The Cactus Blossoms, “You’re Dreaming”
With their oh-so-Everly harmonies and pre-FM radio sound, brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum could have done an entire album of classic country or rockabilly songs and made us all swoon. Instead, the Minneapolis duo’s first proper studio album for Red House Records is loaded with new originals that could’ve been written by their tourmate Nick Lowe or their record’s producer, JD McPherson. From the playful femme-fatale anthem “Clown Collector” to the dark “Mississippi” to the tender gusher “Queen of Them All,” many of these are eligible to be classics themselves.
Cloud Cult, “The Seeker”
Not just another Cloud Cult record about supernatural energies, the Great Unknown and all that other otherworldly jazz, the orchestral rock band’s latest also has a very human undercurrent based on frontman Craig Minowa’s family and health crises. He looks at what’s right in front of him more than he does to the sky in such cynicism-daring songs as “Days to Remember” and the epic finale “Through the Ages.” He also relies on his band’s ever-expanding sound more than ever, with some of their most ambitious and enormous arrangements yet.
Fraea, “Bend Your Bones”
Known from the very non-electronic bands Roma di Luna and Roster McCabe, respectively, singer Jessie Daley and producer/multi-instrumentalist Drew Preiner dive into the synth-pop/electronic-dance music realm on their debut EP as Fraea with an earnestness that pays off in the form of an innovative, icy soundscape and lushly produced vocals. But it’s still the warm soulfulness of Daley’s voice and her honest-edged songwriting that make this EP rise above the din of similar electro-pop acts in town.
Jack Brass Band, “For Your Soul”
A true New Orleans-style second line band isn’t worth its weight in brass if it doesn’t know how to bring old gospel standards to life. The Twin Cities’ reverential but re-inventive brass-band traditionalists follow up their fun 2014 collection “For Your Body” — featuring sexed-up R&B songs — with this devout and seriously soul-rousing collection of funeral-procession classics, including Sweet-Jesus-inducing versions of “Amazing Grace” and “Do Lord” with powerhouse singer Robert Robinson.
Kitten Forever, “7 Hearts”
Who knew a punk trio with only drums and bass could make so much noise? Who knew the influence of Bikini Kill and Beyoncé could be channeled by one band so equally and exuberantly? Who knew songs raging against sexism, inequality and just plain bad attitudes could be so much fun? The third record by Minneapolis’ smilingly riotous feminist rockers offers all those dichotomous traits at a dexterous 15 songs in 30 minutes. (Kitten Forever celebrates its 10th anniversary July 23 at First Avenue.)
Ben Lubeck, “Rented Rooms”
For his first album away from his (still-rolling) Americana rock band Farewell Milwaukee, Ben Lubeck turns in an introspective and intimate set of songs based on his frayed relationship with his dad and his own newfound parenthood. The results ooze with drama and inspiration, while Lubeck’s Ryan Adams-like voice and the album’s lush, ambient alt-twang arrangements lend them a disarming tenderness. You’ll want to make amends with everyone in your life by record’s end.
The Pines, “Above the Prairie”
Iowa transplants David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey stick to what they do best on their first Pines album in four years: richly layered, ambient folk-rock songs pulled from the landscape and skies of the American heartland. Only a swarm of fireflies and a stream of shooting stars could improve on their fine-tuned formula at this point. They do pull in a couple of welcome add-ons, though, including the hearth-warm family choir of “Here” and the earthen voice of John Trudell in “Time Dreams,” which turned out to be a swan song of sorts for the American Indian poet. (The Pines perform next Thursday at the Dakota.)
Various artists, “Bringing It All Back Home to Duluth”
The fourth installment in the Bob Dylan tribute series by his birth city’s intrepid music scene suggests there could be 30 more of these albums before the idea gets old. Many of the mainstays show up at their finest and fieriest here: Charlie Parr howls with delight alongside his garage-rock band the Devil’s Flying Machine in “Quinn the Eskimo,” Low’s Alan Sparhawk and violinist Gaelynn Lea (as Murder of Crows) get to the mournful heart of “One Too Many Mornings,” and Trampled by Turtles’ Dave Simonett plays “Boots of Spanish Leather” straight and raw. But some of the better tracks are by the lesser-knowns, including the Boomchucks’ bluesy “Maggie’s Farm,” Wood Blind’s ska-spiked “Million Dollar Bash” and Mary Bue’s grungey “Desolation Row.”
Sarah White, “Laughing at Ghosts”
“I don’t care if they hear us,” Sarah White sings with a steaming urgency in “Siren,” one of the songs on her perfectly cohesive, filler-less five-song EP where the lines between love and war are blurred. The former Black Blondie and Traditional Methods vocalist came out of the dissolution of a longtime relationship and her short-lived space-funk band Shiro Dame sounding stronger and more determined than ever. “Huesos” kicks it off with a jubilant R&B/pop vibe, but by the slow-burning “Ghost” (with guest singer Lady Midnight) both the lyrics and music take on a new edge that will cut through any box she might be put in.
Zuluzuluu, “What’s the Price”
Much like White, this six-man collective of local hip-hop and R&B musicians — which includes velvety falsetto master Proper T, DJ Just Nine and rapper/beatmaker Greg Grease — at once sounds futuristic and retro, as its edgy electronic dabblings and psychedelic grooves bump up against hints of hazy ’70s R&B and dirty-minded Prince. There’s a proud and adamant Afrocentrism to their seven-song debut collection, especially the P-Funky title track. But hooks like, “She rides me like a bicycle seat,” prove these guys are out to have a little fun, too. The whole album is a smooth ride. (Zuluzuluu opens for Femi Kuti at the Cedar Cultural Center on July 15.)