By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
It was a strange year, no doubt about it. Think about it: 2001 began with word of the first Toadies release in some seven years. By August, the album was here (March's Hell Below/Stars Above), but the band wasn't anymore. At the end of December, word began spreading that the Old 97's were going the way of the Toadies (apparently not true, though front man Rhett Miller is going it alone for a bit). At any rate, there's more room at the top than there used to be.
As it turns out, there are plenty of contenders for that territory. While we have, from time to time, hammered on the nails in the local music scene that seem to be the easiest and, well, most fun to hit--God bless you, Drowning Pool--we can't deny that 2001 saw one of the best crops of local releases in quite some time. Below, to refresh your memory, is a rundown of some of the best local records of last year, along with a few words about each. But they need not be judged on a curve. They'd be good if they were released in Dallas, Denton, Fort Worth...or anywhere else.
Centro-matic, Distance and Clime (Idol): Every song on Distance and Clime has a tear in its eye and a smile on its face, a combination Will Johnson has perfected over the years. Yet even though this is its sixth album in just more than five years, Centro-matic still doesn't repeat itself, as each new song is a surprise, a new direction. It's obvious that writing is a muscle, and Johnson only gets stronger the more he uses it. ("Go the Distance," August 9) --Z.C.
Chao, Hitsthemiss (Last Beat): Hitsthemiss certainly sounds like it could be a Captain Audio record, which just shows how much Regina Chellew (a.k.a. Chao) brought to the group. Like Captain Audio, the songs have a simple complexity, an ability to play by the rules and ignore them at the same time. Chellew glides from genre to genre with the ease of a CD changer, each step as logical and unexpected as the one before it. Yet even with their eclectic nature, the songs on Hitsthemiss manage to cohere into a seamless whole, not unlike Legendary Crystal Chandelier's similarly diverse Beyond Indifference. The disc may flirt with other styles of music, but they remain true to Chellew's personal vision, a trick that manages to make even the cover songs sound like Chellew originals. ("Greatest Hits," November 29) --Z.C.
Chomsky, Onward Quirky Soldiers (Idol): Onward Quirky Soldiers is where Chomsky fine-tunes its fetishes and makes its lasting mark; if the debut (1999's A Few Possible Selections for the Soundtrack of Your Life) was catchy, the new disc's contagious. Still present are the XTC echoes ("Herod's Daughter" and "Laughing," especially, resound with guitar lines so angular they could have been designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) and the Police flourishes (everything pops, yet never without purpose), but two years have added depth to the band's infatuation with the deceptively shallow rock of the early 1980s. The 11 songs on Onward are less claustrophobic than the earlier offerings; they let you all the way in, which is often what happens when a band stops mimicking others and creates its own unique language (even if, or especially when, the lyrics seem like an afterthought). (Hear, There, August 16) --Robert Wilonsky
[DARYL], The Technology (Beatville): The Technology borrows guitars from The Police and recipes from The Moog Cookbook, yet [DARYL] comes up with something completely its own, music that uses old sounds as a jumping-off point, never a base of operations. The songs on The Technology don't take the easy way out, but they don't make it too hard for you to follow them to where they're going. More than anything else on the disc, you can hear how much the five members of the group love playing these songs, love playing them together. ("Switched On," July 12) --Z.C.
Todd Deatherage, Dream Upon a Fallen Star (Summer Break): Todd Deatherage credits Slowride's Dan Phillips for gently forcing him to make an album that included every single aspect of his songwriting, from country to rock to jazz to blues to whatever else happened when he picked up a guitar and began playing. "The Calways was a little more rock, the Tom Petty sort of rock and roll, that sort of thing," Deatherage explains. "But when we started recording with Dan, he was like, 'You know, we just need to record Todd music--like, everything.' Because I write in all different styles of music--jazz and blues and country, rock. 'Just do all your songs, and put them on one record.' Just make it an eclectic mix of something...I feel comfortable with what I'm writing because I don't have to be worried if it's in the right genre, or if it doesn't fit in some category." ("Dream On," June 14) --Z.C.
Earl Harvin Trio, Unincorporated (Two Ohm Hop): After 1995's Trio/Quartet and 1997's Strange Happy, two commendably straight-ahead jazz albums, and 1999's sprawling epic Live at the Gypsy Tea Room, all on the sorely missed Leaning House Records label, the trio is trying something a little bit new. It moves into the genre-defying realm that it's flirted with live, especially in the past year. The band's hallmarks are still there--a fancy for midtempo, organic melodies and rhythmic diversity--but there's a couple of curveballs present as well. The Indian timbre floating through "Debashish" recalls the Sun City Girls' recent Carnival Folklore series and features Fred Hamilton playing a multistring slide guitar he had built in Calcutta, made by Debashish Bhattacharya, who appears on John McLaughlin's Shakti Live in Bombay. For "Lily," Hamilton finger-picks a five-string banjo. And on the three improvisations--named one to three, respectively--the group (Hamilton, keys player Dave Palmer, drummer Earl Harvin) dabbles in layered electronics and ambient percussion that have it dancing closer to Squarepusher and Spring Heel Jack than anything in the jazz pantheon, even the electric compositions of '70s Miles Davis. ("Pazz and Jop," September 6) --Bret McCabe