Rekindling indie-pop fun is what Bling Bling is all about. The four members of this group, formed in the summer of 2001, threaten to have fun and take the whole world with them. Ivan Choo Baby is electricity on the mike, Kiki La Rocca slaps the bass silly, Jonathan Sensitivity trumps zigzagging melodies, and Black Angus handles drum beats and background vocals. They sound along the lines of indie acts like the Pixies, Pavement, and Archers of Loaf. The past few years have been spent dominating clubs and one-nighters like Poplife and Revolver. Recording and releasing their six-song debut EP, Always Give Candy to Strangers, was a shot in the arm for the local indie-rock scene, but don't worry, the syringe was clean.

The latest spinoff from the Beta Bodega Coalition's growing empire, Botanica del Jibaro has released a series of astonishingly high-quality twelve-inch singles in the past twelve months from local stalwarts like Algorithm and Cyne. As always with this ever-provocative crew, most of Botanica's recordings concentrate on sundry political issues, from bombing runs held in Vieques, Puerto Rico, to the legacy of slavery in American society. All of this, of course, would be facile agit-prop if not for unquestionably great songs like Cyne's "African Elephants," a hard-hitting romp that's one of the best underground hip-hop singles released anywhere in the last several months.

BEST BAND TO BREAK UP IN THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS

Machete

At Machete's final gig last June at Churchill's Hideaway, Spy-fi Records founder Ed Artigas quickly sold out 100 CDs of its Untitled Music before the band had even finished its second set. Machete had grown a significant following in the local indie-rock scene. Its engaging brand of folk-pop slit a niche in the band landscape only it could occupy. Many thought its run would continue till South Florida rock had a bigger slice of the limelight. But alas, all great things must come to an end, some sooner than others. When the frontman face of the group, Justin Gracer, decided the billboard-blazoned Big Apple was more suited to his solo dream, the rest of the group split. Watch out for fame -- sometimes it bites a good thing in the ass.

New World Center
What's the matter with kids today? Nothing. At least not with the ones loitering outside the Lincoln Theater during a New World Symphony intermission. The NWS's artistic director, Michael Tilson Thomas, calls classical music "a rare and wonderful thing." The same can be said of the NWS, the baby of all symphonic orchestras. The NWS, which recently celebrated its fifteenth-anniversary concert, is also known as America's Orchestral Academy. Its 85 members are recent graduates of the nation's finest conservatories and university music schools, and they can stay only three years before they must find jobs with orchestras across the land. MTT describes NWS as "an investment in a whole new generation of musicians." But that doesn't mean the NWS sounds like a bunch of juveniles. On the contrary, a young tuxedo-clad horn player walks into a gelato shop after a recent program of Mozart's Six German Dances, Hindemith's Concert Music for Strings and Bass, and Mahler's Symphony No. 4. Seated at a table was a classical connoisseur who had witnessed the performance and couldn't constrain himself when he noticed the lad's duds and horn case. "That's the best orchestra I've heard in a long, long time," he exclaimed. "You should be proud of yourself." The young musician smiled and replied right on cue: "Thanks for coming." Cultivating such audience appreciation is one key to NWS's success. Another key is MTT's insistence his young musicians learn state-of-the-art techniques for mastering auditions, the classical musician's number-one source of fear and loathing. During their tenure they receive a modest stipend, but more important is the payment in kind that comes from working with a conductor of MTT's stature.

Who else could bring the house down simply by doffing her oversized Afro wig? Erykah Badu's albums have carefully laid out her persona as a diva for the post-millennium, and thankfully, her live performance at Level proved she has not only the playful über-attitude of Motown's finest, but also the musical chops to drive that spirit home. The sprawling set found her soulful voice drawing on both rhythm and blues traditions (including a wonderful guest turn from Seventies legend Betty Wright) and of-the-moment hip-hop. Yet none of it seemed either retro or overreaching. Part of the credit has to go to Badu's band, which eschewed a guitar to instead double up on both keyboards and percussion, an approach that kept the grooves supple no matter how fevered Badu herself got. By the end, with the audience demanding a third encore, the only real question was why live shows of this caliber don't grace Miami more often. Here's hoping Level, with its excellent sound system and sightlines, can continue to rise to the occasion.

Like an unstoned Buffett or maybe Leon Redbone by way of Sesame Street, long-time Miami performer Grant Livingston mixes country and ragtime shuffle with Florida history and tale-telling. Armed with an acoustic guitar and an incisive wit that lends an edge to his kid-friendly material, Livingston pops up at festivals all over Miami, and is a regular at Homestead's Main Street Cafe. For the latest gigs, check out www.grantlivingston.com.

It's easy to imagine the plucked banjos, gently strummed acoustic guitars, and eerily hushed vibe of The Creek Drank the Cradle as originating from deep within the Appalachian mountain range. Or, as Iron & Wine -- a.k.a. Sam Beam -- lets his voice rise plaintively above his careful finger-picking, drawing on a folksy continuum from Nick Drake on back to Roscoe Holcomb, one might conjure up visions of the kudzu-choked Ozarks. Perhaps -- and now we're stretching -- a particularly pungent patch of the Everglades might come to mind. But a Miami Beach living room? Consider it a testament to Beam's talent, then, that the cream of his home recordings have charmed not only Seattle's Sub Pop Records (the launching pad for Nirvana and a host of grunge-era acts), which issued them as this album, but also a growing number of coast-to-coast fans. What exactly inspired a song like "Upward Over the Mountain" is unclear. That tune dissolves from dreamy childhood flashbacks to musings on a current lover to a wistful reassurance: "Mother, remember the blink of an eye when I breathed through your body... sons are like birds flying always over the mountain." But that sense of lyrical mystery is part of The Creek Drank the Cradle's charm, while its enveloping warmth is what keeps one returning to its languid pace and lullaby-like melodies.

There had to be a way to get these guys in Best of Miami without committing overkill. And their band name is the only thing they haven't been lauded for yet. They've got to have the best name because everyone's heard of them. Miami's own Latin/funk/jazz infusion is never mistaken for any other troupe of All Stars. The band's name has the same lovable Seventies kitsch that radiates from its maestro, DJ Le Spam a.k.a. Andrew Yeomanson, who's always seen in his habitual plaid thrift-shop pants, fun-themed T-shirt (like Fat Albert) and Converse sneakers. The "Spam" was inspired by old Spam ham ads, not Internet lingo like so many modern kiddies like to think. The "Allstars" portion is well deserved. The jazz ensemble featuring Mercedes Abal on the flute, AJ Hill on the sax, John Speck on the trombone, and Tomas Diaz on the timbales is as formidable a band as the X-Men are superheroes.

Camacho has been on the Miami scene for more than a decade, first as one of the voices behind the Goods, and more recently fronting his own band. He wears his allegiance to melody (Beatles comparisons are inevitable) on his sleeve, and while the Goods' songwriting prowess fluctuated, Camacho's solo work keeps getting better. His 2001 release Trouble Doll featured Big Star-style power pop. An upcoming full-length raises the ante with an early-Replacements feel just gritty enough to offset some of the pop shimmer.

Michael Kernahan's 21st Century Steel Orchestra is Miami's strongest link to the steel pan music of Trinidad and Tobago. Kernahan, a Trinidad native who builds the pans (more commonly known as steel drums) he plays, has put together an ensemble that numbers as many as 40, though he plays with more manageable groups at local venues. "They're the leading steel pan band in South Florida," says Stephen Stuempfle, curator of the South Florida Historical Museum and a steel pan scholar. The music has roots in the Caribbean, but before that, Africa -- though much of it consists of adaptations of jazz and calypso standards. "Michael Kernahan is really a student of the music, and when you hear him, you're hearing the real thing," Stuempfle says.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®