In part two of our three-part look back at the year in music, the Kessler Theater’s Jeff Liles, Shiny Around the Edges’ Jenny Seman, Old Snack’s Aaron White, and Blixaboy’s Wanz Dover offer their favorites in local and national new music. (Click for part 1 and part 3)
Jeff Liles (Dallas musician, Cottonmouth, TX and artistic director, The Kessler Theater)
Local Music Summary: Local music is once again in transition, this time moving forward in a positive direction and driven by a younger generation of exceptionally talented virtuoso performers. I see a trend of moving away from the fixation on sampling, sequencing programming, and digital technology, and back towards the aspiration of mastering an actual musical instrument. Dallas kids like Emily Elbert, Scarlett Deering, and Nadia Washington currently on full scholarships to the Berklee School of Music, and other kids now studying at the University of North Texas are starting their own really interesting projects as well. You must hear jazz vocalist Damon K. Clark. He’s simply the most gifted male vocalist in DFW. Incredible.
General Music Summary: National music exists now as a living example of “iPod shuffle culture.” When I was growing up, you were into whatever it was that you liked, and that was it. The idea of having both speed metal albums and old-school jazz records in your collection was pretty far-fetched. Now people will listen to anything and everything. If only commercial radio were ever brave enough to admit it. (While I was in Italy, I listened to a commercial station that played Erykah Badu back-to-back with Guns and Roses, and then PJ Harvey. Can you imagine that ever happening here?)
Best Trend: A new arts neighborhood in North Oak Cliff nicknamed “X+”
Worst trend: Not giving up the ghost in Deep Ellum. More clearly, I love the neighborhood, and always will, but what’s with this feeling of needing to leverage or trade on names that we used 20 or 25 years ago? Club Dada, Trees, Green Room, 2826, Prophet Bar… what year is this? 1988?
Can you imagine if a place like, say, Campisi’s Restaurant closed down, and then 10 or 20 years later, somebody else opened it in the same location with the same name? It would never happen. Dallas would never let it happen. What is keeping these new venue owners from coming up with a fresh name or concept of their own? The Trees that I remember had shows by bands like Radiohead, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Geto Boys, ATCQ and Cypress Hill. This new Trees makes a big deal about Vanilla Ice, Andy Dick, or somebody like Daniel Ash pretending to be a DJ.
Bottom line: Deep Ellum isn’t about buildings or venues or club names or concepts. It was, and always will be, about people: musicians, artists, audiences, and promoters. Do those people still exist in Deep Ellum? No. Twenty years ago, dozens of bands would gladly refer to themselves as “Deep Ellum bands.” Now is there even one who would do it without the risk of getting laughed at?
You can spit-polish the neighborhood all you want, but without two or three dozen amazing local acts to keep audiences interested and engaged, the place looks like a virtual museum version of what it once was two decades ago.
Five Favorite Albums: The latest records by James Hall and the Futura Bold, lalagray, Sparklehorse & Danger Mouse, Kat Edmonson, and Phosphorescent.
Jenny Seman (Denton musician, Shiny Around The Edges)
Local Music: I am super-excited about the Cuckoo Byrds, a Denton band comprised of three wonderful people: Lisa and David (who own and operate Time Bandits Vintage Clothing store in Denton) and Sasha (Orange Coax, Christian Teenage Runaways). They have a raw, explosive sound that I love. Neeks, the new hip-hop duo comprised of Ash from Record Hop and Craig from Brutal Juice, is also at the top of my list of favorite new bands. New Science Projects, Geisthiestler, and Kampfgrounds continue to put on great live shows.
National Music: I’ve been listening to a lot of music from the 1960s and 1970s this year, particularly Buffy Sainte-Marie’s Illuminations (1969), perhaps one of the most beautiful experimental folk albums I have ever heard. She was one of the first to experiment with electronic sounds, and this record is full of unexpected turns. I hear a lot of what she did in the highly processed and dream-like music of Neon Indian. Sade’s Soldier of Love (2010) ruled me for weeks. I keep waiting for her to disappoint me, but she never does. I am excited about the new Neon Indian and Fight Bite albums coming out in 2011, as well as the new PJ Harvey.
Best Trend: The resurgence of frozen yogurt shops.
Worst Trend: The resurgence of frozen yogurt shops.
Favorite Albums of 2010:
1. Sade, Soldier of Love
2. Dust Congress, Open Your Eyes, The World is Shit
3. The Cure, Disintegration (Re-issue) (one of my all-time favorites)
4. Barry Manilow, The Greatest Love Songs of All Time
5. Drink to Victory, Health
Aaron White (Denton musician, Old Snack)
Local Music Summary: A notable asset to the music scene here has been the band Final Club, whose approach elicits comparisons to early indie guitar heroes such as Dinosaur Jr., My Bloody Valentine, and the Pixies, but with more bratty punk snarl. On the flip side, “whittle-core” is still spawning new bands while performing CPR on the tired mainstays of that scene/church group. Characterized by the inclusion of old-timey instruments, like ukuleles, banjos, and mandolins, yet lacking the ability to actually play them, these bands are seemingly only interested in cultivating an appearance of multi-instrumental musicianship and some kind of ramblin’ Dust Bowl hipster fashion without having endured poverty or encountered the need to wear work clothes. One day they will all have to get jobs and move away, so whatever.
General Music Summary: One of the few albums or artists I heard this year worth repeated listens, was MGMT’s Congratulations, and I thought Neon Indian and Ariel Pink’s 2010 offerings were enjoyable as well, if on a less consistent level. Point being I listened to most anything I knew of that came out this year, and very little made any lasting impression.
Best Trend: …
Worst Trend: “Surf lo-fi punk” bands, or whatever genre tag is appropriate right now: Wavves, Best Coast, Surfer Blood, etc. It’s not surf; it’s not punk. I “get it,” I just think it’s really disposable and half-assed.
Top Albums of the Year:
1. MGMT, Congratulations
2. Orange Juice, Coals To Newcastle Box Set
3. Rangers, Suburban Tours
4. Final Club, Hot Gaze EP
Best Albums I Discovered This Year: Nightshadow, The Square Root Of Two; The Concretes, The Concretes; Black Devil, Disco Club; Cuddly Toys, Guillotine Theater; Kurt Vile, Childish Prodigy.
Wanz Dover (Dallas musician, Blixaboy, The Black Dots)
Best Trend: The rise of electronic music and DJ Culture is constantly expanding and reinventing itself to create new music that has never been heard before. Technology is pushing the envelope of music listening, music consumption, and music creation to heights never seen before.
Worst Trend: People treating music like cheap fast food. People no longer buy music like they used to. This is destroying the industry. You get what you pay for, and if people don’t support musicians all they will get is cheap disposable music with little depth to it. There is a reason Lady Gaga is as big as she is.
I have been mostly involved with my own album this year so I was not checking out as much as I usually do. When not listening to electronic music, I tended to listen to more old post-punk, soul, classic punk, and garage rock.
Favorite Albums This Year (in no particular order):
Robert Hood , Omega
Bell Gardens, Hangups need Company
Budos Band, Budos Band III
Digital Mystikz, Return II Space
Ellen Allien, Dust
Pantha Du Prince, Black Noise
Eleven Tigers, Clouds Are Mountains
Ben Klock, Berghain 04
Swans, My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky
Top image: Neon Indian’s 2009 release, Psychic Chasms, gained traction in 2010 as the former Denton-based artist toured the country.