The 15 Chicago Bands You Need To Know in 2018

Music Lists Chicago
The 15 Chicago Bands You Need To Know in 2018

Originally known for its jazz, blues and gospel music in the first half of the 20th century, Chicago’s music scene is one of the most diverse and historic in the country. Chicago has become synonymous with genres like those as well as house music, punk, alt-rock, hip hop, heavy metal, pop-punk and more. Some of the city’s biggest names throughout the years include Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, Earth, Wind & Fire, The Smashing Pumpkins, Liz Phair, Wilco, The Jesus Lizard, Veruca Salt and Fall Out Boy. And more recently, Chicago has boasted artists like Chance The Rapper, Whitney, Vic Mensa, Twin Peaks, Rise Against and Smith Westerns.

The city’s music scene has also been chronicled by books like Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life and this year, more loosely, with Jessica Hopper’s Night Moves. Festivals like Lollapalooza, Pitchfork Music Festival, Riot Fest and Chicago Blues Festival as well as venues like The Empty Bottle, Lincoln Hall and The Metro continue to draw exciting acts and help keep the city’s flame alive. In celebration of Chicago and as the latest installment of our new band lists, Paste compiled a list of 15 exciting, young rock bands that hail from the Windy City that you should keep your eye on for this year and beyond.

1. Grapetooth

Featuring Twin Peaks’ Clay Frankel and Home-Sick’s Chris Bailoni, this brand new duo makes trippy, polychromatic new wave and psych-pop for the new millennium. Their synth-heavy and drum machine-filled tracks are off-kilter and grubby—distilling the radiant sonic textures of New Order with the goofiness and unpredictability of Mac Demarco. Their self-titled debut full-length is out on Nov. 9 via Polyvinyl Records. Read Justin Kamp’s recent feature on the band. —Lizzie Manno

2. Tasha

Singer/songwriter Tasha dropped one of the most purely beautiful releases of the year with Alone at Last—a project that finds her stretching her poetic prowess across billowing waves of dream-pop. A naturalistic vocal talent with a knack for the spoken word, Tasha is just one of the many bright prospects to emerge from Chicago’s bustling poetry scene. Her songs are lullabies that plead for you to be awake in this moment. —Justin Kamp

3. Post Animal

Psych-rock quintet Post Animal delivered some of the slickest pop gems and mind-numbing psychedelic freakouts of 2018. Their debut album, When I Think Of You In a Castle, which dropped earlier this year, evokes the otherworldly classic rock of Pink Floyd, the doomy psych of King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard and the groovy, sun-drenched pop of the future. —Lizzie Manno

4. Lala Lala

Lillie West, the singer/songwriter behind Lala Lala, continued to make waves this year with her second album, The Lamb. The English-born and Chicago-based musician’s lo-fi indie rock is adorned with quick-witted metaphors of insecurity, despair and change. Though she’s less candid than you might prefer, she effortlessly draws you into her closely kept world with care and nuance. —Lizzie Manno

5. Deeper

Deeper makes delightful, riff-driven power-pop that feels much more urgent and complex than the power-pop moniker implies. A self-titled debut album found the band mixing post-punk aesthetics and dream-pop atmospherics for a relentlessly groovy, restlessly propellant experience—marked by spidery guitars and bubblegum basslines. —Justin Kamp


Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart are difficult to pin down and the pair’s 2018 debut album, Parts, definitely showcases a free-flowing, experimental vision. From vibrant art-pop and brooding, melodic rock to contorted, genre-less collages of lush pulses, guitar sketches and gleaming vocals, OHMME perfectly embody the city’s musical diversity and artistic spirit. —Lizzie Manno

7. Rookie

Rookie are a well-oiled rawk machine. Running with the best parts of the Eagles and Heartbreakers-era Tom Petty, the guys in Rookie make muscle-car music that’s almost offensively catchy. Three-part vocal harmonies, tight grooves and guitar solos you can sing along to—it’s all in the bag. Plus, they perform in matching emblazoned jumpsuits, which is a look we can forcefully get behind. —Justin Kamp

8. Varsity

After recently signing with Run for Cover Records, Chicago indie-pop five-piece will follow up this year’s LP, Parallel Person, with another full-length in 2019. Their absorbing dream-pop and instantaneous power-pop is a fresh take on a familiar sound—like a modern, fluorescent VW beetle or a past memory that’s still vivid and on repeat in your mind. —Lizzie Manno

9. Town Criers

Like fellow psych-rockers Post Animal, Town Criers draw on the deep, dark sludge of early Sabbath and Deep Purple and it seems like they’re only getting heavier. Town Criers, the crown princes of fuzz, also deliver on the live front and you’ll find prog-metal breakdowns seeping into the royal garage grooves that were all over their first EP. “Genghis Khan” is a must-see—a war-cry that will leave you thoroughly melted. —Justin Kamp

10. Girl K

Kathy Patino, aka Girl K, makes the kind of breezy, lovesick indie rock that just never gets old. She dropped her debut album, Sunflower Court, last year and has since followed it up with three new singles. Girl K makes the kind of cheery, dreary pop tunes that make you want to dance in an ’80s music video, stare longingly outside a car window and cry into your pillow. —Lizzie Manno

11. Meat Wave

Punk trio Meat Wave have been a staple in the Chi-Town music scene for several years now and their recently released split EP with Lifestyles sounds like a band that’s really coming into its own. Meat Wave’s latest album, The Incessant, was released last year and produced by rock heavyweight Steve Albini; its sharp noise punk is frantic, blistering and therapeutic. It’s required listening for those who appreciate thoughtful, meticulous clamor. —Lizzie Manno

12. Dehd

Featuring Jason Balla (NE-HI, Earring), Emily Kempf (formerly of Lala Lala) and Eric McGrady, Dehd may be a side project, but it’s the furthest thing from an afterthought. The band recently released a new single, “Dying For”—a follow-up to last year’s EP Fire of Love—and its foggy, stumbling indie-rock is sparse, meditative and full of heart. —Lizzie Manno

13. Sports Boyfriend

Eileen Peltier records under the moniker Sports Boyfriend, mostly in her apartment. Peltier has stated in interviews that she’s hesitant to hop in the studio with others, but it’s that insular nature that makes her incredibly catchy tunes all the more intriguing. Check the scattershot grooves of “I Only Leave My House to Dance With You” and tell me you didn’t do a little shoulder-bop in your room, office or spot on the train. Forget bedroom-pop, this is bedroom-disco. —Justin Kamp

14. Retirement Party

Pop-punk three-piece Retirement Party isn’t afraid to go for the jugular with its soaring pop hooks. The band released a debut EP, Strictly Speaking, last year and this summer, put out a debut full-length, Somewhat Literate. The solos, melodies and hooks are warm, spirited and intricate, but aren’t designed to confuse or blow your head off. Retirement Party’s down-to-earth songwriting is intensely gratifying and its spunky fearlessness to embrace all things catchy is bold and refreshing. —Lizzie Manno

15. Ganser

The DIY post-punks in Ganser released their debut album, Odd Talk, earlier this year and though they aren’t redefining the genre, they add their own sinister, frenetic energy to a lineage of underground, angular rock greats. Last month, they released “Pastel”—their first new music since the album—and it only takes a few seconds to tap into the raucous joy and snarling confidence that emanates from it. —Lizzie Manno

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