Every year on The Local Show, we do our annual Critics Pick edition, bringing in Reed Fischer of City Pages, Ross Raihala from The Pioneer Press, Chris Riemenschneider from The Star Tribune and our very own Andrea Swensson to talk about the year in music.
This go-around, we collected a ton of questions and opinions from readers to base the show around. The critics talked about their favorite albums of the year as well as hot topics like “most overhyped,” “most overlooked,” “predictions for 2013” and much more.
You can stream the entire two-hour episode and see the playlist here, and we’ve also typed up many of the highlights below.
Reed Fischer on Big Cats!: Big Cats! is a local hip-hop producer and he’s just had a monster year. You can hear his stuff on an album he did with Guante called You Better Weaponize as well as The Tribe and Big Cats! album Space. And he did a bunch of Bon Iver remixes – like 50 songs in all throughout the year just showing up on lots of projects. But this album he did – For My Mother – is all instrumental stuff. As the title indicates, it’s dedicated to his mom who passed a couple of years ago after a battle with ovarian cancer. As you might expect, it’s a really emotional, heartwarming album that still has a really nice, heavy hip-hop beat to it.
The cool thing was that he took a really unique approach to creating this. He didn’t just go crate-digging. He got a bunch of musicians together and recorded like 10 hours worth of jams and then pulled samples from there. He got a grant to do this so he had some money to work with and it just really has this wonderful in-studio quality to it. It feels more personal that way I guess when I listen to it.
Big Cats! – “For My Mother (Remix) feat. Sims, MaLLy, Kristoff Krane and K.Raydio”
Reed Fischer on Now, Now: I’ve had the CD from Now, Now in my car pretty much all year. And it’s just a pretty relatable album. It’s got this kind of isolation vibe, unrequited love, the urge to sleep all the time that we’ve all experienced at some points in our lives, maybe some of us less recently than others. But I think that just hearing Casey Delager’s voice sell this stuff is really wonderful to me. And the song “Thread” itself – it just has this awesome hook. The harmonies that Jess Abbott does on them are great. And it’s got awesome drums from Bradley Hale. The lyrics are just so irresistible – this relationship coming apart the way you pull a sweater apart – like the thread’s coming out of it. It knocked me for a loop, and I’ve been listening to it all year.
Now, Now – “Thread”
Ross Raihala on Crisis Line: “Dionne” has got a really great coked-up Bee Gees vibe. It sounds like a maybe late ‘70s Rolling Stones. What I like about this song – what I like about the record Phones – it’s got a sense of humor. It’s not joke rock, but it’s got a sense of humor.
Crisis Line – “Dionne”
Ross Raihala on Apollo Cobra: The records share something in common. What I actually like about both bands too is that it feels like they are music collectors and they are music fans. Both records have this sort of curated feel to them like they sort of picked and choosed from different genres and different eras and sort of put their own spin on it. But the Apollo Cobra album is great. The song “Motherland” is the title track but every song on it kind of has something to it. There’s one number that’s sort of a sly Georgio Moroder wink. But it’s a good record. Especially with the Apollo Cobra record, it’s the kind of album where you think – just a couple of weeks later, it hits you – one of the hooks – and that’s happened a couple of times and I think, “Where did I hear that? Oh yeah, it’s that record.” To me, that’s a great thing.
Apollo Cobra – “Motherland”
Chris Riemenschneider on The Pines: This was a record that just had this ambience to it throughout. It’s called Dark So Gold and it really was golden. They’ve got these little guitar instrumental interludes – normally it’s time to zone out. But it’s part of the whole hypnotic charm of it and these guys – Ben Ramsey and Dan Huckfelt – these guys amazing songs which they’ve always done but they put together this ridiculously talented, stacked band of these all-star guys. JT Bates, James Buckjley, Jake Hanson, Mike Rosetto playing banjo and Alex Ramsey on keys – it could just be a total mess especially because a couple of them are jazz players – that’s just my dig at jazz. But they start out so subtlely on these songs and kind of build them up. Just so hypnotic and the song I picked “All The While” is a perfect example but also Ben’s lyrics in here are just gorgeous all around.
The Pines – “All The While”
Chris Riemenschneider on P.O.S.: The P.O.S. record – it was conceptual. Steph was preaching anarchy but also anti-consumerism. There’s some pretty heavy things going on which in a lot of ways goes against mainstream hip-hop so heavily. Anti-consumerism whereas mainstream hip-hop is nothing but dollar signs. It’s heavy and some of the songs are pretty dense lyrically and yet you could have it on in the background and it would hook you in with those beats and the production. He had a lot of great outside help – obviously he had Lazerbeak again. Boyz Noise produced a track and Justin Vernon on a track. I think he knocked it out of the park. I would hold this up as perhaps one of the greatest Minnesota hip-hop albums of all time.
P.O.S. – “Lockpicks, Knives, Bricks and Bats”
Andrea Swensson on Bomba De Luz: I think the main thing that really drew me to them right away is their frontwoman Lydia Hoglund. Her voice just doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve heard happening locally. It’s just so powerful and she’s so naturally talented. But then meeting her, she has this really incredible energy. She’s very youthful. She’s very excited. And it’s just sort of infectious. And I think already at just 17 years old, she’s established herself as someone who is a member of the local hip-hop community. She’s really tied in – she’s already collaborating with P.O.S. They’re doing a project together. She’s getting closer to Dessa and Aby Wolf and asking them for a lot of advice and pointers. Just really savvy in a way that I don’t see. We have a strong all-ages scene here but sometimes you see they’re only playing all-ages venues and they’re only playing with other high-school bands. Bomba De Luz has really made an effort to integrate themselves into the greater Twin Cities community and that makes me really excited for their future.
I don’t think the age is really a factor for me. I didn’t know how old they were when I was listening to the record for the first time. I got their EP at the beginning of their year and was just drawn to it and had no idea where it even came from. I was actually talking to Jeremy Messersmith and he was asking me who I was listening to. I was telling him, “I really like this Bomba De Luz EP. I don’t know anything about it.” And he’s like, “Oh, Lydia’s in my songwriting class and she’s like 16.” So yeah, it kind of just opened up this world to me, but I had no idea going into it.
Bomba De Luz – “Phantoms”
Andrea Swensson on Mankwe: Mankwe was new to me this year. I had kind of overlooked her in the past. She’s been active in the theater and spoken word communities here. She does a lot of teaching. And she’s had some music out already but I would consider this her real debut. It’s a full-length record. She put a lot of time into it. She was working with Medium Zach from Big Quarters who produced the record. I feel like it was just her time to shine. It really put her center stage. And I just found myself returning to it again and again to listen to just for pleasure. It’s a really mellow record. It’s sonically interesting. I don’t even know who I would compare it to. So for whatever reason, I just kept putting it back in all year long and it just ended up being one of my favorites.
Mankwe – “Henrietta Goes Electric”
What the critics have to say on…
Determining what to write about:
Chris: Most of us determine what we’re writing about long before the other person has written – it’s not like Reed puts something up on City Pages on Wednesday and then between Wednesday and Friday, we make a point of covering the same thing. We don’t work that way.
Ross: Just to sort of expand a little bit, I think what people don’t always realize too is we write about bands who just put out a record or are working on a record or have a show. There has to be some sort of story behind it. We could all list a bunch of bands that are really great in town that no one writes about, but if they’re not really doing anything…
Reed: I think the biggest thing that I’ll say is that I take freelance pitches all the time. You just gotta let me know that you want to write about this band and this band needs some shine if we’re not doing it already.
Andrea: I think it’s one of those things that you always have to keep in the back of your mind that you’re working on. I don’t want to ever sit back and say, “Yeah, we’re all doing an awesome job and we’re covering everything that needs to be covered.” I don’t think that’s probably ever going to be the case. There’s always something that we’re missing and maybe that person hasn’t thought to even submit their music to any of the papers or radio stations. Maybe they just formed. Maybe they’ve been simmering for a while. Like Ross says, I think a lot of us are just keeping an eye out for events that are coming up: CD releases – that’s a really easy. It’s natural time to feature somebody.
Chris: But we cover so much. I don’t think there’s a city in America that gets as much ink on its local music scene as this one.
How buzz builds for a band:
Chris: When I wrote about John Mark Nelson, the story was that The Current played his song the morning after he recorded it. He was up late recording it, sent it to you guys and you had it booked for The Local Show. That’s a good story. And it was a damn good song too. So you put those two together. At some point, the hype and the buzz does become part of the story. So that’s natural.
Reed: I think it’s different though than just saying we’ve got this great press release on an artist and we really want to celebrate the press release. Ultimately, we still have to hear something that we appreciate and when there’s hype attached, sometimes that becomes part of the story too.
On overlooking Gay Witch Abortion’s new album:
Chris: We all love this band and didn’t give them any coverage because –
Andrea: We didn’t know about it.
Chris: We didn’t know the record was out and it was one of those deals that you get an e-mail about it two days before the show for the CD. I love this band – I wrote about them with their last record. Between them and Bloodnstuff – what a great year for hardrockin’ duos.
Reed: It’s like brushing your teeth with steel wool.
On overhyping Rhymesayers and Doomtree:
Chris: The Rhymesayers thing – you know, we hear that all the time. Sorry. They sell records. They pack First Avenue. They’re popular. And on top of all that, they make very interesting records that have very good stories. We print stuff for people to read – they have to be interesting stories. A Muslim, albino rapper getting death threats over his album cover – that’s news. That’s interesting stuff. Plus, it’s pretty damn good music too. But we are careful about [overhyping]. I didn’t write about Brother Ali on his last record really because I didn’t think it was that great of a record and there wasn’t much new to report. It’s not like everything that comes out we automatically cover. Doomtree – I don’t think we even really wrote much about Doomtree this year outside of when P.O.S.’ record came out, which was Rhymesayers. Doomtree has only played a few shows in town and those shows have become events, so in that case, we did cover them because there were only a few of them this year. There’s validity in that.
Ross: I think a lot of what we do – there’s balance all the time. Between the people who are reading you or listening to you, you want to balance genres, you want to kind of do it all. There’s not an answer to it. I’ve been writing professionally for 20 years and it’s something I still struggle with. But the thing is, when someone says, “Oh, I get so tired of hearing about Doomtree.” Doomtree sells out three nights at First Avenue. If people are paying money and filling clubs to see a band – that’s worth writing about.
On overhyping Totally Gross National Product:
Andrea: That just might be an effect of the Polica hype because the record initially came out on that label. Maybe they’re getting lumped in. But I don’t think in the past that Totally Gross has gotten nearly enough due for how many different, interesting projects they’ve supported.
On the concept of “overhyping” in general:
Chris: In the case of us print journalists and Andrea too, our main job is to attract readers. We come up with the stories that people want to read about.
Ross: And it makes sense because you want people to read what you’ve written.
Chris: Yeah. A lot of times there’s bands nobody has heard of that we feel strongly about – that’s part of it. People do want to read that. But they also do want to read about this controversial new Brother Ali record.
Reed: I’ll say though there were definitely moments this year where I said to myself, “Oh God, I’m writing about Polica again.” I think that it does happen where you kind of feel like one of those readers because obviously no one reads your stuff as closely as you, the writer. That’s something that I have to put aside in a way because I know there are some people out there who are probably really psyched about a female-fronted group from here who’s actually getting to tour around the country, go to Europe and getting paired up on national tours. There haven’t been as many people who have complained about it. There seem to be a lot of people really cheerleading it when they get put on something like Fallon. So to me, I almost have to beat back my own tiredness of certain threads when I get feedback that suggests there are still people who want to read about it.
Andrea: Hype becomes it’s own thing. It just starts snowballing on its own. Like I’ve had instances where I discover a new act, I get really excited about it, I write something flattering about them and then six months later, I’m so sick of hearing their name that I don’t even want to put the record on anymore. It’s bizarre. It just becomes this weird negative energy.
On Owl City’s cover story in City Pages:
Reed: I actually got more compliments about putting Owl City on the cover of City Pages from people. Because they just said, “We want to know more.” They want to hear the story behind this guy from Owatonna. And I find that honestly no matter what you’re covering, as long as you actually tell a good story and dig a little bit deeper, that even Adam Young – who maybe they won’t even listen to the album – but they still want to know the story of a Minnesotan who is arguably one of the biggest pop stars right now. Someone who just played that Jingle Ball show at the Xcel.
Chris: He’s got two hit singles this year. He’s not a one-hit wonder anymore, you can’t say that, that’s for sure.
On how Gatesmithgate came to fruition:
Andrea: I found a podcast where Jordan Gatesmith was talking with somebody at The Guardian about the Minneapolis music scene, and not exactly portraying it in a super positive light. Specifically calling out 4onthefloor, who he did not feel was deserving of the hype they get in town, and kind of just went on a little rant about it. So I put it on my blog, kind of forgot about it for a little while, came back and there was something like 50 comments of people in a thither about it. It just seems to have stretched on for a large part of this year. This kind of scene-wide existential crisis.
On overhyping Polica and Howler:
Chris: If you’re talking about the records, I thought each had about four good songs on it. I thought the Polica record to me sounded like a side project record. Live, they developed into something much more powerful. I can’t wait to hear their next record. You can’t necessarily say Polica was overhyped because they packed First Avenue for their CD release party when the CD wasn’t even out yet. They had never released anything. But then I guess you could say that was emblematic of the hype. That record was pretty good. Howler? Pretty good.
Andrea: I think that the whole conversation that spurted out of that is something that just happens every couple of years in the Twin Cities. I actually found a YouTube video that surfaced online this year of Paul Westerberg getting interviewed in 1984 talking about how he thinks the Twin Cities celebrates itself too much and that the bands aren’t any better than anywhere else and they just happen to get written up. I mean, it’s just been going on forever. I don’t think people really want to accept the fact that bands are good and getting a lot of positive attention. I don’t know if it’s because we’re Midwestern and we have to be modest about it or something.
Chris: Jordan Gatesmith is no Paul Westerberg, I’ll say that.
Predictions for 2013:
Andrea: I’ve been really excited about a few records coming out next year but one in particular is Van Stee. I got to see them at the Minnesota Beatle Project listening party a couple of weeks back. They’re just a really solid live act and we played that single “We Are” quite a bit throughout the summer. That’s such a strong song. I’m just really excited to get more.
Reed: I want to see Dimitry Killstorm do some more mash-ups of the local artists. I really dug the Make A Scene mixtape that he put out, pairing stuff like Polica and Franz Diego, Bloodnstuff and Tribe and Big Cats, so on and so forth. Bridging every aspect of the scene is something we need more of.
Ross: I’m really excited to see First Avenue’s inaugural outdoor festival. I think it’s got very strong potential to become an annual tradition like Rock The Garden and Soundset. I think they’ll do a good job. I’m eager to be proven right.
Chris: I agree with Ross. Let’s not forget about some big records from older artists coming up. Cloud Cult’s kind of overdue for a record, and I’m looking forward to that. Mike Mictlan from Doomtree – not to overhype that – I think it could be his breakout moment based on that preview with the SNAXXX mixtape. Josh Grier of Tapes ‘n Tapes has a solo deal coming – he’s been working on it independently from the group. But the new artist I’m really excited about is Greg Grease which actually – his record is out this month. Greg Grease – he’s just unlike any other rapper in town right now. I’m honestly still trying to make heads or tails of the record – I didn’t get the lyrics sent to me, but there’s really fascinating stuff going on. The beats – for lack of a better term, it’s kind of a greasy sound to it. Kind of thicker and heavier. And I saw him play this party a few weeks ago and he’s pretty cool live too.
On writing superficially like Pitchfork or writing more thoroughly:
Chris: In the case of us print writers, we have limited space. So we can’t spend the first four paragraphs of our record review writing about how my dog’s food reflects the new Morrissey record. We just don’t have that luxury. No, but that’s terrible writing. When you’re a music critic, I don’t think you should have personal stuff in there period.
Ross: It’s important to keep your writing entertaining and kind of to the point. I love sometimes reading really long thought-pieces, but a lot of times I like getting in and out – maybe getting a laugh. Get a little information. I think that’s the best music writing and best “any writing” as far as news goes.
Reed: I totally agree with Ross there. I kind of disagree with Chris a little bit though because I think sometimes the personal ends up dictating the story in a way that – I’ve read pieces for example where someone goes into a situation totally unfamiliar with what they’re seeing. Part of that helps them connect with something they’re reading. And I think that oftentimes, you need a lot of space to do that effectively because if you just try and toss a couple of things in there in a limited space, you’re not going to get the point across. But if you’ve got the room to have all the in-depth reporting and that extra personal take, when well-written, I think it can come across.
Chris: I just think musicians like talking about themselves enough. The writer doesn’t need to like talking about themselves too.
On the sucess of Secret Stash:
Andrea: I think that was a huge story this year. Just the work that went into putting that together, digging out all those songs and also contacting all those musicians and interviewing them. The record came with a newspaper that they wrote that was really in-depth, explaining what the scene was like during those years and really profiling those artists. I feel like it was just the most complete package that I’ve seen in a long time where you just really feel like you’re experiencing music.
Chris: If there’s anything that that compilation really hit home is how incredibly un-funky our bands are these days. Because that was really some funky stuff without any hip-hop beats.
Reed: Digging up this stuff you’re not going to find anywhere else and just kind of turning it into this new piece of history now. It’s history that happened at a point, but now it’s part of the current history again.