We asked a question to two of our music writers: whether they released a great album, went on a tear with shows, broke through with national media, or otherwise impressed, what bands or musicians made a move that made us take notice of them in 2012? Here are Dick Sullivan’s picks. For Christopher Mosley’s choices, go here.
RTB2: Months ago, my fearless editor admitted to feeling “a little Ryan Thomas Becker saturated” by my content. Admittedly, my critical distance is probably compromised, but I will keep beating this drum until it breaks or someone takes it away. For Ryan Thomas Becker to avoid being on my year end lists, he has to stop doing things that make me care about music. It does not matter which criterion you prefer: lyricism, musicianship, showmanship. RTB2 hits for the cycle every time out, which is about once a week. This year, Becker and drummer Grady Don Sandlin released their second album of bulletproof rock and roll, so they remain top-of-the-heap.
A.Dd+: I am late to most parties, but especially the Dallas hip hop party. A.Dd+ is prevalent as a brand, but until I saw them command the stage at Fun Fun Fun, I had no idea how well they deserved the notoriety. Able to navigate rapid flows and engage crowds with their deft interplay, A.Dd+ is a rap duo I would be thrilled to bear the flag for Dallas hip hop.
J. Rhodes: I wanted a hip hop album rooted in urban Dallas, something at gut-level that told a local story. Weeks later, I discovered Oak Cliff Huxtable, an album about Dallas made by a native son. J. Rhodes is connected to a very capable production team, one that lent their talents to The Game’s recently released Jesus Piece. But for Oak Cliff’s sake, I hope Rhodes makes enough time to stay in the MC game himself.
Reverend Horton Heat: I already cared about Jim Heath, but 2012 enabled me to appreciate him within a new paradigm: that of the career artist. I think it is a shame that Heath is not more celebrated outside rockabilly circles, especially considering how strikingly his own talents veer into other genres. But knowing that Heath is fine being the somewhat-appreciated-old-guy casts him in a new, enduring light. He is no longer a worn token of the Sub-Pop days trying to battle young bands for air time. Heath is rather the amiable patriarch of Dallas music, still picking at his guitar, quite content to still be playing a gig somewhere whether you know about it or not.
Bad Design: Bad Design’s cagey math rock scratches a particular itch that almost no other local band can reach. The music is both sophisticated in its agility and vulgar in its forcefulness. Add to that a signature voice from Steve Altuna and you have an unrepeatable alloy of promising music.
Sarah Jaffe: As the saying goes, nobody cheers for Goliath. In her steady rise to notoriety, Jaffe has her own share of detractors. But despite my associate’s suspicion that Jaffe is “too big to fail,” I maintain that, for the time being, she is simply too good to fail. No, Jaffe’s latest album, The Body Wins, is not as pioneering as some of the hyperbole-throwing media claim. But the album is good. And for all I can see, Jaffe is handling the accolades and popularity with grace while acknowledging the musical community that raised her. That is a rare combination and I give Jaffe credit for living up to expectations.
Satans of Soft Rock: Tony Ferraro is such an effective utility player in the Denton scene – Hares on the Mountain, Danny Rush and the Designated Drivers, The Last Joke – that you might forget, or never knew, how excellent a songwriter he is. With Satans, Ferraro gets to continue flexing the pop-song-writing muscles he developed with the now defunct Eaton Lake Tonics. With new songs like “Satanic Verses” and “Diaspora,” it is clear he has not lost his touch for composing catchy lyrical hooks.
Daniel Hart: Hart is another product from the Polyphonic Spree machine. The singer/violinist is about two national tours and a million record sales from being discussed with the same reverence as fellow ex-Spree member St. Vincent. But if the arc of Daniel Hart’s career can mirror the baroque grandeur of his debut album, The Orientalist, he just may get there.
Atomic Tanlines: No, it is not the glorious afro or Ally Play-Nice’s reckless stage presence (when she can keep herself on the stage). Nor is it that such slam-dancing chaos is elicited by four kids who look too young to vote. All of that helps, but what makes me doubt my conviction that punk died with Jerry Nolan is actually Pablo Trill’s throwback guitar work. He seems to channel something of the punk genesis that often eludes others, capturing its rawness and excitement with nuance instead of bombast.
Cerulean Giallo: Here is my sly declaration of relevance slipped into a list of safe ones. Cerulean Giallo would have escaped my attention too if not for their Violitionist session. The bass and guitar duo may be a tough sell with a formula of caterwauling vocals reverbed over 10 minute jams. But Justin Talley’s bass, which sounds like dirty wrapped in evil smothered in gravel, is used to forge some absolutely captivating riffs.
Photo at top: A.Dd+ performs at Gorilla vs. Bear Fest (Credit: Andi Harman)