By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Sad to say but 2005's biggest stories in local music were hardly local. Tyler's Eisley finally took off on a mainstream jet with the release of the ultra-gorgeous Room Sounds, but the teens were overshadowed by a mainstream year of makeup-coated emo boys. Texarkana's Pilotdrift, with the support of Tim DeLaughter and Good Records Recordings, built steam thanks to the ambitious, Andrew Lloyd Webber-loving Water Sphere. And the Earlies, who count only one Dallasite in their mostly-Manchester ranks, finally made their U.S. debut with These Were the Earlies.
I'm proud to lay local claim to those bands and their great '05 records, but for the Dallas Observer's local best-of list, enough acts actually live in Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton to not only fill 10 slots this year but do so in commanding fashion.
1. Bosque Brown, Plays Mara Lee Miller (Burnt Toast Vinyl): The only thing released around Dallas this year that beats PMLM is Bosque Brown's live show. Songwriter Mara Lee Miller created some of the year's most haunting and touching works on this debut--"Still Afraid" and "Fine Lines" will stop your heart--but her live band, and especially the backing vocals of sister Gina, are sorely missed on the disc, as their additions to Mara's balance-beam vocals in concert have turned me into a blubbering, crying fool. Get ready, America. In 2006, you'll fall in love with Bosque Brown too.
2. South San Gabriel, The Carlton Chronicles (Misra): In March, I said that this album was Will Johnson's "most cohesive and magical album yet." That's no piddling statement for a songwriter with 11 full-length albums under his belt, as this dreamy, wavering ode to a deceased kitty is harsh, uplifting, tragic and reaffirming all at once. Cartlon's crowning piece is "The Dark of Garage," and its muffled drums, subtle feedback chirps and lingering piano allow Johnson to coo on his pet's behalf. I can only hope that someone writes an album as beautiful for me when I die.
3. Tie: Happy Bullets, The Vice and Virtue Ministry and The Tah-Dahs, Le Fun (Undeniable): Again we stick these Undeniable Records labelmates together in a local best-of list, and again, they've earned it for good reason. Stuart Sikes cleaned the Bullets up real nice on their sophomore disc--sure, the songs are catchy in that Elephant 6/Starlight Mints way, but I had no idea the normally messy band could sound so good. Meanwhile, Roy Ivy turned 12 catchy, lovesick songs into sick-of-love tirades on Le Fun; really, the dude's wit should be considered the fourth member of this almost-punk trio. Ultimately, you can't have one of these albums without the other.
4. Tie: John Dufilho, John Dufilho and The Deathray Davies, The Kick and the Snare (Glurp): Like your John Dufilho songs loud, shiny and so ready for MTV that they make his lack of superstar fame even more depressing? Then grab the DRD's most polished record yet--"Chainsaw" alone will have your feet tapping for days. Or do you prefer your John Dufilho songs quiet, lo-fi and forever trapped in the superior, though lonely, world of indie-rock? If so, his self-titled solo debut both recalls his early DRD days and takes his material to new, more adventurous and nearly symphonic levels. We assume you like both sides of the Doof, so grab both.
5. Versatile, First Verse (self-released): Hate to do the Houston-Dallas comparison here, but think of Dallas rap right now like Houston rap five years ago--unnoticed by the mainstream but hardly quiet and certainly full of momentum. On CD, Versatile's latest mix tape led the '05 pack around town with the club-ready banger "Pass the Bottle" and a steady flow of tight rhymes and sharp, original beats throughout the disc. But trust me--MCs around town like King Ashoka, Voice Rock and Steve Austin, though not on the '05 list, are doing what it takes to crowd next year's.
6. The Golden Falcons, The Honduras Album (Transient Thanksgiving): A vicious guitar romp for headbangers and headphone-wearers alike, the Golden Falcons prove themselves Dallas' best hard-rock band since Baboon. The Golden Falcons succeed because they create real, pulsing songs between the riffs and feedback, and it's a treat to listen to again and again. In particular, "Tracy Rabbit" is one A&R guy away from national radio domination.
7. Spitfire Tumbleweeds, King James Version (TXMF): "Electric guitars, mandolins and slide guitars do-si-do around a campfire while tucking Black Sabbath tees underneath their country-cut long-sleeve shirts." Call me lazy for reprinting that line from my October review, but it's the perfect way to describe the flat-out best country record from DFW and Denton in 2005.
8. Fishboy, Little D (Business Deal): Slow start, but once "Quatro" kicks in, Fishboy tears through a beautiful, cohesive chunk of nerd-folk that could only come from Denton. Lots of talented friends help Eric "Fishboy" Michener here, including Paul Slavens, Chris Flemmons and Corn Mo, but Eric's ever-quirky songwriting is the star. "Asian Grain" and "A Surprise Return" should be mandatory material for high-school mix CDs.
9. Robert Gomez, Etherville (Basement Front): If only Norah Jones didn't cameo on every record in the world, her guest spot on Robert Gomez's hauntingly gorgeous Etherville might've given the longtime local crooner the big-name attention he finally deserves. This singer-songwriter record, full of tasteful drops of accordion, violin and horns, is what Starbucks should sell in place of the chain's balmy, neutral compilations. Dark but not plodding, hopeful but not annoying, quiet but not tiring--Rob somehow turned his clichéd genre into something worth gawking over.
10. Tie: The Strange Boys, States Newest Noise Makers (online) and Saboteur, Saboteur (End Sounds): Sorry for so many ties, but these two local bad-boy rock outfits are equally promising and deserving of year-end honors. The Strange Boys' average age of 19 makes their masterful, ageless garage rock that much more impressive, while members of Red Animal War and Slowride collide as Saboteur to somehow top both bands' collective output.