Vita.mn died last year, but its parent company, the Star Tribune, salvaged the weekly newspaper's Are You Local? contest. Though the Strib didn’t take the revival as an opportunity to give the best-new-band competition a better name, AYL? 2016 still managed to attract nearly 100 hopeful Minnesota music acts.
That initial pool of entrants was whittled down to 16, and now we've arrived at the five final contestants. Those acts will battle Saturday in the 7th St. Entry for the grand prizes: performing at First Avenue’s South by Southwest send-off concert on March 11, then hitting up the Star Tribune/First Avenue SXSW showcase in Austin, Texas, on March 18. The winning band will also receive $1,500, plus the recognition of indeed being "local."
Here’s a look at the finalists’ idiosyncratic pop sounds.
For fans of: Deradoorian, Zola Jesus, Santigold.
How they sound: Like her atmospheric production, Ness Nite embraces subtlety when describing her “eclectic, nocturnal style.” The 20-year-old Minneapolis solo artist combines rap, future R&B groove, and lush pop hooks that culminate in a distinctly millennial sound — like listening to FKA Twigs while strolling amid the blooming flora in the Como Conservatory.
Choice lyric: Ness Nite brings us through a fantasy of a hopeful lover in “Yes." Reflecting youthful (potentially suburban) vibes, she dreams of finding someone to “Match my zodiac / In this cul de sac.” Good news if your sign vibes with Nite’s Sagittarius.
Danami and the Blue
Formed: Danami’s been performing solo since 1997.
For fans of: The Roots, Lupe Fiasco, anything vaguely labelled "neo-soul."
How they sound: Danami and the Blue’s genre-blending soul is great fun, but vocalist Danami-Maurice Champion’s goal is to “change people’s lives” with his Motown/hip-hop swing. Along with his seven-piece live band the Blue, Danami keeps his soul-rap jams tight and groovy. “My manifesto is simple — to add value to people,” Damani says on his website. Three releases in, the St. Paul-based McNally grad is putting his degree to good use by spreading his brassy, shuffling rap vibes.
Choice lyric: The words are important, but on “By Your Side,” Danami lets his earnest love sparkle over an in-the-pocket beat when he sings, “My desire wrote this/ I keep my eyes open/ To catch all these moments we spend together.” Though a cold reading of this line might sound boy band-y, Danami’s aged flow hits all the authentic rhythms. Who can’t help falling in love with a guy like this?
Good Night Gold Dust
For fans of: Metric, Alt-J, Gillian Welch if she played with beats instead of blues guitar.
How they sound: Mankato’s Good Night Gold Dust describes their self-titled EP as a blend of “ethereal vocals, glitchy guitars, dark synthesizers, and a mixture of live and electronic drums.” Recorded with Bad Bad Hats/Caroline Smith producer Brett Bullion, Good Night Gold Dust offers us a taste of what mainstream indie electro-pop might’ve sounded like if Stevie Nicks had sung “Believe” instead of Cher.
Choice lyric: On “Broken Wing,” singer/guitarist Laura Schultz doubles down on the song’s epic, dying-bird-as-metamorphosis metaphor when she sings, “Pulling at all the silver feathers/ on the way to spring,” just before breaking into the single’s hooky chorus. Schultz is the perfect gold dust woman for anyone looking for a local sojourn into modern Laurel Canyon sounds.
For fans of: Phantogram, Chairlift, Purity Ring, Sylvan Esso ... any other 21st-century boy/girl producer-vocalist duo.
How they sound: Born from the classic semi-established-singer-finds-veteran-producer-to-collaborate-with storyline, R&B singer Ashley Gold and producer/engineer Garrett Neal formed Holidae to create tunes with pop sensibilities and futuristic soundscapes that will “haunt your dreams.”
Choice lyric: On “Darkest Shade,” Neal’s slowly simmering synths bubble up just in time for Gold to sneak in some lovely yet perturbing lyrics, with lines like, “All I need is your kiss / Peel away the bandage and fall,” adding a creepy undercurrent to Holidae’s huge choruses.
For fans of: OK Go, the 1975, the Neighbourhood.
How they sound: Dives list their genre on Facebook as "rock" — a tag that fits them in 2016 better than definitions of the genre from years past. The Minneapolis five-piece use their shiny, synthy pop-rock to ask listeners, “Ever have an amazing basket of waffle fries at 2 a.m.?” Apparently, that’s the synthesia-like sensation Dives try to achieve with their self-titled debut EP, which came out last October.
Choice lyric: After the pitchy-guitar synth swirling intro on “ChinaTown,” Dives use the instant cheeseball-classic line, “In case of fire, please tuck and roll/ I don’t belong here, please avoid this black hole” to ramp into more squealing guitar and morse code-like synth interplay. For those about to indie rock, we salute you.
Are You Local? finalist contest
With: Holidae, Dives, Danami and the Blue, Ness Nite, Good Night Gold Dust.
When: 7 p.m. Sat., Feb. 20.
Where: 7th St. Entry, 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis
Tickets: $5, 18 and older; more info here.
Are You Local? showcase
With: Allan Kingdom, the winning AYL? band, and special guests.
When: 7 p.m. March 11.
Where: First Avenue, 701 First Ave. N., Minneapolis
Tickets: $10-$12; more info here.