2014: The year of C-U music

By Aaron Navarro

Just two weeks into 2015, looking back at this past year has proved to be yet another phenomenal year for music, especially in Champaign-Urbana. From the formation of several new bands to reunion shows from old-school local music staples, 2014 capped off with an overabundance of music experiences that listeners and attendees will remember for years to come. However, the highly anticipated local album releases of 2014 were the real winners of the year.

Many records graced the year, and to narrow it down to five seems to be a crime, but The Daily Illini decided to take on that challenge and sat down with each of the bands to discuss their albums and recording processes they took to complete their musical milestone.

5. The Chemicals: “Mono”

Dipping their toes back in the musical waters after taking a hiatus since 2006, The Chemicals showed what Champaign-Urbana had been missing most with the release of its newest LP, “Mono.” Forming back in 2000, the alt-country meets garage rock band has strong ties to the music community, releasing its second record on Isaac Arms’ (Withershins) Heirship label and recording at Toilet Tunes with Kip Braunstadter.

In regards to the inspiration behind the album, Andrew Davidson, drummer of The Chemicals, said that the band had a numberless list, however the real inspiration for Mono was the idea of limitation.

“We wanted a more direct and to the point process with this record, so we recorded live to a cassette four-track and mixed the record in mono with minimal over dubs,” Davidson said.

The band recorded the album live, bringing grittiness that resonates the eardrums in the best possible way; the perfected imperfections are what make this album worth listening to.

Fortunately for us all, The Chemicals won’t be taking another eight-year break from music. They’re currently working out another album as we speak.

“We are in the midst of recording our next record at Boombox Studio with our pal Caleb Means,” Davidson said.

4. Single Player: “Are You There?”

Starting back in 2013 with the release of his first album, “Could Care Less,” Sean Neumann, also known as Single Player, has made his musical presence clear with an record that makes locals proud to say this album is from Champaign-Urbana.

If listening to the album wasn’t impressive enough, Neumann, a Daily Illini reporter and senior in Media, wrote and recorded almost everything himself with the help of some friends and members of his live band.

“I guess in terms of an ‘A-ha!’ moment, I realized I had enough songs to work with when I wrote ‘Outta Control,’” Neumann said. “I think out all the songs and then put them into actual sound when I sit down to record them. I recorded this record over a couple weeks last winter (late Dec. 2013 to early Jan. 2014). I recorded it in my parent’s basement, vocals for some songs in my apartment and the pianos in the basement of Allen Hall.”

3. Klevah: “GOLDEN”

For those that have kept up with the other “Best Of Local” lists that have popped up, Klevah might not be a common name. Quite frankly, I can’t decide whether to be excited that we are the first to add her to a list or be saddened that she hasn’t been recognized for her greatness she entitled “GOLDEN.”

Shasta Knox who performs under the name Klevah, released her sophomore album, “GOLDEN,” in late November of 2014 under her local media hip-hop collective, TheGr8Thinkaz, who supply her with in-house musicians, producers and videographers.

“We can be a group but I can have my individual work as well. It’s so necessary to have that support system,” said Knox, a University alumna in Creative Writing and Sociology.

With her distinct hip-hop feel and hints of Chicago style, Knox said her interest in hip-hop started at an early age.

“It dates really far back because my dad is a musician as well so he instilled it in me,” she said. “I got more serious and artistic about rapping when I joined WORD here on campus when I was in school. That’s when I really started performing.”

In regards to the inspiration of “GOLDEN,” Knox reflects on a chaotic relationship that helped her find inner peace.

“It was a lot for me, it was very emotionally draining. I was trying to push myself to a place of strength and confidence and write myself out of the hard times,” Knox said. “Gold is something that you find that is buried in dirt. You can go buy gold, but for pure gold that is worth real value, you have to dig for it and that’s what the idea of Golden is for me. Finding what was Golden.”

2. Withershins: “Mt. Fuji In Blue”

“Mt. Fuji In Blue” has received a good amount of recognition since its August 2014 release, and if one were to listen to thirty seconds of any song, they could see why.

“Our first record was a concept album, a loose concept strung together that was pretty solidly presented. Our second record had a heavy theme about Champaign-Urbana, so (“Mt.Fuji In Blue”) is just an album; it’s a collection of songs,” said Isaac Arms, front man of Withershins.

Arms said that the title of the album is based around the 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdown after the Tsunami.

“I started to freak out a little bit and started thinking about how terrible it would be if you were apart of that and radiation being in the water and affecting the fish in California,” Arms said. “But I calmed myself down and realized we’re all going die anyways and what you do with your time is what really matters. “Mt. Fuji In Blue” is about impending doom and what does your life mean and what does that time mean.”

Compared to the two previous albums, it is evident that the members of Withershins have grown together as a band, with a very different, but mature sound.

Having recorded the album to tape at Earth Analog in Tolono with Matt Talbott, the clean recording tops off the record, giving the album a unique feel that could be heavily toured and given recognition outside of local ears after some time; to think they recorded this album in only three days is beyond me.

“The album has taken us one step further and I feel like we grew as a band. For our next record, I really don’t feel beholden to any particular sound. It was more of a sense of accomplishment, as in ‘we made it, we got through this together,’” Arms said.

In regards to future musical plans, Arms said the band is centering all of its focus on completing the 25-song cover album for its Kickstarter supporters. As of right now, the answer to whether or not the outside public will be hearing this album has been left in limbo, only time will tell.

1. Wicked Walls: “Wicked Walls”

To anyone familiar with local music, they would know that what was left of New Ruins had formed into what is now Wicked Walls. For the not so familiar and a reminder to the folks ‘in the know,’ Wicked Walls is an entirely different entity in itself.

The group released its first self-entitled album in April 2014, and this record is easily one of the best, as it is named here on this list, the best of the year.

When people say that a debut album is the key to defining musical characteristics and allow people to get a feel for what’s to come, Wicked Walls took that idea and ran with it. The group’s ‘toe dip in the water’ has been one of true significance and can make any listener proud to say that this band is from Champaign-Urbana.

Having members that are parts of actively playing projects, combining all of that assorted musical energy and creating Wicked Walls is what I truly believe makes this band so great.

J. Caleb Means, singer and guitar player of Wicked Walls, is the main lyricist of the band, writing this album after a strange time in his life, he said.

“In 2011 and 2012 I had some crazy shit going on and life changing events happen to me. I put myself into the songs and made it my therapy for a way to get through the ordeal of doing shit that I regret. That’s basically what the record is about,” Means said. “Trying to get some vindication and trying to overcome f**king up in life.”

Recording the entire album in the basement of Means’ house, the album is one that can be listened to and related to, making it a statement album.

In regards to a near future of appearances and/or releases for Wicked Walls, Means said there will possibly be some house shows here and there, but the band is lying low for now. According to Means, “about every two years is what I’m shooting for when it comes to record releases for this band.”

Frances is a sophomore in Media. She can be reached at [email protected]