Often coming from hardworking Midwestern stock, Minnesota musicians tend to make records quickly and confidently. It’s OK when they don’t, though — as proved by this annual roundup of the best local albums at the midyear mark.
From Brother Ali’s religious but not righteous, mantra-like hip-hop collection “All the Beauty in This Whole Life” to Romantica’s spirited but also semi-spiritual folk-rock set “Shadowlands,” several albums on this year’s list were years in the making.
Ali said the five years it took for him to make another record involved as much personal growth as musical exploration.
“I have to become the person that’s going to make the next album,” he told us back in April.
Romantica’s latest release is one of three collections on our alphabetical list that were essentially do-overs, with musicians opting to ditch their initial recording sessions and start anew. Chastity Brown and Dead Man Winter each did the same thing with their 2017 releases, in both cases seemingly finding a deeper well of emotions.
Of course, none of these postponements compares to the 33 years that another set of recordings sat on the shelf — or wherever they were hiding in the overstuffed vault at Paisley Park. In that case, we definitely know the delay wasn’t for lack of effort or confidence on the artist’s part.
Brother Ali, “All the Beauty in This Whole Life”
While the seething political diatribes and America-shaming commentary on his 2013 record might now seem mistimed, the Minneapolis rap vet’s more calm and collected songs this year feel perfectly timed. Ali calls for healed relationships in songs like “We Got This,” a groovy lyrical jam with Rhymesayers labelmate Sa-Roc. In “Own Light (What Hearts Are For)” and several other tunes, he funnels his extended forays studying Islam into songs that point inward lovingly rather than pointing outward angrily. Longtime collaborator Ant (also the producer for Atmosphere) provides some alternately playful and dramatic beats that add a theatrical tone. Even the racially rife “Dear Black Son” has a jazzy lightness that helps sell the hard-hitting message.
Chastity Brown, “Silhouette of Sirens”
While she proudly bills herself as a folkie and is newly signed to St. Paul’s folk-based label Red House Records, Brown makes a good case for herself as a bandleader on her first album in five years. The Tennessee-raised Minneapolitan with the incomparably tender but stout voice leads a group of ace sidemen through some high peaks and low valleys in songs like “Wake Up” and “Carried Away,” the richly layered arrangements never undermining the songs’ raw emotions. And those ambitiously plush moments help make the quieter tunes “Whisper” and “Lost” all the more arresting.
Mary Bue, “The Majesty of Beasts”
It’s only four songs, but each track on this bravely personal EP by the newly Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter tells a unique part of her story. She pushes off from her old life and lover with the barnstorming opener “The Sh-- I Left in Duluth,” gets down and out about the hipster bar scene in “Minnesota Goodbye” before baring the scars and capturing the lingering torment of sexual assault in “Petty Misdemeanor” — as bold a feat in songwriting as heard by any Minnesotan this year.
Dead Man Winter, “Furnace”
Trampled by Turtles frontman Dave Simonett didn’t sugarcoat the personal details sprinkled throughout his divorce record. The pain of loading up boxes burns in “Destroyer,” and the gloves come off in the self-inflicting “Red Wing Blue Wing.” But the buoyant accompaniment by his bandmates in his electrified, Son Volt-y side band keeps the album from ever going too far under, including twang wiz Erik Koskinen’s rich guitar work and Bryan Nichols’ pumping organ. Even a song as lonely and Minnesota-cold as “I Remember This Place Being Bigger” finds warmth in the musical camaraderie.
Lady Midnight & Afrokeys, “Parables of Neptune”
After cutting her teeth everywhere from Malamanya gigs to P.O.S. records, the versatile Adriana Rimpel (aka Lady Midnight) paired up with former Atmosphere keyboardist Erick Anderson (aka Afrokeys) on a headphones-ready, late-night-zoned five-song EP that puts her alluring, ethereal vocal talents and cool, earthy persona out front. Part Jill Scott and part Marian Hill, this coming-out EP fits in locally alongside ZuluZuluu with its cosmic sonic flavor but mindful lyrics, as the dramatic opener “All Day” gives way to the playful buzzer “Bumble” and then an infectious ode to infatuation, “Crazy.” (The release party for “Parables of Neptune” is Thursday at Icehouse in Minneapolis, 10 p.m., $10, IcehouseMpls.com.)
Prince & the Revolution, “Purple Rain Deluxe: From the Vault & Previously Unreleased”
A collection of outtakes normally wouldn’t qualify for a new-music tally, but — news flash! — Prince wasn’t normal. He shelved recordings by the cartload and kept them tightly under wraps. Only the most hard-core bootleggers have heard most of the stuff before. And as the only previously released track “17 Days” proved, his leftovers include a lot of fully formed songs, and not just snippets or jams. In addition to that catchy epic, the standouts here include: the rap-like funk bruiser “Possessed;” the ultra-Revolutionary melodic twofer “Our Destiny / Roadhouse Garden,” co-starring Wendy Coleman on vocals; and the tender “Electric Intercourse,” a sultry ballad that was swapped for “The Beautiful Ones.” Sure, like that smart trade, the songs here are all inferior to what’s on the final album. But so are 99.99 percent of the other recordings issued this year.
Red Planet with Bill Carrothers, “Red Planet With Bill Carrothers”
As if he needs an introduction, Minneapolis native Carrothers plays a lilting, slow but captivating montage on piano to kick off this lush new set with the all-star, head-in-the-clouds Twin Cities jazz trio, featuring guitar maestro Dean Magraw, bassist Chris Bates and drummer Jay Epstein. The tracklist includes two apiece by core inspirators John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk, each tune tenderly but brazenly reinvented. However, the original pieces by Magraw and Bates hold just as much sonic weight, especially Bates’ “Music Is a Weapon of Hope and Healing,” which lives up to its title with disarmingly beautiful interplay between Carrothers and a slide-equipped Magraw.
With a title that references the band’s journey in and out of dark periods, the harmonious Americana rockers’ first record in nine years exudes a bright sense of hope and golden melodies despite the struggles to complete it. Irish-born, wistfully voiced frontman Ben Kyle takes the bitter out of bittersweet and makes sad subjects accessible in his songs, from a religious betrayal (“Let the Light Shine Through You”) to a friend’s divorce (“After the War”), and the death of an alt-country legend (“Cecil Ingram Connor”) to our over-stimulated, under-informed media climate (“Harder to Hear”). Sounds dreary, but it’s so damn lovely.
The Suburbs, “Hey Muse!”
No, Beej isn’t in the band anymore. And yes, he’s sorely missed by everyone, perhaps none more than the remaining original ’Burbs, Chan Poling and Hugo Klaers. But the remade lineup of Minneapolis’ most beloved dance-rock band — anchored by guitarists Steve Brantseg of the Phones and the omnipresent Jeremy Ylvisaker — has been steadily playing out and having a lot of fun in recent years, and that musical and personal chemistry shines through in ways that younger bands should be so lucky to emulate. More than just classic Suburbs albums, the new collection echoes a lot of the best new-wavy rock of the early-’80s, from the Cure-like grooves of “Can’t Take You Back” to the title track’s Manchester-y brood-rock to the always-prevalent Bowie influence in the “Let’s Dance”-flavored gem “Je Suis Strange.” (The release party for “Hey Muse” is Aug. 4 at First Avenue, $22, First-Avenue.com.)
Various artists, “The Greatest of All Time, Vol. 2”
Not only is the idea behind this compilation itself something of a throwback — 18 mostly undiscovered Twin Cities acts teaming up via one indie label, Forged Artifacts — so are many of the actual songs. Old-schoolers lamenting the glut of synthesizers and laptops in today’s young indie “rock” bands should rejoice at the fuzzed-out guitars and classic pop/rock stylings of some of this LP’s best cuts, including Ahem’s “The Lake” and Fury Things’ “I Went Away.” There’s also a little surfy punk (Tony Peachka’s “Gossip Girl”), new-wavy rock snarling (Post Lost’s “Fortune”) and just pure insanity (Murf’s “I’d Buy That for a Dollar,” essentially a 52-second musical convulsion). It’s all in good fun, and for a good cause, too, benefiting the ACLU and the North Side nonprofit Hopewell Music.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658 @ChrisRstrib