Well, this week brings a close to the current year, and the requisite New Year's Eve celebrations to accompany the transition. Be sure to check out all the goings-on in our New Year's Eve Guide, found in the center of this issue. In the meantime, have a joyous new year.


Friday, Dec. 30 seems to be the night on which most of the action is taking place this week, so here's a quick run-down of some of your options.

Calexico and a few of their friends are performing at the annual holiday benefit for KXCI and Solar Culture Gallery, with the lineup also including Mariachi Luz de Luna, Nick Luca and Salvador Duran. As far as Calexico's set goes, you can expect to hear old favorites (aided and abetted by the mariachis) as well as new material that will appear on Garden Ruin, the band's forthcoming album, due out April 11 on Quarterstick. The new material, some of which was previewed at Calexico's joint appearance with Iron and Wine at the Rialto in October, is somewhat more straightforward, and less influenced by the Southwest than the bulk of their oeuvre until now. Additionally, the album contains no instrumentals, a first for any Calexico release.

Watch the past collide with the future at 8 p.m. on Friday, at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott St. Tickets, if any are available by the time you're reading this, are $20 and available in advance at KXCI and Antigone Books, or online at Call 623-1000 for more information.

Mike DeCicco is a rather busy man. Somehow he finds time to front dark '80s-pop-saluting trainhoppers The Daring Few, play drums for Sencha (both of whom will be performing, along with The Provacative Whites, at a free show that begins at 9 p.m. at Club Congress, on Wednesday, Jan. 4) and release albums that he creates himself under the Musica Obscura moniker. This week brings the release of another such album, and the requisite CD release party that accompanies it.

Musica Obscura has gone through its share of changes over the years, with the one constant being that DeCicco creates almost everything that appears on each CD. But, according to an e-mail sent by DeCicco, the music of Musica Obscura was never really meant to be heard by the public. At the turn of the century, DeCicco made two full albums, but never released them. In 2001, he made another, The Lodges, of which he gave 30 copies to friends and family. Those who heard it encouraged him to take the project to the masses, and the following year, he released There Is No Sound ... and put together a band to play it live. That band underwent several lineup changes in its rather brief existence, issuing another album, 2004's Everything Ends (and not issuing another completed album, Everything Ends Again), before DeCicco broke up the band and put Musica Obscura on (ostensibly permanent) hiatus.

This week's release of Bitter: 9 Short Films, though, signals a new chapter in the ongoing saga that is Musica Obscura. DeCicco has revived the name for the new album, which is intended to be a "pre-soundtrack to a DVD of the same name that is planned to be released in December of 2006." As for the nine songs themselves, they fall firmly in the '80s synth-pop realm of, say, Depeche Mode or Tears for Fears, assuming neither ever made it big enough to afford a proper studio. As such, they wallow in the same self-absorbed mire as those bands, as well as countless forgotten others from the same era.

DeCicco is talented. His programming is economical and often intriguing; and though his voice is somewhat affected, it's got great range and tone. It's pleasing to the ear. But, oh, the drama contained herein, and the language used to convey it. I've never much cared for Nine Inch Nails, because I've had a hard time with Trent Reznor's lyrics, which have always struck me as the musings from a journal of any depressed high school kid, and my criticism is much the same here. On the fourth track of Bitter, our narrator is "still drowning in this pool of tears and gasping for some air"; on "It Is Such a Long Drive With No One to Talk to" he admits, "I know that I may never find a peace of mind / They're never gonna find a cure"; on opening track "Everybody," he welcomes us to the album with the following invitations: "Have yourselves a drink / Now you're like my shrink," and "Everybody gather round / Listen to these fucked-up sounds / that I'm making / with my sorrow." It makes it rather difficult to enjoy the mini quiche when our party host is so darn mopey. ("He locked himself in the bathroom with a bottle of scotch?! Again?! He does this every time!") It might not be so offputting if DeCicco could come up with inventive ways to say, "I'm miserable"; instead, he merely settles for "I'm miserable."

The parts I enjoy most--and I do enjoy a lot of this--are when the vocals aren't so pronounced that I pay so much attention to what he's actually saying. I suppose some albums just weren't meant for lyric sheets.

The CD release party for Bitter: 9 Short Films begins at 9 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 30 at Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., with an album listening segment, followed by live performances from, in order of appearance, 5ft2, The Daring Few and Musica Obscura. Admission is free. Call 798-1298 for further details.

Just as one album is being released on Friday night, another will be recorded. Though Last Call Brawlers started out in the fall of 1999, the lineup the band settled on the following year is the one that has been through thick and thin, and the one that remains today. And, we mean today! Drummer Stevo is moving to Seattle in January, and the rest of the Brawlers--Justin, Eric and Marty--haven't decided yet whether to replace him or retire the band for good to the halls of rockabilly lore. But before they make that heady decision, the foursome are taking it to the stage one more time, and documenting the proceedings for good measure.

On Friday night, the Brawlers will perform two sets that are being documented on audio and video for a subsequent live album called End of an Era, to be released on Ohio label Rock N Roll Purgatory, and its accompanying DVD. They'll be performing songs they haven't played in a few years, a few ditties from their current set list and some new songs being played for the first time. The show begins at 9 p.m., at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St., with an opening set from Mighty Joel Ford. Admission is $3. Call 622-3535 for more 411.

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