It was a ladies-first year in our 12th annual poll of the best local albums, with the Chalice rapper’s solo debut coming in at No. 1 just above Low, Caroline Smith and Poliça.
Three weeks into January, it already became apparent this could be Lizzo’s year.
Performing at 89.3 the Current’s birthday bash with her group the Chalice, the sharp-tongued, Houston-bred rapper/singer debuted “Batches & Cookies,” a playful, devious romp that at once echoed classic, boombox-blasting hip-hop and modern mainstream rap such as 2 Chainz.
As the year progressed, she debuted more new songs at South by Southwest in March, Soundset in May, the Summit Backyard Bash in July, the State Fair grandstand in August, the Hip-Hop Harambee festival in September (the lady doth get around). By the time she returned to First Ave in September for a full preview of her album, still a few weeks before its release, the crowd already knew a lot of the tracks and seemed to recognize that another local hip-hop star had been born — one not at all like the others.
No surprise, then, that at year’s end, the critics who covered the local music scene recognized Lizzo’s “Lizzobangers” as the standout album of 2013.
She’s the first act since P.O.S. to top our Twin Cities Critics Tally with her debut release, and the first woman to land at No. 1 in the poll’s 12 years.
She’s hardly alone representing female artists this year, though. Women star on half of the top 10 albums, counting Low, Poliça, Caroline Smith and Dessa, each of whom has fared well in past polls.
This year’s TCCT was compiled from the top 10 lists of 27 participating local music writers and/or locally focused radio pundits, the most ever. There’s a lot to be covered in the Minnesota music scene nowadays, which makes this would-be consensus poll all the more necessary and handy.
1. Lizzo, “Lizzobangers”
“I ain’t your hook girl / I’m your feature,” the real-life Melissa Jefferson declares midway through a record steeped in stiletto-sharp wordplay and cocky bravado. As if we didn’t already know she’s not just here to look pretty. That line comes from “Hot Dish,” a fight song that also references her late dad, racism and sexism. Even that one is pretty damn fun. You can thus imagine the smile-busting, dancefloor-bursting appeal of the more mischievous tracks of this Lazerbeak-produced album, including the gooey “Batches & Cookies” and the tongue-wagging “Pants vs. Dress.” (158 voter points)
2. Low, “The Invisible Way”
For its 10th album in 20 years, Duluth’s internationally beloved lo-fi trio teamed with a high-profile producer (Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy) and changed its game plan, too. Drummer/co-vocalist Mimi Parker sings lead vocals for more than half the album, while her husband, Alan Sparhawk, stepped back from the guitar as well as the mic, playing piano more. The overall Low dynamic remains unchanged, though, with mesmerizing harmonies, slowly tempestuous songs like “Plastic Cup” and eerily beautiful ones such as “Just Make It Stop.” No drone here. (150)
3. Caroline Smith, “Half About Being a Woman”
It sounds preposterous : A skinny, white, ex-folkie Minnesota prairie girl delivered one of the best, sexiest R&B albums of the year. It’s an extra testament to the convincingness and charm of Smith’s third album that she had cynical local critics singing along instead of crying foul. Lighter, poppy fare such as “Magazine” and “Bloodstyle” is sassed-up fun, and the more dramatic title track and personal anthem “Child of Moving On” prove the princess has serious pipes. (146)
4. The Cloak Ox, “Shoot the Dog”
“I won’t let the grind make a maggot of me,” Andrew Broder promises in his new band’s full-length debut, a record loaded with the nervous, sensory-grinding energy of urban life. A contrast to his solitary, head-spacey lyrics, the former Fog man found old-fashioned musical camaraderie in his new band, featuring the seasoned talents of Jeremy Ylvisaker, Martin Dosh and Mark Erickson and the jaggedy, frayed art-rock guitar noodling of bands like Television and latter-day Wilco. (134)
5. Poliça, “Shulamith”
An experimental home-studio project on their first album, Channy Leaneagh’s throb-hop/trip-pop band hit the road running in 2012 and turned into a very real band for their second go-round. The dueling drummers keep the blippy electro-beats sounding organic and human. The New Orderly bass lines add melody and heat. At the center of it all, Leaneagh channels the album’s namesake feminist not exactly in a hear-me-roar way, but there’s no mistaking she’s found her voice. (108)