Around Hear

Let's skip the chit-chat. Here are the top 10 local albums of 2004:

1. Sorta, Little Bay

"I love life, but it's sad," Sorta vocalist/guitarist Trey Johnson once told me. "And if my songs have a theme, it would be: How are you going to function in life, knowing that it's so sad?" That theme echoes throughout Little Bay, an affecting roots-rock album with more than a twinge of the high and lonesome. It may not be the most complex record of the year, but it's the one I kept returning to again and again, whether to discover something new or simply remind myself of something easy and true.

2. Midlake, Bamnan and Slivercork

The year's most thrilling debut. Quirky Dentonites quietly toil away, write songs like a little boy's fever dream, get signed by Bella Union and take over the world? Hey, it could happen.

3. Sparrows, Snowflakes

"A.M.D.C.T." (a.k.a. "All My Dreams Come True") is a stadium anthem worthy of Freddie Mercury. "Godot" is an intoxicating mix of pleading guitars and romantic illusion. Carter Albrecht, get off your bar stool and become famous already.

4. The Polyphonic Spree, Together We're Heavy

Just a live band? Not anymore. Opening with "A Long Day Continues/We Sound Amazed," this album blows in with a whisper and builds into an epic, with interludes and lovely instrumentals, constantly switching moods and streams but remaining of a piece.

5. Salim Nourallah, Polaroid

A rather stunning dose of chamber pop that dips one toe in boyhood pain and the other in grown-up fears. It's poignant stuff, a photo book of dusty memories stacked with haunting harmony, but Nourallah leavens the mood with songs like "1978," a sun flare of nostalgia and lazy summer afternoons.

6. The Happy Bullets, Blue Skies and Umbrellas

It's hard not to fall for the band's spastic horn blasts and quirky live shows, but the real strength of the Happy Bullets is in their songwriting. Jason Roberts and Timothy Ruble are like Dallas' Ben Folds Two--with the same literate sensibilities, keen wordplay and slaphappy sense of irony. I don't say this often, but it's a band even my parents could love.

7. [DARYL], Ohio

Last year's EP left me cold, but this ambitious, cohesive rock album finally won me over to Dylan Silvers' beloved Dallas band. Plus, how can you argue with a front man who wants to be photographed (inexplicably) in a raccoon suit?

8. Pleasant Grove, The Art of Leaving

This critics' darling made its boutique-label bow with the beautiful and haunting The Art of Leaving. It might have ranked higher if my favorite songs hadn't been ones on previous outings--"Only a Mountain," "Commander Whatever," "Cone Equation." Still, I suspect Pleasant Grove could sing me the phone book and I'd enjoy it, so if you ever run out of ideas, boys, remember: There's always the Yellow Pages.

9. The Chemistry Set, The Chemistry Set

One of my favorite local songs of the year is Chemistry Set's "Lee Minor 7," a creepy little number about dirty bombs and paydays and shooting guns. I have no idea what it's about, although it sticks in my head like naked pictures of grandma. Note to vocalist-guitarist Steve Duncan: Keep 'em coming.

10. Tree Wave, Cabana EP+

What it occasionally lacks in execution, Tree Wave more than triples in concept, using ancient computers and other skeletons of the computer age as the scaffolding on which to hang an entrancing sound. Next year, I hope to see Lauren Gray and Paul Slocum push to be even more unpredictable, losing their somewhat annoying glitch-pop brethren to create a truly authentic sound.

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Sarah Hepola