By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Captain Audio probably won't be a local band for much longer, if its demo tape is any indication. Good for them. UFOFU and Comet both disbanded just as they were on the cusp of indie stardom, and Chellew never had a good shot (see Stone Culture or Neurotica). Captain Audio deserves to be successful because of its members' histories; it will be successful because they write great songs. A band with this much talent has to succeed. Right?
Nominated for: Best Act Overall, Alternative Rock/Pop, Male Vocalist (Will Johnson), Local Musician of the Year (Will Johnson), Songwriter (Will Johnson), Album Release (Redo the Stacks, steve records)
The first time I saw Will Johnson, he was providing the spastic backbeat that made Funland go, his arms and head moving in time with the beat but in different directions. Every once in a while his head would jerk around to his microphone, he'd screw up his face and start singing in a strangely sweet voice. When I saw him play with Centro-matic for the first time, the only thing different was that his drum kit had been replaced by a guitar. He was still bobbing maniacally to the beat, his face still bore a grimace that was a combination of agony and ecstasy, and he still sang in that same sweet voice.
That said, Centro-matic isn't Funland, Mark II. Calling it that would be to diminish what Johnson has accomplished. There are elements of Funland there--the familiar drumbeat, rough guitars, layered harmonies--but Centro-matic is an entity all its own. Before Funland had even called it a day, Johnson had been recording on a four-track in his kitchen and bedroom with whatever instruments happened to be lying around. He did it because he had to; there were songs in his head that needed to be heard. Eventually, they became songs that we needed to hear, too good to languish away on tapes made for friends of his.
The album that resulted, Redo the Stacks, is brilliant, a warts-and-all masterpiece that barely contains Johnson's newfound songwriting chops. His cryptic lyrics and the record's intentionally demo-quality production shroud an album that is intensely personal, if only because Johnson played every note (save a few guest appearances) and sang every word. Some are a minute long and sound as if they were recorded on a microcassette recorder ("The Pilot's on the Wall"); others are noisy rockers that use all 16 tracks of producer Matt Pence's studio. The best songs on the album aren't the ones that recall Funland's best days; we expected those to be good. The great moments are the slower songs, such as "Post-It Notes from the State Hospital," which allow Johnson's strong voice to stand on its own, aided by little more than an acoustic guitar and a fiddle.
Over the last year, Centro-matic evolved from all-Will-all-the-time into a real band, featuring Pence on drums, bassist Mark Hedman, and Scott Danbom on piano and fiddle. Now that the rest of the band has moved to St. Louis, it's back to just Johnson. Maybe that's how it was meant to be.
Nominated for: Avant-Garde/Experimental
Corn Mo (Jon Cunningham) is a rock star, baby. A rock star from the '70s, back when they knew how to make 'em. With his flowing blond mane and wispy moustache, he looks like he walked through a hole cut in time and space by one of those over-the-top laser light shows that seemed to accompany almost every rock concert back then (I always wondered what happened to Styx's Tommy Shaw). That he plays accordion doesn't matter. His songs still rock and roll all night and party every day. In the hands of anyone else, a cover of Bon Jovi's "Always" played on accordion would smack of kitsch; when Corn Mo does it (as he did on "The Adventure Club" awhile back, accompanied by a cymbal he played with a drumstick shoved into the toe of his Converse sneaker), it doesn't sound like a joke.
Each Monsters of Rock cover he attempts--his repertoire also includes, among others, Mstley CrYe's "Home Sweet Home"--is sung without a trace of irony. It may all be a joke, but he isn't telling. His original material is just as good: "Shine On, Golden Warrior," the tribute to the ill-fated Von Erich wrestling family (available only on the new Scene, Heard collection), would be comfortable in a three-song set with Kansas' "Carry On My Wayward Son" and Blue …yster Cult's "Don't Fear The Reaper." Corn Mo is either a genius or the funniest man alive. Or both.
Course of Empire
Nominated for: Best Act Overall, Rock, Male Vocalist (Vaughn Stevenson), Local Musician of the Year (Michael Jerome), Single Release ("The Information"), Industrial/Dance, Producer (Chad Lovell)
Like an epic hero returning from an odyssey, Course of Empire is back from what seems like a long, wandering journey to reclaim its rightful place as one of the best bands ever to reign over Dallas. Wait a minute. Strike that. COE never really went anywhere in the damned-near four years since its major-label debut, Initiation, came out on Zoo Entertainment. The five members of COE have been here all along, occasionally performing live, but mostly holding down real-world jobs, producing other artist's efforts (Chad Lovell is nominated in the Producer category), and playing in other bands.