Picked to Click 2011
Like most good ideas, Picked to Click started on a whim. The first installment debuted 20 years ago this past May, compiled by then-City Pages music editor Jim Walsh and inspired by a recent poll he and others had assembled hedging bets on that season's baseball players.
In 1991, the paper asked 38 music-scene staples—including City Pages contributors, writers for other publications, venue bookers, and band managers—to weigh in with five favorite new, undiscovered, or underappreciated Twin Cities acts. Even then, the language of the poll was clear: The rules were loose, the idea was informal, and the whole thing was meant to be fun—"nothing more, nothing less." In the 20 years since that first round of winners debuted, Picked to Click has been revered, endeared, despised, and argued over, but it still remains.
In this nitpicky, overstimulated age, some might say we're already so inundated with new bands and sounds that we don't need a silly poll to tell us what's what. But the Twin Cities has always been a live-music-centered town, and by grilling a throng of musically obsessed showgoers we're not just finding out which bands might have the best mp3s to download online—in fact, many of this year's winners are so new they barely have a recorded demo to their name. Rather, think of the Picked to Click issue as a checklist you can clip out and tape to your fridge. It's a less-than-comprehensive but pretty great list of up-and-coming new bands that are worth the cover charge to check out live—nothing more, nothing less.
Here are the rules we played by: We asked 115 newspaper writers, bloggers, photographers, bookers, DJs, record store clerks, label owners, and a few past Picked to Click luminaries to send us their top five favorite new local acts. Their top choice received five points, second choice received four points, third choice received three points, and so on. If they left their choices unranked, each artist was given three points. As you'll see below, one particularly detail-oriented voter went so far as to split his final vote between five acts, awarding them .2 points each.
We added the points and came up with one landslide victor, a couple of popular runners-up, and a few ties, which left us with 13 bands in the top 10 spots (true, it's not how a mathematician would do it, but the spirit of the poll has always been to feature as many bands as possible).
Presenting the winners of our 21st Picked to Click poll:
1. The Cloak Ox (141 points)
2. Poliça (78.2 points)
3. Night Moves (55.2 points)
4. Howler (55 points)
5. Robust Worlds (35 points)
6. (tie) The 4onthefloor, blood&stuff (32 points)
7. Nightosaur (30 points)
8. (tie) Gramma's Boyfriend, MaLLy (29 points)
9. UMAMI (28 points)
10. (tie) Dream Crusher, Elite Gymnastics (24 points)
#1: The Cloak Ox
By Andrea Swensson
Here's an exercise in futility you can all try at home: Get a large piece of paper and a pen, and sidle up next to your local-record collection. Write the words "The Cloak Ox" in the middle of the page, with four spokes leading to members Andrew Broder, Martin Dosh, Jeremy Ylvisaker, and Mark Erickson. Start creating a flow chart that connects each member to each of his previous Twin Cities projects, to each other, and out into the musical universe. Color-code the entries if you must. Stop when you've either filled in every inch of blank space on the page or thrown your hands up in despair.
It should only take you an hour or two. Trust us, we've tried it.
There's a recurring joke/dig against the Picked to Click poll that it somehow always votes in familiar faces. This has been a banner year for bands who have re-formed out of the ashes of other bands, and this theme of regeneration speaks more about the fluidity of the Twin Cities music scene and the increasingly collaborative nature of our multigenerational and multifaceted community than it does about the poll.
"I guess I've just noticed that there are a lot of creative people here, and all of them have too many ideas," says Ylvisaker. "Me included—I don't spend all of my time nurturing one. I'm chasing the next one."
"I think if you have one idea that you're pursuing as far as you can, you don't live here," suggests Erickson. "You live in L.A. or you live in New York, because that's where the people who 'can make your dream a reality' live. Here, we don't give a shit about those people or have that kind of a dream. We have a dream of multiplicity—to do as many things as you can at the same time."
Despite its members' numerous past and present projects (too many to list here; we'll just refer you to the flowchart), the Cloak Ox gelled quickly and debuted as a fully formed, fully functioning rock band earlier this year. If there's one lyric that represents the band's new outlook, it's the repeated refrain from the title track of the band's debut EP: "I feel like I just got out of prison!" That sense of unbridled freedom—freedom to unhinge oneself from the past, to be happy when the mood calls for it, and to bravely face and even embrace the unknown—binds the work together and lends the band its undeniable spark. Lead singer and songwriter Andrew Broder has certainly stayed busy in the time since his critically lauded but chronically underappreciated band, Fog, dissolved. In addition to performing solo sets as Brodr and releasing a series of ambient, instrumental guitar and turntable albums for free on the web, he recorded a soundtrack for an audiovisual project by comic-book author Alan Moore. But there is a sense that Broder is reinventing himself in this new band, and the Cloak Ox's songs course with a sense of newfound enthusiasm that bursts to life onstage.
"I had a reserve of energy that I didn't realize I had until I started writing these songs for this band with these guys," Broder says. "So that's the only way I really tie it into anything else I've ever done. But other than that, what's really cool about it to me is that it has very little to do with anything else that I've done. I mean, these same four people were in a band 10 years ago, and this music has nothing to do with that music. I think that's really cool." Though a few of the defining characteristics of Fog still linger (muscular, jagged riffs; clean, clear guitar tones), the new Cloak Ox songs are more melodic, playful interpretations of the technically complex, cerebral indie rock its members are known for creating—and, above all else, it's obvious they are having fun doing it.
"Playing with these guys is my favorite thing in the world," Dosh says, to which Erickson quickly agrees: "We're all primarily friends before fellow musicians."
And though the members of the band have all been around the music-industry block a few times, they seem pragmatic and open to whatever opportunities may unspool at their feet—or not.
"I've been in that position before where I've thought too much about what the goals are and what the ambition is, and it doesn't serve the music very well, and it doesn't serve you as a person very well to dwell on those things," says Broder. He cuts himself off mid-thought, though, to insist that he's never stopped honing his craft as a songwriter and an artist. "I think we are all striving to be as good as we can possibly be, so in that sense it's like I'm hugely ambitious," he says. "When we play a show, I want to be better than everybody."
# 2: Poliça
By Andrea Swensson
"If Poliça don't blow up, I will lose all faith in the Twin Cities music scene," omnipresent showgoer Chris Cloud gushed to me earlier this summer. He was filling me in on the band's first gig, where Poliça played to an awestruck throng of scenesters and local music industry staples—many of whom chose the band as their top pick in this year's poll based on the merits of that one show alone. The following week, they played four sold-out shows on the East Coast opening for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and are now negotiating a deal to release their first full-length record nationally. Though they are just a few months into their existence as a band, Poliça have emerged like the ace up the Twin Cities' sleeve.
"We started in early June, finished the vocals and the melodies, and then by the end of July we had the drums done and the bass done, and we mixed it in the beginning of August," frontwoman Channy Casselle says, shrugging nonchalantly. Many will recognize Casselle as the singer from popular roots band Roma di Luna, which disintegrated this year when she and her husband-bandmate Alexei Moon separated. But Poliça is a far cry from Roma di Luna's folk-based, guitar-driven approach.
Casselle says the idea for starting a new project came about when she began collaborating with Ryan Olson for his massive recording project, Gayngs, and was particularly intrigued by the vocal manipulators she used while performing and touring with the group last spring. "The interesting thing about this project is there are a lot reasons for people to hate it," Casselle says brazenly, reflecting on the stigma surrounding Auto-Tune in popular music. But both Olson and Casselle are comfortable operating in a post-Auto-Tune world, one in which vocal manipulations have trickled down out of Top 40 music and into more experimental territory.
For Poliça, the vocal manipulations paint a more impressionistic picture, at times blurring Casselle's voice so dramatically that individual words are barely audible. But when a snippet of lyrics does rise to the surface, these new songs can be downright devastating. "I swallow whiskey, I take to powder, I take the flowers/But I am still so, so sad," she sighs on "I See My Mother," while the hair-raising "Leading to Death" mourns, "In the days, in the nights, in the hours leading up to your death/I will weep, I will weep." And those are just the words that are easily discernible.
"People have always told me they can't understand what I'm saying," she admits. "I tend to sing more sounds, and then fit words into them. I think of it almost like world music, where you feel what this person is singing about, but you don't necessarily know the words. There is just a certain part of my personality that is a mumbler, so it comes out in the songs—like I have something to say, but I'm a little bit nervous about how to say it, so I might not articulate it, but the feeling comes across."
Which isn't to say that Poliça's shows are sad-sack affairs or purely emotional exercises. Olson created many of the band's grinding electronic beats (some of which were left over from his days working with Digitata and Mel Gibson and the Pants), but he doesn't actually perform with the group live; instead, he recruited dextrous bass player Chris Bierden and dueling drummers Drew Christopherson (Digitata, Solid Gold) and Ben Ivascu (Marijuana Deathsquads) to flesh out the songs and create a booming, post-apocalyptic vibe with a razor-sharp attention to detail. With a few shows under their belt, the band will pack up the van once again to perform several times during CMJ before embarking on another tour with Centro-Matic—not bad for a band that's only been around for four months and is still figuring out how to release their debut album.
#3: Night Moves
By Jeff Gage
John Pelant flashes a sly grin and says just about all that needs to be said: "Oh, we knew exactly how we wanted to sound from the beginning. There was never any question."
Pelant's soft whisper of a voice almost gets lost in the din of Mortimer's, where he and his bandmates from Night Moves sit around a pitcher of beer. But much like Pelant's quavering falsetto or the band's murky, underwater groove, the young psych rockers exude a quiet confidence below their joking demeanor. They seem like a band who know what they want.
It helps that most of the quartet knew each other well before starting the group, and even played in other bands together, including former Picked to Click finishers Food Pyramid and Mouthful of Bees. "We've been friends since high school," says keyboardist Mark Ritsema. "No one gets offended that way. Which is good, because that's a problem with a lot of new bands."
In fact, drummer Jared Isabella is the only one without a prior connection to the group. "I'd seen them play around town, saw them with their original drummer, and it was super wicked," he remembers, lounging back in his chair with arms folded. "I talked to [bassist] Mickey [Alfaño] and found out their drummer wasn't going to live here, so I was like, 'I like to play drums....'"
Listening now, you could believe the band never doubted what they should sound like. Theirs is a slinky mix of spaced-out Todd Rundgren reverb and a Gram Parsons twang, with a ramshackle looseness that lends the music much of its warmth. "Night Moves" is an all but perfect description, but it wasn't necessarily the obvious choice. "It was the name of a song at first, then we realized it was already a Bob Seger song," says Pelant. "We figured we'd call the album that, but then we realized that was [Seger's] album title, too. So we finally said, 'Fuck it,' and made it the band name."
It's a little surprising that Night Moves have stayed mostly under the radar so far, although that could be partially explained by the delay in releasing their debut record, Colored Emotions. It briefly made a free, online appearance last spring before the guys decided to seek out a new record label—not an uncommon setback for new bands, but one they also seem philosophical about. "It was a good decision," Pelant shrugs. After all, it took them the better part of two years to record it, so the extra patience is relative at this point. "We worked on it for so long, we want to do it right."
Once Colored Emotions finally hits the shelves, we'll probably start to hear a lot more from Night Moves. And when that happens, you can bet they'll be ready for us.
By Natalie Gallagher • Photo by Chris Heidman
For enthusiastic local four-piece rock-pop band Howler, the rise to success was extraordinarily swift, all things considered. After all, it's a rare band that gets signed to a renowned indie label like Rough Trade without even having a reputation to stand on—and yet there's something a little more to it than sheer luck.
Listening to Howler is like listening to the best pop music of the '60s, '70s, and '80s, somehow jumbled together like an accidental high that leads to life-defining adventures. Which might be the aim of Howler—if the band claimed to have any aim at all. The sound of their debut EP, This One's Different, is simultaneously sunny and gritty, with guitar-driven highs and lows and staccato riffs that erupt all at once, all over the place, like a reckless fireworks show.
The band—whose members, Jordan Gatesmith, Max Petrek, Ian Nygaard, France Camp, and Brent Mayes, are scarcely old enough to legally consume alcohol—have the kind of flippant approach to music-making that can be expected from young mavericks who are most likely unaware of their full potential, and God help rock 'n' roll when they realize it. Howler's songs are irresistible—punky and poppy but not annoying, too catchy not to sing along to, and nothing you would mind getting stuck in your head. It's like mature garage thrash—the kind of music that rarely grows up, but when it does, it achieves a unique eloquence.
Lyrically, songs like "Told You Once" and the quirky "You Like White Women, I Like Cigarettes" are filled with addictive truisms that will have you playing them on repeat. Nineteen-year-old frontman Gatesmith's vocals reveal a lackadaisical sort of ease—the confidence of youth, perhaps, or of being raised on all the right influences. Whatever the case, it's working.
The band is touring around the U.S. right now, opening for fellow local rock darlings Tapes 'n Tapes before they head over the pond for a U.K. tour with the Vaccines. You can expect to see Howler back in town this fall, and the band will be showcasing new material off their just-finished debut album—which, according to Gatesmith, is "sort of a Post Rape-Step-Witchcore thing." Howler's success at first might have been due to their spot-on, right-on-time music, but as things progress for this young band, their continued time in the spotlight might owe to their cheeky irreverence, which allows them to be as good as they are.
#5: Robust Worlds
By Natalie Gallagher • Photo by Holly Hilgenberg
When quick-rising, popular band Vampire Hands lost drummer and synth magician Colin Johnson to a move across the country, things changed for guitarist Chris Rose—though he was reluctant to admit it.
"I kind of refused to see it as the end of Vampire Hands, and I pushed the other guys to keep going just as hard with touring and recording. I was afraid we'd lose all that was built," said Rose. "I got Alex [Rose, drums] and Chris Bierden [bass and vocals] to agree to one last big tour, but the responses from the audiences weren't the same; it wasn't negative, it just was different. I was feeling all this existential dread from a lot of angles...I thought music would have to take a back seat and not be my main thing."
It would seem that fear—the one of music being pushed down low on the totem pole of priorities—was an arbitrary one, for Rose couldn't quell his musical impulses. Robust Worlds was born out of Rose's ambition to, as he puts it, "work on band stuff all the time." As a one-man show, Robust Worlds certainly can keep Rose busy. After all, he's doing all the singing, writing all the parts, and manning it all on stage—no small feat, and certainly not an easy show to pull off live.
"Because I wanted Robust Worlds to be a live act so I could tour, I wanted to be able to control and play everything. The songs needed to sound good as just guitar and vocals, and then when all the rest was added, they needed to be interesting and engaging live," explained Rose.
Indeed, they are. Robust Worlds is still in its early stages—the MySpace page is blank, the Facebook page is sparse, no recordings are yet available—but the experience Rose gained from Vampire Hands is obvious to anyone who's caught him live. He works furiously on guitar and synths with the same experimental, psychedelic sound that was so key to Vampire Hands, but in Robust Worlds, Rose takes it further. It comes off as a warped, sometimes dissonant, precocious space lullaby, with Rose alternating his pitches and playing with dubstep. He calls this sound "futurist folk-rock," which, for a made-up genre, is surprisingly accurate.
"I wanted a description that I could deal with that would be mildly informative about the music," he explained. "At first it really helped me to think of my songs as 'folk songs plus,' so it would be like, 'Oh, this isn't space at all, it's a busy folk song.'"
And there will be plenty more busy folk songs to come. A full-length Robust Worlds album is recorded and should be released soon; in the meantime, you can catch a Robust Worlds show at the Kitty Kat Club on Friday, October 21.
#6 (tie): The 4onthefloor
By Jeff Gage
It doesn't take much to get Gabriel Douglas going. Ask him about his band—or about anything music-related, for that matter—and his face lights right up. You can even see his beaming grin through that huge, unmistakable beard.
"I love learning about the Minneapolis scene. It's one of the coolest things ever, having a music scene," the 4onthefloor singer says. He sits cross-legged on the patio outside Muddy Waters, a worn pair of cowboy boots sticking out from his faded blue jeans. "Growing up, I never got the cool underground stuff from the Cities. Hüsker Dü and all that, Bob Mould—even the Replacements, I only learned about when I moved down here six years ago."
Douglas grew up in rural Minnesota, earning his stripes playing everywhere from Manitoba to keggers in abandoned VFWs. After a stint in Duluth, he came to Minneapolis, where you can find him milling around a club or other venue almost any night of the week. That enthusiasm has spilled over to the 4onthefloor, and it's no coincidence that they're at the top of many peoples' lists for must-see local live acts.
"When we started, the early demos, I was really into post-pop punk," Douglas recalls. "Like Brand New and Manchester Orchestra, bash you over the head and bring it back to trickle guitars type-stuff. I wanted to capture that." Out of that developed the band's signature four-man bass drum arrangement, which, with their flamboyant gesturing and beer-swilling antics, makes for rabble-rousing rock 'n' roll at its finest.
Though the 4onthefloor are fueled primarily by gutbucket blues and classic rock, they're also still capable of fitting in a David Bazan cover or a song about the Revolutionary War, like they did on their recent ...And Four Riders Approached at Dawn EP. They even mix in a little of the mythical, thanks to Douglas's long-held love for Lord of the Rings. "I once had this tree-themed band called the Sequoias. It was all about this mystical forest protected by werewolves," he enthuses, stroking his beard. "It was just me being crazy, running around stage and twirling the mic."
The plan from here is typically straightforward: There are always fresh venues to play, new people to meet, and new fans to bring on board, so the 4onthefloor keep a busy schedule of shows. "I'm always trying to get the guys more into the moment," Douglas says. "You get to the concert and you either saddle up with us or you don't, but we're firing all the guns. We are rallying the stampede."
#6 (tie): blood&stuff
By Cyn Collins • Photo by Emily Utne
"Who's Blood and who's Stuff?" I ask drummer Dylan Gouert before one of their Grumpy's residency shows. Laughing, he says, "I'm Stuff." Later, when I ask guitarist/bassist/vocalist Ed Holmberg, he replies without hesitation: "I'm Blood." The two blood&stuff mates play off each other even when in different rooms.
Dark, Gallic Gouert and his blond Nordic bandmate, Holmberg, perform headbanging, mind-blowing rock shows as blood&stuff. Within months of meeting Gouert at arts high school at age 17, Holmberg asked him to be his drummer. They performed as Economy Team as band members came and left, but Holmberg and Gouert stuck together. "We played exclusively together for 10 years. I didn't have other projects and neither did he," says Gouert. "We'd end up writing most of the songs anyway," quips Holmberg.
Everything blood&stuff does is born out of necessity. Holmberg began his versatile singing when a former bass player/singer didn't show up for a gig. Holmberg convinced Gouert they could do everything as a duo when Economy Team bassist Ted Johnson left.
"I went with it, figuring we would eventually find another bass player. Instead I realized we really didn't need a bass player," says Gouert. He designed and built a secret weapon, enabling Holmberg to dexterously play bass and guitar live while singing, simultaneously layering riffs and melodies. With a sound bigger than that of most four-pieces, the music is amazingly all created live. "No recordings or looping, and never will be," Holmberg states flatly.
Blood&stuff honed their musical skills by holing up for a year and a half, pursuing perfection before finally performing live in April 2011. It was the longest period they'd not performed since they were children. "Friends thought we'd never play out," Gouert says.
Seemingly old vets in young men's bodies, blood&stuff evolve so quickly that their young songs are old to them the second they're recorded. "We recorded twice already, but we tossed out both recordings. Because we were moving so fast, it was still so experimental, that months after both the recordings were done, they weren't us anymore," says Gouert. Only a few of those old songs, including their first, "Not the Cow People," remain in their high-energy performances.
Now, they need a record and to tour. "We've spent all our money on that recording, and all this gear. We're trying to figure out a way we can record one or two songs in the next couple months because we realize we really, really need something to put out," says Gouert. "We're perfectionists."
He holds out his bandaged wrist. "I'm fucking falling apart. My hand could fall off while playing drums," he feebly notes. "That will be totally fine," Holmberg assures him. "Just make sure there's a couple thousand people there to see it. Then that's fine."
By Ian Power-Luetscher • Photo by Jennifer Andrus
In March of last year, MC/VL were finishing up a show at Memory Lanes when John Henry, one half of the hip-hop duo, was approached by Max Clark. The conversation, according to Henry, went like this:
"Max asked me, 'Do you wanna be in a band with me and Andy?' and I said, 'Is it a metal band?' and Max said, 'It is now!' So I stopped shaving and cutting my hair."
It's a great example of what makes Twin Cities heavy-metal rockers Nightosaur so good: They remember that rock 'n' roll is supposed to be fun. In the hype-driven web press world, where bloggers are racing to predict the next big thing, Nightosaur give you that old-fashioned belly-fire enthusiasm. They're a band built out of a shared love of dual guitar solos and songs that clock in at seven minutes, they love Ronnie James Dio and early Judas Priest, and they write songs with titles like "Valkyries Son," and "Sabre Fangg." They do this because they love it, and that's refreshing—downright exciting. The first line of Nightosaur's bio reads, "Out of the frozen wasteland of Minnesota, Nightosaur soars like a Pteranodon on the leathery wings of dual lead guitars," and they aren't really trying to be funny. At concerts, they have an onstage rule of "shirts or beards, never both," and they follow it.
After recruiting Henry on bass, Max Clark and Andrew Webber, who both play guitar, picked up Travis Franklin on drums and the band started writing songs. Their debut album, Black Blood of the Earth, is filled to the brim with ghost women, heroes and monsters, and sweeping, meticulous instrumentalism. It's the stuff of legend, with echoing choral chants and soaring guitar solos, every member singing lead at least once. The songs run the gauntlet from Beowulf-esque hero epics to "Thunder Wizard," a song, as Webber describes it, about "when people use up all the fossil fuels, the ghosts of dead dinosaur wizards come back and take over the world again." He finished writing the song's lyrics right before the Deep Water Horizon Gulf oil spill, which let Webber boast that the song was ripped straight from the headlines. But then, in Webber's words, "It became this weird dinosaur protest song, which wasn't really the intent, but I kinda like that about it. It's written from the point of view of the dinosaur wizard." So there you have it: a song written from the point of view of a dinosaur wizard. It just doesn't get much more rock 'n' roll than that.
#8 (tie): Gramma's Boyfriend
By Erik Thompson • Photo by Tony Nelson
For how talented and musically diverse the members of Gramma's Boyfriend are, they could easily take their sound in myriad directions. And, as anyone who has ever seen the band perform live can attest, they regularly do, bouncing seamlessly from bristling thrash numbers to carefree, keyboard-laden dance tracks to moodier, more soulful electronic experiments. Led by Haley Bonar and an all-star local band featuring her frequent collaborators Jeremy Ylvisaker (Alpha Consumer/Andrew Bird), Jacob Hanson (Halloween, Alaska), Luke Anderson (Rogue Valley), and Michael Lewis (Happy Apple, Andrew Bird, Bon Iver), the group has an unbridled, energetic sound that is bound by neither convention nor form. The group boldly take their songs down unexplored and often unrehearsed sonic avenues while letting their collective muses lead them where they may.
Bonar, especially, seems to take a special pleasure in the untamed, inventive nature of the band, frequently letting loose with a primal wail that is a far cry from the serene, dulcet vocals featured in her solo work. There is also a drastic shift in lyrical content between Bonar's own stirring, intimate songs and the playful, mostly humorous focus on food and sugar crushes of Gramma's Boyfriend (as if the band name itself didn't already tip you off to the jocular nature of the group). But make no mistake, these imaginative sound experiments wouldn't work nearly as well in less capable hands, as all of these experienced musicians are skilled enough to adjust to one another's sudden shifts in tone and tempo, and proficient enough to be able to lead their distinctive sound to fresh, modern destinations while also echoing the influence of bygone eras.
As difficult as it is to determine which style the band will feature in their next song, it's tougher still to know what will become of them in the future. Bonar is taking a hiatus to have a baby, while the rest of the band has plenty of other projects to shift their attention to (Ylvisaker is featured twice in this year's Picked to Click poll, as guitarist in both Gramma's Boyfriend and the Cloak Ox). Whether or not Gramma's Boyfriend was just a short-lived diversion for these friends or something far more substantial is unknown. But even if the group does splinter into different directions in 2012, at least they were able to capture the adventurousness of their collaboration on their raucous debut, The Human Eye, leaving a feisty but fleeting sonic impression on the local music scene.
#8 (tie): MaLLy
By Jack Spencer
Being invited to play Soundset can act as a barometer of who in the local rap scene is really pushing themselves and their craft forward. Each year a few up-and-coming artists get the chance to rock the same stage as certified legends, and MaLLy not only got the opportunity to play the festival this year, he also witnessed Slug wearing one of his T-shirts during Atmosphere's closing performance.
"There's only a few things I could see ever making me cry, but looking at it and just watching it happen, I almost cried," MaLLy recalls. "It was the highest level of respect I've ever seen from any artist, especially one that's from here of his accolades and his stature.... He didn't have to do that, you know what I mean?"
The co-sign led to a Slug cameo in MaLLy's video for "Heir Time" and a notably higher profile. He chalks it up to good timing and being well prepared for the opportunity. MaLLy has been steadily dropping albums since 2007's The Letter (when he went by MaLLy from the 612), but teaming up with like-minded producer the Sundance Kid in 2010 for the ongoing "Free on the 15th" series helped catapult the young MC both musically and business-wise. "A big piece of it, too, was presentation and ease of access," says MaLLy, citing his improved takes on self-promotion. He recalls being told he was looked at to perform at Soundset in 2010 but was ultimately passed over. "I'm glad they didn't pick me in 2010; I can't even lie. Who knows if I would've capitalized on the moment as much as I did in 2011? I don't think I would have felt as prepared. I didn't really feel like I had a huge amount of momentum."
After a number of high-profile shows this past year, including opening for Grieves and Budo and Guilty Simpson, it's evident his momentum has been steadily increasing. "I definitely have taken the mistakes I learned from my last record and decided to do what I have to do to make myself stand out, in addition to just having good music. I want all avenues, from a business standpoint, to be sharp and on-point." With a slick design sense (also provided by the Sundance Kid), he associated each month's new free download with imagery, such as depictions of Muhammad Ali and Bruce Lee, that visually sum up the track's confident energy and powerful tone. Along with the new sounds came a new philosophy, which MaLLy calls "HEIRoggance"; the term speaks to his humble confidence and yearning for success, all while maintaining a level of genuine humanity. As he prepares for the release of his next album, The Last Great, MaLLy intends to continue to "ride the wave" and push himself even further.
#9 : UMAMI
By Nikki Miller • Photo by Dusty Hoskovec
They're three guys who met while working at Stadium Village standby Stub and Herbs...and one other guy.
Well, not really. They're three guys well-known to Minneapolis music fans as members of the now-defunct Guystorm and Military Special...and one other guy. But UMAMI might prefer you think of them as a collection of service-industry stiffs (and one other guy) who've assembled for a new band.
Vocalist Angelo Pennacchio, formerly of Guystorm, laments the inevitability of the "ex-so-and-so band" connection."We're just so sick of hearing that; people automatically pigeonhole us." But the bright side? "I like surprising them."
And indeed, it's a pleasant surprise to come at UMAMI knowing nothing about the band, or expecting a logical post-Guystorm/Military Special progression. Although they've played about a dozen shows, their name is relatively unsearchable, hard to Google. "It's all word-of-mouth—you couldn't find us on the internet, right?"
Charlie Smith (ex-Military Special, keys/beats) chimes in. "We had that Radio K in-studio thing, is that impossible to find?"
"It's on Vimeo," explains Peter Blomgren (ex-Military Special, guitar).
"People have told me, 'Hey, I've literally searched UMAMI BAND MINNEAPOLIS and nothing comes up,' and I'm like, 'There's something on the internet.'"
While it's hard not to listen for remnants of their previous bands, UMAMI have ventured with resolve into psych-rock territory, a decision resulting in a matured, less in-your-face sound.
"I think we've been pushing crunkadelic; psychedelic, but weird, down-low ghetto feel. Dance-y, as you'd imagine, but different. A little more R&B-grounded," Pennacchio explains.
"We like to listen to different bands [when] we're trying to come up with ideas for songs...listening to MIA, Can, or Tobacco," Smith elaborates, as the rest shout out influences: "Dead Prez. Ludacris. Parliament. Stevie Wonder."
And as for that other guy? He's bass player Tim Bass, a recent transplant from L.A.
Pennacchio laughs. "We always hate when people say, 'ex-Military Special, ex-Guystorm,' but the one funny thing is when people are like, 'Yeah, with the people from Military Special and Guystorm...and this one other guy.' That's really funny. Us, and that one talented musical guy."
#10 (tie): Dream Crusher
By Natalie Gallagher • Photo by Ambrose Burke
Dream Crusher is one of those singularly Minneapolis compositions—a new band made up entirely of musicians from other bands, who come together because they want to play around without the pressure of being in a "professional" group. Accidentally assembled one evening by Mo McNichols and Brian McDonough, both of Me and My Arrow, as a filler for a band that canceled last-minute at Nick and Eddie, the rotating cast of Dream Crusher consists—more or less—of McDonough, McNichols, Jacob Mullis (Fort Wilson Riot), Jared Isabella (St. Villain, Yer Cronies), Brock Lammers (Nyteowl), Dominic Hanft (St. Villain, Hardcore Crayons), Shon Troth (Me and My Arrow), and Garrett Neal (Usonia). This makeup, of course, depends on who shows up on any given night, and doesn't limit itself to "official" members.
"We just started asking who was around us, and we just started playing at Nick and Eddie on Monday night," says McDonough. "And then people liked it, so we started doing more of it."
"Our sound is different every time, because it's kind of improv," offers McNichols. "It really depends on who plays with us...mostly, it's just kind of whatever we feel like playing that night."
McDonough and McNichols share a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to Dream Crusher, something that all the members seem to revel in. For these busy artists, Dream Crusher is a chance to try something new without consequence.
"If there are things that won't work with Me and My Arrow, I will try them with Dream Crusher. If they don't work with Dream Crusher, I'll never try them again," laughs McNichols. "It's my chance artistically to try different things and get really creative.... It's kind of whoever shows up, that's the beauty of it."
"We all have other bands that are like, 'This is what you play and how you play it,'" says McDonough. "Dream Crusher is more like stuff that we don't even care if it gets released."
The Dream Crusher sound ends up as a sort of atmospheric jam session, a little Gayngs meets Me and My Arrow, slow and sexy, like '70s lounge variety bedroom pop with a bigger punch ("Skip the pillow talk," laughs McDonough). It's a few electric guitars, a few synthesizers, a couple of drum sets, a bass guitar, blip beeps, noisemakers, and who knows what else will come out—according to McNichols, part of the fun is figuring it out the night of the show.
"Whatever we feel like doing," says McNichols, "is kind of the whole premise of the band."
#10 (tie): Elite Gymnastics
By Ian Power-Luetscher
No band from Minneapolis has been hyped and lauded in the indie blogosphere this year as much as Elite Gymnastics. Emailing with James Brooks, one half of the electronic duo, one gets the impression that they know this. This is not to say that Brooks is arrogant about Elite Gymnastics' buzz, he just seems like an honest guy; he's smart, aptly confident, and blunt. He's also the first to admit that two years ago, he and bandmate Josh Clancy had never written a song together. In fact, Clancy had never written a song, period. "Neither of us knew how to sing or had any idea how to approach the project lyrically. It was all new, it was all kind of gut-level, we were serious about what we were doing, but we were also sort of scared."
It's hard to hear that fear come through when you listen to Real Friends, the four-track debut EP Elite Gymnastics released last year, or Ruin, the LP they recently released on Acéphale Records. It's sample-happy dreamy pop music, full of hooky dance synth and modulated vocals.
Elite Gymnastics' scene is the internet, and they attribute their success to it openly and credit it as a much more valuable "scene" than that of the Twin Cities. When questioned about this, Brooks responds bluntly: "At this point, people should stop being surprised when things happen like us getting written up online or in magazines, or Howler getting signed to Rough Trade after only existing for a few months, or Poliça getting booked to play a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom for their second show ever. This idea that paying your dues in the local scene gets you anywhere is a fake idea." It's a bleak notion, but maybe he's right, however depressing that is once it sinks in. And it's more than a little ironic that Elite Gymnastics are on our Picked to Click list this year, since Brooks calls this poll an exercise in futility midway through his interview: "Every year City Pages polls people who go to a lot of shows about what new local bands they are excited about for their Picked to Click issue. And pretty much every year the band that wins breaks up or fades into obscurity almost immediately thereafter." Well, now we don't really know what to say...except, SURPRISE!
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.