Our annual midyear record roundup includes many new hotshots, a Longshot and a few old faves.
Like a lo-fi cross between the New Pornographers, X and the underrated Imperial Teen, this Minneapolis pop-punk band mines the fertile energy that often arises whenever dueling boy/girl vocalists go at it. There’s just some kind of inexplicably exhilarating and playful buoyancy as Travis Franklin and his bandmates Crystal Stockert and Kristin Kosieracki trade off harmonies and howling verses on the quartet’s second album, which ranges stylistically from the snarky, Guided by Voices-like youth anthem “Scuttlebutt” to the doo-woppy “Black Sand,” but is nonstop fun throughout the musical changeups. (Catbath’s release parties are Friday at Mortimer’s and July 28 at Moon Palace Books, both in Minneapolis.)
Even after dabbling in Broadway soundtracks, orchestra concerts, neuroscience and the New York publishing world, the Minneapolis rapper/singer returns to her booming hip-hop base en force for her first solo album in five years. Songs such as “5 Out of 6” and “Fire Drills” could’ve also been tossed onto one of her fiery albums with longtime cohorts Doomtree, while the mellower highlight “Velodrome” inventively melds rap and classical styles. And as if Dessa needs one more hat to wear, the most accessible and maybe best track, “Half of You,” suggests she’d also make a great synth-pop hitmaker.
Kraig Jarret Johnson & the Program, “Kraig Jarret Johnson & the Program”
It’s kind of funny having a guy who’s been kicking around the scene for more than three decades in numerous high-profile bands (Run Westy Run, Golden Smog, the Jayhawks) issue a self-titled album at this point in his career. That should be a sign of the seriously rich songwriting and high spirit on this self-released project, which hews closest to his Smog past in would-be singalongs such as “Only for a While” and “Silent Side of Town.” Collaborators include David Poe and Ed Ackerson, but this one’s really all about Johnson himself.
Kitten Forever, “Semi-Permanent”
Have to admit: After their blissfully bombastic 2016 album “7 Hearts,” it seemed like this fun-loving feminist punk trio had maybe taken their simplistic all-bass, no-guitar, three-vocalist shtick about as far as it could go. Au contraire. The follow-up actually sounds less shtick-y and equally inspired. Corrie Harrigan, Liz Elton and Laura Larson — it’s hard to know who’s doing what on the record, compared with their instrument-swapping live shows — fine-tuned their hooky, chant-laden songs into even sharper (but not lengthier!) two-minute blasts.
The Lioness, “Greater Vision”
A vet in the local scene who’s only just turning 30, Shaiwna Adams has an uncanny, tight rhythmic synchronicity in her music that’s lacking in too much of today’s weed-blurred hip-hop. On her second full-length album, the north Minneapolis rapper’s prickly words beautifully match the jittery beats — or maybe it’s the other way around — from the Lauryn Hill-spiked fist-raiser “Chosen Ones” to the grit-chewing Jamaican jam “Ashé.”
Longshot and Lazerbeak, “Parades”
After more than a decade of working hard but never quite finding his groove on record, the Chicago-edged Minneapolis rapper Longshot (Chad Heslup) finally landed the perfect partner in the ubiquitous Doomtree and Lizzo producer. Hold on, because this record doesn’t let up. The jacked-up organ-pumped opener “Just Dance” sets a hyper tempo that’s maintained even as the songs get more serious (the Black Lives Matter-celebrating title track) and downright ridiculous (the spazzy braggadocio workout “We Winnin’ ”). Laden with retro-soul samples and free-flowing rhymes, it harks back to Kanye West’s “Graduation” without, you know, Kanye. (Release party July 4 at 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis.)
Jeremy Messersmith, “Late Stage Capitalism”
From the lush, witty orchestral pop of “Purple Hearts” and “Once You Get to Know Us” to the Wes Anderson-ready bossa-nova groove of “Postmodern Girl,” and the wry rockers “Fast Times in Minnesota” and “Jim Bakker” to the open-vein acoustic ballad “Don’t Call It Love,” one of Minnesota’s most beloved modern songwriters offers a bit of everything on his sixth album. Well, except ukulele tunes, but that’s another story/record.
Dwynell Roland, “Young Roland”
After earning a solid buzz with his high-wired live shows, the Minneapolis rapper rises to the occasion of his full-length debut. “I know I got some [messed]-up ways,” he admits in his crazed-sounding delivery in “Old Me,” one of many tracks in which he hints at outgrowing his rowdy early 20s lifestyle — even while he’s still living it and enjoying it. He preaches a hard-work ethic and DIY spirit throughout the record, too, culminating with “Brighter,” a gem of a Dem Atlas and Mally collaboration that seems to (rightfully) suggest that Roland is now on par with those well-regarded local MCs.
Trampled by Turtles, “Life Is Good on the Open Road”
After an extended hiatus and a more experimental approach to its 2014 album, “Wild Animals,” the Duluth-bred acoustic sextet plays it decidedly straight on its comeback record. Which is to say its members play like they want to outdo one another in such rapid-fire string workouts as “Kelly’s Bar” and “Annihilate.” More than ever, though, the band’s stringmen also lend beautifully layered accompaniment as frontman Dave Simonett asserts his continually growing writing prowess in slower, Dylan-esque heart-tuggers “The Middle” and “I’m Not There Anymore.” (TBT returns to Duluth’s Bayfront Festival Park on July 7.)
Various artists, “Dismembered & Unarmed”
With Resmaa Menakem’s book “My Grandmother’s Hands” and the headlines of the day for their talking points, an all-star cast of Minnesota rappers and singers gathered under the always thoughtful and demanding guidance of rap pioneer I Self Devine (Chaka Mkali) to craft this sprawling 14-track concept album on race relations and violence circa 2018. The cast includes Greg Grease, Lady Midnight, Sarah White, Paris Bennett, Brother Ali, the Lioness and many more. It’s dense, it’s unsettling, it’s brutal, it’s fascinating and it’s not at all fun. But it could go down as one of the most important hip-hop albums to ever come out of Minnesota.