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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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BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah - Sour SoulBADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

Combining an avant-garde, instrumental jazz and hip hop trio and a brilliant MC with a love for soul/jazz samples is a no brainer.  So, it should come as no surprise the combination of BADBADNOTGOOD and Ghostface Killah works so well.  Throw in guest verses from guys like Doom and Danny Brown, and Sour Soul is an embarrassment of riches.  The album sounds exactly as you would hope, with unmistakable Ghostface rhymes (in both topic and flow) sitting on top of a bed of soulful piano/synths, live bass, and drums.  The artists all have such a wonderful feel for each other it seems they’ve been working together for years.  Sour Soul is a great album.

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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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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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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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