From Dessa & the Minnesota Orchestra to Big Thief and Lizzo: the best of 2019 arts and entertainment included these top albums and concerts.
Best local albums
1. Dessa & the Minnesota Orchestra, “Sound the Bells: Recorded Live at Orchestra Hall.” While Lizzo had to leave town to prove Minnesota-molded hip-hop could crack the Billboard top 10, Dessa went deeper into the local talent pool and cracked the ceiling artistically. Arranger Andy Thompson and the biggest band in town helped flesh out the lyrical drama and moody ambience of old songs like “The Chaconne” and the new “Grade School Games” in ways that at times sounded as much like Leonard Cohen as Doomtree.
2. Humbird, “Pharmakon.” Minneapolis wanderer Siri Undlin’s debut album as experimental folkie Humbird is the musical equivalent of a gorgeous piece of driftwood, with a natural, wavy sonic ambience and deep-rooted traces of the old-world folk songs and tales she studied abroad.
3. The Cactus Blossoms, “Easy Way.” Brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum’s second studio LP put a bluer hue on their Everlys-style, retro-twang harmonies while adding meatier guitar textures.
4. J.S. Ondara, “Tales of America.” The Dylan-loving, Kenya-reared strummer’s deceptively raw but elegant Verve Records debut lays bare his piercing voice and personal songs, equal parts coming-to-America and coming-of-age.
5. Dua Saleh, “Nūr.” The Sudan-born, St. Paul-raised rapper/singer/poet explores gender and racial issues and fantasies in a purring delivery over a surrealistic electronic soundscape that deserves the FKA Twigs comparisons but is really like nothing else.
6. Nur-D, “Songs About Stuff.” Late-bloomer suburban rapper Matt Allen riffs on comic books, superheroes and his own normalcy and awkwardness with a Chance the Rapper-like blend of playfulness and soulfulness on his sophomore album, which earned him the top spot in City Pages’ Picked to Click poll.
7. Lydia Liza, “Of Unsound Mind.” The former wunderkind of Bomba de Luz and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” revisionist notoriety faces adult problems with a still-youthful zeal and a Sharon Van Etten-like power, from the urgently orchestral “Josephine” to the fuzzed-out rocker “Crow on a Branch.”
8. Dizzy Fae, “No GMO Mixtape.” Like the hip-hop answer to chillwave or a Minnesota-icy Sadé, the 21-year-old St. Paul singer/rapper delivers sexy, confident, aloof tunes better suited to headphones than dance floors.
9. Eleganza!, “Full Length.” Garage-rock hound Brian Vanderwerf’s semi-twangy, post-Chooglin’ band finally dropped its debut album, which nearly lives up to the grimy groove and rowdy joy of its live shows.
10. Prince, “Originals.” Old songs, sure, but these unearthed early-’80s recordings of tunes given to other artists (“Manic Monday,” “The Glamorous Life,” “Jungle Love”) felt like a whole new — and mighty fun — album.
Best non-local albums
1. Big Thief, “Two Hands”
2. Joe Henry, “The Gospel According to Water”
3. Yola, “Walk Through Fire”
4. Brittany Howard, “Jaime”
5. Lizzo, “Cuz I Love You”
6. Lana Del Rey, “Norman F-ing Rockwell”
7. Taylor Swift, “Lover”
8. Sharon Van Etten, “Remind Me Tomorrow”
9. Better Oblivion Community Center, self-titled
10. Rapsody, “Eve”
1. Lizzo, Palace Theatre (May 10)
2. Billie Eilish, the Armory (June 8)
3. Massive Attack, Palace (Sept. 10)
4. Tyler Childers, First Avenue (Nov. 3)
5. Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Xcel Energy Center (July 25)
6. Sleater-Kinney, Palace (Oct. 15)
7. Wilco, Night 1, Palace (Nov. 22)
8. Robyn, Palace (March 5)
9. Iron Maiden, Xcel Center (Aug. 26)
10. Golden Smog, King’s Hall at St. Anthony Main (July 12)