As several of our volunteers have said in their lists, it's been a year. And it's been a historic year for CHIRP Radio, as we took to the broadcast airwaves for the first time at 107.1 FM. Thanks to the support of our fantastic listeners, we plan to keep rocking into 2018 and beyond.
In the meantime, here are the albums that were cited the most by our volunteers as their favorites of the year. The #1 spot goes to an artist making her debut album after 5 years of singles. All 10 records are fantastic. As usual, no matter what else is going on, it was a great year for music. Happy New Year!
Petition to kick all men out of music and reinstate SZA as Top Dawg (see what I did there?) reigning over us all. I love this album. We all love this album. Let's stop reading best of lists and go listen to it again right now. –Amelia Hruby
Stephen Bruner’s third full-length combines his six-string jazz bass virtuoso stylings with the pop, R&B, and hip-hop songwriting expertise he’s picked up from the all-star cast of collaborators he’s worked with in the intervening four years since his last album. The result is everything from leftfield alternative soul (“Captain Stupido”) to a post-ironic ode to yacht rock (“Show You the Way”), featuring two of the kings of the bygone era in full voice, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. Thundercat’s grasp on the hyperreal maelstrom of social media and the news cycle fits perfectly with a synth-backed, woozy haze. --Austin B. Harvey
S/O to everyone that thought that James Murphy wouldn't be able to put together 10 songs that could live up to his past catalog. 7 years since the last release, we've all grown, as has LCD's sound. There's no "bangers" like "All My Friends" or "Dance Yrself Clean." Instead, we get an extension of a sound that that fits perfectly with their past, without sounding too much like their past. My favorite story from J.M. from all the album press he did was when he told Bowie that he openly stole from Bowie's sound and Bowie replied with "You can't steal from a thief, darling." --Mauricio Reyes
Summation of a year marred by horrifying inequity and injustice. I could write endlessly about why I think it's an important record, why it makes me hopeful, why it worries me, why I think I don't fully understand it, why I think this artist is in a class by himself... not going to do that here. My advice: Listen. --DJ Alex
Fans of electro-R&B have been waiting for Kelela to release a proper album since her 2013 mixtape Cut 4 Me announced her as a major talent. While there was a possibility that artists like FKA twigs and The Weeknd could have rendered her irrelevant, Kelela delivers the goods on this icy, soulful, and sensual collection. Similar to twigs, Kelela dispenses with lyrical pretense, offering direct words sung with passion that enliven the cool and memorable backing tracks. --Mike Bennett
#6 (tie)Reaching For Indigo by Circuit Des Yeux (Drag City)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon
I’ve felt Haley Fohr was special even before I heard a note of her music. I read an interview with her a few years back where she recounted bullying she experienced when she first started performing due to her baritone singing voice and unfeminine appearance. Instead of allowing this to deter her she recognized the pettiness that motivated her harassers and continued her work in defiance of their ignorance. Over the past decade, Fohr has emerged as a mature and peerless artist with a lush, emotionally complex, and tightly structured experimental style that points a way forward for folk music in the 21st century as well as setting the bar for indie pop higher with each release. Reaching For Indigo is a fantastic album and I’m immensely proud of the fact that Fohr continues calls this corridor of the Great Lakes region home. We need her brains and bravery more than ever these days. --Michael Reed
There’s an intense alchemy to everything that this Chicago band does. Melkbelly sounds like they’re being constantly pulled in four directions at once, like a rubber band that’s about ready to snap, which makes sense considering each of its four members come from completely different backgrounds. Between them, their past projects range from poppy folk to crisp indie-rock to harsh experimental noise, and all of those elements fuse together into their mix of domineering hooks and cooly-controlled chaos. --Mel Marquez
Antisocialites is the prototypical, "more mature" sophomore effort -- the songs aren't as immediate; the hooks aren't as plentiful as on Alvvays' first outing, and there's an underlying sense of melancholy that runs through many of the tracks -- but spend a little time with the record and the strengths of the songwriting shine through. --Shawn Campbell
#9If All I Was Was Black by Mavis Staples (ANTI-)
BUY: Reckless / Amazon
You can’t (and shouldn’t) call what soul singer Mavis Staples is doing nowadays a comeback. Earlier this year she scored a guest spot on the return of Gorillaz, rendering the track her own, and after dropping her second collaboration with Jeff Tweedy in early 2016, she was back (and more than black) with a new Tweedy partnership this November. Although the fellow Chicagoan has produced records for Staples before, this was the first penned beginning to end by the Wilco front-man (excepting three songs co-written by the singer).
It’s a testament to Tweedy’s strong songwriting skills and (seemingly) hands-off production work that If All I Was Was Black comes across as all Mavis Staples. It’s also a testament to Staples, who has been making music her own since she propelled The Staple Singers to notoriety in 1956, when at the age of 13 she sang lead on their cover version of “Uncloudy Day.” This new record was timed perfectly to coincide with Chicago Public Library’s commemoration of the biography I’ll Take You There by Greg Kot as its One Book, One Chicago selection for 2017-2018. The album reflects Staples’s (and Tweedy’s) optimistic outlook that despite the dark times of today for minorities, there is no time for crying. To paraphrase one of the choruses, we’ve got work to do. --Craig Reptile
On their first new album in 22 years, Slowdive hits a home run, hitting that sweet spot of taking the sound that we loved in the '90s and building on it. Nothing sounds like a rehash of previous albums, but a thoughtful evolution. The songcraft is high, and the new songs sounded great in concert. High praise, because Slowdive is one of the best live bands out there. --Al Gabor