It’s that time of year again. The reviews of the best of the past 12 months in music. Here are our staff reviews for albums of the year, groups of the year, concerts of the year and more. How’d we score against your own year’s best?
Best albums of the 2017: (In no particular order)
Beach Fossils – Somersault
The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions
U2 – Songs of Experience
St. Vincent – Masseduction
Omni – Multi-task
Aimee Mann – Mental Illness
Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex
The Afghan Whigs – In Spades
Tristen – Sneaker Waves
Corin Ashley – Broken Biscuits
Marilyn Manson – Heaven Upside Down
The Clientele – Music for the Age of Miracles
William Patrick Corgan – Ogilala
Elbow – Little Fictions
Chastity Belt – I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone
Moon Duo – Occult Architecture, Vols. 1 & 2
Ghost – Ceremony and Devotion (Live)
Venom, Inc. – Ave
Real Estate – In Mind
Best concert of the year: Riot Fest Day 1 ‘electro industrial bliss’
Riot fest always brings together an interesting collection of old and new, punk to pop … And the stars aligned for 3 bands in a row of what was essentially what could be billed as ‘arena level cold waves’. Imagine, if you would: the pioneers – New Order, the innovators – Ministry, the torchbearers – Nine Inch Nails. A 3 band barrage of electro industrial superstars pounding out some of the most iconic songs in the genre. Ministry sounding as fresh as they have in 10 years pounding through blistering set that chronicled their career, including not often heard gems like ‘Bad Blood’ and classics like ‘Thieves’ …the latter that led to a literal explosion of a mosh pit.
Next up New Order battled some sound issues but fought through and played all the hits including a nice little delve into some Joy Division classics. Closing the night Trent and NIN blasted through a set that seemed like it was programmed knowing they had to follow Ministry… Forgoing some of the pop hits the set ripped into the night leaving a wake of synth sounds cascading over Chicago’s Southwest side.
Perhaps the highlight of the night brought about the reunion of two dead souls: Trent and Al, captured beautifully in these shots by our founder and leader, James Currie…these went more viral than herpes at a nudist colony. They were everywhere online for weeks after the show.
Check Out These 17 Amazing Chicago Bands & Artists
Chicago is an amazing city filled to the brim with musical culture. On any given night of the week you can stumble into just about any bar or music venue in town and find somebody playing something, and it’s usually pretty good. As we bring 2017 to a close I’d like to shed some light on 17 excellent local Chicago bands and artists who deserve a shout out. Each band and artist’s music is listed on The Great Chicago Music Scene Spotify Playlist (click to open), which consists of an additional dozen or so bands and artists for you to discover. Below is a little paragraph about each group (in no particular order) and what, in my opinion, makes each group unique and why they deserve your time. If you discover a band that you like through this list, please consider buying their music!
This group redefines what “tight” means in music. Their explosive on-stage chemistry is outstanding. Watching them perform is a powerful experience on its own. When I listen to their music my mind is constantly playing catch up. Little details, sounds and percussion instruments jump out of nowhere until suddenly we’re transported to the best musical party in town. Their tasteful choice in chord structure and melody partnered with ripping guitar solos makes this band unstoppable.
Mungion is a group that has been consistently making waves in the Chicago Music Scene. Elements of progressive rock, partnered with insane guitar solos, beautiful vocal and organ melodies, and drums that move smoothly and quickly. Their exceptional talent is displayed through their high energy shows. To finish out the year they’re performing a three night New Year’s Eve run at Chicago’s famous Tonic Room music venue, December 29th, 30th, and 31st.
This is an all instrumental group consisting of four musicians who have mastered their craft. You may remember their drummer, Mike Del Principie from the Double Kick: Chicago article with Kris Myers (Umphrey’s McGee). They can get heavy. Really heavy. But to balance out their sound they include soulful guitar solos and beautiful bass melodies. Their drummer Mike and bass player Matthew have been playing together for many years in various Chicago groups so you’re guaranteed to move your hips at a Bronson Rock show. You’ll get a taste of southern rock influence mixed with a touch metal and 90’s grunge, but with unique jams that take the audience to new places at every turn.
I love this band. They’ve been around for a really long time. They just recently put out a brand new album called “Trained When We’re Young” which you can purchase directly from their website. Their music on the above Spotify playlist is relatively older, so make sure you spend some time on their site getting to know all of the great albums they’ve released over the years. If Mr. Bungle, Radiohead, The Beatles, System of a Down and Jeff Beck could all get together and make music, it’d sound somewhat close to Ideamen. But you really have to see them live and listen to their music to get the full picture. Veterans of the Chicago scene (you’ve probably seen their stickers plastered on every wall at Reggie’s Rock Club or The Beat Kitchen), an Ideamen show is worth every cent. High energy performances with excellent songwriting. Please check them out.
Packy is someone who I’m told plays every damn instrument possible. You can often find him playing anything and everything around Chicago from the Grateful Dead or The Beatles (often at Martyrs), to working with Chicago artists such as Kara Cavanaugh. He most recently released his debut solo album titled “American Soccer”, and it’s a true masterpiece. The song ‘Swing Low’ is literally one of the catchiest songs I’ve ever heard (insert Chris Traeger voice). It reminds me of classic Guster with a soulful feel, almost as if Paul McCartney had something to do with it. Packy knows how to make you feel everything.
This band has been releasing music for quite a while. They most recently released a new album titled “Fight Fair” which has been receiving lots of positive feedback. Their music is fun. Super tight drums, awesome chord changes, and a sense of humor while tugging at the heart strings a little. I can’t help but sing every word when I listen to ‘I Wanna Be Angry’. Their shows are getting bigger and bigger too, so make sure you catch them when you can!
If you live in Chicago, you’ve likely heard of Ohmme. Formerly known as Homme, they have grown immensely popular over the last couple of years. They most recently returned from a tour with Iron & Wine. Pinning down the right words to describe the beautiful connection between chaos and order in their music is nearly impossible. You must listen to them to grasp the concept of what they’re doing. Beautiful voices leading the charge through the musical unknown.
I have been a fan of this band for quite some time. The music they make is heartbreaking, yet hopeful. Sad, but incredibly charming and pleasant. Seeing them live is like attending a cool psychedelic party where you meet the love of your life, lose them, and then reunite before the end of the night. You can shake your hips or dry your eyes. This dreamy pop music is meant for your ears.
Bailiff is another veteran Chicago group. They’ve been putting out music for a number of years. They’ve topped themselves with each release, writing songs that draw in the listener with rhythms and melodies that are hypnotic and tense. They’ve been seen headlining 1st Ward Chop Shop in the Wicker Park neighborhood, Chicago’s House of Blues, and many of the city’s yearly street festivals. If you’re about to listen to them for the first time then I personally recommend their song ‘Everyday Fire’ as your jumping off point. It’s a gnarly tune that will force you to tap your feet.
Jesse has been working in the Chicago scene for a while with various musical projects. Recently he released the album “American Dumpster”. The title track has a deeply country rooted vibe, with awesome string sections, great lyrics, powerful drums, and slight touch of chaos for good measure. Jesse has been touring around the midwest recently so make sure to see him wherever you can!
Katie is, hands down, one of the absolute best vocalists in Chicago. She’s constantly playing live shows around town, writing great songs, recording, and teaching her craft to the next generation of musicians. Her voice is so angelic that you can feel every emotion from every line of every song. She most recently released an EP titled “Katie Kadan Loves Me”, three songs that consist of soul, R&B, blues and straight up bad ass-ness, which is worth every penny. You can also hear her on the recent Doomerang release, another outstanding album worth checking out.
The psychedelic nature of Zombie Mañana is only one small aspect of what makes this group so awesome. Listening to their newest release, “S’more R’morse” is like going on a journey through an entire lifetime of love, heartbreak, destruction and glory. Their bass player Matthew also plays in Bronson Rock, so that’s a plus! And the music itself includes a soundscape that is impressive, with underlying melodies that feel great. Vocally I’m reminded of the old Nu-Metal band Taproot, but with smidge of Radiohead. But the music and songwriting is so interesting, complex and beautiful that it creates its own brand new style and genre very different from their predecessors. A very satisfying listen.
These guys recently released a new album titled “Presents”. The songwriting is charming and the vocals are full and soulful. They have a sweetness to their sound that pops in and out when their guitar player adds neat little leads in quick spots in their songs. Their song “Nervous Record” is a really fun jam that engages the listener through singable melodies. They play around Chicago often, so make sure to see them soon.
This band is one of the most fun bands to ever see live in Chicago. They’ve been playing together for a number of years, but most recently released their debut album called “The Shell”. The album takes you through many different avenues. Sometimes you might feel like you’re at a raging party and other times you may feel like you’re sneaking up or spying on someone when listening. Their music crosses many avenues but their sound is consistent. They have a great dynamic spectrum and all of their songs are singable. They play around the Chicago region and the surrounding midwest quite a bit and are most definitely worth seeing.
These band is FUNKY. The rhythm section is incredible, the guitar playing is mesmerizing, and the vocals are genuine and gorgeous. This band is an absolute must-see if you’re in or around Chicago. Their song ‘Jade Lights’ consists of really great bass melodies and a really gnarly, short and sweet synth solo. When I listen to that song I cannot get enough of the vocal track. It’s soft and powerful at the same time.
This trio consists of some of the best musicians I’ve ever witnessed in Chicago. They’re a jazz fusion group band that covers so much ground. Listening to them is so pleasant. They are each masters of their instrument. Watching them live is like taking a masterclass in every aspect of music. They’ve been playing in and around Chicago for over 15 years and have recorded multiple albums. I love their fusion-y cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Four Sticks’, which is often performed in their live set. Please see them live whenever you have a chance.
This band is full of bad ass energy and explosive guitar riffs. You can hear classic guitar playing with a modern feel. I can easily hop into a good mood after listening to their tune ‘I Thought I’d Seen a Ghost’. Their songs are anthems for anyone and everyone to sing as loudly as possible. Great lyrics and heavy ass drums and bass. More Punk Pop than Pop Punk. They’re really fun and are sure to show you a great musical time.
25 best concerts of 2017: (In no particular order)
20 best albums of 2017: (In no particular order)
15 best singles of 2017: (In no particular order)
2017 was definitely a definitive year in music. With bands reuniting, breaking up, touring again after many years, losing members, gaining members, loss of musicians and more, 2017 in my eyes seemed to be one of the most memorable years in quite some time.
As a heavy metal enthusiast and religious metal nut, the world of metal received a lot of attention this year. In fact, recently both Melodic Power Metal and Chaotic Black Metal were in Spotify’s Top 10 Emerging Genres of 2017. Other genres to make the cut were Chillhop, Trap Latino, Future Funk, Jumpstyle, Serialism, Cinematic Dubstep, Vintage Swoon and Gamecore. I think I’m dating myself here but the fact that two metal subgenres made it on this odd list tells us that metal refuses to die and music overall is taking an interesting turn in the foreseeable future.
But back on track here, while us in the metal community have favorites and love to play the superiority game, if you’re like me, you greet all metal with open arms and metal horns. But like I said, 2017 seemed to be one of the best years for metal. Without further ado and in no particular order, here are my personal picks for top 10 metal albums of 2017.
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain: The album released at the beginning of the year, it has withstood the test of time and managed to stay within high ranks. They were in town a few months ago alongside the mighty Sabaton and Leaves’ Eyes. The Finnish metallers come with a very true metal album that is all-around energetic, memorable and strong. Though it was the first album without founding guitarist, Anton Kabanen, the album is still deemed worthy of checking out. If you love classic metal with a female lead singer, check out Bringer Of Pain.
Septicflesh – Codex Omega: The blackened symphonic extreme metal masters released perhaps their most epic and symphonically charged album yet with Codex Omega. For already fans of the Greek metallers, you’ll get all the familiar and known elements but what sets this album apart from their discography is the symphonic epicness the album showcases. If you’re craving an onslaught of terror, brutality and want to be challenged in the metal sense, this album will blow you out of the water.
DragonForce – Reaching Into Infinity: Longtime metallers DragonForce released what is perhaps their most mature and dynamic album to date this year. According to certain fans, the band’s known song structures became almost a cliche over time as they offered really nothing but speed and an occasional ballad once in a while but this album takes those presumptions and puts them to rest. Their latest album offers songs of every temperament and for those who never became a fan or disliked them for one reason or another, your opinions about them may change with this album that takes on the current condition of the world.
Shakra – Snakes & Ladders: Sometimes the simpler things in all can be all the worth which is what perfectly describes the latest from the Swiss hard-rockers. No surprises, direct and staple song structures, if you don’t like to get technical or extreme, this nostalgic sounding album will take care of that hard rock god or goddess within you. And if the instrumentals don’t entice you, perhaps the lyrical content may sway you otherwise.
Beast In Black – Berserker: You may have noticed that there is another similarly named band on this list and that’s because both bands are connected in more ways than one but more importantly, former Battle Beast guitarist Anton Kabanen formed Beast In Black and they released their debut earlier this year aptly titled Berserker. Any true power metalhead will and should fall in love with this release. Soaring and high pitched vocals, insane shredding solos, epicness all-around and more, the warrior within will be evoked once you join the ‘Beast in Black’.
Cradle of Filth – Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay: Another band to make maturity and excellent changes with time, extreme metallers Cradle of Filth released an interestingly themed album amidst longer than usual tracks. That’s right, though there are not as many songs as a typical album has, all the songs are longer than usual with technical prowess while at the same time being pummeled track by track. No slow tracks of any kind, the band just keeps getting heavier and heavier and more unpredictable with time. If it’s been a while since you’ve jumped on the Cradle train, you are in for quite a surprise this time around.
Xandria – Theater Of Dimensions: Though they’ve been around for many years, they still have been unheard of by many in the metal community, even though their latest music videos have garnered millions of views. Very much operatic and on the symphonic note, metal meets operas and big picture moments on the groups most successful release to date. Aptly titled as such, you’ll get some of the best soprano and opera style vocals amidst breakdowns, killer solos, arias and more. Though it’s unfortunate their best lead singer, Dianne Van Giersbergen got kicked out for health reasons, this is without a doubt their most successful album and will be hard to top if ever.
Unleash The Archers – Apex: Nothing short of epic in all the right ways, Canadian metallers, Unleash The Archers come without a doubt their best album to date. Taken from their own concept/story of a mountain giant that has been sleeping dormant for thousands of years, the title of the album refers to a pinnacle of peace, a state of calm and a place where one can go to, to be themselves and be true, also the place where this mountain giant sleeps. This album will gallop its way into your metal hearts for melody, technicality, progressiveness, energy and emotion all intertwine to deliver an album that almost had me at happy tears.
Threat Signal – Disconnect: Also from Canada, it was six years since the groups last release. Their latest could not have come at a better time. It’s great to see that the band was able to overcome difficult management and record label obstacles and finally put out an album that is deemed of being memorable. All their staple elements of catchy melodies, underlying grooves and a ferocious wave of thrash will please fans immensely. They haven’t lost their spark just yet!
Arch Enemy – Will To Power: Just as the album is titled, their latest release is easily stronger and more powerful than their previous release in all manners. Songs pertaining to personal matters, matters that involve our society and songs that just lift your metal spirits high you’ll get a wicked dose of thrash, master guitarwork, a ballad that will throw you off including clean vocals and much, much more. Don’t worry, their signature melodeath side is still all there. Arch Enemy continue to rise at an exceeding rate and I have a feeling we have yet to see it all from one of Sweden’s top premier metal acts.