9 Austin Albums We Overlooked in 2018

by Brian J. Audette

Overlooked Austin Albums 2018

2018 was a busy year for me with a lot of work to be done and a lot of life changes as well. Amidst all the craziness I really didn’t get a chance to review as many new releases as I had planned to, but I’m hoping to rectify that here at the start of 2019 as best I can, by doing a little bit of cleaning. I submit to you 9 albums that I meant to get around to reviewing, but didn’t in 2018. These are not works to be taken lightly. There are some stellar records here so take notice. If we’re lucky, 2019 will bring just as much quality local music to our ears and hopefully I’ll have the time to review them as well.

Marmalakes Please Don’t Stop

After I started writing for OVRLD (which coincided with my taking a deeper dive into our local scene) Marmalakes were one of the first bands I latched onto. Like a modern Simon & Garfunkel, with hints of Dylan, and a little Buffalo Tom or Wilco for good measure, Marmalakes produced the kind of just slightly off-kilter folk music that I really enjoyed: up front, thoughtful but playful, technically savvy, and never overwrought. The band released a handful of EP’s, played a bunch of shows, and always seemed poised to do something big. Then they went quiet. They’d pop up every now and then, but for several years there was no new Marmalakes music. Then, almost out of nowhere, they dropped Please Don’t Stop (their first LP) earlier this year.

The intervening years really haven’t changed Marmalakes much. The band I described above is still the band on Please Don’t Stop only more mature, fuller sounding, and somewhat bolder. While the album does feature new renditions of a couple of classics (“Vittoria” and “Geneva Hall”) the rest are all previously unrecorded tracks. Though the music is still the same, the Marmalakes sound is huge on this album, a result of adding keys to the mix and slew of guest musicians to the recording. For old fans Please Don’t Stop just sounds like Marmalakes grown up. For new fans, you’re in for a treat when you pick this up. Hopefully this isn’t just a last hurrah for the band, but a new beginning with more to come soon.

Slept In Arousal of Drifting

It would be too easy to simply shelve Slept In under the genre classification of “noise,” a term that, like “garage” before it, tends to get appended to anything loud, loose, and not easily pigeonholed. What Slept In actually represent is a fair bit more nuanced than simple genrefication can describe. Sure, it’s noisey, but there’s a lot going on in that noise.

As an album, Arousal of Drifting immediately conjures images of early 90’s Steve Albini recordings, albums that often have a real sense of space in their sound and flaunt their lack of mainstream polish, without sounding underproduced or poorly engineered. The result here is a sort of shoegaze punk: fast and loud, heavy on the effects in some places, stripped down in others. It reminds me a lot of those early Jawbox recordings where DC hardcore pedigree and pop rock sensibility crashed head on, resulting in a beautiful mess. Slept In are simply unrelenting on Arousal. Alternating between melancholy sludge and raucous ferocity. This combined with the otherworldly drone of simple vocal harmonies creates a space that’s both comforting and invigorating.

Bum Out Celebrate With Me, I’m Letting Myself Go

On their latest release, Bum Out sticks the landing much better than on their last outing. With a tighter production and a more solid approach to song structure, The band smooths over their prior rough edges and give us some angsty tunes to mope to as loud as reason allows.

The biggest change for Bum Out on this release is a structural one. Where I found their previous effort to be somewhat disjointed (with songs whose pieces didn’t quite seem to fit together as well as intended) Celebrate With Me, I’m Letting Myself Go features a selection of much tighter, more confidently constructed songs. Grinding along like a less bratty, more mature version of Offspring by way of Hüsker Dü, Bum Out’s raspy, layered vocals, fast guitar noise and the thrum and beat of pounding rhythm resound with a sort of intense malaise that’s halfway between stoner rock and old school emo.

Curbside Jones Milk Tea Chronicles & Another Sip

The last couple of years have been great for the expansion of style and production in the Austin hip hop scene and while other names may be getting the most of the spotlight, let us not forget Mr. Curbside Jones. Coming off the high of last year’s Wolves’ Clothing, Jones stayed busy in 2018, releasing the two part EP Milk Tea Chronicles and the instrumental LP/photobook combo Another Sip, both inspired by his travels in Japan after getting married last year.

In the world of hip hop, Curbside Jones’ angular compositions, syncopated beats, and heavy sampling definitely mark him as something of an outlier, a sheep in a world of wolves if you will. The results speak for themselves however as Jones has compiled some of the most mesmerizing tracks of this or any other hip hop style. Lyrically Milk Tea Chronicles is Jones at his best, crafting narrative through dense, personal lyrics that spill out like a dam opened wide. Musically, Another Sip is a master class in how the man crafts a beat. Bereft of non-sampled vocals, the tracks here showcase Curbside Jones’ unique musical arrangements, deftly juking between the norm and the bizarre, but culminating in some of the most intriguing sounds in the hip hop world. If Curbside Jones output in this next year is anything like the last two, we’re in for a treat.

We’ll Go Machete Totentanz

We’ll Go Machete are one of those bands that I always assume has broken up and then out of nowhere they do a show or put out a new release and pick right up where I thought I had left them. Such is the case with their latest release Totentanz. Stylistically We’ll Go Machete is a near perfect definition of post hardcore. The punk aggression and volume is still there, but the tempo is slower and the tuning a bit mellower. Don’t let that fool you though, Totentanz is very much a typical release from this band: loud, heavy, slow without being sludgey, and just slightly caustic.

There’s a consistency in We’ll Go Machete’s music that repeats not just from album to album, but song to song as well. For fans of variety this may lead to one song bleeding too easily into the next, especially considering the nature of frontperson Paul Warner’s vocal delivery. There’s talent in the repetition though, replete with biting guitar licks and a rhythm section that’s only improved over time. A new and welcome wrinkle on Totentanz is the instrumental track “Kakistocracy”, a driving tune that better shows the band’s chops than others. All told, while the album doesn’t break too much new ground for We’ll Go Machete, it doesn’t have to either. This band has a formula and a style and if you’re into it, Totentanz will not disappoint.

Uncle Jesus Bob Gnarly’s Noodle Factory

Technically a 2017 release, the first full length from this raucous trio dropped late in the year and I wasn’t really able to dig into it until early 2018. Even still, I think it’s taken me most of the year to really come to grips with Bob Gnarly’s Noodle Factory and still my verdict is that it’s just a fun album.

Repping a style that’s playfully grunge and half stoned, Uncle Jesus crank out 11 absurdly fun tunes on Bob Gnarly’s Noodle Factory. The fun is highlighted by tracks like the titular “Noodle Factory” that feature vocalist Steve Pike (formerly of Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes) doing his best Kurt Cobain by way of Black Francis while plucking out a sparse lilting lead line over the rolling rhythm section. It’s unironically post modern and clearly just for kicks. The rest of the album follows suit and while I never really latched onto any one track as being more… anything than the rest, as a whole this is just a fun album to play and zone out to.

Blistering Speeds We Have to Keep the Admirals Confused

Since the last time I touched base with Blistering Speeds back on their late 2012 release Casablanca is a State of Mind, it seems that they’ve moved further toward the psychedelic end of their musical spectrum, while also becoming a bit more experimental and progressive as well. While the “unironically modern” sounds of “fuzzed-out, tuned-down guitars, and cynicism” that I chronicled several years ago is still present, on We Have to Keep the Admirals Confused, Blistering Speeds have augmented their sound with a healthy smattering of piano, saxophone, and effects that take the band to new, otherworldly places. The result is an album that’s a bit more like chamber rock than what I remember. Admirals is a record that I could easily have on in the background. It’s all rather chill considering.

The Sour Notes This is Not Our Music

Take the title literally. Even though it’s a play on the title of Galaxie 500’s third and final LP, this is indeed not an album of The Sour Notes songs. Not original ones anyway. Recorded over their 10 year history at different times and in different places This is Not Our Music is a collection of 10 covers by The Sour Notes, most of which have never been released before.

Covers albums are generally hit or miss affairs where one’s mileage may vary based on their affinity for the band doing the cover and the original song and this one will be no different. For instance: I grew up being exposed to Bruce Springsteen by my dad and as an adult “Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” are a couple of my favorite Boss tunes. I’m also a HUGE Frank Turner fan and if I’m being honest… I think I like his covers of those two songs better (or at least as well for different reasons) than the original. Now while the same cannot be said for The Sour Notes’ rendition of Jawbreaker’s “Accident Prone”, I do really like their version. The same goes for all of the covers on This is Not Our Music, these are quality tracks and while they vary in their interpretations (The Galaxie 500 cover being closer to the original than the Beyonce cover for instance) they’re all great tracks and great fun to listen to. The efficacy of a covers album can be debated, but when an act as accomplished as The Sour Notes take a stab at it, one should at least take the time to give it a listen.

Heck Nugget Stay Together For the Split

While Heck Nugget may be from Houston, they did release a split this year with our own Red Heroesa split that we covered, but that I only had the Red Heroes tracks to review before we posted about it. This should have all been good though because I was going to cover the release show the next night and write about Heck Nugget then… only something came up and I couldn’t make it. I’ve felt bad about it ever since, because having now listened to Heck Nugget’s side of that split (many times) I’ve definitely become a fan.

Standout among Heck Nugget’s contributions to Stay Together for the Split is “Never Feel Bad”, a melancholy tune that oozes 90’s emo. Opening on a simple bit of strumming and quiet vocals, “Never Feel Bad” slowly builds until it explodes about a minute and a half in. Going instrumental for the next bit, the vocals eventually come back in the track’s later third, this time loud enough to match the music and full of pure emotion. It’s a formula that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent a good amount of time listening to bands like Get Up Kids, Sunny Day Real Estate, and Promise Ring, but Heck Nugget aren’t simply being copycats, “Never Feel Bad” is surpassingly sincere. It’s made me take a second look at this band’s previous work and it’s something you should check out as well.