By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Heading into 2010, we knew the year would prove a bountiful one. Hell, pretty much all of the region's big names were slated to release discs in these 12 months. And, now, six months down in the calendar year, most of them already have: Neo-soul queen Erykah Badu, Denton folk rock icons Midlake, and singer-songwriting luminaries Sarah Jaffe and Doug Burr have all released discs in 2010's first half. So, too, have the region's biggest new-to-the-scene names: Southern rockers Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights released their major label debut, Pardon Me, in late April; the current biggest-drawing band in town, Ishi, released its much-heralded debut, Through The Trees, in late May.
So, yeah, 2010's been pretty solid so far. And it's looking to only get better in the near future: In August, the Toadies will finally release their shelved-since-1998 album, Feeler, and, not long thereafter, the Old 97's are scheduled to offer up what's looking like the first double-album of their career, the tentatively titled The Grand Theatre.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's take a look back, consider the crop we've seen in this already overwhelming year, and call out eight local albums for what they are—the best we've seen thus far in 2010. Why eight? Because it felt right.
Analog Rebellion—Ancient Electrions
Aledo's Dan Hunter was all of 17 years old when he released Texas, his sappy major label debut (and lone major label release) under his PlayRadioPlay! name. And, considering that he wrote most of the songs for that release when he was just 15, you can't really blame him too much for that album's bubblegum-pop leanings. Earlier this year, though, when he changed his stage name to Analog Rebellion and altered his sound to give it a more Secret Machines-meets-Postal Service feel, the now-20-year-old won us over. Listen to this disc, which challenges you to headbang while simultaneously shaking your hips, and you'll be won over too. Best area rock record of the year? Looking like it.
Download: "Brain/Heart (I Need To Know)," "You've Been Had (Machine)" and "Marla Singer Doesn't Take Standardized Tests (Disposable Smile)."
Erykah Badu—New Amerykah, Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh
Return of the Ankh finds the always-confident Badu at perhaps her most confident yet—and showing a little restraint, even. At first listen, yes, it's mostly a breezy jaunt through Badu's thought-process. But don't let lead single "Window Seat" fool you into thinking this is an album without grit; in case that song's music video, which saw Badu strip until nude at Dealey Plaza, wasn't enough proof, there's more to this album than originally implied. It finds Badu flying all her personality flaws up a neo-soul flagpole—beating critics to the punch and daring them to follow suit. We're not taking the bait.
Download: "Turn Me Away (Get Munny)," "Gone Baby (Don't Be Long)," "Fall in Love (Your Funeral)."
The Beaten Sea—The Beaten Sea
Sure, Benj Pocta and Jaime Wilson, the driving forces and songwriters behind The Beaten Sea, live in modern times. But their self-titled debut release hardly reveals as much, with its Dust Bowl storylines and weary, wavering vocals. Inspired to start writing songs after a viewing of Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus, the story of one man's trip through the South and its music, the duo sat down and tried their best to capture the often mystical nature of the region's timeless folk songs. And their initial offering does their lofty aim justice.
Download: "Doctor's Not Gonna Cure Our Ills," "Serpent Song," "One Last Night for the Birthpains."
Doug Burr—O Ye Devastator
The weeping strings that opens O Ye Devastator's lead track, "A Black Wave Is Comin'," sets the stage nicely for this, Burr's fourth record, which bears a sad, heavy soul but serves as more of a therapeutic listen than a depressing one. With his tender, affecting vocals, Burr's brand of Americana can wrench hearts with ease. But while the album may appear sentimental on first listen, don't be fooled—it isn't. "Do You Hear Wedding Bells?" is a smart satire of prenuptial cold feet. And "Chief of Police in Chicago" isn't about a policeman at all, actually; it's a story about genetic coding, go figure.
Download: "A Black Wave Is Comin'," "At The Public Dance," "I Got This Fever/O Ye Devastator."
Sarah Jaffe—Suburban Nature
It would've been easy for Jaffe's full-length debut to disappoint: We've been hearing these songs performed by the cherished local songwriter for years now in live settings; on some level, we were prepared for the recordings to come off rather stale. Oh how wrong we were: On record, Jaffe's folk-pop comes across even more powerfully, her affecting insecurities even more highlighted and her arrangements even more delicate. The 23-year-old's just a treasure chest of talent, folks. And, boy, are we proud to call her DFW's own.
Download: "Clementine," "Vulnerable," "Perfect Plan."
Midlake—The Courage of Others
It's not the kind of album you can listen to every day, no. But that's just the power that Midlake's third, and most ambitious, full-length holds. It's a powerful record, almost too much so, arresting its listeners and sweeping them away to a distant, mystical and uncertain past. If you're not careful, the band's baroque folk can consume you—really, half the songs on the disc just make you wanna curl up into a ball and cry. Which perhaps is not ideal, but sure is impressive.
Download: "Acts of Man," "Fortune," "The Horn."
The Orbans—When We Were Wild
The debut full-length from The Orbans has been a long time coming—some three years, actually—but it's been well worth the wait. This hook-filled affair will snag you at first listen and have you belting out its choruses by the second. Credit frontman and lead songwriter Peter Black for that much—and for the Ryan Adams flair the album boasts, too. Continuing in the tradition of Fort Worthians who step into the spotlight just in time to take the metroplex by storm (See: The Theater Fire; Telegraph Canyon), The Orban's country- and pop-tinged rock is about as undeniable as it comes.
Download: "Songs We Sang," "When We Were Wild," "Like A Liar"
Spooky Folk—Spooky Folk
This Denton outfit might boast the song of 2010 with "Bible Belt," the angry sing-along that bemoans being born south of the Mason-Dixon—to the point, even, of suicidal fantasy. A little extreme? Perhaps. But catchy as hell, for sure. For such a calling card of a song, though, it's not really a fair representation of the rest of the disc. Whereas "Bible Belt" sets up listeners to expect Americana fare throughout the album, the rest of the disc mostly revels in a downtrodden classic rock realm—and that's where the band behind frontman Kale Kaualoku shows off their melodic chops and shines.
Download: "Polaroid," "Bible Belt," "Darkest Shade of Grey."