By Chris Parker
By Jesse Marx
By John Baichtal
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Jesse Marx
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Tatiana Craine
By Judy Keen
10. Anthrax 442 Stomp (Elektra) Crunchy blues riffs, funky rhythms, cannonball drumbeats, paranoid lyrics snarled and screeched by an insecure nihilist--it's all here. Why do you think they call it heavy metal?
11. Mingus Big Band Gunslinging Bird (Dreyfus) At last, a post-Mingus record that unearths the composer's florid romanticism, hog-calling earthiness, abrupt mood swings, and inexhaustibly innovative energy.
12. The Jayhawks Tomorrow The Green Grass (American) Their immaculate understatements mix the SoCal nonchalance of Flying Buffalo Springfield Brothers, and the cursed stoicism of Minnesota Nice. That's why the Grand Funk cover and the joyous juvenalia of "Ten Little Kids" are so crucial.
13. Axiom Funk Funkcronomicon (Axiom) A rollcall of the funky cast on these two discs should suffice: George Clinton, Sly Stone, Bootsy, Maceo, Sly & Robbie, members of the Last Poets, and the last recorded performances of late P-Funk guitar master Eddie Hazel.
14. Evil Stig (Warner Brothers) Fuck the Foo Fighters. The Gits lost their lead singer-songwriter too (to murder instead of suicide), only to have Joan Jett fill the void with a career-topping performance that transformed this into the Seattle post-punk CD of the year.
15. Cesaria Evora (Nonesuch) There is a pool of sadness reflected in the tropical lilt and dignified phrasing of this vocalist from Cape Verde. Like a West African Nina Simone, she emits the bittersweet warmth and textural nuance of an ocean sunset.
16. Afro Blue Band Impressions (Milestone) You wanna get your house cleaned? Slap on this 15-piece Afro-Cuban bop band, who begin by covering Coltrane with two tenor saxes, a violin, vocals, and a phalanx of percussionists, and never really let up.
17. Joan Armatrading What's Inside (RCA) As if the emotional clarity of her songs needed more focus and intimacy, her low, distinctive vocals come through unfiltered, incapable of artifice. Her best record in over a decade.
18. Luther Allison Blue Streak (Alligator) Leave it to Alligator's Bruce Iglauer to goad the perennially underachieving Allison into the sort of sustained Chicago-style electric blues guitar workout we've all been waiting for. Move over Son Seals and Buddy Guy.
19. Abdullah Ibrahim Trio, Yarona (Enya-Tiptoe) and McCoy Tyner Prelude and Sonata (Milestone) Two masters who dispense notes on the piano with the same frugality that Miles blew his horn. Chill. Serve over fine wine.
20. Naughty By Nature Poverty's Paradise (Tommy Boy) More than any other rapper (even Chuck D.), Treach can rap with a furious flow and not make you think it's about gats and penis size. And like their Tommy Boy labelmate Coolio, NBN are pop cribbage experts, filching just the right melodies for fun and profit. CP
Local Pleasures by Simon Peter Groebner
When I plugged into the popular alt-rock of 1995, I heard a proliferation of tuneless pseudo-grunge, popless pop songs, and mindlessly macho vocals. The alt revolution has failed us, and I like to think the best Minneapolis rock doesn't identify with that. We're still a town of musical traditionalists: Bands may screw with their imposed restrictions, but everybody's got a concept of their roots -- in pop, punk, country, world music, rap, jazz, what have you. All I know is, this year I've got the biggest pile of local CDs yet strewn around my room, and most of them I won't be filing away anytime soon.
Hüsker Dü once proved that you could make great music by fusing punk rock with perfect pop and blanketing it all with noise; a decade later, most bands are intent on keeping the extremes of punk and pop separate (though groups like Balloon Guy and 12 Rods still blur the lines). Shatterproof's Slip it Under the Door and 7-inch releases from February and Overblue took the exploration of dreamy guitar texture in gratifying directions. But on the other side of the mood spectrum, Babes in Toyland's Nemesisters affirmed their brilliance without breaking new ground, while Guzzard's Quick, Fast, in a Hurry and Venison's Hate! kept the respective urban and rural sides of Midwestern aggression in full effect. As these traditions moved along, specimens of electronic music (L.E.D., Haloblack), hip-hop (that well-circulated Phull Surkle demo) and experimental music (Savage Aural Hotbed's popular Cold is the Absence of Heat) proved there's room in town for music that doesn't fit into the rock canon.
That said, last year my CD player was most often occupied by local music that went to extremes. Some of the highlights:
Polara,Polara; Smattering, Sissy Bar; and The Blue Up?, Spool Forka Dish: Polara christened '95 with a blast of excellence that set the tone for the rest of the year. After a two-year break from playing out, guitar vet Ed Ackerson came back with Polara, an album exquisitely crafted into high studio art from homemade four-track demos which saw Ackerson making a radical break from his Anglo-influenced work with the 27 Various. Smattering debuted with Sissy Bar, the outlet for the weirder musings of Balloon Guy's Matt Olson (with Ackerson on guitar and atmosphere). Although Olson's writing ventures more into the bizarre and the savant, Sissy Barwas constructed much the same way as Polara. Meanwhile, the major-label debut of the Blue Up? represented a near-realization of the big-budget, big-ambition, trippy pop fantasy envisioned by leader Rachael Olson. What I'm wondering about now is what lies next within the imaginations of these unrelated Olsons.