We’re done looking backward. It’s a new decade, and the Twin Cities is ready for a new top class of musical talent.
The annual Picked to Click poll in October awards the best new artists in Minneapolis/St. Paul. But long before that popularity contest goes down, we take a moment to reward those who reached a maturation point over the past year. They sent the emails, played the gigs, put in the studio time, perfected their rise. The momentum has mounted, and now they’re primed to reap the rewards.
These are the musicians poised to ring in the 2020s with a memorable year.
For fans of: Battles, American Football
When I first wrote about Why Not back in 2017, they were high school sophomores. They were making tight, technical math rock, but they were living in the shadow of the Happy Children, drummer Joshua MacGregor’s brother’s band. No more. The trio of MacGregor, Isaac Dell, and Henry Breen have spent two years polishing their songwriting. Their recent single “No Suggestions Here” felt like a realization, their 18-stop North American tour like a coming-out party. Now they’re back in the Twin Cities and readying to play Big Turn in Red Wing in February.
Seaberg and the Black Velvet Punks
For fans of: Chance the Rapper, Erykah Badu
Soul-funk maestros Seaberg and the Black Velvet Punks fell just short of placing in Picked to Click 2019, and that feels like an injustice. If the trio of Taylor Seaberg, Traiveon Dunlap, and Roderick Glasper feels cool and collected on record—last year’s debut, Silhouettes, plays with the precision of a Swiss watch—the band is masterful on stage. In front of a crowd, Seaberg comes to life in thrilling, passionate episodes. It can feel like a slam poetry reading, or like New Orleans nightclub. It depends on the night and the tune, but the unpredictability is seductive.
NATL PARK SRVC
For fans of: Parquet Courts, Protomartyr
Despite the title of their November EP The Future Is Now, there’s nothing ultra-modern about NATL PARK SRVC’s sound. It’s a timeless mix of jangly guitar, snotty lyrics, and gang vocals that should resonate with garage-rockers of any era. Maybe you hear Pavement in their languid melodies. Maybe it’s Bouncing Souls in their fill-the-room choruses. Whatever the nostalgia this basement band drums up in your soul, you’ll be helpless to resist once you hear Dylan Woytcke, Nathan Zillmer, Jared Leger, Sam Tudor, and Josue Hernandez send up “Sea of Thought,” one of 2019’s hidden gems.
For fans of: Bolt Thrower, your dad’s old concert tees
Minnesota’s teeming metal scene continues to churn out world-class acts, but like a lot of music scenes it’s still very white and straight. So Inhvmanity stand out with their relentless queer thrash metal. Helmed by Xochi de la Luna, the artist/activist behind the intersectional cabaret Mother Goose’s Bedtime Stories, Inhvmanity bring a new level of visibility to the anger and discord of growing up as an agender first-generation Latinx in the Great White North. The noise is easy for anyone to connect to, and once this howling quartet lay their setlist to wax, they’ll be a favorite for any local metalhead.
For fans of: Nick Cave, Depeche Mode
Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Ian Curtis—meet Holly Axelrod, your Minneapolis successor. The Wax Lead frontwoman gives the brash and brooding rock-poet archetype a much-needed feminist reckoning, and the 2018 EP Husband, Lord, & Master was an exquisite “fuck you” to the rock ’n’ roll establishment. But Wax Lead’s rebellion is less of a manifesto and more of an attitude. The riffs echo like a brick chucked through a stained-glass window. The bass licks can only be played while snarling. Everything about this band wakes up the pissed-off teenager in your skin and makes her want to climb into the front row.
For fans of: Soccer Mommy, Julien Baker
Adulthood is a curse, and doesn’t KT Branscom fucking know it. The Vial singer is an unlocked diary waiting to be opened and pored over. If you’re the kind of person who likes hurting their own feelings from time to time, Vial’s November debut, Grow Up, will feel like a tearstained letter from your past self. But don’t worry, Branscom and their bandmates Taylor Kraemer, Katie Fischer, and Kate Kanfield are progressing, and Vial are quickly gaining a following for their banshee tendencies as well as their outspoken commitment to inclusivity and gender consciousness.
For fans of: Tinashe, 21 Savage
Listen to “Fucking Barbie Girl” and you’ll immediately understand how far Kamilla Love stands out from her peers in the Minneapolis/St. Paul music scene. The song is a mission statement, defining Love against all the industrialized bullshit she opposes. She’s hard-edged and venomous, and she raps like she’s striking matches off her teeth. So far, Love’s been operating in the shadows (she barely has any web presence), but her frequent collaborations with booboo and Izell Pyramid should ensure her ascendance in 2020.
For fans of: The Libertines, PBR tallboys
Harper’s Jar is one of those names that you see on every show flyer in the Twin Cities. Whether it’s a Saturday at the Entry or a Wednesday DIY show in a basement, the snot-rock trio of Devin Ware, Ian Robert, and Kyle Kennedy might not make the top of the bill, but they’ll whip up the crowd before your band even gets to plug in. With Ware’s taut Brit-punk vocals and Robert’s fanatical, riff-driven breakdowns, Harper’s Jar take you from hands-in-your-pockets side swaying to involuntary pogo dancing in the course of one short set. November single “Dandy Golden Blue” was a tantalizing hint at what their debut full-length, Thank You Ancestor Finger, might sound like when it’s released in April, and this month’s “Home Is a Roach Motel” just upped the anticipation.
For fans of: The Weeknd, Jeremih
Electronic producer Austin Carson wrote a love letter to the Beach Boys in 2017, marking the name YYY in the Twin Cities for the first time. Carson had previously played with False Teeth, but A Tribute to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds was a bizarre project that brought together people from all over the scene. P.O.S, Dem Atlas, Elle PF, and Fort Wilson Riot all pitched in for YYY’s fevered re-imagining, a harbinger of great things for the true YYY debut that’s scheduled for this spring. Who will spring up to join Carson in his first self-directed vision—and more importantly, what sensual worlds will he usher them into?
For fans of: The Hold Steady, Uptown after midnight
Sibling bands have a certain chemistry that only wrestling on the living-room carpet can foster. Brothers Cameron, Colin, and Evan Campbell formed the Shackletons in 2014 as a vehicle for their nose-thumbing family humor and mutual affinity for lighthearted punk. They hit a point of resonance with single “Minnesota Girls” in 2017, but that dalliance feels far from the Shackletons’ ceiling. The band’s staggering, nothing-sacred storytelling and straight-up singalongs can turn idle barflies into mosh pit maniacs. After a pair of successful EPs, the Shackletons took 2019 off from recording to prepare for an LP release in 2020, and this could be the record that finally steadies them in the spotlight.