Minnesota's Best Albums of 2011

Low, Doomtree, Brute Heart top best local releases


Haley Bonar has truly had a wonderful 2011. Not only did her long-awaited full-length Golder get released this year, she also recently became a mother for the first time. And while we certainly are happy Bonar eventually returned to Minneapolis after a year-long sojourn in Portland, what local music fans are most excited about is the fact that they can finally hear the gorgeous new songs she has been working so hard on for the last few years. And all that time and effort clearly paid off, as Golder is a rich blend of haunting, piano-laden songs ("Kid October") and deeply affecting, acoustic-based numbers ("Silver Zephyrs") that are easily among the best of Bonar's distinguished career. —Erik Thompson

Hildur Victoria

Hildur Victoria

Hildur Victoria is a dark, sensuous record, the sort that pulls you in close without giving up many of its secrets. Its smoldering harmonics are a thing of beauty, woven into innumerable, labyrinthine shape-shifts, at once distinctive and mysterious. What truly defines the record, however, is singer Margaret Lane, her voice a desperate bundle of screams and cries, whispers and whimpers, delivered as though the world hinges on her every breath. Alas, it's also one of the year's great disappointments that, midsummer, Lane departed the band, leaving her bandmates to carry on and splinter into side projects. Still, Hildur Victoria remains—radiant and passionate, a testament to what might have been. —Jeff Gage



Duluth's Low have never rushed into anything, whether it's the gradual slow-burn of their delicately revealing songs or the years in between their album releases as of late. C'mon, their ninth studio record (and one of their best), comes a full four years after their last album. And while frontman Alan Sparhawk kept himself busy with Retribution Gospel Choir, he has no trouble shifting back into Low gear on these elegant new tunes, with his wife and songwriting partner Mimi Parker frequently leading the way on the album's best moments. With the help of Nels Cline, "Nothing but Heart" forms the stunning, sprawling centerpiece of C'mon, and finds the band at their crushing, poignant best. —Erik Thompson

Pink Mink

Pink Mink

Some bands perfect their sound in the studio before figuring out how to translate that sound to the stage. Pink Mink took the opposite approach, and it did wonders for them in the studio. After a solid year of gigging feverishly around the Twin Cities and earning a reputation for delivering incendiary shows brimming with leg kicks and flair, songwriters Arzu Gokcen and Christy Hunt headed into the studio with drummer Charles Gehr and bassist Jacques Wait, who just happens to make a living engineering some of the best-produced albums in town. The result, Pink Mink, is an album that captures their live energy while accentuating some of the nuances that got lost in the PAs of neighborhood clubs, namely Gokcen's brazen vocal delivery and the tight harmonies she and Hunt so effortlessly share. —Andrea Swensson


Bad Time Zoo

If the Halls of Justice had any Minnesota masterpieces hanging on its walls, there'd be Dylan's Bringing It All Back Home, Prince's Sign o' the Times, and now Sims's Bad Time Zoo. If Doomtree are the Super Friends, Andrew Sims is Aquaman, dwelling among the subterranean depths of self-reflection, politics, and urban life with subliminal efficiency. Lazerbeak's sputtering, superhuman, funksploitative beats on Bad Time and its companion EP Wildlife's overflowing party jams not only reflect the times, but gave Sims and Doomtree followers double their get free, get fresh experience in the Year of the Rabbit. —Danny Sigelman

Sleeping in the Aviary

You and Me, Ghost

The Madison, Wisconsin, transplants have been pumping out records lately, with You and Me, Ghost marking their fourth in five years. This time around, there's a strong '60s influence at play in the crisp melodies and doo-wop refrains. The poppy core complements frontman Elliott Kozel's lyrical theme of love and relationships, unifying his abstract lyrical approach with a steady and familiar base. The stronger pop element gives extra bounce that contrasts with the deeper lyrics to form a complete package of joy and exploration. —Loren Green

The Tribe and Big Cats!

Make Good

Bookending the year with a pair of stellar releases, the Tribe and Big Cats! finished 2011 strong with Make Good, inching ahead of their first album, Forward Thinkers, Movers, Shakers. Previewed through a series of monthly videos, tracks like "We Gone" and "One Call Away" hinted toward a powerful new project ahead. Organic soul samples coupled with fat synths give Truth Be Told a backdrop suited to his subtle swagger and anecdotal raps, and both flow and beats have expanded on this album. The trio's chemistry is impossible to deny, and this album features their best work to date. —Jack Spencer

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