There Goes the Neighborhood



Expressing the social conscience that Slug admits to between songs, P.O.S. is about the only rapper who could get guest star Craig Finn to write like Ian MacKaye. When the MC starts slicing up eyeballs on the very next track, he's merely reminding you he's an artist—shades of Hüsker Dü's "Diane" to offset "Real World" on Metal Circus 23 years ago. P.O.S. is no more a product of his environment than Hüsker, Prince, or the Replacements were, but you can't help but notice how local culture shapes male rockers differently, not so much in their lack of women problems (not hardly) but in their refusal to engage machismo in the usual way, or to view homosexuality as a problem. These things add up in hip hop, making P.O.S.'s juicy, Phife-like flow a rallying point, and not just a new flavor. —Peter S. Scholtes


Tim O'Reagan
Tim O'Reagan
Lost Highway

The test of any classic album is if it plays as well in the morning with coffee as it does at night with whiskey; in the bedroom or car; in the loud or quiet hours. O'Reagan's debut has been with me in every moment imaginable since it was released on House of Mercy Recordings last year, and properly released by Lost Highway this year. His voice reminds me of something a friend of mine wrote about her aging face—"a wizened disaster"—which is to say that most things get more beautiful with age, but some things, like a drummer-turned-unleashed-crooner, get positively translucent. —Jim Walsh


Various Artists
Duluth Does Dylan Revisited

Spinout Records

Bob Dylan has never shown much regard for his birthplace. After all, the now-65-year-old iconoclast didn't bother to play a show in Duluth until 1999. But as this loving tribute album displays, area musicians don't hold the lack of affection against him. Most contributors to this second volume of Duluth-does-Dylan tracks opt to treat the material fairly straight, including earnest takes on "Masters of War" (Hattie Peterson) and "When the Ship Comes In" (Ol' Yeller). But the two standout offerings throw reverence out the window, with Cloud Cult performing a lovely, ethereal version of "Mr. Tambourine Man," and Retribution Gospel Choir transforming Dylan's cryptic "All the Tired Horses" into an epic funk workout. —Paul Demko


Total Fucking Blood
Blaze the Lord
Freedom From Records

The midterms meant it was a bad year for extremity, so the story goes. Maybe so, but let's not have a return to normalcy in our music, thank you. St. Paul's Total Fucking Blood gave us the comforts of implacable, abstract ferocity, and for that they deserve a grateful nation's thanks. Blaze the Lord's 11 tracks are shorter than my commute and as mesmeric as Brazilian children's television. This is distilled music, everything superfluous blasted away, the exposed remnants blown out to absurd proportion. It sounds like it was recorded in your bathroom. There's a teasingly bleak sense of humor at work (the title track, "You Got Serbed"), perfect for another precarious year in a world adrift. —Geoff Cannon


Story of the Sea
Enjoying Fire
Speakerphone Records

Story of the Sea's debut, Enjoying Fire, is eighth grade. It's pool parties. It's making out for the first time as the sweat forms little tributaries in the bends of your knees. It's nostalgia that encompasses the Reagan era and the Cobain generation. It's bubble gum and burliness. It's sweet hooks and giant riffs. It's xylophones that frolic and rhythms that detonate. Enjoying Fire is all grown-up, too—the kind of grown-up that doesn't need Sears-catalog haircuts or herky-jerky keyboard players to be cool. Instead, it simply relies on its three primary players—Adam Prince, Ian Prince, and John McEwen—to strut its stuff and swallow up the entire room as if it always belonged anyway. Even if frontman Adam Prince is talking about love when he sings, "Maybe we feel that way because we think we should, and that's no good" on "Bubble Gum," you can't help but want to shake off all the kitsch and irony, and rock out like a grownup who isn't afraid of messing up her Cost Cutters coif. —Molly Priesmeyer


Awesome Snakes
Crustacean Records

Just when you thought internet-dork pseudo-viral D-movie memes had completely destroyed the comedy potential of snake-related activities forever, Annie and Danny from the Soviettes come out with the most aggressively ridiculous local record of the year: a bass-drums duo (plus occasional keyboard) that plays songs largely about snakes and/or things that are awesome. An example of the former: "Snakes vs. Jerks"; an example of the latter: "It Would Be Awesome If We Weren't Here." It sounds like the bastard child of the Adolescents and the B-52's and makes the Ramones' first album seem about as punk as Tarkus. Plus, the cover looks like Motley Crüe's Too Fast for Love as drawn by a 13-year-old. I'm with P.O.S., who prefaces a guest spot ("P.O.S. vs. Awesome Snakes") with a declaration—"I got a name for people who don't like snakes: Fucker." —Nate Patrin


Haley Bonar
Lure the Fox
Afternoon Records

It's hard not to be jealous of Haley Bonar. At 22, she's amassed three albums, rave reviews, and stage time with Neko Case and the Arcade Fire. But one listen to her latest alt-country release, Lure the Fox, and all is forgiven. Bonar's voice is strong beyond her years, backed by soft, lollygagging guitars and gentle drums. Her songs start small, with plodding beats or tinkling piano, and build into lush arrangements full of wailing vocals and passionate chords. "Don't let me give it up," she pleads on the seventh track, a haunting song with morbid overtones. Not to worry, Haley—we're not planning on it. —Mary O'Regan


The God Damn Doo Wop Band
Broken Hearts
Afternoon Records

You'd think this band of punky coffee shop workers (brewsters?) would have a fairly sharp edge, especially considering their Commandment-breaking name and affinity for photo shoots with bloody baseball bats. As it turns out, you'll find raunchier doo-wop on the Little Shop of Horrors soundtrack. Broken Hearts never goes further than first base ("Tell me, tell me/How much longer till I can kiss you?") and nobody gets hurt in the process (at least not physically), but that didn't stop us from heaping gobs of praise on the God Damn Doo Wop Band's otherwise killer debut. As the title suggests, there's plenty of heartache spread throughout these nine original puppy-crush tunes, made all the more poignant by the singers' spot-on three-part harmonies and the guitarist's period-perfect tremolo work. It's for fans of pop punk, dual-strawed malt glasses, Twin Peaks, and cute girls in poodle skirts. By our calculation, that's about 99 percent of the entire freaking universe. —Chuck Terhark


Kill the Vultures
The Careless Flame
JIB Door

"The careless flame don't burn the same," sing-raps Crescent Moon on "Strangers in the Doorways," and neither do Kill the Vultures. They'd rather burn in a way no hip-hop crew ever has—and the whiskey-stinking hobo racket of The Careless Flame certainly does. Crescent Moon's rough flow sounds as confused as it is smart, and he serves as the perfect argument for rappers to look as deep into their own psyches as DJs do their record vaults. Speaking of which, KtV's super-producer Anatomy reaches further than ever on The Careless Flame; check out this note from the album's credits: "track #2 contains flute elements from collected Syrian flute songs." As Prince Paul told XLR8R magazine of these guys, "If you get high or are the serious mad-at-the-world type, you'll love this." You don't actually have to meet either of those qualifications. But it helps. —Chuck Terhark


Jeremy Messersmith
The Alcatraz Kid
Princess Records

Jeremy Messersmith writes about Everyman's fat cousin, the one who does something with computers, maybe, and whose social life makes Walter Mitty look like Keith Moon. The singer-songwriter's cautious heroes come home not around 7:00, but precisely at 7:02. When urged to follow a lover to the West Coast, they hop in the Focus, and head in early for work. —Dylan Hicks