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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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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 last.fm 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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D'Angelo - Black MessiahD’Angelo and the Vanguard – Black Messiah

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!  After 15 years and countless false alarms, D’Angelo’s follow up to Voodoo is finally here, and it’s exactly what I hoped it would be: Funky, smooth, sexy, hip hop infused, and glorious neo soul.  Lead single “Sugah Daddy” is particularly strong, but there isn’t a weak spot on the album.  Is it another Voodoo?  Probably not.  Unlike most long gestating albums from reclusive artists, however, it’s a worthy follow up and a fantastic addition to D’Angelo’s catalog.  It also has the benefit of making all previously published ‘best of 2014’ lists invalid.  Better get to revising NME, Paste, Stereogum, and Rolling Stone (well, you should have been revising already).

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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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The Smashing Pumpkins - Monuments to an ElegyThe Smashing Pumpkins – Monuments to an Elegy

A Smashing Pumpkins album with Tommy Lee on drums and a running time of a mere 32 minutes?  I’m intrigued.  Oddly, even with the incredibly short (for Billy Corgan) running time, this is one of the more varied Pumpkins albums in terms of sound.  It has the heavy rockers you expect (“One and All”), but also has quieter moments (“Being Beige”), electronic based dance tunes (“Run2me”), and is that a flute on “Drum + Fife”?  Based on the title I guess that makes sense.  Surprisingly, on first listen at least, the album holds together despite these variations, and provides a very enjoyable listen.  It is way too early to know if Monuments to an Elegy will have the stickiness of its excellent predecessor Oceania, but it has that potential.

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Big K.R.I.T. CadillacticaBig K.R.I.T. – Cadillactica

Based on the early singles, I’ve been anxiously awaiting Big K.R.I.T.’s latest, and with its soulful, spacey, laid-back southern hip hop, Cadillactica more than lives up to my hopes.  As usual, K.R.I.T. brings positive, hopeful lyrics and acts as his own producer, so the beats and rhymes are of a piece (that piece is reminiscent of early Outkast, although not on that level).  There’s been a string of excellent hip hop albums released in the last few weeks (after a pretty barren summer), and Cadillactica, while very different in style/sound from something like Run the Jewels 2 or Hell Can Wait, fits in well with that high quality.  This one is highly recommended.

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Jessie Ware - Tough Love

Jessie Ware – Tough Love

Jessie Ware’s sophomore album comes a mere year and a half after her fantastic debut Devotion finally hit the U.S, and continues her exploration of R&B and electronic based pop music.  Tough Love is a mellow album that should make the perfect accompaniment to a winter afternoon spent under a blanket with a good book and your significant other, at least until “Keep on Lying” and its vaguely calypso beat (which oddly works despite sounding like a programed beat on an early Casio) kicks in and you put the book aside. 

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Lucius in Minnesota Public Radio's UBS Forum

Lucius in Minnesota Public Radio’s UBS Forum

Indie pop band Lucius has been on a long tour in support of their debut album Wildewoman, which has brought them to the Twin Cities on a couple different occasions (if they perform near you…GO).  This trip through they are playing a sold out show at The Cedar this evening, but found time this afternoon to stop by The Current for an in studio performance in Minnesota Public Radio’s UBS Forum.  I was lucky enough to get to go and I brought my camera.  More photos are available on MiG’s Facebook page.

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MiG jumps into the year end ‘Best of’ lists, with Craig McManus leading off with his Top 20 albums of the year:

In the past, I’ve always written a blurb about each album explaining it’s inclusion on my list.  Over the years of checking other people’s lists, however, I’ve noticed that I rarely read similar blurbs.  Instead I scroll through to see what made it, what I agree with, what I disagree with, and with what I am unfamiliar.  Then I move on to the next list.  As I highly doubt I’m alone in this technique, I’m going to dispense with the paragraph of explanation and instead simply note the word or phrase by which it is best encapsulated.  Think of it as a ‘Best of’ word association.  It’ll save me time, and perhaps someone will actually read it rather than skimming to the next image.

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