Using an old taped-up keyboard, an MPC, a saxophone and layers upon layers of vocals, Sen Morimoto is a musician that’s accustomed to working within constraints without allowing them to limit the scope of his work. Much of his self-titled album is a continuation of the jazz-meets-hip-hop sound he’s long pursued, but a long list of collaborators helps him take his music in new directions. Japanese musician AAAMYYY adds ethereal shades to the funky electro-pop ballad “Deep Down,” while Chicagoans Lala Lala, Kara Jackson and Qari form a choir of voices for melodies to build around on the slow-burning “Taste Like It Smells.” Rest assured, Morimoto’s creativity is on display even when he’s left to his own devices, packing this latest effort with deftly layered musical moments that reward repeated listening.
The past year was nearly devoid of concerts, festivals or any sort of gathering that prominently featured live music, but that didn't stop Chicago artists from sharing their latest work. Filled with long-awaited follow-ups and anticipated debuts, 2020 yielded an especially great lineup of new records from local musicians, ranging from a sprawling jazz opus to a short-but-sweet first project from a rising hip-hop emcee.
As you read about our favorite Chicago albums of 2020, keep in mind that Chicago music venues remain closed to the public, without any realistic hope of reopening anytime soon. Without stages to perform on, it's more difficult than ever for artists to make a living through their music—even with the launch of grant programs and an emergency relief fund for music industry workers.
If you like what you hear, consider purchasing a physical album, a digital download or a piece of merchandise (we've linked each album title to the respective artist's online store). Supporting an artist today helps them keep creating, ensuring that there'll be new music to enjoy when we can once again gather in front of a stage.