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Best of Chicago 2008: Music

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MUSIC

Best Rock or Pop Act

Reader's Choice: The Eternals

It's not their stylish melange of burn-down-Babylon reggae, hardcore punk, and a globe-spanning collection of regional groove styles that makes the Eternals the best band in town. And it's not the eloquent postmillennial urban paranoia of Damon Locks's lyrics that does it either. It's the near-mystical alchemy the trio performs to transmute all those elements into extremely bumpin' revolutionary dance-floor fillers, because two of the best activities in human existence are hating on the ruling class and shaking your ass, and any opportunity to do both at the same time should be cherished. a myspace.com/eternalsthe. —Miles Raymer

Readers' Choice: The Days

a cdbaby.com/cd/days

Best Hip-Hop Act

Reader's Choice: Cool Kids

A lot of the attention—positive and negative—that Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks have attracted has focused on their predilection for tight pants, which almost entirely misses the point. As joints like "Black Mags" and "Gold and a Pager" show, their taste in retro beats is even better than their taste in streetwear, and in the higher-profile cameos their newfound fame has earned them they've shown themselves capable of holding their own with some heavyweight rappers. a Next gig: Fri 8/1, Lollapalooza, coolxkids.com. —Miles Raymer

Readers' Choice: Cool Kids

Best MC

Reader's Choice: Naledge of Kidz in the Hall

There's no such thing as a "Chicago sound" in hip-hop—we've got street-level realists, abstract idealists, and rappers who just want to get the party started. So it makes sense that our best MC should combine aspects of all three camps. Kidz in the Hall's mike-wielding half is one of the most agile, unpredictable voices in the game, and a major proponent of the radical idea that a deep, respectful love of the art of hip-hop and having a good time aren't mutually exclusive. a Next gig: Rock the Bells tour with A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, and Mos Def, Sat 7/19, First Midwest Bank Amphitheater, 19100 South Ridgeland, Tinley Park, 708-614-1616, myspace.com/kidzinthehall. —Miles Raymer

Readers' Choice: Lupe Fiasco

a lupefiasco.com

Best Hip-Hop DJ

Reader's Choice: Boolu Master

Any half-decent DJ can rock a party at 2 AM, after everyone's sufficiently endrunkened, but it takes a special talent to get that same vibe going at 5 in the afternoon. If you commute, you can catch Boolu Master's hedonistic drive-time sets on Power 92 Monday through Saturday; if not, he's got mix CDs for sale all over the place, including the Little Village Discount Mega Mall. He's got a no-shame-in-my-game taste for corny cuts a few years past their prime, but his diversions into juke and house remind us of their debts to hip-hop and vice versa. a Mon-Sat 5-6 PM, Power 92, 92.3 FM, boolumaster.com or listen live at power92chicago.com. —Miles Raymer

Readers' Choice: Flosstradamus

a flosstradamus.com

Best Party DJs

Reader's Choice: Flosstradamus

The club scene's never afraid to turn its back on any act that has the bad fortune to get too well-known and played out. So how, after spinning about a billion parties and becoming some of the best-known young DJs in the world, do Flosstradamus keep their love affair with Chicago burning? By constantly finding newer, kinkier ways of mashing up hip-hop, dance music, and rock 'n' roll and never wavering from their dedication to the party—be it at a dive bar or Lollapalooza. a flosstradamus.com. —Miles Raymer

Readers' Choice: Flosstradamus

Best Folk, Country, or Americana Group

Reader's Choice: Spires That in the Sunset Rise

Maybe this pick is a reach when so many local traditional acts do their genres such honor (Devil in a Woodpile, Tangleweed, the Hoyle Brothers, and the many faces of Kelly Hogan, for starters). But this all-female freak-folk band is something different under the sun. They play goose-bump-inducing music that sounds like the ancient oral tradition of a culture of their own invention, and they play it with a sort of primordial shamanistic elegance and economy of purpose. Still, I was having a little angst over this decision, until "Black Earth" from their latest, Curse the Traced Bird, shuffled up on my iPod. I froze stock-still in haunted wonder, as if I were hearing it for the first time—and did I mention I was crossing State Street at the time? A band that can override your survival instinct wins. amyspace.com/spiresthatinthesunsetrise. —Monica Kendrick

Readers' Choice: David McMillin

a davidmcmillinmusic.com.

Best World Music Group

Reader's Choice: Occidental Brothers Dance Band International

This band, led by guitarist Nathaniel Braddock, started out playing faithful, if stripped-down covers from Africa's Golden 70s, with a particular focus on Ghanaian highlife and Congolese rumba. In the last few years they've been adding original material to their repertoire that fits in comfortably and convincingly alongside the oldies. Braddock is a devoted student of the music, and he brings some postjazz personality to his solos. It also helps that jazz saxophonist Greg Ward is a longtime member. But it's the addition of Ghanaians Kofi Cromwell on vocals and Daniel "Rambo" Asamoah on drums that has really cemented their sound. a Next gigs: Tue 7/1, 6:30 PM, Welles Park gazebo, Montrose and Western F; Sun 7/20, 5 PM, Pitchfork Music Festival, see Best Festival listing below. —Peter Margasak

Readers' Choice: Funkadesi

a Next gig: Fri 7/4, 10 PM, Wild Hare, 3530 N. Clark, 773-327-0868, funkadesi.com, $15.

Best Blues Act

Reader's Choice: Lurrie Bell

Critics like to invoke the torments Lurrie Bell has endured—mental illness, homelessness, substance abuse, the deaths of virtually everyone close to him in recent years—as evidence of his bona fides as a "blues survivor." But Bell's art is powered by life-affirming dedication and craft, not misery. On his latest CD, Let's Talk About Love (Aria B.G.), his guitar work melds raw emotion and fiery technique in a majestic meld of tonal aggression, linear sureness, and exploratory drive. His sound these days is shot through with triumph: although he may continue to face down his demons in song, his music has an undercurrent of hard-won tranquility that reminds us that the blues, for all its stereotypes about pain and suffering, is ultimately about overcoming. a lurrie.com. —David Whiteis

Readers' Choice: Buddy Guy

a Next gig: Thu 8/28, 8 PM, Ravinia Festival, Green Bay and Lake Cook, Highland Park, 847-266-5100, $20-$60, buddyguy.net.

Best R & B Act

Reader's Choice: Peven Everett

Best R&B Act: Peven Everett

Chicago's most prolific and talented contemporary soul artist should be a superstar, not a cult artist. Peven Everett's had couple of careers in music already: a former trumpet prodigy, he was discovered by singer Betty Carter and recruited by Wynton Marsalis, grew disillusioned with the trad jazz scene in New York, and went on to write some house classics with Roy Davis. But for most of this decade he's been a one-man neo-soul machine, churning out dozens of DIY CDs on which he plays every single instrument. Unfortunately his insistence on handling every aspect of his career, right down to xeroxing the CD covers, has relegated him to underground oddity: his CDs are available only at Dusty Groove and Dr. Wax and via peven.blogspot.com. In 2002 the LA label ABB released a great compilation of material from his self-released albums, but since then he's refused to work with anyone else. His latest disc, Sincerely Yours... is another gem that like most of his work could benefit from outside production and some paring down, but Everett seems intent on doing it his way. a myspace.com/studioconfession, peven.blogspot.com. —Peter Margasak

Readers' Choice: Obisoulstar

a Next gig: Fri 6/27, Ai Sushi Lounge, 358 W. Ontario, 312-335-9888; myspace.com/obisoulstar.

Best Jazz Act

Reader's Choice: Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble

Flutist Nicole Mitchell is one of the city's most prolific, original, and restless composers, writing both long-form conceptual works—such as the recently released Xenogenesis Suite (Firehouse 12), a tribute to Afro-futurist writer Octavia Butler—and gritty, melodically generous tunes that tap heavily into the blues, free jazz, and African styles. Luckily, she's got a deep pool of collaborators flexible enough to navigate her astonishing range—including saxophonist David Boykin, trumpeter David Young, cellist Tomeka Reid, bassist Josh Abrams, pianist Justin Dillard, and drummer Marcus Evans—and their mix of adaptability and chops makes Black Earth Ensemble not only one of Chicago's most reliable groups but also one of its least predictable. a Next gig: Fri 7/4, 9:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050, nicolemitchell.com. —Peter Margasak

Readers' Choice: Vandermark 5

a kenvandermark.com

Best Jazz Soloist

Reader's Choice: Jeff Parker

Chicago has plenty of excellent soloists, but none applies his or her improvisational smarts in as many disparate settings as guitarist Jeff Parker. The key is that he's a keen listener, interacting with, reacting to, and complementing everyone he works with. He can inject a refreshing vitality into the mustiest standards, wed the textures of rock to the timing of funk, be seriously blues in an organ combo setting, and crackle and seethe when set free. a Next gigs: with Tortoise Sat 7/12, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600, and Mon 8/4, noon, Millennium Park; also Thu 8/7, 6 PM, with Amir El Safar's Two Rivers, Millennium Park; myspace.com/peffjarker. —Peter Margasak

Readers' Choice: Mike Allemana

a mikeallemana.com

Best Classical Instrumentalist

Reader's Choice: Mathieu Dufour

Daniel Barenboim's greatest contribution to the CSO may have been his additions to its roster. At the top of the list is French principal flutist Mathieu Dufour, who joined in 1999 at age 26. If Dufour played a different instrument, the violin perhaps, no orchestra could hold him. His sound is unmistakable: pure and elegant, but also rich and expressive, it leaps from the stage. There are nights when he momentarily surpasses a guest artist, delivering a solo that takes over the hall. Also a member of Roosevelt University's faculty and the Chicago Chamber Musicians, Dufour can be heard regularly away from the CSO; his 2001 recording (on Harmonia Mundi) of flute and piano sonatas by Prokofiev, Martinu, and Hindemith is a knockout. acso.org. —Steve Langendorf

Readers' Choice: Rachel Barton Pine

a rachelbartonpine.com

Best Classical Vocalist

Readers' Choice: Samuel Ramey

a Next gig: singing Leporello in Don Giovanni with the CSO, Fri 8/15, 7 PM, and Sun 8/17, 2 PM, Ravinia Festival, Martin Theatre, Green Bay and Lake Cook, Highland Park, 847-266-5100, $10-$75, samuelramey.com.

Best Experimental Act

Reader's Choice: Kevin Drumm

In experimental music, the process tends to be at least as privileged as the results. But for more than a decade Kevin Drumm has managed to explore and take chances and still consistently strike gold. He's restless in the best way, always developing and changing his work, satisfying his own curiosity. After working with exhilaratingly loud and abrasive sound for the past few years, he's recently shifted course again. His superb new Imperial Distortion (Hospital) captures him navigating an unsettlingly quiet sound world, a sense of dread imbuing his long tone examinations. ahospitalproductions.com. —Peter Margasak

Readers' Choice: Makers of Sense

a makersofsense.com

Best Record Label

Reader's Choice: Drag City Records

Chicago has loads of terrific record labels, but none can quite match Drag City for personality, range, and healthy disregard for trends and hype. I'm not saying they've never released a turd (hello, King Kong), but the Dans—label heads Dan Koretzky and Dan Osborn—like what they like, from high profile eccentrics like Bonnie "Prince" Billy and Smog's Bill Callahan to local originals like Azita and Singer to influential veterans like Bert Jansch and Mayo Thompson to stuff that defies all categorization. (Wait until you hear the Indonesian folk-rock band Suarasama, whose DC debut is coming this summer.) Drag City might well be the most astonishing label in the country, let along Chicago. They also do good works, distributing labels like David Grubbs's Blue Chopsticks, Greg Weeks's Language of Stone imprint, and the excellent guerrilla ethnomusicological imprint Yaala Yaala. adragcity.com. —Peter Margasak

Readers' Choice: Bloodshot Records

a bloodshotrecords.com

Best Festival

Reader's Choice: Pitchfork Music Festival

While it's easy to bitch about its, uh, Pitchforkiness—each year's lineup is like a snapshot of indie rock trends—the Pitchfork Music Festival is undoubtedly best single-site music festival in town. The tickets are affordable, the environment is miles from the kaleidoscopic "alternative" stampede of Lollapalooza, and the bookers always deliver at least a couple excellent left-field entries. And the fest's recent partnering with the All Tomorrow's Parties Don't Look Back series has added a little historical weight to the proceedings. a Fri-Sun 7/18-7/20, Union Park, Randolph and Ogden, $30 per day, $50 for a two-day pass, three-day passes were sold out at press time, pitchforkmusicfestival.com, ticketweb.com or 866-468-3401. —Miles Raymer

Readers' Choice: Pitchfork Music Festival

Best Open Mike

Reader's Choice: Gallery Cabaret

It's true that the Gallery Cabaret's Sunday open mikes tend to attract a higher quality of performer than the average open mike, but in the alternate musical dimension that open mikes reside in, "quality" isn't all that important a quality. What makes the Gallery Cabaret one of the only open mikes in the city worth going out of your way for is the number and variety of musical oddities you're bound to find on display. You want to see a septuagenarian woman, a metalhead in an Yngvie shirt, and a Ren Faire devotee collaborate on an ode to smoking weed? How about a boyfriend-girlfriend duo doing a strangely compelling update of Captain and Tennille-style lounge soul? It's all here, and pretty much nowhere else. a Sun 7 PM (hosted by Jeremiah Stone) and 9:30 PM (hosted by Fred), 2020 N. Oakley, 773-489-5471. —Miles Raymer

Readers' Choice: Davenport's

a Mon 7:30-11:30 PM in the Chaise Lounge, 1383 N. Milwaukee, 773-278-1830, davenportspianobar.com.

Best Record Store

Reader's Choice: Dusty Groove

Jazz, soul, Brazilian music, Latin, and hip-hop are among the areas Dusty Groove excels in, but you'll find interesting items in just about every genre in its globe-spanning selection. The shop got its start selling vinyl to crate diggers, and it also still boasts an excellent selection of secondhand records—the one section where prices can get superhigh. a 1120 N. Ashland, 773-342-5800, dustygroove.com. —Peter Margasak

Readers' Choice: Reckless Records

a 3161 N. Broadway, 773-404-5080; 1532 N. Milwaukee, 773-235-3727; and 26 E. Madison, 312-795-0878; reckless.com.

Best Recording Studio

Reader's Choice: Electrical Audio

Say what you will about Steve Albini and his trollish personal politics—the man has done real good in the form of Electrical Audio. Albini's slavish devotion to analog recording has led him to assemble one of the world's best places to put jams down on tape, and the same DIY mentality that's inspired many a rant is also responsible for the studio's indie-friendly pricing structure. No, it's not the cheapest studio in town, but you get more for your money than at comparable pro-grade studios. a2621 W. Belmont, 773-539-2555, electrical.com, rates (including a staff engineer other than Albini or righthand man Greg Norman) start at $500/day. —Miles Raymer

Readers' Choice: Electrical Audio

Best Rock Venue

Reader's Choice: The Hideout

Chicago is the best live-music city I've ever lived in or visited, and that has as much to do with venues as it does with artists. (The two have a symbiotic relationship, of course.) From the unbeatable divey ambience of Cal's to the unbeatable acoustics of the Old Town School to the unbeatable bookings of the Empty Bottle, we just rule. (Note to City Council: any future attacks on this rich biodiversity will be seen as an act of hostile deforestation.) It's hard to choose among them, and the choice will vary with the criteria used, but I'm going to stand by the Hideout for its combination of bookings, friendliness, comfort, price point, and community involvement—and the fact that the barflies more in love with the sound of their own voices than the sound of the band get a room to themselves with a door that closes. a 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433, hideoutchicago.com. —Monica Kendrick

Readers' Choice: Metro

a 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203 metrochicago.com.

Best Jazz Venue

Reader's Choice: Velvet Lounge

My favorite places to hear jazz these days are actually the Hungry Brain and the Hideout, but those venues present jazz only once a week. For venues strictly devoted to the music, none can match the Velvet Lounge, the free-jazz temple owned by tenor legend Fred Anderson. Although national acts stop in on occasion, most of the programming is local and edgy, with just about every facet of the city's most progressive musical community represented—particularly AACM-related groups. a 67 E. Cermak, 312-791-9050,velvetlounge.net. —Peter Margasak

Readers' Choice: Green Mill

a 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, greenmilljazz.com.

Best Blues Venue

Reader's Choice: Lee's Unleaded Blues

Now that the Checkerboard Lounge has been uprooted from its original 43rd Street location, Lee's stands as the sole surviving monument to the glory days of the south-side neighborhood blues scene. The featured artists these days may not rank with such former headliners as Junior Wells and Lefty Dizz, but proprietor Stanley Davis still manages to book solid journeyman blues acts on a regular basis. Reflecting the flexible definition of "blues" among contemporary African-American listeners, the music ranges from postwar shuffle to funk, soul, pop, and even the occasional hip-hop number. A seemingly endless parade of "guest stars" (many of whom are regulars, and most of whom are surprisingly good) take the mike nightly, and the jubilant interplay between performers and patrons keeps alive the tradition of blues as a music of celebration, solidarity, and pride. a 7401 S. South Chicago, 773-493-3477. —David Whiteis

Readers' Choice: Buddy Guy's Legends

a 754 S. Wabash, 312-427-1190, buddyguys.com.

Best Dance Club

Reader's Choice: Smart Bar

Since having its sound system overhauled and interior redesigned in recent years, Smart Bar has become the much-needed bridge between the city's smaller, stylier boutique clubs like Sonotheque and thumping hangars full of bottle-service dudes like Sound-Bar. While it's one of Chicago's go-to spots for bleeding-edge tastemakers, its regular rotation of house and drum-and-bass DJs shows its deep roots in dance music history. a DJs spin after 10 PM, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-4140, smartbarchicago.com. —Miles Raymer

Readers' Choice: Smart Bar

Best Dance Party

Reader's Choice: Outdanced

Outdanced started out as the Funky Buddha's weekly lesbian night, but its hedonistic vibe and excellent rotation of electro, hip-hop, and art-punk DJs and live acts has ended up attracting probably the most demographically diverse crowds in town. There's something about watching butch punk chicks and flossy hip-hop dudes rock out equally hard to Dandi Wind and DJ Assault that just makes me love this city. aTue 10 PM-2 AM, Funky Buddha Lounge, 728 W. Grand, 312-666-1695, myspace.com/outdanced, admission varies. —Miles Raymer

Readers' Choice: Hideout

a Sat 11:30 PM, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433, hideoutchicago.com.

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