Smile Politely

Top Ten C-U Rock Albums 2012

It’s been an interesting year in music for C-U. Paste loves C-U bands. So do record labels and pretty substantial music festivals. They even play on TV and for SP. With the help of some reader input and the assitance of an increasingly deep field of local bands and artists to choose from, we’ve compiled our yearly list of albums that stuck out to us.

Luckily, we have a lot of resources to pick from around here, and no shortage of variety in genre or sound in this list. Like we mentioned last year, we know there are a lot of different types of albums to choose from. Plenty of great jazz, folk, electronic, blues, and hip hop releases have come out this year, so we can’t say this is necessarily a comprehensive list. So, we make sure that’s well known.

Thanks to the musicians of C-U who make this all worthwhile, and you, the reader for participating. Anyways, here’s the best of what 2012 served up.

10. Witch In Her Tomb — Witch In Her Tomb

Due to an overwhelming reader response, local black metal howlers sneak into the top ten this year. We’ll be the first to admit we don’t cover as much of this genre as we should, but let it be known, we don’t dislike music like this. Sometimes welcoming the most blunt and harshest of sounds can open up an entire world you didn’t know existed before. A really dark one, in fact. The utter brutality of this record is really, really difficult to digest, but certain parts are just undeniably abrasive and gripping. Hell, even Stereogum doesn’t want to believe they are from Urbana.


9. Sun Stereo Rogue Satellite

From the opening keys of Rogue Satellite, you have a feeling that you’re immediately about to get lifted. You’re not sure what kind of trip you’re going on, but you’re pretty sure it has something worthwhile in store. It’s full of synthy rhythms that you could mistake for a Hot Chip or Passion Pit on certain tracks (“DNA” in particular), but it doesn’t matter when you’re as put together as this group. Those electro-pop sounds and syths all over the place find a way to avoid swallowing up the quirky hooks or drowning out any of the crisp melodies. This is one of the more creative releases, unlike anything else around really, and that’s due for some praise. Sun Stereo makes it all work and have a big fat smile on their faces while they’re doing it. Even if you can’t see it, you can sense it.


8. Megan Johns — Hey, Lonely

In what’s turned out to be one of the best produced albums of the year, Megan Johns’ debut almost feels like a flashback. Hey, Lonely has enough textures to fill an entire scrapbook with emotion and memory, strength and weakness, warmth and compassion. The way she sings is almost nostalgic, and with the help of a solid rhythm section, all feels right. Regardless of whether she has a full band or it’s just her with a droned out acoustic guitar, it’s not saying the music is shallow by saying you don’t have to dig deep to understand what this is all about. It’s just right.

Check out our review of Hey, Lonely here.


7. The Duke of Uke and His Novelty Orchestra — April’s Empire

The Duke of Uke has always been at odds within a music scene where sometimes indie rock can take over, but they find a way to survive. If you found yourself boogying to The Way Up from a few years ago, just imagine that enhanced and with even more flourishing instrumentation. Duke of Uke essentially acts as a collective of people who produce solid grooves in succession across a whole record. If you refuse to believe that a song that contains the lyrics “Do the Vincent Van Gogh-Gogh!” will make you move around a little bit, just go ahead and skip over the spunky track that incorporates the painter’s very name smack dab in the middle (but you might regret it). Vivid textures of Duke of Uke have certainly blossomed into something contageous on April’s Empire.

Check out our review of April’s Empire here.


6. Coed Pageant — The Seasons EPs

It’s easy to make the connection between the sound of The Palace Flophouse and this side-project between Bradley & Gretchen Bergstrand. TPF took home some big-time cred from our end and many of our readers last year with Bad Friends Forever, but Coed Pageant has a slightly different story to tell. Spanning 21 tracks between the four of them, these EPs expose us to a different side of this duo. In a sense, it’s one of those cases of addition by subtraction. By stripping away some of those raucous guitars from TPF recordings and getting down to the basics, Coed Pageant crafts these really beautiful songs that make their way through all the seasons. And even the instrumental tracks like “Summerstorm” find a way to resonante. The amount of material is pretty prolific, and it isn’t going unnoticed.

Coed Pageant have been a guest on Smile Politely Radio, and we’ve reviewed all four EPs: Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3, Vol. 4.


5. Horrible Things — Dumb Days

Despite Horrible Things being relatively quiet throughout 2012 in terms of shows and appearances, what we’re dealing with here definitely isn’t anything like that. They came and went just about as fast as the 9-tracks that fill the just-barely thirteen-minute span of Dumb Days’ lifespan. Bookended with a pair of Peter Pan references about not wanting to grow up, and combined with their continued theme of apathy in terms of maturation, Horrible Things might have some growing up to do. But that’s not the point. If you grow up, it means you have to change. These guys shouldn’t.

Check out our review of Dumb Days here.


4. Anna Karenina/Anna Karina Autobiographies

Kind of the dark horse in this race that came out above a lot of records was this one by relatively new guys to the party. It’s hard to pin down any specific thoughts when it comes to Autobiographies, but it might just be a gut feeling about this whole Annas thing. Made up of members of Midstress, Take Care, and the newly created outfit The Fights, you would think that those familiar names would make us feel more comfortable, but that isn’t the case. The crunch and grime mixed with Cole Rabenort’s curdling howls at times just make a lot of sense. Even between contrasting tracks with the stomping “Springleft/Rightfall” merged right into the twang of “Hardwood/Baseboards,” neither finds itself in unfamiliar territory.

AK/AK spoke about their album on Smile Politely Radio last May, and you can listen to that show here.


3. Santah You’re Still A Lover

A few years removed from their stellar debut White Noise Bed comes this charmingly great EP from the familiar folks of Santah. Sure, people could consider this gang from Chicago, but they’ll always be C-U chums as far as we’re concerned. The cover art is just as breezy as it sounds, and the crew really put together a handful of tracks that could be considered the best things they’ve done. Top to bottom you know what you’re getting when you put it on. Chiming guitars and explosive vocal harmonies, perfectly tight knit rhythm section to make everything fit just right. ‘This would be a hell of a race between these tracks and WNB material to decide who’s best, but why wage a war when you can spread love? Not Santah. They’re all about sharing what’s good.

Read our review of You’re Still A Lover here.


2. DeathTram DeathTram

This year’s downright growling self-titled debut from DeathTram made a serious push on our list to take the top spot. Regardless of how it ranks on our list, the rugged, ghostly production all over this record is still one of the best garage rock records we’ve heard in some time. Who cares if you can’t make out the lyrics as well as others? The sonic and droning melodies smother the whole thing, and with the pure presentation of a pure psyched out blues record, it feels like an illusion that could simply disappear out of thin air. Simply put: It’s just great rock ‘n roll.


1. Withershins Silver Cities

There are plenty of things that Withershins borrow from the C-U music scene, past and present, but what they are is something that is unlike anything we have around here. The graceful appregios and melodic vocals mixed with brutally gorgous percussions … oftentimes that would seem like a chaotic mixture. Guess again. What they sound like is a thunderous band that hasn’t seemed to get enough credit for their material, even going back to when their debut Aeriel soared into our ears. Silver Cities is something we could refer to as the next level. Everything from the crunch of “Monkey” to the Maserati-esque “Ender (Gravity Is Yr Friend),” or the nine-minute opening epic “Fire Flies” to the piano ballad “Any More” earned this album our top choice for 2012.

Read our review of Silver Cities here.

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