Another year has come and gone. 2014 saw another new batch of bands arrive, some depart, and lot of great music get made. As far as I’m concerned, 2014 in the Twin Cities will be defined by the teenagers who burst onto the scene. Regardless of genre, it seems like a crazy amount of the best music was made by people who usually can’t get into the clubs they’re planning when they aren’t on stage. That said there is still room on this list for a man pushing 70 and room at the top for a guy who suddenly finds himself a part of the old guard despite only having been on the scene since about 2006.
As usual, these are just my personal top 15 of the year. I can guarantee I missed something despite my best efforts to avoid it. In fact, City Pages just published a list of the best local punk albums of the year and I don’t recognize a couple of them. So once I publish this list, I’ll be heading over there to explore. For now, though, here are my favorite Twin Cities albums for 2014.
15. TYTE JEFF – TYTE JEFF EP
TYTE JEFF is the new project from Jeff Allen, formerly of The Plastic Constellations. The EP is full of noisey, slightly off kilter indie pop with eloquent lyrics (as demonstrated by the titles to “Exurb Kids Don’t Know What They Don’t Know” and “Imagine This Before Irony”). It’s a really fun listen, unless your from Cincinnati and own(ed) a Zune in which case you may not appreciate some of the sarcasm.
14. Fort Wilson Riot – TrIllIun
Fort Wilson Riot is an electro pop duo that verges on twee, but doesn’t cross over too far to be enjoyable. TrIllIun is their third LP and is highlighted by the absolutely lovely side 1, track 1 “Something Left Alive”, but as a whole its sound is quite similar to CHVRCHES, Purity Ring, and the like.
13. BNLX – Flextime (BNLX EP 9)
Post punk trio led by scene mainstay Ed Ackerson (Polara and producer for The Jayhawks, Joseph Arthur, The Replacements, among many others), BNLX has now put out 9 EPs and 2 LP over the last 4 years. This time around the EP is highlighted by a 20 minute drone piece which was edited down from a 70 minute live recording inspired by the “Drone Not Drones” movement. Additionally there is a PJ Harvey cover (“This is Love”) and a couple originals. The EP is Free/NYOP on Bandcamp.
12. Sonny Knight & The Lakers – I’m Still Here
Sonny Knight has been around seemingly forever. He recorded his debut 45 with Sonny Knight & The Cymbols in 1965 and has been involved in the soul scene off-and-on ever since. After the label Secret Stash released Twin Cities Funk & Soul: Lost R&B Grooves From Minneapolis/St. Paul 1964-1979 in 2012, Sonny and Secret Stash’s Eric Foss formed Sonny Knight & The Lakers. The album is true throw back funk and soul
11. Frankie Teardrop – Raiders EP
Named for a song by Suicide (about a man who murders his family), Frankie Teardrop is a garage rock trio who affect an existential punk persona. Despite the persona, the band’s music is about dealing with “loneliness and internal struggle with all sorts of bullshit,” and is great punk rock. Frankie’s Tough Guy EP was honorable mention on my list last year, and both are available Free/NYOP on Bandcamp.
10. Spooky Black – Black Silk
The 16 year old R&B crooner Spooky Black, a/k/a Lil Spook, stormed onto the local scene in the winter and spring when his video for “Without You” went viral. The video went viral because it’s utterly ridiculous and I’ll be honest, the music on Black Silk isn’t quite there yet. Spooky Black is on this list because his talent as a singer is undeniable and once he gets better production (as we will see in a bit, he’s working on that) and he grows as a lyric writer, he’s going to be big time.
9. Votel – Votel
Votel is a local supergroup of sorts. Made up of Maggie Morrison (Lookbook), Mark McGee (Marijuana Deathsquads), Drew Christopherson (Marijuana Deathsquads and Poliҫa), Ben Clark (LaLiberte), and Adam Marx (Seawhores), the band started as a live improvisation project and then recorded an album. Votel can be loosely described as pop, but with its use of electronics and occasionally ethereal vocals it’s definitely on the experimental side of the pop spectrum.
8. Some Pulp – Some Pulp
A scuzzy, garage rock trio (formerly a duo), Some Pulp’s debut LP is exactly what you’d expect from a band who only releases their music in physical format on cassette (it’s digital as well as Free/NYOP at Bandcamp). Some Pulp is loud, dirty, punky, and great. An absolute must for any rock fan.
7. Haley Bonar – Last War
The drums. The heavy drums on Last War, especially on the title track, make this easily my favorite album from singer/songwriter Haley Bonar. I’ve always enjoyed her stuff, but each album prior to this one has felt a little light and just hasn’t gotten under my skin. Last War changed that and it’s because of the drums.
6. thestand4rd – thestand4rd
St. Paul is in the house. thestand4rd are Allan Kingdom, Spooky Black, Psymun, and Bobby Raps with thestand4rd being a fusion of each of their individual hip hop and r&b styles. It’s really remarkable that 4 artists this young could come together and produce a complete album, but they pulled it off with flying colors. Each artist does a great job of featuring what they do best while blending into the whole (and as noted above, Psymun and Bobby Raps production really help Spooky Black show his stuff in particular). The album is free at Soundcloud.
5. Stereo Confession – No Coast
A punk 5-piece (and yet another group of high schoolers), Stereo Confession released their debut album (produced by Ed Ackerson) in October. It has a very fuzzy, garage sound and is highlighted by lead single “Video Games”, a hooky beach rock song that wouldn’t be out of place in a Weezer set (a good Weezer set).
4. Hippo Campus – Bashful Creatures EP
Hippo Campus are 4 guys who all graduated from high school last year (St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts). Nonetheless, they’ve already developed quite the local following for their beachy indie pop. Produced by Low’s Alan Sparhawk, Bashful Creatures (available Free/NYOP at Bandcamp) is a sunny, peppy collection of tunes that are helping me fend off the winter blahs.
3. Tickle Torture – Spectrophilia
As I stated last week in my Top 15 Live Shows article, Tickle Torture’s music is “sex drenched, throbbing R&B that would have had Prince nodding along in the ’80s and would make him blush these days.” The first two tracks on Spectrophilia, “She’s in My Blood” and “Fuck Me With the Lights On” are truly excellent examples of the band’s sound and set the tone for a great EP. Just don’t listen to them (or any of the album) with your mom.
2. Allan Kingdom – Future Memoirs
As he discussed in our interview, Allan Kingdom makes hip hop his way and for himself. With Future Memoirs, however, he has taken the first step towards bending hip hop (at least locally) towards his brand rather than the other way around. The album is everything his earlier work was, herky-jerky flow and spare beats, but more refined in both production and lyrics. These refinements make for an irresistible combination. “Evergreens” in particular is a sign post of where Twin Cities hip hop is headed.
1. Jeremy Messersmith – Heart Murmurs
I have a tendency to overrate debuts or albums that take a new direction and underrate an artist simply putting out a great album. Heart Murmurs is so good these tendencies had no chance to move it off the top spot. Seriously, every song on this album is perfect 60s British inspired pop, with “Tourniquet” being one of the best songs released by anyone in 2014.
An author and editor at MiG, Craig lives in Minnesota with his wife and son and is an attorney in his real life. Once upon a time Craig played the trumpet and spent four years in the Hawkeye Marching Band and pep band. These days Craig finds himself most often listening to experimental rock, hip hop, and post punk, but you can see everything he's listening to at: www.last.fm/user/cafreema Craig is not ashamed to admit the first concert he ever attended was New Kids on the Block.
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