The Best in Dallas Music: 2010 Year in Review

Is the sun setting on the golden age for the Denton scene?

Ariel Pink has been one of the most influential musicians of the last decade, but isn't alone in that respect. courtesy photo
Year-end pieces are tricky. Lists featuring “the best” work of a given year are popular, they lack accountability, and they are easy to create. Those are the three deadliest drugs for writers. Still, I’ll take a hit of that.

Dallas music in 2010 was like a late season of some dramatic TV series you’ve obsessed over for years. The series was previously successful, so now the writers can coast on reputation, maybe not work as hard (kind of like Denton ever since The New York Times piece and the Paste Magazine article. Come on — that was 2008!). This season doesn’t feel the same, but you’ve worked so long to get here that you spend the first few episodes in denial. (I thought, “Okay, after South By Southwest, things will start looking up.”) Maybe some of the original series creators leave. (Well, a lot of people that put this place on the map did, anyway.) All of a sudden there are more “dream sequences.” (Deep Ellum is cool again?) Your favorite character dies (no comment). Now a damn actor wants to direct (kind of like me writing this article).

All of a sudden the action takes place in some strange locale, as opposed to the one to which you’ve grown accustomed, and the connection seems forced (well, when all the house venues shut down, you’ll go anywhere). Old story-lines are resurrected for no reason. (Did I mention that Club Dada was in Deep Ellum?) And so that’s how this year was, and I’m sorry. It was Season Six.

The National Scene And Beyond:
Simon Reynolds, who might be the most important music writer living today, said early in the year that “Ariel Pink was one of the decade’s most influential musicians” when referring to the 2000s. I would say that’s true, but take it a step further. I would say that Houston’s DJ Screw, along with Pink, ended up being the other most influential aesthetic visionary in regard to recent trends, when you consider what towering figures they both are in the world of modern recording tastes. People often complain that the ‘80s revival is relentless, as Reynolds does in the piece linked-to above.

DJ Screw is an aesthetic visionary. courtesy photo
But when one considers that Screw started making music around 1990, and Pink in 1996, we have actually been fully entrenched in a ‘90s revival for a while now. Hopefully this serves as a public service message for the few of you who may not have noticed.

Maybe it’s due to a lack of hands-on experience, but music writers often give too much or too little credit to either the trickery—or lack thereof—in the recording process, leaving a gaggle of snickering musicians and producers. Both the absurdly poor quality of Pink’s late-90s recordings and the impossibly contaminated anti-production of chopping and screwing tapes that Screw pioneered, have become so commonplace that they are now a worn-out theme in much of this year’s underground and even above-ground crop of new acts.

It’s a theme you see more and more. There is a need to exploit the gaps in new technology so that their inherent limitations aren’t as visible, aren’t as audible. The limitations aren’t “cool” yet, and, as a result, the only thing to do is to smudge the imperfect line. Use the “Hipstomatic” instead of the iPhone’s real camera. Overdrive every nasty simulated effect. Slow down the song. Warp it. Destroy it. Why not? Chances are it will sound better anyway.

It’s not all bad, and I even like some of it. But despite Ariel Pink’s increasing flirtation with the mainstream, he was a hated weirdo at one time. DJ Screw is worshipped now, but also a one-time weirdo. His music really used to infuriate people. So what I want to know is: Where are the infuriating weirdos now? Not the pretend and plagiarizing weirdos. I’m still looking. I’m still listening.

Best Trend: The best development of 2010 is that 2007 has become so lame that everything it represents has been laid to rest. That said, I want to start a business called Club 2007 that only plays Bloghouse and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. until it becomes cool again and I put kids through college. If only someone had started “Club 1983” in the early-to-mid 1990s, they’d be rolling in money right now.

Worst Trend: Goths are actually hip and travel in gangs, so I have to start worrying about being picked on by them again.

Top Albums:
1. Farah: Gay Boy 12″
2. Rangers: Suburban Tours
3. Ariel Pink: Before Today
4. Orange Juice: BBC Sessions (From the Box Set “Coals To Newcastle”)
5. Numerators/Coathangers Split 7-inch

Read part 2 of FrontRow’s three-part series on the Best in Dallas Music: 2010 Year in Review.