For four years, this South Florida outfit leaked home-brewed mini-albums to local radio, press, friends, and family; performed infrequently in public; and fought, broke up, lost members, and finally regrouped. When the choicest of their orchestrated electro-tropicalia songs were collected in one place -- Hard Times for Dreamers, released last spring on New York-based March Records -- the entire indie-pop world finally heard what we'd been raving about for so long. Fawning reviews followed. The album got played on the BBC. The band's femme faux-Francophilia creates a Möebius strip in which the 1960s meet the 1990s and beyond, inviting comparisons to everything from Stereolab to Brian Wilson to modern-day bossa nova. Adorable singer/guitarist Rocky Ordoñez and her multi-instrumentalist cohorts have (typically) laid low since Dreamers hit the bins, but at least we have one band that sounds just the way sun-drenched South Florida feels while handily throwing off the amateur trappings of a "local act."

While the most talked-about and eagerly awaited outdoor show was probably the return of the Pixies a few months after this extravaganza, that reunion had the rancid stench of opportunism and greed all over it. Sure, it made folks happy -- but at what cost? Kind of hard to feel good about a band getting back together just to pad its droopy bank accounts. The Cure, on the other hand, just threatens to quit. Of course, it never does, and last year, the band put out a halfway-decent album and toured behind it. But to its credit, the lovable old eyeliner-lovin' blokes put on a helluva show and brought a whole cadre of cool bands with 'em. With hot vixen Melissa Auf der Maur, Scottish dream-rockers Mogwai, sharp-dressed Interpol, disco-punks the Rapture (you've got to admit, a pretty good lineup) the daylong Curiosa Festival made up for the fact that Lollapalooza got canceled. And while it wasn't cheap, at least your cash wasn't going to line the pockets of four overweight phonies who once swore they'd never be seen together outside of a courtroom.

So you're at the neighborhood music store, browsing the local band section, and reading the production notes on the back of each CD. You're curious -- where do bands record around here? Noticing that Band A laid down its tracks at the posh-sounding Imperial Megalith Studios, you assume it's got its shit together more than Band B, which recorded at some place called the Farm... in Davie. You snicker, laughing at the thought of some yokel running a reel-to-reel recorder while stopping every 15 minutes to give ol' Bessie a good milking. But despite its bucolic location, the studio is a high-end, independent facility catering to local bands that don't have the megabucks to spend on a recording. And it's owned and operated by Larry Burlison, a guy who digs modern indie music and isn't bent on making his recordings into grandiose prog-rock orchestrations or overproduced pop-rock crap; the sound he aims for is vintage rock, though he knows how to tweak the digital software (ProTools) to get it. Just ask bands like High Times Lounge or film-score musicians like Adam Grabois. At the very reasonable rate of $30 per hour, it's no wonder they travel out to the boonies to cut their tracks.

Before there was the Coral Springs Museum of Art, there was the Schacknow Museum of Fine Art, an expensive vanity project for one of South Florida's most colorful characters. And when the deal between Max Schacknow and the City of Coral Springs went sour, the wreckage was salvaged by a person as low key as the millionaire is flamboyant. That person was the unassuming Barbara O'Keefe, nominally the Coral Springs Museum's executive director but also its curator. We're tempted to say she single-handedly turned the museum around, but she'd be the first to acknowledge that she hasn't done it alone. Still, her staff and budget are both minimal, and she struggles constantly to capture the attention of the region's media. And yet she perseveres, pursuing an ambitious agenda in an environment where others might be happy just to survive. The museum now has an artist-in-residence program that produces works for a small but growing permanent collection, and there's a sculpture garden with some of the best public art in the area. Never one to rest on her laurels, O'Keefe also recently installed a modest but impressive reference library in the museum, working with donations scoured from other facilities. Oh, did we mention that, year after year, she also puts together a handful of worthwhile exhibitions that showcase South Florida artists?

It may not attract the same obscure gems as the smaller houses downtown, but if you're eking out toward 'burbdom, you can still treat yourself to thoughtful fare at this multiplex. This was, after all, the only theater in Broward that was showing Sideways the week before its Best Picture nomination. Then too, if you just want to let your jaw hang slack for 90 minutes, the sound system and stadium seats will certainly accommodate Constantine or some such Keanu cacophony. Bonus points for maintaining scattered restrooms (to cut down on midfeature piss sprints), offering a decent arcade that gives change in laundry-friendly quarters, and running ticket giveaways for patrons who donate when the blood bus comes 'round.

Tired of the ho-hum sterility of the average multiplex theater? But bummed about watching another video alone at home? That's where Thursday nights at the Loft come to the rescue. Concealed above the hubbub of the music store below, the second-story theater is a hodgepodge of sofas and easy chairs that provides a homey milieu -- with plenty of company. Each week at 8 p.m., the theater presents "the best (and worst) in cult and horror movies," its fliers brag. Judge for yourself; over the past few months, the Loft has run films such as Ichi, The Killer; The Return of the Living Dead; Silent Night, Deadly Night; Black Christmas; and New Year's Evil. Best of all, it's free. Remember to bring your own popcorn and maybe even somebody to hold hands with.

Donald Margulies' funny, sad play about one unhappy Jewish family in 1965 Brooklyn received a startling, dynamic production from the Caldwell Theatre Company, a noted departure from that troupe's usual safe fare. Visually striking staging was matched with an engaging cast and outstanding work from the Caldwell's resident design team. The result was a memorable, unusual production that played like a strange dream -- fascinating, sometimes illogical, always compelling.

Best Actor: Sometimes good guys finish first. Cowling was thoroughly delightful as a geeky gay accountant whose crush on his baseball star client turns into a passion for the game itself. Radiating charm and good humor, Cowling's fumbling characterization was the emotional heart of the Caldwell Theatre production and a model of impeccable comedic timing.

Best Actress: Lisa Morgan has had our applause before -- for her dramatic and comedic work. But Morgan managed both at once in the Mosaic Theatre production of The Memory of Water. Her performance as an embittered woman in the North of England found the role's great sadness in a memorable portrait of middle-aged frustration. The role also showcased her gift as a comedienne; in one drinking scene, her teetotaling character goes on a bender in a priceless comedic riff, Morgan-style.

The veteran Hall has long been known for his consistent professionalism, but this time out, his direction of Donald Margulies' oddball memory play really excelled. Hall's compelling visuals were easy to spot and admire, while his subtle, beautifully paced scene work and careful coaching of two subteen actors were far more subtle but just as effective. The result was a carefully orchestrated, fully realized theatrical vision that was the highlight of the season.

This expert quartet delivered a beautiful balanced display of assured, nuanced acting in the Palm Beach Dramaworks production of this Edward Albee play. As a vacationing couple dodging fears of aging and mortality, Felix found depths of honesty and simplicity, while Olsen radiated courage and joy. As a lizard couple from the sea, McKeever and Lowe made these implausible characters thoroughly believable.

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