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The CHIRP Blog

Stephen Dobek writesStephen Dobek’s Best of 2010

Throughout December CHIRP Radio presents its members' top albums of 2010. The next list is from CHIRP Radio DJ Stephen Dobek. (Click here to get the complete list of CHIRP Radio members' picks.)

  1. Beach House – Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    When it comes down to my favorite album of any given year, it’s all about staying power. Teen Dream was released in the first month of 2010, but its impact was felt by my iTunes long after that. Already the authors of two albums I’m fond of, Teen Dream isn’t a drastic departure from the band’s sound, they are simply good at what they do, and here they are near perfect, especially Victoria Legrand’s voice. It isn’t often that every song on an album warrants five stars, but for me, this is one of those rare instances.

    There were songs that hit me hard in the spring, lifted me up during the summer, have helped me to prepare for the brunt of another Chicago winter, but never any songs that wore out their welcome. Teen Dream is a fully realized vision, an album that will stick with me for years to come, and reason enough to look back at the music of 2010 and smile.
  2. Emeralds – Does It Look Like I’m Here? (Editions Mego)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    When I think of Cleveland I think of bad sports teams and even worse weather, but now, thanks to Emeralds, I think of mind-bending electronic music as well. These prolific Ohioans have released a lot of material in their short existence, and for the most part their songs were sprawling, ambient affairs. With Does It Look Like I’m Here they take a more concise approach. Songs materialize faster, and when they do they burn hotter than anything else the band has released. The payoff on ‘Candy Shoppe’ is something to behold, and is easily my favorite sonic moment of the entire year.

    From beginning to end the album is mesmerizing, synths and guitar twirling together to create a sound that harkens back to the German ‘Kosmische’ movement, but is almost without equal in modern music.
  3. Small Black – New Chain (Jagjaguwar)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Some albums grow on you after repeat listens, while others grab you immediately and don’t let go. For me, New Chain is one of the latter, from the opening bars of ‘Camouflage’ I was hooked. With greater production value Small Black leave the bedroom sound of their earlier work behind. Each song on the album evokes a big, nostalgic response, and while their contemporaries are numerous they never sound like they’re copying anyone, rather they are making the chintzy sounds of the past into their own new dynamic thing. New Chain is an album that keeps its focus on the future by remembering the sounds of parties long gone.
  4. Mogwai – Special Moves (Rock Action)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Live albums aren’t something I’m often excited for, so the fact that Special Moves makes my list is a surprise. Through the years Mogwai have proven themselves to be one of the most fearsome forces in the world of post-rock, even though their recent work may have missed the mark. Thankfully this career-spanning look back hits the pleasure center over and over again. Songs like ‘Hunted By A Freak’ and ‘Mogwai Fear Satan’ are given new life, and likewise, the band sounds re-energized and on top of their game rather than past their prime. Special Moves works so well because it recalls past greatness while also providing a burst of hope for the band’s future.
  5. Blue Hawaii – Blooming Summer (Arbutus)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Blue Hawaii are part of a robust music scene in Montreal that is producing some very interesting material. Blooming Summer is billed as an EP, but these eight songs feel more like a full statement. While many artists of a similar thread look fondly upon the past Blue Hawaii’s lyrics focus on the heartbreak and lost love of yesteryear. They may share an aesthetic with others, but this brand of electronic pop is also uniquely their own. Blooming Summer showcases a band that is versatile and highly skilled, it leaves me eagerly awaiting a proper full-length release.
  6. Working For A Nuclear Free City – Jojo Burger Tempest (Melodic)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Recapturing the sound of Madchester is not easily done, but WFANFC gave it their all, creating something wonderful that yields countless twists and turns. Jojo Burger Tempest is genre hopping on the highest level; many different influences are brought together but the seemingly natural balance between everything is what makes the album so special. It’s an ambitious undertaking for sure (It’s split between two discs, one containing 17 individual licks, and the second containing a single 33 minute romp), but giving it an honest listen will pay big dividends.
  7. Jónsi – Go (XL)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    When I discovered that Jónsi Birgisson was striking out on his own I became very excited. His vocal prowess as part of Sigur Rós has been nothing short of monumental, so the sky was literally the limit. He did not disappoint. With powerful percussion, intense buildups and of course beautiful vocals now bigger than ever Go soars to amazing heights. Songs like ‘Go Do’ and ‘Animal Arithmetic’ are epic, even by Jónsi standards. This album also makes my list because I saw it played live at The Vic on my birthday and essentially had my face melted off by a complete multimedia sensory overload.
  8. Sam Prekop – Old Punch Card (Thrill Jockey)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Sharing nothing in common with his full time band The Sea and Cake, or any of his previous solo work, Old Punch Card is Sam Prekop’s initial foray into electronic music. If there is any structure to this album it’s hard to find, Prekop essentially tries out different sounds until he finds something he likes and lets that play out. While it may not grab you in an instant, over time the beauty of Prekop’s experimentation bubbles to the surface, revealing something truly unique.
  9. Candy Claws – Hidden Lands (Twosyllable)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    There is dream pop, and then there is the music that Candy Claws create, a sort of narcotic induced coma pop. The pastoral sounds of Hidden Lands were composed primarily on keyboards the band had no idea how to play, and perhaps that is why unexpected moments pop up all over the place. With lyrics that never rise above a whisper and melodies that echo the most sun kissed moments of the Beach Boys, Hidden Lands is strangely hard to place and strangely addicting.
  10. Mimicking Birds – Mimicking Birds (Glacial Pace)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Mimicking Birds’ Nate Lacy is able to achieve a striking level of ambiance while sticking to a fairly sparse set up. With a production assist from Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, he created an album that sounds like it was recorded at a remote point in outer space. Lacy’s guitar work is something to behold, throughout the album he fingerpicks his way into hypnotic riffs, especially on ‘The Loop’, that ad to the atmosphere and the allure of Mimicking Birds.

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year


Bobby Evers writesBobby Evers’ Best of 2010

Throughout December CHIRP Radio presents its members' top albums of 2010. The next list is from CHIRP Radio DJ Bobby Evers.
(Click here to get the complete list of CHIRP Radio members' picks.)

To be honest, my musical interest has become so fractured in my old age that this list needs a disclaimer. This is not a list of what I think is objectively the most interesting or best or groundbreaking or new or innovative releases of 2010.

I don't consume albums the way I used to do or would like to do, so this compilation is pretty cursory. Some I gave a few listens, some I only heard a few songs. This list is a list of releases that I personally liked this year because it sounded good to me. If something didn't make the list it was because for whatever reason I just didn't get into it or didn't get around to hearing it. I'M BUSY!!!

  1. Joanna Newsom – Have One on Me (Drag City)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Aside from the sheer fact of its girth and its packaging (three discs, six songs each, three songs per side, amazing artwork / photography of Ms. Newsom) the album showed a new level of her songwriting lyrically, pushing out of the symbolic and into the intimate. On her two previous albums she would dress up what the songs were really saying in strange fantastical characters (a bear, a taxidermied dove), but on this one she would tell it to you straight: "It does not suffice to merely lie beside each other as those who love each other do."

    While this kind of confessional emo-ness is the norm for other songwriters, for Joanna Newsom it is, in a way, letting her guard down, letting the audience inside to see something truer. And the songs that seemed dense and evasive still also seemed like veiled metaphors for this same relationship and its ultimate demise. This was my favorite album of the year.
  2. Ben Folds & Nick Hornby – Lonely Avenue (Nonesuch)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    I will apparently never outgrow my love of Ben Folds. And this album is kind of a dream come true for me because I love a good amount of the novels of Nick Hornby. So for them to collaborate on songs is just something really special. And the songs are good! They're catchy, they're dirty, they're funny, and they got in my head so much that I had to listen over and over. The litmus test for me for a really good album is when my favorite song changes periodically. For a week it will be track 1, and then graudally track 10, and then track 2. Every track on this album was my favorite during a different three day period.

    Emphasis Track: "Levi Johnston's Blues" in which he tells the story of Mr. Johnston discovering his girlfriend, Bristol Palin is pregnant and that her mother is the Vice Presidential nominee. And he has been informed that they are getting married. I would even argue that this song doesn't make fun of Mr. Johnston more than Levi does himself. It's from the perspective of a kid in an impossible situation, with lyrics straight from Levi Johnston's myspace page: "I'm a fuckin' redneck I live to hang out with my boys, play some hockey and shoot some moose, do some chillin' I guess..."
  3. Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    I just got this like two days ago and have already listened to it something like ten times. I don't think it is AMAZING yet and it is probably a little overhyped already, but I find it to be more interesting and releavant than most things that came out this year. Kanye is a jackass, but what he does well is puts together some pretty epic compositions. (And I am loathe to use the word epic casually).

    What he is doing on this album is the exact thing that writing/music/art is for; taking the most negative aspects of his personality/soul and making it into something really cathartic and positive. I just keep finding that the songs are getting stuck in my head at odd moments while walking to the train or in conversation. And I keep returning to it. It's fast becoming one of those albums that is starting to haunt me. A feeling I just can't take, a record I can't seem to stop listening to.
  4. The National – High Violet (4AD)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    I actually don't have a lot to say about this album that hasn't already been said. I just liked it. The songs were good. It didn't affect me the way their previous album Boxer did but it was still totally great. It's one that the more you hear it creeps up on you; a dark horse contender. Bloodbuzz Ohio, England, Anyone's Ghost.
  5. The Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (Merge)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    This is another case of, I don't have a lot to say about it but I just liked the songs on it better than other album's songs. I see this record as a kind of comeback for Arcade Fire. I was so in love with Funeral that anything that wasn't Funeral wasn't good enough for them in my eyes. So when Neon Bible came out and had a pretty different sound and was doing something different, something I didn't much like, I was really disappointed and was pretty much unable to go back to it and listen to it for its merits. I see this album as kind of a return to form. I also really like the theme of suburbia, of sprawl, of rural areas, etc. It's another one that I feel like I need to listen to it more but haven't gotten around to yet.
  6. The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wild Hunt (Dead Oceans)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    This record has everything I like: a swedish folk singer writing songs in American traditions with a sparse production, acoustic guitar, and a raspy voice. OK, maybe that's a little too specific. But this is one that kept getting in my head constantly all summer and when I found out the dude was Swedish I was all, "What the what??" He sounds like some combination of Bob Dylan and the dude from Deer Tick. Emphasis: The Wild Hunt. WARNING: It will not leave your head if you listen to it more than twice.
  7. Various Artists – Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (ABKCO)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    What can I say? There is something fun / raw / catchy / garagey / adorable about these songs, many of which were pulled from the playlists Bryan Lee O'Malley lists in the back of the original comics this film is based on. Particularly the Plumtree and Metric songs, but also the tracks composed by Beck for the fictional band Sex Bob-omb are very good. Of all the albums released this year, I kept returning to this one. Emphasis track: Beachwood Sparks - "By Your Side."
  8. Sufjan Stevens – All Delight People [EP] (Asthmatic Kitty)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    I liked this short stack of songs better than his strange full lenth The Age of Adz. It is just more my taste, and there's less to digest with a shorter one like this. It's just sweet. Emphasis: Heirloom.
  9. Björk + The Dirty Projectors – Mount Wittenberg Orca (Self-Released)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Yes, this. I liked this better than a lot of other things I heard this year, specifically the song "On and Ever Onward." A genius collaboration.
  10. The Magnetic Fields – Realism (Nonesuch)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Honestly, a large part of my basis for putting this on here is how much I still love anything The Magnetic Fields do because of how good 69 Love Songs was/is. When a new record comes out by them they are still as good as they are on that record and it's like yet another disc to that neverending album has come out for us to enjoy. It's not doing anything new or exciting, it's just The Magnetic Fields doing what they do; sparsely composed songs about heartbreak featuring the tiniest instruments. Emphasis: "You Must Be Out Of Your Mind."

Honorable Mentions

Honorable mention to some tracks that stand out to me. I didn't hear the rest of the album but these songs were so good they made me want to:

1. Alicia Keys, "Empire State of Mind Part II Broken Down" (and, more prominently, by extension 2009's "Empire State of Mind" by Jay Z which I still can't get it out of my head.)
2. Avi Buffalo, "What's In It For?
3. The Black Keyes, "Tighten Up"
4. Deer Tick, "Twenty Miles"
5. Tender Trap, "Do You Want a Boyfriend?"
6. Kathryn Calder, "Follow Me Into the Hills"
7. Admiral Radley, "The Thread"
8. The New Pornographers, "The Crash Years"
9. Band of Horses, "Factory"
10. Robyn, "Don't Fucking Tell Me What To Do"
11. Rita J, "Body Rock"
12. The Herbaliser, "The Blend"
13. Walter Schreifels, "Arthur Lee's Lullaby"
14. Uffie, "Difficult"
15. The Vaselines, "Sex with an X"

Apologies to M.I.A, Erykah Badu, Best Coast, Beach House, Band of Horses, MGMT, Sleigh Bells, Belle and Sebastian, Of Montreal, The Books, Superchunk, New Porngraphers. You probably put out really great records this year, but since I didn't really hear much of it at all, I couldn't really put you on the top ten on principal. Sorry.

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year


Karin Fjellman writesTonight! First-ever CHIRP Night at the Rocking Horse

What are you doing on a Tuesday night, other than catching up on last week’s finale to The Walking Dead? CHIRP announces its newest community partnership with Logan Square’s finest indie rock bar & restaurant, The Rocking Horse, which boasts a huge drink selection of sixteen taps and more than sixty bottled brews, not to mention some amazing edibles. Come out tonight to eat, drink, and hear CHIRP DJs spin the finest in indie, psych, soul, punk, and more from 9:30pm onward! This month’s featured DJ is Karin Fjellman — you can see samples of her CHIRP Radio playlists here. CHIRP Nights at the Rocking Horse happen on the first Tuesday of each month. Look out for us next month! We hope to see you there!

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Categorized: Event Previews

Patrick Masterson writesPatrick Masterson’s Best of 2010

Throughout December CHIRP Radio presents its members' top albums of 2010. The next list is from CHIRP Radio DJ and Assistant Music Director Patrick Masterson. (Click here to get the complete list of CHIRP Radio members' picks.)

It would be unfair to present a top ten list that wasn’t strictly comprised of Windy City artists when we had such a good year here, so here are my favorite new Chicago releases of 2010 to back that up.

  1. Judson Claiborne – Time and Temperature (La Societe Expeditionnaire)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Chris Salveter and company’s second LP as Judson Claiborne appropriately mirrors the cover with a zebra in a deep forest of mist: Time and Temperature is a powerful, constantly shifting chiaroscuro where acoustic light breaks through the dark themes of the lyrics. Easily one of the best records of the year by any measure.
  2. Disappears – Lux (Kranky)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    This one’s for the record collectors. Probably my favorite Chicago live band, Disappears had some trouble getting this out; when Lux finally arrived, it felt as much like a sigh of relief as anything else. Good news followed a good year for the band: Follow-up LP Guider arrives in January 2011. Mark your calendars.
  3. JC Brooks & The Uptown Sound – To Love Someone (That Don’t Love You) 7” (Addenda)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Nevermind that I helped package these (FYI, 50 is not the same as 40), “To Love Someone (That Don’t Love You)” is a supreme slice of retro-soul listening for those with even half an interest in the Daptone stable, generally regarded as the gold standard for this sort of thing. On the flip, “Everything Will Be Fine” is a Booker T-inspired b-side to match the best of Charles Bradley. Do not miss this.
  4. Jason Adasiewicz – Sun Rooms (Delmark)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    A fixture of Chicago’s jazz scene for the few years that I’ve actually been following it, Adasiewicz did something a little different with Sun Rooms by stripping down his typical sound (backed by the Rolldown quintet) to a trio with drums and bass. It could’ve sounded hollow and sparse, but the extra space only allowed his vibraphones to thrive. An incredibly rich listening experience and definitely my favorite jazz record of the year.
  5. Cave – Pure Moods EP (Drag City)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Last year it was the twisty Psychic Summer, this year it was a three-track vinyl-only EP that rode the (hawk)winds of krautrock jamming and self-exploration that, though self-limiting at times, worked awfully well for late-night radio runs. “Brigitte’s Trip (White Light/White Jazz)” is almost as good of a title as the EP itself.
  6. Male – German for Shark (Other Electricities)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    It took me a little while to finally listen to Male’s sophomore album, but German for Shark sparks with more playful experimentation than last year’s more coherent All Are Welcome. Led by Jon Krohn and Ben Mjolsness, the sounds range from ambient nothingness to glitched-out remixes hitched to the back end of the album. I’m not sure I like it more than All Are Welcome, but its best moments caught my ear faster.
  7. Exploding Star Orchestra – Stars Have Shapes (Delmark)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Stars have shapes? How about stars have exploding orchestras skronking out in one of the better free-form avant-everything monsters to hit the CHIRP airwaves this year? Led by Rob Mazurek and featuring a host of rotating cast members, ESO did what they pretty much always do as well as anyone this side of the equally polarizing Bird Show Band. Undulating and uncompromising, Stars Have Shapes is some gnarled top-shelf jazz.
  8. Skooda Chose – TFM2 (Get Money Gang)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    Excepting Freddie Gibbs, this mixtape by the K-town native is my favorite Chicago(-area) hip-hop release of the year. Signed by Twista a few years back, Skooda’s been pedaling his verses for awhile but this (TFM = Top Five Material) is the cream of the crop thanks to guest verses from The Cool Kids, David Banner and others. Also, and I have no way of confirming this, but dude has been shot ten times, which has to count for something.
  9. Verma – Salted Earth (Self-Released)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    If you scroll down on Verma’s MySpace page, you’ll see the image of two figures strolling along a dune in deep space. That’s pretty much what Verma embodies: psychedelic sandstorms on far-away planets. It was interesting to hear the live-take instrumental material of their self-titled debut in July, but Salted Earth, out this past month (featuring songs from their original three-song EP), is different and slightly more appealing.
  10. Mavis Staples – You Are Not Alone (Anti)
    BUY: Amazon / Insound / iTunes
    A gospel n’ blues legend in her own right, Mavis Staples has also worked with Bob Dylan, Curtis Mayfield and Prince in the past, so what’s a Jeff Tweedy collaboration to her? But this is hardly tossed-off stuff. I mean, “I Belong to the Band” – did you hear this? The Tweedy originals? That weirdly defeatist Randy Newman cover? Mavis is still a must-listen after 60 years.

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Categorized: Best Albums of the Year


Clarence Ewing: The Million Year Trip writesComing Soon: Beats and Blogs, A Musical Hotspot at Subterranean

Mark your calendars now: on Saturday, December 18th, Betta Promotions and Loud Loop Press present a very special showcase of music, as well as a spotlight on 17 of Chicago’s local independent web focused music blogs, inclduing your’s truly, CHIRP Radio!

It all goes down at Subterranean (2011 North Avenue), where White Mystery, Hollows, Rabble Rabble and Radar Eyes will be rocking the house. More info will be posted shortly, but be sure to clear your schedules for what will be a great evening of music and community!

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Categorized: Event Previews


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