Top 10 Local Albums of the Year

Our favorite albums released in Minnesota this year, with a handful of honorable mentions

HALEY BONAR, Big Star

A breathtakingly beautiful surrender to the pop form, Haley Bonar's latest effort finds her honing her songwriting skills down to the most intimate detail. A stark contrast to 2006's somber Lure the Fox, this year's Big Star is a balance between light and dark, silly and sad, confident and confessional, and the result is some of her best work yet. And at 25, with four albums already under her belt, there's no telling what this Big Star will do next. Andrea Swensson

CITY ON THE MAKE, 1,000,000

The new EP by City on the Make accomplishes more than most local full-length albums released this year do, combining the grit and swagger of a blues band with the ferocity of lead singer Mike Massey's frenetic growl and the flippant punk energy of his backup gang/band. And on top of it all, they know how to construct a solid pop hook: A revisitation of their single "Chicks on Bikes" immediately floods the brain with memories of summer, melting away the doldrums of these cold winter days with the shimmer of a sunny guitar riff and the chorus, "This has been a hot, hot summer in my life/Chicks on, chicks on, chicks on bikes." —Andrea Swensson

DOOMTREE, Doomtree

Like splinter cells operating under a single umbrella organization, the various members of Doomtree have spent the last several years edifying the local hip-hop pool with a steady stream of releases (see the False Hopes series, P.O.S.'s 2006 breakthrough Audition, and Mike Mictlan and Lazerbeak's Hand Over Fist). But despite a decade of tireless collaboration, it took Doomtree until 2008 to pose for their family portrait, and to no one's surprise, the album's force and form make it an instant standout. Accompanied by a handful of music videos (locally produced, natch) and elevated even further by their annual blowout concert, Doomtree's first full-crew full-length is as gratifying as assembling Voltron for the very first time. David Hansen

KITTEN FOREVER, Born Ready

Smugly lo-fi and beaming with snotty pleasure, the Minneapolis three-piece simmers the best, pissiest parts of Bratmobile and Huggy Bear into its most intoxicating vapors. The heyday of Riot Grrl music might have been this mercurial and bratty, but it was rarely this danceable. Every track is dragged kicking and screaming to its conclusion by an inexorable and elemental rhythm, with singer Liz Elton's tantrum vocals spiking the punch. —David Hansen

KNIFE WORLD, Knife World

The cover art alone would warrant the album's inclusion in this list. The vinyl-only full-length from this art-metal duo, bedecked by an all-over 3-D photograph, pictures a mutant wasteland, a schizophrenic's terrarium populated by mythical dinosaurs and erect phalluses. Its aesthetic value aside, this album's art corresponds intimately with its content in a way that's rare. As bracingly loud and dizzyingly complex as any release this year, World is filled with songs that stagger from track to track, crazed on Ritalin and testing the constitution of your stereo's tweeters. Hot and high-end, it's an album that never trimmed its fingernails. When it white-knuckles, it draws blood. —David Hansen

KRISTOFF KRANE, This Will Work for Now

At times so frenzied that it's nearly impossible to keep up with the stunning speed at which he spits his introspective poet's rap, Kristoff Krane's solo debut is the work of a promising young MC bubbling with talent and purpose. The first single on This Will Work for Now, "Miracle," slows the pace for a moment with a heartbreaking tale of loss so moving that it prompted the Current's Barb Abney to write, "When was the last time you heard a song for the very first time and it made you weep?" —Andrea Swensson

SKOAL KODIAK, Three People Are Keep Having Grape Emergencys

After such lengthy and memorable live activity, this band's delay in making a full-fledged release can possibly be attributed to the difficulties Skoal Kodiak must have faced in setting their visceral, intensely performative sound to wax. Not made widely available until January 2008, Emergencys is a record in which the circuits bend like boiled bones, and the unerring rhythm section is set on fire by a wholesale thematic abandon. A start-to-finish affront to your logic center, it's an unfathomable record that never fails to trigger the dance party your apartment never saw coming. —David Hansen

SOLID GOLD, Bodies of Water

If their packed-to-the-gills CD-release show at the Varsity was any indication, this debut album by Solid Gold will be the first of many successes for this breakout group. Their name might sound like the title of a series of "oldie but goodie" compilations, but their sound is something entirely new. Steeped in layers of sparkling synthesizers and ear-bending guitar parts and constantly riding the line between chilled-out and danceable, Solid Gold have the capacity to appeal to electro geeks, rock snobs, indie hipsters, and, well, just about anybody who can appreciate a hummable melody and a steady beat. —Andrea Swensson

VAMPIRE HANDS, Me and You Cherry Red

The fourth release from the local four-piece is a keepsake of uncommon vision. A wildly reverberant piece of pop craftsmanship, Cherry Red has a profound sense of adventure, and the land traversed is fraught with perils and victories. Echoes of Eno and Lee Hooker resound through its rooms, but Cherry Red's soundscapes belong to Vampire Hands alone, and every familiar lick is carried off with wholly new panache and devotion. At once concrete and ethereal, the entire album plays enthrallingly like an opium dream lucidly documented upon awakening. —David Hansen

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