By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
What with the Dallas Observer Music Awards taking up the bulk of our time here at the offices of late, we've been focusing a little too much on the best that area musicians had to offer us last year and, admittedly, not paying enough mind to the releases sent our way this summer.
Well, consider this our mea culpa. Below, you'll find our music staff's takes on nine area albums that we'd been eyeing in the ever-growing stacks of discs sent our way for review. Turns out some of them were worth the wait; others, not so much. But, either way, if an album appears on the list below, there's a reason behind it—either it's an act we've been especially eager to check out or one we've been curious about because we've heard a lot of chatter with their names involved.
So, at the very least, these nine acts have that much going for them. Which is nice—and will be even nicer and no doubt come in handy come the nomination process for next year's DOMAs. —Pete Freedman
Dallas' great rap hope, Dorrough, walks a line somewhere between Northeastern hipster MC and snap rapper on his debut, Dorrough Music, but for the most part, veers closer to the latter.
He repeats catch phrases ad nauseam, especially on his Southern-rap-like breakout hits, "Walk That Walk" and "Ice Cream Paint Job," both of which employ simple, hypnotizing dance hooks and lyrics a 4-year-old could easily keep up with. ("Walk That Walk" even includes a Soulja Boy-style "Yoooouuuuu!")
But what keeps the album from descending into cliché is the 22-year-old's surprisingly meaty, already mature flow. Rhyming in a deep voice and varying his cadence with ease, he absolutely demolishes elder Houston statesman Slim Thug on "Peace & Chain Swangin'," and is otherwise equally comfortable playing the hyperactive fool on up-tempo tracks such as "Wired to the T" and the sensitive father on album highlight "Feel This Way," which concerns his struggles to stay positive while caring for his sickly daughter.
A wide array of producers fill the disc with sing-songy, nursery-rhyming beats, including the rousing second-to-last track, "A Whole Lotta," which features children singing backup. While they probably aren't much younger than Dorrough, compared to his self-assured, confident flow, their voices sound positively infantile. —Ben Westhoff
RTB2 played it remarkably straight on its 2007 debut The Both of It, with guitarist/vocalist Ryan Thomas Becker and drummer Grady Sandlin eschewing overdubs and extraneous instrumentation for the bare-bones simplicity of thumping drums and raw electric guitar. "When Hammer Hits Stone," the first track on the band's new EP, In the Fleshed, sticks to this same formula, even if the song's structure shows a massive growth in ambition. A sprawling, Led Zeppelin-esque stomp, "Hammer" lets Sandlin unleash his inner John Bonham as Becker drives its insistent, Eastern-tinged melody into your brain, pausing intermittently to throw off squealing, pyrotechnic leads between verses of quiet, mounting tension.
The real revelation here comes on the other three songs, however, where RTB2 workshops its way through 40 years of classic rock experimentation, exploring the sonic possibilities of its home studio to re-record a couple old tunes and offer up the breezy, Thin Lizzy-ish "Letters to a Young Danny Kennedy." "Beta Crush (Fleshed)" is an aurally interesting revision of the Both of It tune (it's spooky vibe enhanced by slowly shaken maraca, droning organ and bells) but "Yer Fool's Suite II," another re-worked track, just might be the band's prettiest recording to date. —Noah W. Bailey
They Were Stars sounds like it comes from a suburban mall rock background—but, thankfully, the band doesn't sound like it's trying to play only to a crowd that wears neon colors.
There are no screaming or guttural vocals, silly synths, pop-punk beats or faux hip-hop grooves here. Rather, the 10 songs on Own Your Atoms have a sensible, easy rock vibe with catchy choruses. These guys don't sound like they're reaching for mass popularity like, say, Green River Ordinance, but they don't sound like they want to stay in small venues, either.
You have to give credit to a band like this that isn't trying to sound like a dated joke in a few years, but by the same token, there are some flaws: Frontman Collin Cable's singing sometimes sounds really off—especially in the chorus for "Baltimore." As a whole, though, Own Your Atoms comes across as something that wasn't made as a simple demo, and the band has a sound primed for a nice sonic polish upgrade down the line.
Or at least one hopes. —Eric Grubbs
Dallas-based rapper B-Hamp is looking to capitalize on the momentum created by his conspicuous dance craze "Do the Ricky Bobby," this time in the form of his full-length debut, B Dash. With 2009 proving to be the city's most influential time, thanks to other D-Town Boogie smash hits such as "My Dougie" and "My Swag," B Dash is a representative sample of a local sound that has surprisingly taken the nation by storm.
But it's obvious here that Brandon Hampton, as the rapper was born, is trying to prove that his repertoire goes beyond the club-rocking instructional shimmies his hometown gets credit for creating. Fueled by the slow-stepping grooves, 808 bass bounce and other old-school hip-hop production staples meant to prove the superiority of your car's audio, the album predictably gives ample space to the party jams. Hampton has also incorporated a couple songs in the "slow jam" and "cool out" iterations of the genre. In the end, though, B Dash does little to break new ground. The question to be asked though is this: Why would it want to?