Ten best Minnesota albums of 2014 (so far)
A whole lot of stellar albums have crossed our desk in 2014 so far. Across the spectrum of rock, hip-hop, R&B, and more-experimental recordings created by Minnesota talent, several have immediately become a part of our lives.
Here is a list of the ten local albums that we just couldn't get enough of so far in 2014.
The 10 best Minnesota albums of 2013
Votel - Votel
This evocative, electro-pop masterpiece comes from a talented crew of Twin Cities music scene veterans -- Lookbook's Maggie Morrison, Marijuana Deathsquads' Mark McGee, Seawhores' Adam Marx, Ben Clark, and Polica's Drew Christopherson. There are sonic elements of those other bands layered within Votel's seven intoxicating songs. Still, the pulsating work on this record is consistently fresh and original, and will take you somewhere special if you let it.
Spooky Black - Black Silk
The captivating songs on Black Silk -- and Spooky Black himself -- seemed to arrive out of the ether. The mystery behind the man and his entrancing music initially baffled those in the R&B and hip-hop community, who couldn't quite get a grasp on this singer/rapper who seemingly came out of nowhere. It turns out that Spooky Black (who originally recorded as Lil Spook) is a teenager who comes from St. Paul, and his ambient debut jam, "Without You," caught fire throughout the country. This may be the first you hear of this talented young artist, but it certainly won't be the last. (For more of Spooky's work, check out the Standard.)
Jeremy Messersmith - Heart Murmurs
Heart Murmurs is the grandiose rock record that Jeremy Messersmith has been building towards his entire musical career. After baroque and acoustic arrangements in earlier recordings, he amps up songs like "Tourniquet" and "Ghost" louder than ever before. Messersmith seamlessly blends massive choruses alongside fragile moments of sincerity, all wrapped up in sprightly melodies and arrangements that hook you and never let go.
Leisure Birds - Tetrahedron
There are plenty of electronic layers to get lost in on Leisure Birds' saturnine new album, Tetrahedron. The record's seven songs are drenched in exquisite synth strains and drone-fueled rhythms, which fluidly combine to give the material plenty of room to breathe when they require it, while also crafting a dense, moody modern sound. The quartet spent a few years perfecting the material on this album, and it clearly shows. Each dynamic song continues to reveal more upon repeat listens.
Haley Bonar - Last War
Breakups abound in Haley Bonar's fervid new album, Last War. But rather than wallow in heartbreak, Bonar turns broken relationships into acute character studies -- both in the people she has left behind as well as herself. With cutting rock guitar and synth-based arrangements (and some Justin Vernon backing vocals) these passionate tales have a catchy beat as well as a backbone. The songs suggest these subjects have learned from their mistakes but might be tempted to repeat them just for fun. Bonar is one of the best songwriters in our current music scene, and on Last War she took her talents to another level entirely, challenging her listeners to follow along.
Howler - World of Joy
The irrepressible surf-and-garage punks Howler return with a point to prove on their sophomore album, World of Joy. The boisterous record dismissed the hype surrounding their debut as well as industry expectations regarding the follow-up, and instead focused on the gritty, exuberant sound that caught our collective ear in the first place. Songs like "Don't Wanna" and "Indictment" prove they've got a lot more hooks up their torn sleeves. Howler recorded the new album at the Terrarium in Minneapolis, and the rowdy results capture one of our best bands in top form.
Manny Phesto - Southside Looking In
Minneapolis MC Manny Phesto released his full-length debut to quick acclaim back in April, as his candid, straightforward flow clearly hit home for a lot of area hip-hop fans. The retro-tinged beats were expertly provided by producer Mike the Martyr, who keeps pushing forward with his well-crafted rhythms that only compliment Manny's smooth rhymes. Metasota and Greg Grease even drop into the mix to add their distinctive flavor, but it's ultimately the burgeoning talents of Manny Phesto that shines the brightest on this highly entertaining album replete with lyrical portraits of our community from a young MC on the rise.
Two Harbors - The Natural Order of Things
Anyone left wondering where all of the guitars have gone in the local music scene should certainly check out Two Harbors. The Britpop-influenced quartet delivers a towering wall of guitars amidst their catchy, dynamic numbers, then hit you with massive choruses that you won't be able to get out of your head. The album was recorded at Flowers Studio in Minneapolis, and mastered at the legendary Abbey Road Studios, which creates a rousing mix of the modern sound of the Twin Cities blended with the indelible echoes of British rock and roll. Have at it.
Allan Kingdom - Future Memoirs
Allan Kingdom's distinctive lyrical flow immediately stands out in the Twin Cities hip-hop scene. The emerging MC has capitalized on the growing attention by releasing one of the best, most inventive records of the year in Future Memoirs. Kingdom produced most of the album himself -- kudos to Ryan Olson, Psymun, and Plain Pat too. The tracks offer up a raw glimpse into the creative soul of an artist who is still in the process of capturing his true sound and style. Already a live favorite, "Work Me Over" shows his evolving dexterity on the mic. Kingdom takes plenty of sonic and vocal risks on these songs, and each one of them pays off, as his banging, unique tracks are like nothing else in modern hip-hop -- just the assured sound of a young musician fully coming into his own. (Kingdom will perform at the City Pages 10 Thousand Sound Festival on July 26.)
Black Diet - Find Your Tambourine
Black Diet caught our attention with their spirited, buoyant live show, performances that deservedly earned the band a trip down to Austin for SXSW after winning the Are You Local? contest. The group delivered on the promise suggested by those shows by releasing their stellar full-length debut, Find Your Tambourine, back in April. These vibrant, soulful numbers are a revelation. There is a thoroughly modern pulse and restless energy that courses through these tracks, with the band also stylishly paying homage to their soul and R&B influences that color their sparkling arrangements and effervescent vocals.
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