This month, musicheads far and wide are sitting down to their notebooks or computers, tapering their 2018 listening into one shining top 10 list. We took on a similar task with local albums: not a top 10 list, per se, but a collection of music we found especially memorable this year. These albums roped us in or chomped us up, changing the way we think about sex, listen to “bunker rock,” or look at an icy lake.
Low – “Double Negative”
If you were to stand on the shores of Lake Superior in February, you might be able to imagine how Low’s Double Negative came to be. Like the tumultuous stacks of ice that grow and break as waves crash onto the North Shore, the 12th studio album from the Duluth-based trio builds and demolishes weighty soundscapes with a morose ease. Double Negative opens with “Quorum,” in which layers of fuzz oscillate languidly, laying the groundwork for the 48-minute meditation ahead. Wandering, vacant drone stretches find stabilization and hope next to Mimi Parker’s radiant vocals: “Let’s turn this thing / Before they take us out.” Best ingested as a single unit, the record flourishes for the listener who sets aside the outside world to lend Double Negative an absorbed pause. – Jesse Wiza
Gully Boys – “Not So Brave”
Two years ago, drummer Nadirah McGill, bassist Natalie Klemond, and guitarist Kathy (or Kaytee) Callahan picked up their instruments for the first time and started making music under the name Gully Boys. With previous musical experience under their belt (McGill is a classically trained singer and Klemond studied piano) and a deep-seated friendship (the three often refer to each other affectionately as “brothers”), the trio released their first full-length album, Not So Brave, earlier this year. Recorded at the legendary Pachyderm Studio, their debut album buzzes with catchy pop structures, soaring vocals, and the scrappy energy of navigating greasy hair and new relationships in your early 20s. – Colleen Cowie
Tacky Annie – “The Little Album”
Oh, how fun it is to listen to Tacky Annie’s The Little Album. Its spirit jumps out of headphones, spilling into open space to form legs and leap. That “Renegade Energy” springs from tight songwriting and hooky melodies; singer/songwriter/cellist Rachelle LaNae aces her vocals, and producer/musician Andrew Frederick supports her with guitar, synths, and more. In a world of chill music purposed for stewing in vibes, this album can airlift you out of your mood. – Cecilia Johnson
Thomas Abban – “A Sheik’s Legacy”
Technically this one came out in 2017, but an RCA Records re-release brought it to a much bigger audience this year. Thomas Abban’s debut album, A Sheik’s Legacy, shows off his hard work as a fairly new but now well-known artist in the Twin Cities. What’s impressive about this album is that Abban plays most of the instruments — guitar, bass, drums, and piano — and masterminded everything from the music to his look. In A Sheik’s Legacy, you can hear how he is influenced by other genres from classical to jazz, R&B, and rock music. But as an artist, Abban doesn’t like to stick to the boundaries that define each genre, often blending his influences into a sound that’s all his own. – Simone Cázares
Now, Now – “Saved”
In contrast to the band’s urgent name, Now, Now’s third studio record required time and patience to make. Growth and introspection paint the walls of Saved, the tracks radiating with the glow of someone who spent their summer vacation right: road-tripping to the desert, and surviving the devastating yearning for an unrequited love. Throughout Saved, KC Dalager and Brad Hale introduce glossy production elements without abandoning the honesty that fans fell for on their first two releases. Lyrics that refuse to shy away from the bitter pains and irrational desires of love are balanced with heavier and darker doses of synth. Saved gives us what we always hope to find in a new record: a sense of refuge and the feeling that we’re not alone in life. – JW
Static Panic – “Chrome” (EP)
Chrome has everything to do with sex, but it comes off hammy — and that’s okay. Ro Lorenzen is the frontperson uttering phrases like, “Every second in the oven got me beggin’ for some lovin’,” while Keston Wright bugs out on guitar. Eli Kapell is the reliable man behind the drums. Together, they’re Static Panic, a band soaked in Zapp funk, Tears for Fears ballads, and Skrillex drops alike. Don’t be fooled: Lorenzen’s real speciality is production. How else could Chrome reference all those sounds and stay cohesive, beading with golden droplets throughout? Play this with that friend you’ve always had a thing for. – CJ
Dizzy Fae – “Free Form”
Dizzy Fae’s Free Form mixtape leads you on a hypnotic journey, where she takes sounds from R&B’s past and twists them into funky electronic beats. While her voice may be soft, she is powerful. Fae speaks her mind on songs like bouncing track “Johnny Bravo,” the scandalous “Booty 3000,” and misty interlude “Inner Witches.” Even as a young artist, the Saint Paul Conservatory for the Performing Arts grad is not afraid to speak the truth. She lets listeners in on what she’s been through; Free Form affirms who she is and inspires us to do the same. – SC
Four Fists – “6666”
P.O.S and Astronautalis are both established names in the local hip-hop scene, and now the longtime friends have released their first album as the duo Four Fists. A number of producers supplied the beats, but Dutch musician Subp Yao melted them down and built them up into glitchy, warped instrumentals, accented by pounding bass. 6666 opens with the pointed rage of “Nobody’s Biz,” and through its 11 songs draws on the punk energy of Joe Strummer, the experience of weathered musicians, and the tenderness that flows from close relationships. – CC
Ahem – “Chutes and Ladders” (EP)
At just 15 minutes long, Ahem’s Chutes and Ladders is an infectiously joyous journey through snow days, tree climbing, and trips to the lake. The EP is a follow-up to the Minneapolis trio’s 2016 debut release, Bottle Rocket, which introduced local audiences to their youthful bunker-rock sound (the band practices in a concrete bunker underneath drummer Alyse Emmanuel’s childhood home). Despite their subterranean practice space, Ahem revel in the simple joys of being outdoors in Chutes and Ladders’ opening track, “Air Supply.” With a searing opening guitar riff and call-and-response group vocals, Ahem remind us, “I don’t always say it but it’s good to be alive.” – CC
Astralblak – “Seeds”
Seeds — Astralblak’s first release since switching their name from ZULUZULUU — sounds more pensive than their debut EP What’s the Price. Where the Afrofuturist five might have once reached for a bright-sounding keyboard, they now present panflute; synths are tuned down and vibes dialed up in “Jerkin.” But they still make it bump. “Sand Houses” and “Waves” sound great on a car stereo, and when former member Trelly Mo rejoins the Tribe for the Dirty Mind-copping “Feels,” the groove gets thick as butter. This 15-song collection takes full advantage of its size, leading you from the stars to the bedroom and back. – CJ
This article was produced as a part of a collaboration between 89.3 The Current and The Growler, a monthly craft beer lifestyle magazine covering the best stories in beer, food, and culture. Find this article online and in print in the December edition of The Growler.
For more end-of-year fun, vote in The Current’s Top 89 Songs of 2018 poll.