The Best Area Album Releases of the '00s
The best locally made music of the decade—please. Like anybody could know that, especially a small handful of writers bound by personal connections, affections, attractions and tastes. (It's music! We're all right! And completely wrong!) No doubt we've forgotten a handful of worthy contenders; no doubt you'll call us out for including worthless pretenders. Your points will be valid: This list is bullshit. Duly noted. Absolutely agree.
But we did try. We traded e-mails, included and deleted bands and titles that did and didn't make the final cut, and sat around late one frigid evening and asked why two albums by an artist couldn't make the list if it's supposed to be accurate rather than merely inclusive. Mama's Gun deserves just as much love as New Amerykah Pt. 1; and God knows how many times we went around and around over Centro-Matic and New Year landing but one disc on this list.
And, good Lord, where are the comps: Band-Kits, Electric Ornaments, Zac Crain for Mayor (see, it wasn't so ill-fated after all)?
In the end, I guess, we just wanted something representative of the goods locals have spoiled us with during the '00s. All comers welcome, but please, take one and share with the rest. —Robert Wilonsky
Baboon, Baboon (2006): After a four-year wait and a building fear that there was no more to come, Baboon self-released an album so aggressively listenable you could easily play it through several times before considering skipping a song. And yet Baboon's eponymous victory wasn't and isn't safe: Punk and experimental tendencies combine here with ferocious vocals and pop melodies, and, in turn, the band produced something not only edgy but notoriously fun. Now with another four years gone and members in other projects, Baboon might've been a swan song. We truly hope not—but if it was, it's one helluva way to go. —Merritt Martin
Erykah Badu, New Amerykah Pt. 1: 4th World War (2008): The opening track of this disc, the first in a series of two (Pt. 2 drops in February), promises "More excitement...More action...More everything" and the 11 songs that follow more than live up to that billing. More than that, as those songs play out, the White Rock Queen gets launched well past her neo-soul tag, eventually landing in the stratosphere of the true artistes, where genre classification eventually becomes obsolete. If we had to give New Amerykah, Pt. 1 a descriptor, we'd shrug before offering "funksploitation" as our best effort. Viscerally angry and raw, this disc is an hour-long journey through the problems of society. Hit single "Honey" was, truly, but the tip of the head-spinning, jaw-dropping iceberg. —Pete Freedman
Baptist Generals, No Silver/No Gold (2003): From the moment Chris Flemmons' cell phone interrupts a flawless take of "Ay Distress"—sending the local hero into a fit of frustration captured for posterity—you know you're in for a strange and wonderful ride with Baptist Generals' No Silver/No Gold, a collection of Tex-Mex outsider folk that's easily one of the best albums of the decade, local or otherwise. Sure, we're still waiting for a follow-up—though, really, if the seven-years-and-counting wait results in just one song as perfect as "Going Back Song," it will be more than worth it. —Noah W. Bailey
Doug Burr, On Promenade (2007): Each listen to On Promenade has the potential to leave you in a state of visceral reaction. Over the course of 11 songs, singer-songwriter Doug Burr wades with distinctive voice, guitar and various instruments between love, loss, simple beauty and historical disaster. But, despite the weight of the topic, Burr's monumental achievement is somehow developing each song into a perfectly dynamic composition from instrument to harmony without ever overworking a theme, a word or a bridge. A cohesive album from start to finish, On Promenade is oddly hard to assign genre or reference—it is its own very emotional victory. —M.M.
Centro-matic, All the Falsest Hearts Can Try (2000): Oh, you can like all their albums, but Centro-matic fans most assuredly love All the Falsest Hearts Can Try. The powerful 2000 release, in many cases, inspired listeners to follow the humble Denton-ish quartet if they weren't already. Though anthemic with college-radio-friendly "Huge in Every City," "Most Everyone Will Find" and "The Blisters May Come," Falsest also scores for its poetic subtlety ("Gas Blowin' Out of Our Eyes" and "Saving a Free Seat"). It's all manner of showcase, fan favorites and invitations for more—with the most endearingly disappointing liner notes of all time, to boot. —M.M.
Chomsky, A Few Possible Selections for the Soundtrack of Your Life (2000): Say you wanted to relive those spry days in Deep Ellum circa the late '90s/early '00s when you headed out to Trees or Clearview, pumped a fist or bobbed a head and yelled carefully timed percussive syllables to incredibly catchy power pop. Well, then you'd throw on Chomsky's creepy and invigorating "Sigmund," the driving and hooky "Road" or any of the other tracks from their aptly named 2000 release, and you'd certainly have A Few Possible Selections for the Soundtrack of (that time in) Your Life that still hold up pretty damn well today. —M.M.
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.
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.
Honorable mentions: Astronatualis, Pomegranate; Bosque Brown, Bosque Brown Plays Mara Lee Miller; Budapest One, The Crooner Rides Again; Corn Mo, I Hope You Win!; Current Leaves, Pastense; Lift to Experience, The Texas Jerusalem Crossroads; Little Grizzly, When It Comes an End, I Will Stand Alone; Neon Indian, Psychic Chasms; True Widow, True Widow; Xrabit & Damaged Good$, Hello World.
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