Picked to Click 2009: Red Pens voted Twin Cities' best new band

Celebrating the 10 winners of this year's best-new-bands poll

Hamilton and Bennett say they are pleasantly surprised and grateful for the success they have had so far, though Hamilton jokes that he can't imagine how they got enough votes to win our Picked to Click poll. "Who are these people?" he laughs. "It must be every single person at every one of our shows, added up."

Red Pens Slideshow
Thrifting with Red Pens

2. Zoo Animal

photo: Emily Utne

Zoo Animal put a serious spin on minimalist rock 'n' roll

2009 Winner, Red Pens
Nick Vlcek
2009 Winner, Red Pens

by Andrea Swensson

A quick scan of this year's Picked to Click winners will reveal that, even though we call this our "best new band" issue, many of the groups aren't necessarily new. Sure, these particular formations of musicians playing under these particular band names have only recently emerged on the scene. But as with so many Twin Cities bands that came before them, many of the members have been in one, two, or even ten previous groups.

Almost everyone, it seems, has a storied past, a list of previous bands that shape who they are today. Red Pens? Yep, that's Howard from the Busy Signals. Leisure Birds are the "new Thunder in the Valley." Whitesand/Badlands is Andy from the Vets, while the Double Bird claim members from at least six pre-existing groups.

In this respect, Zoo Animal stand apart as one of the honest-to-god, brand-spanking-new bands in our poll. Aside from the occasional church music group and a bit of solo songwriting, this is the very first band for Holly Newsom, Tim Abramson, and Thom Burton.

"We're not coming from another successful band," says Newsom, who maintains a deadpan seriousness when she speaks. "We don't play in any other bands. It's almost weird, because I feel like a lot of other musicians are in more than one band, or have been in bands. There's a lot of recycling."

"We won't be this new next time around," Burton quips. "Yeah," Abramson adds, "when we're all in different bands."

For being so green (they formed in early 2008), these young musicians have already accomplished impressive feats. Zoo Animal's debut album, Young Blood, and their intense, moody live shows have earned them a reputation as one of the most promising acts in town. With an emphasis on minimalism and Newsom's elastic, whippoorwill voice, their music is immediately recognizable and distinct, though they often draw comparisons to modern-day acts as far-reaching as the Heartless Bastards, Cat Power, and the Pixies.

But what really sets them apart is the pensive, almost somber attitude with which they approach their music. In concert, Newsom rocks back and forth with her eyes pinched shut, her mouth contorting as words fall out one by one and her bandmates respond with measured bass beats and cymbal crashes. One gets a profound sense that their music is coming from another place altogether.

"When I play a show, I am on the verge of something," she says. "It's so intense. There's something that's inside of me that's pushing to get out, and coming out of my throat and coming out of my hands."

Every element of their live show is carefully considered, right down to the clothes they wear. Newsom's dress code prohibits patterns and logos and requires dark colors that reflect the band's dusky, brooding sound. "I'm not very into party music," she says, "like, 'Let's play rock 'n' roll really loud and get wasted!' That's boring to me, and a waste of my time.

"I decided I wouldn't drink or smoke before we play. If I feel anything or I'm drunk, I want it to be on the music. Focused. I want to go in there like I'm taking a test. We get a lot of comments that we're intense, and I am really intense when I play, because what I'm singing about is from really deep inside me—I can't just throw it away.

"Music's not a hobby to me," she says. "It's art."

3. Moonstone

photo: Chelsey Roseter

Separating fact from fiction proves impossible with Moonstone

by David Hansen

Moonstone aren't getting much help from NASA. Not much at all. In order to monitor the crystallization process of the tristar, by which they schedule their record releases, they have to book their own time at local observatories, like common schnooks.

But if it bothers Reverend Micah Mackert, Moonstone's spiritual leader and Lunarian mouthpiece, he doesn't show it. He sits perched at the head of the table with a yogi's nonchalance. Around him, the band members sit stalwart, silent, and straight-faced. They don't speak. They don't react. They just are.

Confused? Let's back up—Reverend Mackert says a lot of things. He says Moonstone is an orthodox Lunarian parish. He says they "serve the moon." He says they write songs by divine seizure. He says that the Lunarian parable cycles, on which Moonstone base all their music, represent the oldest extant human writings. He says they all met in 2001 at a Lunarian conference and that, after bathing, prayer ceremonies, and the application of sacred balms, they became spiritually united in an evangelical mission.

But what does it mean?

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