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.
Aquatic(a) “Most Daze”
Something Austin’s shoegaze acts tend to struggle with is communicating any real personality– they might get the hazy mood and dense sonics down, but their songs feel formless, lacking identity and edge. Newcomers Aquatic(a) do not have this problem and as a result already stand out from their more prolific and visible local peers. On their debut single “Most Daze,” Aquatic(a) take the classic shoegaze template of fuzzy riffs, claustrophobic production and walls of sound and bring a snottiness to it, the rolling rhythms subverting expectations of shoegaze’s cliched molasses tempos as the vocals drip with disdain for the disappointment of being stuck in a place you hate. The B-side, “Earth Daze,” flips the script even further, sounding like Built to Spill as produced by Steve Albini only with more androgynous vocals and melancholy, showcasing Aquatic(a)’s enviable knack for arrangements. If Aquatic(a) can keep this up, I might just have to start giving a shit about Austin’s shoegaze scene.
Aquatic(a) play Beerland on Saturday, April 15th with smith+robot and more.
J Shaq “This Ride”
LNS Crew have been grooming J Shaq to be their next breakout act, giving him space on tracks by Tank Washington while Haris Qureshi went to work on an album length showcase for his talents. The result is The Outcast, an ambitious attempt to show “what the perspective is of a young minority coming up in the Austin metro when they feel like they are the lowest priority (or not a priority at all).” Taking its cues from similarly ambitious street explorations like Illmatic and Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), The Outcast is grimy and worn down, communicating its protagonist’s social exhaustion through vinyl hiss drenched samples as much as lyrical explorations of setbacks and obstacles. On standout track “This Ride,” J Shaq responds to a question about why anyone should care about him by stating “I’m tired of this wishing and asking for favors/I feel like I’m here to do greater/In my mind there’s signs of greatness/But I don’t know if I can take it” but as the album shows, that greatness isn’t just in J Shaq’s head but in his actual work as well. The emcee’s casual, laid back delivery is disarming, a calculated rejection of the street braggadocio of his heroes that perfectly suits the anxiety and uncertainty of our time, and Qureshi’s warm, lived-in production– notably more RZA inspired than his recent material– drives home the literary quality of J Shaq’s lyrics. J Shaq might be aiming higher than most up-and-comers, but The Outcast proves he’s also far more likely to achieve those aims than his peers, too.
Sherman’s March “HEB Anxiety”
There are few things I hate more than trips to the grocery store. Something about HEB turns Austinites into grubby little monsters, malevolently wielding shopping carts like pre-apocalyptic road warriors. Now, thanks to Sherman’s March, I at least have a fitting soundtrack for the next time I’m forced into HEB’s murderous aisles. “HEB Anxiety,” from the group’s new album, Goodbye Cruel World, Hello Cruel Universe, more than lives up to its title as it asks necessary questions about the HEB experience, like “Why must those lights flicker/It’s fucking with my head,” over an erratic and insidious beat. You can hear early Butthole Surfers in the overall warped rhythms and heavy low end, but the vocals skew closer to Poly Styrene territory, particularly in the consumerist antagonism. Sherman’s March may not be able to relieve everyone’s “HEB Anxiety,” but at least now we’ve got an anthem that’s far more enjoyable than the piercing tones of grackles.
Sherman’s March play Hotel Vegas Sunday, April 16th with Unknown Relatives and more.
Mindz of a Different Kind “Feel Good”
Mindz of a Different Kind broke out locally last year on the strength of their excellent Foursight, an album that highlighted the growth of their sound and the chemistry between MDK’s individual members. Their new LP Borderlinez isn’t so much another leap forward as it is a victory lap, with closing track “Feel Good” rightfully celebrating MDK’s maturity into a smooth, groove-oriented outfit. The throwback beat by SK the Great keeps thing simple, its hook coming from svelt woodwinds as the crew comes together to let you know they’re “gonna give you/just what you been lookin’ for.” And what you’re lookin’ for in this case is the jazzy interplay of Digable Planets and the playful group vocals of a classic Dungeon Family outing. If you’re still not feeling good after hearing it, I suggest you hit repeat.
Fat Ty “G.O.D. (Girls on Drugs)”
Austin hip hop’s lack of discernable identity used to be a drawback but over the past few years it has become an asset, as artists in the scene have shifted from aimlessly emulating other cities’ styles to carving out a diverse and eclectic array of aesthetics, riffing on each other and pushing the boundaries of what a scene even is. The trap corner of Austin hip hop has been particularly boundary pushing, as ambitious veterans like LNS Crew work trap elements into their signature style and newer artists pick up ingredients from national acts and throw them in the general Austin mixing pot. California transplant Fat Ty is one of the more promising examples of that latter camp, with “G.O.D. (Girls on Drugs)” adding technical finesse to the trap toolbox. The track explores the conflicted philosophies of a trap poet, who “started hanging out with hella thugs” when he was 18 and now has his drug cabinet sales pitch down to an artform even as he gets anxious about the appetites of his young consumers. You can hear the Migos influence, but what differentiates Fat Ty is his freewheeling lyrical dexterity, switching up cadences and tones with impressive flexibility, the simple, narcotically addictive beat allowing him total freedom. Once Ty figures out how to better produce his vocals to show that dexterity off in full, he’ll truly be a force to be reckoned with.
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