Covering a wide range of genres from indie pop to hardcore to progressive metal from some new faces new to me along with some killer releases from long-time friends in the scene. Featuring my top nine local releases for 2021.
Top Nine Local Releases
Lower Automation - S/T
Favorite Tracks: Father’s Shirt Was A Dress On Me, Ruiner
Lower Automation delivers an insane amount of anxious noisy nervousness within meticulously crafted and executed song structures.
Black Sites - Untrue
Favorite Tracks: The Worst of Us. White Ashes
Black Sites writes from a more classic metal perspective, influenced by the likes of Thin Lizzy, older Judas Priest, Voivod, and Queensryche with an emphasis on solid riffs, melody and tasty harmonized guitar lines with some adventurous changes within the song structures to keep things moving in an interesting way without going overboard into the common genre tropes of carny-calliope-sounding instrumental sections and endless riffing over time signature changes. The last track, White Ashes is a powerful closer, and possibly my favorite tune thus far over their last three albums.
HLDAY MAGIK - MUSIC 4 UR EARS
Favorite Tracks: SGR CRST, DO THE NEON SLD
Over the course of the pandemic in 2020, Pamela Maurer (Baby Money and the Down Payments) worked with a small, remote, army of people–a different producer, choreographers, dancers, while also showcasing her talents as a visual artist and costume/set designer– to produce a visual concept album.
For me HLDAY MAGIK is an example of an artist taking large risks and seeing a really solid positive return in terms of artistic output in value. The whole seven-song cycle is a treat to watch and the sound and arrangments are a stunning departure from Pamela’s work with Baby Money. She really took a lot of changes and also stretched to try different things, but all are really just showcasing different facets of her talents as a songwriter, vocalist, visual artist/designer, and as a budding video producer.
Sound-wise the tunes really hit a sweet spot for me, echoing back to some of the earlier Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev releases from the 90s where there was a healthy dose of surrealist and pscyhedelic experimentation blended with the pop song structures.
Lorna Donley & The Veil - Time Stands Still
Favorite Tracks: AC Radio, Crack the Sky
Eric Clements discovered a set of various of demo and promo cassettes at a resale shop that were cut by a long forgotten Chicago band by the name of “The Veil”.
The band was around in the mid-to-late 80s and was put together by Lorna Donley (vocalist and bassist) and David Thomas (guitarist), formerly of the seminal post-punk band “DA!”. Eric listened to the material and was inspired to release it, while tracking down David to try to put the demo material and finished promo tracks together for a proper release. They worked together over the course of a year and released the album, David renaming the group “Lorna Donley and the Veil” to honor the late singer and bassist’s memory.
Ok Cool - Surrealist
Favorite Tracks: Hypervigilant, Five Finger Exploding Heart Technique
OK Cool is the alternative side project of The Weekend Run Club’s Bridget Stiebris and Haley Blomquist. Their latest EP, “Surrealist” is the most mature and polished release to date.
In the band’s short but sweet existence their sound has really blossomed into a form of lush, chill indie dream-pop with great writing and captivating vocal harmonies.
Polarizer - Love from the Underground
Favorite Tracks: Metronome, Time of Death
With two official releases and a handful of singles to their name, Chicago alternative act Polarizer sought to make a definitive statement when they embarked on creating their newest album, “Love From The Underground.”
The 12-track LP, produced by Noam Wallenberg (who helmed their 2013 debut as well), marries the spacey textures and ethereal vocals found in their previous work with muscular grooves and brawny guitar riffs.
The backbone of their evolved sound comes courtesy of drummer/vocalist Johnathan Schiller and bassist Chris Shen, who had been performing live with the group since 2016 but hadn’t yet been featured on a recording. Each contributed original material to the group of songs that would form “Love From The Underground.”
The band’s epic sounding spacey, dynamic, prog-influenced alternative rock sound really comes into it’s own with this latest lineup.
Favorite Tracks: The Ballad of a Surfin Cowboy, I Think You Earned It
Nora Marks is a four-piece melodic rock band from Chicago that first sprung into action in early 2016. Their sound draws from the energy, style, and DIY ethos of punk music, but has evolved to incorporate a wider variety of songwriting influences. After two lo-fi EPs and a handful of self-recorded singles, the band has put together their first professionally produced full-length album Opt Out, a reaction to the increasingly digitized world. Vocalist Michael Garrity describes the record as “a reminder that there exists a rich tapestry of humanity inside everyone that cannot be quantified or defined by an algorithm.”
The band’s myriad of influences really shine with the writing and production, really bringing an nice blend of surf-rock feels, country licks, and some good alternative rock riffing into their punk roots.
Favorite Tracks: Death Surrounds You, Toxic Tower
Chicago-based thrashing heavy metal crew Armored Assault released their long awaited LP “Blood Queen”.
Armored Assault has been at it for over 17 years, relentlessly rehearsing, writing, and playing shows. With two official releases under their belt, Dead Before Dawn (2011) and Call The Beast (2014), the assault continues nearly seven years later, except this time around more assertive and explosive than ever. Blood Queen will be the band’s first release to feature the dexterity of guitarist Tony Notardonato and the slamming bass work of Billy McDonald, rounding out the core lineup of lead singer Andy “Pindy” Pindelski, shredding guitarist Tommy Bellino, and hard-hitting drummer Mark Suttner.
With that said, the latest album marks a new dawn for Armored Assault, with an onslaught of regenerated riffs and a barrage of smashing percussion to back it up. Initiating the album with a meaty bass line, an upsurge of riffage completely takes control in the opening ripper “Death Surrounds You.”” Two of the groups fan favorite title tracks, “Dead Before Dawn” and “Call The Beast,” both make a comeback with a fresh production upgrade and a fierce delivery. From the smashing heaviness of “Winter’s Arms” to the in-your-face aggression of “Toxic Tower,” Armored Assault’s latest musical endeavor will undoubtedly have everyone shouting “ALL HAIL THE BLOOD QUEEN!”
Personally speaking, I’m really happy to hear this release, the sound of the band has matured considerably over the last seven years I’ve been following them and they have a depth reflected in their writing that really brings out the best elements of the bands talents.
Favorite Tracks: Nothing for Money, Carcosa Shore
The new album is the culmination of a collective lifetime of family bonds, creative regrets, you-should-have-been-there tales of past glory, and tributes to their musical inspirations. Best described as “referential rock”, their sound is a sonic smorgasbord of all their favorite movies, video games, and other pop culture items that they wasted their youth obsessing over.
I really like bands that blend different styles and elements with their writing and performances. This stuff fits right in with that notion. A strong mix of stoner rock, space rock and some great synth instrumentation.