By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Astronaut Wife, decembers architects, and the Foxfire factor: The 2000
City Pages New Music Poll
MY DESERT-ISLAND, all-time, Top 5 favorite ways to waste precious pre-deadline hours:
1. Making lists
2. Really, there's just the one.
Music fanatics love to list and we love to talk lists. Give us solitary confinement and a piece of charcoal and we'll rank our favorite freedom songs on the wall, mulling over our No. 1 choice (definitely Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come"), our No. 2 choice (maybe AC/DC's "Jailbreak"?), etc. But on the page of a newspaper, the authority of those numbers carries a menacing finality, especially in the setting of a poll. A whole pile of lists--and that's essentially what the tenth annual City Pages Picked to Click Poll is--compounds that subjectivity. Even if longtime readers might see our new-local-music survey as a chatterfest among dozens of High Fidelity Robs (and, with less frequency, Robertas), those numbers still get people excited and angry.
Nine years and four music editors ago, the idea for Picked to Click was only practical. "I was pretty sick of hearing the sound of my own voice," says poll founder Jim Walsh, now the music columnist for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "With the avalanche of bands and records coming at you, it just seemed that, for the reader, there was no way to make heads or tails of that."
Back in 1991 Walsh was the music editor at City Pages and got an idea from the paper's baseball issue, which asked sports-beat writers from around the country to predict who would win the divisions. Though he considers the two pastimes completely different, Walsh decided it would be fun to apply the sports polling idea to the local music scene, giving readers a handy guide to talented hopefuls. "I didn't think it was a competition, certainly," he says. "It would kind of give people an idea of who people are talking about."
Picked to Click's poll of local music experts was never meant to be definitive. Hell, the picks were often more tasteful--and prophetic--below the Top 5 consensus marker, from R&B powerhouse Ann Bennett-Nesby (number 14 in 1991) to the Cows (9 in '91) to the Jayhawks (15 in '92). This year, with so many not-so-new acts dominating their respective niches--Mason Jennings, Happy Apple, Atmosphere--the field seemed wide open for new bands who might otherwise be relegated to the poll's low end. Of the hundred ballot requests we distributed, only 54 were returned. Of the 44 points awarded this year's winners--Astronaut Wife--only three voters chose them as their No. 1 favorites.
Even so, the retro-futurist Wives are a sure sign of the times, and not for their music--pop electronica is so '98! More idiosyncratic is their Web intrigue: The quintet may be to the MP3 format what 1998 Top 5-er Ana Voog was to the bedroom Web-cam. Like no poll winner before them, the band generated a buzz without releasing one piece of consumable recorded work in stores--and this in the age of the fast burn, when any Rob with a tambourine can record and issue a CD on mom's Gateway.
All the same, the most notable phenomenon in this year's poll--besides the overwhelming (and distressing) whiteness of the selections--was something as old as rock 'n' roll: the resurgence of a self-aware youth culture. Half of the top 14 vote getters carved an identity--or at least a new identity--by regularly playing the all-ages Foxfire Coffee Lounge in downtown Minneapolis. A youthful audience embraced Fugazi-like runners-up decembers architects; pop bands Smattering, Valet, Triangle, and Sean Na Na; and punkers the Hidden Chord and Capital! Capital.
One Sunday night this winter I found myself talking about the future of local music with Jim Walsh, the Star Tribune's Jon Bream, and Pulse's Debra Stolberg on Mei Young's late-night KQRS-FM (92.5) local-music show, Homegrown. Sleepy, with Monday's workweek hours ahead of us, we aged journalists lit up suddenly on the topic of the Foxfire. A new community, we agreed, was growing up, literally, around the club--one that might overtake us. So for this year's poll we decided to take a closer look at this important womb of new bands, a club that, as Amy Weivoda reports, may soon be overtaken itself, despite a steady stream of sold-out shows. I'd rank this rock watershed with the Prom Center, the Longhorn, Goofy's Upper Deck, and the Speedboat Gallery--but that's one Top 5 no still-living club is eager to join.
Rock 'n' Poll
The tally and the talk of the Top 15
Here's how it works:
We asked 54 people--writers, record-store clerks, radio heads, and plain old fans--to come up with a Top 5 list of favorite new local bands, solo artists, DJs, or whatever. They named more than 130 acts on ballots we tabulated by giving each No. 1 choice five points, each No. 2 choice four points, etc. Below are all the acts that collected more than five points, with comments about the Top 10 ranking acts from various voters. A shout of thanks to everyone who participated--see the full list at the end. And one last note: As it was at the start nine years ago, this poll is meant to be a fun and informative cheat sheet, not for use in wagering, status seeking, or negotiating major-label contracts. To view all the ballots, go to www.citypages.com.