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Will this year's best local records survive the millennium?

In fact, Part 3: Coping With Insignificance delivers on all the promises the band has always implied. Tales of alienation in a decaying society trade blows with grab-your-face power chords, punctuating keyboards, and a dead-on rhythm section. "The bad brains in the boardrooms just might win," Litzwire croons in the album's opener, "End of the Planet," before ripping into a plea: "Can anybody rescue me?" The melodies throughout are thicker and rounder than anything the band's done prior, shaving off The Twelve-Point Master Plan's sharp angles without dulling the edges. The harmonies are full-blown, and the songs unspool like a set of modern parables about technology, moral responsibility, and all the other high-minded stuff that lesser bands can't tackle without coming off as ridiculous. Jet pulls it off with aggression and grace; this is the musical equivalent of angry young white man syndrome -- smart guys overwhelmed by terribly conflicting expectations. Picture a suit-and-tied-up rat-racer experiencing either a beautiful epiphany of Ultimate Truth or a horrid moment of Gone Nuts. Think Michael Douglas falling down with thick horn rims and a semi-automatic. Or better yet, a guitar.

Christina Rees

Centro-matic's Will Johnson showed off every side of his personality on two great albums this year.
Centro-matic's Will Johnson showed off every side of his personality on two great albums this year.

We Sing and Play

God bless John Congleton for making it his mission to finally produce a Baboon recording that did the group justice, that captured the storm and stress of the quartet's live shows for the first time on disc. Damned if he didn't succeed, pushing the levels so high that every song sounds as if the tape is disintegrating, along with all the equipment in the studio, crying under the weight of Mike Rudnicki's guitar tremors and Andrew Huffstetler's tense screams. Which is exactly the way Baboon should be heard -- felt, really -- whether it's smacking you in the face ("Rise," "Lushlife") or stroking your back (the tender "Endlessly"). Not that 1994's Face Down in Turpentine or 1997's Secret Robot Control didn't contain their fair share of quality material; they just paled in comparison with the sweaty confidence the band displayed onstage. We Sing and Play closes the gap, with help from guest shots by Jon "Corn Mo" Cunningham, Toadies drummer Mark Reznicek, Gospel Swingers organist Kari Luna, and Dooms U.K. and Legendary Crystal Chandelier guitarist James Henderson. We Sing and Play is as close as you can get to a Baboon show without involving silver body paint, ascots, or pig masks. You'll just have to trust me on this one.


The Baptist Generals
(Hot Link Records)

Pair this gutbucket five-song EP with the cassette-only excretio: the difficult years (sold at shows, when Chris Flemmons' outfit was called Poor Bastard Sons), and you've got a demo for Music from Big Pink -- OK, 31 years after the fact. Like the Gourds and the Bad Livers -- and, yes, The Band -- before him, Flemmons finds truth and beauty in the trad-rock form, meaning he performs and records like a man who's never heard of the Beatles...or, for that matter, electricity. Funny how the backward-glancers have become the most "visionary" among us in these most desperate times; we revere those for whom there's a past beyond tomorrow, and Flemmons is nothing if not the most backward among the Denton rock crowd -- and that's the ultimate compliment. Dog is a gawldang throwdown and God-bless comedown, a CD that belongs on acetate in the Library of Congress basement-tapes archives. "Pats the Rub" may well be the stompingest song you'll hear (or, likely, not) all year, and its follow-up, "Evergone," may be the saddest, especially when the thirtysomething Flemmons starts crooning like a 90-year-old man oooohing his last breath. At first, I thought Dog sounded like something recorded on a front porch; upon further inspection, more likely it was just found in a ditch, at the end of the rainbow.

Robert Wilonsky

Good Night, Little Girl of My Dreams
Budapest One

Even after dozens of spins, I'm still not sure what to make of a disc that tells the story of self-immolating lamplighters, yodeling mutes, bastard princes, mail-order brides, Rudy Vallee, and God knows what else. Eclectic wouldn't begin to describe a record that's equal bits Elvis Costello and Bertold Brecht, forward-thinking and backward-glancing, literate and literal, too much and not enough. It might be Joe Jackson on a USO tour, backed by the Attractions and a band of gypsies, or it could be the Stiff Records back catalog rendered as musical theater by a troupe of Southern preachers. Who knows, really? The only thing for sure is that frontman Keith Killoren has assembled a record that's as challenging as it is charming, an oddball, everything-and-then-some-and-then-some-more album that begins in the '30s, ends in the '70s, and hits all the high points in between as hard as it can.

Joined by Brave Combo's Jeffrey Barnes and ex-Young Turk Lee Tomboulian, as well as bassist William Pollard and Baboon drummer Steven Barnett, Killoren creates a whimsical world that sounds more than a little like a daydream during a 1950s sock hop. You never quite know which way Killoren is leaning, whether he's among his congregation doing the twist ("Ballad of the Yodeling Mute") or sending up Nashville and Texas at the same ("Could've Been a Texan"). It doesn't really matter which direction he chooses, because he walks through every genre and era that litters Good Night's dozen songs as surely as can be, jumping down from his pulpit to deliver his sermon-songs about men "who walk in faith" all the way to "healthy-breasted sin" and women who are "too low for the dogs to bite." Killoren might lose you every once in a while, but he's always there to lead you right back to the flock. Wherever that may be.

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