Smile Politely

BEST Music 2022

After the mess of 2020, things could really only go uphill. While last year was a great year for music, 2022 seemed to come out on top, in my opinion. Live events are back, new venues are in the works, and some incredible music dropped. While COVID is still very much here — please keep wearing masks, y’all — the music scene feels more alive now than it has the last two years. Below are some of our favorite musical moments from 2022, and here’s to hoping 2023 is even greater.

– Sean Wilkinson, Music Editor

Photo by Boots Howard.

BEST moment in music: Trouble Chasin’ opening for Ludacris

Man, these guys are constantly grinding, so to see Chase Baby and Sandman Slimm  aka Trouble Chasin’ — not only drop their best album yet but then the week after announce that they secured a spot opening for Ludacris at his hometown concert? So cool and deserving.While I didn’t attend the concert, I saw some videos and the duo brought their A-game. (SW)

Album cover from Van Brocklyn’s Bandcamp.

BEST EP: Goldman Sax – Van Brocklyn

This EP came at the perfect time – it’s the end of September, we’re heading into fall, the weather is getting colder, you start to think about what a bummer it’s going to be when winter rolls around and there’s no sunshine. The five tracks on Van Brocklyn’s Goldman Sax however, was the warmth and comfort I needed at the time. Matt Wenzel creates a great blend of jazz, midwest emo, chamber pop, and more. There’s something so melancholic about it, but yet hopeful of the days to come. Only two of the five songs feature vocals, but there’s enough here to hold onto with the instrumental tracks as well. It could also be because I’m a sucker for anything with a warm saxophone in it, but this EP really came at the right time and hit me in just the right way. (SW)

Photo from Japan House’s Facebook page.

BEST hidden gem event: Concerts at Japan House (Shinrin Onyoku)

I think the first Shinrin Onyoku I got around to attending this year was also the last one of the year, unfortunately. All I could think about while I was there was, “damn, I wish I had been able to make the other performances.” The Japan House is one of my favorite spots around C-U, and the Shinrin Onyoku performances are a combo of everything great about the Japan House — beautiful scenery, Japanese food and drinks, and some great music. I happened to catch Salaryman when they performed, and I ended up under a tree in the shade on a breezy summer day, and it was perfect. This would be a great daytime date, and I hope they continue with these events next year. (SW)


BEST music video: “Scab” – Nectar

Not a lot of artists are dropping music videos or accompanying visuals with their music. Nectar dropped not one, but three music videos for their latest album No Shadow. The video for “Scab” is my favorite, with the band going about life, drawing a swirly symbol on everything. For me, it’s a great reflection of the song’s themes about carrying past experiences with us, and watching those experiences manifest in different areas of our life. The song is incredibly catchy, and the video is upbeat and playful. (SW)

Album cover from Thotcrime’s Bandcamp.

BEST album artwork: Thotcrime’s D1G1T4L_DR1FT

Thotcrime’s D1G1T4L_DR1FT features very trippy album artwork (and trippy music for that matter — like, absolutely nuts). D1G1T4L_DR1FT’s album art is abstract, with this weird texture that makes it look 3D, even digitally, like you could reach out and touch it. It’s dark, digital, neon, and twisting, a perfect reflection of the music within. You could stare at this cover indefinitely and be mesmerized. Also, have I mentioned that the album itself is great? (SW)


BEST virtual performance: Mermaid Heaven “You” for NPR Tiny Desk Contest

Not only are Mermaid Heaven one of my favorite local bands based solely on the music, but they continuously compliment their music with incredible music videos and visuals. For this live performance, Mermaid Heaven performed a live rendition of their song “You.” They also submitted this performance to NPR for their annual Tiny Desk Contest in hopes of potentially winning and performing live at the radio’s headquarters in DC. Despite not winning, they got pretty damn far, and received shoutouts from NPR. It’s easy to see why. The rendition of “You” is pretty much spot on to the studio version, but they’re playing in a cozily decorated living room surrounded by numerous lights that brighten and dim and swell with the music. The performance is stunning, and it’s one thing for me to talk about it, but you should really check it out. (SW)

Photo from Channing Murray’s Facebook page.

BEST underrated venue: Channing Murray

If you’re not familiar with the Channing Murray Foundation, it’s located in Urbana in the former Unitarian Church on Oregon Street. It’s the same building as Red Herring Vegetarian Restaurant. It’s such a unique building  old and beautiful, with a lovely little chapel. The chapel has been a music venue on and off for years, but I still consider it to be highly underrated. Chapels and churches are known for having insane acoustics and if you put the right type of music in there, it’s going to sound incredible with the natural reverberation. Shows like Bonnie “Prince” Billy or Jon Mueller, who performed acoustically, sounded incredible, and the chapel acted like a natural amplifier for them. Even harder, electric bands like LOW sounded stellar when they came back in April. The venue is a great change of pace if you’re maybe a little bored of seeing shows at bars, so I’m hoping for more Channing Murray shows next year. (SW)

Photo by Sean Wilkinson.

BEST new band: Decapitation in the Food Court

Every time I’ve seen Decapitation in the Food Court, the crowd they draw is wild. They have an incredibly dedicated fan base who goes absolutely nuts during their shows, and for good reason. This band is an original mix of indie rock, emo, psychedelic, and hardcore that even ventures into hip-hop as well. Their debut album The Bottled Air and Its Perpetual Prey is an absolute wild ride that jolts you all over the place, filled with catchy riffs, ambiguous lyrics, and samples. Unfortunately the group will be taking a hiatus while some members study abroad next semester, but lead singer Max Knutson mentioned in our interview that they hope to record more music and potentially another album after the break. Let’s hope this is the case. (SW)

Album cover from Genaro Jr.’s Bandcamp.

BEST album: Pentimento by Genaro Jr.

I hate having to pick a favorite anything, as obviously, opinions shift and change. While there have been some incredible albums this year, it’s hard for me to deny that Genaro Jr.’s Pintemeno left the biggest impression on me this year musically. A deep dive in anxiety, hope, and what it’s like to be a non-white in person in America, the stream-of-consciousness style of writing creates a sense of urgency that pulls you into the moment, forcing you to tackle these issues head on alongside him. Genaro Jr. created every piece of this album, including all of the production, and had worked on the album for 2 years before releasing it. At times it’s lush and full, other times harsh and hard-hitting. I don’t even consider myself the biggest hip-hop fan, but this album struck something within me. You can read my full review of the album here. (SW)

Photo from Audiofeed’s Facebook page.

BEST returning event: Audiofeed Music Festival

After having to cancel two years in a row due to COVID-19 precautions, the return of Audiofeed Music Festival to the Champaign-Urbana Fairgrounds this year was a welcome one. The festival is held dearly to many in C-U and surrounding areas, and the event came back with a bang this year. Headliners included Pedro the Lion, Rosie Thomas, Flatfoot 56, amongst other great acts. You can read our interview here with organizer and festival founder Jim Eisenmenger about planning the festival during COVID times. (SW)

Photo from Champaign Is Also a Band’s Facebook page.

BEST live event: Angie Heaton tribute show

I unfortunately didn’t know Angie Heaton personally, however it’s incredibly clear that many others knew her and loved her deeply. Heaton was a staple in the music community, and the greater community as a whole. She played in numerous bands over the years including Dottie and the ‘Rail, Liquorette, and Corndolly, but she is well known for her solo work with Angie Heaton and the Gentle Tamers. Her tragic passing in 2020 left a hole in the community, and if you attended the Angie Heaton tribute show at Rose Bowl Tavern back in June, you know that she left an impact. A huge lineup of friends and musicians got on stage to perform Heaton’s songs and pay tribute to her and her legacy. I think Aimee Rickman said it best: “Angie was also a humble yet seismically impactful leader for so many others, providing a strong role model for girls and women to put their thoughts to music, to find their way to the spotlight, and to see someone like them as comfortably taking center stage in their own town.” (SW)

Photo from Weird Meat Boyz Facebook page.

BEST new development: The Space 

I remember when I was first getting into the C-U music scene back in high school, around 2014-15 – downtown Champaign was where I gravitated to. With venues like The Highdive and Mike N Molly’s, there was a lot happening downtown. It’s no secret that the music scene downtown is pretty much non-existent anymore. Downtown Urbana is pretty much where I head nowadays. However, a big shout out to Brass Rail for hosting shows again very consistently. So when Weird Meat Boyz announced they were planning on opening The Space, a new restaurant/venue downtown – one which would host local and touring acts – it was a welcome surprise. The Boyz’ Kickstarter met their goal three days before the deadline, and I am incredibly excited to see what The Space will have in store. Is there anything better than shoving a smash burger down your gullet while listening to some kick-ass live music? I can’t think of anything. (SW)

Photo from Briar Darling’s Instagram page.

BEST shredder: Briar Darling

You might know Briar Darling from a ton of projects around town. Odds are you’ve seen them in one capacity or another. They have a solo project, Monstrosity Complex, in which they create solo experimental noise and harsh sound. If you’ve ever caught them live, it’s a crazy show, as Darling is an absolute shredder on cello, and plugs into an effects board to get some of the nastiest, insane sounds you’ve ever heard. They also have a trio with James Mauck and Joy Yang, and released “electrophorus” back around June. You may have also recently seen them playing synths with Thotcrime at C4A, cello with Sweetmelk, New Music Mosaic, The Avant-Guardians, The NYChillharmonic, and many more. If you can catch them live in any capacity, do it – you’ll be entranced. (SW)

Photo by Sean Wilkinson.

BEST PYGMALION performance: Lido Pimienta 

This year’s PYGMALION line up was one I was pretty excited about, and ended up being amazing. But of all the greatness I saw in person, my favorite performance was Lido Pimienta. Pimienta is a Colombian-Canadian singer-songwriter. She is Grammy-nominated. She is the second woman and first woman of color to compose for the New York City Ballet (yes, even before Solange). This summer, she launched a variety television show called Lido TV. She’s incredible. Her music is amazing. 

I got to stand four feet away from her at the Rose Bowl. The Rose Bowl! The vibes in the room were so welcoming and the crowd was enthusiastic and grateful and into it. Pimienta was fantastic, funny, and charming. I will be using this performance as a measure of greatness in the future. What a treat. (JH)  

Sean Wilkinson and Jess Hammie contributed to this article.

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