Chicago Tribune's Greg Kot, weighs in on his Chicago 10: Top local indie releases of '07
At the end of each year, this column enumerates 10 reasons why Chicago's independent music scene is second to none. Several of these artists will be playing in the next few weeks (consult individual entries for details). Here are the Chicago 10 for 2007:
1.The 1900s, “Cold & Kind” (Parasol): With its sumptuous arrangements, outfitted with horns and strings, and soaring harmony vocals, the debut album by this Chicago septet is even better than its fine 2006 EP, “Plume Delivery.” The arrangements aim for rapture, even as the lyrics wrestle with the big questions. “Acultiplantar Dude” is the song I can’t get enough of: It builds to an exultant rush, even as the lyrics break your heart (with Office and Narrator, Friday at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., $10; 773-549-4140).
2. Cool Kids and Kid Sister on myspace.com: Even though these two hip-hop upstarts aren’t scheduled to release debut albums until next year, they’ve already made a huge splash with a series of terrific songs on their respective myspace pages. Cool Kids’ proudly retro “88” rocked the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, and led to a scintillating performance at the Pitchfork Festival last summer (myspace.com/gocoolkids). Kid Sister’s sassy “Pro Nails” got so much buzz that Kanye West included it on his summer mix tape, and then contributed a verse to the video.
3. Miss Alex White and the Red Orchestra, “Space & Time” (In the Red Records): Barely in her twenties, White is already a longtime fixture on the underground circuit with her phenomenal frizzed-out red hair and high-energy garage-rock. If there’s a gripe, it’s that “Space & Time” sounds like it was recorded through cardboard tubing in an aircraft hanger. No matter. The performances vibrate: White sings like she’s demanding to be released from prison, and the choruses pound down the mountainside like two-ton boulders.
4. Effigies, “Reside” (Criminal I.Q. Records): After 21 years, the first great Chicago punk band returns with an album every bit as good as the music it released during its early ‘80s heyday. If anything, there’s even more bite in John Kezdy’s lyrics as he faces up to middle age, while the guitar-bass-drums interplay remains as combustible as ever. Who says there are no great second acts in rock?
5. Powerhouse Sound, “Oslo/Chicago: Breaks” (Atavistic): Ken Vandermark is among the busiest musicians in Chicago, no small feat for a city that upholds a roll-up-the-sleeves work ethic. “Oslo/Chicago” is one of about a dozen 2007 releases that feature his work, and it’s notable for presenting the recording debut of Vandermark’s bicontinental band, which blends reggae, punk and fusion-era funk-jazz with delirious results. The inspired work of guitarist Jeff Parker on the Chicago disc is alone worth the investment (Vandermark/Tim Daisy duo Wednesday at the Hideout, 1354 W. Waubansia, 773-227-4433).
6. Frisbie, “New Debut” (Appendix): After nearly fracturing under the weight of health issues that eventually forced their longtime drummer to depart the band, the quintet returns with another set of tart pop songs that lives up to the promise of its excellent 2000 debut, “The Subversive Sounds of Love.” Seven years is a long time between albums, but the band’s ability to process their anxiety through soaring harmonies and gilded melodies has only been heightened.
7. Minsk, “The Ritual Fires of Abandonment” (Relapse); Yakuza, “Transmutations” (Prosthetic): Two brands of heaviness, Chicago style. Minsk’s tribal repetition and psychedelic swirl hit like a cyclone, and Yakuza’s blend of saxophone, world-music texture and drill-press power puts the quartet in the forefront of metal innovators. One of the year’s highlights was seeing Yakuza saxophonist Bruce Lamont jamming with Minsk at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas.
8. Robbie Fulks, “Revenge!” (Yep Roc): Wiseguys don’t come much more astute than Fulks, whose humor sometimes masks his smart songwriting and agile mastery of country, bluegrass and roots rock. This double-CD is split into full-band and acoustic halves, perhaps the best introduction yet to Fulks’ world (Friday at Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Av., $10, 773-276-3600; Dec. 30 at FitzGeralds, 6615 Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn, $12; 708-788-2118).
9. The Sea and Cake, “Everybody” (Thrill Jockey): Over a decade, this quartet has been making sly pop records that draw on African and Brazilian influences. The band’s seventh album is one of its least fussy, with instantly engaging melodies that hum along on the guitar interplay between Sam Prekop and Archer Prewitt.
10. David Singer, “East of the Fault Line” (The Sweet Science Records): The singer’s fourth solo album is a chamber-pop gem, brimming with shapely melodies and sharply turned lyrics (Jan. 25 at Martyrs, 3855 N. Lincoln Av, $10; 773-404-9494).