Keith Killoren has enough charisma to be labeled a dangerous man. Hell, he even got me to dance with him once, which is like talking a polar bear into vacationing in Death Valley. That charisma, plus obsessions with Rudy Vallee, mythology, literature, and religion, is the core of Budapest One's songs. It also makes them as fun to listen to as watching Killoren dive off the bar and booths during one of the band's sets at Bar of Soap.
The Denton quartet released two albums this year (the heartbreaking Navigational on Idol Records and Quality Park Records' The Static vs. The Strings Vol. 1, an album of songs only Will Johnson could call leftovers) and toured by themselves and with The Promise Ring and Tripping Daisy. And then the band (Johnson, Scott Danbom, Mark Hedman, and Matt Pence) returned home to play to sold-out (or damn near) crowds, taking requests and playing well past last call like a band that's still trying to get established.
A Few Possible Selections for the Soundtrack of Your Life
Chomsky has accomplished two miracles this year. First, the band (singer-guitarist Sean Halleck, guitarist Glen Reynolds, bassist James Driscoll, and drummer Matt Kellum) managed to harness all the energy and spunk from its live shows on its debut CD. The lyrics are clearer and the riffs are cleaner, but the only thing missing is the sound of Reynolds' guitar chord whipping across the stage. The second miracle is that they've remained Dallas' best-kept secret despite pounding out such solid pop during regular Deep Ellum shows.
Flaming Lips at Music Against Brain Degeneration Revue, August 8
The only thing more amazing than listening to the band's The Soft Bulletin was watching them perform -- hand puppets, live candid-camera shots, gruesome medical footage, and all. They played so loud, each cymbal crash felt like a tremor, a split second away from ear drums bursting. Music never hurt so good.
Hamell on Trial
Finally Ed Hamell has made an album that lives up to his live shows. On Choochtown, he goes minimalist, trimming the major-label layers away and adding only occasional touches to his guy-and-guitar persona. The songs are straightforward with lyrics flooded in bleak urban scenery. But instead of drowning, Hamell makes a life raft out of sarcasm with hints of optimism and guitar strumming so fast that you wonder if he didn't retrace Robert Johnson's steps and sell his soul at the crossroads.
Legendary Crystal Chandelier and The Deathray Davies at the Barley House, various nights
Never mind that the stripped-down version of Legendary Crystal Chandelier (Peter Schmidt, John Dufilho, and Jason Garner) is also one-half of The Deathray Davies. These two bands sound nothing alike, yet complement each other perfectly. There's something about that small wooden stage that brings out the best in both.
Please Let Me Go, It Wasn't Meant to Be
Quality Park Records
George Neal knows how to write a good story. He throws in earnest thoughts and images, creating sympathetic pop anthems such as "Boxkite" and ruddy catharsis like "Ringing in My Ears." Thankfully, he didn't trade that in or drown it out when he added bassist Jacob Barnhart and drummer Colin Carter to his one-man show. Live, they give it all from the blues to the rock, screaming, jumping, and pounding until near collapse. At the end they're shattered, sweating, and ready to go again.
The Mulberry House lineup during Fry Street Fair, April 17
Denton's Delta Lodge seems to be following the South by Southwest rule of booking: Scrap the underdog spirit and boost attendance by booking the big draws. The all-day every-April festival featured so many bands that play Dallas (or at least Rick's Place) every weekend, it seemed like the Entertainment Collaborative booked it...or at least Aden Holt. Meanwhile, around the corner from Rick's and just outside the fair gates, a house on Mulberry Street hosted Denton bands. It was a true sampling of the town's music scene with shows from Corn Mo, Lift to Experience, and Falcon Project. Now, if they can only get all the bands offstage before the cops show up to shut 'em down at 10 p.m.
A year ago music writers were already naming Sleater-Kinney's The Hot Rock one of '99's best. But while the early reviews poured out and the band was being deified, Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss was busy with Quasi, the group she formed with ex-husband Sam Coomes before she joined Sleater-Kinney in 1997. Together, Weiss and Coomes balance each other out -- uplifting harmony to despondent melody, light percussion to raging Roxichord -- and with Field Studies they expand their sweet-and-sour songs with strings and electric piano sounds.
Good Morning Spider
The songs on Good Morning Spider sound like Mark Linkous wrote them while snowed in all winter. They reek of cabin fever, too much time spent alone and rehashing the past. They're full of samples, of Americana, of disconnected thoughts. The album ranges from the radio-tuning affected "Chaos of the Galaxy/Happy Man" to the raspy voice and Spanish-style guitar-filled "Saint Mary," during which he sings, "The only things I really need is water, a gun, and rabbits." Rendered beautiful in the presentation, it makes sense and sounds like the most honest thought ever -- at least until the next track.