Actual Wolf

Another drummer comes to the forefront. This time it's Eric Pollard of Retribution Gospel Choir, who stepped it up as a songwriter when he was nearly locked up on marijuana charges. He crafted a pair of dramatic EPs filled with 1970s-ish twang-pop and North Country folk, then built quite an impressive band around them, featuring bassist Steve Garrington of RGC and Low and brothers Jake and Jeremy Hanson, guitarist for Halloween, Alaska and drummer for Tapes n' Tapes, respectively.

Bomba de Luz

One of two acts on the lineup not even close to drinking age, these rollicking, folk-rocky St. Paul Central high schoolers have charmed the cynicism off many an older hipster, from P.O.S. (who recruited frontwoman Lydia Hoglund to record with him) to staff at 89.3 the Current and Mark Mallman (each of whom asked them to play gigs). The coed quartet's bubbly looking but stern-sounding blonde songwriter boasts a deep, Fiona Apple-ish voice that belies her youth and playful style -- and she penned two albums worth of compelling songs even before getting her diploma.

The Chalice

This trio of kindred but dissimilar female rappers/singers had the biggest breakout year of all of Friday's performers, having won City Pages' Picked to Click poll and landing among the best live acts in our Twin Cities Critics Tally. Like John Mark Nelson, they will return to First Ave next weekend for the Current's birthday bash. Not bad for a group that started on a semi-drunken whim. Ohio-bred poetic soul rapper Sophia Eris and harder-edged Texan MC Lizzo bonded over a "Bootylicious" karaoke session, then recruited R&B-leaning singer/songwiter Claire De Lune to sing along when they got serious about working together. They're never too serious, though, which is one big reason they've caught on fast.


Suffice it to say the bruised apple doesn't fall too far from the tree in Brian Vanderwerf's musical world, and that's a good thing for fans of his previous bands, the Midnight Evils and Chooglin'. His new sextet has the former's garage-punk roar with some of the latter's gritty soulfulness (but no horns, just harmonica), not to mention a little of the twang of his side group the Huckleberrys. There's plenty of new life bursting out of this band's three-guitar assault, though.

John Mark Nelson

The soft-voiced bedroom strummer's debut album, "Waiting and Waiting," was loaded with sentimental, bright-eyed, world-pondering songs -- no surprise considering he released it right after graduating from high school. A Minnetonka native, he landed airplay with "Reminisce," a softly bouncy ditty that immediately gets stuck in your head. His version of "A Day in the Life" was a standout on the new "Minnesota Beatle Project, Vol. 4" benefit album. With help from the Laurel Strings and the rest of his large band, his live shows can be as elegant and serene as his recordings.

Strange Names

Originally a psychedelic synth-pop duo à la MGMT with heavy traces of Animal Collective, musical partners Liam Benzvi and Francis Jimenez produced their self-titled four-song EP last summer with the guy who helmed Howler's breakout EP, Chris Heidman. The lead-off track, "Potential Wife," was added to the Current playlist right away. In recent months, they have grown the band into a full quartet and taken on a rockier edge.