A Better Jukebox

Feeling like only one local band of the week is paltry? Try four instead.

One of the best things about hate mail is when angry readers get upset about a band that I've lauded repeatedly. "Why do you go on and on about Record Hop, The Tah-Dahs and Man Factory when you could talk about a real band like Feces Frank and the Porcelain Thrones?" (Which, by the way, isn't a real band.)

Some people assume that I repeat a few favorite bands because I run out of stuff to talk about every week, and daily Dallas Morning News offshoot Quick would probably agree with that point. They're certainly straining to keep up their local musical relevance, because last week's featured "JuQbox" band of the week was none other than Observer favorite Strangleweed.

Really? Did every other decent band in town up and quit? Or did the guys behind some of the most generic half-Creed, half-'70s rock in town send a few free cases of Monster Energy Drink to the Quick offices?

Now, I've always tried to cover all of Dallas' finest (though I don't mind repeat articles about the city's best underappreciated acts), but I consider Quick's faux pas an opportunity to nail 'em when they're down. That's why I present four bands of the week--that's 75 percent more than Belo ever delivers. Don't ever say we don't do you right. Watermelon Slim, Up Close and Personal (Southern)--When an album's art looks dreadful, I often don't bother listening. For some reason, I opened William "Watermelon Slim" Homans' latest disc, whose cover looks like a cross between a high school Photoshop project and a bowl of turds, and thankfully, the music inside gave me a good reason to stop going by that rule. Slim employs little more than a lap steel and his bum-on-the-corner howl, but both are so strong that the minimalist approach, along with Slim's adventurous songwriting, results in one of the freshest blues CDs I've heard in a long time. Even original song "Bridgebuilder," with its echo-heavy kalimba, manages to overcome potential cheese and stand out as a potent, original hunk of homegrown blues. Seriously--consider looking Personal up at a local listening station as soon as possible and prepare to be surprised by how good blues can be.

Man Before Mars, The Beta EP (Ice Planet)--If British pop-rock lords Ash listened to a helluva lot of The Cure, they might have turned out more like Dallas' Man Before Mars. The quintet's debut has been a long time in the making, and now that it's out, I can tell why--it looks like lead singer (and graphic designer) Darren Paul spent four years drawing and arranging the liner notes for this album. Luckily, the disc isn't all glitz; in particular, opening track "Battle Scars" is full of so many sunny, British-inspired guitar blasts that I'm surprised Josh Venable hasn't picked the song up for 102.1 The Edge's Adventure Club rotation yet. The rest of the disc suffers from second-hand production, particularly the cheap-sounding piano and synthesizers in "For Better Days," but Beta's piano-boosted rock melodies match nicely with local '80s lovers Black Tie Dynasty. Hook a collaboration up, dudes.

Otto, The Great Unseen (Freehand)--When two buddies from Euless get their hands on four-track equipment and record 17 songs, you'd expect the results to include at least one Toby Keith cover, but the world of Otto sits a lot closer to the likes of Pavement and the Elephant 6 collective. Because of those blatant influences, the bedroom pop committed to tape on The Great Unseen is neither great nor unseen, really, but that doesn't mean songwriter Matthew Otto doesn't whip up some charming lo-fi surprises on this low-key debut, including the back-to-back jangling goodness of "The Ratios Say So" and "First Things First." Just turn those vocal effects down on the next release, Matt.

Spaceman Spiff, Spaceman Spiff (unreleased)--Somewhere between Austin's Happiness Factor and Dallas' Bobgoblin is the Cars-loving new wave of Spaceman Spiff, a group that could've been a local force if not for a huge setback two years ago when bassist Matthew Luevano died of a severe blood clot. Shortly afterward, the band recorded a seven-song EP, only to sit on it for nearly two years, but the group is finally pushing this fine disc in the hopes of rekindling the stellar pop-rock formula they pull off on SS. Guys, this is my public plea--get on some stages in town so that more people can hear these dreadfully unknown songs, including the lovely, Wrens-similar closer "Everything." Then readers can start sending me hate letters about how I talk about Spaceman Spiff too much.

 
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