So it’s come to this – we have been posting our favorite local LPs of 2012 for the past couple weeks, along with a separate list of our favorite short releases. Included on that second list is the Places EP by Pennyroyal which is, yes, our favorite local record of the year. This link will take you to their bandcamp page where you can hear it and then buy a copy and then ask them when their next show will be. We hope you’ll click on it and do all those things.
Compiling our list of favorite records was more difficult than ever this year – there were so many too choose from and the quality of local music was consistently very high this year. We recalled an editorial in the Star Tribune by some woefully peripheral “Prairie Home Companion” contributor that argued we in the Twin Cities take too much pride in our music scene, and we couldn’t disagree with the author more.
The Twin Cities has an extraordinary legacy in popular music dating back decades – the Secret Stash compilation of 60s/70s funk and soul released this year is just a slice of that legacy. The enormous diversity of record stores and venues (yes, some smaller than the *yawn* Fitzgerald Theater) is further evidence. Instead of “dial[ing] down that pride” we here at Hymie’s think we oughta dial it up!
Our “top 10″ list is below, followed by our favorite album of the year, Songs to Love and Die to by Southside Desire. Sometime soon we’ll post a few tracks from other albums just as good as these ten – including this year’s debuts by BNLX and the Prissy Clerks, the long-awaited realization of El Le Faunt and his Traveling Circus on vinyl, and albums that we just discovered a little too late this year, like Chastity Brown’s Back Road Highways and Charlie Parr’s just-out Barnswallow.
Here are the records that spent an awful lot of time on our turntable (and in our cd player) at the record shop in 2012:
Unclouded Day by Adam Keisling
Cos – The Original Motion Picture Score by Grolar Bears
Witching & Divining by Swallows
Story of the Sea
Colored Emotions by Night Moves
For my Mother by Big Cats
III by Is/Is
Mississippi Roll by Jack Klatt and the Cat Swingers
Songs to Love and Die to by Southside Desire
And here is our favorite record of 2012. We’ve already worn out our copy, which gets almost daily play here in the shop and has been brought out to several venues for a spin DJ nights and between sets at shows – even at a wedding!
Craig Drehmel – known to many as “Pabst Craig” – is a pretty astute critic of pop music, although he’d probably deny it. While Marvel Devitt and her incredible new band Southside Desire were performing here in the shop he said to us, “There’s going to be a lot of bands that sound like this next year.” He’s probably right, but we’re pretty confident another band isn’t going to “hit the spot” in the same way Southside Desire did with their album, Songs to Love and Die To.
So here’s the record you’ve been looking for ever since you started asking why nobody writes good songs anymore; why bands don’t cook like the Stax rhythm section anymore; and why digital recordings might sound better on the surface but miss something your old 45s have.
“When I Was Your Queen”
You might have heard “When I Was Your Queen” on the Current recently. It’s pretty awesome that a self-released and self-promoted band is getting good airplay, and it’s a testament to how good the song is, too! Southside Desire bills themselves as “Femme-fronted Northern Soul … from the littered alleyways from Southside Minneapolis,” but they derive their sound from a wider range of music than the overused misnomer “Northern soul” (a term, faithful reader, you know Hymie’s already despises – it’s a term used by people in a different country to refer to a uniquely American form of music, which we should be proud of and which were happy calling simply “Soul” for decades) – Devitt and her husband Trevor E (an over-booked member of about a half-dozen bands) both grew up watching parents in Strange Friends, whose first disc, Fireside Recordings, we happened by and listened to this week by strange coincidence. Devitt’s back-up singers, Gloria Iacono and Jenny Hatfield Blonk, are old friends. Her taut rhythm section features husband Trevor E, Paul Puleo and Damien Tank, have all played together in various settings for years.
The result is a band that works together intuitively, and one of very few bands that could have recorded an album like Songs to Love and Die To, which has a spontaneity and drive that deserves our earlier comparison to the legendary Stax rhythm section. Fitting, too, because the album was recorded by Mike Wisti in his mysteriously magical analog studio, Albatross. The band was recorded in one room, leading to a lot of bleed between tracks and forcing them to hone their performances down to clean, tight arrangements. The result has the sort of sound you could get lost in, the kind of album you could climb inside of and stretch your arms. You can hear it all here, by the way. You could even, while you’re there, buy a copy of it direct from the band and it will be delivered to your door (though probably not in time for Christmas).
“Tired of Worrying About You”
Rhythm section and rich backing vocals aside, Songs to Love and Die To, is really built around the fabulous voice and captivating songs of Marvel Devitt – a genuine soul diva one moment, rock and roll star the next. Some tracks are hilariously confrontational (“The Will,” “Tired of Worrying About You”) and others achingly personal (“Keepsake,” “The Ballad of A Flickering Flame”). The original songs and the band’s great arrangements would be lost without her performances, as much Mary J. Blige or Lauryn Hill as Dusty in Memphis or Lady Soul. Throughout the album, even on the torchy ballads, Devitt is a really fun singer to listen to.
Songs to Love and Die To is the sort of music that made us love records in the first place – each track jumps out at you like the awesome song you’d been waiting to hear on the radio while you’re stuck at work hearing “Baracuda” for the goddamn millionth time. And there’s something very fun about the beginning and the end – Trevor E plays the same bass line at the end of “The Ballad of a Flickering Flame” as he did at the beginning of the album (“The Will”). The album ends just as it started, or as Marvel sings in another track…
“Thank you, come again.”
[Here's a strange fact: the reason Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music is a rare item on 8-Track is because there is no gap between the programs, so you can play it continuously. We don't really understand who would want to do that (but the guy who bought a copy here and explained this to us was REALLY EXCITED). We'd rather create an endless loop of Southside Desire. Hopefully they're planning an 8-Track reissue.]
Could Songs to Love and Die To have been better recorded? Maybe. Their entirely analog approach doesn’t appeal to everyone – we personally prefer the implicit intensity that comes from a more “live” sound of a band recorded in one room on actual tape, but there’s certainly record collectors who don’t agree. Could the jacket be a good deal fancier? Certainly. Now the really heavy question: Could the music be any better? It’s hard to imagine how they could. And if you’re buying records for the “sonics” or the fidelity you’re going to be disappointed by this one – you’ll probably want to stick with albums that sound like Genesis, or worse, albums by Genesis.
Songs to Love and Die To has an endearing DIY aesthetic, and even though it’s (thankfully) pretty removed from punk rock, it has the same “back to basics” appeal. Here’s an album to make you laugh and cry, and give you reason to shadowbox or dance or bounce around because it’s fun to listen to. Or if you just need to listen to a friend pour her heart out for a little while, here you go. You’re going to love this record.