All of the good and bad in the Orlando music scene this year: the 2014 Undies

Niko Is
Niko Is Christopher Garcia

Yes, yes, y'all. It's time again to salute (and occasionally boo) the year's superlatives in Orlando music.

The 2014 Undies

Best young acts: Sales (buzzing electro-pop act); False Punk (noise-cranked hardcore band raging with potential); Case Work (bright indie-rock project of Saskatchewan's Chandler Strang); Mr. 3 (the city's sharpest rap humorist on the rise); Laney Jones (a recent NewSong Contest national finalist with a deepening folk sound); Dzoavits (a black-metal monolith with a powerful, current sound); ARK (one-man electronic act that's both full and organic); The Welzeins (revamped garage-punk duo that's widening their rock & roll horizon).

Best local releases: Roadkill Ghost Choir – In Tongues (national splash for the area's most complete band); Flashlights – Bummer Summer (national breakout for the '90s-styled fuzz-punks on Hard Rock Records); Niko Is – Good Blood (this album convinced Talib Kweli to sign the distinctive rapper); Sleazy McQueen ft. Blowfly and Robbie Hardkiss – "The Walking Beat" (a Florida fusion that pairs dirty-ass funk with sleek, elemental house); False Punk – Kick Rocks (possibly this year's most exciting local punk record); Ray Zinnbrann – Time Tunnel 1983-1988 (an infinitely interesting audiovisual retrospective of Orlando eccentric Ray Brazen); Sabals – "Blistering" (a galloping indie-pop gem that got some KEXP play); Moonmen From Mars – The Horrors of Dr. Jones (even with all their humorous camp, their anthem-punk's no joke).

Best in show: American Party Machine. A maximum blowout of high farce, ridiculous costumes and dick-swinging rock & roll, their shows aren't concerts; they're circuses.

Promoter of the year: Norsekorea. My 2012 cover story on them was based on solid but early promise. But under Kyle Raker, NK became more deeply influential in Orlando's indie scene than even I predicted. Now, after singlehandedly ushering Backbooth back into live relevance, Raker has a prime venue as his home base and is upping the game.

Best scene trend: Experienced promoters. Speaking of good booking, Will's Pub and the Milk Bar have both invested in it by hiring Tierney Tough and Jessica Pawli respectively (although Pawli recently left Milk Bar), both promoters of experience and distinction.

Worst scene trend: Venue closings. Between the Red Fox Lounge, the Peacock Room and Bar-BQ-Bar, Orlando's music culture sustained deep casualties this year.

Best continuance: Rocco's carries the Red Fox torch. Immediately after the monumental closing of the beloved Red Fox, the acclaimed Italian resto extended its nighttime bar hours, hired Red Fox bar staff and began adopting its marquee talent like Lorna Lambey.

Best show trend: Local history lessons. Between Will's Pub's anniversary month, the Firestone reunion (Firestone Live) and the Obliterati reunion (Will's Pub), this year was a refreshing reminder that we actually have some roots.

Best new concert series: Off the Avenue Live. Set on the North Avenue Studios grounds, this outdoor series, planned to be quarterly, brings the high-profile work of their Off the Avenue web series to the live stage with that unmistakable DeLand hospitality.

Best live music competition: Hat Trick (Will's Pub). An inspired collision of homegrown talent and spontaneity, Phil Longo's derby of randomly selected collaboration is pure creativity in motion.

Best residency: Eugene Snowden's Ten Pints of Truth (Lil Indies). Orlando's greatest hard-soul icon delivers the city's most authentic rock & roll weekly.

Best acoustic night: Acoustic Soundcheck (the Imperial). I almost can't believe this category appears here myself, but the Modern Music Movement has actually injected some spine into a usually soft-core format.

Most promising local label: Eye Four Records. North Avenue Studios has already made a leading, tasteful mark in music production and web video; look for this affiliated record label to do the same.

Dumbest controversy: Me Chinese. The lather over a mildly objectionable moniker landed these local acid-punks in the crosshairs of the jumpy PC gestapo, spreading all the way up to NYC in advance of their CMJ appearances. Meanwhile, North Korea wages war on American free speech over a Seth Rogen comedy.

Biggest X factor: Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Amid all the talk about the new center's cultural impact, there was little reason to even think that indie-rock fans would be affected. But with upcoming appearances by Mark Kozelek, Justin Townes Earle, Hundred Waters and Elvis Costello, it's time to tune in.


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