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Manny Phesto

Manny Phesto

In the middle of the organized chaos that is the Soundset festival we had the opportunity to sit down with Twin Cities rapper Manny Phesto.  Born and raised in South Minneapolis, Manny made headlines last fall when “Manny Phesto for Minnesota” campaign signs started popping up in yards.  He wasn’t actually running for any office, but instead used a write-in campaign for all of them as a DIY get-out-the-vote push (according to his website he received votes for Sheriff, Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and several judge positions).  Manny brings the same combination of irreverence in support of serious issues to his music, especially on debut album Southside Looking In released in April of last year.  Our conversation touched on everything from political hip hop and soul samples to what South Minneapolis represents.

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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.

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Allan Kingdom - Soundset 2014

Allan Kingdom – Soundset 2014

Soundset 2014 brought an opportunity to speak with the Twin Cities own Allan Kingdom.  Allan’s been working on breaking into the local scene for a few years now and is starting to see snowballing success.  In addition to his first performance at Soundset (three years after he attended as a fan then swore he wouldn’t go back until he was a performer), the real life Allan Kyariga was named to First Avenue’s Best New Bands of 2013, got a cover story with local indie newspaper The City Pages, created an official remix of Poliça’s “Chain My Name”, and is in the process of readying two new releases.  Allan and I chatted about achieving childhood goals before even being old enough to drink legally, getting inspiration from the world around us, and what it means to be ‘The Northern Gentleman.’

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2013 was another banner year for the Twin Cities music scene.  Prince introduced his new band, 3rdeyegirl, and started making more appearances than he had in the last few years (including a pajama party at Paisley Park), The Replacements (well, half The Replacements) reunited to record some music to raise money for former guitarist Slim Dunlap and to play some out-of-town festivals (we’re still waiting Westerberg and Stinson…as if you didn’t know), local O.G.s The Suburbs and Run Westy Run also reunited, Low played a 30 minute festival set consisting of a single drone, and Rhymesayers snagged Snoop Dogg for Soundset.  Oh, and on top of all that a ton of great new music was released by artists both new and old, with a ridiculous amount of that music being released by one local label that is absolutely killing it right now.

For my “Top 20 of 2013” list I limited myself to a single word or phrase about each album.  I think the technique worked in that context because each of the albums on the list already had thousands of words written about them.  When it comes to the top releases by Twin Cities artists, however, that isn’t necessarily the case.  Accordingly, while I’ll still be limiting the amount I write about each album, there will be more information than in the Top 20.  Of note, four of the albums in the Top 10, and several more honorable mentions, are available for free download.  So, if you’re at all interested in exploring the Twin Cities music scene circa 2013, get downloading!

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Fury Things

In a music scene as crowded as the Twin Cities’, it can be difficult to stand out.  This can be particularly the case when you are a gimmick free, rock trio playing loud, fuzzed out rock that would have fit in perfectly in late ’80s to early ’90s Massachusetts.  Nonetheless, Fury Things is quickly finding their way to the top of the local heap and setting their sights beyond the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  I recently chatted with the band about honest music, the Twin Cities music scene, and the future for Fury Things.  After checking out the interview, make sure to head over to Bandcamp and pick up their 2 EPs for the price you want to pay.

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Prince Tickets

As Atmosphere noted in their song “Shhh”, there isn’t a lot to brag about in Minnesota.  It’s cold, there aren’t really any tourist destinations (sorry Mary Tyler Moore statue) and the popular sports teams are varying levels of terrible.  One thing we do have, though, is the Purple Yoda himself: Prince.  Prince Rogers Nelson was born in Minneapolis and while he has lived outside the state, Minnesota has always been his home.  That said, Prince hasn’t performed in Minnesota since a run of three shows at various venues in 2007.

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Like all music scenes, the Twin Cities have their own pantheon of local greats.  Prince, The Replacements, The Suicide Commandos, The Suburbs, Soul Asylum, The Jayhawks, and Atmosphere to name a few.  Then there is Hüsker Dü.  Active from 1979-1987, Hüsker Dü is a music typologist’s nightmare.  Initially the band’s work could be described as ‘hardcore’, but over the years both songwriters, Bob Mould and Grant Hart, drifted more and more into poppier college radio territory.  Taken as a whole the band’s catalog can claim, as with a number of other independent ’80s bands, inspiration for all the ‘alternative’ and ‘modern’ rock that was to follow (Kim Deal famously joined Pixies after answering an ad looking for a bass player who liked both Peter, Paul and Mary and Hüsker Dü).  Perhaps more importantly, though, Hüsker Dü was at the forefront of the ’80s DIY movement which helped create the independent music scene (regardless of genre) that we enjoy today.*

It has been 25 years since Hüsker Dü called it quits following its final performance in Columbia, Missouri.  During that time each of the band members has moved on with their lives.  Bob Mould has had a very successful career both as a solo artist and with the band Sugar, Grant Hart has been less commercially successful but has put out some no less excellent music with the band Nova Mob and under his own name, and Greg Norton took his handlebar mustache to chef school and now owns a restaurant in Red Wing, Minnesota.  I decided it would be interesting to explore how the places that were important to the band have changed in that same time period, so I did some research, grabbed my camera, and toured the Twin Cities.  This is the result:

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On January 24, 2005, Minnesota Public Radio launched 89.3 The Current with the playing of Atmosphere’s hidden track off the Seven’s Travels album, “Shhh”.  “Shhh” is an ode to Minnesota and being proud of where you’re from regardless of what others think of your hometown.  It was an incredibly appropriate first track to air on a station who’s mission is to bring its listeners the best new local and national music alongside the music that inspired it.

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Every so often an area sees its scene explode not just locally, but nationally and internationally.  This has happened before in the Twin Cities when the late ’70s funk scene exploded behind Prince and The Time, then in the early to mid ’80s the local rock scene had its turn led by Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, and the hip hop world of the early to mid 2000s was greatly influenced by Atmosphere and Brother Ali.  Following developments in 2011 it is quite possible we are standing on the verge of the Twin Cities pop scene taking its place at the top of the heap.

The Twin Cities pop movement is led by three bands who started to break through last year, and now find themselves at the edge of stardom.  All three are most certainly pop bands, but they come at the genre from very different perspectives.  One is garage influenced guitar pop, another uses electronics to create a smooth dream pop, and the last features dark, smoldering synth pop.  Each have an album due in 2012, though, and are set to make lots of noise locally and internationally.

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Used with permission.

For the seven nights from December 4 to December 10, First Avenue and the 7th Street Entry in downtown Minneapolis will be taken over by the top hip hop crew in Minnesota: The Doomtree collective.  Doomtree Blowout VII is larger and more daring than any of the first six and celebrates the release of the collective’s new album No Kings, which received excellent reviews over the last couple of weeks from Pitchfork, the Onion A/V Club, and countless others.

Doomtree is a crew of hip hop musicians that initially came together around 2001 at Hopkins High School in a first ring suburb of Minneapolis, but has since seen some shift in membership to its current, seemingly static, form.  The collective as a whole creates highly literate lyrics to go with music and beats that are strongly influenced by punk rock.  This combination has certainly aided the group’s crossover into the type of indie rap that gets the attention of blogs like Pitchfork, and seems to have Doomtree on the verge of breaking through into the indie mainstream (if such a thing actually exists and if they haven’t done so already).  Now they are undertaking a massive homestand before heading out on a long tour in the new year.

The first five nights of the Blowout will be held at the Entry with each night being curated by one of the collective’s M.C.s who will be joined on stage by special guests.  Then the whole crew will convene in the First Avenue Mainroom on Friday and Saturday night for what I’m sure will be killer shows.  Before they do, though, the collective needs to be introduced to the fine readers of Music is Good:

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