Chris Riemenschneider: A 'Fun' finale for local music's class of '05

Atmosphere won for best album (again) in our fourth annual survey of the best in local music. Still, there were plenty of surprises.

Atmosphere leader Sean (Slug) Daley raps during soundcheck at Vault 350 in Long Beach. Atmosphere won best album (again) in the fourth annual Twin Cities Critics' Tally, this time with the 2005 album "You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having."

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Slug is growing up, and his numbers on our annual year-end local music writers poll are growing with him.

For three of the past four years -- as long as we've been polling Twin Cities music writers on their favorite local albums of the year -- the Minneapolis rapper and his "group" Atmosphere have led the pack. This year, that's truer than ever, with 13 of our 23 voting critics ranking the group's latest disc in their top 10.

The win would be relatively ho-hum, except Atmosphere's 2005 CD, "You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having," got a mixed reception from fans because it actually wasn't very fun. Slug has gotten serious on us.

Atmosphere's DJ/producer, Ant, might have been the real winner, though. His input on "You Can't Imagine" was invaluable, plus he helped veteran rapper I Self Devine make his debut on the Twin Cities Critics Tally at No. 3 with his CD, "Self Destruction."

In fact, if anyone wants to accuse us of being predictable, 15 of the 20 spots on this year's TCCT list featured performers who have never been on it before. There are even more new names in the best-live-act category, which includes everything from ferocious noisemakers the Stnnng to teen digi-punk band Melodious Owl to slapstick heavy-metal duo Brother and Sister.

You really can't imagine how much fun we're having writing about music in this town.

ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

1. ATMOSPHERE • "YOU CAN'T IMAGINE HOW MUCH FUN WE'RE HAVING"

Isn't this the guy who only raps about girls? Not anymore. The sixth Atmosphere album finds Slug, 33, maturing musically and lyrically -- albeit begrudgingly. He takes on alcoholism ("Pour Me Another"), fatherhood ("Little Man") and the murder of a fan ("That Night"), all the while not losing his own warped, self-deprecating outlook. All this new baggage is carried masterfully by Ant's chaotic cavalcade of beats and sound bites. 168 voter points

2. VICIOUS VICIOUS • "DON'T LOOK SO SURPRISED"

It's a quick 34 minutes, but in that time we hear VV proprietor Erik Appelwick (also of the Hopefuls, who placed fifth in this poll last year) go from ecstatic romancer to confused lover to lost loner. One thing he doesn't lose, though, is the beat. Even at its most down, the CD is high on sexy rhythms and electronic flourishes, part Beck, Bowie and Björk. No surprise the critics loved it. 126 voter points

3. I SELF DEVINE • "SELF DESTRUCTION"

Having grown up in south central Los Angeles, here's one Minnesota rapper who could get away with a stupid ol' street-thug CD and probably sell a million copies. Instead, the former Micranots leader's Ant-produced album is heavier than Kanye West's backpack, full of ideological and thought-provoking tracks that challenge our views on everything from casual sex to the N-word to the notion that police brutality can't happen here. 100 voter points

4. LOW • "THE GREAT DESTROYER"

Lots of things were in danger of being destroyed with this Duluth trio's seventh album (and debut on Sub Pop Records), from the band's mellow "slowcore" sound (replaced here with often-ripping guitar parts), to its frontman's emotional balance, to the comfort that's always upended by a death in the family. Co-produced by Flaming Lips/Mercury Rev cohort Dave Fridmann, the album's sound is as ambitious and timeless as its themes. 94 voter points

5. HALLOWEEN, ALASKA • "TOO TALL TO HIDE"

The second CD by this all-star electronic company -- featuring Dave King (Happy Apple), James Diers (Love-cars) and Ev Olcott (12 Rods) -- sounds trendy but is surprisingly heartfelt and cohesive. Good songwriting is the key, whether it's the sea of noise in "Drowned" or the nakedness of the closing ballad, "Drift." 90 voter points

6. THE STNNNG • "DIGNIFIED SISSY"

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