STNNNG in a Stunner

Picked to Click XV

Each of the five tracks on Duplomacy's self-titled debut EP, for example, is barely more than a single sweet riff, which the group turns over like a candy in its collective maw. Only through layering and sheer repetition does it grow larger, into the kind of song that sticks in your head (or at least your teeth). It's from this songcraft, in fact, that the group takes its name. "I had this idea about writing songs where all the pieces were simple and equal and together would make something big," says Flynn. "It reminded me of Duplo blocks."

These days Flynn's building those blocks higher than he ever intended. Duplomacy, he explains, began as a bedroom recording project and "was never really meant to be a band." It was all but forced to become one, once Flynn's lo-fi tapes caught the ear of T.W. Walsh of Pedro the Lion, a cat of Duplomacy's stripe. Walsh was impressed enough to invite Flynn out for a recording session, and the results became the Duplomacy EP, released last year on 2024 Records.

The warm reception received by the EP has snowballed in 2005 into flat-out impatience for a full-length, which is already several months behind schedule. Flynn promises it's on the way. Here's hoping he's right.

BUBBLING UNDER

Picked to Click history has shown that some top finishing bands quickly disintegrate or less quickly fade into obscurity, while some runners-up go on to reshape the scene. In other words, you'd be wise to watch out for the following acts, all of which nabbed a handful or more mentions from this year's voters:

Shut-Ins, the Gleam, Birthday Suits, Dessa, Digitata, the Pines, Planes for Spaces, Story of the Sea, the Alarmists, Action vs. Action, Aphrill, Gay Beast, Jazz Is Now! Nonet, Mute Era, hand

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Noted New York City street baller and singer-songwriter Chris Koza

Grain Belt Valentine
Chris Koza's heart belongs to flyover country
By Lindsey Thomas + Photo by Nick Vlcek

 

imageFor emerging musicians, record label reps, and gaggles of college radio staffers, New York's CMJ Music Marathon is a great (if expensive) opportunity to network. They talk shop, swap business cards, and push demos. They charm. They schmooze. And where is the Twin Cities contingent? Cloistered away in the cramped upstairs lounge of Mo Pitkin's, a restaurant in the Village. We're watching the Plastic Constellations and milling around tables where an intern from the Current offers free stickers. It's like being at the Turf Club if it had a smoking ban; it's like--Minneapolis.

Escaping this home away from home, Chris Koza finds a table downstairs, next to a wall strewn with caricatures of the restaurant's celebrity regulars, including a mysterious bearded man nicknamed "Bimbo." Koza isn't a natural-born Midwesterner but retains honorary status, having pinballed between the Twin Cities, New York, and Portland since graduating from St. Olaf in 2001. The night before, he performed at the Alphabet Lounge, a terracotta-colored shoebox on the Lower East Side, with few preconceptions.

"It was really nothing more than performing at an out-of-town gig where most people have no clue who you are," he says. "I didn't have any expectations or delusions of a freak discovery, a suit in the back with an expense account and a town car, or some local star looking to christen something new and unknown."

It's a shame that some indie label bigwig (if there is such a thing) wasn't in the room. He would have discovered a singer with the rare composite of elements that frequently paves the way for folk-pop success. Songwriting that touches on Dylan, Simon, and, to grab that key college demographic, Smith? Check. Cute, spectacled, and nonthreatening? Mmhmm. Catchy name? Could be. Z's a hot letter, although Jason Mraz may have already ruined it. A music industry Svengali would also have to accept that Chris Koza is not a singular entity but a group of musicians who Koza emphasizes are all equally important to the act. As recently as last year, Koza played slightly heavier art-rock in the Channels with Luke Anderson, Justin Blair, and Peter Sieve. When Koza decided to record a solo album, the rest of the band graciously accepted backup duty, helping Koza create Exit Pesce (self-released) in the hallway of his old Dinkytown apartment and now working on a follow-up at Pachyderm Studios.

Koza's occasional female accomplices steal the debut album's title track, starting with a sample of Caroline Kent's innocuous la-las and building to the gale force of JoAnna James's spectral howl. James and Koza started collaborating last year after she asked him to play her CD-release show, and now they tease each other like siblings. She wanders downstairs during the interview and they're soon engaged in a staring contest. When her phone starts vibrating, James cries foul, and Koza taunts, "Oh, is it someone calling to say you lost?"

Most of the album stays grounded in traditional acoustic songcraft. Sparse percussion and solemn guitar accompany "Chicago Avenue," commemorating Koza's time as a resident at 38th and Elliot, an area that grew on the hesitant singer: "Just maybe I'll stick around longer than I intend/Just maybe I'll miss this place like a wish." But the album's best tracks are the ones that bounce; "Tired Eyes" and "Winning the Lottery" are bright spots that demand repeated listens. The former, with its bursts of trumpet bleats and plunking piano, chugs along like one of the less morose tracks on Elliott Smith's Figure 8. Koza only occasionally steps into overly folksy territory. "South South Dakota" sounds like a lost Woody Guthrie tune that pleads for more states to break apart and secede, if only to produce work for those long-unemployed flag makers. While Exit Pesce is riddled with wistful references to sand, ships, and saltwater, "South South Dakota" is the only track that comes right out and says it: "My heart is not alone in longing for the colors of the distant shore."

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