Featured Music: Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Killer or Filler?

Whence the thoughtful, testosterone-addled solo rockers?


Is it just me or have there been a lot of great albums released over the past 12 months? April’s In Other Words, Lauren Fine’s Paper Airports, Flickerstick’s Tarantula, the Fort Worth Teen Scene volumes, Tommy Alverson’s Heroes & Friends, Johnny Case’s Waiting For The Moment, Bloodties’ Into the Dark Decade, the Acoustic Mafia comp, really new ones from Coma Rally, Collin Herring, This Damn Town, and Black Tie Dynasty, and I’m sure a bunch of others I’m forgetting at the moment. You’ve noticed too, right?
The thing is that among all of these great records, few are from young solo rock-ish artists of the male persuasion. Pop-rock radio is jam-packed with them — Jack Johnson, Ray LaMontagne, John Mayer. But Fort Worth is noticeably lacking. What gives?
The obvious answer is that the success of Mayer et al. is a fluke. A more thoughtful explanation, however, probably has something to do with our town’s indolence in embracing fads. As we took about five years to catch on to the martini phenomenon of 1999, we’ll take our sweet time warming up to the idea of emotionally sensitive dudes with guitars.
There are actually about a dozen local blokes who fit the description. Some — including John Price, Kevin Aldridge, and Tim Locke — are well-known. Most are not. Among this latter group is Broose Dickinson (not the guy from Iron Maiden), formerly of TOOMuch TV and Pop Poppins. The ’90s-era Deep Ellum stalwart has been living in Splendora since 2000 and apparently exploring his Anglophilia. Two recent discs of his, London Static and Psychosomatic Static 1.1, have the new baroque feel of the second British Invasion, during MTV’s nascence. The choruses are big and plaintive, almost whiny. Bright synth sparkles serve as sonic tinsel. The guitars jangle and jive. Though plastic, everything strains for enormity and significance. Très ’80s.
Dickinson is saved by the earnestness with which he delivers the material. He’s not just ripping off Greed Decade giants for nostalgia’s sake. A unique quality shines through most of the tracks. One song that would have done wonders as a single in 1985 is “Here and That’s Enough,” a soft, drum-less ballad that floats on wispy synth washes and Dickinson’s clip-clopping acoustic guitar. Equally pretty is “A Walk in Your Love,” a toe-tapper whose chorus is a neat little union of Dickinson’s tiny voice, echoing background vox, and a bouncy synth figure. Both numbers have a rawness about them that, though probably unintentional, leavens the syrup.
Dickinson is definitely a lover, like Walker Wood, one of the scene’s most beloved artists and scenesters (and a personal friend). Wood is about this close to releasing a full-length of new material — what better time to talk about his first full-length, from about a year ago? All Good Things ... has a little bit of everything, from Beck-ish country-R&B (“Fly on the Wall”) to indie-inflected doo-wop (“Need You Here”) to shoe-gazey singer-songwriter rock, obviously the sound closest to Wood’s heart. “Turning Around,” the first track, is his signature song — rightfully. Over the languid strumming of an acoustic guitar, a high lonesome slide wails back and forth (think Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” or anything by the Cowboy Junkies). Wood comes on all nasally and Neil Young-ian, and by the time he reaches the chorus — a beautiful, haunting marriage of melancholy and regret — he’s got you completely hooked. As with “Here Come the Stars” and “Wait for You,” Wood is at his best when he’s going for deep and dark.
It’s definitely not easy, doing deep and dark and still maintaining some semblance of non-ironic seriousness. One of the town’s best solo, male, rock-ish purveyors of deep and dark is John LaMonica, formerly of My Spacecoaster and currently of Tiebreaker. How Shall They Hear?, his five-song e.p. on Spune Productions, is masterful — technically and artistically. There may be no quieter song than “Kids,” the first track, a tear-jerker composed of a four-note riff plucked gently and slowly on a steely acoustic over which LaMonica essentially whispers the lyrics into your ear in his trembling tenor, as if he’s hanging from the cross and dying of thirst; the chorus is bedecked in twinkling glockenspiel chimes. Never has so little said so much.
The rest of the disc is similarly grandiose in its minimalism. “Tiny” starts off as a normal weeper but by the middle becomes a meditative dirge revolving around the peaceful interplay of dubs of LaMonica’s voice. Echoes of “whoah-whoah-whoah” overlap as the song disintegrates note by note until nothing but a white wall of sound remains. The tune probably wouldn’t translate well live, but as a piece of studio genius, it’s gorgeous. Producer Casey Diiorio should win two Grammys for this record — one for producing, one for just being a bad-ass.
A lot of this kind of music goes well with a broken heart. Maybe there’s something about this age of the sexually, professionally, intellectually, and emotionally liberated woman that has led to all of this morose masculinity. I am man, hear me weep.

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