By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
"I love the whole notion of local music," writes City Pages contributor and admitted "old guy" Brad Zellar. "But there aren't enough people who are ranting and raving and kicking down doors to let me and all the other people on the sidelines know about all the great local music we're supposedly missing. God bless Jim Walsh, and Amy Carlson, and those beer-swilling gonzo nutballs at Pulse, but sorry, I'm not hearing a consensus, and absent a consensus I'm gonna go spend my money on that new Outkast or Giant Sand record."
He adds that he awaits this year's Picked to Click poll results, writing, "Maybe I'll find that consensus I've been looking for."
Well, we can always hope. Although scores of people we contacted for the 2001 poll, including Zellar, did the American thing and sat out the election, we still rounded up more ballots, named more "best new artists," and...ended up disagreeing more than ever. Fewer points were awarded to this year's poll toppers Faux Jean (43) than last year's Astronaut Wife (44) or 1999's Mason Jennings Band (57). So this isn't exactly what political-science wonks like to call a mandate.
Rather, local music is a rumor. And the poll is rumor amplified.
So why do we persist with what 400 Bar owner Bill Sullivan calls "yer beauty contest"? After all, you're presumably not the only reader skeptical of anything called "the best" (burned out on last week's City Pages?) and anything constituting a "poll" (it's the chad, isn't it?). Peruse all the Picked to Click ballots online (www.citypages.com) and you might reasonably conclude that our little participatory democracy makes Florida look like the Paris Commune. Where's the hip hop? Where are people of color? (Notice, too, that I assumed you'd be online.)
Cripes, I even personally know the singer and namesake of Faux Jean, which makes this forum feel not just cozy but a little humid. Not that you can accuse us of coddling the guy: Music editor Melissa Maerz forced poor Faux to justify his existence through a job application and busking test (see "Taking Care of Business," p. 15).
What Zellar craves, it seems, is some measure of what a tiny community of aficionados agrees with itself about. And plenty of people disagreed over the greats when they were "new"--think of the awful Bob Dylan (booed off the stage in Dinkytown) and the horrible Replacements (picked to clunk). Never mind that the Minnesota Music Academy seconded many of our pollsters' choices with Best New Band nominations, booking Faux Jean and others into a showcase at Monday's night's 21st Annual Minnesota Music Awards (see A List, p. 51 for details).
Yet, apologies aside, there is strength in our number-crunching: The ballots point to the ascent of the subterranean Dinkytowner Café, a sort of 21st Century Foxfire that serves as hangout and home gig for many of our poll's top bands. (We explore the phenomenon more thoroughly in "Don't Tell a Soul," p. 21--the curse be damned.) The joint has even made a public figure out of basement turntablist Andrew Broder, whose Cropduster and the Fog were voted fifth and fourth, respectively, in the poll (for more on Broder, see "Turn, Turn, Turn," p. 22).
Other rumors flew at lower altitudes: There's a new 21+ venue, Sursumcorda, at the Foxfire's old address. And remember Duluth? Scads of poll participants suddenly discovered the scene that mass culture forgot, voting for Jamie Ness, If Thousands, Gild, Giljunko, Black Eyed Snakes, and the Dames. And if the Cities can notice Duluth, it should be no shocker that word of Minneapolis has reached faraway Milwaukee.
A few weeks ago I was bumping Abstract Pack on a boombox in Madison, Wisconsin, fresh off an interview with Bobbito (see "Cold Play," p. 17), my attempt to compensate for hip-hop's poor showing in this year's Picked to Click.
As I blasted my radio, two rappers from the City of Brew, both in town for the second-annual "Hip Hop as a Movement" conference, flagged me down. "Yo, what are you playing?" asked the guy who called himself Brutal--"spelled Brutal," he clarified, "but pronounced 'bru-TAL.'"
Abstract Pack, from Minnesota, I said. (They placed fifth in 1999's Picked to Click poll, and 28th in 1995.) "You mean like Eyedea?" responded Brutal. He pointed to my Rhymesayers tee. "That kid was wearing the same shirt when he won the Blaze Battle on HBO."
Word gets around, as our paper's slogan says. Days earlier, Robert Christgau called from the Village Voice to check a fact about Atmosphere, Eyedea's crew. Turns out Der Dean of rock critics was turned on to the group by former City Pages music editor and Picked to Click pollster Jon Dolan. The moral: Like what you hear? Tell your friends.
POLL WINNERS AND PUNDITRY: WHO WON AND WHY
HERE'S HOW IT WORKS:
We asked 63 music fans--esteemed record-store clerks, honored club employees, lowly writers--to come up with a Top Five list of favorite new local bands, solo artists, DJs, or what have you. They named more than 170 acts (a Picked to Click record) 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 Ten ranking acts from various participants. A shout of thanks to everyone who voted--see the full list at the end. And one last note: As it was when Jim Walsh founded it ten 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.
1. Faux Jean (43)
GENRE: OLE IN THE SKY WITH NEIL DIAMOND
It's not the imaginative songs, the solid musicianship, or the sharp suits. It's the mythology. Matty Schindler, a.k.a. Faux Jean of Faux Jean, delights in grandiose absurdity. Not exactly a new tactic, but the stance serves his oblique, buzzing pop like a Butterfly vibrator strapped on just right.
--Patrick Whalen, promoter
2. Work of Saws (35)
GENRE: GUIDED BY POLLARD
Just as you're beginning to savor one of their incandescent, comforting melodies, the song ends--and a moment later, a new one begins. It's music that never wastes your time.
--Dan Nycklemoe, Bryant-Lake Bowl
3. Alva Star (31)
GENRE: WHIP SHAKESPEARE
Why would longtime singer-songwriter and semi-folkster John Hermanson hook up with a band after gathering such a devoted local following on his own? Answer: to gain a sound. Hermanson's emotive vocals and plaintive lyrics still ring poignant, falling somewhere between Gary Louris and Jeff Buckley. Now the lush sonic backdrops provided by local luminaries Peter Anderson (Astronaut Wife), Brian Roessler (Spymob), and Darren Jackson (a.k.a. Kid Dakota) up the creative ante along with the volume dial.
--Adam Hall, freelance writer
4. The Fog (26)
GENRE: TURNTABLIST DOOM POP
Andrew Broder is the city's premier (read: only) DJ satirist, a multitalented whiz kid with an inversely proportionate ego. Who else would sing, play guitar, and DJ on a single track, all while suffering from the flu, pneumonia, and laryngitis?
--Jen Downham, KFAI-FM (90.3/106.7)
5. Cropduster (20)
GENRE: EVERY GENRE MUST GET STONED
Cropduster blends funk, hip hop, and various improvisational styles to create something of a thinking man's Greazy Meal.
Kid Dakota (tie)
GENRE: I REGRET ISSUING MY YAWP TO THE COLD AND UNCARING UNIVERSE--YET YAWP I MUST
Kid Dakota's strangled guitar chords and primitive percussion (read: pummeling an ice tray with a stick) combine to sound like a stampede of bipolar teenagers racing toward a Slint concert. Over his depressive soundscape, the Kid sings choked-up harmonies about feeling unattractive and begging girls not to leave him. The music is intriguingly ugly, lonely, and self-destructive. In short: it makes Kid Dakota an indie-rock dreamboat.
--Melissa Maerz, City Pages
Song of Zarathustra (tie)
GENRE: SCREAMS IN THE KEY OF LIFE
Since re-forming and releasing a full-length this year on New Jersey's Troubleman Records, these guys have developed a keyboard-fueled chaos that makes San Diego's the Locust sound dainty.
--Bryan Alft, Extreme Noise Records
6. Poor Line Condition (18)
GENRE: DRUM 'N' BASS PLAYED
ON ACTUAL DRUMS AND BASS
Forget Pink Floyd: Poor Line Condition is the only band that could convincingly soundtrack The Wizard of Oz. When they recently performed using a video of Dorothy's odyssey as a visual backdrop, the earthy basslines, spacey Moog overtones, and live drum beats were so danceable, the Tin Man started doing Daft Punk robot moves to the rhythm of his heart-shaped pacemaker.
7. The Dames (17)
GENRE: WHERE'S AMREP WHEN YOU NEED 'EM?
I accidentally discovered the Dames when I was exiting First Avenue through the Entry. They were ripping it up for a crowd of seven very fortunate people, and I was shocked by their paralyzing stage presence. The Dames are what hard rock is supposed to be: a fury of sound that says, "Fuck you!" and nearly strips your body from your bones.
--Paul WonSavage, Ricochet Kitchen
8. American Monsters (14)
GENRE: PUNK TO PLAY OVER A VIDEO LOOP OF DALE EARNHARDT'S LAST MOMENTS ON EARTH
Anarchic, sloppy as shit, and really bloody loud. You can't take your eyes off their lanky, rubber-limbed singer.
--Cecile Cloutier, freelance writer
Black Eyed Snakes (tie)
GENRE: JOHN LEE NEW WAVE HOOKER
The Black Eyed Snakes are another outlet for the restless creative energy of Low's Al Sparhawk, whose alter ego Chicken Bone George wails distorted vocals through a harmonica mic to thrash-blues accompaniment. Just as Low are subversive in their minimalism, the Snakes are subversive in their raw punk energy, stealing the blues back from the Kenny Wayne Shepherds of this world.
--Christine Dean, The RipSaw News
9. Jonas (13)
GENRE: SLAM TRANCE
Jonas's Sarah Khan has a lilting voice that floats through a...(bear with me)...Spectoresque wall of grunge guitar. If you follow too close you'll end up on the rocks. Look too deeply into her eyes and you may turn into one.
--Bill Sullivan, the 400 Bar
10. Suki Takahashi (11)
GENRE: JAZZ 'N' BASS PLAYED BY
ACTUAL JAZZ GUYS AND BASSISTS
Poor Line Condition and Suki Takahashi both show the effects that a decade of Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, and µ-Ziq will have on practiced, young "jazz" musicians. Newly invigorated with breakbeats, multilayered time signatures, and a tonal spectrum opened wide by technology, these all-live acts show you things you've never seen before.
--J.G. Everest, Crossfaded Thursdays
11. Iffy (10)
12. Buss; Jan; Sandman;
Oddjobs; Ol' Yeller; the Waves (9)
13. The Psychedelicates (8)
14. The Crush; Tin Porter (7.5)
16. Silent Iris (6.5)
17. Grickle Grass; If Thousands;
the Malachi Constant; Nationale;
Sweet J.A.P.; Volante (6)
Thanks to all the voters:
Bryan Alft, Lynne Bengtson, DJ Boogie, Jen Boyles, Laura Brandenburg, Jon Bream, David McCall Campbell, Amy Carlson, Cecile Cloutier, Dan, Christine Dean, Jennifer Downham, Ben Durrant, J.G. Everest, J. Free, Alan Freed, Joe P. Furth, Simon Peter Groebner, Sonia Grover, Tom Hallett, Mark Hansen, Keith Harris, Howard Held, Scott Henkemeyer, Julie Hill, Craig Holliman, John Jindra, Dallas Johnson, Nate Johnson, Kyle Kaine, Karla Klaustermeier, Shane D. Kramer, Nathan Kranz, Leo Kuelbs Jr., Stephen Lawson, Melissa Maerz, Meghan Mahar, James "Taco" Martin, Mean Larry, Tim Nelson, Dan Nycklemoe, Chuck Olsen, Patrick Olsen, Scott Pakudaitis, Ian Rans, Robyne Robinson, Christina Schmitt, Peter S. Scholtes, JonJon Scott, Ryan Simatic, Rod Smith, Bill Snyder, Ray Stiles, Chris Strouth, Bill Sullivan, Celeste Tabora, Lois Turen, Krista Vilinskis, Karrie Vrabel, Jim Walsh, Patrick Whalen, Mike Wisti, Paul WonSavage
Love Your Scene, Hate Your Radio
The only thing more stirring than listening to local music might be gossiping about it. With this in mind, our poll respondents talk about overlooked bands, beloved venues, and--this still being Minnesota--the wretched state of local broadcasting.
OK FM DOA
Zone 105's format change: death of the last alternative voice, or a welcome housecleaning? You decide.
--Cecile Cloutier, freelance writer
With Zone 105 gone, Twin Cities radio lost a fantastic Sunday-night specialty show: Mary Lucia's Popular Creeps. There are plenty of local-music radio shows, but Mary's interviewing style was unique and hilarious, and she had a great sense of what was going on in this town musically.
--Karla Klaustermeier, Radio K's Off the Record
The commercial landscape has nothing to offer anyone who enjoys music outside of Christina Aguilera, Barenaked Ladies, and Dexy's Midnight Runners. The Onion ran a headline a couple of years ago: "Dept. of Retro warns we may be running out of past." For most radio programmers, this is no longer a joke. Nice work, folks.
--Julie Hill, freelance writer
My prediction for the future: Radio K will go completely freeform and start playing really adventurous music instead of every four-minute song known to mankind. Okay, they're not going to do that, but dammit, I wish they would. I want to set the trends instead of getting run over by them.
I would argue that the venue of the year is KFAI. With the lack of non-retro nighttime radio, I've gotten a chance to rediscover the station of my youth, and I'm truly surprised at how much great stuff is there.
Neither corporate consolidation nor legalized payola (via independent promoters) are particularly local or musical issues. Yet they loom largest in the sorry state of Twin Cities radio.
--Mark Hansen, City Pages
Phases and Stages
All-ages venues are pretty much the same everywhere--each one like the Island of Misfit Toys, except crowded with hormone-hungry, rock-loving kids instead of misshapen stuffed animals--and they're a vital part of a healthy rock scene. So even from afar I was sorry to see the Foxfire go.
--Anders Smith-Lindall, freelance writer
I never set foot in the Foxfire Coffee Lounge, but it made many of my friends sad when it closed. And it made me sad that they were sad. Still, bad-mean-grown-up me refuses to feel guilty for despising precious little emo bands and liking gin and tonics.
We also lost the 1021 House, a great basement show space. Some of the most amazing bands played there over the last few years while most people ignored it. Many gigged there first, then went on to play the Foxfire or other larger venues. Where else are you gonna see Dillinger Four performing as "The Gyne-Lotrimen"?!
--Bryan Alft, Extreme Noise Records
It's about time Freeloaded was reincarnated with Crossfaded Thursdays at the Dinkytowner. Fresh Squeez and the rest of the groups bring together some of the most exciting musical melding and freeform interplay going on in this whole damn country.
--Nate Johnson, "Sound Unseen"
The Bryant-Lake Bowl is a diary. The 400 Bar is home. The 7th Street Entry is the ring. First Avenue is the runway.
--Mason Jennings, musician
The Non-Top Ten: Other Music
Howlin' Andy Hound
What year is this again? Feels like Nuggets '69 or Ramones '76, if you ask me. And in the coming months, garage punk on the order of the Strokes, etc. will be hailed as the Next Big Thing. Add this Minnesota mofo's sophomore record The Electric Dreams of Howlin' Andy Hound (Garage D'Or Records) to the top of the trend. Oh, and Dear Mr. Record Company: The Hypstrz were, and still are, the realest deal in garageland, so now that their second coming is nigh, don't you think it's about time you paid for your sins and made them rich?
--Jim Walsh, St. Paul Pioneer Press
Sanzone's trip hop creeps along to the tempo of a horror flick, building suspense until it encounters either angelic vocal loops or the voice of the Devil himself busting straight outta Laurie Anderson's Big Science.
--Melissa Maerz, City Pages
The Mike Brady Trio
I've seen these guys three times, and each time I do, I come away grinning a bigger grin than the last. Brady--the former leader of Accident Clearinghouse--is a smart pop craftsman the likes of which we haven't seen around here since Dylan Hicks--or my other favorite smart pop guy of the moment, Pete Hoffman. But what makes Brady and his trio stand out is his genial, wise-ass between-song banter, and his ability to disarm and charm even the most jaded audiences.
An extremely underrated Duluth native and former frontman of the ATF, this Midwestern-folksy punk captures the warm, hometown feelin' of a nice, broken-bottle bar fight.
--Shane D. Kramer, Pop for Charity
The last time I saw this whiskered brute (a.k.a. Mark Proksch), he played Pet Shop Boys samples, sang Cole Porter-esque lyrics, and noodled out some beautiful Casio serenades à la Magnetic Fields. Then this self-described "Pete Townshend of the autoharp" thrashed that stringed contraption so hard that his fingers literally bled.
The Birdie Four
Singer Elizabeth Pyper is too shy for the stage. So she hides behind a very large voice. These are roots that aren't dyed.
--Bill Sullivan, the 400 Bar
This DJ put himself on the map last year when he promoted a show titled Resurrection that attracted 3,000 people to a St. Paul junkyard. Then he backed it up with his skills as a producer: You can strip his music down to each individual sound and then build them back again to reveal the genius of his mix.
--Paul WonSavage, Ricochet Kitchen
He DJs, he writes, he produces, he plays instruments. Alexander East sweats music. And he exploded over the past year, with releases on the Chicago-based house label Afterhours, a spate of DJ gigs (including appearances at Miami's renowned Winter Music Conference in March), and performances on bass guitar at events such as First Avenue's DJ-musician get-together, "Musicos y DJs."
--Alan Freed, Beat Radio
The Hundred Flowers
Finally, a band that plays the glam card without going camp on us. They recall that bygone era of tragic beauty, flash, and trashy elegance better than some of the progenitors of the genre. Glitter and butch never looked so good together.
--J. Free, freelance writer
What is the future of local music? We'll strap on our jet packs so that we can fly to the 400 "Bar and Heliport" to rehash the times we saw the Hüskers back in the day. The opening of the animatronic Replacements exhibit at the TC Punk Wax Museum, located in the old Planet Hollywood at the Mall of America, will outdraw Camp Snoopy at its peak. The First Avenue National Historical Landmark will thrill the faithful by being accurate in every detail, right down to the filthy bathroom in the Entry. Jim Walsh will still be going through his midlife crisis.
I am pissed about the sound in many of the clubs around town. Is it the rooms, the equipment, or the men behind it all that is the problem? I don't know. What I do know is that loud and muddy seems to be the status quo. ARTISTS! Demand quality, or your fans will stop showing up.
--David McCall Campbell, KQ Homegrown
I'm glad the scene is now supporting hard rock. The Quest is drawing large numbers for local shows every Friday night, slowly becoming the hard-rock venue. American Head Charge is done with their album and will head out on the Ozzfest tour this summer. They're the first to be signed to a major label from this scene in quite some time. And because of them, other labels are checking out our hard-rock scene.
--Patrick Olsen, 93X Loud and Local
Last year: Musicians in their mid-20s show creative capability only grows with age. This year: Youth returns! Atmosphere goes global. Less and less shiny pieces of shit.
--David McCall Campbell
All sides--musicians, industry folk, and consumers--have something to gain and lose in digital-music technology, but it's obvious not all sides are working in the best interest of music itself. Microsoft has already announced that their new Windows XP will severely limit the quality of MP3 recordings by harnessing recording speeds to lower than 56 kilobits per second, ensuring a slightly muffled sound. To quote David Farber, former chief technologist at the Federal Communications Commission, "The industry doesn't want [MP3] pushed, and Microsoft and RealNetworks don't want it pushed. The consumer is going to eat what he's given."
When I first moved here from Michigan ten years ago, I picked up a little freelance work from this here paper. My first assignment from Jim Walsh was to cover the first installment of a new monthly local band showcase at First Avenue. Honestly, I was blown away that there could be a monthly local band showcase at First Avenue. Ten different bands every month. Where did they come from? Whittier, mostly. And, for a while, North Dakota. I concealed my awe by enthusiastically making fun of every one of the bands I wrote about. For a while it seemed like everybody was in a band. And then they were. And that sucked. And now that "alternative" is, well, alternative again, the local popscape is bursting back into disorderly bloom. Once again my friends talk excitedly, almost incredulously, about new local bands, singer-songwriters, MCs, and DJs. For the first time in years I can rattle off the annual Top Five but still feel like I missed more than I hit.
--Patrick Whalen, promoter