The Soundtrack of Our Lives

The Best Albums in the World Ever!! Okay, Maybe Just in This Town, Circa 2003

 

If Thousands, Yellowstone (Chair Kickers)

Apart from the brief reference to falling snow in Yellowstone's closer "Lost Christmas," If Thousands use subtler methods to create the sound of an Upper Midwest winter in full swing. With vintage keyboards evoking the blue-gray tone of bare trees at sundown and effects-laden guitars shimmering like first ice on a lake, the Duluth band creates a crystalline aural landscape that's both intricate and austere, alluring and formidable. Morse code forms the hook for the near-static epic "We Sent H.L.R.E.," while the monoliths of sound in "Radio Is Fine" move at a glacial pace to gorgeous, abstract aural swells. Yet the overall effect isn't chilling or depressing; their cover of Joy Division's "Isolation" feels more like a celebration of solitude than a chronicle of irreparable emotional estrangement. --Cecile Cloutier

 

Kangaroo, Skyscraper Spaceship (No Alternative)

This year, I dug records by Paul Westerberg, the Honeydogs, Martin Devaney, the Jayhawks, Atmosphere, and others, but the one I kept coming back to was this mostly unheralded pop-rock near-classic. Tom Hallett got it right in Pulse--it's really all over the place, production-wise. Some of it's too over-the-top, but the sheer shimmeringness of it all (think Big Star, the Feelies, Cheap Trick) cuts through. Singer Peter Lawton has a ridiculously rich and emotive voice, and the songs are terrific, most notably "Any Day," "River," "June," "You're Something Beautiful," and "Splash," which is about a little girl about to set the world on fire--one of the few songs that consistently made me cry this year. Another was "Sweet Dreams," the chorus to which ("Welcome to this world, this place, this time/This space, this sea, this shore/You get this long, and a little more, maybe") I couldn't get enough of: Whenever I popped it on, it was a good reminder that, even though everything's broken, it's never been broken this way before, so the fixes might be harder to see. Sometimes by the end, with the song fading out, I could actually hear the clouds creaking apart. --Jim Walsh

 

Lucky Jeremy, Call It What You Want...But This City Is Mine (Heart of a Champion)

Somewhere over Vegas, Lucky Jeremy told me that he grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen. We were both sitting in the emergency exit aisle on a flight to Minneapolis from L.A. (where he just moved from St. Paul), and his comment explains a lot about his latest album. On Call It What You Want...But This City Is Mine Jeremy yelps out anthems about being in the dumps with the mumps and adolescent pumps. His acid lyrics eat away the scenery over a hardcore boogie of dark metal chords, glam rock sneer, even the occasional Turf Club twang. And like the Boss and Jersey, Jeremy's songs are from a palpable place: With stories about smoky bars and "drowning in 10,000 lakes," he captures the glory and the grime that comes with drinking your way through a dark winter. By the end of the record, you grant that this city is still his, but you don't blame him for holing up somewhere on the Sunset Strip for a while. --Steve Marsh

 

Sicbay, Overreaction Time (54° 40' or Fight!)

Sicbay's Nick Sakes pens the kind of post-mortem lullabies that'll keep you shivering under the covers until day breaks. Shifting subtly between the manic and the just plain morose, this power-punk trio's second LP is a volatile response to 20 years of discordant noise. "Herculaneum" and "Jack Pine" are as startling as an alarm that blasts Fugazi at 5:00 a.m., while "Outside Help" reflects the tender side of Sakes's gruff baritone with subtle harmony--he sounds like a good friend assuring you that there aren't any monsters hiding under the bed. And that if there are, you should hide your record collection. --Kate Silver

 

Tera_Incognita, Tera_Incognita (Diggz Sounds Productions)

Hidden springs jump like jack-in-the-box heads out of exotica-bedizened beats. Sampled ghost owls backstroke lazily through showers of baby talk. Metallic screams rip past foghorns and spooked violins. Welcome to Tera_Incognita, the unearthly brainchild of digit-wrangling potentate Lärmshank and Oddtoucher, possibly the only turntablist on the globe who neither uses nor needs headphones. The duo's surreal Brooklyn Center-spawned, self-titled experimental hip-hop epic makes for some of the thickest audio terrain available without a prescription--some of the least predictable, too. All they lack is an MC who's fluent in Venusian, although Oddtoucher's Connie Francis records are a perfectly good substitute. --Rod Smith

 

Various Artists, No Hold Back... All Attack!!! (self-released)

The fact that this is an all-Twin Cities punk compilation is reason enough to dance on our hats and sound the trumpets, a heralding we haven't heard since the last worthwhile Minnesota punk comp was released (No Hold Back's progenitor No Slow All Go in '95). The fact that it's three LPs (or two CDs), features 54 local bands, as many songs--one of them a rap by MC Felix von Havoc and three others all titled "Bottom of the Bottle"--might make it the greatest local punk compilation ever. It's a must-have hardcore yearbook that seethes and pulses with energy, real and raw. Hold it, and feel the weight of your city's punk rock underground. It is alive. --Chuck Terhark

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