Tag Archives: records

Wisconsin newspapers fight bill to eliminate meeting minute publication

Wisconsin newspapers are pledging to fight a bipartisan effort in the state Legislature to eliminate a requirement that meeting minutes of government entities be published in local newspapers.

A group of both Democratic and Republican lawmakers announced they were circulating a bill to do away with the requirement that summaries of meetings by school districts, municipalities, counties and technical colleges be printed in the newspaper.

Instead, the meeting minutes, or summary of what occurred at a public meeting, would instead be posted on the government entity’s website.

Supportive lawmakers pitched the proposal as a way for cash-strapped governments to save money and a way to increase access to the information.

“I don’t know anyone who keeps a stack of newspapers at home to reference minutes of proceedings,” said Rep. Jason Fields, D-Glendale, in a prepared statement. “It is better to allow taxpayers to save money and have better and easier access to minutes.”

But Beth Bennett, executive director of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, sees the proposal as an attack on the public’s ability to know what their elected representatives and local governments are up to.

“Obviously we’re adamantly opposed to it,” said Bennett, whose organization represents more than 230 weekly and daily newspapers in the state. “Maintaining access to public information is at the very core of what we do as an industry. We believe posting information on a government website does not notify anyone of anything. It is not pushing information out.”

Bennett said she did not find out about the bill until Jan. 24, the day its sponsors put out a press release announcing the idea.

A special legislative task force that last year studied the state’s public notice requirements did not recommend making the changes being pursued in the bill.

The proposal is sponsored by Fields and Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, along with Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, and Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee.

The sponsors say the proposal is supported by eight groups representing school boards and administrators, counties, technical colleges and municipalities.

The bill would affect the requirement that meeting minutes be published in the local newspaper.

It would not change the requirement that meeting agendas and other legal notices be printed.

Bill sponsors said the change would affect nearly every government entity statewide, except townships, the city of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Public School District, which already are exempt.

Neither the lawmakers nor Bennett had an estimate of how much the change would save taxpayers — and cost newspapers.

But the bill sponsors did have some anecdotal costs that they reference in their pitch for co-sponsors.

They claim that annual savings would be $12,000 for the Green Bay school district, $3,600 for the city of Wausau, just over $4,400 for La Crosse, $11,000 for Eau Claire and $2,100 for Beloit. And, they say, Outagamie County would save about $6,500 a year while Wood County would save over $13,000 annually.

The measure would have to pass both the state Assembly and Senate — which are controlled by Republicans — and be signed by Gov. Scott Walker before taking effect.

Court allows some Walker probe papers public

The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently ordered the release of documents from John Doe investigations of Gov. Scott Walker and his associates relating to Walker’s time as Milwaukee county executive and then governor.

The court ordered that several dozen documents be made available to the public. It is unclear how heavily redacted the documents will be.

Documents from the secret investigations had been sealed, though some have been leaked.

Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson partially dissented from the decision, saying she favored the release of the documents but did not agree that all the redactions were necessary or consistent.

Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Grassl Bradley and Daniel Kelly did not participate.

Both John Doe investigations were launched by Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm.

The first, in 2010, resulted in convictions of six of Walker’s aides for actions including stealing money from a veterans’ event and campaigning on public time.

The second, launched in 2012, centered on whether Walker’s 2012 recall campaign illegally coordinated with outside conservative groups.

The state Supreme Court halted that probe in 2014, saying such coordination is legal as long as it doesn’t become express advocacy, a political term for advertising that specifically asks voters to defeat or elect a candidate.

Public’s trust was abused over police videos

On Aug. 14, after a night of unrest prompted by the fatal police shooting of a black man, Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said his review of body camera video of the incident proved the officer had acted appropriately.

“The individual did turn toward the officer with a firearm in his hand,” Flynn stated, later saying the man, 23-year-old Sylville Smith, “was raising up with” the gun.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said a still photo he was shown from the video “demonstrates, without question, that (Smith) had a gun in his hand.” In fact, Barrett declared, the officer “ordered that individual to drop his gun, the individual did not drop his gun.”

This purportedly exculpatory video itself was not promptly released, despite requests from Barrett and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker that this occur. It still has not been released. But we know now that public officials did not give an accurate account of what it shows.

Bill Lueders, Your Right to Know columnist
Bill Lueders, Your Right to Know columnist

We know that because, in mid-December, Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm filed criminal charges against Dominique Heaggan-Brown, the former Milwaukee police officer who killed Smith. (Heaggan-Brown was fired over an alleged sexual assault shortly after the shooting.)

According to the criminal complaint charging the officer with first-degree reckless homicide, Smith held a gun as the officer fired his first shot. Smith, struck in the arm, pitched the gun over a fence and fell to the ground. The officer then fired a second, fatal shot to Smith’s chest.

“A review of the body camera video from (both officers at the scene) confirms that at the time of the second shot, Smith was unarmed and had his hands near his head,” the complaint says.

A 2014 state law governing investigations of police shootings requires that gathered materials be released if a decision is made not to file charges. The law is otherwise silent as to whether and when these materials are released.

Barrett has renewed his call for release, while Flynn has weighed in against this. Chisholm told me his office will not release this evidence prior to its use in a criminal proceeding.

In this case, I believe, it is already too late to restore confidence in the integrity of the process. Flynn’s representations about the video were at best misleading, and Barrett’s statements suggest he was misled, as was the public.

The whole point of outfitting police with cameras, at taxpayer expense, is to ensure truthfulness and enhance accountability. That did not happen here. And many more months may pass before the video is released.

Other jurisdictions have more enlightened policies. In Chicago, for instance, videos of police shootings are normally released within 60 days, and posted online.

In the legislative session that begins in January, there will likely be renewed efforts to establish consistent state policies regarding police body cameras; a bill to do so in the last session went nowhere.

Now is the time, in the wake of this regrettable case, for the citizens of Wisconsin to insist that the video records they are paying for are not kept secret, or used to mislead them.

Your Right to Know: Release John Doe II case records now

One of the most important court decisions in Wisconsin political history was argued largely in secret. The arguments were made in briefs that were heavily redacted or entirely shielded from public view. The evidence was hidden. Most of the litigants were anonymous.

The level of secrecy “is something I haven’t ever heard of happening in Wisconsin,” says David Schultz, a retired University of Wisconsin law professor who has watched the state Supreme Court for 40 years.

Unless the high court decides to unseal its files, the public will remain ignorant of the full facts and arguments it considered when it shut down the John Doe II investigation centered on Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign — known in court documents as “Unnamed Movant No. 1.”

Leaked and inadvertently unsealed records revealed that Walker raised large, undisclosed donations for ostensibly independent political groups, which in turn ran “issue ads” prior to the 2011 and 2012 Senate recall elections and the 2012 gubernatorial recall. These are unregulated, thinly veiled communications often intended to influence elections without expressly advocating for or against any candidate.

When two lawsuits aimed at killing the probe and a third filed by prosecutor Francis Schmitz attempting to save it made their way to the Supreme Court, the majority of justices agreed that most of the issues should be argued in secret to prevent “testimony which may be mistaken or untrue from becoming public.”

In July 2015, by a 4-2 vote, the court ended the probe, declaring that the conduct under investigation was not illegal and ordering that the evidence be returned to the subjects or destroyed. The court later amended its order to direct that the remaining evidence be turned over to the court. No one was ever charged.

But questions remain: What exactly did Walker do behind the scenes to fight the recalls? What evidence did prosecutors offer that two of the justices had conflicts of interest? Did prosecutors abuse their discretion in investigating activity that the subjects argued was protected political speech under the First Amendment?

And, importantly, did the court follow the law and precedent when it decided to shut down the investigation? Or did it, as Justice Shirley Abrahamson charged in her dissent, engage in a “blatant attempt to reach its desired result by whatever means necessary”?

In October, two nonprofit and nonpartisan groups — the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism — filed a public records request with Diane Fremgen, the clerk of the Supreme Court, asking that the case file be opened.

Fremgen denied the request, saying the court had directed her to maintain “certain filings” in the case under seal — even essential records such as motions and briefs filed with the court.

There are, we understand, concerns about releasing some exhibits attached to the court filings, on grounds that this evidence was illegally seized by prosecutors and should remain sealed. But Fremgen decided not to split those hairs, denying the entire request.

Abrahamson, for her part, has argued the case should be open, writing, “The public has a constitutional, statutory and common law right of access to judicial proceedings and judicial records.”

We agree.

Your Right to Know is a monthly column distributed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council (www.wisfoic.org), a group dedicated to open government. Dee J. Hall is the group’s secretary and managing editor of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

 

Clinton defends progressive record against Sanders’ attack

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders opened up a new line of attack in the Democratic presidential primary on Feb. 3, putting Hillary Clinton on the defensive over her liberal credentials just days after she eked a slim victory in the Iowa caucuses.

Sanders, who has a sizable lead in the upcoming New Hampshire primary, rattled off a list of issues where he says Clinton isn’t in sync with the liberal wing of the party, including trade, Wall Street regulation, climate change, campaign finance and the 2002 authorization of the war in Iraq.

“I do not know any progressive who has a super PAC and takes $15 million from Wall Street,” Sanders said, during a candidate forum sponsored by CNN. “That’s just not progressive.”

Clinton moved quickly to defend her record, saying that under Sanders’ criteria President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and even the deceased Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone, a champion of liberal causes, would not be considered progressive.

“I know where I stand,” said Clinton. “But I don’t think it helps for the senator to be making those kinds of comparisons because clearly we all share the same hopes and aspirations for our country.”

She also pushed back on charges by Sanders and his allies that she cannot be trusted to regulate Wall Street because of the millions in speaking fees she made from the industry before announcing her presidential bid. An Associated Press analysis of public disclosure forms and records released by her campaign found that Clinton made $9 million from appearances sponsored by banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, private equity firms and real estate businesses.

Clinton said she was still deciding whether to run for president when she accepted the appearances

“I don’t know,” she said, when asked why she was paid such a high speaking fee. “That is what they offered.”

The back-and-forth on progressive credentials was the latest example of tensions between Clinton and Sanders as the race nears the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary. The Democratic rivals are expected to appear at a debate on Thursday night and both camps have quarreled over the timing and locations of three debates planned for later this spring.

Clinton has questioned Sanders’ commitment to gun control and whether his proposal to create a universal health care system might endanger Obama’s signature health care law. Sanders, meanwhile, casts Clinton as an establishment figure and an inconsistent champion of liberal causes such as the environment, trade and campaign finance reform.

Speaking at a town hall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire earlier in the day, the former secretary of state called Sanders attacks on her ideology a “low blow,” before listing a series of liberal accomplishments that she described as progressive, including her work on expanding access to children’s health insurance, advocating for women and gay people and pushing for gun control measures.

“We’ve been fighting the progressive fight and getting results for people for years,” Clinton said. “I hope we keep it on the issues. Because if it’s about our records, hey, I’m going to win by a landslide.”

But Clinton’s team clearly sees an opening in Sanders’ comment. On Twitter, Clinton’s top spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri compared it to the moment in 2008 when President Barack Obama said during a debate that Clinton was “likable enough,” which prompted criticism from Clinton supporters.

The attack came from a comment Clinton made at a campaign event in September, when she was describing tax cuts passed under former President George W. Bush and noted that she’s occasionally been called a moderate. “I plead guilty,” she told the crowd in Columbus, Ohio.

Sanders cited her words in a Wednesday evening news conference in Concord, before noting that she has done some “progressive things” like advocating for children.

“This is not a low blow. There’s nothing wrong with people who are moderates. Some of my best friends are moderates,” he said. “All I was doing was repeating what she actually said.”

Sanders’ razor-thin loss in the Iowa caucuses Monday, and his formidable lead in New Hampshire polls, have heightened the possibility that the two remaining Democrats will be involved in a protracted fight for the nomination.

“We are in this until the convention,” Sanders told reporters on Tuesday. He said the narrow Iowa outcome showed his campaign’s ability to take on Clinton’s vast political network and address doubts among voters about his electability.

Clinton acknowledged that she yet to win over broad swaths of the party, particularly younger voters. In Iowa, Sanders won 84 percent of voters under age 30 and 58 percent of those aged 30-44 according to entrance polls.

“I respect the fact that I have work to do,” said Clinton. “They don’t have to be for me, I will be for them.” 

New music: David Bowie, Rachel Platten, Grizfolk, Dylan LeBlanc

David Bowie :: ‘Blackstar’: Released on David Bowie’s 69th birthday, only a two days before he died on Jan. 10, Blackstar arrives just three years after The Next Day. It continues in that album’s experimental mood, but is warmer and more approachable. The title track that opens Blackstar is its most idiosyncratic, a 10-minute, cinematic epic that majestically sprawls from drum and bass dance music to avant-garde jazz. “‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore” takes the sounds of Bowie’s ‘80s pop smashes and sets them free. The gorgeous ballad “I Can’t Give Everything Away” is the greatest example of the album’s struggling with themes of mortality while Bowie’s sound steps boldly ahead. Bowie’s death casts a new light on the album, revealing it as an elegant goodbye. The song “Lazarus” in particular references his losing battle with cancer, closing with the words, “You know I’ll be free just like that bluebird. Now ain’t that just like me?”

Rachel Platten :: ‘Wildfire’: Four years ago, Rachel Platten seemed to have a promising career with the launch of “1,000 Ships.” However, a follow-up failed to materialize until her tough, inspirational “Fight Song” found an audience last year. Wildfire is the product of that new attention she has now received. But over the length of an album, the music feels like just more product churned out of a pop music machine. Platten’s upbeat “Hey Hey Hallelujah,” with fellow feel-good artist Andy Grammer, drains all spontaneity, and the call-out of Jeff Buckley is cringe-worthy. The collection does include new single “Stand By You,” a solid addition to any mainstream pop playlist.

Grizfolk :: ‘Waking Up the Giants’: Grizfolk came together in 2012 when Swedish producers Fredrik Eriksson and Sebastian Fritze met American singer-songwriter Adam Roth. They blend contemporary American music with catchy electronic pop, similar to fellow Swedes Miike Snow. The songs go down easy, but they have a bland quality to them. The biggest standout is “Bob Marley,” a contemporary road trip song created with a yearning for the sunny sounds of early Beach Boys. Unfortunately, the rest of this album breaks little ground.

Dylan LeBlanc :: ‘Cautionary Tale’: Dylan LeBlanc hails from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, but his musical pedigree goes far beyond that famous locale. His father is session musician James LeBlanc and he travels in the same circles as Alabama Shakes. He struggled after the buzz from his sophomore album Cast the Same Old Shadow, but has returned with his most confident work yet. LeBlanc’s high, lonesome voice resembles Neil Young in a country mood. If you’re interested in the cutting edge of Southern country-rock, Cautionary Tale is an album to hear.

Midnight Reruns takes a victory lap opening for Tommy Stinson

Midnight Reruns had a very good 2015. By the time December drew to a close, the Milwaukee punk/power pop band was able to rightly trumpet on Facebook their status as one of the city’s most celebrated bands of the year. With just two full-length albums under their belts — including this year’s release, Force of Nurture, which numerous local publications counted among the best of the year — Midnight Reruns have risen to the top of the vibrant Milwaukee music scene.

They’ll take a victory lap Jan. 21 at Turner Hall Ballroom, when they open for bass legend Tommy Stinson of The Replacements and Guns N’ Roses.

The band’s connection with Stinson and The Replacements goes deeper than a choice opening slot this month, according to Reruns guitarist and frontman Graham Hunt. It was in fact a chance mention of the legendary punk act that originally started Hunt on the path to Midnight Reruns.

“My dad mentioned The Replacements because I think he saw them in college one time and he said, ‘You would probably like that band,’” Hunt says. He took his father’s advice to heart and picked up a copy of the band’s 1981 debut, Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash. 

He loved it. Hunt became obsessed with the group’s music and dove deeper into an appreciation of punk music in general.

Midnight Reruns was formed at the end of 2010, but the group didn’t take off right away, due in part to Hunt joining Trapper Schoepp and the Shades in 2011. That band was successful locally when Hunt came on board, and with the release of the album Run, Engine, Run in 2012, Trapper Schoepp and his cohorts looked like the next big thing out of Wisconsin. 

But Hunt says his somewhat uneasy alliance with the group disintegrated and he put his focus back into Midnight Reruns. “I was always more concerned with my own songwriting and wanting to do my own thing,” he says. The band ultimately released their self-titled album in 2013, to promising critical reviews.

But Hunt’s stint playing with Trapper Schoepp would benefit the band long after his departure. Trapper Schoepp’s manager, Milwaukeean Ben Perlstein, also manages Stinson, and passed along Midnight Reruns to the bassist. By coincidence, Stinson was wanting to get into the production business and looking for bands to bring into his studio. “He said, ‘Come to my house; I have a studio there. Drive out to New York and we can make a record.”

In 2014, that’s just what the Reruns did, heading up to Hudson, New York, to record Force of Nurture. The four-day schedule was so tight, Hunt says, they didn’t have time for idol worship. “We kind of worked off the starstruck-ness,” he says. The new album was noted for its fearless venturing into new territory while staying rooted in the spirit of both classic punk and power pop. 

But for all their success in the studio, the band is just as celebrated for its energetic, interactive live shows, in venues big and small. Hunt says his favorite songs to perform are “any song that we don’t have to be really strict with how we play it,” and the band is known for making lots of alterations to music or lyrics as they perform live. They’ve also got an extensive catalog of covers they perform, and have an alter ego as a wedding band called “Hamdog Millionaire$” for good friends only.

One of the shows Hunt remembers best was from the band’s first trip to Stevens Point, a basement show all the way up in “tiny small-town Wisconsin.” “I’ve just never seen people go so crazy,” he says. “There was crowd surfing and moshing.” The band even made some good friends during the gig and visited another four times before graduation day came. 

Midnight Reruns is a band that’s full of surprises, and you should expect to see lots of them at the Turner Hall show. There’s the aforementioned possibility of good covers — one in consideration being a previously well-received take on Hall & Oates’ “You Make My Dreams.” But, he adds, the band is at work on new songs for a third studio album, and they’re likely to try out a few before their friend and benefactor Stinson takes the stage.

ON STAGE

Midnight Reruns and Platinum Boys will open for Tommy Stinson on Jan. 21 at Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee. Doors open at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10, $12 day-of-show. Visit pabsttheater.org or call 414-286-3205 to order.

Popularity of Netflix series overwhelms records custodian

The popularity of the Netflix series “Making a Murderer” has resulted in a barrage of requests for records in the homicide case.

The custodian of those records, the Manitowoc County Clerk of Courts office, has been inundated with inquiries from local citizens as well as others from across the country who want to see the transcripts, exhibits and other documents.

Clerk Lynn Zigmunt says there are more than six banker boxes of material. She’s assigned an employee to handle the requests each day. Zigmunt tells WBAY-TV that on Jan. 5 a woman from Australia requested copies of the trial’s entire transcript, and at $1.25 a page, she will be billed $6,000.

Zigmunt expects the requests to wane in the future because someone who has purchased the documents will likely put them online. 

Wisconsin high court deadlocks on blacked-out police reports

A Wisconsin Supreme Court left deadlocked by the death of Justice Patrick Crooks in September delayed a decision in a closely watched case about whether police must censor personal information on accident or crime reports.

Crooks died days after the court heard arguments in the case. The justices who heard the case deadlocked 3-3 on whether to affirm a lower court judge’s ruling in favor of open records, so the Supreme Court vacated its decision to accept the case directly and sent it back to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Last year a St. Croix County judge ruled in favor of the New Richmond News. The newspaper sued the City of New Richmond alleging police were redacting — or blacking out — too much information, a violation of Wisconsin’s open records law.

Judge Howard Cameron found that censoring agencies were misconstruing a federal law.

An increasing number of Wisconsin agencies are redacting personal information on reports after a federal appeals court ruling in an Illinois case. But Cameron ruled the 1994 Driver’s Privacy Protection Act does not require that information to be redacted.

The agencies’ stances have upset open government advocates and made it more difficult for reporters to add details in news stories and for crime and accident victims to submit insurance claims.

According to the opinion, three members of the Wisconsin Supreme Court _ Chief Justice Patience Roggensack and Justices Michael Gableman and Annette Ziegler _ would have reversed the trial court ruling, siding with those who argue that Congress intended the act to pre-empt the state’s open records laws.

Three others — Justices Shirley Abrahamson, Ann Bradley and David Prosser — would have affirmed the decision that the traditionally open records remain open. Justice Rebecca Bradley, who was appointed to the court on Oct. 9 by Gov. Scott Walker to replace Crooks, did not take part in the case. 

Year in Review: Top albums in 2015

R&B Album of the Year: Kendrick Lamar. ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’

Appearing at the height of national discussion about police violence targeting black people, Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is a messy and powerful document about the state of being black in America. At times it is so dense it feels practically unlistenable. At other times, you may find yourself singing along to a chorus. Lamar delivered on the promise of his debut album and his work riveted attention like few other albums in 2015. 

Even if you believe you do not like hip-hop, I encourage you to listen to this album. It has much to say, and songs like “King Kunta” and “i” will have an emotional impact while remaining accessible enough for most pop audiences. They may encourage you to dig deeper, finding stories like that of “How Much a Dollar Cost” or the head-on confrontation of racism in “The Blacker the Berry.”

Honorable mentions deservedly go to Drake and Miguel. Drake’s surprise release If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late depicts the Canadian rapper at his peak. Until Adele came along, it was the biggest album of 2015. The gift of Drake is how he digs deep into his own personal experiences with an artful and often endearingly catchy, context. He has never sounded as idiosyncratic as on this collection of songs, and that’s a very good thing.

Miguel’s eagerly awaited third album Wildheart blurs the lines between R&B and psychedelic rock, and, at times, it is almost as difficult to get a handle on that sound. Keep Jimi Hendrix in the back of your mind and you’ll be fine; his influence is prominent. Perhaps more than most major album releases this year, Wildheart sounds like a multi-faceted journey into the artist’s soul.

Pop Album of the Year: Adele, ‘25’

Album quality and massive international commercial appeal do not always go hand in hand. Happily, in the case of Adele’s third album 25, they do. 

A strong argument could be made that no solo artist has ever kicked off a career with three consecutive albums that maintain such consistently high quality as Adele’s 19, 21 and 25.

On 25, she surrounds herself with such stellar collaborators as Max Martin, Greg Kurstin and Bruno Mars, but it is Adele’s voice that shines through clear and true.

The theme of the album this time around is the strength found when the shock and immediate pain of a failed relationship fade. However, like all of Adele’s work, the broader theme is the intimate emotional experience of relationships. 

From the moment she kicks off the album with the words, “Hello, it’s me,” on her massive No. 1 pop hit single “Hello” to “Sweetest Devotion’s” swaying, confident, “I wasn’t ready then, I’m ready now,” there is a bracing sense of personal and musical confidence on 25. 

Honorable mentions go to The Weeknd and Madonna. Some may argue that Beauty Behind the Madness by Canadian artist Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, is most properly an R&B album, but it is in songs like the Max Martin collaboration “Can’t Feel My Face,” inspired by the best pop instincts of Michael Jackson, that his work truly soars. This album brought a very promising rising artist to much-deserved widespread attention.

Madonna’s Rebel Heart is the kind of album many past pop kings and queens would like to make in their late 50s. It is her best in 15 years and she sounds free and optimistic about the future. The album acknowledges her glorious past well and is an outstanding example of a pop artist aging gracefully. 

Rock Album of the Year: Courtney Barnett ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit’

The debut album from 28-year-old Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett earned her a surprising but well-deserved Grammy Award nomination for Best New Artist. She combines relentlessly infectious garage rock riffs with deadpan lyrics that sparkle with wit and intelligence.

There is nothing particularly new in Courtney Barnett’s approach. What is arresting is how “right” this all sounds. 

Songs like her breakthrough “Pedestrian At Best” get your attention with squealing guitar and thunderous drums, then launch into a flat vocal delivery drawing maximum attention to words like, “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you. Tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you.” 

Somewhere legends like Patti Smith are smiling when they listen to Courtney Barnett. She is proof that while rock may not be in the spotlight as often today, it is still alive and kicking as fiercely as ever.

Honorable mentions in the rock category go to Coldplay and Fall Out Boy. Taken together, the bands represent the peak of commercial success for rock in today’s popular music climate. Coldplay’s recently released A Head Full of Dreams finds the band blurring boundaries between rock and danceable pop, collaborating with producers StarGate and including guest appearances from Beyoncé and Tove Lo. The result is the big, warm, hopeful sound we have come to expect from Coldplay. The moodiness of last year’s Ghost Stories has given way to songs like “Everglow,” a hymn to connections that remain even after the breakup of a romantic relationship.

Fall Out Boy proved 2013’s comeback was no fluke on American Beauty / American Psycho. From the infusion of Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner” into the bombastic top 10 hit “Centuries” to the good-humored sampling of The Munsters’ theme song in “Uma Thurman,” the album pulls together pop culture references in a good-natured stew of catchy riffs and sing-a-long choruses.