Endure a few run-throughs of Pomp and Circumstance, make sure your tassel is on the correct side of your cap and ready your flask for the after-party at the rich kids lake house. Its a graduation, baby.

Most years, the theme of the Dallas Observer Music Awards is an afterthought, some cute concept that makes for good cover images, but this year is different (even though, admittedly, our art director enjoyed that punk-rock cheerleader photo shoot).

Much like high school, the past year in local music has been rough, including some big break-ups (Chomsky, Day of the Double Agent), some bigger breakdowns (Trees, Club Dada) and some shitty parties (Dallas Music Festival).

But again, like high school, we all got throughand even had some fun on the way. Thank the areas best musicians for that. In spite of shakeups all over the city, this past year saw the scene prove its creative muscle and make its marks, so lets treat this years awards for what they really area cap-and-gown token of gratitude to the music that has survived (and thrived) in a year that hasnt exactly been easy.

And remember, this is your token. After helping with Februarys open nominations (your choices were split with a panel of local DJs, record label employees, club owners, Web site owners and writers), your 3,627 votes decided the 23 winners on the following pages. There werent many surprises in the voting (unless the Burden Brothers single award seems small compared with last years eight), though a few categories were heatedvotes for female singer, cover band and best act in town were neck-and-neck until the polls closed.

Longtime readers will notice a few changesseparate categories for best guitarist, bassist and drummer were combined into an instrumentalist category, which put deserving players on keyboard, fiddle and pedal steel onto the ballot. Since this is a rock-dominated city, the rock category is now split between hard and indie (the latter of which I still find ill-fitting, since, uh, isnt everybody independent out here?). Electronic music, once ill-matched on the ballot with DJs, now shares a category with the experimental genrenot perfect, but an improvement. And last, after 10 years of ignoring the Internet, were giving local music Web sites their DOMA day in the sun.

In the graduation spirit, you can be nice and say there are no losers hereeverybody passed their classes and did a damn fine job. But the 23 graduates with honors marks on their caps got em for a reason. Congratulations. Sam Machkovech

Best Act in Town

Humility is overrated. Every year, we talk to winning bands that are meek about their victories--"It's an honor," "I didn't expect this at all," all that Sally Field junk. Can't blame 'em, but those are veiled attempts to be polite about the "YESYESYES" sensation that swells up for the honor. You won't get that from Sorta.

"We didn't do anything this year," bassist Danny Balis says flatly. "I don't even know how to explain that, how we got nominated." He then rolls out the shit list: The band played very few concerts in 2005. That's because they were recording Strange and Sad but True, an album that is collecting dust until its official August 2006 release date. And when asked about the best act award point-blank, he's blunt: "I don't think we're even close!"

Whatever, Mr. Fartypants--the victory makes plenty of sense. The quintet's elements are among the most solid in town, from Trey Johnson's heart-on-the-floor vocals to Carter Albrecht's knows-when-to-flaunt, knows-when-to-hold-back pedal steel. More important, though, the disparate ingredients add up to a mission statement in SaSbT, an album that isn't hard rock, indie rock, country/roots or any other pigeonholed pop genre. Johnson reiterates the band's old joke: "We are Sorta, after all."

But there's no ambivalence on killer tracks like heartbreaking album opener "Buttercup" and aimed-at-the-sky rocker "Lazybones," tracks that assert the band's identity as more than a post-Wilco genre blend but the kind of genre-agnostic semi-Southern beauty that could only come from a city like Dallas. The new songs leaked onto MySpace a few months ago, which may have been enough to win over voters, and the band's reduced concert calendar brought out their largest audiences yet. Even if the past year leaves the band members scratching their heads about the victory, they know that it's been their biggest year of preparations yet.

"I'm proud of [the album] from start to finish," Balis says. "This is the best chance we've had to do something important. More important than being, you know, a local band, which, to me, isn't that bad." Especially if people say it's the best one in town. --S.M.

Chris Holt
Musician of the Year, Best Instrumentalist