2013 Twin Ports Music Highlights

If you’re reading this, congratulations on making it through another year. 2013 had plenty of moments in music. Internationally, members of the Russian female punk group Pussy Riot were freed after nearly two years of confinement for a controversial performance where they criticized Russian President, Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church. In the United States, Miley Cyrus taught everyone who didn’t already know what twerking is on a televised performance and 19 year-old Justin Bieber is finally talking about retiring, it couldn’t have come soon enough.
The list of things that happened in music in 2013 is lengthy even if one focuses on just this region. The following is some of the highlights of music in the area and some honorable mentions to acts and bands that we feel made themselves known this year.

Twin Ports Hard Hitters

5. Strictly Hammers

The experimental/hip-hop group, Strictly Hammers, released two official albums in 2013 as well as a collaboration album with the pop-punk group, Mikey Talented, called “Strictly Talented.” Nick “MidiEvil” Pawlenty and Matt “Crimson Hammers” Ihle have been an influence in how Twin Ports hip-hop has progressed in recent years. Ten years ago there wasn’t much of a hip-hop scene in the area. Now there are shows in venues throughout the Twin Ports that feature hip-hop acts regularly. While Strictly Hammers can be considered a hip-hop group, their music goes far beyond that and is a great original addition to the area.

4. Marc Gartman’s Fever Dream

Many are aware of Marc Gartman’s work with Americana/country groups such as Two Many Banjos and Coyote. We first became aware of Gartman’s project, “Fever Dream,” when we saw Youtube videos being posted around on Facebook. What we saw blew us away. Not only were there no guitars or banjos in this new music, it was completely different than anything we have heard or seen from him. To see electronic/new wave with catchy melody lines and music videos that cross the 80s with Tim & Eric Awesome show was a pleasant surprise. Between the art of his album “’83” that was released in 2013, the terrific music videos and pulling the material off live on numerous occasions in the area, Fever Dream is worth mentioning.  

3. Ryan Van Slooten

Ryan Van Slooten has proven himself a mainstay of Twin Ports’ music. Having played with with area rock bands such as Bone Appetit, Rock Brigade and the SuperTacks, Van Slooten took a more deeper singer songwriter route with his ablum The Overhead Low released a couple of years ago. Van Slooten recently released his latest album, “Victory March,” a somewhat dark yet ultimately hopeful album that was recorded at Sacred Heart. Van Slooten plays regularly around the area.

2. Charlie Parr

Although Charlie Parr spends a good time of the year touring both in the States and overseas, he still makes it back to Duluth and will play a Wednesday night gig at Fitger’s Brewhouse. Parr released his latest album almost a year ago in February 2013, but has re-released a number of special edition albums with Chaperone Records and they are quite popular and collectible.  

1. Low

As far as the Twin Ports is concerned, Low really made the biggest splash in 2013. The indie-rock group consists of original members Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker with Steve Garrington on bass who joined on several years ago.
It’s no small thing that they were commemorated by a couple dozen local bands and musicians in the “Duluth does Low” performance at Sacred Heart. Other highlights of their year include their release of the album, “The Invisible Way;” their June performance where they played a nearly 30 minute version of their song “Do You Know How to Waltz;” they released the documentary “How to Quit Smoking” which details the history of their band and they finally ended off the year by being awarded the Key to the City of Duluth by Mayor Don Ness. It’s fair to say that after 20 years they really made an impression and continue to gain momentum.

Honorable Mentions

Social Disaster: We have heard nothing but good things about this band since their debut show at The Reef a few weeks ago. The group is made up of some pretty experienced local musicians, so if the first show was any indication of things to come, it’s fair to say it’s going to be pretty cool.

Breanne Marie: If anyone has worked at playing and promoting her music, it’s country musician Breanne Marie. Along with her fiance (now husband) Evan Tepler, she has made huge strides in the last year as a performer playing very regularly in the area after her January 2013 release, “Six Strings of Peace & Sanity.”

Wolf Blood: It’s hard to say if Wolf Blood will return since several of their members moved down to the Twin Cities, but the shows they did play were unbridled metal and rock that the Twin Ports has not seen the likes of.

Red Mountain: Anton Jimenez-Kloeckl has been working on experimental music in the Twin Ports for a number of years. In 2009 his projects started to gain focus which ultimately ended up with the group Red Mountain that will be celebrating the release of their first full length album, “Scowl Lightly.” The latest single, “Put Me Through,” which can be watched on youtube culminates the efforts of Jimenez and proves that this project is reaching into something truly great.

Jeffery James O’Loughlin: Not one for social media or over the top promotion, Jeffery James is considered by some in the area as a songwriter’s songwriter. He mixes a level of entertainment in with some times pretty deep material. His album “Going Off the Deep End” that he released in 2013 was among one of the most heartfelt albums we had a chance to listen to.

While we like to focus on the Twin Ports area, let’s not forget our friends to the south in the Twin Cities. The Cities are the next most accessible area for an abundance of music and where new bands playing up in this area are most likely to come from. The two music scenes go hand in hand as many musicians end up moving down there and the connections between the areas are undeniable.  

Twin Cities Honorable Mentions

BNLX: The alternative rock band BNLX has been steadily releasing EP albums over the last few years. The aptly named album “Produit Collecte’” is something we don’t see very often from area bands. It is more or less a “best of” album. We have a soft spot for 90s alternative music and BNLX seems to pull on this while staying awesome and original.

Fathom Lane: We sometimes receive albums for the Twin Cities and like any CD we receive, we at least listen to it. Most everything we get is pretty good, seldom is there something we really can’t stand. Fathom Lane’s self titled album is undeniably great. From excellent instrument arrangements and musicianship to the driving force of the vocals of Michael Ferrier and Ashleigh Still, the band pulled off a top notch album for any where and it’s nice to see something like this from an up and coming band. Keep an eye out for this group.

Kitten Forever: While many might accuse us of just liking this all female Minneapolis band just for the band name, they may be on to something, but the real reason we love this band is because they play a brand of punk rock we can totally get behind. Kitten Forever has an old school riot girl feel that is gritty and catchy all at the same time. Their July 2013 release titled, “Pressure,” is a must listen for anyone who likes Bikini Kill or L7.

Polica: Polica has found a good amount of success and with good reason. They are fantastic and their latest album, “Shulamith,” has them aimed to continue going upwards.

Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra Gets a New Conductor

The new 2013/2014 DSSO season started off with their new conductor, Dirk Meyer. He grew up in Germany and gained an interest in music as a teenager. He went on to get his undergrad at in Germany at Folkwang University of the Arts and went on to do his graduate studies at Michigan State. Meyer made his skills known with his work with orchestras all over the world, from the Orlando Philharmonic to conducting productions in the Czech Republic, it’s fair to say that he is ready to masterfully lead any orchestra that he works with. Meyer moved to Duluth in early April, but had worked for a few weeks with the DSSO in the fall of 2012. It is common for conductors to spend several seasons with an orchestra.

A Hat’s Off to Chaperone Records

Chaperone Records has been in operation for a little over a year now and 2013 was huge for them. They helped local artists release an album at a rate of around one a month. The albums include: February- Retribution Gospel Choir’s “3”; March- Southwire’s Self-Titled; April- Germaine Gemberling’s “Generator”; May- Fever Dream’s “’83”; June- Lion or Gazelle’s “There’s Blood in Fire”; July- Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank’s “Number One Contender” September- Charlie Parr’s “I Dreamed I Saw Paul Bunyan Last Night”; October- Little Black Books’ “Silendo Bravio”**; November - Actual Wolf’s Self-Titled December- Red Mountain’s “Scowl Lightly”**. **Unofficial (CD only) release, vinyls forthcoming.

Superior Stages

Superior has seen a lot of changes in the last year as far as it’s venues. Most notably is the announcement of Bev’s Jook Joint closing. Bev’s held a wide variety of musical acts and will have it’s last shows this coming weekend on February 3 & 4. Bev stated difficulties with Tower Avenue being closed and threats from ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), a performing rights organization as the final straws of her decision to close.
Norm’s removed the sound gear that they used for shows in 2013 and show no indication of continuing to have live music there anymore.
The Thirsty Pagan saw it’s third stage change after a major renovation of the bar area. The stage originally lied on the north wall and was back dropped by their unique Miller Girl mural. The stage was eventually moved to the south side of the room where it resided next to a cooler where the kegs were stored. Right before Homegrown the bar was turned around and the cooler was torn out and the Miller Girl was moved to the other wall and once again behind the stage.
There’s a new venue in Superior called Sin City. The new bar/venue is located where Frankie’s karaoke room once was at 1310 Tower Avenue. The bar is planning to have live music and DJs playing “80’s rock, country and current variety music.”

Duluth Stages

Duluth doesn’t have quite as many changes going on as Superior, but there are a couple worth noting that happened this year. One of the most notable changes was Red Star Lounge in the Fitger’s complex changing from a DJ/Dance club to a live music club with a stage. Ever since the change, the venue is often packed on the weekends with some really great shows.  
It is often said that Duluth needs more all-ages venues that actually play music the kids like. Legacy Glass works was indeed an all-ages venue, a very cramped all-ages venue, where it was uncertain how the old spot didn’t get overrun and destroyed. The new location of Legacy Glass on 32 W. First St. offers a much more spacious and fun environment for shows. At least the acts don’t have to perform behind a glass counter which is more fun for everyone.

We’d like to remind the reader that our “Best Of 2013” survey will be coming out in next week’s issue and will also be available online. Be sure to choose who your favorite band or performer is and what you love (or maybe hate) about the Northland.