Best Singer/Songwriter

Editor’s Note: Ryan Groff was mistakenly left off last week’s Best Singer/Songwriter category. Check him out here now!

RYAN GROFF
Caitlin Cremer-Staff Writer

To describe Ryan Groff’s music is to squeeze the life out of it. Analyzing it is too cut and dry, for his music is lush and vividly alive in his storytelling. His music is expressive and rich with lucid lyrics, accompanied by a slightly folk approach with the sound of his acoustic guitar. While his lyrics have a lot to say, his voice is reminiscent of Elliott Smith and Jeff Buckley. Ryan Groff also happens to be the lead singer in the band elsinore (you may have heard of them … ), in case you wanted to check out his full capacity as a singer.

To hear Ryan live with just the company of his guitar, you generally can find him at Acoustic Night at Aroma CafÇ, or another frequent stop of his, The Iron Post. Although within the next week or so it may be hard to find him because of elsinore’s busy schedule, you can check out Ryan Groff’s MySpace account (myspace.com/ryangroffmusic) to find out more about him. There’s also a video floating around the internet of Ryan playing at the Iron Post. See it at www.vimeo.com/clip:88167.

Best Local Albums

ELSINORE
Nothing for Design
Caitlin Cremer-Staff Writer

I think the first band to show me all the talent that the CU music scene has to offer was elsinore. I, unfortunately, was not aware of the beauty that is elsinore until the beginning of this year, but once I did hear them, I fell head over heels with their album Nothing for Design.

Snatching up their album at the store, with an exclamation point over my head, I knew the rest of my day would be dedicated to repeatedly listening to their album. The first song, “Mind, Space, and Time” sets you up for the state of mind that encompasses the album. Their music makes you feel as if you are somewhere far away – away from the stress that comes with the everyday drone of life. The album’s masterpiece is “Sliding Glass Door,” a song that truly welcomes you into the golden comfort that is elsinore.

FIREFLIES
Goodnight, We’re Only Here to Help
Phil Collins-Staff Writer

Fireflies’ six-track CD Goodnight, We’re Only Here to Help, complete with prologue and epilogue, sounds epic with ease. The local quintet has produced a rock album that hinges on its instrumental quality and suspense.

“Fifty Wrongs Make a Right” is an energetic jam ending with a fun instrumental section. The song is filled with cryptic lyrics like “Wake up, box spring mattress acrobatics in June/Break up, punching bag aerodynamics (they’re) black and blue.”

The album is devoid of catchy choruses or many invitations to sing along. Instead, each song makes a progression forward, making the listening experience feel like a journey. This also gives the album a cohesive quality, rather than sounding like a group of random tracks thrown together.

The disc starts and ends instrumentally, with fuzzy searching rhythms. When the vocals kick in, the band’s sound is solidified as a palpable force in local rock. Goodnight makes you want to start it again as soon as it finishes.

HEADLIGHTS
Kill Them with Kindness
[POLYVINYL]
Michael Yohanan-Staff Writer

Headlights’ first full length album, Kill Them with Kindness, is enchanting. With Tristan Wraight on guitars and vocals, Erin Fein on keyboards and vocals, and Brett Sanderson on drums, Headlights create a dream world of pop music and rock rhythms that transfixes listeners, encapsulating them in orchestral compositions.

There are few faults on this album as Headlights create multiple magical worlds within individual songs. “TV” presents a harmonious marriage between Wraight and Fein’s vocals that showcases the band’s lyrical-rock talents, while “Put Us Back Together” stands out as an emotional symphonic journey that forms the perfect mix of happiness and despair – and will force you to constantly hit repeat on your playlist. The satisfyingly solemn dirge organ of “Songy Darko” silhouettes the beautifully impish vocals of singer Erin Fein and the bubbly rhythms of “Lullabies” combines a catchy piano beat with passionate percussions. Although appearing somewhat out of place, “Hi-Ya,” brings a fun foot-tapping atmosphere to the album and makes up for some of the forgettable songs towards the end of the album. Kill Them With Kindness is a symphony of sound that perfectly reflects both the dark days of winter and the forward march towards spring and summer.

MIKE INGRAM SPEAKS:

That Headlights record is just fantastic. I’ve listened to all of these, but that one got the most plays. The Shipwreck EP was the strongest of the two they released, including a killer opening track. It was also nice to see elsinore release a record that captured a lot of what they bring to a live show.

I:SCINTILLA
Havestar
[ALFA MATRIX]
Michael Yohanan-Staff Writer

I am not one to listen to industrial music, but I:Scintilla’s album Havestar has me addicted. From the Latin meaning “a spark,” I:Scintilla goes well beyond ignition by entrancing listeners with both heavy electro-beats and energetic dance tracks. Bethany Whisenhunt’s bass, Vince Grech’s drums and Chad Mines’s guitar weave together under the direction of Jim Cookas’s synth and programming to provide the perfect backdrop for Brittany Bindrim’s intense vocals. Bindrim’s astonishing reach creates a quality comparable to that of Amy Lee of Evanescence. Havestar is a re-release of songs from I:Scintilla’s debut album, The Addicted, including remixes of the albums best sounds. Songs like “Havestar” and “Bells” will shake your core and echo in your head for weeks to come and “Capsella (Klutae Mix)” reveals the band’s true technical genius. Check out tracks from Havestar at myspace.com/iscintilla.

JIGGSAW
Zero Generation
[PLAYING FIELD RECORDS]
Amy Meyer-Staff Writer

JigGsaw’s first record, Zero Generation, blends rock music with harmonious vocals to create an album similar to that of Weezer’s Blue Album. Zero Generation was produced and recorded by singer Mark Jiggsaw. The album starts out with “Mars,” a song with a sound rock beat and echoing backup vocals. By the second track, “Mona Lisa’s Mirror,” the similarities to Weezer are apparent and pop up throughout the record.

The album subject matter revolves around love, death and being alive with lyrics like “Love was flying all around the room from the floor to the ceiling like bullets in the Middle East” and “Give me a bottle of gin and tell me what a mess we’re in, that’s like pissing on my grave.”

The backup vocals compliment the lead singer well and although the music keeps a steady beat, there are constant changes in vocal and choral styles. The 10 tracks each run about three minutes, making the album 35 minutes long. Unlike newer JigGsaw material, this record has less of a dance-y feel, and more of a solid rock influenced sound. For a debut record, JigGsaw have a strong sound that continues to develop with time and the transition in members.

SHIPWRECK
House of Cards EP
Caitlin Cremer-Staff Writer

While the band’s name suggests the vast open sea, House of Cards evokes the atmospheric pleasure of ditching class and setting off on the road. Destination? Nightlife in the city.

The first song on the EP, “House of Cards” (which you should check out at myspace.com/shipwreck) acts as the song of anticipated excitement for the first party of the night. The song is fresh, upbeat, and simply fun. The last song, “Black Moon,” acts as the journey’s end, when you’re alone and returning home. The song is dark and reminiscent, but also quite alluring in its storytelling, while offering the feeling of desolation through the resonating cello and delayed guitar. What happens in between is up for grabs.

In other words, as the first installment to a four EP goal the band has set (within a period of 16 months, mind you), House of Cards is a promising album and acts as a metaphor for those exciting nights that you can only get away with when you’re young.

Best Hip-Hop/R&B

KRUKID
Alyssa Vale-Staff Writer

East Africa’s own Edwin “Krukid” Ruyonga has already made quite the name for himself as an up and coming emcee. Born in Uganda, Krukid found himself surrounded by raw forms of hip-hop at an early age. Thus, he began developing music that was lyrically based, and not weakened by commercial beats and mainstream concepts. His east coast influences as well as his free-style capabilities are what make him comparable to well known rappers like Jay-Z and Nas.

Krukid’s move to the United States hasn’t suppressed his style or his hype, and Cash Hill Records proved just that when they released Krukid’s full-length album entitled Raisin in the Sun in 2005. To learn more, check him out at myspace.com/krukid. Here, his remarkable storytelling can be featured in “Uganda Till I Die,” where the emcee gives us a taste of where he came from, and what he is all about.

SANYA N’KANTA
Phil Collins-Staff Writer

Sanya N’Kanta, who was born in Jamaica, released his self-titled debut in 2003. His upcoming sophomore album, Emergency, will be released on Cash Hill Records.

His pensively soulful style of singing gives his songs a mellow quality, complimented by the exploratory nature of his beats. His voice is what primarily calls the listener into his songs, often lingering on lyrics long enough for them to settle into the air.

Check out “Fire and Water” at myspace.com/sanyankanta. The combination of piano and a looping jungle beat give a smooth backdrop for the vocals on this low-key jam. Turntables add an edge to the beat throughout the song.

If you have an extra moment, don’t miss “Kumo” either. The track is a collaboration between Krukid and Sanya N’Kanta which will appear on the former’s new album. Sanya N’Kanta offers well-delivered, laid-back lines between Krukid’s high energy verses. The beat is simple but stays fresh throughout the song.

Be on the lookout for Sanya N’Kanta, who will join labelmate Krukid on a U.S. tour beginning March 10.

AGENT MOS
Liz Hutnik-Staff Writer

Agent Mos, aka Edward Moses, mixes innovative piano jazz music with a hip-hop beat, deep poetic rhymes and passionate rhythm and flow. Agent Mos was influenced by his parents’ wide-range of interests in different musical genres, especially jazz, but his love for hip-hop became substantial after hearing Soundbombing II, a underground-sounding compilation album pairing up-and-coming emcees and well-known rappers, featuring Eminem, Mos Def and Q-tip, among many others. His sound is unclassifiable, but his lyrics are meaningful and compariable to Nas. His first album, ILLuminate is to be released at the end of March. Listen to “Paper” and “Illuminate” at www.cumusicawards.com/2007.

C-KING
Phil Collins-Staff Writer

C-King brings a laid-back but focused feel to his verses and he pointedly delivers well written lyrics over fairly complex beats. His Christian faith is a priority for him and he isn’t afraid to show it.

On “Yayaya” he raps, “You can take a man’s name and change it/But you can never take a soul and play games with it.” Lyrics along these lines are not uncommon in his songs.

Head over to myspace.com/blackboxmm, and listen to “The Story of Rain.” The verses are eloquent, and the beat provides an appropriate backdrop for C-King’s style. The electronic vocals of the chorus are what jump out of the song, and are sure to get stuck in your head.

“Can’t Make It Without You” is also worth listening to. C-King’s lyricism again is a key feature, backed up by an electronic-heavy beat. He raps, “If you look like a dummy, then act like one/If the suit don’t fit, then act right son.”

C-King doesn’t have any shows scheduled soon, but hopefully that will change, because these songs could take on a whole new energy in a live setting.

DRE BILL
Phil Collins-Staff Writer

Andre Newbill, also known as Dre Bill, crafts head-bobbing Hip hop through quick raps and solid beats. Proudly influenced by Dr. Dre, he directly references the hip-hop legend in, “This Is How I Rock,” as well as in his name. Dre Bill is currently working on a mix tape, which does not yet have an official release date.

Check out “What It Do” at myspace.com/drebill. The song features energetic verses from Dre Bill, as well as a memorable refrain. The flow of the song is uninterrupted because the verses are well constructed. The beat keeps the song rolling but drops out occasionally, focusing all the attention on what Dre Bill is saying. The qualities presented in this song must translate well on stage.

Dre Bill will perform at the Spring Jump-Off show at the Canopy Club on March 21. Up A Notch Records labelmates Kalizion and DJ Asiatic will also perform.

RAPHAEL SMITH
Steve Plock-Staff Writer

Having sang since the age 3, U of I graduate turned New York City inhabitant Raphael Smith is a soulful singer whose music is based around his faith’s inspiration. Coming from a long line of ministers, religion has played a large role in Raphael’s life and, of course, his music. After gaining a large following in CU and the Chicagoland area, Raphael moved to New York City with the plan of pursuing a professional music career.

Constantly performing, Raphael is committing himself to his dream and has already produced three sample CDs. Aside from singing, Raphael is also his own producer and writes all his own songs. With a voice similar to Brian McKnight’s, production skills and meaningful songwriting, Raphael Smith is indeed deserving of this nomination and will undoubtedly achieve his goals one day. To check him out for yourself, go to myspace.com/raphaelsmith and be sure to listen to “He Is.”

Best Producer/Engineer

BRETT SANDERSON
Erin Gillman  Staff Writer

Since this was written while Brett was touring Europe with his band, Headlights, buzz e-mailed him a few questions about his other job as a producer. Enjoy.

buzz: What exactly do you do as a producer? Explain a typical day in the life of Brett.

Brett Sanderson: I like to think of myself [as a producer] who can make an artist feel comfortable in the recording studio so that they can get into the right headspace required to record good performances. What I try to do is to communicate with the band about exactly what it is they are going for and help them achieve those goals in the amount of time allotted. I guess the concept of “producer” is kind of a nebulous thing. Everyone has their own style, and it’s important for a band to find someone who they think is a good fit.

buzz: What’s the best/your favorite project that you’ve worked on?

BS: My favorite project is whichever one I’m currently working on. Even when the music isn’t really my style, it’s impossible to not get into a project while you’re watching a band build something they deeply care about from the ground up. One project I’ll never forget is recording a 20-person choir for a Lorenzo Goetz song. Everyone showed up to sing, and I had the TV turned on with the sound muted. Right before we recorded the track, American planes started bombing Baghdad – the start of the infamous “shock and awe” campaign. A very surreal night.

buzz: What’s your favorite local band?

BS: Headlights, of course.

buzz: Describe yourself in one word or phrase.

BS: Introverted Extrovert.

JON PINES
Ashley Kolpak-Staff Writer

CU is extremely fortunate to have a producer like Jon Pines – a veteran of the business – in our midst. Most famous for producing acts such as Wilco and Billy Bragg, Pine’s own Private Studios in Urbana caters to a diverse range of eclectic clientele. Private Studios, however, is extremely dedicated to the support of local artists. Pines has mastered records for University of Illinois acappella group The X-Chords and for Green Street Records compilation discs (a student-run record label) to name a few. Pine’s production company has also done its part to shape the local music scene by producing albums for Kate Hathaway, the much-missed Absinthe Blind and many others. The savvy and success of Private Studios as a champion of the local scene distinguishes Pines as a profoundly notable producer.

MARK RUBEL
Kate Kroger-Staff Writer

Mark Rubel does it all. As owner of Pogo Studios in downtown Champaign, he has produced and engineered hundreds of records, and used his studio to teach Parkland College students the ins-and-outs of audio, which has become one of his favorite projects. Also, he continues to work as an audio and music business consultant, while simultaneously remaining a musician himself. Rubel began recording in 1980 when he and some friends transformed a house in Urbana into a recording studio. With that experience, a passion for music, and inspiration from those who make music and art, his career has taken off. Now, Pogo Studios is attracting thousands of musicians and students.

Rubel is also a member of numerous recording and engineering groups, such as the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, in which he has served on the Producers Committee since 2001. Recently, he has also received a lifetime achievement award at the Chammy Awards. Yet, despite all of this recognition, Mark Rubel believes his greatest success has simply been being able to do what he has a passion for, while helping others at the same time.

MATT TALBOTT
Phil Collins-Staff Writer

Matt Talbott has produced a diverse collection of music over the six years that he has owned Great Western Record Recorders. Hopesfall, Absinthe Blind, The Blackouts (now The Living Blue), Out By Inches, Terminus Victor and many others have employed his production and engineering skills.

According to Talbott, bands have been patient with him as he values spending time with his family. In the fall, he puts recording aside and coaches football at The High School of Saint Thomas More in Champaign. Talbott also fronted local band Hum until the group split in 2000 and now plays with Centaur.

Recently, he finished a record for Pulsar47, and is currently finishing records for Roberta Sparrow and Tractor Kings.

“I’m enjoying the Tractor Kings a lot right now because I like the vintage kind of country sound that they have,” Talbott said. “It seems to work well with my studio and my style of recording.”

Instead of using programs like Pro Tools, Talbott has stuck with analog recording. “It’s what I know and I think it sounds best still,” he said.

ADAM SCHMITT
Josh Fisher-Staff Writer

Engineering the polished sound of his own and others’ music for the past decade, Adam Schmitt has had a large influence on Champaign-Urbana’s music scene. After much success under the Warner Bros. label, he decided to break away and do it himself. He has recently released a new album made up of songs that he has written over the past several years. Recorded in his home and meticulously worked on, Schmitt’s songs have a very ambient feel. This nomination is based not only on Schmitt’s production work on his own music, but also his production work for his colleagues.

His local production studio, Mixolydian Studios (which, by the way, is an amazing name for a studio) is open to the public to record fresh cuts or to refine recordings. So, stop by if you are an aspiring artist. Directions for contacting Adam Schmitt are located at http://www.parasol.com/labels/parasol/parcd033.asp. Check out his songs, “See Me Fall” and “Let’s Make This Easy” at the site as well.

MIKE INGRAM SPEAKS:

I’d have to see them all with the Walker: Texas Ranger beard that Brett Sanderson sports. Otherwise it’s just not a level playing field.

Best Rock

LORENZO GOETZ
Steve Plock-Staff Writer

Even though they disbanded at the end of 2006, Lorenzo Goetz have received their third nomination and possibly third win, for Best Rock Band at the Local Music Awards. Consisting of members Larry Gates (vocals and guitar), Josh Miethe (guitar), Eric Fisher (bass) and Jesse Greenlee (drums), Lorenzo Goetz creates music that sounds like it was pulled from the mid-’90s. Like a more fun version of Weezer, Lorenzo Goetz’s music is relaxed but never boring. While it won’t have you thrashing about and pulling off massive air guitar solos, this chilled-out form of grunge rock will definitely get your head bobbing and feet tapping. While listening to Lorenzo Goetz, it’s easy to see why they have dominated this category for the past two years – there is a sense of experience in their music. They know how to write music, and they damn well know how to play it. If you want to find out for yourself, check them out online at myspace.com/lorenzogoetz, and be sure to listen to “Heavy.”

JIGGSAW
Amy Meyer-Staff Writer

JigGsaw is a rock band with a punk edge and dance feel that started in the suburbs of Chicago, and reformed in Champaign. Previously compared alongside bands such as Bloc Party, their music is energetic and fun, with upbeat tracks like “Dance For Me,” frequently featured on WPGU. Their music “keeps the blood moving through your body,” said guitarist Hayden Cler.

They have one record that was self-produced, and recently recorded an EP which they are looking to release in the near future. The EP has a higher recording quality with seven tracks meant to make listeners tap their feet or start a full-blown dance party. When not on tour they try to play at least two shows a month in Champaign, and according to singer/guitarist Mark Jiggsaw, hope to create “an original sound that lasts longer than fads.”

“Don’t Waste Your Life” is one of their catchiest tracks with infectious beats and sing along choruses. Check it out at myspace.com/jiggsaw.

MIKE INGRAM SPEAKS:

Best Rock is just packed with excellent bands. Any one of them could take this. The recent retirement of Lorenzo Goetz might lead to a final swan song win for the band. Headlights is the local band doing the most on a national scale, though. Plus, they’ve got Brett Sanderson. I’m told that Superman wears Brett Sanderson underoos.

CD Review
THE LIVING BLUE
Liz Hutnik-Staff Writer

The Living Blue released their third album, Fire, Blood, Water, under Minty Fresh Records in 2005, through which their musical influences of ’70s and ’80s classic rock can be seen. The guitar solos wail the name Angus Young of AC/DC, providing full and open sounds without taking away from the driving bass and drums, which glue the music together. Also, Stephan Ucherek’s narrative lyrics are straightforward and honest.

The first two songs on the album, “State of Affairs” and “Murderous Youth” have a slight swing-gallop beat comparable to many Green Day songs, and “Conquistador” is comparable to Pink Floyd’s “Money.” If you have the slightest intention to rock out and you’re tired of overplayed modern rock chart-toppers, I’d recommend Fire, Blood, Water.

THE LIVING BLUE
Liz Hutnik-Staff Writer

The Living Blue, formerly known as The Blackouts, is a psychedelic, indie-rock band with a mixed cocktail of sounds. Combine four parts The Strokes with two parts each of The Rolling Stones and The Clash and one part OK Go. Shake, strain and pour onto a stage and garnish with some sweet bass lines.

The Champaign quartet is made of drummer Andrew Coon, bassist Andrew Davidson, guitarist Joe Prokop and leading man, guitarist and singer, Stephen Ucherek. Their most recent CD, Fire, Blood, Water, was released in 2005. Listen to “Conquistador,” one of the songs featured on the album, also available on the band’s MySpace page at myspace.com/thelivingblue.

SHIPWRECK
Caitlin Cremer-Staff Writer

Let me paint a picture for you. There’s a ship – it’s aged, classic, large and bold. Now, flip over to the band: they’ve been on CU’s music scene for
a few years now. They’ve become a classic staple to the much-admired music scene, but also act as the ship that stands out among the rest. Their bold and slightly shoegazing guitar with the combination of the band’s folkloric lyrics, accompanied by the mellow voice of Harman Jordan produces nothing short of a favorite tune.

Back to the picture: The ship stands out under the blue sky, with no limitations – only what lies ahead. The band – highly ambitious with their album productions – is entirely progressive in their music making. They’ve produced four albums in just two years, and will be adding two more in less than a year.

Now picture this: chaos. Chaos, that their name suggests. There’s excitement and desolation scattered everywhere, and the band has a few songs dedicated to these extreme, unavoidable feelings in every album. Similarly, it’s hard to ignore this band as a local favorite – just like a treasure you hold close, and want to show everyone that you have.

After securing their status as a local treasure, Shipwreck has traveled cross-country from as far west as Omaha through Texas and up to the East Coast. In the Midwest they’ve secured shows at Shuba’s in Chicago. Unfortunately, they will not be back in Champaign until April 6 before they ship out on their spring tour – so catch them while you can. Until then, check out their Web site, shipwreckband.com and listen to “Walk in the Woods,” from their latest EP.

THE CHEMICALS
Alyssa Vale-Staff Writer

August of 2004 got the ball rolling for The Chemicals. Together, the four members who comprise the group – Justin Gee, Johnny Chemical, Carri Andrews and Andrew Davidson – played their first live show as a new band. Since then, they have been touring around the Champaign-Urbana area, spreading their indie tunes and building up their fan base.

Recently, the band recorded at Toilet Tunes Studio in Champaign, and is expecting to release their first CD on March 31. If you would like to get a better idea of what they sound like, “Averages” is currently the only song available on their Web site, but it’s worth the visit nonetheless. You can experience the song’s upbeat ambience and unique guitar riffs at myspace.com/thechemicals.

HEADLIGHTS
Michael Yohanan-Staff Writer

Born in a Champaign farmhouse, Headlights – comprised of Tristan Wraight, Erin Fein and Brett Sanderson – skip into the indie music scene with melodious compositions and bubbly pop beats that shine of rock ‘n’ roll. Placing delicate female vocals hand-in-hand with a rugged male complement, Headlights create a more harmonious sound than a harsher Mates of State. With 161 shows performed in 2006, an EP, a new full length album and a date with SXSW this week, Headlights are assaulting the world of music, and building a base of dedicated fans. The spirit-quenching vocals and Sigur Ros-like atmosphere on the song “Everybody Needs
a Fence to Lean On” are cut with an elevating rock chorus that echoes on the track “Lions,” which has a rhythm that will make you want to get up and boogie. Be sure to check out songs from both Headlights’ new album, Kill Them With Kindness and their EP, The Enemies, at myspace.com/headlights.

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