By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Even though the Polyphonic Spree's album was released in 2003, it was also released in 2002. And 2001. So we're disqualifying it. Here are the ones that do count.
Centro-matic,Love You Just the Same (Misra)
Will Johnson and company return after a lengthy (for them) two-year break with another five-star, five-alarm fire, 13 songs that contain more emotion than an Oscar acceptance speech and more melody than a jukebox warehouse. And each one of those songs has a moment of pure catharsis--a key change, an extra chorus, something--that kicks you square in the chest and keeps on kicking until it's time for the next song to start. Seven albums in, a Centro-matic best-of would have to be a boxed set; there's no way you could get all the good stuff on a single disc. Which isn't a bad thing.
Eisley,Laughing CityandMarvelous ThingsEPs (Record Collection/Reprise)
Just give up and give in already.
Fishboy,Zipbangboom (Business Deal)
Eric Michener calls himself (and his band) Fishboy, plays with people named Sweatpants and Carleen Jean Death Machine and writes songs about his "4-Legged Car" and a special pair of pants. But he ain't no joke. No, Michener's songs put him somewhere between Jonathan Richman and Neutral Milk Hotel's Jeff Mangum, where lyrics that speak of robot cousins built from engine parts and time machines headed to 1865 to "Save Lincoln" give way to sweet morals: "If only I could take back some things I said." If Max Fischer started a band, it would be this one.
Oceanographer, Twenty String EP (One Mountain)
Originally released when they were calling themselves Panda, Oceanographer's six-song debut should have been issued with a pack of smokes and a few bottles of wine, just to save listeners the trouble. Singer-guitarist Jeremy Yocum sings as though he's trying not to wake the baby, a whisper that feels like a scream, while the band builds a wall of sound out of smoke and snowflakes. It's a winter wonderland of an album. Too bad they moved to NYC.
Robot Monster Weekend,Funeral Candy(Self-released)
Death has never been more fun, whether you're talking about RMW's first (and, sadly, last) full-length or one of the songs that appears on same, "When I Die," a keyboard-fueled ode to the things that make not living worth doing. "It will be just like my birthday except that I won't be there," one of the group's singer-guitarists, Mike Gargiulo sings. "All my friends will come and see me/They will tell me how they care/It doesn't sound so bad/Don't know why my death should make me sad." Which is all fine and good, except I wouldn't have minded hearing a few more albums from these guys. But at least there is...
The Tah-Dahs, Le Fun(Self-released)
Picking up where Funeral Candy left off, Le Fun is truth in advertising and then some.
Both of these bands must have hitched a ride on Eric Michener's time machine back to 1865. If VH1 ever decides to do I Love the Civil War, they better have these guys on speed dial. And we don't know how the Baptist Generals' Chris Flemmons lost out on the Jack White role in Cold Mountain. His "Ay Distress" would have worked perfectly. Except for the cell phone ringing at the end, of course.
Little Grizzly, "Forever and Now" (Quality Park)
Live favorite finally makes it onto a record, and it's just as powerful on a stereo as it is onstage. You can practically see singer-guitarist George Neal stomping in place during the two-minute march to the finish line. Rarely do three words say so much.
The Deathray Davies,Midnight at the Black Nail Polish Factory (Glurp)
The band's fourth album widens its reference base (greetings to the new brunettes: Pixies, the Cure, Wilco) and sharpens its focus, resulting in would-be-should-be hits ("I Regret the Day I Tried to Steal Daniel's Ego," "The Girl Who Stole the Eiffel Tower") that don't sound like they're trying to be. It's a casual kind of brilliance, Einstein in cut-offs and flip-flops. Which, by the way, is still brilliance.