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Speedy Ortiz - Foil DeerSpeedy Ortiz – Foil Deer

Coming out of Massachusetts’ prolific fuzzy, noise pop scene, Speedy Ortiz’s previous releases were enjoyable, especially the cryptic lyrics of frontwoman Sadie Dupuis, but lacked the hooks to take the band to the next level.  Foil Deer does not have that deficiency.  Instead, there are hooks as far as the eye can see in addition to the great lyrics (“I was the best at being second place/But now I’m just the runner up” is a contender for best line of the year).  Dupuis’ voice and the album’s guitar tones bring to mind 90s artists like Liz Phair and Veruca Salt, so the album is particularly recommended for fans of those artists, but really if you like guitar pop at all, Foil Deer (especially “Puffer” and lead single “Raising the Skate”) is for you.

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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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Drake - If You're Reading This It's Too LateDrake – If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

Drake has jumped on the release an album by surprise bandwagon with If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late.  Unlike Beyoncé’s and D’Angelo’s big, blown out surprise albums, however, IYRTITL is really more of a mixtape than a studio album and finds Drake at his most stripped down and emo.  Most of the album is just Drake rapping over spare beats (primarily from Boi-1da, but Noah “40” Shebib is obviously here, too), with only the occasional feature from the likes of Lil Wayne, Travi$ Scott, and PARTYNEXTDOOR.  Essentially, IYRTITL is an album chock full of the most divisive aspects of Drake’s music, so if you’re already a fan you’ll love it, but if you aren’t it’s best to skip this one.

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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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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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Rae Sremmurd - SremmLifeRae Sremmurd – SremmLife

SremmLife is the debut album from Rae Sremmurd (‘drummers ear’ spelled backwards for…reasons?) a Mississippi rap duo currently based in Atlanta.  Comprised of brothers Slim Jimmy and Swae Lee, Rae Sremmurd made waves in 2014 with hit singles “No Flex Zone” and “No Type” and a sound bridging the gap between chart rap and the ‘weird’ rap currently coming out of Atlanta.  Produced by Mike WiLL Made It (and the first release on his Eardruma label), SremmLife is bouncy southern trap highlighted by those previous singles and the Nicki Minaj/Young Thug collaboration “Throw Sum Mo”.  The rest of the album doesn’t quite rise to those heights, but remains an enjoyable listen and makes for a very promising debut.

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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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