Picked To Click VIII
I shouldn't say this, but this poll has become something of a contest to determine which new local buzz band will soon vanish from the face of the Earth. Shortly after their well-earned Picked to Click victories, Walt Mink (1991), Lily Liver (1994), 12 Rods (1996), and Brother Sun Sister Moon (1997) proceeded to (a) go deep underground; (b) move away; (c) take a long hiatus; or (d) some combination of the above. And in the wake of last year's poll, an entire subgenre--the Minne-contribution to the Great Electronica Scare of '97--began to take flight.
So is it back to the Dark Ages? Not at all. But one year after a PtC whose top five included the sunny pop of the Beatifics, the gospel-cum-funk Sensational Joint Chiefs, and free-jazzers Happy Apple, 1998's honor roll sounds just slightly plain. The number-two-placing Love-cars are not only the highest-scoring band to feature a working rock critic (occasional CP contributor James Diers), they're also a fairly strong alt-art-rock group. Their No Alternative labelmates American Paint are polite, by-the-numbers country-rockers.
The 'lectronics ain't totally gone: Run Westy Run's Kirk Johnson nabs third place with his Beckian roots-jive band So-So, while discofaerie Ana Voog and her trance-dance cohorts Ousia share most of a three-way tie for fifth. New hip hop keeps on bubbling up, with 12 points collectively going out to the Rhyme Sayers crew as a whole, and an additional 20 points doled out to RS members Native Ones, the DynoSpectrum, Kanser, Sixth Sense, and Atmosphere and Beyond.
And then there's the poll-topping Odd, the noisiest Picked to Click victor since Hammerhead in 1992, and (with hits including "Street Fuck" and "Wet Pussy") definitely the nastiest. Not that I find the Odd's ascent too surprising: Their Stooges-influenced mod-rock continues an extensive lineage of cacophonous retro bands, from the Mighty Mofos to the Spectors.
Frankly, the main lesson to learn from 1998's results is that it's still anybody's game. As a chart, this year's poll would look like a gorgeous, evenly sloping bell curve, with the zenith--the Odd's 20 points--lower by far than any in PtC history (in 1997, four bands did better). And if visionary voter Rod Smith had given Ousia five points as he did last year, they'd have won it. Translation: No single new band is on the tip of everyone's tongue right now, though that could change in a year--or a week.
Unfortunately, we do have the Curse to reckon with. (Confidential to the Odd: Watch it.) But maybe the jinx is actually a charm in disguise: The physical disappearance of the last two years' victors, 12 Rods and Brother Sun Sister Moon, did coincide with both bands signing big-time deals with megalabels. Fellow PtC toppers Guzzard (1993), Walt Mink, and Hammerhead are no more, but Lily Liver is back, and their debut disc should finally be uncorked this year. So there.
HOW IT WORKS: We asked 42 people--writers, musicians, radio and label types, and just plain fans--to send in their top five new local bands, artists, DJs, etc. of the last year. Each number-one ranking is given five points; each number two gets four points; and so on. The acts that received more than five points are ranked below. Special thanks to everyone who voted and sent additional comments. Our judges' individual ballots, along with those comments, follow the results.
One disclaimer: Because our poll is traditionally scheduled to coincide with the Minnesota Music Awards, and since the celebration this year moved from August to April, the 1998 poll had a gestation period of a mere nine months. But we decided to ignore the shortened year and let the chips fall where they may.
1. The Odd (20)
2. Love-cars (19)
3. So-So (18)
4. American Paint (17.5)
5. Ana Voog, The Autumn Leaves, Ousia (16)
6.The Minx (15)
7. Autonomous, Mary Nail (13)
8. Brits Out of America, Lunar 9, Rhyme Sayers Collective (12)
9. Florida (10)
10. Bobby Llama,
Freedom Fighters (9)
HONORABLE MENTIONS: ARKOLOGY, Janis Figure, Native Ones, Selby Tigers, Animal Chin, Anomaly, Little Buddy, Reba Fritz, Slalom, Slumper, Patrick Tanner & the Faraway Men, Vanguard, Matt Wilson
The Picked to Click Judges Read The Verdict
Brent Ashley, Amphetamine Reptile:
1. Selby Tigers 2. The Odd 3. The Short Fuses 4. Foilin' the Works 5. Murderapolis.
Lynne Bengtson, Fine Line Music Cafe:
1. (tie) Umbrella Bed, Three Minute Hero 3. Bobby Llama 4. Red Shadow Chorus 5. LeRoy Smokes Big Band.
Amy Carlson, The Minnesota Daily:
1. Slumper 2. So-So 3. Freedom Fighters 4. Cole Younger Band 5. The Pushbacks.
An appropriate title for most of my picks might be "Best New Bands Featuring Local Rock Veterans." Top pick, hands down: Slumper, an exciting, tight, rock 'n' roll quartet led by former Beyond Zebra members Jason Logan and Grant Johnson. Throw in drummer John Gerlach (Big Red Ball, Dutch Oven) and Soul Asylum soundman Eric Pierson, and you've got the best new band no one has heard yet. Run Westy Run's Kirk Johnson makes So-So--a funky electronic/rock outfit--a close second, mainly because of his stream-of-consciousness rap/spoken-word lyrics. Pop punksters the Freedom Fighters and country rockers the Cole Younger Band are the freshest faces on my list, and it wouldn't be complete without unstoppable ex-Magnolia John Freeman's new contribution to the scene, the Pushbacks.
James Cook, Lick:
1. Probable Cause 2. Little Buddy 3. DJ Bionic 4. Dazy Head Mazy 5. DJ Code Blue.
Minneapolis music is in a serious slump, and you really have to search in order to find quality and innovation. Often, you have to go underground and find the folks that are hungry--literally starving--because they're the ones that are down for the music. Anyway, Probable Cause is hip hop, representing Uptown. DJ Bionic is sexy and her beats open up cans of whoop-ass! DJ Code Blue and the whole Jungle Vibe Collective are also on the rise.
The Descent Triad of Radio K's The Descent:
1. Dies Irae 2. Autumn 3. A:Pod 4. Richard for Cerebellum 5. Zurround.
Bill DeVille, Cities 97:
1. American Paint 2. Patrick Tanner & the Faraway Men 3. The Autumn Leaves 4. Bobby Llama 5. L.A. Cowboy.
James Diers, sidewalk.com: (no order) Matt Wilson, Kanser, DynoSpectrum, Red Level.
Not one of these acts is officially new, least of all Matt Wilson. Yet, his new solo debut, Burnt, White and Blue, was the most savory pop package in my winter stocking. Kanser offers more brawny Minneapolis hip hop to keep my mind off of other people's money. DynoSpectrum? Well, a Rhyme Sayer by any other name barely sounds as sweet. As for Red Level? Well, "emo" is still my favorite dirty word.
Jon Dolan, City Pages:
1. Ousia 2. DJ Wix 3. Love-cars 4. DJ Bumpee Screw 5. Deformo.
Ousia, Wix, and the JVC's Bumpee Screw represent different aspects of the still-thriving local DJ scene. Ousia make ambient noise steeped in disjointed breakbeats. The other two jocks do up drum 'n' bass as good as any stateside jungle I've heard all year. Love-cars give a nice pop context for local free-jazz wonk Dave King. But my favorite band here is Deformo. Yes, they've been around a few years, and, yes, they are moving to New York. But in the last year they hit the stores for the first time with two great records: an EP called The Queen Bazaar and a just-out self-titled debut. Born of the same college-rock ethos that gave us Camper Van Beethoven's "Take the Skinheads Bowling," they play a form of (sm)art-rock that's as funny as it is gnarly. In this age of hyperprofessional alt-copycats they're a dying breed--an indie-rock spotted owl, if you will. They will be missed.
Chris Dorn, The Beatifics:
(no order) The Autumn Leaves, The Sandwiches, Lunar 9, American Paint, 50 States.
Jen Downham, KFAI-FM and Groove Garden Records:
1. Autonomous 2. ARKOLOGY 3. Heirospecs 4. Vintage 5. Anomaly.
Autonomous's airy beats and strings, a little bit of guitar, and the mesmerizing female vocals make this moving mood music. ARKOLOGY is spoken word and a hell of a rhythm section. Heirospecs is hip hop and spoken word with an all-live band, horns, and more. Vintage is old-school funk played by old-schoolers who lived through it, with it, in it, and--thank God--are still doin' it! Anomaly do a cinematic hip hop.
Brian Earle, Tough Guy Booking:
1. The Sugar Cats 2. Retardo 3. Liberty Launchers 4. Tommy Cillfiger 5. Let's Make a Deal 4000.
Mary Emerzian, American Cuckoo Productions/Terminal Bar:
1. The Odd 2. Mommy Log Balls 3. Phantasmagoria 4. Ouija Radio 5. 3Way Grady.
The Odd is dirty-nasty. Mommy Log Balls are insane beauty. Phantasmagoria's drummer has an unusual sense of timing. 3Way Grady bassist Moira is the Billy Zoom of the ladies' circle.
J. G. Everest, The Sensational Joint Chiefs:
1. Native Ones 2. ARKOLOGY 3. Sixth Sense 4. Autonomous 5. Mokoto Brasil.
Vickie Gilmer, startribune.com:
1. American Paint 2. The Autumn Leaves 3. Love-cars 4. February 5. Kardel.
Simon Peter Groebner, City Pages:
1. The Minx 2. Love-cars 3. Autonomous 4. domo 5. Skyeklad.
I declined to vote for the then-embryonic Minx last year, but their new-no-wave stylishness and vocal vamp Jessika Minx were intriguing. Their ingeniously sick and satirical incest anthem, "Family Secrets" ("Let me take off all your clothes/Only us and Jesus know"), is what finally won me over. Love-cars' brand new Chump Lessons is the debut disc of the year so far, proving that a band with an ex-12 Rods bassist on guitar (Matt Foust) and everyone's fave jazz drummer, Dave King, can one-up alt-rock at its own game. Shades of Sunny Day Real Estate emo-pop show up, especially in James Diers's unlikely Jeremy Enigk-ian vocal, but they do need to curb tendencies toward dreamy monotony.
Minx guitarist Moon is one part of Autonomous--a band featuring a bunch of regulars from the Front's Brit-night, electronics, and great female vox, which has left an imprint on my subconscious I'm still trying to figure out. I'm bashful to admit that Conan O'Brien discovered domo before I did, but they're definitely complementary to Conan's geek charm. Their retro take on art-rock tuneage suggests a young band taking more risks than just about any other bass-guitar-synth group around, although they're still very raw live. And Skyeklad I like for their fusion of post-techno and prog rock, though I'm bemused by their shaman-like singer. Honorables: Anomaly, A:POD, Flora. Band I mention every year: Lily Liver. Too new to know: Lunar 9.
Sonia Grover, Cheapo Records:
1. Ten Ton Bridge 2. The Odd 3. The Pushbacks 4. Slumper 5. So-So.
Henry Horman, Pulse:
1. So-So 2. Animal Chin 3. The Odd 4. The Siren Six! 5. Red Shadow Chorus.
At first I thought they called it So-So so you wouldn't expect too much. Then I figured they just didn't care. At any rate, this Westy offshoot is like nothing else in town. It comes off like guys who had an early-'70s soul-record party in their living room and then made up a few of their own gems afterward. The Odd are born entertainers, and they have to be seen to be believed. Their super-sleazy '60s garage-rock style is all about leather pants, bandanas, dark sunglasses, tambourine-janglin', and keyboard-humpin'. They're basically a parody of cock rock that transcends the novelty. The only song they've got that has nothing to do with sex is called "Smash the State"--and they mean it, man!
Animal Chin and The Siren Six! are ska bands second and great songmakers first. A.C. crosses emo-core with fast ska, and they've got lots of cool lyrics up their sleeves. Note: Siren Six! might not be considered a Twin Cities band anymore, as they've been romancing Hollywood and vice versa. It looks like they and Anomaly will be Minneapolis's next nationwide contenders. Red Shadow Chorus serve up some nice late-night dream-pop that goes down easy after a hectic day.
David Jarosz (DJ Drone), Bassment Records: 1. Rhyme Sayers Collective 2. DJ Jennifer 3. DJ Andrew 4. Jungle Vibe Collective.
Rhyme Sayers are Minneapolis hip hop, representing Uptown to the fullest. From running Groove Garden Sundays to operating her own label, DJ Jennifer is doing it all. DJ Andrew throws down the hip-hop sound with mad skill. And my boys in the JVC are runnin' 'tings jungle style.
Rachel Joyce, Walker Art Center:
1. Eluri 2. Fode Bangoura & Barinya 3. One World 4. Electric Arab Orchestra 5. Anomaly.
Ryan Kallberg, The Minnesota Daily:
1. Love-cars 2. Matt Wilson 3. Freedom Fighters 4. The Harlows 5. (tie) American Paint, The Pushbacks.
Love-cars is the best "new" band out there--one part soft emo-core, one part atmospheric pop, one part masterful drumming, with a strong grasp on what sounds good. Bonus points for James Diers, a rock critic who can actually sing. Matt Wilson, the "other" Trip Shakespeare guy, has been around a long time, but his rebirth was one of the most pleasant surprises of 1997. Freedom Fighters get surprising chunks of melody out of their ear-shredding power chords. The Harlows' Charlton writes catchy songs that make good with treble and tremolo rather than rumble and rasp. American Paint and the Pushbacks both have a twangy pop that's accompanied welcome buzzes and not-so-welcome hangovers.
Ali Lozoff, Radio K: (no order) Florida, Sliver, Animal Chin.
Mary Lucia, Zone 105:
1. Velma 2. Delta 88 3. American Paint 4. So-So 5. Vanguard.
Mean Larry, singer/songwriter:
(no order) So-So, Ana Voog, Bobby Llama, Seven Thieves, Mary Nail.
Jim Meyer, Request:
1. The One and Only Buggin 2. Mary Nail 3. Little Buddy 4. J.U.L.P. 5. Blacklight.
Jesse Mraz, First Avenue:
1. Janis Figure 2. Detroit 3. Rhyme Sayers Collective 4. Kristin Mooney 5. Mike Merz.
Detroit really have their shit together; they're one of the bands in our city that truly know how to put on a rock show, full of eye candy and energy. The Rhyme Sayers have gained much respect in the community through hard work, persistence, and great music. I dig what they stand for--it's all about love. Kristin Mooney is one of the most pleasant people I've met in the business thus far--good stage presence, great music, cool band. As for Mike Merz, I enjoy his lyrics--off the beaten path, yet not too far from mine.
Scott Pakudaitis, Twin Cities Alternative Shows List:
1. The Minx 2. The Odd 3. Skyeklad 4. Ouija Radio 5. Brits Out of America.
I limited my selection to the 300-plus groups I actually saw perform in 1997. My clear choice for number one is the Minx, for their carnival new-wave pop music driven by powerful vocals. They are sensual onstage and have a clear focus on the importance of theater as a dimension of musical performance. The Odd's style is akin to rowdy Brit rock and their frenetic, no-holds-barred shows are musical orgies. Space-rock outfit Skyeklad feature deep layers of rhythms and unique sounds, often incorporating performance art into their seamless sets. Ouija Radio is an explosive yet melodic punk band whose live shows are high-energy assaults. When I first saw Brits Out of America, I expected to hear a cover of "Big Bottom," since the band consists of three bassists, a drummer, and a drum machine. Instead, this unique lineup plays excellent pop-rock with multilayered rhythms and solid vocals.
Jason Parker, Extreme Noise Records:
1. (tie) Cleveland Bound, Death Sentence 2. The Misfires 3. Infinity Dive 4. The Murderers 5. Scurvy Dogs.
Yes, all these bands are punk.
Dan Richmond, Radio K:
(no order) Freedom Fighters, Florida, Atmosphere/Beyond, Reba Fritz, Ana Voog.
Robyne Robinson, KMSP-TV:
(no order) Ousia, Mary Nail, Anomaly, Vanguard, Heirospecs, Ana Voog.
The best new music I enjoyed this year was mostly on compilation discs, Future Perfect: Music for Listening and Freeloaded Wednesdays. I think all the bands I picked challenge music lovers to go beyond their own comfort zones.
Christina Schmitt, City Pages:
1. Leonardo 2. Pink (formerly Element 115) 3. 3Way Grady 4. Video Nasty 5. Dread Knot.
Short-lived Leonardo played with punk, country, and hip hop, and they had great vocal harmonies on their way to best-local-girl-band status. But it just wasn't meant to be. Pink is transgenderfied indie pop. 3Way Grady's Moira is a smoking bass player; I only wish she'd sing more, though her husband Bill does a fine job. Video Nasty is pure New York Dolls. And Dread Knot is great if only because it boasts former members of the too-little-too-late-known Assrash.
Danny Sigelman, North of No South Records USA:
1. Juan Meguro 2. Florida 3. The Native Ones 4. Slalom 5. Marcy Playground.
Whether he's playing around the University of Minnesota in assorted quintets or trios, or standing humbly as a member of the Volare Lounge Orchestra, Juan Meguro dazzles with his subtle guitar playing--and then he socks you with one of his lovely trademark solos. I saw him play with sparring gloves on once, I swear! After too many Apples in Stereo or Built to Spill live letdowns, I'll take melody makers Florida any night of the week. The Native Ones' (Los Nativos!) Spanish-to-English-to-Spanglish flow electrifies and brings folks together like no other group in the Rhyme Sayers clique. And at a recent Homocore event, Slalom transformed punk ethos into dance-crazy synth-rock, and they weren't afraid to cap off the night with a Muzak-inspired Cure tribute. Marcy Playground: Gee, who knew?
Rod Smith, Polar Bear Club/House of Miracles:
1. Ts 2. Salamander 3. Criterion 4. Rexor 5. (tie) Ousia, Lost in Translation
Bill Snyder, Pulse:
1. Souls of Kilimanjaro 2. Reba Fritz 3. Love-cars 4. The Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers 5. Myriad.
No, it's not a coincidence that Souls of Kilimanjaro's Dean Magraw (guitar), Dave King (drums), and Anthony Cox (bass) are all nominated for MMA awards in their respective categories. When they get together, which isn't very often, the walls shake. They get classified as jazz, but truth be told they play any kind of music they damn well please. They have three cuts on Magraw's forthcoming disc, Seventh One (Red House).
Reba Fritz is late of Muskellunge and June Sunday, but it's been great seeing her step out on her own. Her set at this year's "Noiseless" had me totally captivated. Stripping down to guitar and drums, Fritz has cleared plenty of space for her voice, which is breathtakingly sensuous and expressive.
Love-cars, oh why do I love thee? Because Dave King kicks as much ass drumming for a pop band as he does in anything else he does? Because James Diers fronts the band with a geeky charm reminiscent of late-'70s/early-'80s Peter Gabriel? Because they lay down some of the most glorious power-pop grooves in town? Try all the above.
Mark Olson used to be from here, Razz Russell is still from here, and Mabel Albright (a.k.a. Victoria Williams) has never lived here. In my book, that makes the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers 50 percent local. During their recent swing through town it just felt so good to hear Olson's voice again. Their self-titled debut's rough home-recorded gems show Olson's songwriting edging toward Williams's and away from the Jayhawks'. Myriad's guitar, bass, drums, and male/female vocals spread out into the room, soothing the mind without numbing it.
Chris Strouth, TRG Records/Ultramodern Records/America Online/Future Perfect:
1. Lunar 9 2. Ana Voog 3. Janis Figure 4. Anomaly 5. Coup de Grace.
The amazing thing about all these new bands is that none of them is really all that new. Lunar 9 is a project that formed out of Shapeshifter and Deep Shag. It's good pop music for riding around in a UFO. Ana Voog in a past life was the guiding force behind the Blue Up? And even though she sounds completely different now, the muse and the madness are the same.
Janis Figure have been around for a long time, but something happened to them: They got amazing. Now they're Minneapolis's answer to Jon Spencer (now if we could just get a Minneapolis take on Boss Hog!). Anomaly's Jayson Heinrichs was the man on bass for Brother Sun Sister Moon. Now he's front and center with his own trip-hop experience. Their debut, Howle's Book, isn't the best record you'll hear, but it's worth the listen. As for the Coup, everywhere you go someone's talking about them. Of course, no one I know has heard the band, but what does that matter?
Bill Sullivan, 400 Bar:
(no order) Autonomous, So-So, American Paint, Vintage, Brits Out of America.
Jamie Swanson, Radio K:
1. The Minx 2. Ousia 3. Oxpecker 4. Happy Apple 5. Lunar 9.
Sarah Thomas, Kingpin Records:
1. Giving Tree 2. Rhyme Sayers Collective 3. M.I.J.
Ed Varga, Homocore Mpls.:
1. Slalom 2. Sherman Electric 3. The Selby Tigers 4. The Fracture.
This list should probably be titled "My Favorite Unknown Basement Bands." Some are queer, some are not. Slalom is a very charming girl/boy, guitar-and-keyboards duo who play atmospheric instrumentals inspired by Tortoise, Stereolab, and Steely Dan. Sherman Electric is a girl/boy foursome with shades of Devo, power pop, and punk. The Selby Tigers include three ex-Lefty Lucy members and one ex-member of Arm. They have a dual punk-guitar attack reminiscent of Superchunk and Fugazi. The art rockers the Fracture employ heavy-hitting drums, guitar, saxophone, and vocals somewhere between Frank Black, Johnny Cash, and Calvin Johnson.
Krista Vilinskis, OarFin Records:
(no order) The Autumn Leaves, The Scott Laurent Band, The Bison Burns, Patrick Tanner & the Faraway Men, Dazy Head Mazy.
Andrew Volna, Noiseland Industries:
(no order) The Bellweather, Lunar 9, Brits Out of America, Mark Mallman, Otto's Jacket.
Jim Walsh, St. Paul Pioneer Press:
1. Baby Grant Johnson 2. The Autumn Leaves 3. Vanguard 4. Sliver 5. Umbrella Bed (Honorable mentions: The Harlows, Vic Volare and the Volare Lounge Orchestra, Accident Clearinghouse, American Paint, The Pushbacks, Jacqueline Jaquez, Busiest Bankruptcy Lawyers in Minnesota, Justin Roberts).
Mark Wheat, KFAI/Pulse/Zone 105:
1. Brits Out of America 2. Ousia 3. Mary Nail 4. 3 Minute Hero 5. Skyeklad.
To separate all the new band material that comes in every year, I have to see the band live and in some way be moved by them. That unique connection between artist and audience can only be achieved in a live setting, never through an aural medium alone, and I still cling to the apparently old-fashioned view that creating those moments of connection is what should be considered artistic success.
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