Picked to Click 2012

After hundreds of ballots and votes, the best of the best new bands have been chosen

After questions started circulating about when a record was coming, a fervid July and August in the studio turned into We Are the Chalice. It's a party EP, a gilded cup handled with a middle finger cocked on its cover, to remind us that Missy Elliott used to have the nickname "Misdemeanor," and that audacity and brashness are an acceptable substitute for hip hop's chin-stroking and pontification. Their song "Ladies Night," while it is immediately a nod to what the Chalice call "our foremothers," is also based on a true story that's still unfolding.

When Friday's release show arrives, so does a palpable and feminine electricity inside the Entry. Even though each member of the Chalice is only in her early to mid-20s, there's ample creative ground to cover. In addition to We Are the Chalice, Lizzo has regular projects with Larva Ink and Tha Clerb, and de Lune has her solo songs, as does Eris. And everyone guests on everyone else's stuff around town. It's a set lively and fluid enough for the middle-finger wavers to want to get crunk, and long enough for the whole room to achieve crunk.

Still, the ladies admit they've only really begun to mesh recently. "If you listen to the record, you can hear us grow as a group," Lizzo says. "We're not just three artists anymore." If this is only the happy hour of the Chalice's development, let's order up another round.

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2 // Pony Trash

By Reed Fischer

"Part of the reason that we had the discussion about Chris [Bierden] joining the band is because he was the person we knew had a lot of time on his hands," explains Pony Trash singer/guitarist Neil Weir.

While kicking back in an office chair inside Old Blackberry Way, the recording studio he runs, Weir articulates the tightly scheduled world of a band of four men who play in a lot of other bands. While their time together is scarce, inspiration is not in short supply.

For example, only when Weir isn't occupied with the Chambermaids, Sativa Flats, or his solo instrumental project, Devil on the Beach — plus recent and continuing studio clients like Cloak Ox, Blind Shake, Chatham Rise, and Web of Sunsets — can he get together to rehearse with neo-shoegazers Pony Trash.

With a dual attack of reverb-heavy Fender Jazzmasters, the music hits the gut far harder than it does the eardrums. "It's all about how hard you're playing the strings in this band," says equally occupied guitarist Nate Nelson. He's also in the Chambermaids, and other groups include STNNNG, a project with his wife called Sister Bear, and American Cream. "You're playing the strings so lightly, you're setting a mood. I've never done that too much in bands, where you're trying to play as quietly as possible. You're not turning down your amp or anything, it's just how delicate can you play."

Nelson and drummer Ollie Moltaji (Gospel Gossip, Battle Napkin, Wizard Baby, a Bruce Springsteen cover band, among others) share a couch near Weir. Surrounding them is wallpaper with a pattern that might start moving at any second, a comfortable mix of glimmering vintage lamps, and recording gear. These rooms may be just part of the first floor of an unassuming house near Dinkytown, but Weir has continued a several-decade lineage of hosting a hip musical womb, of sorts, within these walls.

Absent is bassist Bierden, who might have the least free time recently due to another Picked to Click band, Heavy Deeds (see page 14), and a certain guitarless, experimental combo that has been on the road extensively throughout 2012. Still, scheduling's been really easy, Weir contends: "I just look at the calendar for the green line. That's Poliça. If that's not there, Chris is available to get together. Last practice we had was one day between two Poliça tours that he had off. He's really eager to work hard on stuff when he's in town."

Pony Trash started as a more loose garage-y incarnation about two years ago with bassist Srini Radhakrishna (France Has the Bomb), who has since moved to Chicago. About a year ago, Bierden stepped in on bass and things became more fluid and melodic, and the group began work on the self-titled five-song EP coming out in November. With four guys balancing so many projects at once and so little time to rehearse, it's easy to see why a high level of precision in conversation is important. Having a sound engineer like Weir in the band opens up a hyper-attention to detail when it comes to influence and intent.

"[This music] has this breathing quality that isn't meticulously constructed," Weir says, and adds that the feel they're after is expressed on live Velvet Underground, Neil Young and Crazy Horse's mid-'70s creative run of On the Beach, Tonight's the Night, and Zuma, but also a proto-alternative album like the Breeders' Pod. None of these bands have melodies quite like Pony Trash's Grand Canyon of twang "The Weight of the Night" or the expansive tear-jerker "Dry Your Eyes."

So far, listeners are split on how the results come across — comparisons to the seasonal extremes of summer and winter keep coming up. "It's both in my mind," Nelson says, not long before he and Moltaji semi-hastily exit the studio for their next projects of the day. "Reverb-y guitars make you think of surf, so I can see the summer thing. There's a sadness to the songs too, which makes you feel kinda wintry. I take it as a compliment. Then we did what we were setting out to do, a little bit. The contrast is very interesting."

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3 // John Mark Nelson (tie)

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