Right now we’re all making our best-of-2020 playlists and checking them twice (have you cast your votes in The Current’s Top 89 poll yet?). Do you ever go back and actually listen to the best-of playlists you made in prior years? Every time I do, I’m reminded of some amazing Minnesota songs from those years. Here are ten that deserve a spin on your speakers in 2020, if they haven’t had one already.
“Birch Trees & Broken Barns,” Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps (2011)
Before she was Your Smith, before she was Caroline Smith sans Sleeps, Caroline Smith wrote some moving and tuneful songs in an acoustic singer-songwriter vein. Here’s a disarming, stripped-down track from the Little Wind LP. (And check out all the covers on YouTube.)
“Hot Cheetos & Takis,” Y.N. RichKids (2012)
One-hit wonder? Novelty song? Excuse you. At your first post-COVID dance party, drop this track in the mix and you’ll find that it’s still a floor-filler. Just be sure you’ve stocked the appropriate snacks.
“2002,” Sombear (2013)
Also known as Bradley Hale of Now, Now, Sombear suspended time in this gorgeous retro-synth ballad from his album Love You In the Dark. Sure, go back to 1999 with Charli and Troye, but stop the time machine in 2002 for four minutes and 23 seconds. You won’t regret it.
“Pants vs. Dress,” Lizzo (2013)
“Batches and Cookies” is (totally understandably) the banger everybody remembers from Lizzobangers, but don’t sleep on this rapid-fire rocker.
“Don’t Wanna,” Howler (2014)
These days, Jordan Gatesmith has gone shoegaze in Choux, but back in the Howler days he dropped this righteous rave-up of a song that deserves an amp cranked to 11. “Every place is the same,” he snarled, “so you moved to Minneapolis and changed your name.” PSA: “You don’t have to listen to the Smiths if you don’t want to.”
“Return,” Strange Names (2015)
Writing in Vice, Kim Taylor Bennett heard this track as the perfect soundtrack to an imagined alternate ending of Mannequin. I’ve seen that movie, and I’ve read her post three times, and I’m still not quite sure what, precisely, she means…but the point is, I’m never sad when this song comes up on shuffle.
“Youth Without Love,” Har Mar Superstar (2016)
No, not a particularly deep cut…but still, my favorite cut from Best Summer Ever. It’s all about those tinkling keys, and especially that soaring chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place in the golden era of power ballads.
“Don’t Hate for Me,” Dizzy Fae (2017)
“You’re grown as hell,” sang the precocious Dizzy Fae on this percolating kiss-off. “I don’t really care what you do.” A huge mood.
“MJ,” Now, Now (2018)
Jean-Luc Godard famously said that “in order to criticize a movie, you have to make another movie.” Now, Now’s “MJ” wasn’t written directly as a critique of Michael Jackson – frontwoman KC Dalager told DIY it was about a deteriorating relationship, using the Gloved One as an absent confidante – but for an ’80s kid like me, this wistful pop song also evokes a more innocent time before we knew about Jackson’s private life, when we could simply be transported by his miraculous music.
“Saying Goodbye,” Ondara (2019)
Also not a deep cut, but if it’s been a minute since you’ve listened to this stunning song from the singer-songwriter who came to Minnesota and blew us all away, find some time to listen again this winter. Just be sure you have a box of Kleenex handy.
BONUS: “Petty,” Nick Jordan
Let’s be honest, 2020 has been a peak year for petty. I find this 2017 jam playing in my head at least once a week. “I can be petty too, I can be petty too…”