By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Centro-matic, Distance and Clime (Idol): A year with only one album release from Centro-matic may not sound like a good year at all, unless that album is Distance and Clime. And it's more than enough to tide us over until someone can find a way to keep up Will Johnson and company's output.
Chao, Hitsthemiss (Last Beat): If Captain Audio really is dead, Regina Chellew gives her former band a New Orleans-style send-off with her debut as Chao. It's filled with old songs (her own "Bugs," Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay" and The Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated") and new songs done up with steel guitars, Madness-style horns, flamenco beats, trumpets and strings.
Chomsky, Onward Quirky Soldiers (Idol): Chomsky's latest soundtrack for our lives begins with the wicked-angel crooning of "Straight Razor" slams into the--literally--radio-friendly single "00:15:00" (a.k.a. "15 Minutes to Rock") and calls on Salome, space invaders and NRA members. If you don't know the lyrics better than singer-guitarist Sean Halleck, you haven't heard the album enough times yet.
[DARYL], The Technology (Beatville): As solid as a debut as Communication: Duration was, it gave no warning of what [DARYL] had in store with The Technology. The 17 tracks--nine listed, eight more serving as sort of interludes moving one song into the next--form a dialogue of sounds not at first apparent, but never distracting from strong songwriting that can be both symphonic and catchy as hell.
Legendary Crystal Chandelier, Beyond Indifference (Quality Park): One of the most eclectic, depressing, fiercely worded and surprising records since, well, Love or the Decimal Equivalent, Peter Schmidt's debut as Legendary Crystal Chandelier, with feedback epics, straightforward rock songs and visits to Latin rhythm and dance beats.
Little Grizzly,I'd Be Lying If I Said I Wasn't Scared (Quality Park): Little Grizzly has always been George Neal and his band. Now Little Grizzly is a band. That sounds like a splitting of hairs, but compare this album (the first with a full lineup of stringers Matt and Jacob Barnhart and drummer Colin Carter) to previous recordings, and the distinction is clear. Little Grizzly is now a cohesive force, wrapping Neal's story songs in warm, fuzzy blankets of sound on heartbreakers like "Charlotte" and stompers like "Today is the Day."
Lift to Experience, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads (Bella Union): Here's a band that was better on its first EP--released quietly before it had even played a show together--than a lot of bands with deals even bigger than Lift to Experience's ever will be. And on The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, Josh T. Pearson, Andy Long and Josh Browning bring their ideologies and idiosyncrasies to a full boil in a wall of sound. Just don't ask about the cover art.
The New Year, Newness Ends (Touch and Go): It's hard to call a band that's basically a sequel to Bedhead a rock band. Not that Bedhead never rocked. It just never rawked. And neither does The New Year, though it does tiptoe the line with "Gasoline" and "Carne Levare."
the pAper chAse,cntrl-alt-delete-u (Divot): I should have given away my copy of cntrl-alt-delete-u months ago. It's not that I didn't want it any longer, but I think the Handsome Family's Rennie Sparks needed it more. She and Brett, her other half in life and music, had just moved to Albuquerque from Chicago, where man-made landscapes had been driving her mad. The glare of streetlights and televisions in houses eclipsed the stars at night, and she had to go someplace where grass grew wild and birds sang. So, if anyone could appreciate this album, described by the pAper chAse's John Congleton in the album's liner notes as "a commentary on the average human's reliance on technology and the division it has drawn between nature and such," it was Rennie. But the technology won again; I still have cntrl-alt-delete-u. So should everyone else. Just not my copy.
Pleasant Grove, Auscultation of the Heart (Glitterhouse): Recorded, Pleasant Grove gets the quiet audience it deserves every time the band plays. All the subtle touches are freed, from Joe Butcher's pedal steel cry to Jeff Ryan's bouncing drums that begin "Ghost." And singers Marcus Striplin and Bret Egner can whisper or howl in peace as they alternate their songs with titles such as "I Couldn't Withstand the Damage of an Evil and Wicked Divorce" with no interference from the bar.