Hot and cold

A revved-up Bang Camaro and techno Freezepop lead the way
By MATT ASHARE  |  May 7, 2008

080509_bigdigits_main
HIP-HOPPIN’ Rather than big breakbeats, Big Digits rely on drum-machine grooves, instrumental loops, and a familiar sample or two.

View results and more from this year's Phoenix/WFNX Best Music Poll at BestMusicPoll.com.
Bands and artists do have a way of coming and going here in Boston. But this year’s Best Music Poll seems to reflect a real turnover in terms of who the emerging dominant artists are, from the operatic metal ensemble Bang Camaro to vintage soulman Eli “Paperboy” Reed to synth-pop vets Freezepop, whose time apparently has arrived now that New Wave is new again. If you’re looking for any sort of order amid such a wide-range of winners, well, good luck. The brave new digital world has done more to democratize the music business than even SoundScan managed a decade and a half ago. In fact, if you think of SoundScan as the one major factor that changed the entire look of the top of the charts for a few years there, suddenly ushering in the alt-rock revolution, then the emergence of MP3 trading, digital releases, and sites like MySpace.com have had much the same effect further down the line, especially at the local level, where bands and artists now have unprecedented access to promotional tools. Add YouTube to the equation, and bands and artists are in a position to deliver everything from music and merch to videos — the whole shebang, so to speak — without spending the hundreds or even tens of thousands of dollars that major labels habitually shell out. How else to explain the wide range of styles represented by this year’s Best Music Poll winners? (Seriously, if anyone’s got a good theory, e-mail me: mashare@phx.com.)

This year’s big winners, the retro ’80s synth-pop trio Freezepop, are well-acquainted with the various avenues of self-promotion. They were just a little bit ahead of the neo-New Wave curve, and their playful approach to synth-pop isn’t as confrontational as electroclash or as overly serious as bands like the Bravery and the Killers. NYC’s Scissor Sisters are probably the closest kin Freezepop have anywhere close to what you might call mainstream. So Freezepop, who won Best Local Act, Best Local Live Act, and, for 2007’s Future Future Future Perfect (Rykodisc), Best Local Album, have been taking full advantage of opportunities like licensing songs to video games (including, yes, Guitar Hero II) and, of course, using the Internet to create a network of fans that by now is national, if not international. Freezepop present a persuasive business model for any aspiring band or artist unwilling to just wait around for some A&R scout to discover them.

But Freezepop aren’t any more a reflection of where the Boston scene is headed today than they were three or four years ago. Which is not to say they don’t have New Wave company among this year’s winners. Because besting the up-and-coming indie bands Drug Rug and Tulsa (look for them in next year’s poll), in the Best New Act category are the synth-driven Passion Pit, the electro-soul brainchild of songwriter Michael Angelakos. They’ve already got seven songs for sale (99 cents apiece) on their MySpace site, a self-released debut (Chunk of Change), and a second album due this year titled Pretty Penny. And Big Digits, this year’s Best Rap/Hip-Hop Act, may be a trio of Beastie Boy-style prankster emcees, but instead of going the route of slick studio productions, they seem to have taken a page from the LCD Soundsystem book of retro synth sounds. And rather than big breakbeats, they rely on cheesy drum machine grooves, instrumental loops, and a familiar sample or two to get their point across. The results are certainly closer to the new wave of Freezepop than your typical Top 40 gangsta-rap production.

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