Twin Cities Critics Tally 2011: We're all Doomed

Adding to a blowout year, Doomtree and its "No Kings" album ruled out 10th annual poll of the best in Minnesota music.

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Doomtree was crowned No. 1 in the Twin Cities Critics Tally.

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At this point, you might feel sorry for the members of Doomtree. How are they ever going to top 2011 on the local front?

As if packing First Avenue and 7th Street Entry for seven straight nights this month weren't enough, the hip-hop collective ran away with this year's Twin Cities Critics Tally as swiftly as Dessa ran from the bathroom mid-set on Night Six of the Blowout VII marathon.

What Adele is about to do at the Grammys in February, Doomtree did to our 10th annual local-music pundits poll. Not only did its month-old record, "No Kings," ease into the No. 1 slot among best albums of the year, but the group also ranked as the favorite live act. One of its members, Sims, landed the top song and his solo effort came in at No. 2 among albums.

"It's a sudden thrill that the hunter feels / When they're on their heels, and the hunted yields." So says Sims in his song "Burn It Down." For local Doomtree fans, it was also quite a thrill being the hunted this year.

As always happens, though, our 23 voters -- journalists and bloggers, plus a few of our most locally attuned radio brethren -- spread the wealth and gave it up for the newbies.

Nine of the 20 best albums are by acts never before featured in our TCCT wrapups. Those range from a vintage country harmony duo (the Cactus Blossoms) to psychedelic, electronics-dabbling youths (Night Moves) to noisy, punky, refreshingly old-school vets (Pink Mink and the Cloak Ox).

Hip-hop once again ruled the roost, though. At the 10-year-mark, it seems worth pointing out that only one non-rap album has won TCCT (last year's Jeremy Messersmith disc). Considering that most of our voters grew up on guitar rock and couldn't spit a decent rhyme if you paid them in gold bling, this says something clear and definitive about our scene of the past decade.

Best albums of 2011

1. DOOMTREE, "NO KINGS"

The group's first all-in-one-room collaborative effort, it comes off like a nonstop tag-team cage match with the rappers in one corner and the punk- and electronica-inspired beatmakers in the other (never mind that a couple of members wear both hats). It plays out like Wrestlemania, too. "Bangarang" and other crowd-riling displays of showmanship run into the bludgeoning rockers "No Way" and "Punch Out," topped off by "Team the Best Team" and other displays of personal drama. (237 voter points)

2. SIMS, "BAD TIME ZOO"

Eschewing stereotypical rap themes -- as befits a Hopkins native -- the real-life Andrew Sims beats his chest and flows his infectious rhymes around such broad topics as liberals' consumer practices and social media's soul-sucking vacuum. Not exactly "Gangsta's Paradise," but powerful. The future freaks him out, a theme that suits the futuristic but densely funky backdrop by producer Lazerbeak, another Doomtree mate. (176)

3. PINK MINK, "PINK MINK"

Buzzing straight out of the gate thanks to veteran frontwomen Arzu Gokcen (ex-Selby Tigers) and Christy Hunt (Ouija Radio), this punky, poppy quartet makes good on record, adding just the right amount of polish. Their tributes to Minneapolis landmarks Hidden Beach and Scott Seekins -- along with a Replacements cover -- make it feel like a locals-only love affair. But there's no secret formula here, just a classic rock snarl. (135)

4. HALEY BONAR, "GOLDER"

Following a head-clearing stayover in Portland, Ore., the emotionally charged songwriter sounds settled, confident and ready to take on the rest of the world on her sophisticated fourth album. With help from guitar maestros Jeremy Ylvisaker and Jacob Hanson, it's also her most sonically realized record, a sort of space-twangy orchestral backdrop for the earthy songs. (130)

5. LOW, "C'MON"

Duluth indie-rock vets Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker were letting the world get to them on their last couple of noisier albums for Sub Pop Records. This one sticks mostly to the softer and more personal fare and thus has a classic feel, although the frayed, maniacal rocker "Witches" proves it's not entirely pretty. (118)

6. PETER WOLF CRIER, "GARDEN OF ARMS"

After its self-made debut was reissued by hot indie imprint Jagjaguwar, the raw-nerved folk-rock-electronic duo of Peter Pisano and Brian Moen hit the road and the reset button. They came back with a heavier, freakier and more experimental follow-up record, ranging from the Radioheaded "Settling It Off" to one mighty elegant ballad, "Having It Out." (88)

7. ASTRONAUTALIS, "THIS IS OUR SCIENCE"

Vagabond-ish Florida native Andy Bothwell moved to Minneapolis a few months before issuing his fourth album, but guest appearances by P.O.S. and Sims and the effortless blend of indie-rock and rap prove he was already at home here. Produced by John Congleton (see also: Modest Mouse, Hold Steady), this half-rock, half-rap, all-passion collection carries a studious theme of musicians as mad scientists. A eureka kind of record, that's for sure. (84)

8. M.ANIFEST, "IMMIGRANT CHRONICLES: COMING TO AMERICA"

Fraught with the stress of international traveling -- and this was before he started touring with Damon Albarn's and Flea's Afrobeat project -- the second album by Minneapolis-based, Ghana-reared rapper Kwame Amet Tsikata also celebrates the comforts of home. It just so happens he has two homes, a fact that plays out in the disc's cool musical hybrid of Twin Cities indie-rap jams and Africanized grooves. (75)

9. NIGHT MOVES, "COLORED EMOTIONS"

This is a first: year-end praise for an album you can't actually buy at year's end. Part MGMT electro-haze pop and part cosmic twang-rock, the young trio's debut was sidelined for a re-release next year on buzz-maker label Domino. Its availability online over the summer was enough to make a big local impression. (65)

10. SLEEPING IN THE AVIARY, "YOU AND ME, GHOST"

Offering a music-hipster holy trinity of Hives-like spazz-punk, '60s sun-baked California pop and nervy, Spoon-style indie rock, the prolific quintet's fourth album might sound overly clever were the music not matched by Elliott Kozel's playful and charmingly lovelorn writing style. Wanna bet they're next to get the big label offer? (60)

11. (tie) The Cloak Ox, "Prisen EP"

Winners of City Pages' latest Picked to Click buzz-band poll, this family-tree quartet of art-rock vets is led by Andrew Broder with two of his former Fog mates. Broder reeled in his eccentric musical leanings (though the lyrics are still weird as heck) and cast out ballistic, crunchy guitar parts and slyly funky beats on this straight-ahead six-song debut.

MASON JENNINGS, "MINNESOTA"

It starts out with some of the cult-adored indie-folkie's sweetest, poppiest, most piano-driven love songs to date. Then it nosedives into more dissonant and distraught tunes. All the while, the poetic lyricism and laid-back voice carry the familiar, home-like qualities that the album title suggests. (53)

13. DESSA, "CASTOR, THE TWIN"

Mostly made up of songs we'd heard before, this straight-off-the-road studio effort by Doomtree's hen-among-roosters showcases the more dramatic and often jazzier reinterpretations she worked up with her live band on tour -- in some cases, arguably now the definitive versions. (48)

14. THE BLIND SHAKE, "SERIOUSNESS"

A cold, hard blast of '60s garage-rock and '80s hardcore noise born out of co-leaders/brothers Mike and Jim Blaha's bleeding guitars, the trio's third album on Learning Curve Records delivers 13 songs in 28 minutes and is liable to fry your every nerve in the interim. (46)

15. (TIE) Communist Daughter, "Something Wicked This Way Comes" EP

Offering something to tide fans over, Johnny Solomon furthers his band's lush pop craftsmanship with a trio of new originals, including the stormy lost-youth epic "Ghosts," plus three covers, including a cleverly sleepy take on the Beatles' "Golden Slumbers."

BIG QUARTERS, "PARTY LIKE A YOUNG COMMIE"

Hip-hop brothers Brandon and Zach Bagaason channel their mixed-race family's stories and only shared passion (music) with their evolving production/beatmaking talents into a personal and semi-political yet surprisingly fun third album. (43; the "communist" tie was pure coincidence)

17. BUFFALO MOON, "SELVA SURREAL"

The psychedelic, experimental coed quintet with the bossa nova fixation and Nico-meets-Yoko singer (Karen Freire) proved strangely alluring on its second album for the Moon Glyph label. (42)

18. THE CACTUS BLOSSOMS, "THE CACTUS BLOSSOMS"

If Hank Williams had formed a harmonious duo with his brother and flash-forwarded 50 years to get Randy Broughten of the Gear Daddies and Razz Russell of the Original Harmony Creekdrippers to back them, it would have sounded a lot like this mostly original, sweetly earnest debut by Nordeast boys Jack Torrey and Page Burkum. (37)

19. NO BIRD SING, "THEFT OF THE COMMONS"

Deep-voiced, deeper-thinking poet/MC Joe Horton (aka Eric Blair) uses his trio's subtly bombastic power -- think: Rage Against the Machine meets Low -- for another commie-leaning rap-rock album that truly rocks. (33)

20. DAVINA & THE VAGABONDS, "BLACK CLOUD"

Alternately steamy and stylish, this is the best example yet of the spirited, Southern-styled musical gumbo that has made Florida transplant Davina Sowers and her guitar-less, horn-heavy boogie-woogie band a favorite attraction at jazz, blues and rock clubs alike. (32)

HOW TCCT WORKS

We asked voters to choose their top 10 local albums, then weighted those picks through a system that allocates 110 points per list. Voters could rank their choices (from 20 points for No. 1 to 2 points for No. 10), or leave them unranked for 11 points apiece. Best songs and live-act categories are from top 5 lists ranked 10 to 2, or 5 apiece.

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    "Try To Sleep" by Low from the CD C'mon

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    "Coming to America," by m.anifest, from the CD Immigrant Chronicles: Coming To America

  • Audio: "Dimitri Mendeleev," by Astronautalis

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  • Audio: "Headlights" by Night Moves

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  • Audio: "Prison" by The Cloak Ox

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    "Prison," by The Cloak Ox, from the CD Prisen

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