The year 2009 was a big one for our most promising, decorated rock band—it saw the departure of former co-frontman Colin Johnson for snowier, and more academic, climes in Missoula. It saw the band reformat as a three-piece to accommodate his absence. And it saw them release one of their most complete albums to date. A year after Me and You Cherry Red made this very list in 2008, Hannah and the Mansion follows suit. It might not be the quantum leap that Cherry Red was, but it's a fine-tuning of their formula, a tightening of their song craft—a sleeker, more approachable, and infinitely more raw offering that continues the band's psychedelic meanderings into even more heady ground.

P.O.S., Never Better

At what point in a local artist's ascent does Cheapo cease filing their discs in the local section? If his current trajectory holds for just a few minutes more, that hour will be at hand for P.O.S. Accompanied by a raft of locally produced videos, hoisted skyward by soaring expectations after his monumental break-out album, Audition, and launching months and months of prominent touring, Never Better proved to be the most potent boost yet for Mr. Alexander's national currency. A solid continuation of P.O.S.'s raucous, grit-and-gravel punk posture in the hip-hop world, Never Better earned P.O.S. some of his highest marks yet.

Lookbook, Wild at Heart

Turns out there's yet more ore to be mined from '80s nostalgia. But Wild at Heart is no smash-'n'-grab of that bygone decade's remaining stock holdings. Listeners will immediately detect a solid love of the more nuanced steps in the big hits of Martika and Q Lazarus. The two-piece quickly earned major local stature on the strength of their catchy yet haunting take on classic synth pop and on singer Maggie Morrison's remote, pitch-perfect execution on every track of Wild at Heart. The Faint may have fallen, and the well of meaningful salvage may be almost dry for the big-hair decade. But Lookbook's love for its source material is true blue, and it's sincerity that endures.

Michael Yonkers & the Blind Shake, Cold Town/Soft Zodiak

Few artists in the Twin Cities can lay claim to a multi-decade career. Fewer still can be said to have remained relevant through each and every year. And even fewer can say they have recaptured new generations of listeners with brilliant collaborations. That's the kind of singular space Michael Yonkers, an inscrutable craftsman of dissonance and hand-built music-makers, occupies in our musical pantheon. His 2009 album with the Blind Shake is their second tandem release and a complete refinement of the already grand material on Carbohydrates/Hydrocarbons. With the sorry news of Yonkers's retirement, it's a bittersweet swan song for one of our greatest treasures.

Aby Wolf, Sweet Prudence

We became so enamored of Aby Wolf's haunting and mysterious vocal powers that we went ahead an named her "Best Female Vocalist" in the Twin Cities earlier this year, and her debut album is a near-perfect documentation of her remarkable abilities. Whether singing folkier songs like "Give Listen," a cappella numbers such as "Redwood Aisle," or R&B-influenced jams like "What U Waitin' 4," Wolf has established herself as one of the most versatile and flat-out gifted vocal talents to grace our scene—and with her newfound forays into jazz and experimental looping, we can't wait to see what she does next.

Honorable mentions:

Black Blondie, Do You Remember Who You Wanted to Be • City on the Make, Keep This on Fire • Gospel Gossip, the Dreamland and Drift EPs Eyedea & Abilities, By the ThroatNo Bird Sing, No Bird Sing

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