In 2019 the question of whether or not the album format was dead permeated the landscape. In a world where streaming is king, where an album’s flip side no longer exists and where an algorithm may choose more music for you than you do, local artists showed up to prove the album is very much alive. Not only alive, but thriving, from a quality standpoint at least. It’s been said before, but bears repeating, there is a wealth of talent that exists in our small frozen tundra. The following albums are but a sample of the musical riches that are at play in our backyard. If you like country, Americana, Punk, Soul, Funk, Folk, R&B… etc I guarantee you, a local artist is smashing it right now. As you begin the journey to discover them, or continue it, these folks are a great place to start.
Lydia Liza – Of Unsound Mind
There are few voices in town, or out really, that can drop a pit in your stomach as fast and hard as Lydia’s can. For her first solo venture, this Twin Cities veteran holds nothing back. And we wouldn’t expect her to. She goes yard on tracks like “Crow on a Branch” where she’s joined by fellow Twin Citieszen, Justin Courtney Pierre (of Motion City Soundtrack). The two trade versus and we get to hear how they melt into each other’s signature singing style and on “I Demand It”, a slow burning stunner that admits one’s flaws but insists upon the subject’s attention. Lydia shows off her range vocally, stylistically and materially here, opening up her wounds for all to see. Her songs bring her story into our headphones, creating a closeness between the listener and her, like two old friends reuniting, Must listen track: I Demand It.
Kara Laudon – Old Lives
A relative newcomer, Kara has backed up the likes of John Mark Nelson and Dessa. Old Lives is her first solo album and what a way to make an entrance. Kara quietly devastates asking big questions on the album’s title opener, “How come we push away the ones we love the most? And how come I don’t think I can be loved? If I am trying but still come up short, then maybe it’s a hole that I have dug.” She tackles heavy feelings, under the premise of outlining her past lives. She sings primarily in a sweet high soprano and surprises in the cracks with a velvety alto. Old Lives is reminiscent of other great names in the indie folk/pop arena; namely Kathleen Edwards, Tori Amos and Sarah McLaughlin. Must listen track: This House.
Nur-D – Songs About Stuff
At first glance it’s easy to write off Nur-D as a Chance copycat. The staccato delivery of his rhymes and sporadic whats and heys speak to an obvious influence from other big hip hop and R&B players, Migos, Khalid etc. But once you dive in a bit further, you notice this Picked to Click winner’s unique chops. Effortlessly weaving in and out of rapping and singing, Nur-D paints a self portrait for the listener against a musical landscape chock with bangers. Sonically pleasing melodies carry his words on a carpet ride we’re all too happy to climb onto. The song “Sincerely Yours” which details his complicated relationship with his parents, should come with a mascara warning. Nur-D’s tunes are honest, bright and joyful. Like women who crave self love and body positivity have Lizzo, now men who dance on the fringes of masculinity, or exist in traditional geek culture, have Nur-D. Must listen track: Sincerely Yours
Dessa – Sound the Bells: Recorded Live at Orchestra Hall
Dessa joining forces with the Minnesota Orchestra is certainly not the first time a hip hop artist employed the use of classical instruments and I assume it will not be the last. However, it may be one of the best. To hear her tunes acquire new life, sounding full and lush with layers of strings and horns is really something to be witness to. The classical arrangements give Dessa’s intellect and complex ideas on life and love a safe place to land. They also lend them extra drama and the epic endings they so richly deserve. Must listen track: Good Grief
Charlie Parr – Charlie Parr
Confessionally Charlie’s album was added to this list before I even listened. It’s virtually impossible not to fall in love with everything Charlie does. His music has a way of forcing you to pause and really be mindful of what you’re hearing. Each pluck of his guitar, every scratch in his voice is something worth giving your full attention, this album is no exception. These songs are slower, more soulful, and sorrowful in a weary way with Charlie’s signature voice making even the most mundane observations become treasures. Must listen track: Love is an Unraveling Bird’s Nest
Savannah Smith – Leo
It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what is happening on Leo and it seems that’s not by accident. Savannah Smith’s brand of ethereal folk rock is misty fog covering a forgotten wetland. Her vocals have a folk sensibility but seem to float on air, her words coming up behind you, surrounding you at once somewhat unexpectedly. Certain words and phrases melt into the background and others smack you in the face. Her haunting melodies are transical beauties, lulling anyone nearby into submission. Must listen track: Atlas
Katy Vernon – Suit of Hearts
Suit of Hearts is Katy’s third album and her best one yet. Full of catchy upbeat tunes that wrap up life’s toughest moments in brightly colored packaging. It’s an album that finds a silver lining in self acceptance and kindness. It forgives oneself and others of our shortcomings and celebrates the togetherness of it all. Rejecting the idea of genre pigeonholing, Katy’s pop music blends pop, country, Americana and even disco all while strumming a ukulele. Katy’s irresistible UK charm and MN nice make her a friend you’d want in your corner, and this album will make you feel like she is one. Must listen track: In Your Shoes (For Daisy)
Static Panic – Glow
Glow, though only an EP brings the gusto and the energy of a full length album. End to end bangers, these folx are vibing 24/7. Taking cues from classic Prince to Chromeo, Glow is the most fun you’ll have all day. Must listen track: Glow
Humbird – Pharmakon
On Pharmakon, Siri Undlin’s melodies sound as though old weathered trees reached out to her to present their biography translated into song. The sound of sunlight peeking through branches, of water flowing through a stream, it’s all captured in the spirit of this album. Notes that bend, finding corners in minor keys, back Siri’s stunning vocals. Her voice, clear, serene and confident, serenades the listener with gorgeous lullabies. Must listen track: Pharmakon
Sam Cassidy – Running Blind
Sam’s music drives primarily in Tom Petty territory. It’s free easy rock, the kind that goes well with the wind blowing through your hair on the back of a motorcycle. He’d probably hate this comparison but Sam’s voice is eerily similar to that of Bradley Cooper’s character in A Star Is Born. It’s deep and soulful, a little rough on the edges, not quite a growl. It’s the type of voice that would sound great in a country band or a heavier rock outfit. Running is a theme that permeates throughout the album, whether, blind, away or into something good he covers all the bases.
Dan Israel – Social Media Anxiety Disorder
Erik Koskinen – Burning the Deal
Jillian Rae – I Can’t Be The One You Want Me to Be
All of these albums can be found on the streaming service of choice or your local music brick and mortar store.
By Sarah Osterbauer