2018 produced a slew of new music from local artists. The birthplace of one Prince Rogers Nelson is fortunate not only to have hoards of talent running through it, but talent across many genres. From rap and hip hop to country to folk, bluegrass and everything in between, Minnesota has something for everyone.
In no particular order, here are the best of the best from the last year.
Atmosphere – Mi Vida Local
Local hip hop veterans came out with their 12th studio release after 20+ years in the game, still going strong. Slug, now a husband and father, has grown into what many like to call “grown ass man rap” or “dad rap”. Bluntly articulating the ups and downs of navigating a husband and wife relationship with two young kids and touring schedule, Slug does not sugarcoat it. Vocally political via social media platforms, even pre-Trump era, Atmosphere doesn’t shy away from expanding on their worldview the best way they know how, through music. Mi Vida Local is the Atmosphere you know and love, yet older, wiser, grumpier and more world weary. They still use basement beats with the signature Minneapolis DIY sound. This album feels like a harsh hug you weren’t quite ready for but desperately needed from a relative you love but don’t see often.
Now, Now – Saved
After undergoing some label and bandmate changes, Now, Now made a reappearance onto the scene as a duo. Their earworm, 2017’s “SGL” was an instant hit, gaining national attention in Fader. Saved is very much a collection of tunes in the same wheelhouse of SGL, moody casual emo that’s sometimes ambient ethereal, sometimes dusty grunge. Lead singer Cacie Dalager’s vocals recall the breathy feigning of indifference ala Mazzy Star. Saved is the album you want on low key moody days, when making a decision feels like too great a task to bear.
Bad Bad Hats – Lightning Round
Only their second full length release, Lightning Round continues to showcase Kerry Alexander’s stellar songwriting, illustrating the complexities of the human heart and the battles waged within and against it. Lead by the irresistibly catchy “Write It On Your Heart” many of Alexander’s tunes harken back to 90’s pop sensibility. Recorded live, the songs could easily come from a crowded basement college party or equally so, the soundtrack to Clueless. If I had decided to put the albums in order – this one might have been #1.
Your Smith – Bad Habit (4 song EP)
Sparse airy tunes that leave room to breath between the spaces or her expertly crafted love lorn lyrics. Formally known as Caroline Smith, Your Smith relocated from Minnesota to LA and her sound seems to have done the same. There’s a scent of sea spray in her songs where the time feels slower, easier and carefree. Her single “The Spot” reminiscent of Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” exudes the lifestyle of a woman free from the constraints of a 9-5 job, living on a dream near the ocean.
Jeremy Messersmith – Late Stage Capitalism
On his fifth studio album, Jeremy Messersmith crafts orchestral pop tunes with a distinctively throwback mod vibe. His songwriting has a way of shining a light on everyday mundane observations and turning them into well thought prose and philosophies. In tried and true form Messersmith delivers songs that pack punches in unsuspecting corners, like small slaps in the face to take you out of the trance his soothing voice often leads one into. Late Stage Capitalism blends modern observational commentary, throwback instrumentation and shear wit for a result that is the best kind of ear candy.
Trampled By Turtles – Life Is Good On The Open Road
Homegrown bluegrass kings Trampled By Turtles took a bit of break while lead singer and frontman of the band, Dave Simonett promoted and toured behind his other outfit, Dead Man Winter. With Life Is Good On The Open Road, they return to their musical roots of Duluth and Palomino styling. On Stars and Satellites and Wild Animals they created lush cinematic sounds. Life brings us back to their signature lightning fast banjo, fiddle and mandolin playing. The strings are raw and rustic, as if recorded inside a cozy north shore lodge or alongside a blazing campfire. Simonett’s songwriting captures depth of feeling without being overly wordy or showy. This album is the musical equivalent of a warm hot chocolate, spiked if that’s your fancy.
Dessa – Chime
On her fourth album, released in the same year that she would become an accomplished author, Dessa expands to create her most pop sounding album yet. A philosophy major who traditionally weaves the stories of ancient literature into analogies for her own modern struggles, this time around she sheds much of that armor in favor of more naked truth telling. On the first half of the album she harshly defends the female right to wander the world as she pleases without fear and stands up to archaic ideology of how women should see their worth. On the second half she returns to her constant source of strength, writing relatable, devastating songs about failed attempts at love. Chime is bold and fearless in the face of her revealing memoir that puts places and faces to Dessa’s musical narratives. It’s a solid endeavor from front to back, absent of filler.
Hippo Campus – Bambi
Breakout stars in 2015, Hippo Campus has put out an album each year since. On Bambi they moved away from their sunny West Coast tiki vibe, to a more serious emo punk feel. They are not shy about taking sonic liberties with an all instrumental first track, getting anthemic on “Anxious” and injecting an almost random outburst in “Bubbles.” Bambi shows Hippo Campus is definitely not a one trick pony. They will continue to evolve and re-work their sound as they see fit, devoid of any musical rule following.
Prof – Pookie Baby
Prof has been the Twin Cities local party boi for some time now. Always entertaining, rarely going any speed other than full throttle, this guy injects energy and debauchery into any scenario. Pookie Baby is dripping in bangers, head bob-worthy jams begging to blast through any and all speakers. Never taking himself too seriously, Prof does not depart from his usual antics. His rhymes cover all manner of things, often silly, very often vulgar, more often comical. If you only examined the subject matter of Prof’s songs, you would perhaps assume him a lesser rapper but he is quite the contrary. Similar to Nicki Minaj, Prof can spit at warp speed with needlepoint accuracy and morph from his regular voice to any number of exaggerated character voices without pause. Pookie Baby isn’t your grandma’s rap album. It’s not mature or daring. But it is a raucous good time which is what we all need sometimes in 2018.
Kari Arnett – When The Dust Settles
Kari Arnett, a WI native who now splits her time between Madison and Nashville, has been a staple on the Minneapolis Americana scene in recent years. Her rich velvety vocals and classic Americana sound make her a local gem. When The Dust Settles is her first full length studio release. It’s full of warm classic country lullabies dripping in dirt road charm and backwoods grit. Arnett’s songwriting is heartfelt, sincere and confessional in a straightforward way. Glistening pedal steel decorates these tunes that have a distinctive old timey flavor without being a copy of something we’ve heard before. Every track from When The Dust Settles would be at home on any country radio station worth its salt. They combine traditional country elements with Kari’s stellar storytelling ability. This album is a must have for anyone who goes around boasting that they’re a “real country fan.”
Static Panic – Chrome
By all accounts Static Panic is a relatively new band, only playing together for the last three years or so. But they managed to make a big splash on the local scene by creating music that fuses together funk, shiny 80’s synth pop and EDM for unique sound not to be found on any corner of the warehouse district. Their debut EP Chrome pops with brassy guitar and bright vocals. Lead vocalist and producer Ro Lorenzen identifies as gender fluid and writes tunes through that voice. By keeping options open for themself, it also opens them for the listener as well. They fearlessly engage in addressing sexuality and desire inclusive of all parties. In an interview with The Current they admitted they wanted this first album to be loud and dancey, something that would get people’s attention and it worked. They will play First Avenue’s Best New Bands show on Jan 4.
These albums are available wherever you purchase/stream/consume music.
By Sarah Osterbauer