Panic Bomber is the brainchild of Miami's one-man-dance-spectacle Richard Haig. He first gained local notoriety as showman keyboardist for Miami prog-rockers The Jeanmarie, until he grew tired of being in an indie band. One listen to his debut solo electro-techno-disco concoction Getting on My Mind
, and there's no question Haig's made the right move. He's definitely a true madman on the synths: Check out his orchestral-electro work on "A Giant Tortoise." But he also demonstrates a versatile vocal range too, going from piercing Bee Gees-style falsettos one minute to a baritone croon the next on the album's title track. His accessible lyrics add a personal touch that will win over those pensive college radio types as well. -- Alex Rendon
Raffa and Rainer
No Mercy (self-released)
Miami folkies Raffa Jo Harris and Rainer Davies play the sort of wistful melodies that make your heart leap. Romantic, cute, and beguiling, Harris' sweet-as-honey vocals flutter over bluesy acoustic guitar and syrupy horns on the pair's latest, No Mercy. The 11-track album, which includes more than 30 different additional contributors, traverses new, more intricate ground for the duo.
The new explorations include everything from the quirky, bluegrass-tinged "A Little Bit" to the heavier "Palo Santo," to "Ballet," which recalls Regina Spektor with repetitive turns of phrase and even beatboxing. In fact, it's hard to pick a "best" song on the disc, as Raffa's voice adapts so well to such a range of styles without losing its signature jazzy twang. Thus the album - layered, upbeat, poetic, quirky - is almost as versatile as it is sweet. -- Erica K. Landau
The Pretty Faces
Another Sound (self-released)
Another threesome leading the new fresh wave of Palm Beach County bands, the Pretty Faces are Canadian expats whose transplanted sunny Boca environs seeped into their feel-good vintage rock. Take jangly, Seventies-style power-pop, add sweet male-female trade-off vocals from a foxy young husband and wife (awww, gag!), and shake and stir with a barroom swagger. Voila, Another Sound, a fun album that's still shot through with a piquant, bittersweet mood that's great for those existential hangovers. "Right On the Money" especially deserves frequent rotation. -- Arielle Castillo
Beachfront Defeat (Broken Records)
Jim Camacho's latest album, Beachfront Defeat, marks the latest chapter in an ever-prolific career that stems from his initial involvement in the Goods some two decades back. His is a seemingly unstoppable trajectory, one that that's found him a fluent multitasker who's also adept in musical theater and cross-collaboration.
Indeed Beachfront Defeat was one of two new discs Camacho proffered this past year, the other being Hail Mary, the eponymous debut by Camacho and singer/songwriter Jodi Marr. Still, the ex-Goods guy has always been most proficient on his own, where his musical persona is defined by angst-rattled melodies and weary desperation. However, the album also boasts Camacho's penchant for crafting compelling choruses, and indeed, songs such as "Long Ago," "Colors," and "Beachfront Defeat" soar with their compelling refrains and performances so resounding, they cause one to wonder why Camacho hasn't burst from the beachfront and on to the national stage. -- Lee Zimmerman
Astro Coast (Self-released / Kanine Records)
After only a handful of months playing under this band name, the West Palm Beach quartet (now a quintet) struck upon a magical indie rock formula in the studio in the middle of last year. The band crafted tender melodies over scuzzy guitar riffs and unpredictable bombast; the end result would become the brilliant debut LP, Astro Coast. Somehow these fresh-faced kids, barely out of their teens, managed to cull the best parts of our favorite '90s bands.
There is Weezer's youthful post-punk glee, for one, as well as the Jesus and Mary Chain's Beach Boys-through-distortion hiss. It's all packaged and sealed into one phenomenal album. Songs like "Slow Jabroni" - with its wall of reverbed vocals over addictive hooks -- and "Catholic Pagans"-- exquisite quite-loud-quite Pixies catharsis --hint at the enormous potential these South Florida youngsters have. It's no wonder this originally self-released album was snatched up by major label Kanine Records and will be released nationally come January 19. -- Alex Rendon