Best of the Twin Cities®

Best Of 2008

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Best Of :: People & Places

BEST VOCALIST (MALE)

When it comes to the discography of Mike Gunther and His Restless Souls, comparisons to Tom Waits are a necessary evil. But while Waits's voice box took nearly three decades to stagger from the piano lounge to the flophouse to the chicken coop to the machine shed, local Mike Gunther has developed a powerful vocal presence that manages to telescope not just Waits's career but whole epochs of American roots music in the span of a single chorus. Equally adept at a buttery croon, a scrapyard growl, and the frenzied, multi-register incantations of a traveling evangelist, Gunther expresses in his singing a predilection for all things antique and bygone. On Burn It Down for the Nails, his sophomore full-length, Gunther exhibits a sweeping vocal versatility. One hears echoes of Howlin' Wolf, of Charlie Parker, and of vintage Leonard Cohen. Even if it didn't come all gussied up in Gunther's immaculately rumpled three-piece suit, his would still be the most singular and unmistakable voice in the Twin Cities since Craig Finn packed his steamer trunk and split for the Big Apple.

BEST ADULT VIDEO STORE
Sex World

It's a strange time for adult video stores just now. With all the talk of how the internet has affected industries such as music and publishing, it's easy to forget that the web was colonized first and fastest by pornographers, and they have been pushing the possibilities of the internet further than any other single industry. An entire subsection of porn—gonzo—has set up shop online and often offers its wares for free. Flash video sites, borrowing their formats from YouTube, are becoming ubiquitous and are likewise free. And, for the connoisseur, online stores offer a larger and more diverse selection than any real-world video store could imagine—and will often stream it directly to your computer. So why would discriminating consumers duck into a seedy neighborhood shop when their computers provide everything they need? The answer, of course, is kitsch. If there is one thing that the web cannot re-create, it is the dubious pleasure of walking into a massive porn emporium, filled with an endless variety of tacky sensual delights, from corn-syrup-based Spanish Fly to creepy little booths that play multiple channels of looped porn, as long as you keep feeding it quarters. The web has no substitute for the serendipitous experience of thumbing through a shelf of remaindered vibrators and stumbling on an animated adult film from the '70s, available now for just $9. And you might be able to stream porn into your home, but if the movie puts you in a mood that requires a Bo Peep or naughty nurse costume, you're going to have to wait a few weeks for UPS. Not so with a real-world adult store, where, just upstairs from the videos, costumes can be had, and then costume-wearers can be had. For the most carnivalesque of these experiences, we must recommend Sex World, which has actually painted itself to look like a sideshow and offers such additional oddities as a penis-shaped, coin-operated animal ride.

241 2nd Ave. N., Minneapolis, 55401
MAP
612-672-0556
BEST AMUSEMENT PARK
Valleyfair

Camp Snoopy was cute and all, what with its Peanuts characters and fairly large variety of rides. And its successor, Nickelodeon Universe, will certainly be fun for the little ones, but adults probably aren't going to be thrilled by Sponge Bob Square Pants and Dora the Explorer. Thankfully, Valleyfair offers attractions for both the kiddies and adults (think water rides and shriek-inducing roller coasters). Opened in 1976, Valleyfair melds classic amusement park rides and coasters, including the wooden High Roller, with the latest generation of terrifying steel rides, including Steel Venom, which plunges its passengers 175 feet at 68 mph. Children can keep busy with mild thrills in the aptly named KidWorks section of the park. And for cool fun in the thick of summer, Valleyfair's Whitewater Country water park has five waterslides and raft attractions. Plus there's Valleyfair's Challenge Park, which features several low altitude activities, including go-carts and miniature golf.

1 Valleyfair Drive, Shakopee, 55379
MAP
800
BEST BEACH

The Twin Cities has plenty of perfectly lovely lakeside beaches where you can pitch a towel and spend a lazy summer day, but only one of them has a "vibe." Hidden Beach, on the eastern shore of Cedar Lake, still carries a free-spirited, counterculture sensibility left over from its days as an illicit nude beach and hippie hangout. And it still attracts a wide range of beachgoers: neighbors and ne'er-do-wells, kids and coeds, rock golfers and regular folks. The vibe has been seriously watered down in recent years by extensive city renovations and a greater police presence, which was precisely the intent. Hidden Beach's outlaw days may be gone for good, but it's still a charming, pretty beach, it still offers a rare feeling of seclusion, and it still has an aura that refuses to be renovated away.

2640 Franklin Ave. W., Minneapolis, 55405
MAP
612-230-6400
BEST ALBUM OF THE PAST 12 MONTHS

Slug and Ant didn't necessarily have to release this album, at least from a commercial standpoint. They could've coasted on the success of the intermittent Sad Clown EPs that showed up every few months in 2007, taken a breather, then unleashed When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That Shit Gold right on time for prime spring windows-down/speakers-up season. But Atmosphere decided that they'd give fans a bit of season's greetings, and as a gift they dropped a full-length mix tape full of old-school beats and seasonal-affective-disorder-killing rhymes that stand with some of the hardest-bumping moments of the local rap luminaries' last half-decade. It's a blast to hear an amped-up Slug at his most confident, rampaging all over tweaked classic Kool G. Rap and Big Daddy Kane beats. And he's not just in it for himself—the cut "Crewed Up" (featuring Twin Cities representation by Brother Ali, Stage One, St. Paul Slim, Muja Messiah, and Toki Wright) is one of the best local-heavy posse cuts in years. Better yet: It was all priced to move at the low, low cost of nothing, making it the next-best thing to a free open bar.

BEST BIKE TRAIL
Cannon Valley Trail

In barely more time than it takes to drive from Minnetonka to St. Paul, you and your bike could be in Cannon Falls, at the start of one of the most beautiful bike rides in the state. The exquisitely scenic, 20-mile-long Cannon Valley Trail follows an old railway corridor from Cannon Falls to Red Wing, tracing a path along the Cannon River through a diverse landscape of farmland, wetlands, and bluffs. With only 115 feet of elevation change between the towns, it's an easy ride, much of it under a canopy of trees and often close enough to the river to hear the burble of rapids and the babble of kayakers. Picnic tables and benches along the way offer plenty of opportunities for rest and repast. Begin your ride at the trailhead in downtown Cannon Falls, just off Main Street (Highway 19). You'll need a $3 Wheel Pass, available from the pay station there or from several merchants in town, including the Econofoods across the street, where you can stock up on trail snacks. The bike path starts off through quaint residential neighborhoods in town, but soon escapes into sublime countryside along the riverbank. From there you can ride as far as you like before doubling back, or make a weekend of it by cycling to Red Wing and spending the night. The trail seems best suited for recreational bikers, but ultra-serious cyclists who don't mind a little summer bike traffic can combine the trail with a 70-mile loop around nearby Lake Pepin for a spectacular country ride.

825 Cannon River Ave., Cannon Falls, 55009
MAP
507-263-0508
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BEST VOCALIST (MALE): Mike Gunther

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