Top 10 Albums 2012

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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
Magic Castles
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

“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

“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.”

keepsake

“Keepsake”

[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.

 

Last week we started posting our top ten favorite local albums of 2012 – you can read our first eight choices by scrolling down. You’ll also find Saturday’s post, a round-up of our favorite local EPs (which includes our favorite local release of the year.

The past twelve months saw so much great Minnesota music that this list has been re-written and revised a dozen times since we started working on it after Thanksgiving. Without a doubt there are ten more LPs or CDs of new music by Minnesota artists worth the same recognition.

This list represents not just ten of the best local albums of the year, but ten albums we listened to here in the shop A LOT. The comments section on our site hasn’t been working lately because of the abundance of spam comments, but we welcome your additions to our “top 10” list. Send ’em to  album of the year, it was the album Country Music Television’s Craig Shelburne said he’d “listened to the most this year” in CMT’s roundup of great albums here) this year’s album by Klatt and the Cat Swingers has not been appearing on end-of-the-year “best of” lists. The only explanation we can offer is that people just haven’t heard it yet.

life’s a drag

“Life’s a Drag”

Mississippi Roll opens with a jaunty original by Klatt that sets the tone for the album. The Cat Swingers – Sabyre Rae Daniels on backing vocals and ukulele, bassist Josh Granowski and accordionist and wash-board man extraordinaire Patrick Harison – are in top form throughout. They are absolutely one of the best live acts in the Twin Cities and Klatt and co-producer Dakota Dave Hull have really captured that with this disc. When the Cat Swingers plays here in our neighborhood at Merlin’s Rest we’re hard-pressed to find a seat, and even more hard-pressed to find the door once we settle in because his music is so goddamn good. Mississippi Roll is the next best thing.

Like Big Cats’ tribute album For my Mother, this disc was made possible by an artists’ grant. Klatt was supported by the Minnesota State Arts Board, who recognized the potential in his cross-generational collaboration. He and his band worked with a quartet of local legends, who each sat in for a couple of tracks: Charlie Parr*, who bridges the gap between Koerner and Klatt’s generations, plays with characteristic vigor on “Turn your Money Green” and “Rope Stretchin’ Blues,” Spider John Koerner revisits “Delia” and “Ezekiel Saw the Wheel,” and Dakota Dave Hull lends a little light ragtime guitar to a beautiful rendition of “Cincinnati Flow.” The most memorable guest appearance on the album is by Cornbread Harris, who for six and a half minutes steal the sho with his “Deeper Blues,” one of the finest things the 85 year old Minnesota legend has put on record.

05 Track 05

“Deeper Blues” (feat. Cornbread Harris)

(*The only reason Charlie Parr’s new album, Barn Swallow, wasn’t added to this list is that he just dropped them off on Sunday. Needless to say it’s already a favorite around here.)

The thing about Mississippi Roll that’s so remarkable is that the Cat Swingers play the shit out of these songs, new and old and with or without their famous guests. Our favorite songs on the disc are the ones that feature Klatt’s band, as great as the guests are.

Klatt has recorded and is soon to release a solo album which highlights not only his own talents as fine guitarist and singer but also his unique songwriting (you can find out more on his website here). We’ve heard it and heartily endorse it as a worthy successor to this great disc, but we’re going to hold out hope that Klatt will still perform with Daniels, Grabowski and Harison. We’d be heartbroken if we couldn’t count on seeing the Twin Cities’ best working band once in a while.

06 Track 06

“Goin’ Back Home”

As with several of the albums on our list of this year’s favorites, you can stream the whole thing on a bandcamp page (here). Just now, I noticed that the description of the album you’ll find there came from this blog. Since they’re my own words, I feel okay borrowing them:

Mississippi Roll flows like the river itself and along its wild journey a confluence of currents flow together magically, bringing together the whole 2,000 miles of the Mississippi’s range of influence in American history and music. Western swing winds into old timey and New Orleans jazz, even honky tonk. It’s all seeped in the foot stompin’ folk blues that put Minneapolis’ West Bank on the musical map all those years ago.

Its a fitting description for the album. The only other thing to add is that is that this is a record that sells itself – like that scene in High Fidelity where they play the Beta Band and people ask what it is, Mississippi Roll never fails to catch someone’s ear here in the shop!

do you think about tomorrow?

“Do You Think About Tomorrow?”

 

Last week we started posting our top ten favorite local albums of 2012 – you can read our first seven choices by scrolling down. You’ll also find Saturday’s post, a round-up of our favorite local EPs (which includes our favorite local release of the year.

The past twelve months saw so much great Minnesota music that this list has been re-written and revised a dozen times since we started working on it after Thanksgiving. Without a doubt there are ten more LPs or CDs of new music by Minnesota artists worth the same recognition.

This list represents not just ten of the best local albums of the year, but ten albums we listened to here in the shop A LOT. The comments section on our site hasn’t been working lately because of the abundance of spam comments, but we welcome your additions to our “top 10” list. Send ’em to  III was the soundtrack to destruction here in the record shop one eventful evening this March, but first it was the background music to hours of careful measurement and planning, not to mention a ton of tedious clean-up work.

Let me explain: If you’ve been in and out of the shop a few times this year you probably recall that we knocked out three walls and turned a one-time dead-end where our jazz section is into an opening that creates a loop when you’re walking through the shop. Somehow the addition of a mere 120 square feet made the shop immeasurably larger and more comfortable. Sometimes something so little as increasing a space by three or four percent can make all the difference. All this took place in the weeks after Sarah Rose was kind enough to give us an early disc of the awaited Is/Is debut, III.

Is/Is had been tagged as one of the best new band in the Cities the year before (In the City Pages annual poll of hipsters and scenesters, here) but had only released a handful of tracks (a 7″ single and a five track EP, This Happening) so it wasn’t really certain what direction the band would move on a full length LP. It just seemed to us after This Happening that they’re were going to be the kind of band that makes awesome albums.

bomb me

“Bomb Me”

III soars beyond anything on the EP from the moment Sarah Nienaber’s bass rumbles through the stereo and the band dives into “Bomb Me” so thunderously you almost wonder if it’s going to be the end of the player’s needle. Where one could hardly hear or understand Sarah Rose on the band’s early tracks, her voice soars over the explosive sound of the band. “Bomb Me” is as good an album opener as any we heard this year, concise but just dramatic enough to entice your ears with anticipation.

III

The album was recorded and mixed by Neil Weir at Old Blackberry Way. Weir is an exceptional engineer with a gift for finding the sound that suits bands without seeming to push them – there’s an impressive diversity to the music that has come out of his studio, from Nightosaur‘s epic “Thuder Wizard” to Wizards Are Real’s awesome new 10″ EP. III has the sound of an album you want to play LOUD, whether it’s the thundering bass and guitar, exploding cymbals towards the end of “Shadow,” or the fairly straightforward, almost new wave-y pop melody in “Lie Awake.”

lie awake

“Lie Awake”

Sarahs Rose and Nienaber recorded with not one or two but three drummers in the sessions that produced III. Except for some guest appearances on the epic closer, “Save your Savior,” they remain a trio throughout. The different drummers give the album an interesting flow. Annie May’s performances are driving and hypnotic, as in “Bomb Me” above. Holly Newsom performs on two songs, pounding toms to give each a more primitive feeling, and our favorite Is/Is drummer, Mara Appel, brings both to the band when she’s in the drummer’s chair. She is playing on the quick, here-and-gone “Moon Dropping” which jumps right out of the last track you heard, “Lie Awake”:

moon dropping

“Moon Dropping”

III is ultimately Sarah Rose’s show, however. What distinguishes Is/Is from many of their labelmates at shoegazing Guilt Ridden Pop is the range of her vocal performances. Sometimes lines are deadpanned and even disdainful (as at the beginning of “Hate Smile”) and sometimes light and poppy (“Lie Awake” and “Moon Dropping”). The stirring howl that distinguishes “Bomb Me” returns on side two near the end of “Sun Tsunami,” one of two epics that close out the album. Rose repeats “I’ll be good” with increasing intensity while the band swells underneath her voice. The song ends as it began after a few wordless lines, having risen and fallen like one of jazz composer George Russell’s Lydian chromatic constructions. The result is an emotional, narrative piece built on very few lyrics and the track – along with the even-more-epic “Save your Savior” – might suggest Is/Is is headed in the direction of longer song forms and a more psychedelic-derived future. For the time being “Sun Tsunami” and “Save your Savior” provide some of the most interesting moments on local albums this year.

sun tsunami

“Sun Tsunami”

Starting last Monday we’ve been posting our top ten favorite local albums of 2012 – you can read our first six choices by scrolling down. You’ll also find Saturday’s post, a round-up of our favorite local EPs (which includes our favorite local release of the year.

The past twelve months saw so much great Minnesota music that this list has been re-written and revised a dozen times since we started working on it after Thanksgiving. Without a doubt there are ten more LPs or CDs of new music by Minnesota artists worth the same recognition.

This list represents not just ten of the best local albums of the year, but ten albums we listened to here in the shop A LOT. The comments section on our site hasn’t been working lately because of the abundance of spam comments, but we welcome your additions to our “top 10” list. Send ’em to  Big Cats‘ For my Mother is one of the few that has been played the most here in the shop. The album bursts out of the stereo from its dreamlike opening through the following nine instrumental jams. It is a surprisingly rich work based on the relatively simple sampling aesthetic, filled with the fervor of live music and the hypnotic appeal of classic hip hop. It keeps our feet moving while we’re working around the shop, and as an instrumental album it keeps our imaginations running.

for my mother

The album was recorded in honor of Spencer Wirth-Davis’ mother, who passed away after battling ovarian cancer. Wirth-Davis was awarded a composer’s fellowship grant from the McKnight Foundation – an unprecedented accomplishment for a hip hop producer – and set out to create the sort of music his mother enjoyed listening to when she was undergoing grueling (and boring) chemo treatments. To this end he recorded more than ten hours of Motown-style classic R&B with a diverse group of musicians and sampled the sessions. The end result is a beautiful tribute to the person who encouraged Wirth-Davis to play music (and as an additional tribute he has donated 75% of the album’s proceeds to Minnesota Ovarian Cancer Alliance, who you can learn about here).

The extraordinary group of musicians even performed the final Big Cats arrangements at an October release show at the Cedar Cultural Center, one of the most memorable live performances here in town this fall. Performers with rock, hip hop, jazz and classical backgrounds came together to realize Wirth-Davis’ dream. This incredible, moving performance was captured on video.

Aside from his successful solo album, 2012 was a watershed year for With-Davis, who as Big Cats produced sweet beats for K. Raydio and City Pages “Picked to Click” winners the Chalice, as well as entire albums with longtime collaborators the Tribe and Guante. One might be underwhelmed by his quiet solo project if it weren’t a work of such unusual grace and depth. It is, after all, amazing how much can be expressed without words (or at least with very few of them).

As noted up above, there is a dreamlike quality to the first track, “One” (the album’s ten tracks, by the way, are simply titled in numeric order, adding to the album’s open, zen-like feeling) The keyboards and vocals are effervescent and airy, while the beats are firmly grounded. This introduces an ongoing conflict between the keys (and later the saxophones and guitars) and the beats that move the music, as though the light melodies have to be held down.

One

“One”

Wirth-Davis spent years performing classical music on the string bass, and his experience comes across in several arrangements, like the dramatic string arrangement in “Seven.” He also has a musician’s sense for finding and using keyboard parts along with string arrangements, as in the album’s shortest track, “Five.” The piano here has the same beautiful sound as some of the gritty sampled piano parts he used on Space, his most recent album with the Tribe.

Seven

“Seven”

There has already been one remix of a track from For my Mother (here) and we’re fairly certain there will be many more. As it is this album really bursts out of the turntable with a warmth and energy that one can’t easily put into words. We hope hip hop producers take heed of Big Cats’ distinctive, laid back sound but we doubt any one else could have made a record like For my Mother. Not only a tribute, it captures Wirth-Davis’ genuinely good-natured personality and his ability to collaborate with musicians. It seems likely that his work in the future will only get better.

(You can hear the entire album on the Big Cats bandcamp page here.)

Last week we started posting our top ten favorite local albums of 2012 – you can read our first five choices by scrolling down. You’ll also find Saturday’s post, a round-up of our favorite local EPs (which includes our favorite local release of the year.

The past twelve months saw so much great Minnesota music that this list has been re-written and revised a dozen times since we started working on it after Thanksgiving. Without a doubt there are ten more LPs or CDs of new music by Minnesota artists worth the same recognition.

This list represents not just ten of the best local albums of the year, but ten albums we listened to here in the shop A LOT. The comments section on our site hasn’t been working lately because of the abundance of spam comments, but we welcome your additions to our “top 10” list. Send ’em to  headlights

“Headlights”

2012 saw a lot of unreleased or under-released local music get it’s proper place on nice CDs or vinyl – the Magic Castles double LP featured last week is a really good example (here), since it was picked up by the UK-based A Recordings. Hopefully they’ll benefit from having an album that gets better distribution and promotion and keep making music as good as what they’ve done so far.

Another group that found a little attention overseas was Night Moves, who were contacted early in 2012 by Domino Records to release their debut album, Colored Emotions, which had previously been streamed online. The band was flown to LA to re-record tracks and a single, “Headlights” (heard above) b/w “Horses,” was issued in the spring to test the water. Night Moves played an great release show for the single at the Varsity Theater (with the always-awesome Buffalo Moon) but it was not until October that the album was finally in the hands of fans.

But here was a record well worth the wait. Colored Emotions is the soft rock revival people like me expected a couple of years ago when we first heard about the Gayngs album. Instead of wading into 70s pop, Night Moves uses it. They also draw in a little disco, a little “cosmic American music” (as Gram Parsons called his breed of country-rock), and an awful lot of reverb. The finished album is undeniably twangy, but just urbane enough to make it kitch rather than rootsy passion. It’s a lusciously crafted pop record in every possible way,

In a lot of ways Colored Emotions is as seeped in the 70s as it is in reverb. Night Moves doesn’t really sound like Procol Harum, for instance, but their album has a Salty Dog or Grand Hotel quality. The first side is almost entirely seamless, with songs that bleed into each other like “Country Queen” (which I believe was originally called “Night Moves” on the original stream of the album released last year) and “In the Rounds.”

“Country Queen” captures a lot of what is so unique about Night Moves’ sound. It begins quietly with a Bacharach-like melody that jumps suddenly into a more contemporary indie rock-like sound following a perfectly phrased descending line by John Pelant, one of my favorite moments on the record (Colored Emotions is an album where you find yourself singing along after a couple of listens, even if you’ve had to make up some lines to keep up). The Bacharach feel returns in the middle with multi-instrumentalist Mark Ritsema’s tinkly piano, and the song goes out on it’s indie rock sound, leading into the quiet “In the Rounds.”

country queen in the rounds

“Country Queen” / “In the Rounds”

As passionately as Pelant croons throughout Colored Emotions, the album’s most moving passages are instrumental – the slow building intensity of “Country Queen” next to the simple “In the Rounds” is an example. One of our favorite musical moments on the album is and guitar/banjo interplay on “Old Friends” stand-out. If “Headlights” hadn’t been such an instantly endearing track “Old Friends” might have been tapped to be the album’s single last spring. It might be a little slow for radio, but as a “side two ballad” it kind of fits the records general 70s theme (check out our playlist of classic “side two ballads” posted last year here).

old friends

“Old Friends”

At no extra cost the album’s inner sleeve comes with this portrait of the band, suitable for framing or just hanging up inside your locker with a magnet.

The second side winds to a close with the leisurely (100 bpm) light-disco number “Colored Emotions” – a surprisingly satisfying combination of Eagles/Firefall country-pop and For You-era Prince. Nowhere else does the album sound more like a throwback than in its closer, which completely leaves us wanting more. Colored Emotions is one of those albums you flip back over to first side at the end. It’s just that good.

colored emotions

“Colored Emotions”

So much of our favorite music of 2012 came out on discs and 10″ records or in downloads too short to be on a “top 10” list of albums. I have mixed feeling about the EP – it’s been nice to get away from the ear of over-long albums (most of the 90s and 00s, if you ask me) and a lot of that was helped by the resurgence of vinyl. A lot more by digital recording and online marketing – it’s easier and cheaper than ever to record your music well, and even easier and cheaper to release it online. Partly democratic, partly disastrous, anyone can put music out there for consideration – one wouldn’t even be able to make enough time to hear it all.

That said, we’ve loved so much loved the music here we thought it ought to get shared. A couple of these would be near the top of our list of favorite 2012 albums if they were longer.

You’ve probably heard some of this music playing in the shop, and we hope if you like it you’ll follow the various links to the artists’ pages.

10 – Parallel Motions by Panther Ray

Panther Ray is a weirdly “quadrophenic” band – not that you can hear some influence of the Who’s 1973 rock opera in their music but because you get a sense of four disparate personalities making compromises to produce music. Nowhere was this more clear than the last time I saw them perform, which was in the Turf Club’s Clown Lounge – the four of them traded places and instruments so often I couldn’t tell if it was mean to be a gag (at least it’s less gimicky than bunch of kick drums).

On Parallel Motions the jangly, jaunty quartet rambles through eight riotous tracks seeped in psychedelia and Sonic Youth-y 90s rock. “Memory Bank” is the stand-out track but there’s moments where the band’s cluttered kitchen-sink approach really hits home. And actually, they’re releasing a follow-up EP next week. We have a copy but honestly haven’t listened to it yet as of posting this (sorry, folks -we  just got it). Where is Panther Ray headed next? They’re playing a release show at the Triple Rock Social Club on December 30th and they’re a great live act. Why not find out for yourself?!

04 Track 04

“Memory Bank”

9 – “Atlantic Blue” single by Gospel Gossip

So it’s true that the most exciting thing about Gospel Gossip’s new record is that there’s a new Gospel Gossip record!! Pretty much nothing can live up to the expectations left at the end of Dreamland, the band’s 2009 EP that still gets play in our shop all the time, and “Atlantic Blue” falls victim to that. It’s a great single and by any other band it would be a triumph – the long-labored next Gospel Gossip album is taking on an epic stature and I don’t envy the pressure on them to deliver.

 

behind gospel gossip

“Behind”

8 – Starlings by Very Small Animal

This summer I was fortunate enough to see Very Small Animal perform twice in one day, courtesy of Brian Just who added me (as DJ) to the bill for his end-of-summer show at the 331 Club. A lot of the intensity of their live set is lost in their EP, Starlings, but still very present is the warm, beautiful harmonies of singers Patrick Noonan and Tim Harlan-Marks. It’s probably not cool to be compared to Art Garfunkel these days, but Noonan’s performance on the disc is on par with Garfunkel’s best (and often overlooked) performances from his early solo albums. He and Harlan-Marks sing together like it was their job, although I’m guessing it’s probably not. The six songs evoke not only epic 70s folk-rock but also more underground singer-songwriter music of the 90s. Their heartfelt “Joanne,” for instance, could easily be mistaken for a song by the late Vic Chesnutt.

(If you like the Very Small Animal EP you’re probably also going to enjoy Small Towns, an EP released this year by Warpossums, pretty much anything by Tree Party and – if they still have ’em – the demo disc the Brian Just Band had here at Hymie’s on Record Store Day in April).

golden

“Golden”

7 – Glory, Glory by CLAPS

Like a couple of bands on this list, CLAPS had an album on our favorites list last year; their debut album, Wreck, was a tour de force that demonstrated, if anything, the primacy of “melody and rhythm” (to quote one of our favorite Big Audio Dynamite songs). And this summer’s release on cassette label Moon Glyph (at 30 minutes an album in many ways) expands on Wreck‘s success with rawer, lean arrangements. The five tracks on Glory, Glory have the stretched feel of a 12″ single and the extra space benefits the band’s growing approach. The tape opens with “Simplicity’s Key” and carries the implicit message: CLAPS cuts to the bone and gets to the point. Patrick Donohue’s performance on “Castle” is haunting (surely one of his best yet on record) and the band’s arrangement is evocative and brooding. There is not a wasted moment.

castle CLAPS

“Castle”

6 – We Are the Chalice by the Chalice

The Chalice rightfully won this year’s “Clicked to Pick” poll of local scene-sters published by the City Pages in October (I was a little embarrassed they published this year’s ballots by name, because I didn’t pick any of the winners even though they were all new-ish bands I really, really enjoyed this year). Their debut EP, We Are the Chalice, is about as perfect a party disc as the Twin Cities has produced in recent years, from the fun of “Ladies Night” and “Crown on the Rocks” to over-the-top “Mama.” Several of the Twin Cities best young producers contributed great stuff to the EP (Including a couple Hymies’ favorites: O-D and Big Cats). Even more great beats were heard on Clare de Lune’s solo EP, New Lion (here), which really ought to have been on this list too.

06 Push It (Prod. Prophis)

“Push It (prod. Prophis)”

5 – The Third Coast by the White Whales

Hark ye yet again – the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event – in the living act, the undoubted deed – there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there’s naught beyond. But ’tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I’d strike the sun if it insulted me.

(The White Whales’ bandcamp page is here)

01 Islands

“Islands”

4 – Somos no Joke by Big Quarters

It’s become impossible to separate the day-to-day awesomeness of Brandon Allday and Medium Zach from the music they make together as Big Quarters, and that’s okay with us. Last year’s Party Like a Young Commie found the Bagaason brothers at their best, collaborating with some of the Twin Cities’ best musicians and rapping about education, community and self-reliance. Somos no Joke features eight tracks built on leaner beats than on last year’s album, which leads to tighter raps. It’s still the Big Quarters we’ve grown to love – Medium Zach, who talked about building the Batcave at the start of Young Commie here admits in “Work” that “at thirteen I thought I could design Spawn toys!” And Brandon Allday says in “Never Felt Better” that “I speak to literally.” At twenty-four minutes Somos no Jokes is nearly as long as what some artists put out as an album this year, and since the extra tracks they’ve been posting online (Check out “Americana” on their website) are just as good as the EP, it’s a sure thing the Big Quarters work ethic is in full force going into 2013.

01 Never Felt Better

“Never Felt Better”

3 – Double Down by Walker Fields

One of my favorite things about live music is the drummer and my favorite drummer this past year has been Chris Tierney. In this duo with Grain Belt artist Brad Senne, he’s been both innovative, playing with a tambourine in one hand instead of a stick, and dynamic. You know Tierney’s working overtime on Double Down when you forget there’s no bass player midway through “Lucky to be Alive”, the EPs shooting match opener.

Senne’s all in, too, shredding up some ole slide guitar without falling behind and howlin’ the blues like it’s his job. Seeing them play together you can sense how much Senne and Tierney love what they’re doing, and it comes across in the disc. We love listening to it! You can hear Double Down here.

01 Lucky To Be Alive

“Lucky to be Alive”

2 – I’m Your Free Lieutenant by Wizards Are Real

The Wizards’ album was our fourth favorite album last year and still a favorite this year. For something so intrinsically simplistic – the band’s own Bandcamp page says they “challenge the notion that instrumental music needs to be melodramatic, bombastic and apocalyptic.” Wizards Are Real is an enormously rewarding record, listen after listen. In last year’s post I compared the end of the last track, “Good Goods,” to the end of a favorite novel – I just wished there was a little more.

Dreams come true – and sometimes they’re not made into movies – and the Wizards chanted a few more mysterious incantations with a follow-up EP (which you can hear here) that isn’t just a continuation but a sequel.

01 im your free lieutenant

“I’m Your Free Lieutenant”

1 – Places by Pennyroyal

It’s almost impossible to imagine Places as an album, simply because five or six more songs this good seems like an impossible dream. If this were an album it would be at the top of the top 10 list we started posting on Monday. This is our favorite local release of 2012.

According to the EP’s Bandcamp page (here) “co-singer/songwriters Angie Oase and Ethan Rutherford … coincidentally brought in five songs about the places/cities that impacted them,” and rather than can them for a second album they recorded them for this, a shorter release – The result makes Places a “concept EP” (if such a thing exists), driven by a healthy sense of urgency. The two strongest tracks – “Minot (Whynot Minot?)” and “NOLA (Monday/Tuesday)” made up the sides of a 7″ record released last year (frustratingly at 33rpm, making me look like a dumbass every time I play it in a DJ set) but any claims this EP shouldn’t count because it comprises some old material (ie pre-2012) are refuted by the three additional tracks, especially “Cleveland (Aeroplanes & Rockets)”.

You’re not looking at the ‘official’ cover of this EP, by the way. You’ll see it if you click on the link above, this was just what the discs looked like (Yep, anymore the digital release is the ‘official’ one). There is something else really awesome on their page for the EP, too – It implies there will be a second Pennyroyal album, which is sure to be worth the wait.

01 cleveland (aeroplanes & rockets)

“Cleveland (Aeroplanes & Rockets”)

One of the best perks of running a record store is that sometimes I come into the shop and find an awesome new album. Here’s one that greeted me a couple weeks after I read a great story in City Pages about the band (here it is) and had been meaning to find a copy.  Rob van Alstyne really captured Story of the Sea’s confident, easy-going attitude in his interview. “I’d rather work my day job and get to do what I love at night than be in a [commercially successful band] making something I felt no connection to,” says drummer Ian Prince, at the end. Fortunately, Prince, his brother Adam and John McEwan have kept at their labor of love, releasing for their third album an audacious double disc of instrumentals and outtakes, and fortunately for me there was a copy waiting on my desk.

Story of the Sea presents an the instrumental program on the first disc and a White Album-like series of varied but complimentary tracks on the second disc. Like yesterday’s pick, the awesome Magic Castles double LP, this self-titled semi-retrospective features tracks recorded years apart sequenced together to have a cohesive ‘album’ feel.

e major tom

“E Major Tom”

After a forty-second noisy introduction (recorded “on a boombox circa 2002”) the first disc really takes off with “E Major Tom,” a grungy rocker that moves forward like a perpetual motion machine driven by Dinosaur Jr. There’s still a lot of 90s rock in Story of the Sea’s sound – Pixies, Nirvana, even a little Fugazi a la Instrument (in “Argo Pelter”) – but they’ve picked up a capacity to create compelling vamps since 2008’s Lunar Co. LP. In spite of the variety of recording sources (ranging from the boombox for “Launching” to a spare bedroom and one actual recording studio) Ian Prince’s drums sound great throughout, just as they did on Lunar Co. The simpler, instrumental arrangements push him to the forefront.

One of Prince’s best contributions to the double disc is the hits-the-spot combination of live drums with a machine track on “It’s Real Science” – absolutely everything about this track comes together perfectly.

It’s Real Science

“It’s Real Science”

The instrumental disc also features a huge range of guitar and bass work, from the suspenseful “Coffin Dodger” and “El Nuevo” to the evocative and beautiful “Unicorn,” before closing with the experimental, Man or Astroman?-ish “Landing.” You can stream the entire album on Story of the Sea’s bandcamp page here.

The first disc of Story of the Sea calls to mind a claim made by one of the Twin Cities’ most impressive instrumental acts, Wizards Are Real, that instrumental music doesn’t need to be “melodramatic, bombastic or apocalyptic.” It should just be good.

West Bank

“West Bank”

The second disc is a career-spanning compilation of alternate recordings and unissued tracks, including rockin’ gems like “West Bank” and the anthematic “Better Off” as well as a couple of acoustic tracks recorded this year, notable a re-recording of “Future Subterfuge” from the band’s debut, Enjoying Fire. Where the band on that 2004 disc was all tenacity and drive, the remake sounds tenacious but no longer needing approval.

Future Subterfuge Alt

“Future Subterfuge Alt”

Story of the Sea had a sense of “next big thing” about them as the 00’s wound down, especially with the release of the radio-friendly Lunar Co. There’s a sense of resignation to the self-titled . Commercially doomed, maybe – Nobody expects a mostly-instrumental album to propel them to stardom. Story of the Sea is an artistic triumph. Few bands would find so many gems on the floor of their practice space.

Better Off

“Better Off”

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