By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Legendary Crystal Chandelier, Beyond Indifference (2001): Peter Schmidt sits on a solo record he'll likely never release, and it's our loss—that's a magnificent album. So, till he can be convinced to cut it loose, revisit the former Funland's sole Quality Park offering, which, one label exec once told me by way of the ultimate compliment, "sounds like everything." Close enough: The title track echoes Latin-pop-era Joe Jackson; "People I Know" exorcises his rock 'n' roll demons; "Million Miserable People" soars like a Byrd; "Pictures" is his Pete Townshend demo; while "Simple Solution" and "Everybody Is Happy" remain two of the best radio singles you've never heard, poor radio. —R.W.
Matthew and the Arrogant Sea, Family Family Family Meets the Magic Christian (2008): No one doubts Matthew Gray's imagination; plenty believed it when he conjured a tale about six-figure record deals being tossed his way. Thing is, this is a record that probably deserved that kind of money backing. Found at the three-way intersection of Neutral Milk Hotel, The Flaming Lips and The Beach Boys, the Denton band's full-length debut features a wide cast of characters (aliens, Jesus, Elvis, giants, wizards and even one Annie Clark) for, really, no apparent reason whatsoever. As lush and psychedelic as it is raw and poppy, Family Family Family Meets the Magic Christian is all over the map—just the way a good trip should be. (Yes, we're talking about drugs.) —P.F.
Midlake, The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006): A loosely conceptual album about a fictional character from a century or so ago, the words and lyrics of this album are full of a melancholic yearning for a simpler time. In an age when so many of us do all our work with our fingertips, Tim Smith's imagining the work of stonecutters shaping rocks into homes hearkens to a time of full-body, backbreaking labor, when swinging a hammer or enduring a pine-freezing cold spell might have delivered some kind of redemption, or at least helped get one's mind off heartache. Musically, the mellow, fuzzy folk-rock reaches to a more recent (but similarly bearded) past: '70s AM radio. —Jesse Hughey
The New Year, The End Is Near (2004): Why this one out of the three Kadane Bros. and Co. releases of the decade? All are estimable and essential; last year's eponymous offering remains a constant companion at this late date. But the lonely, leave-me-alone middle child aches, in the best sense, with growing pains; Bubba and Matt Kadane, aided and abetted by the likes of Peter Schmidt and Chris Brokaw, began to cut loose here—the slow burn of Bedhead gave way to the instant spark of such songs as "Chinese Handcuffs" and "Plan B." And then there was the pop hit: "The End's Not Near," which Band of Horses rode all the way to The O.C. Hard even for that band to fuck up perfection. —R.W.
The Paper Chase, Someday This Could All Be Yours, Vol. 1 (2009): At the risk of losing what local music scene cred I ever had, I'll admit that John Congleton's cartoonishly dramatic singing kept me from fully embracing this band for years—even if there was always something about his band's jittery instrumentation, ominous feel and gallows humor that appealed to me. This is the first Paper Chase album that grabbed me immediately, and it's largely because of the subject matter: 10 songs document natural calamities of various forms—God's hand smiting without mercy or cause—and there's something brilliant about the subsequent comic helplessness intermingling with the uplifting relief that comes with knowing there's absolutely nothing you can do to save yourself. —J.H.
Pleasant Grove, Auscultation of the Heart (2002): The fact that Pleasant Grove's Auscultation of the Heart never gained a stateside release outside of Good Records and the merch booth is one of the most lamentable local embarrassments of the '00s—you can't even buy the damn thing on iTunes, people. For those who heard it, though, Auscultation remains a favorite even eight years after its release, thanks largely to the space country production of Centro-matic's Matt Pence and the heartbreaking vocals of Marcus Striplin and Bret Egner. Whether it's Scott Danbom's fiddle entrance on "Calculated Approaches," Joe Butcher's mournful pedal steel on "Only a Mountain" or the handclaps that punctuate "I Couldn't Withstand the Damage of an Evil and Wicked Divorce," it's an album long on haunting moments, and one that could've stood toe to toe with the Wilcos and Becks of the world had it ever really been given the chance. —N.W.B.
The Polyphonic Spree, The Beginning Stages of... (2002): The argument, at least 'round the office, goes something like this: Yes, the Spree's debut was a pleasant surprise and sunny rebirth following Tripping Daisy guitarist Wes Berggren's overdose in 1999, but it doesn't capture the shout-out-loud spirit of the live show. Whatever. It's almost defiant in its optimism, and its joy is infectious. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sitting in with a high-school glee club? What's not to love? As beautiful ("Days Like This Keep Me Warm") as it is buoyant ("Light & Day/Reach for the Sun" was put to magical use in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), it's epic-ness is outdone only by its intimacy. —R.W.