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Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just SitCourtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett is part singer/songwriter storytelling and part punk ethos, which combine to form a fascinating whole appealing to fans of both clever lyrics and visceral noise.  Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit is just her first full length (following her Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas), but following 8 shows last week at SXSW and features with seemingly every major music website in the last few weeks, it already has her poised on the verge of stardom.  Thankfully, Sometimes I Sit… stands up to the hype.  The guitars still cut, Barnett still sings like a slacker, and the lyrics remain charming, creating yet another entry on the already long list of great 2015 albums.

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Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a ButterflyKendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly

Much to the surprise of everyone (including his management at TDE), King Kendrick’s new album is out in the world a week early.  There is a lot that can, will, and should be said about To Pimp a Butterfly, but it all boils down to one thing: This album is an absolute monster.  To Pimp a Butterfly is essentially (and on “Mortal Man”, literally) a funked up conversation between Kendrick and his fore bearers.  It is also a simultaneous declaration of being a proud black man and a declaration of war against the socio-economic situation so many face in American society.  It’s the most daringly political album in some time, and it is jawdroppingly amazing.

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Purity Ring - another eternityPurity Ring – another eternity

When Purity Ring released their debut album Shrines in 2012 (my favorite album that year) it took a defibrillator to the pop system.  The duo’s use of synths, drum machine, and Megan James’ lyrics fell in the pop realm, but redirected the genre down a more experimental path.  Now that bands like CHVRCHES have followed that path, the question became whether Purity Ring would push further towards the experimental.  The answer, as demonstrated by another eternity, is that they will not.  Rather than a defibrillator, another eternity is more of a thermostat, maintaining the sound of Shrines within certain parameters, and providing a very enjoyable, if safe, listen.

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Father John Misty - I Love You, HoneybearFather John Misty – I Love You Honeybear

If you like the sound of soulful 70’s singer-songwriters, but think their lyrics weren’t nearly sarcastic, caustic, or angry enough, I’d like to introduce you to Father John Misty.  I Love You Honeybear is the real life Josh Tillman’s sophomore album as Father John Misty, and while it replaces a lot of the anger of its predecessor with sincere sentiments of love (he met his now wife after Fear Fun was written) he hasn’t lost all of it (the lines “Save me white Jesus” and “Save me President Jesus” from first single “Bored in the USA” are early contenders for my favorite line of the year).  More importantly, there’s a rare depth to this album that takes several listens to reach.  Once it has been reached, however, I Love You Honeybear opens up and shows it is well worth the time.

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Doomtree - All HandsDoomtree – All Hands

The latest from beloved Twin Cities hip hop crew Doomtree, All Hands doesn’t bang quite as hard as its predecessor No Kings, but it still hits pretty hard (especially lead singles “.38 Airweight”, “Gray Duck”, and “Final Boss”).  More importantly the group’s MCs really upped the ante both lyrically and with their flow this time around.  Sims in particular is at the top of his game, but everyone really pulls their weight, making All Hands an absolute must for fans of indie hip hop.  Now…who wants to play a rousing game of “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck.”

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Top 20 of 2014: Kezzie Baker

By Kezzie Baker. Posted in Bluegrass, Blues, Folk, Indie, Uncategorized | No Comments »

‘Best of’ year-end lists are very subjective, being subject to the individual musical tastes of the compiler and my list, of course, is no different.  Thus, the albums I have named (in no particular order) are simply the newly released ones that I enjoyed listening to the most during 2014.

Love and Gravity – Mary Fahl:  This newest album by Mary Fahl recalls the glory days of her now defunct group October Project and excels them.  Fahl’s rich contralto voice sounds as good as ever with no fillers here. Each track is a treasure, but a few standouts warrant special mention.  It is hard to imagine a siren more spellbinding than in the song, “Siren,” and Fahl’s cover of “Both Sides Now” sounds like the song was written especially for her, infusing it with a deep emotional introspection I never appreciated before (not to take away from Collins’ timeless original). Then there is the beautiful memorial, “The Dawning of the Day,” written for the fallen firefighter heroes of 9/11. This is a stunning album from start to finish.

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Sleater-Kinney - No Cities to LoveSleater-Kinney – No Cities to Love

There could be no other album to kick off NMT this week.  Sleater-Kinney is an all time rock band and even though the band members have had other great projects (The Corin Tucker Band and Wild Flag chief among them), there has been a hole in the music world since the band broke up in 2006.  Thankfully, they’re back together and No Cities to Love is right there with Dig Me Out and The Woods among their best.  The guitars are as precisely jagged as ever, Janet Weiss still doesn’t miss a beat on the drums, and the vocals (Corin Tucker handles most of the primary ones here) are on point for society in 2015.  No Cities to Love is punk rock at its absolute best.  Give it a listen and then get your popcorn, Sleater-Kinney is going to be omnipresent for the foreseeable future.

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Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets the Grim ReaperPanda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

Psychedelic? Freak folk?  Experimental pop?  I’ve never been totally sure how to classify Panda Bear (or Animal Collective, for that matter), but whatever the term for it Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper is a definitive example.  The album is all layered vocals, synth swirls and samples, and gittery percussion.  Lead single “Mr Noah” is definitely the standout track, but the album as a whole is stronger than its predecessor Tomboy and almost certainly the best work from an Animal Collective member since Merriweather Post Pavilion.

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I listened to a lot of music this year.  According to I’ve listened to around 30,000 tracks, or an average of about 84 a day, in 2014.  A whole lot of those listens weren’t close listens and a lot of them were songs released prior to 2014, but a good number of them were released in the past year.  So while I certainly haven’t heard everything released this year, I’ve heard quite a bit of it and the below list is what I believe is the best.  Unlike most of the writers here at MiG I don’t focus my listening on one or two genres (unless you want to define my listening habits as “blog pop,” which is kind of accurate), so there should be something for most people here.  The blurbs about each album only scratch the surface of them, but I’m hopeful they will lead the reader to explore a couple of them more fully and that you find something you enjoy.  Happy holidays, and here’s to an even better 2015 (Sleater-Kinney is back, so that’s a good start).

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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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