Who Are These Girls & Guys?

           It's that time of year again--time for the Minnesota Music Awards, our own little home-industry shmoozefest, and for the sixth installment of the CP new music poll. But something strange happened this year when the time came for music writers, promoters, musicians and fans to give us their top-five lists for the poll. People began reporting a discontent with the '96 state of the scene, decrying everything from the demise of live music in Uptown to the decay of our Alternative County. The question was out: Are we entering a local-music slump?

           The results of this year's poll are similarly disconcerting. Mind you, I'm not complaining about who finished on top. 12 Rods, a thoroughly exciting group, have pulled off an all-time high landslide score of 43 points from 11 voters. What I'm perplexed with is their lack of healthy competition. Way down at number two, we have the ostensibly new Semisonic, a great band of veteran players. At number three, power poppers National Dynamite, with the same number of points they earned last year. But most of the other truly new bands are stuck down in the lower teens or less, with no big consensus vote to pull any of them out.

           What's going on here? A lot of things, I'd imagine. As the new-artist glut in this town continues to fatten, and as CD production, retail, and radio play keep bringing more bands to more people, there are more and more names and relatively fewer standouts. Indeed, as Minnesota music caterwauls through the decade, we're seeing a steady breakdown of consensus--that centrifugal force of taste.

           Then again, what's so bad about that? We're only talking about the rookie crop here, and a consensus breakdown can only lead to the establishment of newer, fresher regimes. Already, changing tastes and new acts are making the club scene safer for non-rock genres. Take for example the Joint Chiefs, who are pumping the market with their freestyle funk & improv (a.k.a. acid jazz) most recently at the Front's Wednesday night hip-hop/jazz sessions. Then there's the rock/rap/funk/occasional-DJ collective of Who Are Those Guys, who threw a much-buzzed string of parties at the Red Sea (before booker/soundman Rob Curtis left that club and took the scene with him); and Detroit, the Curbfeelers-spawned funksters who're making noise all over the West Bank and beyond. If you want to read about variety in new local music, check for example the disparate poll entries from punk scene stalwart Jason Parker, Christian rocker Stephen Knight, and KFAI's Chip Tenille.

           But truth be told, chart-toppers 12 Rods did have a lot going for them. It's notable that two-thirds of their points come from writers and critics--how odd that we all agree on something for once. Applying a hefty prog-rock tint to the unsatisfactory pigeonhole that is "dream-pop," the Rods have unwittingly struck a nerve in the current rock-crit vogue. Like Kelley Deal, they come from Ohio, but they're just as much a product of the burgeoning Cities studio-rat subculture--thanks to keyboardist/guitarist/tech whiz Ev Olcott, who lured the band here after finding studio work. They're long on electronic experimentation, yet pretty short on pretension. And at the median age of only 21, singer/guitarist Ryan Olcott, Ev, and amazing drummer Christopher McGuire are textbook-definition freaks. In short, pure critics' darlings.

           Since the definition of "new" is in the ear of the beholder, the reinvention of some established artists makes for some upsets in the poll. Voters probably second-guessed the Kelley Deal 6000 hype, resulting in a lower score than expected (a.k.a. "Flipp Syndrome"). Electronic roots-rockers Semisonic, on the other hand, qualify as new as long as you agree the Artists Formerly Known as Pleasure have gone through a transformation more profound than just a name change. Objection overruled--I would have to agree with that. Yet this logic did not benefit William and the Conquerors, even though that group joins two major arms of 'Sota Pop tradition with members Keith Patterson (ex-Spectors) and Willie Wisely. They probably haven't gigged enough yet.

           One final observation: Maybe it's the lingering impact of Hüsker Dü, but every single year our chart-topper has been some facsimile of a power trio. Walt Mink in '91; Hammerhead in '92; Guzzard, Lily Liver and Tribe of Millions after that. The funny thing is, 12 Rods used to be a quartet. (Their departed bassist, Matthew Foust of Ether Bunny, is being replaced by electronics.) If your quartet aspires to top the '97 poll, you'd take it as advice: Consider that one-way plane ticket for your most expendable member.

--Simon Peter Groebner

           Laura Brandenburg, The Squealer: 1. Likehell
2. Push On Junior 3. Kelley Deal 6000
4. Firebrat 5. Wonsers--Likehell: Hard, heavy, grind-me rock with a soft spot for twisted lyrics. Push On Junior: A surging three-prong jolt that echoes in your brain recesses. Kelly Deal's not a whiner--she likes winter, and she can express intricate musical weirdness without irony. (Please mom, can we keep her?) Firebrat: Urban perverts with a greasy guitar and hillbilly aspirations. Wonsers: Bold vulnerability and sharp little hooks. Honorable mention: Semisonic, who sound nothing like Trip Shakespeare.  

           Robinson Cook, Lick magazine: 1. Who Are Those Guys 2. Ghost Dance Deluxe 3. G.I.V.E
4. Suspect Bill 5. Knowledge M.C. (Extra props go to Groove Union, N.E.X.T., Les Exodus, Flipp and Savage Aural Hotbed)--Yo. The Twin Cities music scene is alive and jumpin', only too bad a handful of bands usually get all the exposure--you know what I'm talkin' about. Usually all we hear about is the hard-ass guitar-stabbing beer-drinkin' amp-up-too-loud drunken bullshit. Simply put, it just shows how homogeneous all the music critics in Minneapolis are. Anyway, just remember that although the alternative music scene has its definite talents, there's a lot more funkier shit out there that is far more melodic, ass-shaken and downright talented than the typical chainsaw guitar-grinding 7th St. Entry/Uptown Bar act. Keep your ears locked to the underground.

           Lynda Davis, The Cabooze: (no order) Medium; The Joint Chiefs; Bozo Allegro; 69; Mean Sistah. (Also: Third Wheel, Slide Coaster.)

           Bill DeVille, Cities' 97: 1. Strawdogs 2. Machinery Hill 3. Eller Lynch 4. The John Ewing Band 5. Dan Israel--Best first recordings: The Strawdogs' John Perkins John Perkins is a perfect blend of Tom Waits and Louis Armstrong, and just as fun. Machinery Hill's Whole Wide World: The band's been around as long as dirt but it's their first CD release. If you looked up world music, it would say Machinery Hill. Eller Lynch's Dog Day Afternoon is what Unplugged should be. John Ewing's Delta Flares is pub rock, glam rock, punk rock, and Stones rock all on one CD. And Dan Israel's Some Songs EP reveals a promising singer/songwriter.

           James Diers, Twin Cities Reader: 1. 12 Rods
2. William and the Conquerors 3. Ether Bunny 4. Happy Apple 5. Lifter Puller.

           Jennifer Downham, Host of KFAI's The Groove Garden: 1. Who Are Those Guys 2. MMF
3. Joint Chiefs 4. Greazy Meal 5. Detroit.

           Pat Dwyer and the Bureaucrats, Amphetamine Reptile Records: No order: Gnomes of Zurich; Zapruder's Slungshot; Freedom Fighters;
Ten Fold Hate; Strumpet.

           Carty Fox, Servo magazine (and ex- of Overblue): 1. 12 Rods 2. Sacred Chao 3. Fire Under Water 4. Overblue 5. Paul Horn

           Deneen Gannon, Cake Demorama: 1. National Dynamite 2. 2 Tickets 2 Paradise 3. Jerungdu
4. The Pins 5. Summer Holiday--National Dynamite's sweet, Beatles-ish pop is boosted by the strong songwriting talents of Benno Nelson (formerly of the Jessehoneys); 2 Tickets 2 Paradise features members of Rex Daisy (simply one of the best bands our area has). Jerungdu and the Pins both submitted to Demorama some of the most interesting, creative music I've heard locally in a while; Summer Holiday performs smooth, dreamy pop which I really enjoy.

           Simon Peter Groebner, City Pages: 1. 12 Rods
2. (tie:) Obscura/Gusto Busto/Fuck Agenda
5. Dog Tooth Violet--F-Agenda made the most ravaging noise-rock disc of the year (featuring a bizarre Lenny Kravitz deconstruction--rock & roll is dead, indeed), in what I fear is otherwise a largely decaying subgenre. Gusto Busto are two St. Paul guitarists of questionable mental condition (just kidding) who overlay their sicko new-wave artpop with some cheesy drum machines and manic sampling. Now if they'd just get their lyrics out of the potty, I'd buy the company. The aptly dubbed freaks-of-nature Obscura are a boy and girl from Mankato whose Prospective 7-inch really does sound like a 16th century recording of Gothic folk. Otherwise, Dog Tooth Violet is a pop group led by two polar-opposite sisters (Gemini and Sagittarius, I believe) who harmonize like only sisters can. Honorable mentions: William, Kelley, Superman Curl's "Tried and True" brilliance, 40 Oz. Superhero's skewed and screwed song structures, and dylan davis, whose Vision Web tape has had me in stitches for days.

           Will Hermes, Arts & Music Editor, City Pages:
1. Kelley Deal 6000 2. Semisonic 3. The Pins
4. ESP Woody McBride 5. Fresh Squeez (honorable mention: National Dynamite, Legendary Jim Ruiz, Mountain Singers, Dearly, 12 Rods, Phull Surkle/Casino Royale)--The fact that the Kelley Deal 6000 didn't crack the top five here means either A) nobody's listening, or B) xenophobic local backlash. Either way, Go To The Sugar Alter pulls oddball noises and eccentric sentiment into passionate, off-kilter pop that sounds great on the radio (especially "Canyon"). Their live shows haven't quite matched the record (a lot of whose thrills are production-based), but it's early yet. The opposite is true of Semisonic, whose '70s AM radio revue is pretty tough to resist. But I've had more fun at their gigs than with Great Divide, mainly because they worry less about getting that perfect period sound and just rock. The record's still pretty enjoyable, though, and its noise & loop experiments help it transcend the straight-faced retroism that always kept me from loving Trip Shakespeare. The Pins put out one of my favorite local releases last year, the self-released Eleanor, a hand-knit batch of songs owing not a little to the Galaxie 500/Luna school. But they have a bright, shambling charm of their own. Ironic, though, that their best song could be "No Ambition"; I guess we'll see. ESP Woody McBride isn't exactly new or a band. But he's here because his local techno empire seems busier than ever, and because his main-tent performance at this year's Even Further techno-fest (no turntables, just Roland sequencers and assorted electronics) blew a few hundred minds up into the Wisconsin sky. Whether he intends to move beyond club tracks to stage shows and apartment music remains to be seen. Finally, Fresh Squeez is a pickup group based in the hip-hop/acid jazz scene brewing over at The Front in Northeast. It's a loose thing, but with DJ noise and low-key rapping giving the funk-fusion cocktail a more experimental edge, they're looking towards some interesting things.  

           Peter Johns, The Edge: 1. Colfax Abbey
2. Cooper 3. G.I.V.E. 4. Likehell 5. Dylan Hicks.

           DJ JT, producer of Rev 105's Industrial Revolution: 1. Chris Sattinger 2. Shampoop
3. Auto-Kinetic 4. DJ Slip 5. Autumn--Chris Sattinger is making techno records that shake the earth's core. Shampoop play pure adrenalized punk rock, complete with idiotic stage presence. Auto-Kinetic: Local techno production duo coming to terms with their own niche. DJ Slip: another under-recognized techno producer coming out with hard, abstract grooves. Autumn: Did somebody say Sisters of Mercy?

           Stephen Knight, Kamikaze magazine: 1. Epa
2. Ring 3. Mine's Clarence 4. Arch Stanton
5. The Cashmen--You've probably never heard of any of these artists unless you're hip to the Twin Cities' budding Christian music scene. You say, "Who cares?" Well, you might care, once you hear the in-your-face hardcore/ rap/rock stylings of Mine's Clarence or the pop-punk rock candy tossed out by Ring. Veterans like Epa just keep getting better and better, just check out their brand new CD, Jewel Box. And fresh faces like Arch Stanton are starting strong with their debut, Simple Green Holidays (produced by PFR's Mark Nash). With an all-important showcase at First Avenue June 30 now behind them, Minneapolis's Christian artists are finally threatening to break into the mainstream.

           Chris Lambe, Loring Bar: 1. 40 Oz. Superhero
2. Own 3. Who Are Those Guys 4. Francis Gumm 5. 12 Rods.

           Ali Lozoff, Radio K: (no order) 12 Rods; February; Semisonic; Stuart Davis; William and the Conquerors.

           Mary Lucia, Rev 105: 1. Seth Hogan and the Buck-Fifty Boys 2. Detroit 3. Ether Bunny.

           Jim Meyer, Star Tribune: 1. 12 Rods 2. All the Pretty Horses 3. Detroit 4. Sandwiches
5. Tubby Esquire. (Honorable mentions: The Pins; Carolyn Pershing; the Joint Chiefs; Wallace Hartley & the Titanics; Happy Apples, a.k.a. Duets for Traps and Reeds; and a tie between Kid Dyllin' Hicks & the Big Dicks and dylan davis.)

           Jason Parker, Extreme Noise: 1. The Strike 2. Dillinger 4 3. State of Fear 4. Empty Set
5. Man Afraid--The Strike have two and a half 7-inches out and various compilation tracks (one English, one American, and one Japanese) on par or possibly better than SLF, the Clash or the Jam ever were. Dillinger 4 can fill a basement with kids in about one minute. State of Fear are a supergroup featuring ex-members of Disrupt, Deformed Conscience, and Human Greed. Empty Set made a slight member shift and name change from Impetus Inter; sorta like Drive Like Jehu on crack, or Rorshach with better hair. Man Afraid plays '90s political hardcore like Born Against used to do, but with an added touch of early-'80s D.C. hardcore (Minor Threat et al.). All of the above regularly play all-ages basement shows, have 7-inches and/or 12-inches and can be found with a track or two on the Minneapolis Punk Comp No Slow...All Go!

           Jackie Rocket, delicate hot-house flower, editor, Billygirl: 1. Flatstor 2. Vic Volare and His Orchestra 3. (tie) Rhinestone Chassis, Magnatone 5. Hot Water Beagle--Four of my favorite barflies and their awesome drummer have managed to recreate that intimate basement keg-party atmosphere in bars with Hot Water Beagle. When Speedway broke up, I was crushed. Then from the ashes arose not one, but TWO awesome bands: Rhinestone Chassis leans into a sort of grrl honky-tonk, while Magnatone cruises right into surf and punkabilly. What happens when a not-so-new band keep their astonishing vocals and pare down to just a single guitar? Flatstor manages to completely mesmerize me every time. And with their harmonies in the spotlight even more so now, they sparkle. The Front has recently been pushing the whole "Cocktail Nation" theme with Saturday's Club Velvet and their current star of Tuesday nights, Vic Volare. Vic has the perfect amount of lounge lizard smarminess to set off his group of talented backup boys. And when he grabs his, um, sax--watch out. Runners up: The Darlins (awesome country with Scotty Shanks belting em out) and The Exotics (mind-blowing surf from a Milwaukee Band that plays here often enough to be local).  

           Brent Sayers, Universal Parliament of Hip Hop: 1. Beyond 2. Atmosphere 3. King IXL 4. DJ Stage One & The Sureshot Brothers
5. Black Herbalites--First of all, if any of these names seem unfamiliar to you, either you don't know shit about hip-hop or you have never checked out KFAI's Strictly Butter (Saturday nights from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.) or The Underground Railroad Video Show (Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. on channel 33). Now that I got that off my chest, Beyond's steady flow hits your dome piece like a blast from a shotty. With his commandeering presence and thought-provoking lyrics, many will label him Minnesota's KRS-One. If you've never seen Atmosphere around town, you've probably seen Slug sittin' in with numerous local bands or any other stage with a mic on it. If you're looking for that new high, Atmosphere's lyrical tactics will take you exactly there. King IXL: the Technic technician, Minnesota's number-one turntableist. Charismatic personalities and freestyles from the tables to the mic make Stage One and the Sureshot the pure essence of hip-hop. Last but definitely not least, you can catch the Black Herbalites rockin' stages and gettin' crowds hyped at every Universal Parliament of Hip Hop event from here to NYC.

           Christina Schmitt, Minnesota Daily A&E: 1. 12 Rods 2. Skinner Pilot 3. Saltines 4. Dwindle 5. Clog.

           Chris Strouth, Prospective/UltraModern Records: 1. Mooter Wholesale and Mfg. 2. Chia Vang
3. The Pins 4. Hellbent 5. The Kelley Deal 6000--Mooter Wholesale and Mfg: a brand-new band. They have unique song structures that easily set them apart. Chia Vang is the new group fronted by Amanda Ferguson (ex-Adjustable Boy), a lo-fi new-wave blitzkrieg of pure pop fun. The Pins: Noisy and loud, the vision's a kandy-kolored nightmare. Hellbent is Bryan Barton from Halo Black (the band no one seems to know is from here); a side project featuring guys from Chemlab and Thrill Kill Cult; dark throbby industrial but devoid of the usual cliché and stock horror show effects. The Kelley Deal 6000 is undeniably a great project--I wonder if more people from Seattle will move here now? Also of note: the Sandwiches; the Beatifics; All the Pretty Horses; Cooper.

           Kate Sullivan, City Pages: 1. Semisonic 2. National Dynamite 3. Deformo 4. Eller Lynch 5. The Kelley Deal 6000--Semisonic's Great Divide is my favorite CD of late for playing "Spot the Influence." (E.g., check out the guitars on the Beatles' "You Never Give Me Your Money" alongside "If I Run"--am I crazy?) Which is not to say they aren't a potential rock & roll supernova in their own right, with sideburns and trousers poised for success. Such sexy music, it's almost un-Minnesotan. If National Dynamite songs were people, you'd wanna take 'em home and feed 'em ice cream. Benno "his hair's all right" Nelson & Co. make innocent, intelligent pure pop that, like Nelson's satin bell-bottoms, is eager to please. Deformo: I miss Steve's voice, his oh-my-gout grimace when singing lead. Since he joined Kelley Deal, I hear Deformo's been in hiding, doing secret gigs in St. Cloud and Rochester. Come on guys, prove you're not dead. Eller Lynch are a little bit country, a little bit rock & roll--smart, funny, grown-up, kinda like your favorite recovering alcoholic uncle (and that's good). Kelley Deal 6000: I think they need a new member, a corn dogs-backrubs-and-smokes boy to crouch stageside and do Kelley's bidding.

           Jim Walsh, St. Paul Pioneer Press: 1. Semisonic 2. Butterfly Chasers 3. Flatstor 4. Devin Hill
5. Kristin Mooney.

           Mark Wheat, KFAI's Local Sound Department:
1. Mountain Singers 2. Thee Viceroys 3. Superman Curl 4. Who Are Those Guys 5. Gusto Busto.

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