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). On Tuesday we looked at the super-established artists – those who rose to national prominence in the first decade of the 21st century. Yesterday we explored nine rock artists who are essential to understanding the current landscape of local music, and today we will look at nine rock artists who are poised to break through this year or beyond to prominent national attention. This was the hardest day to curate, because there are countless great bands in Austin; many of our personal favorites didn’t even make the list. But these nine artists have momentum either in growing press accolades or audience sizes, and are in great positions to break big in the near future. Familiarize yourself with these 27 artists and you will have a great starting point from which to approach live music in the Capital City.
SPEAK’s first full-length album, I Believe in Everything, came out in 2011, and the group’s talent with a great melody made it an easily accessible minor hit. They garnered a small but fervent fan base, and are one of the local bands that should easily find a wider audience thanks to the seemingly infinite supply of great hooks at their disposal. “Carrie” was the runaway hit from Everything, and a nearly unstoppable pop song, but SPEAK seem to have taken their sound up another notch on their latest recordings. Last week, they released “Peaks,” the lead single from their forthcoming Pedals, and if that song is any indication, they will find wide acclaim from both listeners and critics. It has a breezy, catchy electro foundation without ever forgetting the songwriting. With a panoply of blogs lavishing them with love (Pigeons & Planes, Indie Music Filter, My Old Kentucky Blog, and on and on), their star figures only to rise even higher.
The Boxing Lesson
The Boxing Lesson began as the brainchild of guitarist/singer Paul Waclawsky while he was in Los Angeles in the early 2000’s. Upon moving to Austin, he teamed up with synth-master Jaylinn Davidson and the two kindred spirits have been rocking out ever since. Yet, it has been nearly five years since they released a proper full length album, 2008’s Wild Streaks & Windy Days. They have been maintaining interest in their excellent psych/space-rock with smaller releases, but 2013 figures to be a big year for them, as they will finally whet their fans’ appetites with Big Hits! We’ll have a full review soon, but suffice it to say that they have done an excellent job matching their proggier inclinations with some great hooks and a sturdy rhythm section (anchored by the 14-year-old drummer Ben Redman). It should appeal to their existing fan base while opening up many more converts. “Health is the New Drug” was released last year as the lead single from the album.
For those of you who think that Sufjan Stevens just doesn’t have enough violins, we humbly present Mother Falcon. This orchestral pop collective seems to fluctuate membership, leaving them always somewhere between 14 and 22 members, with a seemingly fully-stocked orchestra section. They released their debut album, Alhambra, in 2011, and immediately jumped out with their lush and intricate arrangements. It helped that they also had some great songs – with “Fireflies” and “Alligator Teeth” both standing out among a set of already great material. Just a few days ago, they released their sophomore follow-up, You Knew, to great acclaim. The record had the honor of streaming a week early as part of NPR Music’s First Listen series, which exposed the group’s work to a slew of new fans. This is another record that we will have a review for shortly, but lead single “Dirty Summer” illustrates how Mother Falcon is able to use their mammoth size in service of their quality songs, rather than let themselves overwhelm the material.
Another artist whose debut LP came out in 2011, SORNE is a force to be reckoned with. He and his two backing musicians put on one of the most captivating live shows in Austin. Partly this is because Morgan Sorne is also a visual artist, in addition to being a musical artist. He carefully crafts his costumes and stage props, and allows his body to give itself over to the movements of the music. And his music is unlike almost anyone else’s – a strange amalgamation of Native American tribal music with avant-electronic flourishes. The sound was the most overwhelming element of House of Stone when it came out and we were exposed to tracks like “Overtones,” “Omnipotent,” and “Shaman of Snakes” – visceral, powerful works that seem to emerge simultaneously from the distant future and distant past. His upcoming album is Ego Altar and the title track has already been released. It shows clearer, sharper songwriting and production and promises to elevate this artist – who already counts TV on the Radio and The Roots as friends – to even higher heights.
The ladies in Feathers are onto something. With Depeche Mode and the Cure headlining ACL Fest this year, it seems evident that gloomy 80s music is back in. Fortunately for Feathers, that is exactly what they produce. With shimmering synthesizers and a sturdy drum machine, Anastasia Dimou and company have produced icy tracks that are humanized by Dimou’s breathy, emotional vocals. Their debut album, If All Now Here, comes out next week, and they have already received some global love, getting coverage in the Guardian, The Deli NYC and Bitch Magazine. Their sound and image seems perfectly suited for the current music blogosphere, and they will likely encounter a lot more success as the year continues on. While their album is full of infectious gems (like the soon-to-be-ubiquitous “Dark Matter”), the only track out now is the darkly insistent and mesmerizing “Land of the Innocent.”
The boys from Tiger Waves had already acquitted themselves nicely prior to the summer of 2012. With one LP and two EPs to their name, they had built a solid repertoire of “indie-surf-rock-art-pop” with decent tracks like “Slow Loris” and “I Hope You’ll Feel Alright” showcasing their dreamy pop rock inclinations, but they were still a band honing their sound. And in June 2012, they found it. That was when they released the single “Weekends” – the moment when their languid sound wrapped its tendrils around a perfect summer pop gem. It ended up getting love from some major blogs, like I Guess I’m Floating (where it was named one of the year’s best tracks) and YVYNYL. Since then, they’ve released four more songs (the best of which is the incredible “Fields” – seriously, how was this not already a song?!? Reid Comstock and company have uncovered something amazing), and are poised to explode whenever they choose to drop a full-length album. There are few bands making guitar rock like this anywhere, let alone in Austin (with Good Field coming close), and they are one of the great undiscovered talents waiting to blossom.
Marmalakes is an acoustic trio that has steadily produced one EP every year since 2010. Their first, Wonder Winds, presented a competent and talented Americana group with pleasant, bouncy tracks like “(A Scene Through) Cellophane” and “Vittoria.” Their subsequent releases, though, showed a band that was more comfortable with exploring new territory. From Even Clothed in 2011, album closer “Balmorhea” is a gorgeous lullaby with rich harmonies and album opener “Geneva Hall,” while not short on energy, is also full of unconventional chord progressions and intervals. By 2012’s In Arnica, the group was writing intricate tracks that couldn’t be forced into any particular direction; the songs themselves were of paramount importance. “Canvases of Lakes,” for example, is a songwriting master class, filled with many moments of unexpected beauty. With this confidence in their performance and songwriting abilities, Marmalakes are now readying their full-length debut. “Wells” is the first taste we’ve gotten of their latest record and it suggests that they’ve come full circle – employing their adventurous spirit in the service of the kinds of folk-pop hooks they started with. It’s an arresting track that should appeal to a wide audience, and hopefully expand Marmalakes’ circle of influence beyond just the Austinites that have grown to love them.
Pure X don’t have a lot of fans. The fans they do have, though, are extremely influential ones. Since their debut LP in 2011, Pleasure, this hazy Austin trio have garnered the attention of nearly every major indie music outlet – Pitchfork, Stereogum, Pretty Much Amazing, Gorilla Vs. Bear, Brooklyn Vegan, The Line of Best Fit. Even SPIN Magazine has gotten in on the action, calling their latest singles “magnificent.” Which makes it all the more shocking that they aren’t more highly touted right here in their own hometown. Perhaps it’s best explained by their slow-burning numbers. Drawing heavily from shoegazy dream pop acts of the past like Galaxie 500 and Slowdive, Pleasure had guitars laden with swirling effects that calmly insinuated their way into your brain. The vocals were sometimes unintelligible and always far down in the mix – just another piece of the overall soundscape. Songs like “Twisted Mirror” and “Dry Ice” lingered for days and even a track like “Easy,” that could have been an indie-pop hit in other hands sounded like it was being piped in from another dimension. On the songs in advance of next week’s Crawling Up the Stairs, they’ve filtered their dreamy influences through a bit of Kurt Vile and Girls, and come out with cleaner vocals (a lot more falsetto) and crisper guitars. The pace is still deliberate, but with greater accessibility they should gain quite a few fans at home and beyond.
Our only hesitation with including Whiskey Shivers on this list that we’ve been trying to keep it to rock acts and Whiskey Shivers is bluegrass through and through. Yet, their audience is mostly comprised of rock fans, so it seems appropriate that they be included in this bunch. Their live show is so well-known around Austin for being a raucous, rowdy, drunken affair that they can pack just about any venue they play (see yesterday’s Wine Down Wednesdays that a line to get in). Their notoriety began with 2011’s Batholith (which we totally under-rated at the time), and specifically their video for “Gimme All Your Lovin'” which, thanks to an assist from Reddit, now tallies nearly 450,000 views. That debut was packed to the brim with energetic numbers like “Dooley,” “Wookie Boogers,” and “Drunk Dial.” Their follow up in 2012, Rampa Head, was a more mature affair in terms of subject matter, but sacrificed nothing in terms of energy. “Way Downtown,” “Burden,” and “WTD” all kept the tempos up while a song like “Jealous Heart” illustrated how they could slow things down, get serious, and still put out a great tune. So far they have found fans in Ryan Seacrest, Perez Hilton and Anthony Bourdain, and their notorious live shows mean that they will only continue to grow in fame despite no known plans for a 2013 record release.