unreleased new album Hungry Ghosts. The quartet proved they hadn't lost any of their live skills, delivering a stadium sized show with increasingly inventive visuals in the cozy confines of Lincoln Hall. The result was an epic set of memories and the hope that the band never stays off the road for that long again. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Diarrhea Planet at Music Frozen Dancing: A Winter Block Party at The Empty Bottle
The Empty Bottle shot to start the block party season early this year with this outdoor show, and the elements did their best to make us feel the deep freeze as snow swirled around the outside stage during Diarrhea Planet's set. But the 6-piece guitar juggernaut from Nashville had built up their Chicago fanbase with multiple trips through town on their last tour and the group did their best to melt the frost with the heat of their overdriven amps. The set climaxed with a guitar solo delivered while crowd surfing that made everyone forget they couldn't feel their toes. We didn't care. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Blonde Redhead at Bottom Lounge
Blonde Redhead's newest release, Barragán, is a seamless album and their November show at Bottom Lounge was a solid compliment to this powerful opus. The setlist was a well-curated mix of new material mingled with classics from Misery is a Butterfly and Penny Sparkle. The trio that makes up the band—Kazu Makino and twin brothers, Simone and Amedeo Pace—possess a stage presence that is both softly poetic and infectiously energetic as they go from dreamy melodies like "Melody" to the beat-soaked new single, "Dripping." I have had the immense pleasure of seeing Blonde Redhead perform over the years and the shows have always delivered fully to my senses. Four years after the Penny Sparkle tour, it was truly wondrous to see them not only continue to evolve with this album, but to witness the strong, studied and effortless artistry ever-present in their live performances. — Carrie McGath

A few of Fleetwood Mac's friends came out to see the band last night, photo by Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

Fleetwood Mac at The United Center
C'mon, the classic line-up, intact again for the first time in decades, on the second show of the tour? It could have been a flabby trip down memory lane, but instead it was just absolutely terrific. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy


The Damn Choir
Creatures of Habit

In February, I noted that this was already one of my favorite local releases of the year. Ten months later, it’s still a cherished frequent listen. Creatures is twelve tracks of raw, damaged emotions but never veers into wallowing territory. — Katie Karpowicz

2014_12_brian fresco.jpg
Brian Fresco, image via his Fabebook page
Brian Fresco
SoulMoney EP

This was a release that surprisingly flew under a lot of radars. However, anytime someone did take note praise almost always followed. SoulMoney accomplished three things. It connected two Chicago hip-hop talents with a young Brian Fresco on the mic and the more established MC Tree in the role of producer. Fresco forced us to peel back the layers of the distinctively skilled SaveMoney crew past Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa. And it proved that in 2014 rappers have forgotten what constitutes an EP. At ten tracks, we mentally acknowledged Fresco’s release as a proper album. — Katie Karpowicz

Velcro Lewis Group
Jingle Jangle Morning single

The Velcro Lewis Group was back to its usual tricks in September when it dropped this sweet, sultry tune about waking up to some good lovin’. This groovy track has an odd mixture of funk, soul, blues and psychedelia backed by a steady washboard. They even manage to make a talk box guitar effect sound sexy. This is not Peter Frampton’s talk box working here. It’s so good we can’t wait to hear the remix they’re promising. — Casey Moffitt

Good WillSmith
The Honeymoon Workbook

Goofy name aside, local ambient trio Good WillSmith (yes, as in that Will Smith) make seriously great music for zoning out. While the official debut LP of WillSmith, whose members run local label Hausu Mountain and also make similarly-minded music in L'etenbre and Screaming Claws, may seem slight on account of its odd titles and laid-back ambience, Workbook reveals its musical depth, variety and intricacy of sounds with each subsequent listen. The year's most essential local headphones listen. — Jon Graef

Archie Powell & the Exports, image via their Facebook page

Archie Powell & the Exports
Back In Black

When this album came out in the spring, I described it as, "the sound of a howling vortex sucking naked emotion down its funnel and sharpening it into screaming songs. The first time we listened to the album, we pictured it as being inside someone's head who was in the midst of a blackout. The thoughts race unconstrained and with no vision of what's coming in the future. It's the sound of what happens when you abandon your boundaries without realizing the price you'll pay the next day." Months later this collection has lost none of that visceral punch, even if after repeated listens the indelible hooks have actually warmed the listening experience a bit to reveal the softer heart beating amidst the sonic scrawl. — Jim Kopeny / Tankboy

From All Purity

As thick as quicksand and as venomous as a snake bite, Chicago doom metal quartet Indian's ferocious fifth album, From All Purity, was music to survive a polar vortex to. (It dropped right in the midst of the worst winter ever.) The perfect soundtrack for hating absolutely anything and everything, Purity represented metal's terrifying platonic ideal. Abandon hope all ye who enter— that's the best possible compliment an album like this could receive. At six tracks and forty minutes, not a single moment is wasted. — Jon Graef

Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace, photo by Leslie Lyons

Against Me!
Transgender Dysphoria Blues

The latest from Against Me! is one of the year's best by all accounts, and since Laura Jane Grace recently made Chicago her home we're going to lay claim. Transgender Dysphoria Blues relates a range of human experience with rawness and empathy while delivering genuine kick-ass rock 'n' roll.— Jessica Mlinaric

Violet Mice
White Backless Shoes

Chicagoans might already know Ian McDuffie from their work in the shoegaze band Videotape or their excellent comic series Feels (if you don’t, you should), but here we see them in a whole new—and very glam—role. As Violet Mice, McDuffie exudes a dazzling vulnerability that begins in the rich instrumentals and winds its way through atypical vocal arrangements and lively production. Listen through the three-track teaser, and you will get the sense you are hearing something completely new. Violet Mice’s songs are both cinematic and emotional, generational anthems and quiet tributes. “Things like this that make me laugh myself to sleep/ I think I might have fallen in love with something I could dance to,” McDuffie croons on "Experience Bombs," combining their signature mix of humor and sentiment. All we can do now is wait for the full album.— Carrie Laski

Da Mind of Traxman Vol. 2

2014 was a rough year for Chicago dance music—the dual losses of both DJ Rashad and Frankie Knuckles in the spring can easily attest to that fact. Yet, the show must go on, and on it went in the form of Chicago footwork master Traxman sophomore album, which was released in May. Vol. 2. both expertly expanded the scope of the house-derived sub-genre (the ingenious interpolation of Pantera in "The Edge of Panic" marries dance music and thrash metal, and is one of this writer's favorite tracks of the year) and reduced it to its bare minimum (the insanely catchy "Blow Your Whistle," which is indeed just a percolating, polyrhythmic beat, a chopped-up whistle blow and the song's titular shout.) These two tracks alone would warrant Traxman's place on this list, but the cissy strut of "Nothing Stays The Same," the exuberant sing-along of "I Wanna Be High" and more subdued fare like "Make Love To Me" also do their share in making the case for this record. While genres may lose legends, albums like this and artists like Traxman assure that hip-hop, house and all of its artistic descendants will survive and thrive as truly American post-modern art forms. — Jon Graef

Common, photo by Jessica Mlinaric

Nobody’s Smiling

Twenty years after dropping Resurrection Common teamed back up with old pal and producer No I.D. to release his tenth studio album this summer. They brought the focus back to Chicago with a concept album addressing its issues of violence and everyday struggles. Standouts range from the goosbump-inducing gospel of "Kingdom" to the wistful reflections of time lost with friends on "Rewind That." Chicago's contemporary street rappers are featured throughout the album, but never more so than on its cover. Common opted for multiple versions of the album artwork which portray up-and-coming local talent like Dreezy and King Louie on the cover. An architect of Chicago hip-hop, Common still asserts on Nobody's Smiling, “Lay it down for the world, for Chicago I stand.” — Jessica Mlinaric

Carry On Tradition

It's hard to say what's more fascinating, the making of Carry On Tradition or the resulting product. A Villa's debut perfectly captures classic hip-hop's soul and sound but doesn't rely on nostalgia for critical praise. Released during the tail end of the year, expect this album's hype to carry on well into 2015. — Katie Karpowicz

Bloodshot Records 20th anniversary
2014 was a banner year for Bloodshot Records owners Nan Warshaw and Rob Miller, who received numerous accolades for thriving in a cutthroat, constantly evolving music business for two decades. This year may have been Bloodshot’s best year yet, with Lydia Loveless’ critically-acclaimed Somewhere Else leading a litany of strong releases from the likes of Scott H. Biram, Bobby Bare Jr., Maggie Bjorklund and Mark Winslow-King. Bloodshot capped the year off with the release of While No One Was Looking: Toasting 20 Years of Bloodshot Records, a stellar two-disc set of songs from Bloodshot artists recorded by indie music darlings that’s as strong as anything on the label’s catalog and definitively dispels the notion that Bloodshot is merely an alt-country label. —Chuck Sudo