Smile Politely

BEST Music 2015

Although we put together year-end “Best of 2014” lists of albums, tracks and live shows, BEST Music is our chance to praise some of the elements of local music that we may have glazed over or missed. We can talk about our favorite bands, hangouts, and positive action and change we’ve seen. It’s stuff like this that keeps our music scene modern, unique, and just plain fun. — Maddie Rehayem

BEST house venue

Dingbat Dungeon

Punk houses can come and go, we know this, but sometimes there’s a basement so perfect you know punks will seek it out and rent it in the future. I think Urbana’s Dingbat Dungeon has been and will be a punk house forever, even if it closes its doors to shows temporarily. A well-curated stream of bands has rolled through, played in the basement, hung out, drank beers, and were able to raise more than enough gas money in most cases. It’s been nice to see more and more kids come out to watch DIY bands do their thing at the Dungeon — and that couldn’t have happened without the people in that house making it a welcoming, safe space. (MR)

Photo by Maddie Rehayem.

BEST open mic night

The Culture

Open mic nights can be pretty terrible — just ask the Blind Pig customers sitting in the beergarden trying to tune out the Cowboy Monkey noise pollution on Tuesday nights. If we wanted to hear whiny dudes with acoustic guitars we could just listen to Bright Eyes. The Culture, however, is an open-mic night on a mission. TheGr8Thinkaz’s Klevah started the Sunday night event at Canopy Club and it’s become a forum for artistic expression, a place where often-silenced minorities can have a voice. Full disclosure — I haven’t been yet, but I’ve heard great things about it, partially from local rapper Tierney Reed aka T.R.U.T.H, who did an article about it for us. Here’s to the Culture coming back soon. (MR)

Photo by Tom Chandler.

BEST Great Cover Up performance

Resinater as Limp Bizkit

There were several performances at this year’s event that put the “Great” in “Great Cover-Up.” There were cover sets of some of my personal favorite bands like Terminus Victor’s Echo and the Bunnymen or Tigerbeat’s Jesus and Mary Chain. There was a fabulous set by Elsinore, showcasing their versatility as Whitney Houston. But no Great Cover-Up set had the passion of Resinater’s Limp Bizkit. Their resident Fred Durst, Darwin Keup, mentioned after the set that he’d been singing those songs his whole life, and boy did it show. From face-makeup on guitarist Ted Lerch to employing local DJ Belly for backing beats to the signature Durst red Yankees cap, Resinater took The Highdive by surprise — nobody would have ever thought they’d so thoroughly enjoy a set of well-done Limp Bizkit songs. (MR)

BEST music video

American Football’s “Never Meant”

It all started with a tweet: Mike Kinsella enquired as to whether anyone in Urbana would like to host a kegger for a music video, and Urbana was like, “Yeah dawg, we do that all the time.” This was before American Football’s reunion was even announced, so there was a ton of hype surrounding it. People showed up to the house, partied, listened to some Talking Heads and some Abba and were filmed dancing and having a good time, partying, etc. Another part of the video was filmed with actors in the iconic American Football house, located in Urbana. The resulting video was a story woven in C-U scenery, from Exile On Main Street to the flat cornfields to an Urbana party — a video worthy of the hit song. (MR)

BEST artist


Tierney Reed, aka T.R.U.T.H, is truly a revelation. Over the past couple of years, she’s carved out not only her spot within the C-U music scene as a stellar and important hip-hop presence, but in the realm of being one of the best artists in the community. Music is a form of art, this is true, but her relevance stretches beyond the music scene and into the cultural etching of Champaign-Urbana. Just ask anyone that has had his or her ear to the ground and pays attention to what’s what around — she’s a badass. Listen to her mixtape from last year. Check out the Culture. If you haven’t been paying attention, it is time to wake up, because Reed is the real deal. (PS)


BEST band merch

Resinater rolling papers

The dudes in Resinater like to party. I know them. They are pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a band that plays stoner rock, and they’re unapologetic about it (as they should be). You know what they’re really unapologetic about? Being stoners. What did they do? Well, they created the best band merch they could’ve possibly thought of: Resinater rolling papers. Yep — exactly. What more could you want when you are buying a Resinater tape? Probably an accessory to help you experience their music. That won’t get you the whole way there, of course, but it is part of the equation. You do the math. Better yet, if you were fortunate enough to get your hands on some of them, Darwin Kuep would deliver them to you. Seriously. (PS) 

BEST new venue 

The Loose Cobra

Tolono has always been known for the home of Earth Analog, home to Matt Talbott of HUM’s recording studio, used by many artists over the years. Last fall, The Loose Cobra opened as a bar and venue, acting as a real off-the-beaten-path place for really, really good shows to take place. Just within the last few months, Bobby Bare, Jr. tore it up, Wicked Walls and The Chemicals took their licks, and plenty of others alongside them. The shotgun-style bar really puts you right in front of the action and has a cozy feel to it that makes any show you go see there a good experience. Take some time to check out their upcoming shows and go see it for yourself — and buy a Schlitz while you’re at it. (PS) (Photo by Mike Coulter, featured in the linked article above)

BEST new album

Keep It In the Dark — Motes

Motes haven’t ever seemed like a band that ever wanted much outside of playing good shows and writing good songs. After Feel the Summer’s Heat came out a few years back, the song “Should” (featured on the new record) always resonated with me beyond most local songs, for some reason. I can’t really put my finger on it. Their approach just felt like a relief to me, as if this local outfit wasn’t doing something that many others around here were doing. Perhaps it was because they sound a lot like Yo La Tengo in a lot of ways, thinking while I’m sinking into this record, “Deeper Into Movies” is going to slip in there somewhere. (By all means, that is about the best compliment I could deliver.) Either way, after spending a ton of time writing and recording the follow up, Keep It In The Dark feels like a void being filled, and a record that’s worth paying attention to in 2015, even with the idea that The Fights put out a terrific Off Your Horse in 2014. The Motes crew is likely grateful if you listen, and we’re grateful for their approach. (PS)

BEST local music wormhole

I’ll start this portion of the discussion by saying my time experiencing when it still existed was towards the very end of it being active (around 2008-2009). I didn’t utilize it as an active member, just more so to peruse for local music, keep an eye on what was happening, and things of that nature. Keeping a finger on the pulse and whatnot. After going dormant for a short while, and a few years pass, the site still exists as it had when it stopped functioning back then — acting as an archive for a ton of local music gems to go back and check out. If you don’t watch yourself, you could spend a ton of time checking out old album reviews, show posters, people looking for new bands to play in, and just endless banter about the C-U music scene and beyond. I’m hardly even scratching the surface here, but consider it your newest way to kill time and learn a bit more. (PS)

BEST band

The Fights

We’re lucky enough to live in a town where we can write a full section of BESTs regarding local music. There’s a ton of great songs and great bands in town. But in the last year, The Fights have solidified themselves as an act that represents C-U perfectly. Hell, they represent Midwestern sounds perfectly. Cole Rabenort, Dave Pride, Nick Stine, Clayton Deering, and Joe Gerard have helped reinvigorate the Champaign-Urbana music scene with some good ol’ country music, and the kids are digging it. In a world that praises pop music with a fiddle as country hits, The Fights have gone back to roots music. The seriousness of the lead vocals from Cole Rabenort and Dave Pride, coupled with a slide guitar, perfectly encapsulate an evening spent moseying about the Midwest. It’s beautiful music that wouldn’t be out of place on a Gram Parsons record in the early 70’s.

Speaking even more to their popularity is their ability to play on bills with bands of all types — when you think of Sun Stereo you typically aren’t expecting to hear country music on the same bill. Somehow, though, it just works. And it works because the music is good. This is a band that C-U has rightfully embraced as a must-see act, and for that, they deserve to be named the best band of the last year. (TP)

BEST sing-a-long

“Bury My Body” by Rebecca Rego & The Trainmen

Certain artists are capable of painting a picture of a place and time with their lyrics. Tom Waits comes to mind when he sings this one. The arrangement, all of it, evokes a dive bar that we’ve all been at one point or another. But this isn’t about Tom Waits. This is about Rebecca Rego writing a song that’s a country stomper and, frankly, a little bit of a bummer.

“Bury My Body” is a song about a bar. But bars have personalities. They see and hear a lot — especially from regulars. Fights, falling love, heartbreak, and camaraderie are woven into the fiber of a good bar. Rego and her band encapsulate that perfectly in just under four minutes with a chorus that belongs on every good bar’s jukebox. (TP)

BEST venue development

The City Center

Fat City transformed big time this year. They added over 9,000 square feet to the venue by essentially building a venue where the outdoor beer garden was. The speed in which the The City Center was created was pretty remarkable as well — it only took a few months. So far, they’ve booked mostly newer country acts, which, really is awesome considering that C-U hasn’t really had a space that caters to that genre. So far so good, we’re excited to see what’s on the horizon. (TP)

BEST trend

Local bands going on tour

We could be wrong, but we’ve seen a trend lately of local bands embarking on tours lately. We’ve even brought back tour diary, and luckily bands have been happy to let us know how their tours went. Bones Jugs N Harmony, Resinater, and Kowabunga! Kid have all recently done diary entries for us. It’s been cool to hear back from the bands bringing a little piece of C-U to music lovers across the country. (MR)


BEST local compilation

buzz Magazine’s Covering Our Tracks

Back in February, the folks at buzz put up a free album on their bandcamp of local bands covering local bands. There are a whopping 18 tracks on this thing, which seems like no small feat, getting that many bands to cooperate. The coolest thing about the comp is the range of songs—young bands covering bands from before their time, and cross-genre covers as well. It’s a great variety, and worth more than one listen. (MR)

Contributors include Maddie Rehayem, Patrick Singer, and Tom Pauly.

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