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5 local albums that have made a difficult summer a little better

Harper's Jar

Harper's Jar Photo provided by the band

Yes, yes, yes. Pandemic. Shuttered clubs. Isolation. Despair. This is a bad time for us all, and that most definitely includes musicians and anyone who works in the music industry generally.

But. Local music is still being recorded, released, and—if you so choose—listened to. With our attention directed elsewhere, some of the year’s best albums are in danger of slipping through the cracks. I’ve rounded up a few here to help prevent that.

BIG $ILKY: BIG $ILKY Vol. 2

The seven-track second volume from the rap duo of Psalm One and Angel Davanport demonstrates that there is no limit to how much shit can be untaken and fucks ungiven. Psalm handles the tracks, their flows complement each other, and personal and political intertwine with gale-force attitude whether they’re contributing a banger to the anti-cop canon with “1-800-FVCK12” or calling out fair-weather comrades with “No you cannot sit with us while sitting on the fence.”

Mary Bue: The World Is Your Lover

Bue was anointed City Pages’ Best Songwriter for 2020 last month largely on the strength of this 14-song album, so we’d be remiss in not letting you know you can finally hear it this Friday. And since we’ve already celebrated her craft, let’s put a quick word in for the band that helps bring her songs to life: all-star guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker; a rhythm section of Steve Price and Richard Medek; adornments and flourishes from Shannon Frid-Rubin on violin, cellist Julia Floberg, and Stephan Kungand’s trumpet; and, of course, Bue herself on piano.

Harper’s Jar: Thank You Ancestor Finger

Released way back in April, a truly un-ideal moment, this trio’s debut full-length just grooves in a way a lot of noisy guitar rock can’t be bothered to. Whether they’re streamlining old-school grunge or climaxing with the 14+ minute tantrum of “Edie Sedgewick,” Devin Ware’s alternately clanging or chiming rhythm guitar locks in with drummer Kyle Kennedy and bassist Alex Dunn to give the sense of a band that’s consistently determined to get where it’s going even if they don't always know where that is till they get there.

Juice Lord: 6/6: The Forever EP

On his follow-up to 5/5, the young St. Paul MC rhymes with an all-in style you might call gruff if not for a warmth and enthusiasm that makes him a little like (but hardly only like) a Midwestern Meek Mill. The title doesn’t refer to the release date, but to the number of new tracks across which he flexes his range, with features from Destiny Roberts, Lewiee Blaze, Knucky & Kalhoun, Pro Steve, and Why Khaliq & RZ Shahid flaunting the strength of the scene from which he’s emerged and a few words dedicated to the late Lexii Alijai reminding us what that scene lost in 2020. Looking forward to 7/7.

Munson-Hicks Party Supplies: Munson-Hicks Party Supplies

Bittersweetly seriocomic piano man Dylan Hicks (largely) hands the mic over to John Munson of Semisonic (and then some), in whose voice Hicks’s stories of wrong turns taken and second thoughts re-thunk take on a slightly different shade of wistful. With jazz guitarist Zacc Harris complementing the songwriter’s keyboards, and Munson locking in with Richard Medek’s drums, this is a band that can credibly summon up (pre-Aja) Steely Dan on “Pennies on My Eyes.” And an album that starts with a resigned shrug over unfulfilled potential “Only Smoke” (“What I didn’t know then/I still don’t know”) progresses to “If you get where you’re going/Who cares how you went?” by the closing track. That’s some kind of spiritual progress, right?