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.
Talkies “Break Character”
New Burger Records act Talkies describe themselves as “Post-Chilton” on their Bandcamp page but their track “Break Character” strikes me as closer to New Zealand power pop than what Chilton and co. were up to in America. “Break Character” wouldn’t have been out of place on an early Split Enz album, particularly when it reaches the airy group vocals on the chorus. Regardless, Talkies stand out as another notable new power pop band, and even though they’re apparently from Oakland, lately it seems like a number of Austin acts and labels are shifting the city from a garage and psych heavy city to a new jangle capital.
Gabi “In the Meantime (ft. Jabu Mbara)”
Prolific abstract hip hop artist Gabi just launched the second installment of No Secrets and it’s a gorgeous and delightfully meandering release full of worthwhile moments. But I’m especially drawn to “In the Meantime” and its mix of Anticon and Stones Throw influences. The track’s beat is fitful and unpredictable, with purposefully clumsy percussion and autumnal piano lines dropping in and out as Gabi’s confident verses work out a playful rhythm, setting things up for Jabu Mbara’s more restrained melodic hook. There’s a lot of ambition in Gabi’s material but No Secrets II gives amples reason to believe it’s ambition that will be delivered on.
Cuhhzo “Say Word”
While too many Austin hip hop acts make the mistake of maxing out their mixes and thus dooming their own vocals to the bottom sludges of the track, Brooklyn transplant Cuhhzo wisely makes the most of a minimal lido lvish beat constructed almost entirely from an eerie organ line and a crystal clear drum machine. All that space makes Cuhhzo’s delivery shine as he illustrates the impressive range of his flow. Cuhhzo seems to have a sizable Clipse influence but “Say Word” isn’t a knock off, it works in chopped and screwed elements on top of the coke rap aesthetic and Cuhhzo’s keen melodic sense also makes “Say Word” stand out as a lost Dungeon Family orphan.
Zest of Yore “Diagram”
Zest of Yore’s That Peaceful EP Feeling might be an artifact from their vaults but it sounds impressively fresh, featuring tracks that showcase Stephen Pierce’s enviable songwriting chops and Casey Diiorio’s expert co-production. The EP’s lead track “Diagram” fits its name, serving as a handy illustration of the group’s myriad strengths, from the endless array of guitar hooks to Pierce’s androgynous and potent vocals. Although it’s jam packed with sonic excursions and melodic gifts, “Diagram” feels airy and light; you’d swear it was three minutes shorter than it actually is and even after the third playthrough you’ll find it hard to resist hitting play again.
Ghost Park “Eloquent, but Rarely Outspoken”
Although they’re from Boston, Ghost Park are on local noisy tape label Graveyard Orbit so I don’t see why I can’t demand you listen to them in this local tracks round-up. Their new album 幽霊公園 opens with the perfectly titled “Eloquent, but Rarely Outspoken,” a propulsive bedroom pop track that wears its heart on its sleeve, splitting the difference between onelinedrawing and The Faint. The Portishead sample at the start is a bit of a fake out for what eventually comes, but there is an anxious and doom laden mood to the track that is right in line with those trip hop pioneers. Ghost Park’s sincere and aching voice is in a realm all its own, though, standing in stark contrast to the bold, sternum-quaking beat that keeps everything together. Graveyard has been quiet as a label for about a year, but reappearing with a release as invigorating and unique as this is a very promising sign of what might be on the horizon for the label.
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