Even without releasing a proper album during our voting period, the multinational/multicultural Calexico once again came out on top this year. And why not? The band spent a good portion of the year taking their exceptional music--the sound of Tucson--to all corners of the world.
Though they've been around for almost five years, power-trio The Deludes really came into their own recently. Adding a ferocious new drummer to their ranks and an excellent new album, Sedation Nation, to their canon, the band has finally realized their potential.
It's easy to take Greyhound Soul for granted; after all, they've been churning out their patented brand of classic-sounding, soulful desert rock for well more than a decade. Luckily, our voting critics haven't forgotten just how good they truly are.
One listen to The Beta Sweat's debut album will have you lamenting their demise. Combining blues-rock riffs la Led Zeppelin, a DIY approach straight out of the riot grrrl scene of yore and a singer who swoops from a whisper to a wail in the bat of an eyelash, the trio made good on their promise with Let's Shake Some Dust, whose echoey production only abetted their power. R.I.P., The Beta Sweat.
Comprising veterans of bands from Tucson past, Found Dead on the Phone released an uncompromising and difficult-to-describe album in The Ballads of Kaspar Crow. It's a concept album about the life of a feral child, but musically, it's everywhere at once: prog rock, blue-eyed soul, old-school emo, the kitchen sink. It's all here, and it's all extremely impressive.
Adding a full band to back him suited Will Elliott just fine. He sounds more confident than ever on Beat This Horse, which sounds like a bunch of friends hanging out, playing their buddy's tunes.
Talk about longevity: Howe Gelb, whether with Giant Sand, as a solo artist or in one of his spinoffs (like The Band of Blacky Ranchette), has been writing songs that combine homespun truths, wit and a touch of the surreal, with unwavering consistency, for about two decades now. If anyone deserves local-legend status, it's Howe Gelb.
Too traditional to fall into the freak-folk camp, but just a bit too oddball to be considered traditional folk, Will Elliott's songs occupy their own glorious little spot in the universe.
Phenom Andrew Collberg sounds as if he's listened to an awful lot of Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Elliott Smith records, and soaked up every ounce of knowledge there is to gain. Better yet, he's able to incorporate that wisdom into his own songs without sounding like he's aping his influences.
What Tom Walbank and the Ambassadors do isn't rocket science: They basically just play traditional Delta blues, after all. But it's how they play it that matters. If you could somehow bottle the energy that Walbank and his mates generate during a single performance, you could power a decent-sized barrio for a week.
Toss six best friends on stage, arm them with an arsenal of high-energy ska-punk-funk-soul songs, wind 'em up, and watch 'em work themselves into a frenetic blur. That's pretty much the formula for a Chango Malo show, and it hasn't stopped working yet.
With youthful exuberance on their side, the young'uns of Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout put on a show that isn't for everyone. (Those who recoil at the sight of male genitalia flopping around, for example, might want to stay away.) But the group updates the grand Tucson tradition of disturbed/disturbing art-freak bands willing to do just about anything to provoke a reaction.
Every year, a band seemingly emerges out of nowhere to capture the hearts and minds of Tucson's music lovers, and this year, that band is Mostly Bears. The trio gathers sprinklings of prog rock à la the Mars Volta, the arty song constructions of Radiohead and even acoustic balladry, then makes something entirely new out of it all: a melodic, cathartic, controlled chaos.
Equally informed by '60s pop and modern indie-pop/rock, with just a hint of Americana, The Swim perform the type of songs you'll be humming long after their debut album, We're Green, is done playing. If this is the sound of their greenery, just wait until they reach full maturity.
Yes, Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout have got the live-performance thing down, largely due to the antics of their namesake frontman. But look past that, and you've got a trio of musicians who are stunningly accomplished--even if you ignore the fact that they're barely of legal age--backing that maniac.