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Cover Story: Essential Local Albums ’96-’06

| December 29, 2006 | 22 Comments

The 25 Essential Local Albums Of The Last 10 Years

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The January 2001 Illinois Entertainer cover story was “25 Essential Local Albums,” a difficult task if there ever was. Prone to being picked apart. No Little Walter? Elmore James? Technically, Donny Hathaway was born here. Herbie Hancock completely changed jazz in his own way, but we’re not really a jazzbo mag. Miles Davis was likewise born in Illinois and he dabbled in rock — but was he more in St. Louis’ sphere down in Alton? Where were Tyrone Davis? Big Black? Disturbed?

Adding an addendum or trying to “fix” what was “wrong” with the first list isn’t the point of this one. What we recognized about the earlier issue was even though it was published in 2001, the most recent album in it was Common’s Resurrection from ’94. Not just rock snobs, but people in general grow skeptical when new things are handed “classic” status. Well, this January we’re saying To Hell With It. If we don’t have an idea of the times in which we live, then we aren’t doing our jobs correctly. So here, in all their imperfectionist glory — Doesn’t this city have a thriving jazz scene? SHADDUP! — are the 25 essential local albums from the last 10 years.

THE FLYING LUTTENBACHERS
Revenge Of The Flying Luttenbachers
(ugEXPLODE/Skin Graft, 1996)

Chicago art rock of the mid ’90s made little room for metal in its steadfast determination to propel itself as far from the late-’80s as possible. Shellac and others were heavy as hell, but to call them metal would have conjured Enuff Z’nuff’s glam heyday, a sticky era local post-rockers might have best liked forgotten. It took a jazz drummer named Weasel Walter to look far beyond Chip Z’nuff’s rose-colored glasses and into the grim forest of budding Norwegian black metal to resurrect our dearly departed. Finding influence in the blast beat drumming of a band known more for suicide, cannibalism, and murder than musicianship (Mayhem), Walter robbed graves for his once horn-heavy instrumental jazz band, The Flying Luttenbachers. “DEATH METAL = FREE JAZZ,” his new T-shirt proclaimed in large print, and so began Chicago’s own Dawn Of The Black Hearts, replete with pentagrams, corpsepaint, and enough popcorn drums to feed an army of maniacs. Revenge Of The Flying Luttenbachers was a snapshot of this spectacle, whipping elderly skronk into mile-a-minute black metal. Consisting mostly of live drums, guitar, and bass, it was self-recorded, in a basement, by a misanthropic three-piece jamming within three feet of one another. From the opening seconds of “Storm Of Shit,” where atomic skree fell from just above the human ear’s detection, The Flying Luttenbachers were for all the evil in man. Revenge Of The Flying Luttenbachers was the revelation of Chicago metal’s second coming. (Mike Meyer)

ROBBIE FULKS
Country Love Songs
(Bloodshot, 1996)

As Chicago’s resident Pete Seeger, Fulks has teetered between scene historian and treasured musician for too long. Given the frequency of recorded output, he underestimates his worth to us. If we had our druthers he’d hang out less at the Old Town School Of Fulk Music and more in the studio or on the road. (Of course, then the folk community might suffer without his tutelage — maybe we can have joint custody?) Drier than the Southwest, he describes Country Love Songs as anti-country, full of “taboo themes of negativism, forceful expression, and points of view uncongenial to the prevailing ideology of fatuous feelgoodism.” Recorded intentionally to fit in with the sounds of the ’50s, he counters post-war bliss with “We’ll Burn Together” and “Papa Was A Steel-Heeled Man” and tries to drink himself to death on “Barely Human.” Soaked in rye, he has been as good since, but never better. (Steve Forstneger)

ALKALINE TRIO
Goddamnit
(Asian Man, 1998)

Goddamnit was a roughed-up, life-less-suburban than the Smoking Popes’ backcatalog, but still rooted in McHenry County pop punk at heart. Anchored to the melodic, Chicago-via-I-90 lovesick croon of lead vocalist/guitarist Matt Skiba, Goddamnit emerged when emo wasn’t yet a swear word, and the only bands putting pentagrams on their drum kits were shredders. Times would change for Skiba, but Goddamnit was a sly, festive sing-along on a borrowed Josh Caterer formula, whose live version could wrap lines around the Fireside Bowl like no other. This was a band at the crossroads, but it’s unclear if Skiba figured as much. Goddamnit was his celebration of being, well, drunk. “I’m so inebriated that I cannot see three feet in front of me,” he sang on “My Little Needle.” Sidekick Kato may have coined the phrase “drunk emo,” but Alkaline Trio wrote every song on Goddamnit about it. Beer and girls, basically. It was easy to relate. Skiba complained about $4 pints on “San Francisco” as tears welled up. He was drunk off his ass on “As You Were” and was “burned out on two hours of shuteye” on “Cringe.” The sincere “Clavicle” showed charm through beer goggles, a paradox Goddamnit-era Skiba could pull off so well. If his tales were real-life adventures, he deserves a toast for waking up in the gutter and putting out an album so sweet. (M.M.)

BRAID
Frame & Canvas
(Polyvinyl, 1998)

Braid toiled mostly in Urbana houseparties to a constant turnover of finding-themselves undergrads, but they have posthumously found themselves to be celebrated godfathers to modern emo. It’s not as dire as it sounds. After playing musical chairs with the lineup, seeing members come and go, and putting Bob Nanna’s Friction out to pasture in the south farms, Braid hit stride during the backhalf of the ’90s with Age Of Octeen (Mud) then the slightly superior Frame & Canvas. Though the band would cease less than a year later, the album redeemed the aimless barrage of their early material by realizing songs don’t need to overflow with time signatures. Not that the album isn’t textbook Braid, but the pieces that became “The New Nathan Detroits” and “Breathe In” actually fit together this time. Pitchfork mocked the band for wanting to be the Jawbox of the late ’90s. For at least one album they were. (S.F.)

R. KELLY
R
(Jive, 1998)

No matter the verdict of his endless legal proceedings, R. Kelly will always be the king of Chicago R&B. In the wake of horrendous accusations, Chicago radio stood firm in support of the besieged loverman and R is a big reason why. While he didn’t yet have to bother with countering the allegations (which hasn’t helped his erraticism), Kelly spent the mid ’90s pulling strings with gentlemanly come-ons, ultrasexed demands, and an enduring ’90s anthem, “I Believe I Can Fly,” which immediately preceded R and is even tacked on at the very end. That crossover success aside, the album is a sprawling, double-disc conundrum loaded with faults and even greater chart successes with “Home Alone,” “When A Woman’s Fed Up,” “Spendin’ Money,” “Half On A Baby,” “Did You Ever Think,” and “If I Could Turn Back The Hands Of Time.” So why is it so essential? Because Kelly is nothing if not confident, and R was him trying to will himself into Marvin Gaye-type consciousness. To prove he was sensitive and self-critical, there was “Suicide.” To show he was street, he brought in Jay-Z. To push further into the mainstream, he hired Celine Dion. Does it all work? Hell no. But it is the most representative document of all that is R. Kelly. The seeds of “Trapped In The Closet” are here. (S.F.)

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JON LANGFORD
Skull Orchard
(Sugar Free, 1998)

It’s a cruel fate that Jon Langford’s first and best solo album is out of print. While it’s hard to recommend anyone spend the $50 you’d need to acquire it on Amazon Marketplace, Ebay, or Gemm, we highly suggest you keep an eye out in case it shows up on iTunes, Emusic, or you happen upon Langford in the street. If you do, ask him if he still feels the same way about his native Wales. Skull Orchard weaves the Americanisms he has been rehearsing with the Mekons, Pine Valley Cosmonauts, and Waco Brothers, but lyrically (with the exception of Gertrude Stein’s “Butter Song”) he takes dead aim at Great Britain’s armpit. Decrying billboards, mock presidential polls, and the exodus of young people to London, Langford is at once mocking and defensive. It’s a personal album, and a personal best. (S.F.)

SMASHING PUMPKINS
Adore
(Virgin, 1998)

On this, the red-headed stepchild of Pumpkins albums, the temporary dismissal of drummer Jimmy Chamberlin didn’t lead to major changes, it was more like the band crawled inside itself. True, it was largely devoid of the big-rock Billy Corgan who dominated Siamese Dream and the sprawling Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness, but it held Corgan up to the light and revealed his mopey, English pop core. Adore was reviled at its time for seeming such a severe and contrived aesthetic change in direction. It has, however, held up remarkably well despite being overlong (and reinforcing their diehard fans’ tendency to dress in black and treat Corgan as if he were Robert Smith). The idea of the frontman going synth probably led some to expect he was going industrial — which he eventually kinda would in his Hellraiser-ish Machina get-up and subesquent solo album — not the toasty, analog-cum-digital expression it begat. After the bloodletting of the Pisces Iscariot extras, four sides of Mellon Collie, and the Aeroplane Flies High collection, it paid off for Corgan to focus if his fans were ready or not. (S.F.)

TORTOISE
TNT
(Thrill Jockey, 1998)

The consensus high-water mark for Tortoise stands as “Djed,” the 20-minute spelunk through dub, Krautrock, and tape noise on 1996’s Millions Now Living Will Never Die. But the track towers over so much of the album, it’s hard to rank Millions above TNT, which unfurls more delicately. With David Pajo out and Jeff Parker in, the musicianship was upped without complicating things or making Tortoise sound more academic. Instead it loosened them, sewing a quilt of vibes, guitar, trumpet, and assorted electronic gadgetry, deftly run through the high-tech filter that is John McEntire. So many imitators failed to duplicate TNT‘s sense of effortless movement and gave the term “post rock” a dreadfully boring connotation. Listening to the masters, however, is like gently being pulled across the sea by the tide. (S.F.)

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JIM O’ROURKE
Eureka
(Drag City, 1999)

Throughout the bulk of the 1990s, no individual was as synonymous with Chicago experimental music as Jim O’Rourke. As the decade progressed, O’Rourke’s harshly deconstructive solo material, side projects, and mixes began to test the patience of even the most open-minded. Cut-ups, found sound, and noise have their place in high art, but O’Rourke’s 20-plus releases from the decade added up to uneasy listening. But in 1999, the impossible happened.

O’Rourke did an about-face on his bleeding-edge mutations and turned to something universally appealing. Eureka was his soft acoustic shocker, a post-modern reintroduction of soothing 1960s lounge music (covering Burt Bacharach’s “Something Big”) and romantic Simon & Garfunkel-style pop (“Ghost Ship In A Storm”). Though previous material attempted to astound, Eureka was the rabbit in the hat for O’Rourke. Who would have expected catchy music? The change-up culled orchestral finesse — strings, horns, breezy backup vocals from Edith Frost, and ever-present melody. It was the kindest gesture, capped with O’Rourke’s surprisingly emotive voice. And the Eureka anachronism stays lovely, despite how hard its forever-disturbing cover insists the contents are but a kink. Time proves it couldn’t have been a more righteous detour for O’Rourke, as refreshing as it was influential. (M.M.)

DISTURBED
The Sickness
(Giant, 2000)

The band hold a grudge against IE for not putting them on the cover when this album came out, using sales figures to argue their case. For better or worse, Disturbed provided the template for hundreds of screaming sycophants, using The Sickness and other albums like it to spawn fruitful careers in the nu metal age, mirrored in the lives of Soil, Chevelle, Mudvayne, and scores more. That white-visored jocks would empathize with iconic, pierced frontman David Draiman was an oversight, though a welcome one once the checks were piling up. You could argue they keep putting out the same album, and you could argue they keep using the same reason not to talk to us about them. Either way they made it, so fuck us. (S.F.)

THE SEA AND CAKE
Oui
(Thrill Jockey, 2000)

Guilt by association. At least that must be why The Sea And Cake (and the vastly underrated Aluminum Group) get lumped in with the post rock contingent. Of course, anytime you throw the names Sam Prekop, Archer Prewitt, and alleged anti-rockist John McEntire around you’re bound to elicit a specific response. Yet to this day, no one knows what The Sea And Cake are. Being misheard and misinterpreting go with the band back to their beginning — the name comes from McEntire’s mistaking Gastr Del Sol’s “The C In Cake” — so why shouldn’t it follow them to the very end? Oui, however, changed things. It’s doubtful anyone knew what was going on with the band when Fawn arrived in 1997. The band members had their thumbs in untold pies already, the album was appropriately scattered, and the three ensuing years were littered with projects as well as the solo careers of Prewitt and Prekop. But when Oui landed, their galactic all-stars rep vanished and it became apparent Sea & Cake were a real boy. A real boy, Gepetto! Flaunting the Brazilian tendencies of Prekop’s work (“The Colony Room”) and otherwise hijacked by Prewitt’s back-of-his-hand sense of breezy pop, Oui both titillated and satisfied. This was a pop album with a Tortoise track, “You Beautiful Bastard.” And finally, dammit, people understood this was a pop band. (S.F.)

THE TOSSERS
Long Dim Road
(Thick, 2000)

That the South Side would beget its own Pogues came as a surprise to few, that they would be this good did. Representing their own ward of disaffected youths, The Tossers amped up the intensity of Irish rock in a way that made U2 come off like pro-Thatcher partyliners. Steeped in Irish folk with punk spirit, Long Dim Road made for-us-or-against-us an embarrassingly easy decision. With the Bushmills flowin’ they made barstool observations about the wrongs of the world but never got too high-minded about it (“Litigation,” “Altercations,” “Wedding,” “The Pub”). That they saved venom for “The Ballad Of N.A.T.O.” only showed how conscious and essential they were. “Give me two pints o’ stout: one so I don’t think no more, and one to face what I’ve in store.” Make it three. (S.F.)

TYPICAL CATS
Typical Cats
(Galapagos4, 2000)

Chicago hip-hop has seen its share of crosstown collaborations in recent years, but few have been as memorable as the formation of the Typical Cats. Not too long after converging from different sides of the city at WHPK (the University Of Chicago’s radio station), the Cats recorded their self-titled debut on a whim in 2000. Without overthinking the direction of the album, MCs Qwel, Qwazaar, and Denizen Kane delivered a fluid mix of off-the-cuff rhymes (“Reinventing The Wheel”) and conceptual verses (“Thin Red Line”) with DJ Natural behind the boards. What really set the Cats above other local hip-hop acts at the time was their ability to play off each other’s styles instead of trying to outshine one another (as heard on tracks like “Any Day”). Even among the solo offerings, such as Denizen Kane’s spoken-word soliloquy “Live Forever,” DJ Natural’s cool, jazz-infused beats help provide a certain easygoing consistency throughout. While not ultra-progressive, the Typical Cats’ debut serves as a reminder that all the studio time and A&R guidance in the world can’t compete with good old-fashioned spontaneity. (Max Herman)

THE CHAMBER STRINGS
Month Of Sundays
(Bobsled, 2001)

Who knows if this album is still available, but if it can be found it’s well worth the quarter. Having spent years in the tutelage of the late Epic Soundtracks (ex-Swell Maps), Kevin Junior emerged the most conscious George Harrison acolyte the world has seen this side of Joe Pernice and Sleepy Jackson. Irrevocably influenced by Soundtracks’ suicide, the album is a tale of redemption in a barrage of misery, a plea for sanity after a lost, lost weekend. And you’ll need to know the songs when the band play their first show in five years at Double Door on January 20th. (S.F.)

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BUDDY GUY
Sweet Tea
(Silvertone, 2001)

“Baby, please don’t leave me” is a familiar cry throughout Buddy Guy’s career, but when his supremely detuned guitars chime with him on this effort it’s impossible to claim he’s recycling. Instead, a trip south exposed so many of the aging master’s layers it quickly became apparent the “lost” years in the ’80s weren’t so lost at all. While he laments aging at the onset, the smoking “Look What All You Got,” Hendrixian “Stay All Night,” and burning cigarette “I Gotta Try You Girl” exude a rawness gleaned not only from his surroundings and the songwriters (Junior Kimbrough features mainly), but his callused hands. (S.F.)

WILCO
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
(Nonesuch, 2001)

Though Wilco earns significant attention and critical kudos with each album released, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was arguably its biggest breakthrough on multiple levels. In the product-driven sense, the disc was almost shelved when Warner/Reprise refused to release the non-commercial sound, though thankfully members bought the masters and found a new home on Nonesuch. In terms of artistry, the album demonstrated continued creative evolution, from the sparsely beautiful arrangements of “Kamera” and “Jesus, Etc.” to the sunny harmonies of “Heavy Metal Drummer” and a sense of electronic experimentation throughout “War On War.” Frontman Jeff Tweedy also adapted an even more brooding approach to songwriting come “Ashes Of American Flags,” which remains an accidental anthem in the postscript of 9/11. Aside from the album, documentation of all the drama was traced in the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, a title taken from the project’s warm but heartwrenching lead cut. (Andy Argyrakis)

CALIFONE
Quicksand/Cradlesnakes
(Thrill Jockey, 2003)

After great deliberation, we decided against including Red Red Meat’s Bunny Gets Paid (Sub Pop) on this list because it was released in 1995, a no-man’s-land year ignored by the 2001 issue and a hair too early for this one. The choice was made easier, however, by the wealth of material unleashed by RRM’s successor band, Califone. Reversing the step-by-step folk/blues deconstruction that can be traced through Tim Rutili and Ben Massarella’s career path, Quicksand/Cradlesnakes is the crown jewel of their catalog. Shorthanded as the art-damaged twin sister to Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot — a characterization Rutili dismissed with “We sound more like Can, and Wilco is more like The Kinks” — the most striking thing about it is how the loose construction of the Deceleration EPs congealed into song structures resembling . . . Bunny Gets Paid. No wonder we like it so much. People who equate the band with ramshackle noise were levelled by the no-longer-hidden beauty of “Michigan Girls” and “Vampiring Again.” Suddenly the sound-over-meaning lyrical approach and random noise felt less like obstacles and more like kindred spirits. It may seem backhanded to praise an enterprising band for their most accessible effort, but they made this album, not us. And they made it great. (S.F.)

THE REPUTATION
To Force A Fate
(Lookout!, 2004)

On the way to the impending breakup of Rolling Stone “Hot” band Sarge, Elizabeth Elmore moved upstate to Chicago and made some enemies, who decided to tell everyone she was a slut. (And so she had a new bandname.) Invigorated and emboldened — she told IE the idea of being promiscuous didn’t bother her, just that it wasn’t true — the resulting, self-titled debut lashed out wildly at her critics as well as her usual targets of backstabbers, boyfriends, and herself. But her second band’s second album was reasonably assured. With an eye locked on her opposition and a fresh law degree in her grip, Elmore pitted steely, femme power pop against stories of pushing people away (“The Lasting Effects”) and band friction (“Bottle Rocket Battles”), but also death (“Bone Tired”). To Force A Fate still had its share of provoked attacks, however they end up teaching you more about their creator than the targets. (S.F.)

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MAVIS STAPLES
Have A Little Faith
(Alligator, 2004)

Super ’60s, return-to-roots comebacks have become de rigeur (Solomon Burke, Candi Staton, Bettye Lavette, Neil Diamond), and while the success rate is basically 50/50, Mavis Staples’ Have A Little Faith was off the chart. Finished not long after the death of Staples Singers patriarch Pops, her father’s aura is all around her. Gospel tones abound in co-producer Jim Tullio’s pro-Stax arrangements, with an assortment of slides, B-3s, Rhodes pianos, and choirs, and the themes (“Step Into The Light,” “God Is Not Sleeping,” “There’s A Devil On The Loose”) were even more unequivocal. The traditionals (“Will The Circle Remain Unbroken,” “A Dying Man’s Plea”) were as natural for Staples’ spiritual resurrection as more (relatively) modern cuts like “At The End Of The Day.” But the best part of Have A Little Faith is Staples doesn’t hijack the family legacy by overpowering or oversinging. Daddy’s gone, but he’s not forgotten. (S.F.)

KANYE WEST
The College Dropout
(Roc-A-Fella, 2004)

When Kanye West released The College Dropout in early-2004, the division between so-called underground and mainstream hip-hop was as prevalent as ever. But no one could have predicted that an up-and-coming producer from Chicago would become the MC capable of breaking down industry barriers and catching the ears of stringent backpackers and Top 40 radio listeners alike. So how did Kanye do it? On his debut, this producer-on-the-mic simply laid all his contradictions and complexities on the line without reservation. This includes making a narrative on his escape from a racist retail position (“Spaceship”) just as inviting as a radio-ready R&B-flavored joint (“Slow Jamz”). He speaks with brutal honesty but for every inspiring hymn like “Jesus Walks,” he drops a bombastic number like the Ludacris-assisted “Breathe In Breathe Out.” As a producer, Kanye can masterfully craft music for all occasions — from letting loose in the club to getting contemplative with a pair of headphones on. If it wasn’t for the annoying skits that attempt to convey how college isn’t for everybody (via a nerdy-voiced scholar who winds up broke and alone), this album may have been flawless. But as is, The College Dropout remains the most surprising hip-hop release of the new millennium. (M.H.)

COMMON
Be
(Geffen, 2005)

After releasing the eclectic rap/hip-hop/soul album Electric Circus in 2002, Common had mounds of expectations placed upon his shoulders for a fitting follow-up. Though nowhere near a carbon copy of its predecessor, 2005’s Be was replete with similar urban elements, coupled with nuances of old-school R&B and jazz. Of course, the local hero also scored some extra points thanks to production work by Kanye West, whose fingerprints are all over the street savvy scoot of “The Corner.” As a songwriter, Common remained relevant in exposing both a diary of personal reflections and socially conscious situations, discussing issues such as a heated criminal trial (“Testify”), breaking beyond the ghetto (“Love Is…”), and a few shout outs to his hometown (“Chi-City”). Common once again broke away from the formula of bling and green to provide an honest assessment of his surroundings with intelligence, ingenuity, and non-stop groove. (A.A.)

PELICAN
The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw
(Hydra Head, 2005)

“Post rock” is too often the umbrella used to catch-all when the music gets cloudy. Somehow it describes both the complex and the unfocused, and Pelican’s frequent inclusion in this wishy-washy genre is a slight. Because Pelican rocks. And not exactly in a complex way, either. The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw was the people’s rock of 2005, so derivative, but triumphant in its design to simply transcend bullshit. Chicago sons Larry and Bryan Herweg are the bricklayers of Pelican’s culminating instrumental sound. The rhythm section holds a decade of area influence on its foundation. The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw was a soft/loud marriage in the guitar-heavy tradition of Hum and Smashing Pumpkins, but entirely more drawn out (the post-factor, perhaps). The Pumpkins’ old “Altitude Not Attitude” vibe slowed up for a distortion-phased renaissance on “Red Ran Amber,” an 11-minute opus. And clearing the 10-minute mark, “Autumn Into Summer” was like a rocked-out “Djed” (Tortoise) for live guitars, bass, and drums. “Sirius” could have been a lost song from Hum’s none-too-vocal Electra 2000. The sizzler felt great nestled between expected tremolo and the obligatory whopper of a drone. Strict modernists heard a voiceless Isis, but they missed the power. Pelican is for everyone, pedestrian rockers included. (M.M.)

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PATRICIA BARBER
Mythologies
(Blue Note, 2006)

Celebrated, out, Chicago-born jazz artist Patricia Barber put her 2003 Guggenheim Fellowship for music composition to good use, resulting in the challenging and rewarding Mythologies (Blue Note). Drawing on both her distinctive composition and performance skills, the Greek mythology song cycle, featuring characters from the Ovid “Metamorphosis,” may or may not have you scrambling for your beat-up copy of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology. More than likely, it will further endear Barber to her considerable following in the contemporary jazz world and beyond. Gospel, hip-hop, and pop all mingle with Barber’s matchless jazz perspective, producing a finely honed set of tunes, that ranges from the thrilling duet “Persephone” to “Narcissus,” which Barber herself has described as a “gay wedding song.” A goddess in her own right, with the epic Mythologies, Barber has reaffirmed her greatness and leaves us mere mortals breathlessly awaiting what comes next. (Gregg Shapiro)

NEKO CASE
Fox Confessor Brings The Flood
(Anti, 2006)

Born in Virginia, moving between here, Vancouver, and Colorado, claiming Neko Case as a local is a tricky venture. The attraction, of course, is albums like Fox Confessor, which reimagines itself in any number of potentially troublesome environs be they trailer parks, motels, or two flats. With the potential red herring of Russian folktales, the album is really an examination of youth and its choices, dropped against the dichotomous worlds of ’50s folk and rock ‘n’ roll. If anyone asks, she’s from here. (S.F.)

LUPE FIASCO
Food & Liquor
(Atlantic, 2006)

While it seems insane to call a three-month-old hip-hop album “essential” especially in a genre tied to production trends, in the case of Food & Liquor we don’t feel like it’s such a gamble. In label limbo for a good part of the millennium, a Fiasco teaser arrived on Kanye West’s “Touch The Sky” while Atlantic kept pushing the release date back. People who never saw him play his own set were confused: Was he a thug? A hyper-conscious backpacker? A Latino woman? The long-awaited debut finally dropped in September, and shook people who sided earlier in the year with Rhymefest. Using Islam as the soap cleaning out his mouth, the Chicago wunderkind made an unlikely skaters’ anthem (“Kick, Push”), challenged his own integrity (“Hurt Me Soul”), let Jay-Z loose (“Pressure”), and juxtaposed Jill Scott over The Beta Band (“Daydreamin'”). Roving the West Side like Nas on a deck, he proved the wait was well worth it. (S.F.)

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  1. matt bacon says:

    Local H?????????

  2. Cat says:

    No Local H, no The Lawrence Arms, no Kill Hannah, AND no Rise Against? I think this list needs to be longer! I know opinions are subjective and there’s no way that all of my personal faves could be included but no Local H? In conclusion, I think it’s absolutely impossible to sum up all of the “essential” albums that have come out of the Chicago music scene in 25 records (even if limited by the time period of 1996-2006 and with the added scrutiny of limiting the field to one specific genre!).

  3. Darren says:

    In this list’s attempt to sound as if it was written for Village Voice by a critic who would rather name-drop obscure indie bands in some vain attempt to remain cutting edge/relevent than list the albums they really listen to, many truly noteworthy Chicago releases are completely disregarded. The minute you choose a three-month old Lupe Fiasco CD over an album that stands as the template for an entire genre (such as Ministry’s “Twitch” or Big Black’s “Atomizer”), or give props to Neko Case, but forget the contributions of Chicago transplants such as Poi Dog Pondering or the Mekons (who DO tend to get mentioned a lot, I admit), your list comes off as severely uninformed. Personally, I’m a bit disappointed to see no Naked Raygun, Material Issue, or Urge Overkill on this list.

  4. Darren says:

    My bad, on the Urge Overkill…which I see was issued in ’93. All others had releases within the 96-06 timeframe (although Material Issue’s was posthumously after Ellison’s death)…Ministry’s new Grammy-nominated CD is their best since Twitch, which was reissued as Jourgenson originally intended (but Warner insisted on tweaking the track listing) last year by Radioactive (so it should be on the list!).
    Also, upon further review Atomizer, which is included on Rich Man’s Eight Track Tape, falls outside the 96-06 timeframe…so I’m wrong about that one.

  5. James Parker says:

    Darren is dead-on when he mentions the Village Voice Factor p—y factor.
    In your mission to be P.C. (Patricia Barber?), you’ve left out one of the great Chicago power pop records of the last ten years……Caviar’s debut – which re-defined the genre created by Cheap Trick, Shoes, Material Issue and yes Enuff Z’Nuff. Caviar did it with such flair and cheekiness, i’ve got two copies – one for the car and one for the iPod. Timeless and ESSENTIAL.

  6. tim says:

    dude im out of it. but really, yeah where the hell is the (local) h?

  7. Bob says:

    This’ll teach ’em to laugh you out of Starbucks…

  8. widely says:

    not to ring my own bells… but Green’s ‘White Soul’ kicked the arse of many of the above and still does. not to mention their self titled debut and Elaine MacKenzie…

  9. al says:

    steve albini?? pick one. preferably a shellac record.
    the fiery furnaces are one of the best bands in the world…and they happen to have grown up in Oak Park.

  10. chi says:

    Oui vs. Sam Prekop’s eponymous debut solo album…no question the latter should have been chosen. Sorry.

  11. dave says:

    ANY Yakuza record.

  12. Tom says:

    Some good stuff on here but seriously, where is Local H?

  13. Fragglerocker says:

    NO LOCAL H? oddd…on the other hand…its nice to see Robbie Fulks on the list.

  14. Adam says:

    Seriously, Local H? I think Jim Derogatis “Pack Up the Cats” as record of the year when it was released but it’s not essential enough for you crummy list. Plus, Whatever Happend to P.J. Soles? contains one of the best written songs I’ve heard that being P.J. Soles. You are lame and your list sucks. No 11th Dreamday either. Are you from Chicago? Was Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness ’95 or ’96? It it’s the latter that just makes you more of a dumbass.

  15. pete rainey says:

    Mellon Collie was 1995 – that why Adore – 1998- is a good choice.
    Citing DeRogatis? Pot calling the kettle black……

  16. Adam says:

    I’m not sure what the pot calling the kettle black refers to in this situation. What’s wrong with Dero?

  17. Pete Rainey says:

    We’ll there’s nothing wrong personally with DeRogatis – seems like a nice guy. But – look no further than his TWO pages devoted to Disney’s High School Musical in Friday’s and Monday ‘s Sun-Times. He slammed the whole production of course – but my problem is he dedicated 2000 words to the topic at all. Talk about lame. I’d rather read about IE’s dubious list of essential Local CD’s than a local Rock (Star) Critic telling me that High School Musical blows. Tell me something I DON’T know……

  18. one of my favorates ya missed was pezband laughing in the dark

  19. e.j. says:

    great article, but you are, indeed, missing rise against and local h. as for your earlier list: nicely done. off broadway AND naked raygun in the same list? only in chicago. yeah, baby!!

  20. adam says:

    Well, I heard about the high school musical thing. I seriously doubt it was his wishing to go witness this. He was probably assigned this.

  21. Vcook says:

    I spent a drunken night in ’96 in a muddy urbana backyard, drinking cheap keg beer with SF, waiting for Braid to play in a small living room. Did they ever play that night, Stever? Some band played, Vcook got drunk, and the details are hazy. We were not foreign exchange students that night, but the groundwork was layed.

  22. Linwood Burkowski says:

    What a great list of local albums. Does anyone know where I can purchase these locally? Record Shops? I just moved to Chicago (Bridgeport) from Ireland.

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