Picks in '06

It's time for some good news in local music--why not start with four amazing albums?

You wouldn't have known it, but I prepared an optimistic look at local music for a January column. Instead of running that, however, I bumped it week after week after week, thanks to a lot of breaking Deep Ellum news--venue closures, an arrest, a crappy music festival--that hinted at nothing but pessimism from my side of the printing press.

I'm tempted to keep that going. After all, the Dallas Music Festival and former Club Dada owner Steve Shin are easy horses to beat, but I think everybody's heard enough about Deep Ellum for a while--it's time for a change of pace. Hell, even the Fort Worth Star-Telegram got in on the action last week ("Digging Out Deep Ellum," January 29).

Thing is, while the Star-Telegram piece lists solutions and reasons for Deep Ellum's survival, none of the article's 10 bullet points makes the slightest mention of local music trends--that's like reviewing a restaurant without writing about the food. Good news, though: 2006 is looking mighty fine for CD players across the metroplex. It's only February, so we've only heard tracks on a few forthcoming records, but judging from the small sample, even the Star-Telegram (and, hopefully, Deep Ellum crowds) won't be able to ignore this year's cream of the crop.

The Theater Fire,Everybody Has a Dark Side (Undeniable): Local label Undeniable Records has pulled off one helluva coup adding the Theater Fire to its roster. The Fort Worth group's second full-length is a gorgeous trek down country, soul, folk and Latin paths all at once, and there's nary a plugged-in instrument to crowd out the horns, mandolins, washboards and accordions. The band's looking to get this on store shelves before the group's mid-March SXSW debut, and for good reason--after out-of-towners see the band's showcase, full of songs trapped in an era when 45s mattered and the best radio stations broadcasted from the Mexican border, they'll be clamoring to buy this Theater Fire memento. Until the release, sample the album's first two songs at myspace.com/thetheaterfire.

Centro-matic,Fort Recovery (Misra): Can you believe Will Johnson's baby is turning 10 years old in March? Hard to believe that a decade has passed since the Funland drummer whipped up cassette-only demos of his self-recorded songs, only to blatantly surpass his former band's output (no offense to Funland leader Peter Schmidt, who is also poised to unleash a new record this year). As if to render the anniversary moot, Fort Recoveryfinds Centro-matic unleashing its grittiest songs yet--including bass-heavy ass-kicker "Calling Thermatico"--though the soft, lazy textures of side project South San Gabriel balance out the runtime too.

Midlake,Van Occupanther (Bella Union): Placing this on the list was a tough call, as I've only heard one finalized track from Midlake's long-awaited follow-up to Bamnan and Slivercork, but if lead-off single "Roscoe" is any indication, fans and detractors alike are in for quite a treat. As lead singer Tim Smith alluded to more than a year ago, VO owes a lot to '70s singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. The otherworldly synthesizers from the last album are grounded this time around with an acoustic guitar sensibility, and the result is an album that may finally help the band overcome the media's overused Flaming Lips and Grandaddy comparisons.

Baboon, as yet untitled (no label yet): Much hoopla and rejoicing will be found in the Dallas Observer when this album finally sees release, because the four songs that the band sent me last week have received some serious listen-on-repeat treatment. In the house, in the car, at the gym--I couldn't get enough of concert-tested rockers like "Can't Be Wrong" and "Saturday." Longtime fans might come to expect such quality from the 'boon, but even those die-hards won't be ready for "Breaking Glass"--it's potentially the biggest, best single in their 15-year career, a high-pace dance-rocker with Baboon's signature shout-along hooks that Hot Hot Heat wishes they could emulate. Again, MySpace saves the day with an early tease: Visit myspace.com/baboon for new single "Surround."

Unfortunately, Dallas' red-hot rap community hasn't gotten any big '06 releases in my hands, though I'm looking forward to serious activity now that publicity for guys like Steve Austin, Kin Fok Kru and Pikahsso is picking up steam. And this list would've been much longer if I'd received material for possible (but not 100 percent confirmed) '06 records/EPs by Pleasant Grove, the Baptist Generals, Record Hop, the Tah-Dahs, Hogpig, Kristy Kruger, the Golden Falcons, the Strange Boys and Bosque Brown. Heck, that's only established bands--keep sending demos and CDs my way, bands. There's always room for more. After all, I'm an optimist.

 
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