In the days just before the 2004 presidential election, a sense of possibility and hope still prevailed. Shortly after the opening of Fort Lauderdale's new über-club Revolution, which single-handedly resurrected downtown's rock cred, Canadian industrial powerhouse Skinny Puppy treated a packed house to a punishing audio-visual onslaught that left no doubt what political platform it advocated. Highlights of the Puppy theater of pain included singer Nivek Ogre donning a gas mask and spewing its contents (green Jell-O) on the crowd; masked doppelgängers of Bush and Cheney receiving just desserts; a man in a keyboard-cage pumping out insanely inhuman sounds; and video-screen imagery that all but equated Dubya's reign with the Third Reich. Only a week later, we were disappointed by the results of another disastrous Election Day. But our ears were still ringing.

What, you thought Marilyn Manson was going to win this one just because the band once called Broward County home? Yeah, you could argue that, in terms of current significance, Manson is more relevant than a group of retired rappers. But the key terms here are local and all time, and 2 Live Crew wins on both counts. Lead by gold-grilled front-man Luther Campbell (a.k.a., Luke Skyywalker), the Crew fought the law and kicked its stuffy, tight ass -- right here in Broward County. The group took on not only Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro but also stuck it to Florida Attorney General Jack Thompson and Judge Jose Gonzalez, who banned the Crew's album As Nasty as They Wanna Be. When the decision was overruled two years later by an appeals court (and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court), Gonzalez's efforts proved to have backfired, as 2 Live Crew ultimately sold more than 2 million copies of the album. So Manson can keep his self-promoting TV appearances and Michael Moore film cameos (and all that horrible music as well). 2 Live Crew did it first, they did it best, and they did it here.

The Music Factory? Wasn't this club once called the Metal Factory? Sure enough, after dropping the metal in 2003 (when New Times awarded it Best Turnaround in Clubland), the Factory added the more open-ended music to its name a year later -- just to ensure no one confuses it with some low-rent Hessian hangout. But the Music Factory is more than a venue to occupy aspiring emo bands waiting for Vagrant Records to pick them up. 2004 saw the club reeling in plenty of international punk and ska acts, from long-time staples of the underground (the Subhumans, the Bouncing Souls) to local faves (Against All Authority, the Agency) and even a piercing-studded cabaret show (the Suicide Girls Burlesque Tour). Oh, and don't be fooled by the naked chick on the Music Factory's website or the ads for "Sexy Ladies Night" on Wednesdays; the club hasn't gone all Coyote Ugly on us. It's still a rock club, and that includes the occasional metal band. What other venue would bring to town a Guns N' Roses tribute band like Ohio's Paradise City? It's about the music, man... and the mullet. Yes, you can have it all.

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.

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