This music scene has excellent qualities — diversity within the structure of what's available being one of them. Every year we run down what our favorites were from the past twelve months of releases, always having to weed through what's out there and pick what stands out. As always, there are choices to make as we look at our year-end list for 2018. Hip hop, R&B, alt-country, indie rock, experimental, jazz, and more, here are the 10 best records to come out made by local artists this year.
10. TRUTH AKA TROUBLE — Cornfield Waves
Truth AKA Trouble has been in and out of project collaborations with fellow rapper Chase Baby, and Cornfield Waves is a solo effort aside from that — showcasing a proper solo representation of his style and delivery throughout. The rapper's record sounds crunchy and polished, both adjectives meant to be complimentary, of course. The expansive record runs 18 tracks and feels like a record that belongs in Southern California, if I weren't privy to the details and his place in this scene. The crisp production makes this one stand out as far as local rappers go.
9. TAKE CARE — Take Care
Albums take a lot of time to work on —that's much is par for the course. However, things are different with a band like Take Care, they’ve taken quite a bit of time to process and release their self-titled record. I remember hearing some of these tracks years and years ago (“We Are Going To Live Forever”, “Looking For Other People’s Lost Pets” both had shorter track names, I believe), and even though their songs sprawl over long tracks, they still manage to suck you in and keep your attention as they progress. So, in order to hear them in their completed form in a new record, patience might ultimately be the name of the game here now that they’ve snuck this one in with two weeks left in the year. Perhaps time management hasn’t been their best quality, their existence in the scene as individuals in other projects makes a Take Care record in 2018 feel just right in a lot of ways. The decade-long process feels like a connection to the past scene, while jumping forward through to a day you weren’t sure would ever show up and getting what you’ve hoped for all along.
8. NECTAR — Knocking at the Door
A lot of good things happened to Nectar this year. They were signed to a label, released their debut record, and played shows after that here in C-U and beyond. I’d call that a solid go-round for the punk outfit, regardless of location or level in indie rock. In Nectar’s case, Knocking At The Door certainly lets us onlookers know that they are here, delivering tightly wrapped punk tunes across all proverbial platforms. It doesn’t take much to understand what makes their delivery likable: their songs made with catchy punk riffs, Kamilia Glowacki’s recognizable voice in the mic, and their relatable lyrical messages. And that’s that, wrapped in sweet sounds.
7. STAGHORN — Wormwood III
Though Staghorn didn’t originate within the bounds of Champaign County, certainly made their presence known in 2018, as two core members moved to Urbana, joined up with resident scene drummer Luke Bergkoetter (someone you’ve likely seen if you know Bookmobile!, Withershins, Take Care, or any other number of projects he’s helped out with) to create Wormwood III. The single track record sprawls over nearly 23 minutes, divided up by interludes critically discussing the capitalistic nature of our lives, intertwined with excellent booming post rock pieces that summon the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Stars of the Lid, and others of the like. This highly-political recording’s backbone is the discussion of how our actions are changing the way our world will exist beyond those actions, and the material certainly leaves a mark, in a good sense, of course.
6. REVELATOR — For Raelyn
Although Kenna Mae heads up this act, the extraordinary vocalist is a mere component of their blues/folk-rock revival sound. Their collection of songs “written in catharsis and in an effort to heal, For Raelyn, is a story of transition, self honesty and forgiveness.” The songs are all wonderfully composed, though within the composition there’s room for a little loosening up. For Raelyn is a true showcase of their mixture of Kenna Mae as a solo artist in a fully expanded environment inside a full band structure.
5. MOTES — Crash the Day
It is no secret that we very much enjoy Motes, as their consistent output and activity in the scene has made them one of the mainstays after a bunch of years. Their previous record Keep It In The Dark was our favorite record that came out in 2015, after all. The band took what they had done with that release (and Feel the Summer’s Heat prior to that) and put their efforts towards Crash the Day, once again recorded with Colin Althaus at Earth Analog and their home in Urbana. The band’s always-recognizable three piece attack of dreamy vocal combo of Elizabeth Majerus and Matt Mitchell swapping axes throughout, plus Matt Cohn’s percussion work, Crash the Day truly solidifies them as one of the best indie rock bands in the last decade in the community. Whenever I look at things in the current state of local bands, Motes are always there, regardless of who enters and exits, as this is the lone project of the band members. I think I just respect that the most out of anything, especially when it comes to listening to new records they put out. While Crash the Day might not be as good as their previous record, the highlights still showcase the best of what this band has to offer. Tracks like “Came To” and “Again Again” still sound so Motes-esque, even though I can’t help but think of Yo La Tengo when listening to them. Crash the Day is just a showcase of their legacy while at the same time, proving they’ve really only hit their stride.
4. FAKE FRIEND — ∴∵
I don't believe that Fake Friend, a project I discovered by seeing a post on my friend's Facebook page asking "does anyone know who this is?", wanted to get the attention they did earlier this year. Ultimately, Spencer Walters' work on his EP released way back in February showcased how interesting and random a quirky bedroom project can be. While he’s likely only performed a few times since the origin of the project, and remained relatively (and not-surprisingly) quiet since these few EPs came out, Fake Friend's ∴∵ brought a Bandcamp project to a new audience by basically doing nothing outside of putting it on the platform. His motto of not really wanting anyone to listen to his music because he asked them to really does stand true since his social media presence doesn’t really exist. The releases he’s put out are the most focused on this one, showcasing the electro-bedroom project that isn’t legitimized through others saying they like it, but by Walters leaving it out there in the world for people to just have… if they want. His softer lo-fi delivery and bubbly pops and bubbled synths make this a definite highlight of the year in local music.
3. WINGCLIPPER — 新緑 [FRESH GREEN]
Adam Porter’s late-night project has churned out plenty of releases over time, but in all likelihood, you’ve never heard of what he’s had to offer because of the nature of consumption these days. His project Wingclipper has been around for quite some time, though as 新緑 [FRESH GREEN] landed on my radar a short while back, Porter’s work as a producer isn’t something I could ignore in terms of releases in the purest sense of the word. “サクラ [cherry blossom]” is pure-Avalanches as far as I’m concerned. The collection of tracks is excellent, and the level of production is no surprise with the background that Porter has under his belt. Maybe next time around, my eyes will be a bit more open for what he is serving up with this project, but for now, this will be one that we can enjoy for a bit and let marinate.
2. POSTER CHILDREN — Grand Bargain!
Poster Children need no introduction to most, though there’s a chance that if you are new to the area and/or unfamiliar with the nature of indie rock and their influence, they might be a band you'd miss in 2018. They are part of the fabric that not only has brought relevance historically to this community's music scene. The band re-entered circulation this year as their release Grand Bargain!, the band’s first release since 2004’s No More Songs About Sleep and Fire, and Poster Children have delivered their political alt-rock piece for today's current state of affairs. This is an album that bodes well with what we’re experiencing in the here and now. Grand Bargain!’s message is clear — the band hasn’t moved away from their charged lyrics and catchy riffs, they’ve just updated their offering and proving they can deliver.
1. MELVIN KNIGHT — Shades of Us
If I had to guess, Crofton Coleman’s decision to change the name of his project from that name to Melvin Knight revolved around putting something else in the spotlight that simply wasn’t him. Though Coleman’s project has been his for quite some time, there’s nothing more front and center than his talent on Shades of Us. His neo-soul escapade into a velvety and loose full length record, Shades of Us on paper is a group-focused, collaborative effort, top to bottom. The record features a ton of musicians and contributors: Elijah Harris and Kurt Shelby (Ausar and Stoneface collaborators and musicians), James Triechler (Elsinore), Reginald Chapman, Fiona Kimble, and many more. This showcases the breadth of the process in creating the funk-filled dream that is Shades of Us. Coleman might not want to be named as the centerpiece, but his pipes slide through as the star of the show amongst the rest of this brilliantly constructed record that ultimately I hope more people pay close attention to. For the sake of running out of room, I'll keep comparisons to other big names out of the picture for this piece, but Shades of Us showcases the much-influenced and incredibly-targeted approach by Coleman for his project as his alter-ego Melvin Knight.