By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Slobberbone, Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today (2000): Released way back in 2000, Slobberbone's third full-length (fourth if you count both versions of the band's debut, Crow Pot Pie) features songwriter Brent Best's best overall set of material, from the elegant pre-apocalypse ballad "Meltdown" to the scorching anti-Clear Channel anthem "Placemat Blues" (not to mention "Gimme Back My Dog," easily the greatest kiss-off North Texas has ever produced). If you've never drunkenly slurred along to "Lazy Guy" in one of our area's finer watering holes, then you've missed one of the greatest communal experiences in local music. —N.W.B.
Sorta, Strange and Sad But True (2006): Sorta's penultimate album, its final with Carter Albrecht, can still move and overwhelm even at this late date—and not just because of what followed a year after its release. Excise the tragedy, and the craft remains, from the melodies (sweeping, heroic, whispering) to the lyrics (wry, gentle, hauntingly prescient in places) to the performances and production (perfect). When we were foolish enough to pick The Fragile Army over Strange and Sad But True as the Best Local Release of '06, our readers set us straight; this was their tops by a country (and rock and pop and folk and etc.) mile. There are the standouts ("85 Feet," "Buttercup," "Lazybones" among them), but this disc's a start-to-finish gem with a tear-stained middle: "Out go the lights/Off flicks the switch/Good night/Good night/Good night." —R.W.
St. Vincent, Actor (2009): This 2009 album from former Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens guitarist Annie Clark is all about contrasts: her soothing, poised voice against jagged guitar freakouts; lyrics hinting of danger over sweet string arrangements; those same very sweet arrangements gradually giving way to the aforementioned electric six-string hysterics. As promising as her 2007 release Marry Me may have been, this one is an improvement in every way. You could thank producer John Congleton for the amped-up dynamics and sophisticated arrangements, but I'm guessing this would have been a great album no matter who was behind the board. —J.H.
Stumptone, Gravity Suddenly Released (2008): I don't know if the title track is about death, but at the close of a decade that's provided plenty of reasons—personal and universal—to contemplate the Big Sleep, that's what I'm taking away from it. And the exultant feel of that moment when the grounded acoustic guitars and harmonica give way to soaring electric guitar and singer Chris Plavidal repeating "head over heels over head..." makes it sound like the beginning of an awesome journey. The rest of the kinetic album—available in a beautiful, marbled vinyl version, by the way—is restlessly full of references to motion, and is almost as beautifully moving. —J.H.
Teenage Cool Kids, Foreign Lands (2009): Forget the punk rock tag holding these young Dentonites back. This record only hints at the band's punk rock pedigree. More appropriately, Foreign Lands is the dearest-to-your-heart-early-'90s-indie-rock album you've never heard. And, by marrying the angsty, uncertain anthems of Built to Spill with Dinosaur Jr.'s flashy guitar heroics and reverb-drenched melodies (shame the band couldn't get squeezed onto that exact double bill this year at the Granada), this disc proves a relentless listen: You're sure you've heard the best song on the album—till you've heard the next one. No point in picking out just one. —P.F.
Telegraph Canyon, The Tide and the Current (2009): 2007's All the Good News showed that Telegraph Canyon had it in 'em, sure. But we certainly didn't expect to find the band showcasing this much growth on its sophomore release. True to its name, The Tide and the Current is a grabbing listen, thrashing listeners about at times, slowly coasting them along at others. Credit Centro-matic's Will Johnson and his production for pulling this record out of the Fort Worth seven-piece, but only so much: It's head songwriter Chris Johnson who truly shines here, his affecting Texas/Louisiana drawl serving as the compelling centerpiece amidst an album filled with opulent instrumentation and impeccable beyond-local-comparison arrangement. —P.F.
The Theater Fire, Everybody Has a Dark Side (2006): The local scene was as fractured and opinionated as ever in 2006, but for a short time it seemed everybody agreed on the greatness of Everybody Has a Dark Side. The lovely "These Tears Could Rust a Train" made just about every mix any local music fan put together that year, and if anyone recorded a better local-on-local cover this decade than the band's accordion-spiked version of Centro-matic's "Members of the Show 'em How It's Done," we sure didn't hear it. If anything, Dark Side cemented The Theater Fire's ability to turn any local venue into some bizarre-world version of Austin's Armadillo World Headquarters circa 1971, bringing together the rednecks, the hippies and, yes, even the hipsters, to dance to songs about the Civil War, barrel riders and brown recluses. —N.W.B.
Toadies, Hell Below/Stars Above (2001): This wasn't Toadies' original follow-up to 1994's Rubberneck; there's an unreleased second album still floating around out there, which the band occasionally threatens to unleash, fingers crossed. But Hell Below was worth the wait. It never became the smash Rubberneck was (finally). Hard to say why—the songs were every bit as brash and catchy (openers "Plane Crash," "Push the Hand" and "Little Sin" make a most unholy trinity of car-radio classics courtesy of the addition of Clark Vogeler on guitar), and the title track was a two-part roller-coaster ride that clocked in at less than 4:30 and had you winded halfway through. Song of the decade? No doubt. —R.W.