"We can pull through the darkness."
Like a yellow highlight marker brushing over that lyric, lines of setting sunlight shined through the trees onto the grass in front of the stage where Sarah Krueger sang last Friday night outside Keg and Case Market in St. Paul.
Krueger's self-titled debut album under the moniker Lanue was a comforting highlight of the past few months of the pandemic. There were a lot of those. What else did music fans have besides records to pull them through?
Now that live music is back and indoor clubs are even reopening, albums might seem like an afterthought. But last weekend's Lanue performance was a reminder of all the great music put out during quarantine that's just begging to be performed face-to-face. Especially in Minnesota. What else did musicians here have to do besides write a record?
We've run this midyear roundup of homegrown albums going back to when CDs were still the main way to hear the offerings. This year's might be the most important one ever.
Since national concert tours aren't resuming until fall, for the most part, the local scene will take center stage for the next couple months for the many of you begging to enjoy live music again. Tune in before going back out.
Here are the 10 best local albums of 2021 so far.
Big $ilky, "Vol. 3" — Hitting an impressive stride with their third EP of the pandemic, Chicago-reared, Minneapolis-based rappers Psalm One and Angel Davanport strike the classic rap-duo formula of 1+1=3. The rowdy but purposeful wordsmiths tear into the man's world around them in booming, tongue-lashing songs like "Jesse Got Away" and "Britnee Speerz." The more vitriol, the merrier the music seems to get. Hear it here
Dead History, self-titled — This new band of Upper Midwest rock vets — including sandy-voiced howler Brad Senne and members of Story of the Sea, BNLX and Sioux Falls' Floodplain — harks back to pioneering emo bands like Jawbox and grunge-era emoters such as Screaming Trees and Buffalo Tom. Its stormy eight-song debut steamrolls with crescendoing dueling guitars, tender-to-blunt-force cymbal hits and enough middle-age Trump-era anxiety to make a Buddhist monk go off. Hear it here
Xavier Goodman, "From My Drafts" — A theater kid forced offstage by the pandemic, this north Minneapolis rapper took to making TikTok videos and eventually his own music over the past year and a half. The resulting album is surprisingly sophisticated and fun, as evidenced by the backhandedly sweet viral hit "I'm Loving Your Vibe" and the Chance the Rapper-y lie of a song "I'm Not a Rapper." Hear it here. (Goodman's live rap debut is set for July 23 at 7th St. Entry in Minneapolis.)
David Huckfelt, "Room Enough, Time Enough" — After years of taking inspiration from nature and landscapes with the Pines, the Iowa-bred Americana troubadour's second solo album was heavily shaped by collaborators who know their surrounding land best. American Indian artists and activists such as Keith Secola, Quiltman and Winona LaDuke influenced the ruggedly beautiful LP, lending both a spiritual and spirited quality to old folk songs such as "Bury Me Not," the Patti Smith cover "Ghost Dance" and new originals like the desert-expansive title track. Hear it here. (Huckfelt headlines every Saturday night in July on the patio at Icehouse in Minneapolis.)
I Self Devine, "Rituals of Resistance" — The audio counterpart to a Minneapolis Institute of Art exhibit he helped organize — pro tip: bring your AirPods or Beats to the gallery — this dense album from one of the Twin Cities' foremost rap pioneers (aka Chaka Mkali) lives on outside the museum with its own deep-zone headphones vibe. The hypnotic, sometimes dub-infused grooves and jazzy melodies are reminiscent of classic A Tribe Called Quest. Intense and visceral lyrics about racial tension and "emancipation from my pain and my skin within" speak to the here-and-now with futuristic energy. Hear it here.
Kiss the Tiger, "Vicious Kid" — "I'm on fire / It's nothing you need to worry about," Meghan Kreidler deceptively purrs two songs into this fireball of a third LP by her 1970s/'80s-styled rock band. A whole lot of worry and frustration comes out in a flurry of punky riffs, hard-boogie-ing rhythms and expressive lyrics that combine into one great rock 'n' roll exhale, with the deep-breathing, mellower moments such as Kreidler's would-be anthem "Grown Ass Woman" among its finest. Hear it here. (Kreidler & Co. are due July 8 at Lowertown Sounds in downtown St. Paul and Aug. 10 at Indeed Brewing in Minneapolis.)
Lanue, self-titled — Written before the pandemic, the songs that Duluth singer-songwriter Sarah Krueger delivered for her first album in seven years reflected on such a dramatic life change, she even came up with a new stage name. Seasoned players from the Bon Iver, Low and Trampled by Turtles camps added a golden sheen to the lyrical elegance of songs like "Pull Through" and "What I Love the Most," which found Krueger forging a personal resilience and self-love that we've all needed of late. Hear it here. (Lanue will play Duluth's Glensheen Mansion series July 7 and Icehouse in Minneapolis on July 9.)
Low Rats, "Year of the Rat MMXX" — Which sewer did this aptly named Twin Cities punk band crawl out of during quarantine? The quartet has hit the above-ground running in 2021 with an already reputably wild live show and this debut LP of immediately familiar but freshly rowdy sonic grime, including the Stooges-like destroyer "She's My Witch" and '60s psychedelic garage-sweeper "Sad and Lonesome Soul." Hear it here. (Low Rats play July 18 at Palmer's Bar and every Wednesday in August at Mortimer's in Minneapolis.)
Annie Mack, "Testify" — After stepping out in her 30s initially as a fairly standard blues singer, the Minneapolis-raised, Rochester-based blue-collar bellower greatly steps up her game on this richly varied six-song EP. She channels the Staple Singers in the righteous title track, Lucinda Williams in the sexism-slamming "Judge and Jury" and a whole lot of other Southern influences while also mining her own personal trauma to become a compelling songwriter, too. Hear it here. (Mack performs July 22 for Lowertown Sounds in downtown St. Paul.)
Under Violet, "Threes" — Mellow melody maker Sara Bischoff stripped away some of the ethereal indie-rock layers of past projects (including her previous band Web of Sunsets) and delivered an earthier, rawer yet still soothing and lush sophomore UV album with producer Holly Hansen of Zoo Animal. Amid the folky, viola-laced charmer "Waltz," the Big Thief-like "Earthship" and fuzzy rocker "Daisy," Bischoff sings with calm melancholy like a lonesome winner making a Champagne toast to herself. Hear it here.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658