Homewardsounds

Picking the best locally made records of 1998 was easy. Who knew?

--R.W.

Hagfish, Hagfish
(Honest Don's Lame Ass Recordings)
On its third album, the descendants of the Descendents move ever so slightly away from their earlier three-minute homages to that band, slowing from a sprint to a cock-of-the-walk strut. It's packed with so much swagger, it's hard to believe it was re-recorded in its entirety. The songs are less juvenile, more mature without quite making it to grown-up. After years of asking them to grab something else, singer George Reagan just wants the ladies to hold his hand. It's as sweet as it is unexpected, and the same could be said for the entire album.

--Z.C.

Brian Houser, Never Look Back
(HEIRESS aesthetic)
Don't have much faith in country music anymore: Its best practitioners most often offer echoes from the past, and the worst of the lot get no more authentic than Eddie Rabbitt. Houser, who spends his days fixing Six Flags roller coasters and his nights playing Adair's for spare change, might be enough to restore one's faith in the sound of a dude with a Stetson singin' songs about rivers runnin' dry and long-lost wommins in a deep twang. And the feller's got good taste: covering Neil Young's "Harvest" without getting too mawkish, hiring Mitch Marine and Jeff Barnes and Andy Timmons and Sara Hickman instead of studio pros, and allowing for a few offhand jokes just when the shit's starting to get a little deep. ("I carry my demons here on my back?" Seriously?) Still can't figure out if "The Dog is Mine" is misogynist or just funny--which, I guess, makes it the perfect country-and-western song after all.

--R.W.

Legendary Crystal Chandelier,
Love or the Decimal Equivalent (steve)
Peter Schmidt's "debut" is one of the few local records that doesn't need to be graded on a curve; it would be near the top of this year's class no matter where it was released. Every song is a quiet, beautiful treasure, whether Schmidt is trying on Joe Jackson's dancing shoes or re-imagining Cole Porter songs as woozy trip-hop. The guitars are turned down--if not entirely absent--letting Schmidt's vocals shoulder almost the entire load. And that's really the most surprising thing about Love or the Decimal Equivalent: After years of being obscured by Funland and Three on a Hill's raucous riffing, Schmidt is revealed to be one of the finest vocalists this city has ever produced. Six months after it was released, hearing him sing "Well I Know" backed only by the sparest of keyboard arrangements still brings tears to my eyes.

--Z.C.

Kim Lenz and her Jaguars,
Kim Lenz and her Jaguars (HMG)
Production quality on this debut is total shit, which is precisely what Lenz and producer Wally Hersom were going for. They call it "authenticity," which is just another way of saying it sounds like something bought at a yard sale...in 1958. But Lenz's charm and chops put the whole thing over until you realize her bad-girl rockabilly-queen schtick is her entire reason for being; this "Kiss and Tell Baby" is no more a novelty act than Ronnie Dawson was four decades ago. Sometimes a girl just wants to be Wanda Jackson, and there ain't nothing wrong with that.

--R.W.

The Lucky Pierres, Cocktail Country
(Self-released)
The title hints at swing, and not Western neither; I'm leery of anything that says cocktail unless it comes with one. But this debut by this band of vets (among them Enablers-etc. bassist Bart Chaney and Liberty Valence guitarist Kim Herriage) and "newcomer" Michele Pittenger on vocals is more country than lounge. Or countrypolitan, as the case may be: This is what honky-tonk sounds like when it gets dressed up for a night on the town. It might get slick, but it never quite loses the twang. What Loretta Lynn might have sounded like if she fronted the Crickets.

--R.W.

Spyche, So Blue You Shimmer (Self-released)
Never could figure out what she was doing in Darlington; after all, Spyche only looks punk, but beneath the denim-and-biker-boots exterior, she's marshmellow soft. Once a very long time ago, she was the heartbeat in Rumble, playing bass and whipping out a tear-dropping version of Prince's "The Beautiful Ones" until it seemed as though that was the only song the band played that night; and her Heaven on a Stick version of Cheap Trick's "The Flame" managed to turn syrup into wine. That her first solo record should be so fragile, lovely, even tentative and sad is hardly a surprise--woman's got more heart than a Harlequin paperback. "When I'm blue," she sings over and over again, till her heartbreak becomes yours. Spyche can't tell hope from despair, until finally the record becomes hard to listen to--but only because you know just what she's talking about.

--R.W.

Sub Oslo, Sub Oslo
(2-Ohm Hop)
There are only three actual songs on Sub Oslo's self-titled EP, but it seems as if there are dozens, as each track sounds as though it's being remixed every minute or so. Dub mixer Joe Nuckels adds more effects than the Star Wars: The Phantom Menace trailer, and Miguel Veliz's bass is so heavy, he probably threw his back out in the studio. It's like spending a drunken evening in the back of a reggae club, as everything blurs together until it becomes one continuous--and, at times unsettling--memory. Dub music rarely sounds this good. I don't think I can stress that enough.

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