Local bands playing Smiths tunes packed the Carousel Lounge body to body last month. Belle & Sebastian filled the Backyard twice in recent years. The future is promising indeed for Voxtrot, Austin's answer to precious, literate pop. Their debut EP falls somewhere between "name that Smiths song" and toe-tapping, Anglophiliac twee-pop perfection. Lead singer and auteur Ramesh Srivastava is living in Scotland for the time being, so don't miss their show at Emo's Thursday (tonight). Cartoonish power-popsters Sparkwood recently wrapped up their own new EP, In Black & White and in Color, recorded at the Bridge by Moonlight Towers frontman James Stevens. Big harmonies and sunny pop nuggets leave little doubt why the locals proudly name-check XTC, Squeeze, the Beach Boys, and Queen. The Bright and Hollow Sky, featuring three ex-Silver Scooter members, have dropped their own eponymous EP (Pop Faction), a set of crisp, melancholy jangle-pop numbers with a whiff of New Order. Frequent bill-mates Something Happened chart a more spunky route on their four-song rookie release, A Well Placed Kick. If you listen close, you can hear tidbits of every local hoot night this quartet has hosted in the past year: Pavement, the Pixies, R.E.M., and the Smiths. If the world was anywhere near perfect, the Murdocks' AMN favorite "Death of a French Whore" would be all over the national airwaves. Politics and dollars being what they are, the band will have to settle for being yet another underrated Austin band. Their eponymous four-song EP (Surprise Truck) is biting and bittersweet, Strokes-like in places, but both heavier and more mellow. Finally, the Chapters, featuring ex-We Talked About Murder member Rick Gonzalez (as well as Chronicle ad executive Bobby Cheatham), preview an upcoming full-length with their Between Love and Death EP. Already a hit with the black-clad Eighties crowd, their indigo song craft falls somewhere between Love & Rockets and Trail of Dead, promising a strong 2004 for the quartet.
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