By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
By Jeff Gage
By Loren Green
1. Astronaut Wife
Genre: Space-Age Polygamist Pad Music
Astronaut Wife is one of the few new local bands that truly make me feel like 1999 is gone. Any old electronic group could have found a decent female vocalist, but AW achieve real economy by combining three of the best from the old "dream-pop" scene: the Makeshift's Janey Winterbauer, Myriad's Angela Orluck, and February's Amy Turany. Astronaut patriarch Christian Erickson provides the perfect sonic foil for his Wives' harmonic pulchritude, whether on the circular trance of "Cape Canaveral" or the digital dance of "Superpowers (X-Ray Vision)." And the band's use of the MP3 format reveals a savvy marketing outlook. The new single "Pedestal" has Orluck playing a bit of a soul sister; heck, if the singers work to distinguish themselves from one another and overcome their general shyness at the mic, they could be the indie TLC.
--Simon Peter Groebner, Star Tribune, startribune.com
2. decembers architects
Genre: Beginning Math Rock
These scruffy mops are the sort moms fuss over, but they spew noises no mother could love. Defying classification with their spring-loaded guitar hullabaloo and elasticized performances, they leave you scratching your head while cheering for more.
3. The Busy Signals (29)
Genre: Small Audio Dynamite
Howard Hamilton III's one-man studio band the Busy Signals is responsible for Baby's First Beats (Sugar Free), a consistently awesome concoction of loops, beats, and fastidiously chosen samples that taps into the same overwhelmed-but-getting-on-with-it generational zeitgeist that Edward Norton did in Fight Club. ("Underachievers please try harder," he croak-croons at one point. "I know you're cool and insecure.") I've already been guilty of reprinting and overanalyzing too many of his lyrics, but for New Music Poll purposes, at least one more deserves consideration: "Outside the rhymes, that's the kind of guy I am/I'll see you in the Top 10." Today City Pages; tomorrow the (headphone) world.
--Jim Walsh, St. Paul Pioneer Press
Tulip Sweet & Her Trail of Tears (tie)
Genre: Magnetic Field Research
At a glance, the slump-shouldered Tulip Sweet might look like a naive cabaret exhibitionist rather than a calculating rock vet, her deadpan whimsy and glum delivery more a defensive pose than some cultivated persona. But Steph Dickson has been a gestating star for years, slowly pushing her songwriting, with help from fan-turned-bandmate Tom Siler, to its current Jonathan Richman-Stephin Merritt level. Dickson combines the wonder of the former with the sobriety of the latter, filling her imagined musical comedies with a longing and weariness missing from most new pomo pop. Why she's not huge I don't know. Her disillusionment with romance--that hilariously sung groan after the line "Once I even thought I was in love"--might reflect this blushing Tulip's take on herself.
--Peter S. Scholtes, City Pages
4. Valet (26)
Genre: Heavy-Lidded Expat Pop
Irish frontman Robin Kyle is the hot-glowing ember at the center of this damp-cool folk-punk quartet, but he's not building the fire alone. Wisecracking drummer Judd Hildreth (of Mollycuddle), nimble organist Paul Fuglested, and new bassist Jeremy Doering spark Valet's onstage levity.
5. Jan (25)
Genre: Sensitive Indie Girl Savior
The most precious thing about three-piece Jan is the pure, magical sound coming out of lead singer J.J. Gauthier's mouth. Her gentle, girlie vocals are always wrapped around thoughtful lyrics, and they make for catchy listening when put to the band's pop-rock compositions. It doesn't get much sweeter than this--not around here, anyway.
--Amy Carlson, freelance writer
Genre: Laptop Pop
I would have figured mixing catchy tunelets with software-jiggered beats and art-punky guitar would be an indie-rock standard by now. But the kids have proved more technophobic than expected, while the programmers lost their way on the songwriting highway before making it as far as the bridge. I still say the fusion is inevitable, but by the time everyone else decides to catch up, Brian Tester and Amanda Warner will have already lapped them...or at least come out with Triangle 3.0.
--Keith Harris, City Pages
6. Sean Na Na/Har Mar Superstar (23)
Genre: Bowser's Favorite Boy
Hard to reconcile the lovable kid in thick black-framed glasses with the irony man who hoaxed the City Pages letters page into believing his faux hip-hop alter ego, Har Mar Superstar, was actually his "little brother." Yet everything about Sean Tillmann's wholly wonderful pop is deceptive. Melodically accessible yet structurally complex, lyrically readable yet hard to get a read on, Sean is, in his words, "a good impression of someone with a few things to say." His forthcoming Dance 'Til Your Baby Is a Man (Troubleman Unlimited) is undanceable, lush with percussion and keyboards in songs that were shaped mostly in solo acoustic performances. Whatever he is, he's onto something.
7. Hidden Chord (16)
Genre: Leonard Cohen Reference of the (New) Century
This fierce foursome is fun and a bit wicked live, like little children. The band restores some sass to indie rock, with a streak of dark humor underneath all that heavy drumming and solid guitar.
--Kate Silver, KUOM-AM (770)
Genre: I, Robot
Their brightly colored hair may complement their jumpsuits, but the five members of Manplanet are as much about enticing a crowd with catchy new-wave songs as they are about their color-coded outfits. Paying tribute to balls of twine and robots--with a small dosage of pyrotechnics thrown in just for fun--Manplanet are considered a novelty act by some. But they're quite capable of rockin'--robot-style, of course.
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