By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having
Forget the pinup pictures of Slug in big-time music rags, the screaming teenage girls clawing at him from the front row, the awestruck admiration for a rapper who's, gosh, sensitive. This record is all about Ant. Of course the producer's work has always been indispensable to the outfit, but this time, no one would blame you for ignoring the vocals, lost in the complex sound collages underneath. Even in moments as personal as the rapper talking to his son, sped-up soul singers bleed through to the surface, haunting and distracting. Slug's stories show that he's got heart and brains, but it's Ant who gives Atmosphere their soul.
The Birthday Suits
Nice & Neat
The Twin Cities are crawling with two-pieces right now, and these Sweet J.A.P. expats are at the top of the heap. Guitarist and singer Hideo Takahashi doles out frantic vignettes that sound like excerpts from longer, perhaps more logical songs. Except the word salad is part of the aesthetic. "Automatic, yeah!" "High school luggage!" and "We ain't loser dogs, genius!" are all battle cries from these strangely infectious yell-alongs. There's an inter-band war raging here, a fierce standoff between Matthew Kazama's metal-informed machine-gun fills and Takahashi's fractured melodies.
The Blind Shake
One of the hardest things about compiling this list was finding discs that are great from start to finish. The Blind Shake increased their odds by recording a 12-song album that lasts less than 20 minutes. Sneaky. The result is a barrage of unrelenting rock piloted by jagged-edged guitar. Even the lurching "Running from the Mail" has an urgency that breaks down the door, jumps on the couch, and shouts louder than anyone else at the party. Simply put, these dudes command attention, and Rizzograph is a compact record that never sacrifices quality in its quest for brevity.
As part of the Doomtree collective, Dessa established herself as the girl who can roll with the boys. False Hopes finally showed us just what she's capable of. Combining her talents for slam poetry, velvety R&B singing, and honest-to-goodness rapping, this five-song EP is a revealing and often dark look at her life and loves. The versatility takes her from the tongue-twisting head-spinner "Mineshaft" to the drowsy, hypnotic "Kites," without ever losing the flow. If there's any justice in this world (something she occasionally doubts), Dessa's eminence as our hip-hop queen will inspire more local women to pick up the mic.
There are a lot of errors to be made in the role of singer-songwriter (too serious, too goofy, just plain boring), but Koza sidesteps them all on his debut album. It helps that this isn't a one-voice, one-guitar joint. Koza's talented friends add texture, happy to provide crisp percussion, bleating horns, and even some la-las and da-das. The singer himself is charming but not too conversational, the kind of troubadour who will tell you a story without expecting you to sing along. On the bouncier songs, you will anyway.
Too Tall to Hide
East Side Digital
This year Halloween, Alaska proved that breaking up means you weren't trying hard enough. So what if these are family men with several other side projects? Lead singer living 2,000 miles away? Pshaw. Such trifles couldn't stand in the way of a sophomore album as gorgeous and cohesive as their first. The group's sound is maturing, which, in the world of atmospheric pop, means moving even further away from instant gratification. The buildups take longer, the climbs are racked with anticipation, but when the dam breaks and they hit a heavenly peak, it's all worth it.
Livin' the Luxury Brown
Making out to classic R&B, while a good idea in theory, is clichéd to the point of being downright silly. (Honestly, who can listen to Barry White with a straight face?) That's why Mint Condition's comeback was as refreshing as a two-person shower. Just check out "Whoaa," with its heartbeat thump, smooth bass groove, and seductive promise to "take you on a ride, like a roller-coaster." Yes, please. Livin' the Luxury Brown is full of sex jams that you could actually have sex to. Maybe even without giggling.
Here's a record that could have been overshadowed by the band's live performances. The only thing more violent than STNNNG's debut album is their personal appearances. Still, Dignified Sissy assumes punk rock's traditional look of disgust with renewed vigor. It exposes and pokes at society's bruises: alienation, conformism, apathy—all the things punkers have been screaming about for years. But when lead singer Chris Beesinger sneers, "That's brain rape!" you can't help but yell back, "Hell yeah, it is!" Just be thankful that the album can't reach out from your CD player and recklessly swing a mic stand in the direction of your fragile skull.
Don't Look So Surprised
As one-fifth of local favorites the Hopefuls and the producer of the next release on this list, Erik Appelwick just may have a golden touch. His second album under the Vicious Vicious moniker is great for living-room parties, in that it's got a couple of dance-floor instigators as well as plenty of chill tracks for general atmosphere. Hell, even some of the laid-back songs are hard not to move to. Although Appelwick's got a knack for summer worship, this isn't a CD that should be shelved during our seven-month winters. Dust this sunshiny album off for holiday party season.
White Light Riot
The Dark Is Light Enough
A late entry to the ballot, The Dark Is Light Enough is a prime example of indie rock with a shot at pushing into the broader public consciousness. This relatively new band offers a dancey sound that's polished enough for mainstream radio and smart enough for hipsters not to hate. The slick production tips its hat to heavy hitters like U2, but White Light Riot aren't indebted to any one band for their sound. It's got the familiar catchiness of MTV's sports-coat-over-T-shirt rock bands, but without all the posturing. This one's for the time capsule.