Refried hip-hop ectoplasms and tuneful sample-styled pop meets old-school soul with new-school roles in our 1997 new band poll--with some beatific power-pop traditionalism thrown in for good measure. In a year of seismic genre shifts locally as well as nationally, all ears appear to have turned to Paul Robb and Barbara Cohen, cohorts of Brother Sun Sister Moon. Not only do Cohen and Robb together and separately boast eight nominations in the upcoming Minnesota Music Awards, at press time they were on the verge of inking a deal with Virgin Records. They've also landed the highest score ever (49 points) in the seven years of this poll, beating the previous landslide record of 43 points set by 12 Rods in 1996. And whether or not voters viewed them as the trip-pop studio twosome that devised The Great Game, or the sexy live sextet that's played just three wonderful, DJ-driven shows, BSSM is the first non-trio in the history of the poll to land first place--which kinda bums me out, since it ends a strange six-year streak of chart-topping threesomes: Walt Mink, Hammerhead, Guzzard, Lily Liver, Tribe of Millions and 12 Rods. But I'll be okay.
Though we always run this informal poll to coincide with the Minnesota Music Academy's Icebreaker Week and awards show, its Best New Band nominees usually have suspiciously little to do with our results: From the MMA nominee list of Sukpatch, Swoon, Dazy Head Mazy, the Cole Younger Band and Jaqi Q, only Sukpatch makes a big dent here. But as usual, this is where the subjective nature of "newness" is called into question. Sukpatch has been together as long as this poll has, and has been gigging as Minnesotans since 1994. But 1996-97 was the first season they started to matter to lots of folks, having just sold their guitars and turned to the all-electro indie-hop for which they are now known and loved. So, to cop a tag from NBC's rerun marketing campaign, let's just say, "It's New To You! (TM)"
As voter Mark Wheat indicated, it seems folks are figuring out how to debut more perfect bands: Every group in our top five has already made a solid CD debut in the last year. A very prominent mention goes out to future-jazz improv drummer Dave King, whose fifth-place Happy Apple garners 17 points. But pollsters Jim Meyer and Pat Whalen also awarded King himself nine more points for his traps mastery in at least six (!) other new bands--for a point total that theoretically puts the hyperactive King in third place. You've also got to credit Paul Robb a.k.a. Brother Sun, for the 10 additional points he earned for his one-man synthcore operation Think Tank. And fourth-place funksters the Sensational Joint Chiefs add 23 to their 11 points from the 1996 poll (before they were "Sensational"), yielding an impressively phat two-year sum. Meanwhile, this year's Visionary Award goes to Kevin Cole for matching our top three bands in his own vote (someone hire the guy for something, okay?). But enough number crunching. On with the show...
--Simon Peter Groebner
Lynne Bengtson, Fine Line: 1. Sukpatch 2. Wheelo 3. Beatifics 4. Umbrella Bed 5. Bobby Llama (Honorable mention: Buzzwell)
Rich Best, First Avenue: 1. Sukpatch 2. Lifter Puller 3. Cole Younger Band 4. Druel 5. Mindphaseone
Laura Brandenburg, The Squealer: 1. Happy Apple 2. Druel 3. Roto Spasmo 4. Marina Glass 5. (tie) Lee Family Curse/Pinch
Amy Carlson, Minnesota Daily A&E: 1. Magnatone 2. Short Fuses 3. Accident Clearinghouse 4. Sukpatch 5. Happy Apple--Magnatone provides plenty of good old-fashioned rock & roll with kick and lots of attitude; Short Fuses serve up a kindred kick, and are led by one very spirited woman, Miss Georgia Peach; honky-tonkers Accident Clearinghouse are indie rockers with an Americana heart; Colorado transplants Sukpatch feature spacey, electronic, danceable grooves; and Happy Apple deliver a curve ball with their unique brand of funky, improvisational jazz.
Kevin Cole, Local Music Hero: 1. Brother Sun Sister Moon 2. The Beatifics 3. Sukpatch 4. The Pins 5. The Siren Six
Greg Comstock, The Edge's Ultrasonic Burn: 1. Think Tank 2. Flipp 3. DJ Jeezus Juice 4. Likehell 5. Hekla
Lynda Davis, The Cabooze: 1. The Big Wu 2. Bobby Llama 3. Eight Head 4. The Sensational Joint Chiefs 5. Jon Ken Po (Honorable mentions: The Beads, The Jones Gang, Jaqi Q, Gutta Percha, Tribe of Millions)
James Diers, freelance writer: (no order) Atmosphere, Mary Nail, MMF, Propeller, Bright Yellow Kites--Yeah, I know, I know--you're looking at this bunch and wondering, "Where's the electronica? The trip hop? The crazy newfangled technified sounds?" Well, frankly, they're all over the place, and they're still too new for me to fit into my personal "band" construct. Besides, Paul Robb and Barbara Cohen are in the doghouse until they pay me for those remixes.
Jon Dolan, freelance writer: 1. Obscura 2. Jungle Vibe Collective 3. The Tropicals 4. Sukpatch 5. Clog--Always skeptical of scene-based provincialism and crappy guitar bands, I paid next to no attention to this year's Minne-music scene. Big mistake. By looking at the list I came up with in well under two minutes, I can only assume that for each of these five wonderful bands there are at least three more worth getting to know. Sorry; I'll do better next year. Clog's "The Living Beatles" (my favorite one-minute punk song since the Angry Samoans' "Lights Out" and the best rock star-envy anthem since "Video Killed the Radio Star") was the best thing I heard on Radio K all year. Sukpatch's looping of what I'm told is Rusted Root around what I'm guessing is Eric B. and Rakim's "Paid In Full" was my indie-dance epiphany of 1996. The Tropicals (Frank O'Hara by way of the Roches) made me smile so hard I damn near cried. I'm still coming down from JVC's drum 'n' bass/hip-hop house warehouse parties. And then there's Obscura, a male-female acoustic duo of Motel 6 employees from Mankato playing madrigals by way of Mecca Normal that just happen to be my favorite folk band since the Raincoats, and my favorite punk band since... the Raincoats, I guess.
Jennifer Downham, KFAI's Groove Garden: 1. Jayson Heinrichs 2. Happy Apple 3. Yer Uncle 4. Eye-dea and DJ Abilities 5. Lady & the Katz. Also: Kanser Troop--Jayson Heinrichs is the beat Einstein... watch out for the inevitable whiplash epidemic when his work hits the streets! Happy Apple: scalpel precision, chainsaw results. Yer Uncle: tiger-horse blues, shy flamboyant grooves. Eye-dea and DJ Abilities: mind-boggling MC and jaw-dropping vocalist. Lady & the Katz: vocal passion and tight butter jazz; their breakup was the unfortunate young-band casualty of the year. Kanser Troop: young mic rockers workin' it.
Pat Dwyer, Amphetamine Reptile Records: (no order) Vaz, Freedom Fighters, Play For Beer Band, Three Way Grady, The Stillroven
Alan Freed, Beat Radio: (no order) L.E.D., Ann Nesby, Greazy Meal, Superstitch, Think Tank
Simon Peter Groebner, City Pages: 1. Brother Sun Sister Moon 2. Ninotchka 3. Swoon 4. Mike Merz & the Can o' Worms 5. Oxpecker--Brother Sun, Sister Moon (1973) was an exotic Zeffirelli film about a young Francis of Assisi; Ninotchka (1939) starred Greta Garbo as an icy Bolshevik spy who melts in Paris. So it follows (right?) that Brother Sun Sister Moon and Ninotchka are both Minneapolitan male-female studio duos in 1997--in each case with the boy as veteran soundscape-ist and the girl as knockout vocalist. (Ninotchka, the lesser known of the two, is ex-Hang Up John Crozier plus February singer Amy Turany, currently unknown to the world but for one gorgeous summer-day 7-inch.) Dominant "wisdom" contends there aren't any women who've mastered the art of guitar effects, but Karen Kopacs confounds that myth with Swoon, sort of a female-led 12 Rods (aye, Ryan Olcott plays bass) by way of Hüsker Dü and King Crimson. Mike Merz's Buzzkill Nation was the most provocative and subversive singer-songwriter concept disc of the last year; and what Oxpecker lacks in tasteful nomenclature it makes up for in explosive, genderfucking skronk-punk mayhem. (Honorable mentions: Patch, Florida, Atmosphere, Mindphaseone, Lady & the (defunct) Katz. Welcome comebacks: Lily Liver, Dutch Oven.)
Will Hermes, City Pages: 1. Sukpatch 2. Brother Sun Sister Moon 3. DJ Capsule 4. Happy Apple 5. The Beatifics--Sukpatch topped my scorecard because their loopy beats were consistently dope, and their pop pleasure principle always in effect (though I still don't know what the fuck they're singing about). Last time I saw 'em live, the kids at the Fine Line were so worked up they flung hula hoops. When I saw BSSM at the Fine Line, I imagined I was an A&R guy smelling dollar signs--not an altogether bad feeling, I'll confess. They were least convincing when trying to work grooves ("trip hop" they are not, press notices notwithstanding). Rather, the popcraft is the thing, and when Barb Cohen's voice and Paul Robb's arrangements are just right (as on "Havana" and "Cairo"), they make for a warm, handsome, late-'90s rereading of Eurythmics. A hardstep mix by local junglist DJ Capsule stayed in my car deck longer than any other tape this year, and he always keeps things jumping live. (Next time out, watch him work the decks with those crazy Giacometti fingers.) I'm embarrassed to say I've yet to see the free-jazzy Happy Apple live, but the advance tape of their new LP showcases some hot, harmolodically minded two-sax attacks. And that drummer's got it goin' on. Lastly, I thought the Beatifics single that REV 105 was always playing this past winter would be the great summer single of 1997. Who's playing it now?
Dylan Hicks, Governor of Fun: (no order) Rhyme Sayers Collective, The Sensational Joint Chiefs, Terry Eason, Billy Holloman & The Sho Nuff Band featuring Johnny Hodges, Mike Merz/Lori Wray Axis--Unfortunately, my list of "New Local Bands I've Seen and Actually Paid Attention To In the Past Year" wouldn't be much longer than this list, so consider me hopelessly unqualified. A very cool vibe can be found at Rhyme Sayers events, which showcase hip-hop acts like Beyond, Atmosphere, and Phull Surkle. The Joint Chiefs had become more sensational even before their moniker change, developing an enviable band chemistry and improving as tunesmiths. Terry Eason (who plays guitar in my band, I confess) has released some very limited-edition solo outings in the past, but has emerged in earnest as a solo act this year, playing songs as lovably eccentric as he is. Holloman's group features the show-stealing Johnny Hodges, and can be heard playing covers from James Brown to R. Kelly at area bars (also check out Holloman's Hammond organ night Tuesdays at the Artist's Quarter). Mike Merz and Lori Wray are two excellent songwriters that lead separate bands with identical personnel. If they joined forces, they might earn a support slot on the upcoming Fleetwood Mac reunion tour.
Chris Hodapp, KBA Marketing: 1. Buffo 2. Buzzwell 3. Wheelo 4. The Big Wu 5. 2 Tickets 2 Paradise
Ali Lozoff, 770 Radio K: 1. Brother Sun Sister Moon 2. Lifter Puller 3. Sukpatch 4. Accident Clearinghouse 5. Marina Glass
Woody McBride, Communique Records: 1. DJ Stylus 2. DJ Severe as Encore 3. Dr. Boom. Also: Girl disk jox! The rebirth of way-psick Minneapolis electronika of every flava!
Jim Meyer, Star Tribune: 1. Dave King, Incorporated (Happy Apple, Starry-Eyed Lovelies, Souls of Kilimanjaro, Mary Nail, Love-cars) 2. Mike Merz & the Can o' Worms 3. Plain Jane 4. Tony Sims 5. Vanguard--I'm not trying to be cute, or make the judges' lives impossible, but drummer Dave King is doing a real number on the shape and sound of Minneapolis by rebuilding, if not inventing, the pure jazz and pop workshop. With his flair for world-wise funky jazz and tastefully intense rock, King is tapping the pulse of the restless, curious, voracious post-modern music fan who thirsts for relief from plastic-wrapped fourth-wave bop and/or blasé alt-rock. His budding partnership with bassist Anthony Cox (Starry-Eyed Lovelies, Souls of Kilimanjaro, Farm) has already produced incredible results, and they've only just begun. Tune in, flip out. You may not listen to music quite the same way again. I don't... Mike Merz and the Can o' Worms: Introspective, yet outer-directed. Unplugged, yet electronic. Angry, yet funny. Aggressive, yet reserved. Merz's Buzzkill Nation effectively addresses so many life-size contradictions and tensions, it gives me hope for the future of songwriting, while it makes me worry a little for the future as a whole. Stupendous... I'm not positively sure what Plain Jane are saying, but I love the way they say it. Something to do with absolute passion and expression, free of all restrictions--imposed or self-inflicted. I wanna hear more... Tony Sims: There is a blues and rock new guard beyond The Artist Formerly Known as Kid... Honorable mention: To all the semi-anonymous DJs, cut-creators and electro-cutionists, too numerous to name, know, or enumerate, for bringing the beat back, remixing it, reshaping it, out-stretching it, and uplifting it. You know who you are. I can only hope to.
Jason Parker, Extreme Noise Records: 1. Kill Sadie 2. Decoy Voices 3. Short Fuses 4. Stray Bullets 5. Asinine Solution--Kill Sadie: New Jersey '96. Decoy Voices: L.A. '79. The Short Fuses: New York '77. Stray Bullets: Boston '82. Asinine Solution: Wisconsin '84. All of the above punk/hardcore bands, with the exception of the Decoy Voices, have 7-inch records out.
Brent Sayers, Rhyme Sayers Entertainment: 1. The Dynospectrum 2. Extreme 3. Kanser 4. The Fam 5. Eyedea and DJ Abilities--Seems as though there has been an abundance of new local bands surfacing this year doing a lot of cool stuff (i.e. see the Front). But instead of listing the same bands I'm sure so many others will, here are some up-and-coming hip-hop acts that are definitely going to be making mad noise on the Twin Cities local scene.
Christina Schmitt, freelance writer: 1. Sukpatch 2. Short Fuses 3. Vaz 4. Think Tank 5. Plain Jane (Honorable mentions: Accident Clearinghouse, Communique Records conglomerate)--I have a fantasy about throwing a dance/indie/thrash basement party somewhere in the metro area with these acts, who would force booties to shake and make great theme music for passing party favors. Who better than Sukpatch to headline--a band that is perhaps not new, but definitely has redefined itself this past year by layering pop vocals over hip-hop beats and samples (not to mention turning the eyes of the Slabco and Mo' Wax labels toward the Twin Cities). Hopefully singer Steve Cruze would warm up the crowd as he did Cows fans this spring--by mooning them. Paul Robb would master the mixing board, and probably give the Short Fuses a dose of genius that he gave Information Society/Think Tank's "A Knife and a Fork." (Or maybe he'd do them Alec Empire-style, adding some killer break beats to the Short Fuses' "Kick It In." But of course he wouldn't touch Georgia Peach's kick-ass vocals--then we would really have an Atari Teenage Riot on our hands.) Vaz would represent the deconstruction of the old machismo-guitar order, and we would be awed by Jeff Mooridian's bombastic high-tom punches--a drum show almost as empowering as Plain Jane. I'd hate to once again bemoan the general dearth of women-powered music, so instead, I'd offer Plain Jane to my female guests as inspiration, forcing them to pick up instruments so that maybe women could take over this poll next year. Because, frankly, I am so very tired of fans that think divas should be the only women allowed to dominate our scene.
DJ Rod Smith, Polar Bear Club/House of Miracles: 1. Ousia 2. Ninotchka 3. DJ Slip 4. Mindphaseone 5. Lost in Translation
Bill Snyder, The Squealer/Pulse: 1. Brother Sun Sister Moon 2. Dust Bunnies 3. The Beatifics 4. Magnatone 5. Florida--Barbara Cohen brought a beauty to Farm Accident that balanced out their frequently crass (though always amusing) sense of humor. Then it was onto the somewhat more refined sounds of Little Lizard--by far a much better vehicle to highlight her voice. Still, nothing could have caught me more off guard than her teaming up with former Information Society member Paul Robb to form BSSM. Robb's soundscapes are impeccable, and Cohen's unexpected move from folk to trip hop finally allows her voice to show all of its true brilliance. I consider The Great Game to be one of the finest albums to come out anywhere over the last year. The Dust Bunnies are either the Andrews Sisters jamming with Johnny Cash in a postmodern Holiday Inn lounge or I'm having one of the best acid flashbacks of my life.
Shawn Stewart, KSTP's Sound Opinions: 1. Accident Clearinghouse 2. Ninotchka 3. The Beatifics 4. The Great Depression 5. Brother Sun Sister Moon (Honorable mention: The (new) Jayhawks)
Chris Strouth, TRG Records/Digital City Mpls/Future Perfect: 1. Rod Smith/Chris Sattinger 2. Tom Farmer 3. Lost in Translation 4. Tempest/Rob Williams 5. (tie) Crafty Ox/Tal Tahir--Whether Smith and Sattinger are in Wave Guide or something else, this DJ tag team play records in a way the authors never intended. I heard Tom Farmer on Peter Jesperson's Shakin' Street on REV 105: toy pianos, lo-fi fuzziness with some great lyrics, like Guided by Voices only better. Lost in Translation: noisy sound bytes, messed-up loops, John Cage on brown acid. Crafty Ox: Old Skool electro, hip-hop beats with lots of analog squiggleness. Tal Tahir: a former King Can member, another lo-fi'er; cool noisy pop.
Ed Varga, Homocore Mpls.: 1. Lucifag 2. Arone Dyer 3. All the Pretty Horses 4. The Shepherd Kings--Lucifag is Mötörhead up your ass; they are high powered, chugging, fag-retro metal, and the farthest thing I can think of from Pansy Division. While I'm not much of a fan of acoustic folk, I have to say that 16-year-old dyke Arone Dyer knows exactly what she's doing. S. Grandell's All the Pretty Horses combine sparse guitar work with old school new wave to create moody glam punk. The world needs more visible transgender artists like Grandell. The Shepherd Kings are not new at all, but they deserve mention for reincarnating themselves via keyboards, a drum machine, gospel songs and other generally weird combinations to create music that is at once unpalatable and endearing.
Jim Walsh, St. Paul Pioneer Press: 1. The Beatifics 2. Brother Sun Sister Moon 3. The Buck-Fifty Boys 4. Magnatone 5. Lifter Puller (Honorable mentions: Tom Farmer; Vantage Canada; DJ Woody McBride; The Strawdogs; Marina Glass; Blue Dot Trance; Tim O'Reagan and Karen Grotberg; Own; Carp 18; Koerner, Ray and Glover)
Pat Whalen, K-Tel Records/independent promoter: 1. Brother Sun Sister Moon 2. Dave King and whatever 3. (tie) Atmosphere/Beyond etc. 5. (tie) Sandwiches/ Mindphaseone. Also: The Conquerors--Brother Sun Sister Moon's debut CD is a tasty future-pop synesthesia, but who'd have guessed that they would be so astronomically swell live? Export ready, with upscale grooves and looks to permanently maim. Omnipresent percussionist Dave King has shown lots of local rock fans that jazz ain't just for academics. He's a gas to watch, whether he's playing with Casino Royale, Happy Apple, The Starry-Eyed Lovelies, Salpeen, or whatever. Entrepreneurs with attitude, Slug and crew are tearing the logos off of hip hop. As for noteworthy local recordings, that Sandwiches song "2222 Nicollet Ave." has got to be the little local ditty of the decade, and Mind Phase One's full-length debut is a world-class model of electronicalismo. There's a fuzzy cord that runs from the Litter, to the Hypstyrz, through the Mofos, around the Funseekers, and up the Conquerors. Give it a little tug and see what happens.
Mark Wheat, KFAI's Local Sound Department/Pulse: 1. Brother Sun Sister Moon 2. Plain Jane 3. Druel 4. Happy Apple 5. The Big Wu--Seems like five years ago I was trying to choose five bands for this thing that maybe had a good demo out and had played a few good shows in the Entry. Now it seems possible to build a solid list from bands that have full CDs out and have had some kind of recognition beyond the Twin Cities. Were The Beatifics, Magnatone, Sukpatch, Mindphaseone or Mike Merz and the Can O' Worms considered for last year's poll? If not, maybe that should be my list!