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BEST Albums of the decade: 2010-2019

As we continue reliving the last ten years of culture here in Champaign-Urbana through our end-of-decade coverage, we are relistening to a ton of albums released by local acts from across that span of time. Here’s what we believe to be the best of the bunch from the last decade of music.

25. Evil Tents — Night Air on the Midway (2011)
24. Sun Stereo — Rogue Satellite (2012)

23. Emily Blue —Another Angry Woman (2016)
22. zzo — Telling Other People’s Stories (2018)
21. Bones Jugs — Party’s in the Kitchen (2014)
20. The Dirty Feathers — Midnight Snakes (2013)
19. Jay Bennett — Kicking the Perfumed Air (2010)
18. Kowabunga! Kid — Wasting My Time (2016)
17. The Fights — Off Your Horse (2014)
16. ZXO — LP1 (2017)
15. Withershins — Silver Cities (2013)
14. Motes — Keep It In The Dark (2015)
13. Easter — Demonstration (2011)
12. Common Loon — Common Loon (2019)
11. Elsinore — Yes Yes Yes (2010)

10. MOTHER NATURE — Mother Nature (2016)

Klevah and T.R.U.T.H just know how to write bangers. Mother Nature was born out of this idea that two rappers could truly elevate one another and present a collective of tracks to form a highlight reel in a single collaborative album. The duo formed in the middle of the decade, both rappers having respective releases worthy of your attention, and although both of them are incredible talents on their own, together they were something of a supergroup from the get go. They’ve continued to explore their career, and though the self-titled debut came pretty close on the heels of some of their first shows, the group always felt like an effortless success story. The only option for these two is to go straight to the top however they can. Their pursuit of music is admirable, and they are still pounding the pavement in Chicago getting it done. “I use these fuckin’ lyrics like a weapon” they spit in “Conscience Sinners”, which is emblematic of their intensity when they are on the mic.

9. THE LEADERSHIP — Frontiers (2010)

The Leadership’s time as a Champaign-Urbana band didn’t last that long. The band didn’t really exist beyond this release, as frontman Jon Childers and multi-instrumentalist Jared Park moved to Nashville to do their thing after their time here in C-U. Frontiers is the result of a couple of guys that loved Wilco and wanted to jam for the most part. It’s a 31-minute record with eight really excellent tracks, written by a couple of college-aged musicians, and they wrote songs that could make just about anyone in a bar stomp their feet a bit while they played. Childers’ whiskey-soaked raspy vocals (“Little Black Book”) and Park’s even crunchier guitar licks (“Keep the Change”) make this one of the best pure rock n’ roll albums to come out of the scene. Even with a focus on bar room stompers, the album had such a wonderful arc, ending with “Ballrooms” which could be the best track they ever put to tape. Childers ended up forming Blank Range with another set of musicians, Park went on to explore his own musical project as Manrelic, and The Leadership’s Frontiers is the piece that was left behind.

8. NEW RUINS — This Life Is Not Ours To Keep (2011)

Recorded, mixed, and produced by Brian Deck (known for his work with Modest Mouse, Iron & Wine, and plenty of others), New Ruins’ final record brought frontman Elzie Sexton a little more front-and-center than previous albums. When it came out, it certainly didn’t seem like this was going to be the end of the band. Although This Life Is Not Ours To Keep probably isn’t the best of New Ruins’ material, the band’s effort certainly is a strong representation of what they were when they were actively playing in C-U. The band broke up after this album came out, most of the members going on to form Wicked Walls, while Elzie Sexton played music as My Werewolf Diary for a short stint in the 2010s. This Life might have been the final bow from this indie rock outfit, but it certainly feels like one of the most complete records New Ruins ever put out.

7. SANTAH — White Noise Bed (2010)

For a while, the McConnell family was such a terrific nugget of a family in the music scene. Lead by Stan McConnell, brother Mack and sister Vivian were a part of Santah as well. Those three, plus Otto Stuparitz, Tommy Trafton, and Steve Plock, made this motley crew a staple of the local scene for many years. Their charm rings through these songs on White Noise Bed, which is best represented perhaps in the “whoaaaa-ohhh-whoaaa”-s in “No Other Women”, the lead single from the record. The band was really going for it earlier in the decade, going on tour, playing at CMJ, and eventually continuing their career as a band when they exited C-U for Chicago. White Noise Bed is the starting point for the new-era of the band post-addition of that “h” on the end of their name. Whether they were playing at a house show in Urbana or at Mike N Molly’s, the album is chalk full of warm indie pop tunes that really got the scene buzzing back in the day.

6. T.R.U.T.H — Luxocracy (2014)

“What is life without metamorphosis?” This collection of words are some of the first that kick off Luxocracy, perhaps one of the more-overlooked releases in the last decade. It certainly propelled Tierney Reed, better known as T.R.U.T.H, to the top of the list of the best rappers in Champaign-Urbana. Much like that line, we’ve seen Reed transform over time to the artist she is now. On T.R.U.T.H’s debut record, we got our first glimpse of the masterful delivery from Reed, which continued through future releases as well as through the work of Mother Nature. Luxocracy was certainly an indication early on that Reed has a lot to say, and throughout her career, we’ve seen messages of empowerment amplified loud and clear as a showcase of her use of music as a true voice that should be heard.

5. KENNA MAE — Blue Darlin’ (2015)

There are very few people in the history of the scene that command your attention when they sing quite like Kenna Mae Reiss. Their voice is simply goosebump-inducing. The sound they create goes straight through your skin to vibrate down into your bones. Their voice bellows from deep within, and out comes a soul-filled croon that should really be known by far more than just us here in C-U. Blue Darlin’ is a powerful showcase of Reiss’ ability to slowly bulldoze you with the way they sing and play these folk songs. When you hear the songs, you know the words and emotions are coming straight from someone’s soul, and when you hear them, there’s no doubt in your mind that you’ve never heard someone sing quite like Kenna Mae sings.

4. MELVIN KNIGHT — Shades of Us (2018)

As noted in our BEST Music of the decade feature, Crofton Coleman, aka Melvin Knight, is one hell of a singer. Shades of Us is such a pure showcase of his abilities as a vocalist and all-around superb musician with an incredible knack for making soul tunes. The album was the best to come out last year, and though Coleman has moved to Chicago at this point, the gift left here is a neo-soul beauty that will live on beyond his tenure. Coleman previously performed in Church Booty before starting this project, and the R&B album sounds like it is straight out of another era, and a stunning recording from Crofton’s alter-ego.

3. GRANDKIDS — Timeshare (2013)

There’s no way to describe Grandkids other than the darling of the local music scene for a handful of years. Their album Timeshare was universally adored from the moment it came out. There is a reason it was voted by many to be the best album of the first portion of the decade. The self-dubbed “sleep rock” outfit is anything but sleepy, and Timeshare is the exquisite delivery of the very best of what Grandkids could create. Vivian McConnell’s beautiful croon and Evan Metz’s unmistakable guitar tone make up the backbone of Timeshare, and the terrific production and balance of every single component beyond these two is a remarkable achievement. A rock band with a cello became the focus of the scene for some time, and the band’s release had a wide appeal to make it such a digestible nugget of indie rock goodness.

2. CJ RUN — Listen to the Kids (2016)

Seemingly appearing out of nowhere, CJ Run’s presence in the scene was felt once Listen to the Kids dropped. The album surfaced, we got wind of it and listened, and legitimately, we were floored.

“Who is CJ Run?” we asked one another.

“Wait, they live here? Holy shit, this is amazing” we said internally when we found out.

It was a splash of cold water straight to the face. Run is the artist of the decade, and Listen to the Kids was such a breath of fresh air in the scene. There aren’t many artists in recent memory that have made such noise, it immediately demanded our attention. Run is simply a pure talent, with effortless, natural delivery of what they have to say, layered perfectly over an excellent showcase of production. Listen to the Kids is a timeless classic in a lot of ways. Run is bound for excellence, and this is the starting point, the Exhibit A, if you will. 

1. COMMON LOON — The Long Dream of Birds (2010)

Matthew Campbell and Robert Hirschfeld’s work as Common Loon functioned as two bookends to a decade in local music releases: their debut record, The Long Dream of Birds, came out in 2010, and their self-titled release coming out nearly ten years later in April of this year basically out of the blue. While we waited, we had this album, and all the while, we’d continue to wonder when the next album was going to actually come out, if ever. There was kind of a cool mystery about the whole thing. 

Time spent listening to The Long Dream of Birds over and over again really never got boring. There’s a specific charm to it that made the wait for the next one tolerable. Most of us probably came to the conclusion that this was going to be the only album we were going to get from Common Loon. The Long Dream of Birds still stands up after that span of time, and the collection of 11 pure indie rock and dream pop tracks is on display as one of the best albums to ever come out of this music scene. These guys made an album that is purely a mixture of both of what they do so well respectively while not ever remotely feeling like a tug-of-war. Listening to Long Dream makes it seem like they are the frontmen of a two person band. It’s really a beautiful record, top to bottom, and this piece of work is a showcase of a band of brothers just writing great songs, one after the next.

Seth Fein, Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, and Patrick Singer contributed to the creation of this article.

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