For the first time this year, the Tucson Weekly's TAMMIES include Critics' Choice awards.
For the last decade, the TAMMIES have honored Tucson's best musicians by awarding Readers' Choice awards, and we will continue to do so. But the Readers' Choice awards don't always reflect the best of the best. Some bands are better at getting band members, fans, family members, etc. to vote for them than others. Some musicians campaign for the awards, while others do not. And, let's face it, some bands know how to engage in "ballot stuffing" in undetectable ways, while other musicians are too stupid to do so.
This year, Weekly music editor Stephen Seigel, and regular Weekly music writers Gene Armstrong, Annie Holub and Curtis McCrary voted on the Critics' Choice awards in five categories. Next year, our intent is to get as many local music critics together--from all the newspapers, magazines, Web sites and broadcasters that cover local music--and award a full slate of Critics' Choice awards.
With that, here are this year's Critics' Choice award winners.
Best Band or Artist: CalexicoRunners up: The Red Switch, The Knockout Pills
From their origins as a mostly instrumental duo--originally called Spoke--that made home-recorded tapes, to the fully formed juggernaut of a band they are today (even if it's not always clear who's actually in the band at any given time), Joey Burns and John Convertino have become--to quote 50 Cent--internationally known and locally respected, and for good reason. With each successive release, Calexico has upped the ante, adding a variety of textures to the mix (mariachi horns, jazz flourishes) and consistently searching for new ones, while still managing to maintain a distinguishable sound.
While they've only got two EPs of recorded material to their credit, and even though their engrossing live shows have become more sporadic recently, The Red Switch have a catalog of incredible material that seems to expand with every performance. The band has incalculable potential. Here's hoping we see more of them in the upcoming year.
Comprising four veterans of the Tucson music scene (including ex-Weird Lovemakers, ex-Los Federales and ex-Resonars), The Knockout Pills merge '60s-influenced hooks with punk energy and attitude to arrive at something completely inspired. Expect their following to grow outside of Tucson soon enough, as their next album is slated for release on highly regarded punk label Estrus Records.
Best New Release: Considered to Tears, Nowhere ManRunners up: The Knockout Pills, self-titled; So I Won't Forget, Chris Holiman and the Downtown Saints; Jim Waters Presents ..., The Deludes; I Think of You, The Solace Bros.
Though Nowhere Man performs as a band, Considered to Tears was entirely written, produced and performed by Vikas Pawa, formerly of The Beating and Fez. A far cry from the usual lo-fi, home-recorded onanism one might expect from such a configuration, Considered to Tears mines elements of country, Beatles-esque pop, arena rock, electronica and all points in between, benefiting from Pawa's intelligent songwriting and inventive arrangements.
While it can't quite capture the ferocity of the band's live performances, The Knockout Pills' self-titled debut allows the listener to hear the subtleties of their excellent songs often obscured on stage.
Growing a bit older and starting a family may have taken him out of the limelight, but it hasn't prevented influential singer-songwriter Chris Holiman from churning out a fresh new batch of well crafted guitar-pop songs on So I Won't Forget.
A pair of trios previously only documented on EPs, The Deludes specialize in catchy power-pop songs, found in abundance on Jim Waters Presents ... , while The Solace Bros.' debut full-length combines the unlikely combination of baritone guitar and vintage synth to arrive at a sound at once familiar and utterly unique.
Best Songwriter: Joey Burns (Calexico)Runners up: Al Perry, Josh Levine (The Red Switch), Andy Gardner (La Cerca)
Blossoming over the years from Giant Sand member (and half of the most sought-out rhythm section in the indie universe) to full-fledged lyrical storyteller, Joey Burns litters his songs with Southwestern references that Tucsonans can especially appreciate (what other "local hotel ghosts" in the "neon hub of downtown" could he possibly be talking about, after all?). While his story-songs have consistently improved over time, last year's Feast of Wire propelled Calexico to new heights, tackling topical subject matter like border issues and urban sprawl with finesse and a lack of heavy-handedness.
While he's the furthest thing from prolific, every song Al Perry composes is an instant classic. Here's hoping he starts to put pen to paper more often in the coming year.
In contrast, The Red Switch's Josh Levine and La Cerca's Andy Gardner seem to crank out superb, fully formed songs so often, their respective bandmates couldn't possibly keep up with them; that's certainly no slam on them, just a testament to the boundless songwriting talents of their frontmen.
Best Live Performer: (TIE) The Knockout Pills, Chango MaloRunners up: Molehill Orkestrah, Tom Walbank, Al Foul, Bob Log III
The fact that The Knockout Pills are smartasses only makes their live shows that much more fun; but when they get down to business and launch into a song, it's hard not to be blown away by their sheer intensity. What Chango Malo lack in instantly recognizable hooks (see 'em a few times, and you'll get it), they more than make up for in sheer passion and exuberance, qualities that feed directly back to their audience.
Ebbing, flowing and often climaxing in what can only be described as transcendence, the Molehill Orkestrah's take on gypsy music is the closest thing in the Old Pueblo to aural sex. Always a reliable performer, Brit expat Tom Walbank has been on fire lately, with his authentic take on the blues reaching levels at which he'd previously only hinted.
Al Foul is the rare performer who surpasses the limitations of his genre--he's quite simply the most entertaining rockabilly act we've ever witnessed. Then there's the one-man band who plays Delta blues at lightning-fast speed while manipulating beats with his feet, and singing through a telephone mic mounted on the helmet he wears while performing--how the hell could Bob Log III be left off this list?
Best New Band or Performer: Galactic Federation of LoveRunners up: Bombs for the Bored, George Squier Orchestra
Featuring a charismatic frontman called LemonMan who has an affinity for UFO conspiracy theories and a way of charming the knickers off a crowd, and a backing unit that includes members of Sugarbush, Galactic Federation of Love's recent hilarious and theatrical live performances literally cannot be ignored and have provided them with a buzz that is deafening.
Grafting the '80s-rock-influenced vocals of prodigy Noah Gabbard onto post-punk arrangements inspired by, but less angular than, Fugazi's, Bombs for the Bored's future is as blindingly bright as the desert sun.
Including past members of Clovenhoof and the dude behind Electroshockbox, the co-ed George Squier Orchestra's raw brand of quirky new wave-inspired pop has only improved each time we've caught them.