Smile Politely

Top 10 C-U albums of 2014

We’ve reached the point where there is a wealth of music in C-U that we can’t possibly put together a list of local records that covers it all. We’re totally aware of that, and that’s OK with us. In 2014 — many records came and went, and these were the ones that resonated with us, as well as the readers who submitted their votes for our Top Albums list. Looking back through this list, plenty of Americana, folk, shoegaze, punk and pop are featured, so we feel pretty good about that. Go listen to these records, and let us know what your favorites from 2014 are. — Patrick Singer


A fine record filled with Americana and folk goodness, Tolono reminds us that the roots of our being exist here in Central Illinois. Plucked banjos and foot-tapping (well, stomping in some parts) percussion, mixed with Rego’s vocals that balance within the mix that make you feel like you’re seeing the band in person as you’re listening to Tolono. — PS


Since their fictional lyricist and mastermind Chain got sent to juvie, local hardcore band Chain’s Gang was forced to call it quits. From the grave, however, a four-song flexi EP has turned up and it’s the best thing they’ve ever done.  Sure, it’s the shortest album on this list but every song is hard-hitting punk rock ‘n roll that begs foot stomping and careless moshing. The distortion is just right and the mix is perfect — C-U albums aside this is one of my favorite punk releases to come out this year in general. This is the kind of thing that puts Urbana on the map in terms of national punk. — Maddie Rehayem


The Chemicals will not go unnoticed in the realm of Champaign-Urbana acts. They’ve been around for quite some time now, and with their first LP in quite a while, they provide the appropriate backdrop for a garage rock/alt-country mixture that is more than welcomed within the stiches of what we have come to expect out of great bar scene bands in C-U. Heirship Records gave this record a shot because it made sense for them — representation of the area, while at the same time rejuvenating the mojo that lead this group to establish itself here in the first place. — PS


Are You There? was released less than a year following Single Player’s first tape, Could Care Less, and it’s been wonderful to see Sean Neumann’s songwriting develop so quickly from the first tape’s catchy indie/twee pop into something more thought out and emotional. The upbeat songs on this tape are what we know and love from Single Player, but the slower, more intimate tracks fit in just as well, making it a well-balanced and fun-to-listen-to release. — MR

The development of Tara Terra delves much deeper than simply a change of name from Emily Otnes and the Weekdays to a succinct band name. If a band made a change just after altering the name from which they were identified — that would be pretty shallow, no? Well, luckily for them, this isn’t the case. Otnes and her faithful bandmates elevated their game from what a singer-songwriter brought to a group of people that could execute her vision to a full-fledged band vision that feels much more vibrant than before. — PS
OK, gang. You might not entirely be into this, which is totally fine. That’s not really the point, to be frank. Bones Jugs N Harmony absolutely brought it this year, because honestly, they know what they hell they are doing, and are doing the good work as a local band that tours like nobody’s business. Aside from that, Party In The Kitchen is a testament to that hard work, but not only that, it is a testament to the diligence that an outfit like Bones Jugs has up their sleeve. Sure, they are quirky and all — but their repertoire has only improved over time. Party’s In The Kitchen is a culimation of that dedication, formed into a terrific self-titled debut. — PS

On the outside, Wicked Walls would appear to be the remnants of what C-U vets New Ruins left behind. When in all honesty, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Their self-titled debut is merely the beginning point of defining themselves as something that is not New Ruins. Perhaps I am resurrecting that notion, but with the combination of J. Caleb Means’ songwriting leading the way, and mashing that with Scott Kimble of Terminus Victor, Andrew Davidson (The Living Blue) on bass, and all the rest — Wicked Walls’ debut record was one to behold in 2014 as a statement of purpose. Not only something to help them stand alone as an outfit apart from their respective other projects, but a concoction that only makes sense once you sample it for the first time. — PS

I can’t say this definitively, but Withershins’ third record feels much different in shape and size than its predecessors — which is terrific. Why create another record that sounds within the realm of the ones that came before it? In Mt. Fuji In Blue, they do just that. Don’t they love Jesu? They sure do. While listening, those influences are smattered all over this record, but Withershins have always been a band that crafts what they do so well from pieces of others. They share because it makes sense. Considering Silver Cities grew from what Aeriel propped up to be Withershins’ identity — Mt Fuji In Blue deconstructed a lot of those characteristics (in a positive sense), and recreated a suspenseful backdrop of noise, shoegaze, and space rock that has defined the band. This record uplifts that notion even futher. — PS

The 92s have intensity to their music that pushes it further than their pop punk equals. Their songs often begin innocently, with bouncy guitars and Dan Durley’s lighthearted singing, and then take it to the next level with a funky distorted guitar solo or the whole band hammering their instruments to make noise resembling Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles on “A Day In The Life.” Such a talented band with such well structured songs, but the 92s aren’t afraid to let loose and play them in a house party environment if it means having a good time — and throwing in a Weezer cover in here and there. — MR


With their full-length album, The Fights have surely established themselves as one of the best country bands ever to originate in C-U. And I’m not usually a country person (and I don’t want to make this review about me and not this wonderful album) but sometimes the soothing sounds of a slide guitar are the best therapy for whatever it is ailing you. Each song on Off Your Horse is so earnestly played and sung, to the point where it seems as if The Fights were born to play them. There isn’t a single dud track. There can’t be. Doctors ought to start prescribing the Fights. — MR

All writeups by Maddie Rehayem and Patrick Singer.

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