14. Architecture - When We Were Young There's just something enchanting about the sparse but melancholy dream pop from Architecture. Featuring Panda Riot's Rebecca Scott and Melissa Harris (also Erin Dorr during live performances), these locals do a fantastic job pairing stretchy sweet vocal melodies with a dark but lush foundation.
13. Anatomy Of Habit - Anatomy Of Habit Anatomy Of Habit may cause some to question their definition of metal with their self-titled debut, and that in itself is impressive. But this record, full of industrial, ambient and even psychedelic touches, works well because of the ominous mood it strikes in the listener. This one is not for the faint of heart or the non-adventurous.
12. White Mystery - Blood & Venom White Mystery pulled no punches on their 2011 release, Blood & Venom, which takes their signature rowdy garage sound and gives a bit more of a shine. And I'm not just talking about the harmonica on "Kickin My Ball" or the phaser on "Smoke," but their ability to tap into their hookiness with such tracks as the ridiculously fun "Birthday" or quirky self-referential opener, "White Mystery."
THE TOP 11:
11. Company of Thieves - Running From A Gamble Company Of Thieves sophomore effort, Running From A Gamble, really spoke to my love of smart power-pop. This time around, the band did it by sounding more organic and fleshing out some tunes that even reach into heavy, blues rock territory. And, I mean, it's just hard to deny lead singer Genevieve Schatz’s heavenly voice.
10. The Cool Kids - When Fish Ride Bicycles I probably don't ingest enough local hip-hop as I should. But of what I did check out, When Fish Ride Bicycles is the only one that really stuck with me. After much hype built by a number of delays, the local duo thoroughly satisfied with a smooth record full of summertime Chicago vibers that nicely brought their minimal electro-beats to new level of accessibility.
9. The Runnies - You Can't Win A late entry into the running, but you really can't not win with the latest from The, uh, Runnies. This local trio goes easy on the guitar and heavy on the organ, but it works for a sonic delivery that's part '60s garage, motown and church revival. Not to mention it's powered by Mary McKane's smokey vocals that fit somewhere between Janis Joplin and Robert Allen Zimmerman.
8. The Canoes - Roger The Canoes manage to marry warm Midwestern folk-pop and dirty garage antics on Roger. While much of it sounds like a bedroom recording (which, to be fair, it pretty much is), it's that rough-around-the-edges quality and clever wordplay that make it a very impressive debut.
7. Mannequin Men - Mannequin Men On their latest self-titled effort, Mannequin Men remind us why great, smart songwriting will always defeat the chillwave and blip-blop rock that has seemingly infiltrated the indie landscape these days. It's difficult to shake the addictive chorus of "Hobby Girl," the ramshackle country feel of "Why Do I Get?" or the jangly crunch of opener "Don't Grow" (which also happens to have my vote for best "In a convertible with the top down driving 65 mph down lake shore drive" song of 2011).
6. Gypsyblood - Cold In The Guestway While their guitars are less crunchy and more glassy, Gypsyblood take on Jesus And The Mary Chain and Pixies-esque alt-rock on their debut LP, Cold In The Guestway. But the band adds in their own folky and quirky leanings to create a very sharp rock album. Oddball hooks such as the Muppets-like "Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba" in "My R.K.O. is MIA" or the smooth-funk of "Superstition" help make Cold In The Guestway a record that begs for repeated listens.
5. T'Bone - Mt. Trashmore File this one under "local bands you aren't listening to, but you really should be." You could maybe call T'Bone's Mt. Trashmore a math rock record due to their penchant for wild dynamics and sudden tempo shifts, but there's probably just as much influence from big '70s arena and punk rock. Also, the band's ability to craft tongue-and-cheek hooks that fit perfectly is freaking rad.
4. Heavy Times - Jacker It must be said that HoZac Records had one hell of a year with so many great releases, but my personal favorite may be from Chicago's own Heavy Times. What I loved about Heavy Times' Jacker is the obvious punk influence. Sure their songs are covered in a scratchy film, but the band plays well to that aesthetic with dark and bleak subject matter and frighteningly huge riffage. This one is an absolute banger.
3. Yawn - Open Season It was quite the year for psych-pop in Chicago, but in my opinion, no one did it better than Yawn. I've written about Yawn quite a bit before, but the thing I like to stress about the band is that they actually have a knack for pop song structure. They never get too heavy handed and keep their melodic, sample-powered tunage to near the three-minute range, which makes Open Season both refreshing and intoxicating.
2. CAVE - Neverendless I might just be a sucker for instrumental krautrock, but Neverendless is just a really good record. It takes prog slash psychy antics and folds them up tightly into a very clean cut and accessible package. Yes, CAVE does include a couple 10-minute plus epics, but even those are anchored by shifts are are somehow both subtle and obvious. Oh, and the band has a lot of fun with synths on this record, and that's never a bad thing.
1. Disappears - Guider Disappears may have not only taken my top spot for Chicago record of 2011, but I'll go ahead and throw them at the front of Best Band of 2011 and Best Live Show of 2011 as well. Guider is a ridiculously great exercise in garage-y, psych rock not just because the songs are good, but because the record is explosive. It's hard to sit still when the opening reverb strikes of "Superstition" smack you in the face or when the bass line of "Guider" gently walks up before falling into a vat of chugging guitars. Do I even need to mention the 15-minute trance rock opus, "Revisiting?" Looks like I just did. And at only six tracks long, Guider is one of those few records that you'll want to instantly want to flip over and start again once the needle clicks.