We’re posting our favorite local albums of 2012, adding a new one to the blog each day until we reach #1 next Friday. 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 “You can’t make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire, all you’re doing is recording it.”
When I first heard about this project from a mutual friend I didn’t expect we’d ever see the actual record – after all people come into the shop with all kinds of wild-eyed schemes and dreams, and this one sounded entirely too complicated to reach any kind of completion. A soundtrack? Is there a movie? No, just a trailer, but the soundtrack is real. And there’s fifteen or twenty people playing on it, and it’s going to sound like a 70s blaxploitation score. Impossible.
“Dr. Afwho’s Strange Adventure”*
But producer and arranger Jonathan Kramer finished the project and the album he made is really fun for a lot of reasons. It’s recorded in an unusual way, it’s an instrumental album with great performances, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Using a portable recording studio he called “the suitcase” Kramer captured the talents of a total of nineteen young local musicians, recording in practice spaces, auditoriums and churches. Kramer and keyboardist David Afdahl wrote choral and string arrangements and several artists turned in remarkable performances – notably Owen Tucker, saxophone and Andrew Myers, percussion.
Cos claims itself “pay[ing] tribute to the scores of early 70s Blaxploitation movies,” but often crosses from tribute into satire. Bernard Rogers’ melodramatic spoken role and the sometimes bombastic arrangements feel very much like a lampooning of the genre, while at other times Cos sounds like an awesome, unheard sequel (Son of Son of Shaft, perhaps? Cos and the Casino of Gold?). Not as good as the original, but at least it’s something. It’s hard enough to love movie soundtracks (there are woefully fewer awesome records in the soundtrack section than any other), it’s harder to find fun ones anymore. Here’s a fun one that’s as much Quincy Jones as you’re going to find in a movie score anymore.
The mostly-instrumental album sounds very much like Shaft or Cotton Comes to Harlem, but doesn’t seem entirely grounded in the short-lived genre (Incidentally, we all learned how Shaft composer Isaac Hayes felt about satire a few years ago when he left South Park over concerns with the cartoon’s lampooning of scientology, even as previous religious satires didn’t offend him – here‘s a story from before Hayes’ passing in 2008). Myers’ creative percussive contributions suggest a wider range of 70s soul and funk influences in bands like Osibisa and Mandrill. Kramer’s production which uses various recording sources without stumbling, calls to mind the 60s albums and soundtracks produced by David Axelrod and Quincy Jones.
What distinguishes Cos where a similar project might fail is the enthusiasm behind it. Kramer offered a brief description of the recording process in his an interview (here) and reading it give the impression of a labor of love more than anything else.
Cos brings elements of pop, classical, funk and jazz to the table without really putting one to the fore above the others. As a result each performer is captured doing what they do best. Kramer tells us Grolar Bears have started recording their next project – a series of 7″ singles – and that he’d like to continue to play the same kind of music (they are sure to appear here on their Bandcamp page). We hope the new records will be as much fun as this.
“Funk Brothers and Sisters”