In spite of my skepticism about the relevance of polls, I recognize they've got their place. They tell a little bit of the story, though nowhere near the whole thing, and if we keep that perspective, it can be some fun. One good thing the DPUMS (and other best-of events like the Westword showcase) does is give a concrete occasion to mark and celebrate a portion of the great sounds around town. I really love some of the music being made in this town, and I try to listen to as much of it as I can make time to hear. Being asked to play a little part in this celebration makes me glad.
So, I got my ballot yesterday, and with only three days before it was due, I looked at the alphabetical list of local bands, then set about the work of making my own top twenty. I scanned the list, subtracting bands I knew to be broken up, noting my inability to make judgment on bands that I had yet to hear from and adding a couple for consideration that weren't on the list. Coming up with a ranked list of twenty local bands is a challenge. And truthfully, the unavoidable arbitrariness involved in deciding who is at number six versus seven or even seventeen, makes it less than satisfying work. I needed some guidelines. And since none were explicitly given, I made up my own. This turned out to be the best part of putting together the list.
My guiding factors in voting on my choices for the DPUMS:
1. I have heard them play. Should be obvious, but can't say how many times I've heard someone give an "opinion" about stuff they clearly haven't really listened to but are mimicking what's been said by others. In most cases I've seen each of these bands/artists at least once live and in all cases I've listened even more times to stuff they've recorded.
2. Pleasure. Simply, I enjoy listening to the band. Subjective? Yes. But that's what a personal opinion is: confidence without proof. And it's a place to start.
3. Talent. This really is another obvious one, but still an important factor. They've got to know how to play their instruments.
4. Genuineness. Sincerity is tough to judge and near impossible to prove, but when I recognize it, I'm confident in my judgment. Soul-less sounds soon wear thin. But when the band really means it--you can feel it is substantial. The real thing, as they say.
5. Distinctiveness. Originality is where judgment gets less subjective although is limited by what I'm familiar with. I haven't heard everything out there, and I never will, but I believe I've listened to enough to have an inkling. Many songs sound the same and many bands wear their influences on their sleeve. This isn't bad. It's a place to start. But it's magical when artists take their influences, integrate it into their own work and truly make it a new work. It becomes theirs, not a knock-off or imitation. Listeners can tell.
6. Hard-working. If the task is to rank the best of the past year, in my opinion, the band has to have played out a bit: either locally or even toured outside Denver, or perhaps they've spent time recording and releasing their music. Even if I liked what they did two years ago, if they haven't played out or released anything recently, and especially if I know they are already disbanded I decided I shouldn't be able to vote them at the top of a 2008 poll. Ditto for promising new bands that haven't played enough for me to form a substantial opinion on yet.
7. My boyfriend is not in the band. To avoid the presumption of a conflict of interest, I am not voting for Bad Luck City or Overcasters. Even though they are two of my favorites, for the reasons listed above, not just because of my affection for someone in them.
The showcase has been a fun time the past two years I've attended.
I expect this year will be too.