This week, EMP officially announced the 2008 Sound Off! semifinalists, the 12 underage bands strategically selected (via a number of listening sessions) from the nearly 100 who entered. The dozen will compete through the month of February for an avalanche of prizes that will no doubt help their young careers. More importantly, the finalists will have the honor of being included among previous Sound Off! stars, including Dyme Def, the Lonely Forest, Schoolyard Heroes, Idiot Pilot, Natalie Portman's Shaved Head, and Mon Frere.

Here's who made the first cut: the Batteries, the Dead Are Judged, New Faces, Southgate, KnowMads, the Nextdoor Neighbors, Pat Goodwin, Scribes, Deer City, Kusikia, Man Down Medic, Shotty.

Having sat on one of the listening panels, I can say without conjecture that the pared-down list not only runs a vast gamut of genres (hiphop, metal, indie, singer/songwriter, punk), but it also includes bands who are talented enough to do well in the local music scene despite their inexperience, whether or not they win the competition (though it couldn't hurt).

I'm not picking any favorites yet—I still haven't seen any of them live—but there were a few standouts at first listen: The Dead Are Judged play a wicked, guitar-heavy metal/hardcore hybrid; Deer City is one weirdly charming dude, with a slew of toys that he uses to craft electro-pop lullabies; Scribes is a local rapper with a familiar, confident delivery who names Karl Marx, Marvin Gaye, and Bob Dylan as influences.

That's only the beginning. There are nine more.

Four bands will play against one another on February 9, 16, and 23, at Level 3 at EMP, and a panel of judges will score them on categories ranging from audience response to creativity and technical ability. The winners from each night will move on to the finals to be held at the Sky Church on March 1.

Tickets go on sale Thursday, January 17, and shows have sold out in the past (kids got crews, ya know?). Plan ahead. recommended

Log on to Line Out— for photos and MP3s from the finalists.