It takes more than silver-plated pipes or a bloodcurdling scream to really soar as a rock singer. If you're going to make your listeners feel anything deeper than horny or pissed-off, you gotta have a sense of subtlety and a range of vocal expression. Listen to El's self-titled 2004 release and you'll hear vocalist and guitarist Jeremy Clark stagger through longing, float with elation, and simmer in regret, all while maintaining a sense of earnest vulnerability that helps make this Lake Worth band one of South Florida's best. Growing up in Bogotá, Colombia, gave Clark a unique inflection and worldly musical sense that comes through in the band's sophisticated yet simple songwriting. The trio is currently working on a new album that will combine Clark's Latin leanings with European influences like the Cardigans, U2, and Radiohead. With Clark at the helm, you can be sure the music will take you places.

No petulant, open-mic warbler or girly pop tart, the Remnants' smoldering soulstress, Cynthia Duvall, is, ironically, responsible for a major part of the Broward quartet's balls-out attitude. Think of Duvall as the ass-kicking, sass-spewing, rock-star love child Janis and Iggy never had. With one of the hardest-working bands in South Florida, she, along with the rest of the Remnants (guitarist Jim Potts, bassist Dominic Siriani, and drummer Russ Moore), has rattled windows in venues from West Palm to Weston and left crowds panting with rock 'n' roll fever in her wake. Warning: The Remnants are not a subtle band. Check out Duvall on the band's six-song EP or, better yet, catch her belting it out live. You'll be glad you did, if you make it home in one piece.

With commercial art galleries dropping like flies, it's no wonder that pooh-poohing the cultural scene is a favorite South Florida pastime. It's hard to keep the faith when the new gallery you've just heard about has closed by the time you get across town to see it. And so, increasingly we look to noncommercial outlets for alternatives. Lately, the Schmidt Center Gallery at FAU has proved up to the challenge. The 2003-04 season's "Corporal: Contemporary Women Artists from Latin America" was an encouraging sign -- an eclectic group exhibition that wasn't afraid to be a little pushy. And this season's two group shows so far have delivered on that promise. "Me, Myself & I" was simultaneously tightly focused and expansive with its invitation to 30 international artists to revisit (and rejuvenate) self-portraiture. And "south X east: Contemporary Southeastern Art" was a lively, more in-depth survey of works by a dozen artists from seven states. If shows like this can't pique your interest, maybe you should check your pulse.

Whether he's playing his own original material or singing songs that are 200 years old, there's no denying the ruddy, sparkling voice of Matthew Sabatella. His recently released Ballad of America takes a look at the American folk music of the 1800s, Sabatella's nimble guitar and brassy, tremolo-laced vocals accompanied alternately by banjo, fiddle, accordion, and hoop drum. Older albums A Walk in the Park and Where the Hell Am I? show his knack for catchy, yet brainy, songwriting and interesting chord changes on his laid-back acoustic guitar. But Sabatella's best asset is easily his voice, urgent but unforced, sweetly melancholy in telling personal stories and powerfully evocative in rendering antiquated songs intimate again. It's a great gift, and Sabatella wields it with exceptional talent.

Best Local Band to Break Up in the Past Year

The Yoko Theory

When a documentary film about the Yoko Theory was shown at the 2004 Palm Beach International Film Festival, things certainly looked up for the four ambitious groove-makers. However, a few months after the film debuted, the band split up, relegating its intriguing mix of reggae, jazz, and hip-hop to the film and a lone CD. Once a staple of clubs like Respectable Street, the Lounge, and Dada, the Delray Beach-based foursome performed around town like clockwork, never falling into inactive lulls or taking long breaks -- or letting girlfriends mess things up as they did in the band members' previous groups (hence the Yoko Ono reference). This, of course, begs the question: Was an unhappy girlfriend responsible for their breakup? Not this time. The band had simply run its course, dying of natural causes and proving that the theory was, well, just a theory -- albeit one that made some damned fine music.

"Is it skipping?" asks one wide-eyed newcomer, taken aback by Schirach's glitchy laptop IDM. Intelligent or not, who could dance to this South Florida electro-head's brain-bouncing beats? A seizure-spazzed monkey? With album titles like Global Speaker Fisting, Petroleum Peep Show, and Chopped Zombie Fungus, you know this German/Cuban wild man's music ain't gonna be your standard fare. No, brave listener, Schirach's digitized audio freakshow won't go over with the Yanni fan in your fam-damily. So totally twisted and tweaked is the mind of this young technophile that his deviant electronica puts even deranged acts like Aphex Twin in the shade. An October 2004 performance in Fort Lauderdale revealed his oscillating shades of unrestrained beauty and menacing mechanical chaos to a crowd drunk on $6 bottles of beer and Schirach's mind-bending imagination.

The follow-up to five six six five's self-titled debut, America's Idle isn't only the best local electronica review of 2004 -- it sits solidly near the top of local releases of any genre. Expanding on its loose, bedroom laptop session feel, the height-fixated duo of Seth Brody (the short one) and James Allen (the tall one) keeps a playful mood of experimentation, digging into low-fi ambient beats and barely there atmospherics. But there's also a distant focus to these ten songs, sort of the aural equivalent of watching a smudgy shooting star flash and fade. Live drums snap against wispy digital breaks, faraway sax and flute waft over twinkling keys and acoustic guitar, and voices surface from low in the mix to murmur about "the real truth." The drama evoked by all these minimalist elements builds into a surprisingly visceral impact, track by track, until the end of the album leaves you feeling strangely fresh and free. Word is that Brody is no longer with us, having escaped (as the best ones often do) to the grittier pastures of New York City. The fact is, five six six five measures up to anything the Big Apple can dish out. Here's hoping for a musical long-distance relationship.

It's sort of embarrassing to admit you actually liked Dashboard Confessional (anyone remember Chris Carrabba?) or the misbegotten emo genre. But for better or worse, all those heart-emblazoned-on-sleeve songs made folks start to pay attention to lyrics again, and when it comes to Keith Michaud, the rewards are nearly endless. With his genteel band Maypop and now with the equally genteel Summer Blanket, this Boca Ratonian has gradually unveiled a literate, thoughtful, and increasingly complex style. "I douse myself in alcohol to cover up the smell of funerals," like most of his best lines, doesn't come from the happiest of places, and his voice (think a slightly less-ragged Jeff Tweedy of Wilco) carefully ekes pleasure from the pain. The primarily acoustic Charm Wrestling (2003) and its more energetic follow-up, the aptly named Whisper Louder (2005), show that, even when he's annoyingly self-referential and more than a little hard on himself, he somehow forces the rank of legendary singer-songwriters to make room for a new South Florida sad sack.

Undoubtedly one of the hardest-working groups in South Florida, Secondhand Outfit wins the prize through sheer presence on the scene. Other bling-eyed rappers might aspire to the big time through infrequent singles and strategic guest appearances, but MCs Dirty Work and Keenan Smith and DJ/producer Palmeto hit the bricks every damned weekend, hosting underground hip-hop nights and rocking stages from West Palm Beach to Miami. The group's self-produced, self-released, self-distributed CD Clean Gloves Hide Dirty Hands is a collection of creepy break beats and dense, self-referential rhymes, a waltz through the darker side of suburban living. Influences range from DJ Shadow and Atmosphere to Sonic Youth, and a follow-up is due this summer. Blue collar, introspective, and understated, these guys are the essence of anti-bling. If you're trying to find the flourishing, independent hip-hop community in South Florida, try on the Secondhand Outfit. You'll be glad you did.

Show promoters are often thought of as being in it only for the money, and it's a reputation that's largely deserved. Most couldn't give two shits about the bands they book, as long as the kids pay through their teeth. And worst of all, they bring the same ten bands back every six months. That's why New Art School Booking exists. Formed in 2004 by Dominic Sirianni and Mark Pollack, New Art School proves that a little elbow grease can pay off. Needless to say, Sirianni and Pollack aren't in it for the money (they both have day jobs) but because they love the music. Oh yeah -- and the art. You know all those Rock vs. Art fliers you've seen around town and on MySpace? Now you know who's behind them. Who else can get punk legends like the Angry Samoans to fly out from California? Or up-and-coming Canadian metal acts like Cursed to play at Hollywood's Club M? But it's not just rock bands; local hip-hop acts like the Secondhand Outfit are regulars at New Art School shows. At this point, just about every local band is.

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