Best of the Twin Cities®

Best Of 1999

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Best Of :: People & Places

BEST MALE VOCALIST

When you first hear Mason Jennings sing out loud, you're caught off guard, wondering what bizarre condition could enable a 24-year-old kid with an acoustic guitar to sound like a 94-year-old blues singer. But when Jennings calms to a rolling lull--that's when you're sold. For sure, his vocals are expressive. But Jennings never succumbs to Michael Bolton Syndrome, never overextends himself to force an emotional effect--the tragic flaw of many guy singers. Jennings's voice is the listener's entry point into his intense, acoustic-based rock songs, which begins to explain why his star is rising locally at an unusual rate. It also helps explain why he was nominated for six Minnesota Music Awards in his band's rookie year--including Best Male Vocalist, a category he might very well have won if not for popular favorite Dan Wilson. Jennings's voice is an archetypal one, which could spawn hapless imitators in years to come. But that's all right: Since Jennings's throat is already the beneficiary of an accelerated aging process, it will be interesting to hear him in future years, as the rest of his body catches up.

BEST ACOUSTIC PERFORMER

If you think traditional American folk music is all about frogs and mama, go out and buy the American Anthology of Folk Music. Sex and violence are at the heart of our folk tradition, folks. But if the '60s revival did occasionally glance down at these darker roots, it more often set its sights on contemporary social struggles, forever associating the acoustic guitar with peace and justice. Three decades later the local acoustic scene has produced a number of ("post-")folk stars who mess with our ideas of what strumming sans amplifier should be about, including the Mason Jennings Band and Brenda Weiler. (Both, with any luck, will become giant pop stars in a few minutes.) Still, only singer-songwriter Pablo revives folk's first-person-narrative tradition of sex and violence, and he manages to do so without sounding either exhibitionist or boastful. He has a remarkable vocal range with a throat affectation that's in Dylan's tradition, not his style. Pablo's melodies sound like they've been thrown down a flight of stairs, jumping scores of notes, sometimes in a single syllable. "Goddamn the agile sexless dreams of imperfect history," he quavers at one point on his agile, sexful 1998 album, Vulgar Modalities. You tell it, brother.

BEST ALBUM OF THE PAST 12 MONTHS

Last fall when rumor began spreading that there was a 23-year-old drum 'n' bass artist working out of his parents' Edina basement, many local insiders assumed the music he made would be a fraction as interesting as that exotic home life. Well, we were wrong. The willfully elusive anti-beats and ductile, melodic structures found on Mandell's import debut Parallel Processes have made for the most innovative, if not just plain best, music this town has produced since the Jayhawks' heyday. Mandell's classically influenced "techno etc." is simultaneously as challengingly rich and accessibly hooky as that of his U.K. post-rave contemporaries Autechre. And even if it could stand an inflection of the wistful cutesiness evinced by his compositional hero Aphex Twin, Mandell's seriousness has an admirable integrity that's sorely lacking in the cheap ironists who parody techno's cheesy lineage in disposable disco. As music, Parallel Processes updates Schoenberg for the Twenty-First Century, making love to your ear hole just as passionately as it plays with your mind's eye.

BEST ALL-AGES VENUE

It comes as little surprise that as the nation's latest baby boom passes into adolescence, all-ages venues such as the Whole Music Club on the University of Minnesota campus, Bon Appétit in Dinkytown, and the Coffee Shock in St. Paul are experiencing a late-'90s boom. But the Foxfire Coffee Lounge has managed to do something more than merely cash in demographic trends. The downtown Minneapolis club has remained both forward-looking and inclusive during its first year of existence, with early band bookings including little-known but highly acclaimed national acts such as indie-rockers Creeper Lagoon and punk-funkers the Make Up. The coffee-and-sandwich shop also gives its high-ceilinged, wood-floored space over to weekly teen Bible-study meetings, DJ nights, periodic hip-hop get-togethers, and hardcore punk shows. Chances are you'll find the widest age range of punk fans in the Cities here, sometimes scrunched into the same deep-cushioned couches.

BEST BAD TIMING

The day after the Vikings' dismal loss in the NFC title game, McCombs's lieutenants met with state officials to begin pressing their case for a new stadium. It's only a matter of time until Vegas posts odds on how much longer the team will stay in town.

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