By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
Whiskey Folk Ramblers
Best Alt-Country/Roots Act
After last year's release of their second album, ...And There Are Devils, Whiskey Folk Ramblers frontman Tyler Rougeux said in these very pages that "the country music thing we were doing got a little boring." Local music fans clearly disagree.
Voters obviously loved the changes made to the already varied texture of the band's sound, but people still seem to taste the inherent rootsiness in the group's gypsy stew.
Change is good, especially when it makes the group harder to figure out.
Best Electronic/Dance Act
Ishi, the brainchild of frontman John Mudd and producer Brad Dale, has been a Dallas mainstay for nearly four years at this point. Their records blend indie dance with touches of folk in an interesting way, but it's their high-energy live set that has made them so popular in their hometown.
Still, Mudd has his sights set further these days: "Dallas has been good to us and been in our heart," he says, "but we want to show that we're not just a Dallas band and we have big ambitions."
The plan? To start touring, and ASAP. To prepare on that front, the band is hard at work on their follow-up full-length to last year's Through the Trees. They're shooting for a summer 2012 release date that will undoubtedly help with their goal.
Best Experimental/Avant Garde Act
Diamond Age is Dallas resident Matthew Leer's live PA project that harkens back to krautrock, combining grungy guitar with experimental percussive and melodic sampling. After starting the project in 2008 to make a reinterpretation of a release called Flaming Tunes from 1985, Leer ended up with an album's worth of tribute material that was released by UK label Life and Living Records.
Since opening for New Fumes at the Kessler Theater in 2010, Diamond Age has matured in its live incarnation, with both an LP and a seven-inch split with New Fumes on the immediate horizon.
In other words, things are picking up for Leer.
"For the most part," he says, "my policy is 'Say yes.'"
Best Punk Act
After releasing a four-song seven-inch EP in 2010, the Portland-based Dirtnap Records released Mind Spiders' self-titled full-length album in January. The act's fuzzy wall-of-sound garage punk earned plenty of raves locally and from various punk and indie websites.
Mind Spiders frontman Mark Ryan (former co-vocalist, songwriter and guitarist with The Marked Men) recorded the majority of the sounds on the band's tracks (he was also nominated for Best Producer), with a little help from his friends in the Denton punk scene. Indeed, catching the Mind Spiders live is nothing short of a watching a regional super group at work, as Ryan is joined by both Greg Rutherford (High Tension Wires, Bad Sports) and Mike Thorneberry (The Marked Men) on drums, Daniel Fried (High Tension Wires, Bad Sports, VIDEO, Wax Museums) on bass and Stephen Svacina (Uptown Bums) on guitar.
There's more coming, too: Ryan has finished recording a second album due for release in 2012.
Best Metal Act
Trendy metal comes and goes, but true metal never dies. Arlington's Warbeast, featuring members of Rigor Mortis and Gammacide, serves as proof.
The band's sound is brutal, recalling both Bay Area thrash and the new wave of British heavy metal. The band's "Unleashed" tour starts next month and runs through Thanksgiving, taking them literally from coast to coast in the process.
Yes, Warbeast's members have been around for a while now, but, as an entity, this group's clearly just warming up.
Best Indie Act
When Burning Hotels frontman Chance Morgan and Matt Mooty started going to see shows together, they never expected to become one of the top acts in town.
The key to the band's success over their five years of existence? Evolution. And, this year, the band changed in a big way. Their recently released self-titled record saw them leaving behind the post-punk style of their previous offerings and taking more of a new-wave approach to songwriting. The resulting sound is looser and more laid back, but really it's all an overflow of the band's new attitude.
Says Morgan: "I haven't had this much fun playing music in a long time."
Best Funk/R&B Act
When he isn't playing one of the 13 instruments he knows how to play, Ducado Vega finds time to do production work and serve as a motivational speaker.
Interesting stuff, but when he's backed on stage by the members of his Bloodrich backing band, it's all space-age funk with a little hard-rock crunch. Unafraid to blur the lines between funk, R&B and rock, Vega has an unpredictable sound when he plays live. Expect to bop your head and move your feet.
Best Rap/Hip-Hop Act
In a year in which Dallas hip-hop truly shined and started to take on a unique shape, The Mohicans, who haven't even released a mixtape, let alone an album, walk away boasting the title of Best Rap/Hip-Hop Act. Here's how: While their counterparts were stuck in town, posturing and clamoring for attention, this duo of Kashus Klay and Just Dave took their act to Lubbock where the two are undergrads at Texas Tech.