Another Fourth of July means another assessment of what this year has meant to us so far. Here in the Austin music scene, it has been at times slow, exhilarating, disappointing and transcendant. And one thing that has remained constant throughout is the shocking diversity of the music coming out of our treasured little artistic enclave. On this list we profile, in no particular order, some of the great music we have encountered this year. We’ve got protean punk, hooky hip-hop, and immense indie. Of course there is a lot that we couldn’t include from great artists like Shakey Graves, The Sweet Nuthin, Gorgeous Hands, Lonesome Heroes, Crooks, Soldier Thread, Frank Smith, and so many others. Feel free to add to this list, or critique it, but we feel this is a pretty good starting place for catching up on the year so far in Austin music. Enjoy!
1. Zlam Dunk - Balcones
When speaking to the guys from Zlam Dunk about their Balcones EP you can tell there’s a lot of pride in the work and rightly so. Balcones is a seven track precision auditory assault that comes on strong and doesn’t let up until the final notes are played. Sonically, lyrically, and emotionally, Balcones showcases a definite growth for this band. While the EP maintains their signature blend of intricate guitar work, danceable beats, and impassioned vocals there’s a seriousness and immediacy, especially in songs like “Young Blood,” “Patrick,” and “Shark Year” that herald a bright future for this Austin five-piece.
- BrianZlam Dunk - 'Patrick'
2. The Sour Notes and Marmalakes - Wait // White split
The Sour Notes and Marmalakes’ Wait // White split perfectly encapsulates two of Austin’s hardest working bands as they yet again reach for new peaks of quality. “Two Hands Wait” by The Sour Notes is a progressive pop number filled with mellow swagger and psychedelic anxiety, while the Marmalakes’ “White Height” tingles with electric blues/folk intensity. With both these bands constantly working on new tunes and playing around Austin regularly, it’s a safe bet that we haven’t heard the last of them and if Wait // White is any indication; the best is yet to come.
Marmalakes - 'White Height'
3. Driver Friendly - Bury A Dream
I know I said it earlier this year, but I’m still holding firm: Driver Friendly is awesome. Bury a Dream is an all-around catchy, fun and well-written release – it’s sure to fuel some great rock out sessions during your summer road trip. However, don’t be surprised when the songs get stuck in your head and you keep going back to them for another listen.
Driver Friendly have been touring around the country for all of June so let’s welcome them back home at their upcoming July 14 show at Stubb’s. And since it’s been confirmed that he’s a fan, you might even score a coveted Tom Hanks sighting at the show.
-AlyDriver Friendly - 'Messidona'
4. Melogrand - Waves For The Ages
There’s a lot to like in the debut LP from the six member deep Melogrand. Their dreamy pop tunes incorporate psych and progressive elements along with folk stylings and digital samples. Combined, all of these elements make for a unique sound that’s completely fresh. My favorites off the album are “Modern World” and “All The Young.” Featured in these songs and throughout the whole album is expert craftsmanship. The balance of the acoustic and electronic instrumentation is superb. To my ears, the strummed acoustic chords on “All The Young” are excellently balanced with twinkling melodies on the keys and on “Modern World,” digital samples add great punctuation to the soaring lead vocals. Grab up a copy of Waves For The Ages now if you missed it when it released earlier this year. It’s available on Itunes and on Melogrand’s website to stream.
- DanMelogrand - 'Modern World'
5. Little Radar - "Welcome"
With the release of their LP Up In Arms, Little Radar solidified their place as one of my favorite local bands. The quartet was able to expand upon their unique combination of folk, indie and rock on the LP, but I’ve still been going back to their first release the Kill A Buffalo EP. Perhaps I’m trying to re-gain the feeling of my first listen. Nonetheless, “Welcome” off the LP is standout. On this track, Little Radar, firing on all cylinders, takes us through a 3-minute journey of mixed up tempos intricate guitar work and rousing percussion. Give it a listen below or check out the whole album at their Bandcamp page. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
- DanLittle Radar - 'Welcome'
6. Zeale - "Hope Dies"
Teaming up again with Patricia Lynn of The Soldier Thread, Zeale has found another hit in “Hope Dies.” With a catchy hook and verses filled with words of political dissent, the song sticks to your bones by providing you ear candy and substance at the same time. We haven’t seen Zeale in such form since “Monzter Hospital,” but it’s definitely made me excited to hear what’s next. On the close horizon for Zeale is an extensive US tour with Awolnation. Along with Imagine Dragons, Zeale and AN will be playing dates from LA to FLA and a bunch of places in between. They’ll be playing locally in October at Emo’s East and tickets are available now. Zeale has consistently been a pretty prolific artist, so we’re expecting to see more new music from him within 2012. Be on the lookout for it because it’s pretty much guaranteed to be hot.
- DanZeale Ft. Patricia Lynn - 'Hope Dies'
7. Literature - Arab Spring
Literature’s Arab Spring is many things. It’s vintage 70s punk; it’s ringing power pop; it’s a love letter to those days and nights that make life exciting as we all come of age. First and foremost, it’s a great collection of songs. From the mid-tempo opener “14 Seconds” that laments indecision in the face of impermanence through the sublimely bouncy “Grifted” with its cascading guitar melodies all the way to album closer “I Am Right Here” and one of the best choruses of the year, the album fires on all cylinders. There just isn’t a bad song in the bunch. This is the kind of album that’s easy to come back to, and I’ve already done so many times this year. I can’t see that changing.
- CarterLiterature - 'Grifted'
8. The Eastern Sea - Plague
My love for The Eastern Sea’s new album is well-documented. This isn’t a pop album; it’s a work of art. Matt Hines and company never once get complacent on Plague. There are dramatic shifts in tempo and tone. They eschew traditional choruses in most songs. The lyrics are often incredibly personal and somewhat oblique. And yet, listening to Plague never once comes close to feeling like a chore. It’s the most inviting and accessible album I’ve heard in a long time that can also be considered challenging. There isn’t a breakout single here (though “A Lie” probably comes closest), but the album succeeds as a whole – start to finish – in a way that few albums do these days.
- CarterThe Eastern Sea - 'A Lie'
9. Shearwater - Animal Joy
In a slow year for Austin on the national scene (so far), Shearwater’s Animal Joy is the only record that can be considered to have made an impact across the whole country (and world) (apologies to The Young). At this point, only two of the group’s members still reside here, but Shearwater will always be “of” Austin much like Spoon is – regardless of where they’re located at the moment. And yet, Animal Joy sounds placeless and timeless. It crafts vast soundscapes that evoke fantastical images. Jonathan Meiburg’s voice is almost other-wordly – an entirely distinctive entity that is far more accomplished than it may seem on the surface. And this batch of songs is the most consistently great of Shearwater’s discography. It all adds up to one of the most beautiful albums of the year.
- CarterShearwater - 'Pushing The River'