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Over the years of listening to pretty much every CD and download that has come my way, 2014 really stood out. I think musicians should create music the way that expresses what they’re trying to get out anyway they want but perhaps sometimes neglect to look at the bigger picture of what they’re bringing to the table. It’s an odd balance of creating something both accessible and familiar but also forging something that seems new and captivating. To me, an album should be an experience and a journey. I want to feel like I’m in that artist’s world for that thirty minutes to an hour.
The amount of talent, originality and production put into a lot of the music that I had a chance to listen to this year is astounding. Making a “top picks” list is a little bit of a daunting task because there was just a lot of great music that came out this year and those not included shouldn’t feel bad but should just keep working at it and questioning what it is to impact listeners with what they’re doing. A musician should keep in mind that what they’re doing isn’t going to please everyone, especially music critics. Making something that everyone loves hasn’t been achieved since The Beatles. That last sentence was to make a point.
Top Local Music Picks
Toby Thomas Churchill
“Where’s My Rumspringa Darling?
Toby Thomas Churchill has made my top album list before with his 2011 album, “Death.” If I were to describe Churchill’s approach, he’s a serious musician who doesn’t take anything too seriously. “Where’s My Rumspringa Darling” captures a vibe that could have come from the 70s, but it dares the audience with subtly bizarre and thought provoking lyrics that jam right along to music that most people can easily get into. It sets itself apart from really anything else I’m going to discuss for these top picks.
The Electric Witch “We See Shapes”
Yes, Electric Witch has a certain dark, electronic, disconnected robot thing going on. Some might say this is group is kind of one trick pony on this album, if that’s the case, the pony’s trick is awesome and it nails it with each track. The combination of Zac Bentz and Marcus Matthews on vocoder vocals creates a sort of other world electronic opera that is dramatic, beautiful, and results in plain head bobbing awesomeness.
Ire Wolves “The Ascetic”
Good Lord is this album just badass. Metal in the Twin Ports has always had kind of a niche audience which is often tucked away in Wisconsin or the Carlton/Cloquet for some reason, but this album is beautiful as it is unrestrained and powerful. It is a must listen to any one who has a liking for metal music or really the mix of melodic sequences and full on energy.
The Formal Age “1923-2319”
Alright, what if there was a concept album that takes things from the industrial age to the space age? Well, The Formal Age did that with their album, “1923-2319.” The album is just a fun listen with approachable synth rock with often smart and interesting lyrics. The range of the album really stands out and there’s really never a dull moment, so it gets a top pick for the effort this band put forth.
Danecdote “Koda Bae”
Danecdote might be the most unappreciated musical artist in the area. Yeah, he makes a lot of his music on a computer, but if you’re looking for something that is brilliant, yet chill, Danecdote creates electronic soundscapes that will activate the mind for many occasions. It just draws on everything that is right for what he’s doing and with his December release, “Koda Rae,” I’m going to put this on one of the top albums of the year.
Top Regional Picks: aka Twin Cities
Usually my pulse on Twin Cities depends on how proactive bands are or if they are somehow tied to this area or manage to play shows up here. Here’s a few of my top suggestions from what I’ve been sent and am given a head’s up on.
Bae Tigre “Memoir of a Happy Drifting Chemical”
This album is a trip, and it’s kind of about tripping. It’s also one of the most beautiful albums that just flows perfectly from track to track. This endeavor from Ranelle Bene Gesserit-Johnson is absolutely amazing and it ranges from electronic to classical influences. Ranelle also produced the album, which is just even more impressive because there’s a lot going on this album and she achieved exactly what she was going for and this project should be known for sure.
Fathom Lane “Fathom Lane”
This album is kind of strange because it goes from a feel of moderate alternative songs that are alright and then totally switches gears with the experimental aspects that it has and the results are often mesmorizing. The flow of this album and the twists and turns from beginning to end make it worth mentioning.
Phantom Tails “Rides Battalion”
Phantom Tail found a groove with this album and just let it go into a weird rock/electronic free-for-all and it really worked out. There is a definite feel to this album but if you like an uppity rock journey, this is the album. A really good start the day album.
Jillian Rae “Heartbeat”
Jillian Rae has ties to this area from playing with acts such as Two Many Banjos. This album is a little light, but does everything need to be deep or heavy? There is plenty of personal songwriting going on, but what brings it all together is the overall delivery. Rae’s fiddle sings as hard as she does. As far as a solid pop-country album goes, I’ll give the hats off to Rae and this album.
The Great Depression “In a Starry State”
The story goes, Pachyderm Studios engineer, Brent Sigmeth, met an “art punk trio” back in 1995. They decided to start a band and eventually parted ways. A couple of decades later, band founder Todd Casper, and Sigmeth were working in Hollywood together, scoring music for the Amazon comedy series, Betas, and around this time period they worked on this new album. Overall, the album is production genius. There are many elements from pop-rock to completely experimental soundscapes.
A Look at The Electric Fetus Top Sellers
Not many are getting rich off of album sales in this area, but those who don’t know or see an artist playing live can go to The Electric Fetus and find the local/regional album they’re looking for. If the album isn’t there, tell the staff and they will find it if it is at all humanly possible. Here’s some of the top selling local albums from The Electric Fetus and some commentary.
Trampled by Turtles “Wild Animals”
Whoa, Trampled by Turtles leads this list by a huge margin? Who would have known that some dudes from Duluth who have toured all over, played late night talk shows, and have gained national recognition could have topped this list? Trampled by Turtles is awesome and they deserve to be known, I just won’t watch them unless it’s an outdoor venue these days. We’re going to give this one a “given” and highlight the next top five selling albums.
Wolf Blood “Wold Blood”
Long after we’re all in nursing homes and dead, someone will pick up this album at a garage sale and bring it home and say, “this is the most awesome album ever!” It’ll be too bad that they never got to see Wolf Blood play live. It’s hard to deny that this album personifies stoner metal. It makes hippies try to dance and the metal heads sometimes succeed at pulling off a full out mosh pit. It doesn’t get much better. Yes, they are the second in sales at Electric Fetus. The vinyl should be considered as highly collectible.
Charlie Parr “Hollandale”
While the area is soaked with Americana and folk, Charlie Parr is a mainstay for this area and he ain’t moving. He’s a master at what he does and “Hollandale” expresses that fully. Yes, it’s an instrumental album, but it hits heavy and there’s a reason it’s on this list.
Dedric Clark and the Social
Alright, we didn’t see this one coming. Admittedly, we neither received or listened to this album. Someone thought it was worth picking up, maybe you’ll like it?
Fever Dream “Hey, What’s Up?”
This album is just fun and cool in the way old time MTV was fun and cool. Over the years Fever Dream founder, Marc Gartman, had done a lot of great work with folk and bluegrass material and it started to kind of feel like “too many folk albums.” He turned things completely around with the funky and fresh synth driven, Fever Dream, and I think the latest album has a little more going on than the last.
Sarah Krueger “Lustrous”
“Hey, wasn’t this album just released?” some might say. Well, yeah, it was and in that short time she has made this list. I haven’t listened to it, but apparently Krueger doesn’t need my input to get CDs flying off the racks. I might just have to actually buy this album or something.
What Do Other Sources Say?
A couple of people who I’d consider pretty with it as far as local and regional music weighed in on their top choices.
Walt Dizzo (KUWS)
Walt Dizzo has hosted a Thursday night radio show for KUWS for around a decade and as far as seniority goes, is one of the longest lasting people still doing weekly duties for the college station. He gets to enjoy an endless stream of albums and is a general music enthusiast of all genres. Dizzo also works with The Current. He will be doing his own review of the year’s music on January 8, with guest, Tony Bennett, who also knows his music pretty well. Dizzo sent us this list of top local albums.
1. Toby Thomas Churchill – Where Is My
2. Danecdote – Koda Bae
3. The Little Black Books – Silendo Bravio
4. Wolf Blood – Wolf Blood
5. Strictly Hammers – The Weak
Album/The People Say Hammers (tie)
6. Wino, WI – Wino, WI
7. Trampled By Turtles – Wild Animals
8. Low Forms – EP
9. Ire Wolves – Ascetic
10. Tin Can Gin – Tin Can Gin
11. The Formal Age – The Formal Age
12. Sarah Krueger – Lustrous
13. Tim Kaiser –Holy Water – Myths For Man
14. Dad’s Acid – First Trip
15. Jack Campbell – Jack Campbell
Andrea Swensson (The Current)
Andrea Swensson is a journalist with The Current radio station out of Minneapolis with a past of working with the City Pages. She has seen her fair share of bands while working and for fun. This is the local/regional list she passed on to us.
1. FKA Twigs - LP1
2. Jeremy Messersmith - Heart Murmurs
3. St. Vincent - St. Vincent
4. Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams
5. Toki Wright and Big Cats - Pangaea
6. Tickle Torture - Spectrophilia
7. Courtney Barnett - The Double EP:
A Sea of Split Peas
8. Haley Bonar - Last War
9. PaviElle - Fear Not
10. Toby Thomas Churchill - Where is My
Wait, it’s not over. Honorable Mentions
I’ll just give a shout out to a few more who weren’t listed by myself or others.
Bliss “The Most Important Things in Life Are Invisible”
Average Mammals “Life Under The Influence”
The Brothers Burn Mountain “A Thread Through the Night”
The Slamming Doors “Road Beneath the Wheels”
Dead Skull “Blam!”