As 2011 draws to a close, we asked some of Chicago's experts in style, music and art to share their favorite places, people and things of the year. After compiling an awesome list in 2010, Pete Zimmerman is back this year with his list of Chicago's best albums, bands and songs of 2011. As a CHIRP Radio DJ and producer for Chicago radio legend Steve Dahl, Pete knows his stuff -- and if you want him to introduce you to even more great music, tune in to CHIRP Radio Wednesdays at 3 p.m.
It was such a great year for Chicago music that I had difficulty limiting this list to under 50. I can’t wait to hear what 2012 will bring.
1. JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound - Want More (Bloodshot)
This is the record that I listened to the most this year. Exceptional soul music delivered by a tight band with a dynamic frontman. Keeping up the legacy of the great Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett, Mr. Brooks gets bonus points for appearing in the local production of Passing Strange and covering Wilco's "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart." And it's on Bloodshot. Awesome.
LISTEN: "Everything Will Be Fine"
2. Mannequin Men - Mannequin Men (Addenda)
Mannequin Men have been around for a while, but this record was an eye opener. This is terrific garage rock with swagger featuring a propelling rhythm section that fuels the intensity. These songs would not sound out of place on an early 70's Rolling Stones record.
12 burners that are loud and sloppy and catchy as hell. Long live Rock-n-Roll!
LISTEN: "Skull Hair"
4. Implodes Black Earth (Kranky)
Combining elements of shoegaze and drone to create atmospheric pop songs that end up being quite beautiful. Fans of The Jesus and Mary Chain or My Bloody Valentine should go out and get this record immediately.
5. Netherfriends - Middle America (Plustapes)
The theme of this album from Shawn Rosenblatt's Netherfriends project is about traveling through, well, Middle America. This is lovely psychedelic pop with great arrangements and warm melodies. Also, check out Netherfriends Does Nilsson for an interesting interpretation of a Harry Nilsson classic.
LISTEN: "Bloomington, IN"
6. Village - Local Moves (Self-Released)
An awesome power pop record in the vein of Cheap Trick or Big Star with jangly guitar and hooks galore. This record is immediately accessible so roll down the windows and crank it up. You might want to wait until March for that window thing though.
LISTEN: "the Days are Gifts"
7. Disappears -Guider (Kranky)
Disappears were on the list last year and with a new album out in March, their first recording with Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, look for them to be on the list again in 2012.
LISTEN: "New Fast"
8. Roommate - Guilty Rainbow (Antephonic)
A wonderfully atmospheric art pop record that will reward you on repeated listens. Grandaddy and Sparklehorse are the obvious comparisons, but there is something deeper here. The songwriting is top notch and the album closes with one of the best covers of a Guided By Voices song you are likely to hear.
LISTEN: "Flicker Flame"
9. Wilco - The Whole Love (dBpm) Smoking Popes - This Is Only A Test (Asian Man) 11th Dream Day - Riot Now! (Thrill Jockey) The Mekons - Ancient and Modern (Bloodshot) Chris Connelly - Artificial Madness (Relapse) Serengeti - Family & Friends (Anticon)
What year is this? 1988? 1991? 1995? 1999? 2004? Nope, it’s 2011 and all of these local legends delivered some of the best music of their careers.
10. The Chicago Mixtape Series
A great way to keep up on all of the great local music coming out of Chicago is to sign up for the Chicago Mixtape. Amazing local music delivered to your inbox every single week? For free? Yes, please.
THE NEXT 20
11. The Eternals- Approaching the Energy Field (Addenda) 12. Otter Petter- Nice Night for a Knife Fight (Self-Released) 13. Smith Westerns- Dye it Blonde (Fat Possum) 14. Cave- Neverendless (Drag City) 15. The Dogs- Camping (Self-Released) 16. Santah- White Noise Bed (No Sleep) 17. White Mystery- Blood & Venom (Self-Released) 18. Panoramic & True- Panoramic & True (Raymond Roussel) 19. Bloodiest - Descent (Relapse) 20. Pet Lions- Houses (Self-Released) 21. The Hood Internet- The Hood Internet (Mishka) 22. The Cool Kids- When Fish Ride Bicycles (Green Label Sound) 23. Pulseprogramming- Charade is Gold (Audraglint) 24. A Lull- Confetti (Mush) 25. Paleo- Fruit of the Spirit (Partisan) 26. Mutts- Pray for Rain (8eat8) 27. Thomas Comerford- Archive + Spiral (Spacesuit) 28. Yawn - Open Season (Feel Good/Englophile) 29. Loyal Divide- Bodice Ripper (Self-Released) 30. The Singleman Affair- Silhouettes at Dawn (Cardboard Sangria)
TOP 5 EPS 1. Architecture - When We Were Young (Mirror) 2. Tiny Fireflies - Change (Little Treasure) 3. Cains and Abels - The Price is Right (Self-Released) 4. yourfeetstoobig - Hunter/Gather (Self-Released) 5. Yourself and the Air - Who's in the Zoo (Lujo)
REISSUE Eccentric Soul- The Nickel & Penny Labels (Numero Group)
Check out some of the year's best songs here: