Alec Soth, Kevin Kramp, Robyn, and more: Artists of the year

Influential artists of 2010

Peter S. Scholtes is a Twin Cities writer and teacher.

Robyn

By Steve McPherson

"It is really very simple," intones a robotic voice at the beginning of "Include Me Out," the second track from the second of three albums (Body Talk, Pts. 1, 2, and 3) Swedish electro-pop pixie Robyn has released this year, "just a single pulse repeated at a regular interval." And when it comes to the dance-floor bangers that Robyn turns out with startling consistency, it truly is that simple. The elements are basic: a spiraling or churning synth line, a kick and snare pattern so propulsive it threatens to break necks and ankles, and, above it all, Robyn's clear, crystalline voice, slicing its way into your subconscious, leaving earworms more pernicious than the ones from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

By itself, such a combination isn't exactly revolutionary. Meat dress and drama aside, Lady Gaga's music could be described in much the same way. What separates Robyn is the absolute control and fierce empowerment her music both embodies and promises. Not many pop divas could stand toe to toe with Snoop Dogg—as Robyn does on "U Should Know Better"—and come off like a badass. And while "Fembot" kicks off with a cutesy hook ("I've got some news for you/Fembots have feelings, too"), when Robyn drops in on the verse, her voice doubled and warped into something mechanized and alien, she spits a rapid-fire litany of sci-fi patois that breathes fire while seeming cool to the touch.

This effortless control makes her music feel inevitable, as if the giant hooks of "Dancing on My Own" or "Hang With Me" were only waiting to be excavated from blood and flesh and transplanted into the digital guts of a drum machine. This contradiction at the core of Robyn's music breeds tension, but we never feel lost. "I'm yours, you're mine," she assures us on "Indestructible," "two satellites, not alone/No, we're not alone." In Robyn's neon mechanical future, the dance floor may be a ruthlessly efficient place, but its heart remains resolutely human.

Steve McPherson is a St. Paul-based writer and musician.

Kevin Kramp

By Jen Boyles

Like a junior high school student still trying to figure out her personal style, the newly minted Minneapolis fashion community is still finding its aesthetic. What comes down the runway here is commercially focused, purposefully demure, or, at its best, apprehensively edgy. Each fashion show is more of the same: Oh, here comes another A-line dress in a quirky color with a statement necklace. And there's a retro-looking skirt with a matching top that definitely did not come from JCPenney. What could save it all rather easily is a liberal dose of perspective, perhaps on loan from menswear designer Kevin Kramp.

The inspired twentysomething world traveler and graduate of London's Central St. Martins College is a knitwear wiz. His daring but temptingly comfortable winter line of bulky scarves, maximum oversized sweaters, and bold harem pants in stunning yellows, reds, blues, and greens received gasps of delight from the audience at a local show recently. These are the kind of pieces you'd get stopped on the street about.

"Woven fabric is boring," Kramp explains. "I didn't design it, I didn't manufacture it, and I barely control it when making a garment. All the work is already done. Whereas with knit, I start from the beginning and control everything."

Perhaps it's taking that kind of ownership over one's creations that led to Kramp's successes as a creative visionary and as someone whose name is on the lips of fashion-forward designers locally and beyond.

"My life is not separate from my design work; they are one and the same," Kramp says. "I'm inspired and enthusiastic to create objects of beauty and moments of joy, continually paralyzed by insecurity while simultaneously taking bold steps in daring directions."

Jen Boyles is City Pages' web editor.

Hammerhead

By Zak Sally

The ongoing run of "reunion" shows from "beloved" '90s bands in the past few years (see the bloodless pony shows of the Pixies, Pavement, etc.) seem to come about for a number of reasons—nostalgia, money, whatever. But Hammerhead was just about the last band one would have expected to get back together.

The original lineup transplanted here (via Fargo) in the early '90s. They recorded three full-lengths for Amphetamine Reptile Records and did bunches of touring before their split in '96 (guitarist Paul Sanders left the band, while bassist Paul Erickson and drummer Jeff Mooridian Jr. formed Vaz). Plenty of folks were witness to their ridiculously intense (and kind of terrifying) shows back in the day, and their records hold up extraordinarily well, but...reunion show? Why?

Ostensibly it was for the big AmRep 25th anniversary party, so that rules out big money and possibly nostalgia. So...a comeback? Seems kind of silly; after all, the particular stripe of sound these guys trafficked in was (and is) far too ugly, scary, and fucked up to have any wide appeal. So, why? I don't know, and I don't care—and neither did anyone else in the crowd at one of their reunion shows at the Turf Club this past summer. Watching Hammerhead after a 15-year hiatus was witnessing that machine come back to life. It wasn't just good, it was really good.

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