With the tense election, the bleak onset of winter and the rising coronavirus numbers, Twin Cities music lovers could sure use some breezy, soothing local music to lighten their moods.
Here’s a roundup of four highly recommended new albums from Minnesota music makers who’ve stayed active during the pandemic, three of which reflect these heady times (the other, by Ryan and Pony, just plain rocks). All are available for purchase and streaming via Bandcamp.com, which is once again holding its popular monthly sale waiving fees to artists this Friday.
Even a rapper with an escapist passion for video games and comic books couldn’t escape the turmoil of 2020. After starting the year with a giddy, playful First Ave performance that made City Pages’ (last) Best Of issue, the Twin Cities’ brightest rising star has ended the year with a surprise-release record whose hardest-bouncing tracks are anything but joyful.
Heavy metalers such as “Band Aid” and “Burn It Down” (featuring Chicago’s Psalm One) are based on the real-life Matt Allen’s experiences manning first-aid stations during the George Floyd protests. “This ain’t a laugh or a joke/ This is as serious as a stroke,” the increasingly wizardly wordsmith spits in “Cheat Codes,” one of the LP’s several pledges to a long-term fight for racial justice. This successful artistic changeup suggests a long-term music career for Nur-D, too.
Faith Boblett, ‘Take Care’
While a cool cross-section of Minnesota singers contributed one song apiece to the recent “MeTooMpls” compilation LP, Faith Boblett spends the bulk of her third album raising her deep, resonating voice for women’s rights and over men’s wrongs. The millennial Minneapolis rocker — a songwriter since she was 13 — downs this jagged little pill with ’90s-flavored guitar angst and cussing lyricism that’s more personal than it is political.
With her steady live band that includes local guitar ace Nick Costa and bassist father Paul Boblett, she roams musically from the neo-twangy “Good to Me” to the full-tilt “Basically [Expletive] You,” a wowing alt-rock kiss-off you should (but won’t!) hear on 89.3 the Current. “I’m gonna avoid you for the next 10 years ’cuz I don’t think I can be trusted,” Boblett menacingly bellows in another jolter, “I Don’t Want to Get Arrested.” And that’s one of the nicer songs.
Ryan and Pony, ‘Moshi Moshi’
Ryan Smith and Kathie “Pony” Hixon-Smith are familiar faces in the Twin Cities music scene thanks to their long- and hard-running band the Melismatics and Ryan’s tenure as Soul Asylum’s guitarist since 2016. Their first full-length album as a duo boasts a recognizable sound, too, but it’s a different brand of familiar power pop than what they’re known for.
The Cure-like opening track “Starry Eyes” hints at the black-eyeliner-smeared, snarly-lipped British synth-rock textures and moody but catchy boy/girl melodies heard throughout the 12-song set, which would’ve been a shoo-in project for their late producer pal Ed Ackerson (the equally seasoned John Fields instead lent sonic support). Standouts include the Elastica-staticky “Start Making Sense” and the Pony-led, wiry and worried rocker “Cinematic.” The album-ending cover of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” adds some fun local flavor, but mostly the record sounds surprisingly, refreshingly un-Minnesotan.
‘The Sophisticated Dip’ (self-titled)
Whereas too much of today’s hip-hop is made in solitary confines with preprogrammed beats, this vibrant and viciously funky Twin Cities all-star project thrives off face-to-bass collaboration. The man behind the curtain is Minneapolis producer Trevor McDonald. Along with beatmaker Medium Zach (of Big Quarters) and a crew of live musicians, he laid a cornerstone of organic, rocky, “Lemonade”-meets-“To Pimp a Butterfly”-style grooves and then invited a crew of soulful rappers and singers to build away.
Many of the best tracks boast a rich back and forth between female and male voices, such as the Lady Midnight/Greg Grease space-jazz odyssey “Searching to Find” and the downright nourishing “Rain Cloud Water,” with kindred educators Mankwe Ndosi and Crescent Moon. Other participants include Aby Wolf, the Lioness, Mally, I-BE, Chance York and MMYYKK. The lyrics often offer hope and helpful advice, all of it burning with the spirit of working together.