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Chicago music highlights of 2012

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Tired of "end of the year" lists yet? I'll pretend you said no.

As in years past, I've decided just to write a few words about a handful of releases from Chicago bands that I greatly enjoyed this year. I don't like to declare anything the "best," because that's really subjective and there's a ton of stuff I don't get a chance to listen to. But here are seven releases that have been a hit on my iPod, and if you try them out via your listening device of choice, you might find you dig 'em, too.

The Steak House Mints – Love Songs for Prostitutes
I'm a bit nostalgic when it comes to The Steak House Mints. I wrote about them way back in early 2009, not long after I first started writing about Chicago music. I enjoyed their first record, Out of the Sky, so much that I would think about them every so often, hoping we'd hear more from them. It took a few years, but they finally released their second effort Love Songs for Prostitutes late this year. And man, is it great. Better than the first one. This is clever, top-notch pop-rock music with a touch of glam and a healthy twist of weird that I really love. It's all made even more ear-catching by the charismatic vocals of frontman Billy Dave Sherman.

Mooner - Unpronounceable Name EP
This is classic Americana-tinged power-pop that incredibly well-written and well-recorded, and will probably send visions of a few greats through your head (for me it was kind of like the lovechild of Tom Petty, Jeff Tweedy and Elvis Costello. You're welcome for that mental image).

Hollows – Vulture
The complete Blondie discography has a permanent place in my music collection, which should give you an idea of how I feel about Hollows (think the first couple Blondie records paired with more garage rock and modern indie pop sensibilities). Girl-group harmonies, sugary-yet-slightly-detached vocals, Farfisa organ, surf-pop bounce--it's all there to indulge on.

Unicycle Loves You - Failure

This is one of the first albums I reviewed in 2012, and it held strong as one of my favorites through the year. It's a scrappy little record full of hooky, fuzzed-out tunes that do what they need to do in around 3 minutes or less. Songs like "Garbage Dump" and "Wow Wave Cinema" make you want to get up and jump around the room for no good reason. As its title suggests there's a sense of darkness and discontent to the lyrics, but at the same time it's fun. It makes you feel good without being a feel-good record. Does that make sense? No? Just listen to it.

Archie Powell & the Exports - Great Ideas In Action
I liked this band's first album Skip Work well enough, but on their sophomore record they truly won me over. Archie and company seem to have really come into their own here, delivering a lot of memorable melodies and energy enough for about three bands. Even when dealing with unemployment and other woes of an unkind world, they're just so damn likeable. I don't think it's possible to not have fun listening to this. My full review is here.

Gold Motel - self-titled
On their second full-length, Gold Motel generally continued down the buoyant pop path of their first album Summer House enough to maintain their identity, but this time branched out a bit as well. The result is an excellent indie pop album with variety that doesn't sound too sunshiney to play in the winter but still brings plenty of good vibes. Check out my full review here.

The Bright White - Lose Yourself
For a while now I've been admiring the passion and straight-up rock and roll intensity these guys bring to what they do. If you've ever been annoyed by indie bands that try to hard to act like they don't really care, here's your antidote. And it doesn't hurt that The Bright White bring killer hook after killer hook--something that would be clear after just one listen to their latest effort. Read more about the record here.

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