Love Inks found some blog love over the course of 2011 – and not just from us. It’s easy to hear why. The delicate vocals and minimalist arrangements all enhance some very well-written songs. ‘Blackeye’ clocks in at just under two minutes, but never feels half-cooked or unfinished. The group alternates between three basic parts of the track, and each is crazy catchy. And when they’ve said all their is to say, they gracefully end the song. As with the arrangement, the structure doesn’t allow for any superfluous moments. It’s efficient and distinctive, and has helped Love Inks earn their bright future.
The Midgetmen are one of the great punk bands in Austin right now; they make some pretty fantastic music for guys who claim to be in a band just to get free beer. We had the honor of getting to talk them in-depth this year about their album Loud Enough and it was clear from our conversation that they just look to have fun with everything that they do. That joy comes across in “King Kong.” It refuses to follow rules about what a punk song should be with its lengthy instrumental passages and full horn sections. As singer Alex Victoria sings about Fleetwood Mac in the outro, guitarist Jon Loyens rips a monstrous solo. It’s a song that can’t be contained by its purported genre, or by a message or a deeper meaning. It’s just about packing as much joy into four and a half minutes as possible.
The title track from the Pons’ newest album succeeds because it creates an atmosphere. Through wordless backing vocals, relentless piano chords, and various electronic ambient tones, the track’s foundation is fascinating and rich. This is all just support for the lyrics that make me think of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The song begins, “I see the horizon far and wide / So full and yet so empty inside” and simply goes on from there (I also love “Cut through my bones just to get me off your knife / Living alone just to cut me out of your life”). The dark imagery of the lyrics fits the music perfectly, and the marriage creates one of the most distinctive rock songs of the year.
Little Radar make indie-folk in the vein of Local Natives. Thanks to the banjo, tambourine, and ringing guitars, “Wake Up” has a truly organic feel. Listening to this song transports you to the Hill Country on a bright, spring day – you know, after the winter frosts but before the summer heat wave. And even though we find ourselves amid the closest thing to winter that we’ll likely see in Austin, Little Radar suggests that spring is just a mindset: “It’s not what you see / It’s what you believe,” they sing. “Wake Up,” it turns out, is a call to action – something we’ve needed a lot of in 2011 – that suggests that the world can be the way we want it, and that we might want to think about moving it in that direction.
[paperthreat] are one of the most inventive bands in Austin right now. These four guys use drums, bass, guitars, trombones, trumpets, glockenspiels, vibraphones and computers to create an incomparable sound. They’re all quite accomplished musicians and their music is infused with the jazz and funk that they’ve clearly trained in. “Focus” is a perfect example of what they’re capable of: odd harmonies and chord progressions augmenting a beautiful, catchy melody. It’s typically the opening song in their live set and sets the mood wonderfully for everything else you end up hearing from them. It’s challenging, thrilling and accessible. What more could you ask for?
Andrew Kenny’s acoustic project put out a disc full of well-crafted acoustic rock songs this year. Title track “Two Matchsticks” is surprisingly rich. At first listen, it may sounds like just another acoustic guitar song, but that’s before you notice the perfect female backing vocal, or the multi-tracked percussion part (which sounds like it’s composed entirely of muted guitar strums). Kenny’s chorus admonishment, “You’re gonna burn out alone,” works even without the matchstick metaphor, but the thematic consistency leads to a touching song about the need for companionship. “Two Matchsticks” is a track that reveals itself slowly over multiple listens, making for a rewarding experience.
Just a heads up: this will not be Seth Woods’ last appearance on this list. The talented singer/songwriter/instrumentalist made his name with Sad Accordions, and has created this side project for some of his even mellower tracks. “The Ballad…” takes a beautiful, winding melody with all of its accompanying accordions and ukuleles and throwing a massive, pounding beat behind it. It’s like a head-bobbing tear-jerker. With its slow rise and fall, the track has plenty of space to breathe and build. As we said in the original review of the album, “Woods’ voice breaks and cracks with soft emotion in compelling fashion,” which is just the icing on the cake of this well-constructed song.
Choffel dropped this bomb of a track on an unsuspecting Austin populace earlier this year, and life was never really the same. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but Choffel’s vocal mastery had her wowing the Blues on the Green crowd by mid-summer, and led to her move to the Big Apple by year’s end. She’s got a soulful, jazzy style that is complemented here by one of the best horn arrangements I’ve heard in years. Her voice jumps in and around howling trombones and scorching trumpets while the bass, drums and keyboards lay down a rock solid rhythm section. It’s a hot track top to bottom, even if it was wishful thinking during our drought of a summer.
22. ‘Anybody’ - The Soldier Thread ft/ Zeale
What can you say about this song? Just by living in Austin, you’ve probably run across this song somewhere this year. It’s a monster of a track – instantly recognizable in its first four seconds. But then when the full band hits at the 0:05-second mark, you’re instantly rolling. This is what pop music is capable of. Fat, shiny chords, pounding beats, and a melody that goes on for days. Patricia Lynn makes for a great frontwoman, belting out “You don’t need anybody” in the chorus as more of a lament than an accusation. But when she sings, “I don’t need a savior, I don’t want a crutch / You don’t give a damn, so I don’t give a fuck,” it’s hard not to get swept up in the sentiment of the song. Nobody in Austin this year released anything that screamed “ready-for-primetime” more than this song. See you on Billboard, Soldier Thread.
21. ‘Imagine Hearts’ - Ringo Deathstarr
This could have been any number of songs from these guys. “So High,” “Weekend Dudes,” and “Tambourine Girl” are also all stellar tracks from Colour Trip that certainly helped this band earn its opening slot on this fall’s international Smashing Pumpkins tour. “Imagine Hearts” won out, though, for good reason. Earlier this year, we referred to this song as Ringo Deathstarr’s “thesis statement,” and that remains true. This is where they lay out their plan for shoegaze revival – for breathy vocals a la My Bloody Valentine (in the case of Alex Gehring on this song) or Dandy Warhols (in the case of Elliott Frazier on other tracks), for walls of distorted guitars, and for techno-tastic rhythm tracks. You can hardly tell what the lyrics are in “Imagine Hearts,” but the point is the song’s overall feel. File this one next to Loveless.