Smile Politely

Top 10 C-U albums of 2015

It’s been a crazy year in C-U music, with a lot of things happening within the local music scene, and the bands, artists, and performers that came through these fair cities. Here is our take on what stood out in terms of local albums released this calendar year. — Patrick Singer


If you’ve followed local hip-hop over the past year, you’ve probably started to recognize the name of a couple emcees making waves in town, most notably Klevah, T.R.U.T.H and TheGr8Thinkaz. That’s why it was so surprising when The Blue Collar by Chase Baby floated across my Twitter timeline earlier this year. Featuring 18 tracks of everything Champaign’s got to offer, The Blue Collar boasts guest features from Champaign-Urbana staples like Jarrel Young, Klevah, T.R.U.T.H, and Rokmore, but where the album really shines, in my opinion, is Chase Baby’s incredible ability to be authentic, something that seems increasingly rare in hip-hop. This was an extremely pleasant surprise in terms of C-U Albums of the Year, but is a welcome one at that. — Boswell Hutson



Euriah have hardly been a band for more than a year, yet, a steady performance schedule and buzzing fan-base of late have launched them into the upper echelon of local bands. Of course, most of this is due in-part to their stellar debut EP, aptly titled EP, where they combine driving choruses with surprisingly poppy song structure. From first listen, it’s apparent that frontman Eric Stanley’s (and the entire band’s) songwriting ability is heads and shoulders above most of C-U, especially given they’ve only been together for a year. If this debut from Euriah is only the beginning, I can’t wait for the future. — BH


If there’s one band in town that’s committed to doing something different than every other band, it’s Marathon, and that’s a good thing. You see, Marathon isn’t like your normal band — it’s a guitarkestra (guitar + orchestra), and features multiple drummers, a ton of guitars, and a conductor, all of which combine like Voltron to form Marathon. If that wasn’t “off-the-beaten-path” enough, Marathon make instrumental music that is as intricately woven, hiding complexities throughout the album. Sanctuary isn’t an album that you listen to once and then stop, it’s the type of album that keeps calling you back and piquing your curiosity. Couple that with a super-cool album release show at the Art Theater, and you’ve got a group of guys that are constantly breaking new ground in C-U, something that is extremely inspiring to witness. — BH


Grit — and not entirely of the True Grit variety — is Penny Horses’ mo in many ways. Dealing with death and suffering, pills and misery, and all other sorts of memories and thoughts that rumble around between the ears, there’s a lot soaked into the debut record A Place To Rest Your Dead. Sure, a lot of it is only yay deep (try measuring a few fingers deep on your whiskey poured in your glass), but that’s kind of the point from which to begin. The whiskey lullaby is a thing, you know, and Penny Horses crunch through it. Well, stumble, but in a good way. Those highlights next to twangy guitars and grisltle-filled vocals make the most sense as a combination here on Rest Your Dead. — PS


For a band that can pretty much field a baseball team in terms of members, luckily for this crew, they do a better job at filling up the room with sound moreso than overcrowding a stage. Turn the Other Cheek is loud and booming in all the right ways, with big horns and keys provide a bolstered approach to their brand of R&B and funk. Sure, Church Booty is practically the Champaign-Urbana party band next to some of their seniors (ahem, Sun Stereo) — this record is composed and ambitious considering all of the parts that add up here. A duo of vocalists (Mariel Fechik and Crofton Coleman) are just what the doc ordered — er, what the barkeep served up, perhaps being the better way to go. — PS


Boycut’s Alien is no full-length, though what Emily Otnes (Tara Terra) and Joe Meland (Feral States) have put together here out of the gate is sugary sweet in just the right amount of ways. It’s tough to say that this is the best project that either of these two prolific young musicians have put together, but one could most certainly argue that it is. The synth-pop delivery is just as vibrant as the starry night that graces the album art, while simultaneously delving into a darkness and depth that covers most of it entirely. Who knows if this project will ever become a number one priority for either of the two that fill duo — but it certainly grabs attention. — PS


After a silent stint of sorts, Henry Frayne (Ack-Ack, Area, The Moon Seven Times) returned, as I wrote earlier this year. From what I thought was something I probably wouldn’t have any opportunity to scribble (digitally) here at SP, here I am, writing about Lanterna on a year-end list. The new record Backyards doesn’t miss nearly as many steps as it could’ve, and Frayne’s project glistened — just as we should’ve expected, really. Backyards is quite the treat. — PS

3. T.R.U.T.H — EVE

This should come as now surprise to anyone, but I figured I’ll say it: T.R.U.T.H is the best rapper in town. Hands down, no question. 2015 was a bit of a coming out year for T.R.U.T.H, as she dropped the impressive Eve EP, coupled with a slew of singles (and the creation, as a whole) from Mother Nature built a nice amount of hype around the C-U-based emcee. While the production on the EP is a little less than innovative, T.R.U.T.H more than makes up for it with her lyrics, intricately spinning stories and experiences into a work of art that is cohesive as it is pleasing on the ears. Be careful when you listen, though, you might just have to put it on repeat because T.R.U.T.H spits a lot of truth on this record, and you don’t want to miss any of it. — BH


It is unfortunate that Kenna Mae had to leave Champaign-Urbana for New Orleans right after the release of her debut album Blue Darlin’, because it became apparent that she was just hitting her stride in town just as she left. Her voice is unlike anything I’ve ever heard before, and provides just the right amount of twang as her songs mix typical singer/songwriter tunes with more of a folky tilt. I’m going to be sad that I won’t be able to see Kenna Mae for a while in Champaign, especially after listening to Blue Darlin’. After only a couple of years performing in C-U, Kenna had situated herself as one of the best singer/songwriters in town, and Blue Darlin’ proves just why that’s the case. — BH


“Let’s just see what happens” lurks in the series of early lyrics on Keep It In The Darkthe debut record from Motes, which is a fairly optimistic viewpoint to start out with right out of the gate — or a spooky there’s-probably-someone-lurking-in-this-dark-room feeling depending on the approach and perspective. For a trio that oftentimes feels like an afterthought in the local music arena, Motes has become one of the most concrete outfits around. With that, Keep It In The Dark‘s dedication to the 45ish minutes of music they’ve put together feels everything but the aforementioned afterthought. — PS

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