As the year wraps up, it’s customary to take stock of what has passed and look at what’s ahead. Of the hundreds of new songs released in 2022, here are some of the Chicago and suburban acts that truly connected with us in some way. Some artists are known already, and some are new, but all are worth keeping an eye on in 2023.
The growing music scene around Lake Zurich and his jazz-playing father inspired Christopher Steibel’s interest in songwriting, but it was the fellow musicians he met at Indiana University — Ryan Lampe of Indianapolis and Mitchell Gabel of Madison, Wisconsin — who finally brought out his inner performer. And in return, he brought the band back to Chicago with him. Six years after that collaboration started (with about a year and a half here in town) and one opening slot for The Mowgli’s later, Everyday Fantastic is working its way around the local scene, building up a fan base with its sparkling synth-powered indie pop and its back catalog of rock and folk inspired by the band’s earliest gigs at basement and house shows. “You gotta be loud, you gotta have a lot of fun, have a ton of energy,” Steibel said. With four charmingly buoyant singles on streaming services and a plan to drop a few more in early 2023, Everyday Fantastic is the band to watch for your upbeat music fix in the new year.
Christopher Steibel, left, Ryan Lampe and Mitchell Gabel of Everyday Fantastic have new songs they’re prepping to release in early 2023. – Courtesy of Cheyn Roux Reilly Downes
On the flip side, sad songs can carry so much emotional weight, helping a listener hoist and unload their burdens. And while Chicago’s Reilly Downes specializes in those, the songs are far from morose. Downes, who migrated north from Texas Hill Country to live out her musical-theater dreams not long before COVID-19 shut the city’s stages down, opted to channel her long-simmering creative spirit into writing music. Pensive and revealing, sometimes theatrical and dramatic, her six-song release “Spent” from earlier this year showcases who Downes is — her struggles from her past and her feelings of isolation during the lockdowns, but also her ardent approach to life and the future. Tossed with her upbringing among country stars and church choirs, Downes presents a package both introspective and effervescent, perfect to listen to as you imagine sitting at the end of the bar nursing a whiskey (or Malort, her drink of choice) while this self-proclaimed “sad cowgirl” sings you a tune. You can catch Reilly play at FitzGerald’s on Sunday, Jan. 8; at Schubas Wednesday, Jan. 11; and Golden Dagger Saturday, Jan. 14.
With versatile vocals and lyrics about understanding, acceptance and general positivity, Dan Orlowski, left, and Daven Masulis of Jacks and Atoms are the artists we all need right now. – Courtesy of Wendy Davis Jacks and Atoms
“Who have I become? Is it me or just someone that’s run away from who I was?” With the opening lyrics to “In My Head,” released in early 2022, Jacks and Atoms set the stage for a year of questioning and growth. The song is a soaring and catchy alt-rock tune that shows Mount Prospect’s Daven Masulis and Hoffman Estates’ Dan Orlowski moving away from the band’s earlier folksy roots. In it, they explore inner timelines and the ideas they had for where their lives should go. And it elevates that self-reflection to a place of defiant self-acceptance. With a history going back nearly 12 years (and through various band incarnations), the duo leans into Masulis’ songwriting, steeped in a desire to process challenges rather than dwelling in the darkness. The band’s last few releases are relatable in the struggles they reflect through Masulis’ versatile vocals, but they then throw open the doors to understanding, acceptance and positivity. A Homegrown Arts & Music Festival favorite for the last few years and a staple around Northwest suburban venues, Jacks and Atoms already has one Chicago show booked at Subterranean in March as they increase their fan base in the city as well.
Jeremy Mederich, left, Stephen Mueller and Andre Robert of RELEASE(R) dropped an incredible new single this year. – Courtesy of Alex Zarek RELEASE(R)
RELEASE(R) is not new to the music scene. And tracking the trio’s musical pedigrees — former York High School classmates Stephen Mueller and Jeremy Mederich and West Dundee’s Andre Robert — would take an ancestry.com account detailing the DuPage-centric rock and pop-punk scene of the late ’90s and early ’00s. But as the three settled into their groove together, RELEASE(R)’s 2018 debut EP “Retox” solidified the band’s hallmark sound: dark, fiery feelings and intensely personal lyrics set to inviting melodies. The blistering guitarwork and tight rhythms on this summer’s single “Vicious Cycles” complemented Mueller’s songwriting as he tears himself down for his decisions in a song that many listeners can probably relate to. On a lighter note, the band spent some of the pandemic time putting out 2020’s spot-on rock-ification of the 1987 Richard Marx pop hit “Should’ve Known Better” that earned them a nod from the artist himself. Follow it up with this summer’s opening slot for Filter at Aurora’s The Piazza, and it’s clear RELEASE(R) is a band turning heads. And true to their histories, the three artists are still splitting time among other acts: Mederich plays regularly with Prizefighter, Robert in alt-rock band Miirrors, and Mueller in the recent revival of ONELIFE. And that’s on top of working with Tom Higgenson’s Humans Were Here label on some upcoming releases. I think I need more coffee just to keep up with these guys.
Dear Dario, reclaimed the stage in 2022 with a new lineup and new songs. – Courtesy of Rafael Fernanz Dear Dario,
Dear Dario, first hit my radar half a decade ago with an appearance at Lisle’s Homegrown Arts & Music Festival before life changes pulled its members in different directions. But an invitation to play a big show in fall 2021 showed band founder and lead vocalist Anthony Dario his life was meant to be sharing music on the stage, and he took the band off “pause,” as he called it. Rebuilding Dear Dario, with a new lineup — including Brazilian emo rocker Rafa Fernanz, who now lives in Lisle, and bassist Tico Nerval — the artists headed into the studio to write and record new music together. This year’s first single, “Name,” was a passionate reintroduction to the music scene, driven by the band’s ’90s grunge influences and a challenge to listeners to face down their problems and learn from them. The subsequent release “Gemini” solidified the band’s sound as both familiar and new. It’s not the same Dear Dario, as before, but if you liked the original, check out where this incarnation is going.
• Brian Shamie is a Daily Herald multiplatform editor and local music junkie. Email him at email@example.com, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter (@thatshamieguy) or Instagram (@chicagosoundcheck). He also keeps tabs on the Chicago music scene at chicagosoundcheck.com.