Best Twin Cities albums of 2010


EP #1, EP #2, EP #3, and EP #4

With driving, throbbing mood-pop songs that could serve as the soundtrack to an 8-bit racing game from the '80s, BNLX made their debut on the scene by smashing out a quartet of potent four-track EPs at equal intervals throughout the year. Husband-and-wife duo Ed and Ashley Ackerson mostly abandoned their other projects (Ed's Polara and solo efforts, and their shared work in the Mood Swings) to focus on the novelty and excitement of their new endeavor. That energy is evident across all four EPs, which fuse Devo dance beats with B-52s harmonies and industrial undertones to create a fresh sound that's undeniably catchy. —Andrea Swensson

Dark Dark Dark
Wild Go

Ever the stoic live act, Dark Dark Dark ventured into surprisingly upbeat territory on this year's Wild Go, propelling their somber and aching melodies forward with finger snaps, sing-songy choruses, and jaunty squeezebox beats. Whereas previous releases featured vocalists Nona Marie Invie and Marshall LaCount trading off lead vocals and harmonizing with each other, Wild Go is mostly Invie's vehicle, and she drives it well. With a hearty, piercing voice and plainspoken lyricism, Invie sings with purpose, her old-soul observations ringing out loud and clear above a dancing din of baroque piano parts, trumpets, clarinets, and echoing choral harmonies. —Andrea Swensson

A Badly Broken Code

If it seemed like Dessa was everywhere this year, there was good reason for it. From the moment A Badly Broken Code dropped last winter, she stamped her authority all over this year, turning the next 10 months into a victory lap. Not that we should have been surprised—Dessa's always held her own as an MC in the boys' club and has long since been a published author. But the way she pulled those two worlds together, blossoming into a brash but introspective songstress and in turn shattering our expectations of women in hip hop and beyond, was nothing short of mesmerizing. Whether it was a loping show tune, a wounded, slinking ballad, or a bull-in-a-china-shop rap beat, Dessa handled it with confident ease. We didn't need Xgau to tell us how good this album was because, in all honesty, Broken Code made such accolades seem all but predictable. —Jeff Gage


It began like the setup to a bad indie-rock joke: How many Midwest indie-rock musicians does it take to screw in a soft-rock light bulb? Turns out the answer is 24, and at least half of them have to be from Eau Claire. As for the light bulb? It's permanently set to flicker, seductively casting out a soft red glow. With Relayted, Gayngs bandleader Ryan Olson and his cyclical cast of sidekicks established themselves as decidedly anti-ironic yacht-rock enthusiasts, toying with Auto-Tune and melding smooth pop jams into a concoction that could appeal equally to Brian Eno fans, heady audiophiles, and horny cyborgs. —Andrea Swensson

Kristoff Krane
Hunting for Father

Kristoff Krane has always been a rapper with a big heart, big ambitions, and a gift for freestyling. On Hunting for Father, the St. Paul MC—a close friend and protégé of Eyedea—really hits his stride in making the most of each of those characteristics with an album that is as sprawling as it is eclectic. Through the tangle of acoustic guitars and elliptical beats, Krane weaves his Zen-like ruminations on life, family, and mortality with a stream-of-consciousness spontaneity, jumping from idea to idea as they strike him, with little regard for form or structure. That seeming unpredictability is what lends Father its exuberance, but in truth it all comes back to an artist's unwavering conviction that love, beauty, and living in the moment always win the day. —Jeff Gage

Jeremy Messersmith
The Reluctant Graveyard

For the final installment of his "pop trilogy," chameleonic songwriter Jeremy Messersmith assumed a jingle-jangling '60s aesthetic, donning a pair of horn-rims and recording The Reluctant Graveyard using entirely vintage equipment. Far more unusually, he drew the inspiration for those songs by hanging out in cemeteries and poring over tombstones. The result was his best record yet, though predictably it was a little on the morbid side. Not that that detracted from the music: Far from being oppressive, Messersmith's inventive storytelling and knack for detail helps bring to life his characters' (usually tragic) stories with compassion and a wry sense of humor. Coupled with sweeping arrangements and singsong choruses, Graveyard's fixation with death is as lively and irresistible as you could hope for. —Jeff Gage

Phantom Tails
Sounds of the Hunchback Whale

With a sound that's hard to pin down (Glitch-pop? Underwater prog-rock? Zombie funk?) and a fearless ambition to spread their music to the masses, Phantom Tails were one of several bands this year to emerge as a fully formed, exquisitely executed idea. The band take a handful of seemingly incongruent pieces—jagged, angular guitar parts; propelling laptop beats; squiggly synth noodling; churning industrial grime; lo-fi, irreverent, and scoffing vocals—and smash them into irresistible three-minute dance jams. The band, formed entirely from ex-members of the promising but overlooked Plastic Chord, have already started hitting the pavement nationwide to push their music into a larger playing field; with Hunchback Whale as their calling card, it would seem the odds are on their side. —Andrea Swensson

Rogue Valley
Crater Lake

Three-quarters of the way through their ambitious album-per-season goal, Chris Koza's Rogue Valley piled up a staggering output in 2010. But while their second and third albums had their standout tracks ("Racecar Driver" from The Bookseller's House and "Cleaning Slates" from Geese in Flyway were both excellent singles), it was their first album of the year that so succinctly captured the band's earthy, romantic aesthetic. Like a mission statement, Crater Lake set the bar high for Rogue Valley's epic anthology of imagery-laden, literary folk rock, and gave the band plenty to strive for as they labored through their most prolific year. —Andrea Swensson

Roma di Luna
And Then the Morning Came

On their most confident and soulful release yet, and their third full-length, Roma di Luna have blossomed into a powerhouse act. What began as a sweet and intimate folk collaboration between husband-and-wife duo Alexei and Channy Moon Casselle has grown into an arresting blues-, Gypsy-, and gospel-influenced Americana band, with the focus staying wisely trained on Channy's throaty, wrenching wail. Morning runs the gamut of emotions, too, with songs like "Baby Hotel" reveling in the joy of new parenthood while "Miss You Too" and "Below Our Feet" are more mournful, morose reflections on longing and loss. With the help of an adept backing band, Roma di Luna have found their footing with one of the best roots releases to come out of the Twin Cities this year. —Andrea Swensson

Various artists
Regolith Vol. 1

Leading the local analog renaissance, the Moon Glyph label's cassette-only output appeals to far more than the average bargain-bin-diving audiophiles. The limited-edition vinyl comp Regolith Vol. 1 demonstrates that in spades, boasting cuts from 10 of the area's most recognizable psychedelic rock bands—from Leisure Birds to Vampire Hands to Skoal Kodiak—and making a damn strong argument for just how spoiled we've come to be of late (a fact even acknowledged by ye hallowed scribes at Pitchfork). Side one's charms are the most obvious, with its sun-smeared, retro-pop leanings and a guest spot by weirdo par-excellence Ariel Pink. But it's the experimental clatter of side two that reminds us that, no matter how you spin it, the most adventurous and forward-thinking bands will always deserve more than a mouse click and a download. —Jeff Gage

Various artists
Minnesota Beatle Project, Vol 2.

It's a tricky thing, covering the Beatles. The Fab Four's output has been so studied and rehashed that their songs are among some of the most frequently covered of all time. Nevertheless, local nonprofit Vega Productions persevered to put together a second volume of Beatles tunes sung by locals to benefit music educators in Minnesota, and it managed to create one of the most airtight compilations of the year. It's hard to choose a favorite: Lookbook's spare and sultry "Real Love," P.O.S.'s skittering and funky "Dear Boy," Mason Jennings's folky "Child of Nature," and the New Standards' buoyant "Michelle" explore the more romantic side of the Beatles' catalog, while A Night in the Box turn it up to 11 with "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," and Meat Puppets get trippy on "Tomorrow Never Knows." From front to back, it's a surprisingly diverse and well-executed collection of covers showcasing just some of the state's most talented players, along with a few non-Minnesotan guests. Here's looking forward to Volume 3. —Andrea Swensson