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Continued: Proud to 'live here'

  • Article by: CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER , Star Tribune
  • Last update: December 23, 2012 - 4:48 PM

We probably could have called this poll for P.O.S. when his record came out back in October. Little did we know, though, that the Minneapolis rapper would be in the hospital come December, just as the praise for his fourth album, "We Don't Even Live Here," reached a fever pitch.

Year-end music lists are as plentiful nowadays as tweets about sandwiches, and they probably have never seemed more irrelevant than in 2012, which is coming to an especially somber conclusion. Who cares about music at a time like this?

But music heals and saves and builds community. P.O.S. (Stefon Alexander) learned this in a literal sense with the outpouring of support around his pending kidney transplant, which forced him to drop out of last weekend's Doomtree Blowout concerts and check into an emergency room.

This 11th annual poll -- compiled from 22 local music pundits' top 10 lists -- is small potatoes in the scheme of things, yet it makes a big statement about what P.O.S.' art meant in this community. TCCT 2012 also speaks to the ever-deepening pool of young talent in the Minnesota music scene. While P.O.S. is an old favorite of ours (at the ripe old age of 32), half of the albums and many of the favorite live acts named herein are relative newcomers.

Speaking of newbies, they really don't come any younger and fresher than this year's winners for best song, Y.N.Rich Kids, the grade-school kids from the north Minneapolis YMCA, whose viral hit "Hot Cheetos & Takis" left even cynical music writers licking their fingers. There's a lot more great new music listed here to bite into.

1. P.O.S., "WE DON'T EVEN LIVE HERE"

At a time when so many other rappers only see in dollar signs and name brands, Stefon Alexander made a hip-hop album denouncing the material world and the corrupt, broken capitalist society behind it. "I'm not invited / I'm not crying / Calling out crimes," he says on behalf of the 99 percent. If that doesn't sound radical, then get a load of the envelope-pushing music in such dance-floor ignitors as "Get Down" and "F--- Your Stuff," each a wild mish-mash of electronic dance beats and punky mayhem helmed by Kanye West cohort Andrew Dawson, German producer Boys Noize and Doomtree's Lazerbeak. Rarely do records provoke this much thought while prodding so much movement. (216 voter points)

2. NOW, NOW, "THREADS"

Hooking up with Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Chris Walla's label Trans to release their sophomore record was a big break for this trio of Blaine-reared high school buds, all three of whom still look like teenagers. Even more important was the pairing with producer Howard Redekopp, who has worked with the New Pornographers and Tegan and Sara. Frontwoman Cacie Dalager and her vocal partner Jess Abbott fall in nicely with the latter act here, delivering hook-sharp melodies and smart, relationship-pondering lyrics that sound like iPhone-written poetry. Drummer Bradley Hale is always there to pick up the dourness, and the swirly guitar work is intoxicating. (110 points)

3. POLIÇA, "GIVE YOU THE GHOST"

How fitting that there's a photo of a bed on the album cover, because the band was more or less born in the bedroom studio of producer Ryan Olson after he recruited Roma di Luna singer Channy Leaneagh to experiment with her voice on 2010's Gayngs record. The electronic vocal manipulation stuck, her marriage and old band fell apart, and a pair of dazzling drummers and one hypnotic bassist were added. What followed was a charmingly bedheaded but far from sleepy debut album with ethereal melodies and a methodical floor-shaking groove. (98 points)

4. BIG CATS, "FOR MY MOTHER"

Exhibit No. 1 on hip-hop producers/beatmakers being real musicians, this aurally glowing collection grew out of a dark place. With funding from the McKnight Foundation, Spencer Wirth-Davis -- known from his work with the Tribe and Big Cats, Guante and more -- elaborately pieced together a stockpile of live instrumental sessions while mourning his mom's death from ovarian cancer. There are only a few vocal parts (mostly by young female hip-hop associates), but the healing sentiment comes through loud and clear in the rich blend of loungey beats, jazzy guitar/organ jams and a chill-out vibe that could soften the hardest day. (92 points)

5. BLOODNSTUFF, "BLOODNSTUFF"

The wicked, Sabbath-black riffs and thundering drums are impressive enough, but they seem even louder when you factor in the fact that there's only two guys behind the noise. Guitarist Ed Holmberg and drummer Dylan Gouret amped up their raw, large sound and added just the right amount of studio polish on their debut, which holds up as the local answer to another noisy year-end critics favorite, Japandroids' "Celebration Rock." Except this one's sludgier and bloodier. (84 points)

6. MALLY, "THE LAST GREAT..."

After a prolific incubation period in which he dropped monthly singles and propped up his profile on stages ranging from the Entry to Soundset, south Minneapolis rapper and University of St. Thomas grad Malik Watkins, 26, came out of his shell and took flight with this personal opus. He raps about growing up fatherless, growing up black and simply growing up. His playful mix of cocky hubris and humbly rooted rhymes merit comparison with Nas and Kanye -- there's even a song here about loving his mom. His beatmaker, the Sundance Kid, offers a lot of change-ups, too, from saucy R&B to grinding electronic grooves. (74 )

7. "TWIN CITIES FUNK & SOUL: LOST GROOVES FROM MINNE-APOLIS/ST. PAUL (1964-1979)"

Sure, all of the songs are 33-plus years old, but even people who frequented places like the Riverview or Mr. Lucky's back in the day never got their hands on most of these recordings. This double-LP collection certainly felt new, and carried all the buzz of the hottest young bands in town. Pieced together with great care and excitement by Minneapolis' budding reissue outfit Secret Stash Records, tracks range from the Curtis Mayfield-channeling soul of the Valdons' "All Day Long" and the James Brown strut of Jackie Harris' "Sock-a-Poo-Poo '69, Pt. 1" to the disco groove of "Get Up" by Lipps Inc.-precursors the Lewis Connection. Call it the hardest-grooving history lesson of the year. (72)

8. NIGHT MOVES, "COLORED EMOTIONS"

Wait, wasn't this record on last year's TCCT list? Yes, Minneapolis' psychedelic space-twangers briefly issued their debut online in 2011, before they were signed by esteemed U.K. indie label Domino Records. Some of the cosmic dust was cleaned up and one track was added when the label finally reissued the album in October. Whether it was a reintroduction or their first time, critics once again fell in love with frontman John Pelant's Grant Lee Phillips-sandy voice and the band's thick, Supertramp-meets-Flaming-Lips sound. (70)

9. BROTHER ALI, "MOURNING IN AMERICA AND DREAMING IN COLOR"

On multiple fronts, this is one challenging album. The themes are complex and full of subtleties, including poverty, the economy, foreign policies and the rapper's Muslim faith. The music -- produced by Seattle's Jake One instead of Ali's usual cohort, Ant -- favors live instruments over hip-hop beats. Even just the album cover, with Ali kneeling in prayer over the American flag, turned off some people. But many listeners did enjoy hearing one of Minneapolis' most distinctive voices turn up the heat. (66)

10. PRISSY CLERKS, "BRUISE OR BE BRUISED"

The full-length debut by former Total Babe teen wunderkind Clara Salyer -- whose old band broke up when the guitarist left to front Howler -- is at once sneering and sweet. Her soft, pretty voice belies the hard, gnarly guitar work à la such '90s bands as Belly and Sebadoh, and her songs befit the album title with their wounded but war-ready lyrics. (64)

11. DARK DARK DARK, "WHO NEEDS WHO"

After a romantic breakup that nearly ended the band, this warm hearth of a chamber-folk ensemble rallied together with musical and emotional grace for a heartfelt, hardly-getting-over-it collection. Once-gawky singer Nona Marie especially comes into her own as a dramatic balladeer. (62)

12. TRAMPLED BY TURTLES, "STARS AND SATELLITES"

We knew they were mean string pickers, but the Duluth twang-folkers' sixth album proved how tender the acoustic quintet can be at crafting songs. Frontman Dave Simonett wrote some real heart-tuggers -- the weathered classic "Alone" foremost among them -- and his bandmates pulled them even farther with spacious and dramatic arrangements. (54)

13. THE PINES, "DARK SO GOLD"

As expansive and alluring as the scarecrow-haunted horizon on the cover, the third Red House Records release by Iowa-bred folk troubadours Benson Ramsey and David Huckfelt and their Twin Cities-based dirt-road-groove band sounds like one of Bob Dylan's Daniel Lanois-produced records. Its truly golden ambience wraps nicely around moonlit songs of heartache, home and hope. (44)

14. GREG GREASE, "CORNBREAD, PEARL AND G"

Named after a 1975 movie about a teenage basketball star killed by the cops, this rapper's full-length debut paints the life of a city kid now in his 20s: Money woes, romantic ventures and dead friends fill the songs. Those topics may not sound unique, but the ex-Southerner's smooth but intense lyrical flow and the thick, reverberating beats certainly are. (42)

15. (TIE) GUANTE & BIG CATS, "YOU BETTER WEAPONIZE"

"In less than 100 years, every single one of your Facebook friends will be dead," poet-rapper Kyle Tran Myhre (Guante) promises at the beginning of this wild-eyed, teeth-gnashing, call-to-arms collection. And he's trying to be nice. He and such guest MCs as Crescent Moon and Kristoff Krane urge action and interaction on many fronts for a better, or at least less self-involved, world. Big Cats' beats similarly lean toward the futuristic. (38)

HOWLER, "AMERICA GIVE UP"

The biggest Minnesota band in England disarmed a lot of skeptics back home with this classically American blast of surfy, reverb-laden garage-rock riffs, recorded for famed London indie imprint Rough Trade Records. Frontman Jordan Gatesmith's coy, playful lyrics also lived up to his mouthy reputation.

17. MANKWE, "SCIENCE & SPIRIT"

Sort of an Erykah Badu-like hip-hop soul sister without the zaniness, singer/rapper/activist Mankwe Ndosi -- best-known from her stints in Atmosphere's live band -- teamed with Big Quarters sonic guru Medium Zach to craft a slow-grooving, high-minded, culturally cross-stitched debut. (36)

18. (TIE) CHRIS BATES' RED 5, "NEW HOPE"

One of the Twin Cities' pre-eminent jazz bassists (from the Atlantis Quartet and Motion Poets, among others), Bates hardly played it safe for his first album as composer and bandleader. It ventures everywhere from Africa to New Orleans to Tatooine, and includes dazzling spots by trumpeter Zack Lozier and the drumming Bates brother, J.T. (30)

FLAVOR CRYSTALS, "THREE"

You might need a hypnotist to sit through 100 minutes of atmospheric, wigged-out guitar noodling and airy, droning vocals, but this psychedelic band's sprawling three-LP collection indeed proved hypnotic.

THE MAGNOLIAS, "POP THE LOCK"

No beatmakers or lengthy jams here. Just the same classic, spunky guitar-pop formula that made this garage-flavored quartet one of the last standouts on the Twin/Tone label in the late '80s, a sound that proved timeless in the 15-year wait between albums. In that time, frontman John Freeman stored up a strong batch of pop/rock tunes.

JOHN MARK NELSON, "WAITING AND WAITING"

Issued shortly after his high school graduation, this mostly home-recorded debut by Minnetonka folk-pop wunderkind Nelson sounds wise and worldly beyond his years -- case in point: the standout track is called "Reminisce" -- but it also boasts a bright-eyed innocence. Elegant orchestration by the Laurel Strings and his soft voice evoke Sufjan Stevens and Jeremy Messersmith, but this kid has already come into his own.

How TCCT works: We asked voters to choose their top 10 local albums, then weighted those picks through a point system. Voters could rank their choices (from 20 points for No. 1 to two points for No. 10), or leave them unranked for 10 points apiece. Best songs and live-act categories are from top 5 lists, with 10 to two points for ranked lists, or five apiece for unranked.

SEE EACH VOTER'S INDIVIDUAL BALLOT AT STARTRIBUNE.COM/MUSIC.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib

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