At least half of the best albums out of Minnesota so far in 2022 were actually made in 2021 or even 2020. But as Eleganza frontman Brian Vanderwerf rhetorically asked about his band's long-finished new LP, "If we couldn't play the songs live, what would the point be?"
The Cactus Blossoms, Chastity Brown, Cloud Cult, Poliça and Hippo Campus also all waited out COVID-19 lockdown before issuing their latest collections. Because, duh, they're touring bands.
Conversely, though, the other albums on this annual midyear best-of roundup are all by relative newcomers who seem to represent a COVID-era incubatory side to the Minnesota music scene that's waiting to burst.
Chastity Brown, 'Sing to the Walls'
She's been variously described as a folk, blues, Americana and soul singer, and here's a new one to add to the mix: funk master. The Tennessee transplant's first album in five years steps up the grooves to great effect in "Like the Sun" and especially "Back Seat," two highlights that might evoke more Curtis Mayfield comparisons than Joan Armatrading. Brown has some much deserved fun, but the folk and soul singer in her still can't help but comment on the hard times, with the traumatic post-George-Floyd epic "Golden" and the more soothing "Hope" sounding equally stunning. Stream/buy here
The Cactus Blossoms, 'One Day'
Leaning into their long solidified live band on record, harmonizing alt-twang brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey branch out on their third album into mellow-cool, '70s-vibe ditties like "Is It Over" and "Hey Baby" and more balladic territory. The Jenny Lewis collaboration "Everybody" would sound like a torchy Linda Ronstadt classic even without the added female voice. Stream/buy here
Cloud Cult, 'Metamorphosis'
The eight-member chamber-rock ensemble recorded its first new album in six years with a run of Minnesota Orchestra gigs on the calendar and on its mind. Songs like "One Way Out of a Hole" boast big arrangements and high drama, making the more intimate moments such as "Victor" and "Back Into My Arms" — both about fatherhood — hit all the more tenderly. All told, bandleader Craig Minowa's inner-spirited, outwardly caring songs sound more meaningful and helpful than ever coming out of the pandemic. Stream/buy
Eleganza, 'Water Valley High'
It's only rock 'n' roll, and it's pretty easy to like it when it's captured live in the studio over one rowdy week in a rural Mississippi town. Drive-by Truckers Matt Patton's production work helped bring out the Southern boogie and soulful twang from behind this band of Twin Cities rock vets' devilish guitars. Brian Vanderwerf also adds some smart songwriting touches about dumb Americans via "Scared and Stupid" and "Get Brown." Stream/buy
Hippo Campus, 'LP3'
Taking a rare long break from touring — by choice at first, then came COVID — the summery pop-rockers settled in for a long winter and many more months in a hi-fi studio with their fellow St. Paul high school classmate Caleb Heinz serving as producer. Smoothly sharpened hooks abound in standout tracks like "Ride or Die" or "Boys," but the ample tinkering time also led to an overriding sonic playfulness. Stream/buy
Becky Kapell, 'In It to Win It'
"Idle down / Don't go too fast" are fitting lyrics to hear from this steady-grooving Americana strummer, who didn't step out in the Twin Cities scene as a singer/songwriter until after she raised her kids. With a tight unit of twang vets behind her, including guitar master Paul Bergen, Kapell shows the cool confidence of middle age and a Lucinda Williams-style tender toughness in "Idle Down" and this seven-track mini-album's sizzling title track. Stream/buy
KayCyy, 'Get Used to It'
After gaining notice via Kanye West's album "Donda" even with largely uncredited work, this 24-year-old Kenya-born rapper is poised to break out of the Twin Cities hip-hop scene before he even has gained much of a foothold in it. His full-length debut is a breezy listen of stylish trap tracks like "Shoutouts" and chill-zoned Auto-Tuned showpieces such as "Howwww." Stream/buy
Tearra Oso, 'Prez'
With a background also in Caribbean dance performances, this singer not surprisingly lays on some thick and spicy grooves on her full-length debut, which includes songs she premiered as part of the Cedar Cultural Center's Cedar Commissions series. But she also busts out strong melodic hooks and some personal songwriting drama, melding Santigold and SZA vibes alongside her modern Afro Boricua sound. Stream/buy
The title needs no explanation, but the more somber and anesthetized vibe on the Minneapolis electro-rock band's fifth album might take a little getting used to. A numbing effect from all that madness comes out in hypnotic songs like the echo-humming "Violence" and "Away," the latter an atmospheric ballad that stands out as one of singer Channy Leaneagh's most beautifully bare moments. Go figure, with all the world's ugliness. Stream/buy
Joe Rainey, 'Niineta'
You probably didn't know you needed an album of experimental, punky, electronic powwow music in your life, but you do. The unexpectedly ubiquitous Ojibwe singer and music maker from the drum troupe Iron Boy — seen everywhere from Bon Iver's Eaux Claires festival and Marijuana Deathsquads gigs to powwows across the Midwest — paired up with Minneapolis sonic wiz Andrew Broder to craft a record truly unlike anything you've heard. But it's also surprisingly accessible and alluring, with repetitive chants and crescendoing beats that draw you in and facilitate letting it all out. Stream/buy