For the past three years, the only real suspense in the local end of the Best Music Poll has been whether the Dresden Dolls or the Dropkick Murphys would win more categories. And you can frame that as a turf struggle of sorts, since those are the flagship bands of two local factions: the Dropkicks for the jocks and rowdies; the Dresdens for the artistic types. This year, however, there’s no struggle and no problem: both factions can coexist comfortably; the city will take its refined kicks along with its cheap thrills.
Both bands continue to dominate the poll after what was, let’s face it, a fairly stable year for local music. This year we’ve bumped the Dropkicks up to the national category (where they won as Best Punk Band), and from the looks of things, we’ll have to do the same for the Dolls next year; since the two bands respectively sold out three nights at Avalon and one at the Orpheum. Not only are both bands represented here, their progeny are as well: Best Song winners the Street Dogs (original Dropkicks singer Mike McColgan’s current band) are arguably closer to the spirit of the original Dropkicks than the current, jock-friendly version. Certainly, the winning “In Defense of Dorchester” could have fit on the first two Dropkicks albums if you’d thrown some bagpipes on it.
Humanwine are the most visible descendants of the Dresden Dolls, most recently opening the Dolls’ Orpheum show with Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione both making cameos during their set. On the surface, the two bands have a lot in common — visual, theatrical, cabaret-tinged — but Humanwine are really doing something quite different, more haunting and eclectic with less of a rock base. The small and striking singer Holly Brewer looks like a star waiting to happen, particularly after the chilling version of “St. James Infirmary” I saw her do at Shaun Wortis and Suzi Lee’s Mardi Gras show this year.
Darkbuster, who win in the Best Punk category and place in two others, have moved into the Dropkicks’ slot as the ultimate working-class, hard-drinking punk band. The group’s name was originally an obscure joke after frontman Lenny Lashley found some pissed-off types working in his local Blockbuster, but the name’s become more appropriate in the past year, as the band has indeed busted through some dark times — both by sending piles of CDs to fans serving in Iraq, and by carrying on after Lashley got messed up in a work accident. The subsequent addition of lead player Amy Griffin (from Avoid One Thing and the Raging Teens) has given the band a stronger guitar sound and — sorry, guys — a welcome shot of sex appeal.
Otherwise, you’ve gotta love the idiosyncrasies of this poll. Sure, Apollo Sunshine are a perfectly good band with a solid following, but the number-one band in Boston? Maybe not, but they are a stellar example of how a proudly left-of-center band can work hard and find its niche, both here and nationally. In fact, all five names in this category evince how diverse things can be: are the same people really listening to Apollo’s psych-pop, Darkbuster, and the Street Dogs’ hyperactive punk, Dear Leader’s hyper-earnest arena pop, and the Click Five’s boy-band-isms? Hey, at least we know whose fans can be bothered to vote.
It’s also good to see a few ringers in with the more predictable names. All five of the singer/songwriters are new to this poll; all write literate and dark-toned songs that ask, and reward, closer attention than the average pop single. Three Day Threshold bring some punk leanings to the Best Local Roots category, this year featuring (with Frank Smith) two bands with a lead banjo. UV Protection aren’t on the same headline level with the rest of the Best Live Act winners, but their techno-conceptual shows are indeed some of the more distinctive in town. By now it’s feeling like Mission of Burma have never been away, and they squeak in as the fourth-best Live Act — not a bad showing since they played exactly one local show (at Somerville Theatre) since last year’s poll. If they only play one show in the coming year, and it’s anywhere near as intense as the forthcoming album The Obliterati (Matador), they should be a shoo-in next year as well.
Burma’s influence lives in Cave In, who rebound from that time-honored rite of passage, getting dumped by a major label, to top the Metal/Hardcore category — a feat in itself for a band that’s not really either metal or hardcore. Still, we didn’t have a category for “Best Loud Guitar Band Dipping Into Prog, Emo, and Jagged Post-Punk,” so this will have to suffice.