Personal Bests

Some songs have a profound physiological effect on people. Early this year, local label impresario Matt St-Germain and I knocked back a few gin and tonics to prepare for the audio bombast of an Andrew W.K. show.

"Party til you puke!" sang Mr. W.K.

I partied.

Matt puked.

Point is, everyone reacts individually to the music that surrounds us. And our responses to local music seem to vary even more than our opinions about national acts. Because not every Michael Yonkers or Barlow/Petersen/Wivinus single is available at Best Buy or plays over the sound system at First Avenue, Twin Cities music fans are often exposed to different things. That's why this year, instead of compiling my own top ten local albums, I asked City Pages' freelance and staff writers to talk about a personal favorite--the one local album that made 2002 a little more bearable. Whether you like their choices or not, we hope you won't lose your lunch. --Melissa Maerz


Atmosphere, God Loves Ugly (Rhymesayers)

Slug toys with rhyme patterns rather than sculpting narrative; Ant winnows beats to their jagged essence instead of spinning out soundscapes. And if the results sometimes sound brutal and minimalist, well, that's what hip-hop formalism is all about. God Loves Ugly is, above all, an exercise in form, more concerned with honing craft than defining persona. But the reason those tonal shifts seem to provide insight into the muddy waters of S. Daley's mind is the same reason all the critics love him in New York, even at his most abstract. He diddles his is-they-is-or-is-they-ain't autobiographical details so nimbly that even those MCs who could whoop his ass in a battle sound two-dimensional. --Keith Harris


Barlow/Petersen/Wivinus, The Transparent World (Hand/Eye)

Roll over, John Lee Hookah! Or at least get rolling. This is the real folk/blues/psych/ drone/avant-soundtrack for the Honey, I Can't Find the Bong Again set. These esteemed git-fiddlers take a break from their various other projects--and expansive effects-pedal collections--for this between-the-genre-cracks acoustic ramble through the verdant byways of their collective subconscious. Rich Barlow, Jesse Petersen, and Erik Wivinus generate the kind of luscious, slow-burning, string-driven sonics that could easily set the elves and the faeries to partner-dancing around the bonfire. In a burg where half-baked improvisation is too often the rule, The Transparent World stands every bit as fully baked as its creators might have been when they made it. --Rod Smith


DVS1 and Christian James, DVS1 and Christian James, Live 1-26-02 (self-released)

Christian James and DVS1 are local electronica's odd couple. Although they love the same game, each has a strikingly different method of playing it. James's quirked-out house track selections and frenetic game face make for a highly entertaining contrast with DVS's bullying techno bangers and dark demeanor. Their live album captures the duo (who share a studio) seizing the Quest Ascot Room last January with springy beats and evil basslines. Stocked exclusively at Vital Vinyl, the CD consistently sold out over the course of this year--a notable accomplishment given that most patrons of record stores seek solely wax. On disc, it's more yin and yang for your bang. --Jen Boyles


Front Porch Swingin' Liquor Pigs, Half Cocked and Fully Loaded (Neckless)

When you stumble into the murk of the taverns where these guys play, your hope isn't just to find warmth or sweet liquid oblivion. You want transcendence, something so rare in local CDs that you almost forget what it feels like. But as with Song of Zarathustra's caterwaul of guitars or the Autumn Leaves' pastoral pop, this second helping from the West Bank Pogues of jug rock is no imitation of life. Tulip Sweet's Tom Siler and studio veteran Tom Herbers perfectly distill the band's live rollick, welcoming guests such as Dave Ray (who reminds us why he's missed) to an old-time, multigenerational picking party that any punk would love. Sounds like the hootenanny of their lives. --Peter Scholtes


The Hidden Chord, The Captain and His Entourage (Level Plane)

In the year garage punk broke, the Hidden Chord broke up. And the neo-beat boys' finale is as high in concept as it is in amplification--a hyperactive brainstorm of pop-culture commentary and travelogue, with the sweetest of Lynchian twists. This time around, the quartet hauls some tech-geek toys into the clubhouse, fusing sequencers and samples with a signature 4/4 guitar bounce and acrobatic vocals. Lyrically, the album is harder to decode than a Ouija board: Who the hell is "the captain" anyway? Yet, like the best mysteries, this imaginative release is worth revisiting in search of clues. --Kate Silver



Eminem may have dismissed the "20 million other white rappers" who emerged in the wake of his success, but Ice-Rod could actually give Slim cause for worry. A recent performance at the Entry saw the diminutive rapper in commanding control of the stage, despite the fact that he was hobbled by crutches and a CD player that routinely fucked up his backing tracks. But his rhymes are the real star, alternating between the grimly hilarious and the flat-out absurdist. On his best song, Ice-Rod hands out paper, tells you how to fold airplanes, then castigates you for wasting paper and demands that you place the planes in recycling bins. This record's formal release has been much delayed--but that's a good thing. Until Ice Rod's 7-inch hits all the stores, you'll have to let him blow your mind in person. --Nick Phillips


The Midnight Evils, S/T (Dart)

Call 'em Tight Bros from Way Back When You Took Your Tenth Shot of Jäg. In a year when alcohol-fueled garage knockoffs became less a punk-rock rally cry than an excuse to christen yourself "Howlin'," the Midnight Evils are the first band that won't just give you another case of hives. (The local bands that appear with the Evils on Doomedelic Records' The Tundra Sessions are a close second.) The guitarist's spider fingers shove a Buca-sized pot of noodling straight down your gullet. The drummer sounds like he's beating the bass drum with your skull. The lead singer spits every bitter syllable: "When she left me, I said GO!" And by that point, you're so riled up you don't know what to do first: kick out your girlfriend or kick out the jams? --Melissa Maerz



Nachito Herrera with Puro Cubano, Live at the Dakota (Dakota Live!)

Herrera's CD places him just a half-notch below Chucho Valdés and Gonzalo Rubalcaba among flashy, virtuosic Cuban pianists. Live at the Dakota is a diverse stylistic showcase, featuring infectiously spunky Herrera originals such as the aptly-named "Rumba Africana" (which boasts a suite full of tempo shifts) and "Cha-Cha-Cha 1-2." Around those tracks are a bonfire-bright rendition of Dizzy Gillespie's "Night in Tunisia," the beguiling ballad "Como Fue" (with Puro Cubano saxophonist LeAnn Lindgren on vocals), and a pensive take on "My Funny Valentine" that closes the disc. The fact that a magnificent, south-of-the-border pianist like Herrera purposefully transplanted himself to our frozen tundra was the best local music news of 2002. And Live at the Dakota is proof of that fact. --Britt Robson


Paul Westerberg, Stereo/Mono (Vagrant)

Paul Westerberg healed me when I was in Dire Straits. So while others have cried "not like his old stuff/too much like his old stuff" or "too studied/too tossed-off" over the years, I've remained faithful to the Pauline gospel. On the Mono disc of this 80-minute double, Westerberg leans toward the "like his old stuff/tossed-off" pole, offering his best-yet take on Berry-Stones-Faces-T. Rex-Heartbreakers chug-a-chug. On the Stereo disc, we have pneumatic, John Prine-like strum. Little passes by without an inviting, lumpy-throated melody, or a catching phrase, or a flare of vocal effulgence. Yes, some songs sound like outtakes, but his leftovers are still everyone else's Sunday dinner. --Dylan Hicks


Michael Yonkers Band, Microminature Love (DeStijl)

He says he never heard the Velvets until after he made his first record tracks, and if you tell him his music sounds like the 13th Floor Elevators, he'll answer, "Who?" So how did Michael Yonkers come up with that unearthly, open-tuned guitar sound on these recently recovered 1967 tracks? He knocked his guitar over and kept manipulating that bit of serendipity with engineering and volume until it turned into a cavernous drone. Over that sound, the then-19-year-old Yonkers added lyrical depictions of his worst nightmares--stifling suburbia, war, and conformity--that still unsettle today because of the concrete images he set. Flowers are planted in neat little lines, green army guys grow up big, and a flag-draped Creator cracks wise about body counts. As the Soft Boys sang, carry me back to now. --Cecile Cloutier


Honorable mentions (in alphabetical order): 12 Rods, Lost Time (self-released); Askeleton, Modern Fairy Tales (Alone); The Autumn Leaves, The Twilight Hours of the Autumn Leaves (Dabbler); Heiruspecs, Small Steps (Interlock); Lifter Puller, Soft Rock (The Self-Starter Foundation); Malachi Constant, Zenith (Guilt Ridden Pop); Mark Mallman, The Red Bedroom (Guilt Ridden Pop); Oliver Hart, The Many Faces of Oliver Hart or How Eye One the Write to Think (Rhymesayers); Song of Zarathustra, A View From High Tides (Troubleman Unlimited); Trailer Trash, All Lit Up: The Trashy Little X-Mas Volume II (self-released); Work of Saws, The Pious Flats (No Alternative/ Thick Furniture)

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