In November, we asked listeners and readers to chime in on their favorite local releases of the year. We saw a tremendous response — over 27,000 votes in fact — and we’ll be airing the top 20 on the last Local Show of the year, this Sunday night from 6-8 p.m.
In the meantime, here’s some of the local team’s favorites, all of which have made a big impact on Minnesota music in 2012.
Strange Names – Strange Names EP
The ’80s are back… blah blah blah. I lived through it the first time. Style over substance was the most common complaint with pop music from that era. Sometimes it was true. Occasionally, it wasn’t. If Strange Names would have dropped this EP in ’85, they definitely would have fallen in to the latter category. Yes, it’s impossibly fun and danceable, but that doesn’t mean it’s hollow or shallow. Listen and you’ll find strong lyrical imagery delivered by the most likable young voice (Liam Benzvi) I’ve come across in a long time.
There are hooks that can’t be ignored, and beats built to move mountains. Try and listening without dancing—I dare you. With only four songs clocking in at less than 15 minutes, the future of Strange Names is still uncertain. That said, I’m anticipating that this is the first course of a fantastic feast.
Night Moves – Colored Emotions (version 2.0)
It’s easy to forget about Colored Emotions as a 2012 release, but not for the reason that you might be thinking. It’s not a forgettable record in any way. It’s just that it came out twice. Huh? I heard the first version of the Colored Emotions back in May of 2011. It was a self-released job that the band was giving away at shows. As I listened, I promptly realized I’d found yet another “favorite band.” You see, Night Moves makes music that is that perfect combination of pretty and spacey. Psychedelic pop coupled with just enough Gram Parsons for the cosmic country fan in all of us. The band was quickly snapped up by Domino Records, and began working on the album again for a re-release on a larger scale.
Version 2.0 was produced by Thom Monaghan (Beachwood Sparks, Vetiver, Devendra Banhart) and it remains mostly unchanged. They rework “Classical Hearts” and “Cosmic Titties” became “Family Tongues.” “Family Home” is dropped in favor of “Colored Emotions,” a fair trade and great addition to the album. Kudos to everybody involved for not fixing what wasn’t broken. Colored Emotions is a dynamic and fully realized debut by a band I’m looking forward to having a long and torrid love affair with.
The Chalice – We Are The Chalice EP
In the great tradition of big ideas for musical projects born in the thick of an evening of drinking and dreaming, The Chalice bucked the trend by getting up the next day and backing up big talk with action. In the year since they wrote their first song, a retro-flavored delight called “Push It,” their fidelity to this idea has been rewarded in spades. They’ve released their eight song debut EP We Are The Chalice with almost unanimously positive response and sold out the 7th St. Entry for the EP release show. The group was crowned champions of the City Pages Picked to Click 2012 poll and rewarded with the first of what will hopefully be many cover shots. Recently, The Chalice owned the First Avenue mainroom stage for the end of the world party like they’ve been doing it for years. As 2012 comes to a close, the momentum generated by these ladies is staggering, and there are no signs that they plan on slowing down.
Busting through the gender wall in a predominantly male scene like hip hop forefathers Run-D.M.C. blasting onto the Aerosmith stage (and into the mainstream music consciousness) in the video for “Walk This Way,” Lizzo, Sophia Eris and Claire De Lune are perfect compliments to each other stylistically. Together, The Chalice wields a potent combination of power, style, creativity and grace, making them the most exciting new local group this year.
Now, Now — Threads
Now, Now aren’t a new band by any means—bandmates Cacie Dalager and Bradley Hale have been making music together since 2003—but this was the year they re-emerged with a cohesive, widely accessible sound. It says something that Threads appeals to The Current’s listenership just as much as it does the Hot Topic and Warped Tour crowds; their music is moody and even a little teenage-tortured without sounding overwrought or emo, and employs pop hooks without seeming saccharine. Best of all? It doesn’t sound like anything else that came out locally or nationally this year.
P.O.S. — We Don’t Even Live Here
I’ve already written volumes about We Don’t Even Live Here this year, but here are a few more quick sentences: It’s immediate. It’s raw. It’s in your face. It’s complex and intricately assembled, yet easy to comprehend and consume. It has enough dance bangers to get the club hopping and enough snippets of his personal manifesto to keep the conversation going long into the afterparty and next morning. It’s P.O.S.’ best album to date, and the best album to come out of the Twin Cities this year. Ok? Ok.
Dark Dark Dark — Who Needs Who
The third full-length from Dark Dark Dark plays less like an ensemble recording and more like a study in frontwoman Nona Marie Invie’s songwriting and piano playing—which works well for this go-round, given the record’s personal tales of loss and longing. It’s a breakup album, to be sure, and the listener is transported right into Invie’s fluctuating life as she endures the heartache of separation and tortures herself with memories of happier times. The band plays more of a textural role on this recording, with Marshall LaCount adding atmospheric guitar feedback and soft, forlorn vocal harmonies, and helps Invie to steer the sound away from the heavy Eastern European influences that defined their earlier work toward singer-songwriter pop. It’s a beautiful, sometimes gut-wrenching record, and I found myself returning to it again and again this year.
Polica – Give You The Ghost
It’s no surprise that Polica is the biggest local break out of 2013. The band’s stunning frontwoman is backed by some of the Twin Cities’ most talented musicians. Their signing to Mom + Pop and the re-release of their debut album foreshadows a trend of more locals getting album deals.
Trampled By Turtles – Stars and Satellites
Leading into 2012, Trampled By Turtles was the most likely Twin Cities band to land a major label deal. However, the band staying true to their DIY grassroots and stayed independent for the release of Stars and Satellites. Their performance of “Alone” at Rock The Garden was one of the highlights of 2012.
Prissy Clerks – Bruise Or Be Bruised
Where Red Pens and Total Babe left off, Prissy Clerks pick up the pieces. The combination of Clara Salyer’s voice and Howard Hamilton’s sonic imprint make Prissy Clerks one of the most interesting bands to watch in 2013.
Brother Ali – Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color
Part of what makes Brother Ali such a vital part of our community is that he’s not just writing about the real world—he’s in our communities every day. Whether that’s getting arrested at a local Occupy Homes protest this summer, hosting the Day Of Dignity shows in North Minneapolis or dropping a new album that is by turns angry, defiant, thoughtful and compassionate. Long a fixture in our scene, instead of working with Ant or BK-One on his latest, Ali chose to go to Seattle to record with platinum hip-hop producer Jake One (50 Cent, Freeway, De La Soul, Rick Ross). Like much of Ali’s work, the result is both a critic of America and hope for the future, explored on tracks like “Only Life I Know” and “Stop The Presses.” As Ali said in the fall, “This is not just a new album, but a new chapter.” Let’s hope he keeps writing many more.
BNLX – BNLX
From his start in the ’80s with mods The Dig, through bands like The 27 Various, Polara, and a pair of solo albums, to producing and engineering countless artists at his Flowers Studio ranging from Motion City Soundtrack to The Jayhawks to Clay Aiken, to helming ubercool indie label Susstones thru 20+ years of releases, Ed Ackerson has played a major role in the development of our scene. Rarely will a few hours go by without The Current airing something with Ed’s fingerprints on it. But a few years after the big label flame-out of Polara and a few low-key solo releases, in 2010 Ed returned to action with BNLX, a thundering band co-fronted by wife Ashley Ackerson and borrowing sonically from the playbook of ’80s UK noiseniks The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Following a series of hand-crafted EPs, BNLX is now augmented with the addition of drummer David Jarnstrom and propagandist PD Larson. A visual and sonic onslaught live, their sound is propelled by thundering beats, driving fuzzed out bass and Ed and Ashley’s vocals floating over the top. Futuristically retro, 2012 has been a year of growth for the band, crowned by the release of their long awaited debut. If they were fresh out of the garage the national blog-o-verse would probably be eating this up. Instead, BNLX is a great third act for Ed Ackerson, and one of our best bands of the past decade.
Chastity Brown – Back Road Highways
In 2012 the Knoxville, Tennessee born singer-songwriter delivered her fourth album, and saw her local fanbase explode behind the Current’s airplay for lead single “After You,” while also expanding her touring base to include England and Germany, a gig with Garrison Keillor and a showcase picked as one of the top 10 moments at Americana Festival in Nashville this fall. Melding bits of soul, jazz and rootsy Americana into a potent stew, at times Chastity sounds like a young Mavis Staples, but with an edgy urgency instead of any retro affectation. Back Road Highways found Chastity and her band continuing the grooves of previous releases but with a focused tightness, and new batch of songs that made it easy to see why Chastity Brown was one of the biggest artist development stories of 2012 in the Twin Cities.
John Mark Nelson – Waiting and Waiting
There are few greater local success stories this year than that of John Mark Nelson’s. We received his first album from a colleague within MPR, passed on to him by his own teenage daughter. The mostly instrumental tunes on his debut Still Here were impressive and sparked station-wide interest. During a daily Bandcamp scouring a few weeks later, we noticed that a new single called “Reminisce” had been posted online.
Less than 12 hours old, the recording was immaculately constructed and it was scheduled for airplay soon thereafter. It was then that we figured out John Mark was only 18 years old and nearing graduation from Minnetonka High. What followed was one of our most viewed in-studio performances from 2012 alongside a very sold-out release show for Waiting and Waiting at the 7th St. Entry. He’s been heralded across the community as one of our brightest young voices (not to mention composer and instrumentalist), and we have a feeling he’ll be capitalizing on his success in 2013.
Food Pyramid – Mango Sunrise
I think a lot of people have forgotten about Food Pyramid’s album that came out earlier this year. After a trilogy of well-received cassette releases, their debut full-length saw the band at their most accessible and gathering accolades on a variety of music websites and publications as a result. Mango Sunrise is an electronic-funk-space house (whatever you call it) triumph and this band in particular has helped these niche genres in town re-emerge, thrive and gather a larger audience.
Food Pyramid have consistently put out some of the most challenging and rewarding music in the Twin Cities thanks to the passion and outlet of the Moon Glyph label, and they have no shortage of ideas in the bucket. Moon Glyph just put out their 50th release, this time a collaboration between Food Pyramid and Roy Orb D.M.T.
Greg Grease – Cornbread, Pearl and G
Which local rapper will get the most press and attention in 2013? That would be Greg Grease. Though his album came out this month, Cornbread, Pearl and G still ended up making dozens of critic’s lists in the community. The most interesting thing about Grease is that there is nothing formulaic about the album, making it one of the most refreshing local releases of the year by default. Atypical patterns, unlikely harmonies, groovy, lo-fi lines and a slew of high-profile up-and-comers as guests—Grease will be riding on this one through much of early 2013 as more people get a dose.