Picked to Click 2013

The 23rd installment of Picked to Click, or when the rappers took over

A Picked to Click honoree who's already "clicked" plenty, Ginkgo's Josh Grier rocked the likes of Letterman and Coachella with his blog-buzzed rock band Tapes 'n' Tapes during the late 2000s. That level of success typically leads to music-career tunnel vision, but appears to have had the opposite effect on Grier. Growing dissatisfaction with the touring grind led him to put Tapes 'n' Tapes on ice and make Manopause, his one-man band debut as Ginkgo.

A warped and woozy delight, Manopause irreverently blends disparate sounds and styles and is defined by gleeful experimentation. There's room at the table for both rinky-dink synth-pop goofs like "Casiotiones" and the buoyant tropcialia of "Moped Song." These new sounds have Grier feeling liberated and energized.

"To grow in life you have to challenge yourself to do new things," he explains. "I've always written pop songs with tightly defined arrangements and melodies. I really wanted to push myself away from that and just see where the songs could go if I allowed for more fluctuation. I had no idea what anyone else would think of it, so the only criteria was really 'Does this feel right to me?'"

By Grier's own admission taking that line of thinking "to the extreme," Manopause at times makes for jarring listening, as when overdubbed stacks of stinging guitar lines jostle for pole position on "Line Dancing With the Stars." For Grier, the intentional chaos ultimately proved creatively rewarding.

"I wanted to recreate that feeling of seeing a band live that doesn't quite know the songs completely," recalls Grier. "There's that scary element of 'Is this all going to fall apart?' That out-on-the-edge feeling has always given me a rush."

Grier sounds like a man at peace with his past and firmly in control of his future, which for now means focusing on friends, family, and a stable day job over his music career.

"The people that I've met who are really successful in the music business have made a lot of personal sacrifices," he says. "They're working really hard all the time and want it really bad. If you decide that's not what you want out of life then why would you want to commit your whole existence to doing just that one thing?"

"I don't think we've ever made a song in the daytime," says Pony Bwoy vocalist Jeremy Nutzman. "We weren't looking for product, we were just hanging out and having fun."

The experimental R&B duo of Nutzman, who raps under the name Spyder Baybie Raw Dog, and producer Hunter Morley mostly work together in an after-after-party haze, melding sporadic sounds and ideas into tightly realized end results. Simultaneously free-form and intensely mulled-over, the lyrics feel stream-of-consciousness, while sonic structures meander through electronica, soul, hip-hop, funk, and "sappy-ass love ballads," as Morley put it.

"We pick over it very harshly," Morley says. "We argue every little point. Every little word, every little note, we sit there and go back and forth and eventually settle on something. It's completely collaborative."

They stress that their songwriting is not evenly divided along lines of producer and vocalist, as both parties develop the song's live instrumentation, chord progressions, and lyrics. The music retains some of the standard Spyder Baybie grit but is also hauntingly beautiful, utilizing moody minor-key melodies to create some powerful compositions. Their self-titled debut album's lead single, "Ævum (time crawls)", accompanied by a slow-motion video of Nutzman being covered in black liquid, is a prime example of how affecting the stark dark-pop soundscapes can get.

"We were more surprised than anybody with how pretty-sounding it was," Morley recalls. But this is still party-driven music, built from impromptu late-night studio sessions and chemically enhanced creative spurts that aimed to make it sound like a different vocalist was singing on almost every song. "I imagine throwing a pile of mud at a plate glass window and a rainbow comes out the other side," says Nutzman. "It was concentrated, but it's a dirty style."

Within, you'll hear Nutzman rapping, crooning, and pitch-warped warbling as the underlying texture shifts subtly in multiple directions. Morley's past work with electro-pop act Enola Gay made him initially hesitant to begin a full-fledged new band, but after quickly amassing three albums' worth of material in the past year, it was clear Pony Bwoy was a beast of its own.

"There's definitely a workaholic attitude. If we died next year, we'd both be happy with the stuff we wrote this year," says Morley. "It's actually kind of serious and reflects where we were mentally and physically during the making of it."

Southwire have emerged out of the fertile music scene in Duluth with a blend of plaintive folk and a vibrant backbeat rooted in hip-hop. Songs that were born modestly around the elegiac strains of frontwoman Jerree Small's piano blossomed in the studio under the deft, gritty touch of Crew Jones bandmates Sean Elmquist and Ben Larson. Along with bassist Matt Mobley, the group gives the gospel-tinged numbers a stylish, pulsating rhythm.

Originally a side project, Southwire truly began to blossom once it got the members' full attention, and they set their sights on the concert stages in the Twin Cities area and beyond. In a live setting, Small's soaring, weathered vocals mix elegantly with Larson's gravelly spoken word, and the band's rhythmic churn swells far beyond the diminutive, piano-laden studio versions of this year's self-titled debut.

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