6. The Waves
Flame Alittle Brighter
Business: Only one gig this year that I know of.
Memory: I missed it.
Art: The high-pitched singing, pizzicato plink, and piano plunk of "Hey Boo" decorate a deep, dirty snare beat that European DJs might salivate over if more than 20 people owned the record. Yet the song (with its memorable "I don't want to think about New York" refrain) could comfortably snuggle next to your favorite Go-Betweens number on a Please Love Me mix-tape. Keep whispers of "better than the Hang Ups" to a polite murmur, thanks.
7. Selby Tigers
Business: National distribution, mild buzz.
Memory: On Halloween, at least three fans dressed up as jumpsuited bassist Dave Gardner--the supposed Italian immigrant "Sammy G," owner of a lonely pencil 'stache.
Art: This is punk rock as feigned tantrum, the sort of performance a four-year-old masters and learns to enjoy while convincing herself the tears are real. Which is another way of saying it's all rock 'n' roll fun--a bizarre "Slack Motherfucker" cover at the Go-Go's reunion, or X covering Grease, or something of the sort. All three vocalists--one female--imagine themselves as teen rebels torching the mansion, cutting school, and calling on fellow students to "screw the fluorescent glow"--which really should have been an Abbie Hoffman book title. It all feels like a record you wish you could give your younger teen self or distribute among the currently Britney-obsessed.
8. Tulip Sweet and her Trail of Tears
Business: Singer Steph Dickson asked me for career advice, a bad sign.
Memory: Blacked out.
Art: There is no faux hip-hop patter in indie rock quite as hilarious as Dickson's zombie-robot reading of "It's all good. How you like me now?" And that's just the first song.
9. Trailer Trash
Nearer My Bar to Thee
Lee's Liquor Records
Business: Movie Hermann, U.S.A., featuring Trailer Trash, out next year.
Memory: Wednesdays at Lee's.
Art: Sure it's satiric--you noticed the band name? But this late-'99 collection of originals crept into non-scenester rotation with a reverent love of country song-form and wry eye on south Minneapolis culture.
10. Mark Mallman
How I Lost My Life and Lived to Tell About It
Eagles Golden Tooth
Business: The piano man is currently starring in a major feature film (although he's the one making it).
Memory: To shoot one scene, he climbed down a 50-foot cliff of the Grand Canyon.
Art: Some would claim this is the best local album of the year for reach, if not grasp. But the gap betwixt the two, and the irony Mallman marshals to fudge it, is also his charm. He sounds like a Hmong discotheque, a rural polka mass, the Prom Center, Prince, and "Surfin' Bird" all rolled into one.
THE VERY WORST? Not in this year of artistic democracy run rampant, when every kid with Pro Tools, a CD burner, and his temp job's postage meter transformed himself into David Geffen. In my most generous mood, I might agree that almost all of the mediocrities listed below offer up occasional moments. But each has been borne on a wave of critical hyperbole worth balancing out with some cold-eyed dissent. In alphabetical order.
Clever girl--having previously invented disco you can't dance to, she now attempts showtunes you can't sing along to. And succeeds! What will she think of next?
Live, the intense murk of his distinctive--maybe-even-groundbreaking--mix reveals its true purpose--the soundtrack to a striptease that eventually bares his soul if not his private parts. Who could begrudge the ladies the steamy conceptual coup of Marvin Gaye as a superhuman ebony Chippendale? But a return listen to the actual recorded product reveals maddeningly diffuse, fussy touches, and fewer flashes of flesh than I suspect I'd demand if I were his target gender. Granted, I'm not, but D's over-reliance on his pinched falsetto seems to me as monotonous as 70 minutes of wham-bam.
Red Dirt Girl
When she hits a melody just right, it's a thing of wonder. When she just glances off it, though, she floats out of your consciousness like a feather on a gentle breeze--and she is indeed genteel enough to deserve so prissy a cliché as that. When there isn't even a melody within earshot, her larynx vibrates prettily like the world's most mellifluous dishwasher.
Okay, now that I've got your attention... I've grown to marginally prefer the low-level anxiety and dilettantish splurges in electronic color here to the paranoid bombast of OK Computer's grave, crystalline architecture. But the mood Kid A generates is so precious, so fragile, so chilly, I have no desire to invoke it, and wonder why--and if--other paying customers do. Is this just another example of the middle class courting the avant-garde to make itself feel clever? Or have millions of human beings been so drained of spirit that the only beauty they can envision rests in dreams of paralysis?
Step aside, Marshall Mathers, and let a really shady misogynist do his bit. This sad sack won't slit your throat, because he knows a condescending kiss-off and a callow putdown leave more lasting psychic scars. And he won't make you suck his dick, because he knows you don't have to sexualize women to objectify them--all you have to do is deny them a soul. Who will be the next in line to let him down? Besides several million record buyers, of course.