10 Minnesota records worth carrying over to year’s end.
Anonymous Choir, “After the Gold Rush”
Nona Marie Invie of the baroque indie-folk troupe Dark Dark Dark led her 10-member women’s choir through a track-for-track remake of Neil Young’s 1970 classic album last year at Duluth’s Sacred Heart church-turned-studio. The results have a holy and hallowed vibe but aren’t so worshipful that they miss making their own mark — like how “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” sounds extra fragile, and “Southern Man” somehow seems darker.
After getting too touchy-feely on the last album, Slug returns to harder-edged tunes without sacrificing his personal touch. Even the rowdy love song “Kanye West” has a dark undercurrent, to say nothing of the riveting, mortality-pondering “January on Lake Street” and the overdue but not overstated Eyedea tribute “Flicker.” Almost half this disc stacks up with the group’s very best.
K. Raydio & Psymun, “LucidDreamingSkylines”
Imagine Erykah Badu making music with DJ Spooky at 3 in the morning, and you might get a clearer idea of the dreamy soul and blurry, atmospheric urban grooves blended together on this duo’s aurally lush full-length debut. K’s candle-warm singing voice and laid-back, fluid rapping style float like lava-lamp liquid in such standouts as the romantic slow-jam “Sweet Dreamz” and the Greg Grease collaboration “Lobby Music.” These are some seriously good good-vibes.
Sonny Knight & the Lakers, “I’m Still Here”
Newly popular at age 65, revived soul man Knight sings with the energy and enthusiasm of a young buck making his first record, whether it’s the hard-blasting “Hey Girl” or the title track, a slow-stewing, Curtis Mayfield-like opus. Conversely, his younger backers provide a funky backbone that suggests they’ve been gigging together for decades. Side note: Their release party at First Ave was also one of the best shows of the year so far.
Erik Koskinen, “America Theatre”
Having already proven his prowess as a stylish alt-twang guitarist with the likes of Dead Man Winter and Molly Maher, this Upper Peninsula-bred Midwest hillbilly keeps on licking the strings while reiterating his songwriting skills. The smart, gritty, modern-day oil-rush epic “Boomtown” contrasts with the not-so-smart but irresistible slacker anthem “Six Pack of Beer and a Pack of Cigarettes,” variously echoing the likes of Greg Brown and James McMurtry.
Mally, “The Colors of Black”
“My skin is my sin,” south Minneapolis native Malik Watkins provocatively raps in his third full-length album’s bleak opening track, “Two Worlds,” about attending a mostly white private school on a low-income tuition. It’s one of several songs that powerfully underscore his grade-A personal story, but the best stuff here also reiterates that Mally is no saint. He turns wild-eyed and raunchy in “Hold My Tongue” and “Machine Gun” in ways that earn him a spot on the honor roll of local MCs.
Jeremy Messersmith, “Heart Murmurs”
Signing to Glassnote Records and playing to bigger rooms pushed Minneapolis’ sensitive-guy folk-pop star to turn it up literally and figuratively on his fourth record. He piled on the extra sonic touches like a baker layering a cake in the strings-swirled opener “It’s Only Dancing” and the rockishly operatic penultimate track “Hitman.” He also turned on a wry and warped, Magnetic Fields-like writing approach to love songs such as “Steve” and “I Wanna Be Your One Night Stand,” none as straight-ahead as they sound at first blush.
Two Harbors, “The Natural Order of Things”
Why reinvent the wheel when you’re on a roll? Duluth native Chris Pavlich and his standard-edition two-guitar quartet stick to their unabashedly Oasis-like ’90s Brit-rock sound like ice cream sticks to a toddler’s face. Having the record mastered at Abbey Road Studios only reinforced the band’s rock-solid foundation. From the thundering opener “There Is Love” to the poppier “Fall to Pieces,” the songs have an immediately familiar, classic tone — and might just be classics themselves.
Tyte Jeff, “Tyte Jeff EP”
“No kids ever daydream of underwriting loans or answering phones,” Jeff Allen sings near the end of his six-song answer to David Byrne’s question, “How did I get here?” The former co-leader of late-’90s teen-punk band the Plastic Constellations analyzes youth culture from behind mortgaged thirtysomething eyes. He equally admires and admonishes the subjects of “Exurb Kids Don’t Know What They Don’t Know” while having a blast cranking out Pavement/Modest Mouse-style idiosyncratic rock — which today’s kids thankfully still think is all right.