9 Bands: Essential Austin Rock Artists, 2010-Present Edition

Population estimates suggest that since we here at OVRLD started this music review site/blog/e-zine back in February 2011, there have been an additional 60,000 new people that moved to our fair city. That breaks down to nearly 75 new Austinites every day (assuming that no one has left). This staggering growth means that we have to reinforce our physical infrastructure, but we also have to reinforce our cultural infrastructure. Austin has a deep and rich cultural history, and any new Austinite needs to become familiar with that. As local music aficionados, we’d like to offer our suggestions of essential local artists with which any newcomer to the Live Music Capital of the World should become familiar.

Since our wheelhouse is rock music, those are the artists upon which we will focus (though we could run similar lists for almost any other genre). Yesterday we looked at the super-established artists – those who rose to national prominence in the first decade of the 21st century. Today we explore nine rock artists who are essential to understanding the current landscape of local music, and tomorrow we will look at nine rock artists who are poised to break through this year or beyond to prominent national attention. Familiarize yourself with these 27 artists and you will have a great starting point from which to approach live music in the Capital City.

Gary Clark Jr.


Gary Clark Jr. is the latest superstar out of our fair city. After putting in years and years playing around Austin blues clubs, he’s now friends with Alicia Keys and ?uestlove. He’s dating an Australian model. He has received high praise from Rolling Stone and SPIN magazines. He’s played for Obama at the White House and joined John Mayer and the Rolling Stones on stage. And he’s just one album into his career. 2012’s Blak and Blu was a hodgepodge of styles that Clark has mastered. The light hip-hop beat of “The Life,” the sweet soul of “Please Come Home,” and the slick funk of “Ain’t Messin ‘Round” all allowed Clark to showcase his awesome abilities. Yet this guitar-slinger remains at his best when scorching a blues track – the dirty blues of “Numb” or the classic blues of “When My Train Pulls In” being great examples. The best introduction to Clark’s work is “Bright Lights,” with a sharp, screeching guitar and an airtight rhythm section on point from start to finish.

The Bright Light Social Hour


Based on the success of their self-titled debut full-length, the Bright Light Social Hour took over Austin in 2010. At this point they can sell out almost any local venue, and are focused instead on building their national reputation. This summer will see the blues-rock jam band exclusively rocking out festivals; they’ve got eight lined up currently, including Lollapalooza, Telluride and the just-announced ACL Fest. Outside of Paste Magazine, they’ve received little national attention, but any and every major Austin publication has sung their praises. To understand all the fuss, just take a spin through that 2010 record. From the funky opener “Shanty” through the burning slow-jam “Detroit” to the monstrous prog-rock instrumental closer “Rhubarb Jam,” BLSH ooze rock at every turn. The clearest distillation of why Austin fell in love, though, is the irresistible “Back and Forth.”

Quiet Company

quiet-company-leah-musePhoto by Leah Muse

Quiet Company began as a solo project for Taylor Muse and has blossomed into a lively quintet that celebrates the joys and difficulties of life. After their 2006 debut, their initial fan base was in the Christian rock community, but they quickly began receiving wider acclaim in 2009 with the track “It’s Better to Spend Money.” By 2010’s Songs For Staying In EP, Quiet Company were finding a home on local Austin radio with the peppy single “How Do You Do It.” All of this slow build set the stage for their third full-length, We Are All Where We Belong in 2011. A song cycle about losing your religion (in the literal sense), it broke Quiet Company out of their perceived Christian boundaries and defined them as a thoughtful, literate band for any critical young person. They’ve found acclaim on NPR and MTV, performed on Last Call with Carson Daly, and had a successful partnership with Grooveshark. Their thematic engagement with love and religion is best combined with their upbeat rock music on 2011’s “You, Me, & the Boatman.”

Dana Falconberry


There isn’t anyone quite like Dana Falconberry. While she did release an album of precious, quiet folk in 2008, it was 2012’s Leelanau that put her on the national radar. She’s been heavily featured on prominent national music blogs like Daytrotter and My Old Kentucky Blog, and garnered the attention of more traditional outlets, like NPR (twice!) and the New York Times. And her latest video, for “Please Sparrow,” was just premiered on SPIN. With such an arresting record, the national media attention is understandable. Leelanau is filled with 14 songs that explore nature, humans and the nature of humanity. It’s gorgeous: equal parts heart-breaking and up-lifting. There’s a simple grace in songs like “Crooked River,” “Birch Bark” or the epic album closer “Leelanau.” Yet album centerpiece “Petoskey Stone” is the one that still resonates the deepest for us, hitting every emotional and intellectual note possible, with a swirling arrangement underpinning the whole thing.

Wild Child


Wild Child are a cutesy folk group that relies heavily on a ukulele and overly sentimental lyrics. On the surface, their immense success is surprising, but for anyone who knows this band’s work it’s completely understandable. Wild Child exhibit the kind of honest emotion that eludes most indie rockers and even many of their folkier peers. Their songs are delicate and sensitive, but full of strength in the face of the sort of romantic adversity that is characteristic of the lives of twenty- and thirtysomethings in the 21st century. After topping Hype Machine’s aggregation of the music blogosphere, their star rose dramatically with coverage on The Music Ninja, Indie Shuffle and Paste Magazine. They’ve been successfully touring the country and recording new material since the release of Pillow Talk in 2011 and are poised to continue their monstrous rise. Though there are many great tracks across the 15 songs on the record (including “The Escape,” “That’s What She Say,” and “The Tale of You & Me”), the title track, “Pillow Talk,” is the perfect distillation of their ways with melodies and lyrics.

Ringo Deathstarr


Ringo Deathstarr are both dirty, grimy rockers and ethereal shoegazers. They draw much from nineties rock, but are able to avoid sounding too much like any one artist. They rock too hard for their My Bloody Valentine comparisons (“Tambourine Girl”). They’re too dreamy for the Dandy Warhols similarities (“So High”) to be completely inclusive. And they write great songs. Tracks like “Rip” and “So High” pack a whollop into two minutes, while “Brightest Star” rides a spacey groove for nearly six. “Drag” is like Savages filtered through an opium haze. On a national level, they’ve gotten recognition from the taste-making Pitchfork, and been taken under the wings of the likes of Bob Mould and Smashing Pumpkins (both of whom are evident influences on the group’s work). Though they’ve found a great deal of success in Europe, they’re still a tremendous draw here in their home base. And they’ve gotten this far on the strength of just two fantastic LP’s: 2011’s Colour Trip and 2012’s Mauve. The band is defined by its energy and vocal interplay, and “So High,” from Colour Trip, is a highlight for both Alex Gehring and Elliott Frazier.

The Eastern Sea


The Eastern Sea are all about emotion. There is emotion in the backstory surrounding 2012’s Plague – so many challenges that needed overcoming during its creation – but there’s so much more emotion in the music itself. The (self?) bitterness of “A Lie,” the beauty that doubles as wishful thinking on “The Line” and the desperation of “The Snow,” from The Eastern Sea in 2009, all only hint at the emotional depths The Eastern Sea are capable of plumbing. The Eastern Sea was really just two EP’s packaged together, but it raised their local profile thanks to the naked beauty of the songs. With Plague, The Eastern Sea hit an entirely different level of acclaim. Selling out shows around Austin, they were recognized by MTV Hive, American Songwriter and Paste, among others, on the national scene. Frontman Matt Hines has put together a group that isn’t afraid to get real, but keeps it gorgeous while doing so, and it doesn’t get any better than “The Match.”

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears


Black Joe Lewis is on a whole other level. His singular brand of funk and soul is raw and energetic, and remarkably original. Lewis’s voice shouldn’t work – it’s frequently off-key and lacks the power of some of the great soul vocalists. Where it succeeds is through its sheer earnestness. When Lewis declares, “I’m broke!” it’s impossible not to feel his pain. And the songs that Lewis performs with the Honeybears are fantastic funk gems, not drawing wholly from any particular time in funk’s past and thus retaining a shockingly contemporary quality for a genre that is often concerned with classicism (Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley). Lewis made a huge splash with 2008’s Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!, but it was Scandalous in 2011 that received near-universal acclaim (from the likes of the AV Club, Filter and BBC Music). Whether it’s fresh takes on old songs like “Since I Met You Baby” and “Stop Breakin’ Down” or original masterpieces like “She’s So Scandalous” and “Livin’ In the Jungle,” Lewis consistently amazes. His looseness and musical chops are both on full display on “Booty City.”

Shakey Graves


Shakey Graves is the best one-man show in Austin (with apologies to Eagle Eye Williamson). His rolling finger-picking guitar style is sparely accompanied by his suitcase drum and tambourine, creating a captivating live experience. The songs from his outstanding 2010 LP Roll the Bones serve as mere sketches for the directions in which his live performances turn. As a one-man band he can twist fresh life out his compositions each time he takes the stage – a place where a tempo is just as bendable as string – and a rendition of a song will never be exactly the same. This sort of energy has caught the ears of NPR Music, The New York Times, Consequence of Sound, Daytrotter and more. With tracks and half-releases scattered across the World Wide Web, it feels impossible to get a complete picture of Shakey’s discography. He’s a must-see live act, and has grown immensely from the early Roll the Bones, but get your hands on whatever you can from this man. “Built to Roam” is a great example of what you have in store.

Honorable Mention: Deep Time