By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
It was either philosopher-poet George Santayana or actor-celebrity sibling Don Swayze that once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It's also a popular quote amongst hack writers trying to drum up a quick intro to a "year-in-review" piece. With this in mind we peek over our shoulder at five of 2006's best local releases and look forward to five area music-makers and shakers who are guaranteed to shine in '07.*
* Not a legally binding guarantee.
Five to Remember
(in no particular order) American Werewolf Academy
Tell Them Right Now
Aside from an Adventure Club appearance and a handful of shows in late spring and early summer, 2006 was kind of a quiet year for American Werewolf Academy. We suppose that's what happens when you share a drummer with the Drams. But their sophomore album still makes it onto this year's list, albeit on a technicality of sorts. The band got the CDs back from the pressing plant in December 2005, but they didn't get copies out to most reviewers and critics till early '06, after all the "Best Of" and year-end lists had been tallied, announced and then promptly forgotten. We suppose that makes this the best record of 2006 to come out in 2005. But this is rock 'n' roll, not quarterly fiscal reports. AWA's sophomore release is an efficient assemblage of no-frills guitar-rock anthems that demand to be sung on high, be it from the backseat of your uncle's restored muscle car or while violently upchucking in the back alley of your favorite dive bar. Clocking in at well less than a half-hour, Tell Them Right Now begs to be played again and again, if only because you missed a few songs when you went to the bathroom.
Tres Monos in Love
Our local rock band amigos could learn a thing or three from Pikahsso, Tahiti and Picnic. Whereas our rock 'n' roll friends have a penchant for trash-talking, backbiting and rumor-mongering, PPT seem to only flatter and compliment each other whether they're onstage or off, figuratively or literally. While our rock 'n' roll friends spend years completing albums, cancel shows at the last minute and go into prolonged "hiatuses" because somebody might have given somebody else's sister genital warts, PPT is out keeping their profile large, shooting and editing their own videos, recording contest-winning theme songs for local sports franchises, performing nine times a week and updating their MySpace page every 14 minutes. And somewhere in there they managed to release one of the best hip-hop albums to come out of Dallas in, well, possibly ever. Having already established ties with carnival lounge punks Shanghai 5 and taking into consideration some upcoming gigs with the likes of local electro-smashers Faux Fox, it would appear as though some of our rock 'n' roll friends are hip to what some good old-fashioned musical togetherness can achieve. Here's hoping PPT never slows down and that subsequent releases are as satisfying as Tres Monos in Love, bringing the same mix of Shock-G silliness, P-funk bounce and fraternal verbal back-and-forth that would make forefathers such as De La Soul and the Pharcyde very, very proud.
The Theater Fire
Everybody Has a Dark Side
There's no excuse for you not having this record by now. You've been given a multitude of reasons from our colleagues, our contemporaries and our own damn selves, in better terms than could be rehashed here. Anything from this point forward would just be superfluous yammering poorly masked beneath hackneyed poetic drivel. So here we go: The Theater Fire's Everybody Has a Dark Side is a staggeringly beautiful indie western masterpiece that is at turns devastatingly sorrowful and tearfully jubilant. It's dusty and it's warm. It conjures spirits and calls up old demons. It fits like a pair of blue jeans made out of candied apples and feels like a marshmallow condom. I'm sorry. What were we talking about?
Baboon has been wildly splayed across the fickle spectrum of regional rock superstardom for nearly 15 years now and for very good reason. They totally slay. Always. And what kind of record does a band put out after a decade and a half of rigorous performing and hermitic studio tinkering, after countless explosions of inspiration and dormant lapses, after the temporary blindness caused by paparazzi flashbulbs has worn off and Ric Ocasek has left you in the gutter like a dirty prophylactic? Ah, yes. The long-awaited, eponymously titled LP that doesn't necessarily redefine the band so much as present a more focused and mature sound that has been slowly developing lo these many years. It's all we'd ever hoped for and more. And then even a little more on top of that. Baboonis a neat collection of next-to-perfect songs that know exactly when to go artsy with the dissonant ambiance and when to just shake a tambourine, never getting too wild or too reserved for any one taste.
The Paper Chase
Now You Are One of Us
Aside from being one of the year's most solid and impressive local releases, Now You Are One of Us also sets a new standard for oddly suggestive song titles. Thankfully today's parents are too busy making sure their kids aren't listening to half-naked Mickey Mouse Club alumni or thugged-out MCs rapping about crack deals to worry about li'l Jimmy's iPod regularly cranking out songs such as "All Manner of Pox or Canker," "Delivered in a Firm Unyielding Way Lingering for Just a Bit Too Long to Communicate the Message 'I Own You'" and, ironically enough, "The Kids Will Grow Up to Be Assholes." Angst-ridden teens will wallow contentedly in the album's inherent moroseness. Music theory students will marvel at the swirling compositions. The rest of us will appreciate the fact that John Congleton's voice and the band's song structuring have grown to become as engaging as they are unnerving.
Five to Look Forward To
(with full disclosures) Tha Bracelets
Full disclosure: I'm in a band that played a show with Tha Bracelets not too long ago, and I've been a big fan ever since. The Denton quartet offers up sweet soundin' boy/girl harmonies atop punchy jangle-punk numbers that recall some of the Judys' or the Vaselines' best stuff. Any given song by Tha Bracelets makes a perfect addition to your next "hopeless crush" playlist. They need to put something out. Pronto. They've lain low as of late, but as we speak the band is diving headlong into recording their first record. Until further notice, you can keep up with them on MySpace or listen to their stuff at purevolume.com.
Sharing a similar penchant for those "sweet soundin' boy/girl harmonies," Man Factory comes straight outta Arlington-slash-Grand Prairie and is perhaps the area's finest distributor of melodious lo-fi acoustic disco. (Full disclosure: We have a significant amount of money invested in the "acoustic disco" craze becoming the next big thing in 2007. Look for our six-part exposé, "Acoustic Disco: Everybody Shake Something," beginning next week.) In a few short years, the Man Factory miscreants have successfully mastered a quirky combination of playful melody, organic instruments and Casio keyboard drumbeats and synth leads. Kinda like the Elephant 6 collective jamming out Prince and the Revolution covers. Seriously. Acoustic disco. Big in '07.
Metro Muzik: The Union
And you thought that government infrastructures and corporate hierarchies were unnecessarily complicated. According to their Web site, Dallas hip-hop collective Metro Muzik: The Union (itself an independent subsidiary of CWC Records under the umbrella of the CWC Entertainment Group) hosts local showcases called, well, "The Union" every Sunday night at Tom Cats in Deep Ellum, not to mention their regular "Operation: Phoenix" Ladies' Nights at Club Nairobi, both of which tend to focus on local hip-hop and R&B performers with a dance club lean. (Full disclosure: We've never been to either of those clubs, because when we try to dance, we embarrass ourselves and many of those around us.) When they're not rocking the party that rocks the body, artists such as Cri$ Cra$h, Cutta C, Dae Dae and a bunch of other dudes we're not really all that familiar with (yet), attend seminars discussing and dissecting the Dallas scene. But this operation's not just a loose collection of dance parties and hip-hop summits. CWC is also planning 2008's 1st Annual High School Hip-Hop Showcase, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: a vehicle for kids between the ages of 14 and 18 to compete in areas of song, rhyme and dance, "showcasing [their] talents to [their] peers, family, friends, and record label executives." Ha, ha! Take that, peers!
Full disclosure: Awhile back we used to work at the Borders on Lovers Lane and Greenville Avenue with Jason Hensel, who until recently was the sole driving force behind mope-folk band Ashburne Glen. He swears up and down that it's not a solo or singer-songwriter project, but that gloomy blend of Joy Division and Elliott Smith (with requisite minor-chord atmosphere and faux Brit accenting to match, natch) is pure Hensel. For years Ashburne Glen struggled with varying lineups and juggled various players, until a core unit finally materialized in 2006. Roommate/drummer Eric Grubbs and bassist Joshua Warr (Blackheart Society) brought fistfuls of thunder to accompany the blistering fretwork of Lance Pilgrim, singer-songwriter/guitarist for the Shapes and longtime OG ("Original Glenster"). Hensel may have had to relinquish some of the Glen's more frail and dainty qualities, but in return he gets to front a pretty slammin' rock outfit that's starting to build some substantial steam.
Maybe it was the baby. Maybe it was the break-up. Maybe it was the betrothing. Maybe it was the band's uncanny and frequent knack for destroying guitars and amps wherever they went with errant beer and sputtering, momentary fits of rock 'n' roll passion. Whatever the reason, the TD's Web site doesn't look like it's been updated in almost a year, and the follow-up to their 2005 debut Le Fun has yet to be released onto the masses. That's not to say they're totally inactive. To keep their chops shipshape. the band performs in and around town on a pretty regular basis, so you can usually catch 'em while the gettin's good. As for studio progress, sources close to the band (full disclosure: that, unfortunately, would be us) report that they are "in the midst of the process of preparing to get ready to fixin' to almost finish" the near-complete album they've been carefully crafting with producer Stuart Sikes for about two or three years now. The rough mixes are promising, and the record overall seems to capture a far more accurate and raucous representation of the band than its predecessor. Sources also report that singer Roy Ivy is sick and tired of people citing his uncanny resemblance to Dwight from The Office. Voicemail messages and e-mails inquiring if this was better or worse than having your likeness compared to that of a slightly younger Kelsey Grammer were not returned.