by Nick Hanover
If you live in Austin then you already know there’s too much damn music to keep track of. And sometimes you just want to sift through it in bite-sized chunks. We totally understand. Allow us to introduce you to The Latest Toughs, five tracks from five bands to get you up to date and make each of your workdays a little easier.
Hundred Visions “Ditch Punk’s Prayer”
Much of the appeal of Hundred Visions comes from their creative restlessness– on any given album you’ll hear the band show off elements of punk, psych, garage and even country influence, sometimes all within the same song. But “Ditch Punk’s Prayer,” from their brand new LP Brutal Pueblo, still manages to be a surprise because it bears little similarity to the mostly melodic focus of the band’s previous efforts. Plodding and jagged, “Ditch Punk’s Prayer” is a perfect match of title and song, until it abruptly isn’t. The herky jerky ritualistic verses of the song eventually drop away in favor of a borderline hardcore chorus, which in turns melts into dazed soloing and reverberated wailing. Where so many Austin punk acts keep their SST devotion limited to Black Flag and Sonic Youth, this new phase of Hundred Visions has more in common with early Meat Puppets and Minutemen, and thank god for that.
Wiretree “Let Me In”
There’s a healthy amount of Belle & Sebastian influence in Wiretree’s new single “Let Me In,” enough to mark the group as kindred spirits with the Glasgow legends but not so much that they feel like a cheap knock-off. The breathy vocals and breezy arrangement are clearly in the B&S camp, but there’s a dedication to propulsive rhythm and an optimism that stands out from Stuart Murdoch and co’s oeuvre. It’s also put together in a way that leaves you eager to hit replay as it seems to end before it’s really even begun. “Let Me In” might not be a hit that will end up stuck in your head until you want to vomit it out, but that’s okay since the charm of its mood and aesthetic makes it memorable in a totally different way.
Blissing Room “Know You”
Austin electronic acts tend to either fall into the darkwave scene led by Holodeck, the Depeche Mode idolization of Knifight or the abstract textures of collectives like Exploded Drawing and Applied Pressure, but Blissing Room, who seem to be freshly relocated to Austin, fit more comfortably alongside East Coast indie/electro hybrids like Bear in Heaven. On “Know You,” the band mix shimmery guitars, bouncy synth bass and melodramatic vocals on the verses before going full pop on the chorus, filling out the background with harmonies and hooks and then giving way to a buzzsaw guitar solo. The rest of Comfort Life Eternal doesn’t quite reach the same heights as “Know You” but there’s still a lot of promise in the band’s basic template and they’re in a position to showcase new angles in Austin’s already thriving electronic scene.
Vonne “Queen Jean V”
Houston songstress Vonne released her Foreign Affairs album almost exactly two years, but now that she is apparently splitting her time between Houston and Austin , I think it’s fair to shine a light on it, especially since it’s full of excellent songwriting and got overlooked when it first came out. The centerpiece of the album is “Queen Jean V,” a spritely and clever single situated somewhere between Lorde and The Blow. Though the lyrics indicate a tragic fall from grace for the titular queen, Vonne’s instrumentation is jaunty and hopeful, punctuated by lackadaiscal synth lines and an irresistible lo-fi beat. But most impressive is Vonne’s voice, which carries a confident yet winking tone, perfect for the type of down to earth yet ambitious songwriting she deals in.
The Mites “Asphalt Ocean”
If Juliana Hatfield had filled in on bass duties for Ride instead of the Lemonheads, the result might be something like the Mites’ “Asphalt Ocean,” with its jagged guitar and ethereal vocals. The song is disciplined power pop at its finest, melodic enough to have you bobbing your head along to it but airy and vague enough to keep you returning not because of an earworm infection but because you have a desperate need to cut through the haze and discern its mysteries. Even its title provokes more questions than answers– is it a riff on JG Ballard’s Concrete Island? a reference to the directionless trash island floating around the Pacific? or just a paradoxical image some poor sap like me will read too much into?
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover