Round 4 wasn't just close. It was really close, and not only between Tom and Hebron and Terminus — the two bands that scored highest and were separated by a mere three points. The difference between the top four bands was six points or fewer and each judge picked a different winner.
But in the end, Fayetteville trio Terminus won, advancing to the March 1 finals on the strength of some raging prog-metal. It's hard to exaggerate just how impressed all the judges were with this group, especially considering the fact that all three of its members are 17-18 years old.
Starting the evening off was Miles Rattz. Frontman Michael Chavez and crew embodied Pavement-y slackness in every regard, delivering giddily warped pop tunes with pleasantly baffling arrangements. "Loose" doesn't even begin to describe the Miles Rattz approach to live performance. This might rankle the sort of listeners who get all uptight about things like "tuning" and "timekeeping" and "coherent pop structures" and stuff like that. The rest of us are on board the Rattz train, though.
The band was prone to wisecracking too. "This song is called 'Sometimes,' " Chavez said. "Just kidding, it's called 'Always.' "
Guest judge Shayne Gibbs, of Se7en Sharp, wrote "Great sense of humor, nice headbands. I liked the combo of electronic beats with the guitars, hypnotic at times." Judge Grayson Shelton "enjoyed some of their song ideas."
CT found Miles Rattz to be "very kooky with nice melodies," while Mandy McBryde thought "the few songs that opened up to strong hooks and melodies were much more enjoyable for me. Wish they'd start with the last three and move forward from there."
Conway's This Holy House played next. They're no strangers to the Showcase, having played in the 2011 edition. But since then, they added guitarist Jordan Ahne to the mix, to impressive results.
Ahne and singer/guitarist Elliott Cotten can shred, and last week they did, showing off some fiery six-string interplay. The Brothers Velek — James on drums and David on bass — give the band solid footing and rhythmic counterpoint that make them stand out among their indie rock peers.
McBryde was duly impressed. "The music sounds so good but feels effortless. They are definitely working for the greater good ... and it's working." Gibbs wrote, "I dig the reverb-drenched guitars and engaging drumbeats. Kind of reminds me of Bright Eyes, but this cat can sing. Love the drums, never boring."
Shelton wrote that THH is a "good mid-tempo modern rock 'n' roll band. Not as in radio rock, more Wilco-esque, but Elliot is more of a pure 'singer' than a 'storyteller.' " He also noted: "I sold Elliot that guitar for $20. True story." CT wrote, "Singer is very emotional. Huge songs. I like big songs."
Peckerwolf brought to the showcase a heaping of burly guitar rock that was loud, sweaty, mostly bearded and at times shirtless. Seeing this band live was a bit like play-wrestling with the 50-Foot Woman, and she's not trying to hurt you, she's just batting you around for fun, and you wanna be cool about it so you're like, "No, it's all right, 50-Foot Woman, I'm fine. That didn't hurt at all. (Owww!)"
Judge CT wrote, "A good rock 'n' roll band. [Drummer] Tyler Nance is a basher ..." Gibbs wrote, "Beer drankin' music, as in, I seriously didn't order a beer until these guys came on. Some thunderous shit." McBryde wrote that the band "Makes me feel alive and changes my body chemistry. I love it."
Shelton wrote, "One hell of a rhythm section! Bassist/drummer hitting awesome, complex parts. Good high-energy, high-beard show. Queens of the Stone Age/Wolfmother hybrid."
Fayetteville's Tom and Hebron closed things out, bringing some sophisticated pop/rock 'n' roll to the Showcase proceedings. The band is steeped in the sounds of the early to mid-'70s FM goldmine of Elton John, Wings, Jackson Browne and the like. Brothers Tom and Hebron Chester are joined by bassist and singer Clay Johnson and drummer Nick Fernandez, as rock-solid a rhythm section as we've seen so far.
McBryde wrote, "They really get folks movin' and shakin'. Once upon a time, Billy Joel met Ben Folds Five." Shelton heard "Good dance music. I danced with a girl and a dude ... Happy Valentine's Day." CT wrote "This band is tight as hell, cool as ice. I like this." Gibbs wrote, "I'm the worst dancer I know, but this makes me wanna dance."
Here's what the judges had to say about Round 4 winner Terminus:
Guest judge Shayne Gibbs: "I've been playing guitar for probably half as long as they've been alive, and they're all way better than I am. Give 'em some time to polish their stuff, then look out."
Grayson Shelton: "That drummer will never be out of work! Really full sound for a three-piece."
Mandy McBryde: "They look way too young to sound this good."
CT: "I loved it! These dudes killed it. These kids are only gonna get better."
Round 5 lineup:
Knox Hamilton: North Little Rock's Knox Hamilton makes effervescent indie pop with rich vocal harmonies, propulsive rhythms and shimmering, chiming guitars. It's largely upbeat, melodic stuff that recalls, say, a less electro-steeped Passion Pit or maybe Of Monsters and Men if that band were less inclined toward melodrama. Check out Knox Hamilton's "Tom Joyce" for a good representation.
The Sound of the Mountain: This Russellville quartet has the whole instrumental post-rock/shoegaze thing down — the atmospherics, the off-kilter rhythms, the circular guitar lines, the slow-burn dynamics building toward a squall of guitar, all of it. All of that is to say, fans of Mogwai, Tarantel, Explosions in the Sky and the like should not skip this band. Check out the band's "Confessions of an English Opium Eater."
Bartin Memberg: Fayetteville's Martin Bemberg (no, that's not a typo, he performs as Bartin Memberg) was part of the much-loved Memphis Pencils, who disbanded a couple of years back after a move to Austin. Memberg struck out solo and moved back to Arkansas. Dude is hella prolific, having recorded several EPs and albums of bedroom lo-fi pop since 2011, including an EP released Monday called "Barty Gets British."
The Midnight Thrills: If you've got a yen for blues-steeped Southern rock with a solid groove and satisfying guitar crunch, Little Rock's The Midnight Thrills are gonna be your jam. The trio has obviously listened deeply and often to the canon of great classic rock — The Allman Brothers, Crazy Horse, The Black Crowes, Tom Petty and the like are discernible influences. Check out the ragged, rockin' "Keep Me in Your Heart."
Collin vs. Adam: After the tragic loss of their bassist Mason Mauldin, who died in a plane crash Jan. 24, Collin vs. Adam made the no doubt difficult decision to soldier on. They play Round 5, closing out the semifinals. Earlier we described their track "Aurelia" as a haunting piece of instrumental synth pop, with a pinging drum machine, delicate guitar lines and lush synthesizer, slowly unfolding over the course of the song.