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.
Mindz of a Different Kind- “Black & Brown”
Over a blacksploitation beat courtesy of Kydd Jones, Mindz of a Different Kind offer up a theme song for themselves, building up ample excitement for their upcoming release Foursight. Mindz have been out there on the Austin hip hop scene for a while now but “Black & Brown” feels like a major evolutionary leap forward, not just for them but Austin hip hop on the whole. Kydd’s beat has clearly energized the foursome and the verses they unleash are ferocious but also playful in the way they switch up styles and cadences. The last couple years of Austin hip hop have seen artists begging for more attention, but 2016 continues to be a year where if you aren’t paying attention to what the scene is doing, you’re missing out on some of the best music Austin on the whole has seen in decades, and Mindz are right there at the forefront. Or, wait, is it “fourfront?”
Quin Galis- “Only the Best”
Experimental songwriter Quin Galis had apparently planned to release his avant pop album God Begins in Dirt in 2013 but personal setbacks got in the way of that plan. So now it’s popping up three years later on Bandcamp, and in a way, the cultural landscape might be better suited for it now then it would have been in 2013. Opening track “Only the Best” serves as a perfect intro for what’s to come, with Galis’ reedy voice rising up from Thor Harris’ vibraphone and Shelly McKann’s glockenspiel, unexpected instrumentation for Austin pop. There are elements of Sufjan Stevens in Galis’ songwriting, particularly with the baroque instrumentation his backing band provides, but Galis’ voice is unique, straddling a line between desperate and potentially volatile. Galis is right to say he’s extremely proud of the material, and while it’s too bad the original plans for its release did not come to fruition, I get the feeling it will get a warm welcome now.
Will Courtney- “The Pain (Song for Dennis Wilson)”
The Austin psych scene has had a love affair with Beach Boys victim and survivor Brian Wilson since day one but it’s arguable that the sadder Wilson story is that of Dennis, who was pushed out of the group after drug problems and jealousy over his solo work, dying the same year he was banned from the group. Will Courtney’s tribute to Dennis is fittingly titled “The Pain,” and its tone combines the bleak final days of Dennis with a psych-twang that musically recalls Dennis’ Two-Lane Blacktop persona, the lyrics focusing on the inability of the drinks and drugs to impact the pain Dennis felt before culminating in a nod to Dennis’ dramatic death from drowning. There is a California pop bed to the darker psych haze Will Courtney builds up, but it’s bittersweet, a way of emphasizing how far Dennis strayed rather than celebrating the band that drove him to death. Not exactly uplifting work, but Courtney’s decision to focus on Dennis’ struggles is a better representation of his life than any maudlin tribute could be.
Duncan Fellows “Coffins”
An odd hybrid of Austin indie folk and Vampire Weekend lyricism and swagger, Duncan Fellows’ “Coffins” is a nice departure from the homogenized indie pop that too often dominates the Austin scene. In the pre-chorus moments, in those swelling group vocals, I almost detect some Joe Ely influence, though that might just be my desperate musical mind longing for a day when Austin acts dig through Liberty Lunch archives. Lyrically the track has that fatalist streak that continues to mark us Millennials as the successors to the post-Hiroshima kids who spent every day imagining nuclear holocaust, except our threats are shadows and omnipresent and not altogether civilized: “Come over tomorrow/I’ll build us a coffin/I’ll fix you up/My favorite concoction/So fill it up and choke it down/And we can go dancing.” You’ve seen dancing skeletons, right? Well, apparently this is what they listen to.
The Midnight Stroll- “Just Hang On”
There is a queasy undercurrent to Aaron Behrens’ recently rebranded project The Midnight Stroll, the minimalist guitar and industrial clangor of the drums sparking anxiety when set up against Behren’s booming, melodramatic voice, like early Yeah Yeah Yeahs colliding with Twin Shadow, especially when that atonal riff pops up instead of, say, a singalong hook. Behrens’ partner in this venture, Jonas Wilson, does excellent work stripping everything down and just getting to the heart of the appeal of Behrens’ voice, coating it in empty cathedral reverb so that it sounds eerie rather than romantic, never giving you anywhere to hide from it in the mix. The album “Just Hang On” previews is fittingly titled Heartbreak Bugaloo, and I suspect things are only going to get more dramatic from here on out.
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