Picked to Click 2010

Pink Mink lead the pack in our 20th annual best-new-bands poll

"Bombs never broke up," says Stefon Alexander. "It just turned into an acid trip."

"We were needing something to do, Ryan [Olson] and I, while P.O.S. was on tour all the time," says Isaac Gale. "We were looking for something interesting. So we had an idea to do a project that could be assembled with anyone, anywhere, anytime." He adds: "A party squad."

Marijuana Deathsquads is a fleet shadow on the Earth—a crush of synthesizer noise, galed by innumerable collaborators into an ungovernable roaring. Yet it is governed. Its tandem drummers, Ben Ivascu and Freddy Votel, nail the music to the mast so that, as they play, a brilliant, unruly banner unspools behind them on fierce winds. And with them, a vast division of musicians, conscripted for their talents, for their savagery, for their unwillingness to be ruled, too many to name. Marijuana Deathsquads, borne of a band, is a band no longer, at once less and more than that old idea.

And like a shadow, Marijuana Deathsquads at once is and is not—it has five members, it has hundreds of members, it has no members at all. Its song is the indelible sketch of a song, and yet a song nonetheless, protean and feral, the voice of a great fire kept by many hands.

"There are parts," says Alexander. "But it's new parts every time. The vision is to see what we could do with all these people and no boundaries. Even when it feels loose, it has a pulse that you can't disconnect from. It's as noisy and jumbled as it can possibly be, but it's there—the heart of it, rattling in time."

In its most fateful hour, Building Better Bombs gazed on its own reflection, and Marijuana Deathsquads gazed back from a disquiet, ruined world, platooned by an army of shades. Now they are burning all the old ways.

An album is forthcoming.

8. Buffalo Moon

By Nikki Miller • Photo by Emily Utne

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When Buffalo Moon welcomed me to their abode one crisp autumn morning, I found them immediately likable.

Was it the coffee they brought me, snapping me out of my hangover haze? Perhaps it was their amiable, easy, even gentle demeanor as they shared the test pressing of their Black Magic/Low Tide Moon 7" being released later this month by Moon Glyph, a warm listen that made me feel as though I was sipping Café Cubano en una playa en Cayo Largo, bossa weaving in and out of psych. Was it the giant portrait of Prince adorning their otherwise smartly decorated home? Or did it happen when they excitedly grabbed for the piece most instrumental in the creation of their first full-length, Wetsuit—"Preston's little sister's synth," which Preston Holm described as follows while he cradled the massive object: "It sounds like shit."

Or a better theory: Members Holm, Sarah Darnall, Joel Schmitz, and Jon Wetzler, though they're known locally for their Latin-influenced music, grew up in—where else?—South Dakota, as did I. As for the Latin-influence, a bit comes from singer Karen Freire, who grew up in Ecuador, where I, for a time, lived. I found myself surrounded no longer by some band, but a band who went to the same camp I did! (Storm Mountain, Black Hills, where Darnall and Holm were campers, Schmitz their counselor.) A band whose first exposure to Latin and jazz was playing in high school band! (As Darnall and Holm did.) And statewide band camp! (Preston and Wetzler.) Add Freire, who speaks furiously about regional differences between her Ecuadorian stomping grounds and mine (Guayaquil vs. Quito), and I realized these were my people.

Bringing the band's biography full circle, Holm met Freire at McNally Smith and, in explaining all jazz band/band camp/church camp connections, "Basically, we were all fuckin' nerds, then we met Karen and became cool."

A drum-influenced native aesthetic gave way to their current dirty bossa samba sound, which Joel describes as sounding intentionally like "knotted guitar cables." The band is currently dabbling in R&B, a little more soulful but where chaos still ensues. The group doesn't identify as Latin musicians, but they exercise respect for the form. Plus, Preston adds, "We also really like Prince."

I would expect nothing less from a bunch of South Dakota kids who cut their teeth on high school jazz bands. Y'hear that, South Dakota governor? If you don't agree Buffalo Moon's proven a good case for keeping up on arts funding in your state, then you should go eat a bison pie.

9. Phantom Tails (tie)

By Erin Roof • Photo by Julie Runia

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It's one in the afternoon, and Phantom Tails look worse for wear. Orion Treon is sucking down coffee, and band mates Logan Kerkhof and Serge Hernandez have only just now realized they are wearing identical plaid shirts. But the bleary eyes are justified.

"For the last 72 hours at our house we've had no less than 10 musicians at any time, strictly writing music," Kerkhof says. "The cops came two nights ago at like 4:30 in the morning. The cop's like, 'What is that—a tuba?'"

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