Once again it has come time for music critics to look back on the past year and create endless lists of who did what in 2008, from “Top Indie Christmas Records” to “Best Songs by Bands Named after Animals.” In that spirit, every year Minneapolis’s First Avenue nightclub and the University of Minnesota’s Radio K partner to survey local media, bands, and venues to determine the best new local bands of the previous annum.
In a tradition that is now in its 20th year, First Avenue then hosts a showcase of the chosen bands, giving them extra exposure as well as a much-deserved celebration for their accomplishments. While the lineup changes every year, it is a testament to the depth of the local music scene that the level of talent has always remained consistently high.
This year’s Best New Bands showcase takes place in the First Ave mainroom on Wednesday the 14th of January. First on the bill is Bouncer Fighter, a favorite off the local Anti-Civ record label. They are a proggy punk outfit that affects a happier disposition than is generally typical of the genre. Though Bouncer Fighter’s arrangements are skittery rollercoaster rides, lyrically the songs evince a sunny outlook on life. As they should: two of the bandmates are the proud parents of a baby girl.
Lucy Michelle and the Velvet Lapelles and Caroline Smith and the Goodnight Sleeps are two bands that both have been compared to one another a great deal. Both Smith and Michelle have uniquely pitched voices that have drawn comparisons to the likes of Billie Holiday and Karen Dalton. Where Smith’s folk tunes are a bit more restrained, poppy, and confessional; Michelle’s jams are wild bouncy romps through Americana and Gypsy territory. If you need a more concrete way to tell the difference: Smith will be the one playing a banjo, while Michelle fronts her band on a ukulele.
The Dynamiters are a patchwork crew that could have been formed as a City Pages “Picked to Click” support group for former local bands. The group contains members of Die Electric, Selby Tigers, and Monarques, all of whom have won or placed in that “cursed” contest at some point in the past decade. The Dynamiters rock it pretty hard without much pretension or futzing about. “Drums + bass + guitar = rock” is an equation that has withstood the test of time, and this band is no exception to the rule.
Another new band that has some faces that aren’t actually “new” to the scene is Lookbook. The New Wave inspired electronic duo consists of Grant Cutler (of Passions) and Maggie Morrison (of Digitata). The synthesizer has come back in a big way this year, and Lookbook is the Twin Cities’ answer to the M83s and Longwaves of the world.
While the Best New Band showcase hasn’t historically been as kind to local hip-hop as it perhaps should have been, this year’s choice of Kristoff Krane is a solid one. Not many local MCs worked harder than Krane in 2008. His emotional, experimental fusion of pop and rap has been gaining him praise across the genre divide, and his debut release This Will Work for Now was lauded as one of the year’s best local albums.
Rounding out the list are up and coming indie rockers Yer Cronies, whose Band-of-Horses-meets-Radiohead style of alt-country/electronic experimentation put them on a skyrocket flight to the top of many critics’ lists last year. In addition, no band seems to be as popular with the young ladies who have been packing the all-male band’s shows all year long.
As anyone who has ever tried to create a comprehensive “best of” list knows, there is never any possible mix that is going to please absolutely everyone all of the time. First Avenue’s showcase is no exception, but regardless, few will disagree that the show represents many—if not most—of the past year’s most promising musical debuts. With the modest price tag of $7 (one dollar per band), there is absolutely no reason why any local music lover shouldn’t be present and accounted for.
Jon Behm (email@example.com) is a Minneapolis-based photographer and writer. While his specialty is music, Jon has a wide variety of interests that tend to take him all over the Twin Cities on a daily basis.
Correction 1/12: The child of two members of Bouncer Fighter is a girl, not a boy as this article originally stated.