That Blusom even exists is something of a fluke. Vocalist Mike Behrenhausen (who also drums with Maraco 5-0) and electronic specialist Jme (aka Jamie White, formerly of the late, lamented Acrobat Down) recorded the material that makes up their debut CD more as a creative exercise than a commercial venture. Fortunately, the folks at Kansas City's Second Nature Recordings recognized it for the original and invigorating music that it is. Cuts such as "On Glass" and "X-Photo" combine acoustic and synthetic instrumentation in a manner that's high-tech yet wonderfully human. This rare combination demonstrates how wise the members of Blusom were to Go Slowly All the Way Round the Outside.
A lot of groups both lousy and laudable have made their presence felt this year, but none has seared its image onto this town's collective retina like Bright Channel. Formed from the remnants of the overlooked acts Volplane and Pteranodon, the trio coalesced in February 2001. Since then, it's been a force of noise and beauty, beguiling audiences with a sound that encompasses everything from My Bloody Valentine's bleary psychedelia to the ice-rimmed ghostliness of Joy Division. With swooping melodies, filmy textures and chiseled rhythms, the band's live performances feel less like rock shows than sonic sculptures. But be warned: Although Bright Channel is without a doubt one of the best bands in town, holding your breath for them to release a disc could be fatal.
Reason, the Fray's second EP, is a fitting introduction to an outfit that came out of nowhere and quickly rose to prominence. Though technically founded in 2002, the quintet didn't hit its stride -- or gig much, for that matter -- until around the time Reason was released, late last year. Led by two ridiculously talented vocalists, Joe King and Isaac Slade, and bolstered by anthemic, piano-driven material that could hold its own with anything from across the pond, the Fray is the undisputed valedictorian of the class of 2003.
What's in a name? In the world of rock and roll, a lot. Remember Ned's Atomic Dustbin? What about Nuclear Valdez? Uh-huh, that's what we thought. Some may be inclined to avoid an outfit with a goofy name like Rubber Planet just on principle, but think of the tasty fruit beneath a kiwi's unattractive, hair-laden exterior. Listeners will soon discover that underneath Rubber Planet's ill-conceived moniker are spoonfuls of succulent, guitar-driven pop ditties delivered by a cat named Silver. Somebody get these guys an image consultant already.
Brandy in the greenhouse? Fetch it yourself, Thurston Howell III. Domestic drudgery finally takes its rightful place behind swingin' on chandeliers and flingin' poo.
With everyone getting in on the Atkins craze -- we hear that the U.S. Postal Service is ready to issue low-carb stamps -- it's about time for the backlash. Cue the Affairs. This quartet cranks out high-energy power pop that pays glorious homage to the aggressive yet sugary sounds of past masters such as Superchunk, the Buzzcocks and the Who, sweetened by the crystalline vocals of bassist Anne Snyder. Pick up the Affairs' debut single when it comes out this spring: You may pack on a few extra impact carbs, but you'll get a hell of a workout.
After wiring a primitive microphone from a rusty Falstaff beer can, resourceful bellower Reverend DeadEye discovered a new way to speak in tongues. The Oklahoma-bred Bible-thumper creates an unholy noise with his mike and homemade slide guitar (with a resonator fashioned from a discarded wok), transforming the dirty Delta blues into a foot-stompin' hellfire revival. Can we get an Amen?
Magic Cyclops (born Scott Fuller) has been inciting head-scratching and bootie-bumping ever since he began mixing on-stage aerobics with cheesy '80s music a couple of years ago. And just as the mythological Cyclops had to make do with just one eye, so does Magic Cyclops: He deejays entire sets with just an iPod. Hot dance tracks like Rod Stewart's "Young Turks" and a-ha's "Take on Me" keep the crowd pumpin' while Fuller -- sporting oversized shades, an iridescent track suit and a Hulk Hogan headband -- blazes through his bizarre routine of calisthenics and cans of Hamm's beer. Magic, indeed.
While Outkast stole this year's Grammys with its cut-and-paste opus Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, George & Caplin, a much more modest duo, were employing a similar pop-exhuming technique. But instead of funk and hip-hop, the humble twosome of Jason Iselin and Jeffrey Stevens blends vintage synth pop and modern technology to create an atmospheric, hook-suffused sound awash in acoustic guitars and skittish circuitry. Still, if you need proof of the parallels between these seemingly polarized groups, see George & Caplin live and witness their ethereal, ice-cold rendition of "Hey Ya!"
Loud and brazen, Jet Black Joy is not trying to change the world. But as practitioners of a rousing, bombastic sound that frontman Jimmy Jet lovingly refers to as "wet-panty rock," the four-piece might make some members of the audience need to change their frillies. Meow!

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