December yields so many best-of lists. You get the same results in slightly different order and it gets tiresome. These lists come down to marketing: who released what when, what’s still in recent memory, who had an HBO special to release their album (we’re not getting too specific are we?).
Anyway, we thought we would give you a little break from the inconsistency of December’s lists, and wait to completely complete our list until we had the cold, hard data to back it. Here’s what you guys liked since we opened our doors until a gaudy ball dropped in some New York street last week.
5. How to Slowly Kill People in America by Kiese Laymon (Agate Publishing)
From the writer of Long Division, Kiese Laymon’s essay collection has only become more poignant since it’s 2013 release. Laymon addresses issues such as race, class, and religion in a way that unfolds as if it were a classic hip hop album.
4. The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic by Jessica Hopper (featherproof books)
Nobody is denying Jessica Hopper’s authority on music, but if they were, this collection serves as proof of her ability to dissect the meaning behind musicians ranging from Chance the Rapper to Hole. It’s refreshing to read work from someone who is as passionate about music as Hopper.
3. The Incantations of Daniel Johnston by Scott McClanahan, illustrated by Ricadro Cavolo (Two Dollar Radio)
I pick this book up every few days and just take it all in. Somehow one of my favorite writers got together with one of my favorite artists to write about one of my favorite musicians. This biography of underground icon Daniel Johnston unabashedly dives into the world of mental illness in a bizarrely hopeful way.
2. Chicago Noir: The Classics edited by Joe Meno (Akashic Books)
It seems our customers have a thrilling streak in them. In this anthology, Joe Meno pushes readers through time and space into of Chicago’s best crime stories. Live vicariously through noir stories from Patricia Highsmith to Nelson Algren to Stuart Dybek.
1. Promising Young Women by Suzanne Scanlon (Dorothy, a Publishing Project)
Suzanne Scanlon’s novel-in-bursts exceeds the typical mental institution story, if there is such a thing. Promising Young Women cuts to the heart of the matter. And, as with all Dorothy, a Publishing Project’s releases, it is aesthetically beautiful to pair with the content.
5. Tie between: Blood Orange – Freetown Sound (Domino) and Death – …For the Whole World to See (Drag City)
It’s only fitting these albums in together. Though recorded forty years apart, both artists manage to sincerely mesh R&B with pop music in a way that evades commercialism, but demands attention. They are unapologetically subversive in the best way.
4. Wild Belle – Dreamland (Columbia)
How does one describe Dreamland? It can’t be done simply. Chicago’s Bergman siblings combine pop and jazz and psych rock and reggae and whatever else they can manage to layer into their album in a way that just works.
3. Angel Olsen – My Woman (Jagjaguwar)
It’s been a good year for Angel Olsen. With the release of her third full-length album, Olsen more than proved her prowess as a songwriter. I hope you caught one of her performances at Thalia Hall this past September. If you missed it, keep in mind we are a box office for Thalia shows, so grab your physical tickets with us in the Loop for the next go around!
2. American Football – American Football LP1 (Polyvinyl)
The first vinyl issue of this album manages to transcend the genres American Football had been pigeonholed into with their initial 1999 release. This post-punk classic has withstood the bounds of “emo” and remains a prominent display of technical rock music. It’s no wonder everyone wanted this debut in preparation for the long-awaited release of American Football’s second album (now available in store).
1. Twin Peaks – Down in Heaven (Grand Jury)
These Chicago favorites may have blown up in popularity, but they aren’t forsaking their garage roots. In three short years since their debut, Twin Peaks have become a forerunner in loveable, fuzzy indie rock. This is an album I want to cheer me up on a bad day and keep good days good.