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

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

Claerhout says the most appealing thing to him about psychedelic rock is its total lack of ego. There's nothing more humbling than taking a tab of acid and freaking out about your electric bill for five hours, so he might be onto something here. But then he describes his last trip as "mild and meditative." He cleaned up his house, turned the lights down, and at one point took a half hour to walk across his living room. "I found it almost identical to the clarity I get from TM," he says.

I'm having my own moment of clarity. Are any of the popular indie-rock bands of today influenced by any decade other than the 1960s? When's the last time you heard somebody who sounded like Led Zeppelin IV + Ronnie Wood-era Stones? Or Meat Is Murder x Dead Kennedys? I guess nobody wants to risk sounding like Pearl Jam ever again. Certainly not Claerhout—he harmonizes with his own voice on Dante's new EP, Wonders, and then buries those voices underneath an anxiety attack of guitars. And you can't really decipher every lyric, but most of his songs seem like pretty heavy bummers about girls.

He says it's inevitable that this melancholy emerges in his music (we don't get into which girls influence that). "Besides, are you going to listen to party music all by yourself?" he reasons. "You can't cry to Guystorm."

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

Steve Marsh is a freelance writer.

7. Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps

photo: Amanda Johnson

Making mixtapes with Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps

by Steve McPherson

Caroline Smith and the Good Night Sleeps got their band name from the usual place.

"A Wendy's drive-thru," says Smith. "Really. I was ordering a spicy chicken sandwich."

This was when she and her bandmates (bassist Jesse Schuster and drummer Arlen Peiffer) were recording their debut album, Backyard Tent Set, over the course of five long days. "We really didn't know what we wanted these songs to sound like," she explains. "We had played them live a bunch, but we weren't satisfied with what we were doing, so we had to tear them apart and put them back together. A good night's sleep was what we hadn't had."

"Caroline just said, 'I didn't get a good night's sleep last night,'" says Schuster. "And I said, 'That's it,' and we were sitting in the car getting Wendy's."

The songs on Backyard Tent Set still bear the marks of being torn apart; they are, after all, mostly songs about heartbreak. The instrumentation is spare, gentle, and mostly acoustic. "You Promised Me" lets a ramshackle backing chorus carry the soft ba-ba's into the tune's chorus, and "Grizzly Bear" invites the world in through the hushed sounds of fingers on strings, passing cars, exhaled breaths, birdsongs outside the window, and bandmates shifting in their seats.

"We just had one mic up in the room," Schuster explains, "and I remember we did a couple takes and Chad [Weiss, producer/engineer] said, 'Imagine this is the last song you'll ever play.'"

To a song, the album is inviting but melancholy, intimate and wistful. Backyard Tent Set is a record on which every song could sit comfortably on a mixtape or a soundtrack, wooing your friends with their beguiling charm. So what are their mixtape staples?

"I can think of two right now," says Smith. "TLC's 'Diggin' on You' and then for some reason, the one that's been on recent ones is Velvet Underground's 'Here She Comes Now.' 'Diggin' on You' is just a big song for me. And Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat is just a really great album. I know that's really hipster to say."

Schuster names "The Four Corners" from Halloween, Alaska's debut album ("We were on tour and talking about what our favorite love songs are," he says by way of explanation) and Peiffer selects "Lizzy" or "Thirteen" by Ben Kweller and "A Dozen Roses," an obscure late-'90s gem by underrated Champaign-Urbana heroes Braid.

When the band members are asked about favorite soundtracks, a scuffle breaks out between Smith and Schuster over the soundtrack to Amelie before Schuster relents and picks The Life Aquatic. "Seu Jorge's renditions [of David Bowie songs] are sick. Wes Anderson always does a really good job with music. Like in The Royal Tenenbaums, when the daughter gets off the bus? And the Nico song ['These Days'] is playing? What a great display of that song!"

And the bands and songs keep coming: Sigur Ros, the Postal Service remix of Feist's "Mushaboom," Broken Social Scene, local band Switzerlind, and several more.

None of these bands really sound like theirs, but then again, by her own admission, Smith's music—and her bright, forthright voice—have come from a grab bag of dissimilar sources. "I think it's because finally all of the phases that I went through accumulated into this voice I have now," she says. "So there's Ben Gibbard, there's Ella Fitzgerald, there's Bob Dylan, there's TLC, all these weird phases that I went through that didn't really relate to each other. I feel like this is just what I sound like."

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