by Nick Hanover
Perhaps the greatest trait of the current Austin scene is that it’s too varied and diverse to have a trademark sound– it lacks a consistent identity and so instead is consistently illuminating and surprising. We’re especially lucky in that 2016 has brought us two compilations highlighting the current indie wave in Austin, with heavyweight oddballs Big Bill first bringing us Slack Capital, an excellent release that focused on ramshackle new wave and pop punk, and now Ben Shorts, leader of that band’s friendly rivals Basketball Shorts, has unveiled the ambitious Class of 2016 compilation, where the only consistent trait is that each of the band’s represented is new. The result is far more eclectic than Slack Capital but equally startling in its vitality and vision of a new Austin music renaissance.
Over the course of its 17 tracks, Class of 2016 gives listeners glimpses of a number of Austin scenes, from C86 pop (Tres Oui) to country rock (Plantation Band) to metal (Weak Flesh) to endless varieties of punk and indie. The compilation is sequenced so that each track is a different genre, which in description seems like a recipe for disaster but pays of well here for the most part. In some instances, there is enough shared DNA to make the transitions feel like the work of one coherent creative entity, like the opening one-two punch of Planet Manhood’s Sebadoh vibe on “Cruise” and Tres Oui’s Too Pure Records nostalgia, or bass-heavy punk giants Vampyre and Oozer being placed alongside one another. In the latter case, Oozer even functions as a comedown from Vampyre’s intense, full frontal assault, a sludgy antidote to their DFA1979 meets Jesus Lizard antics.
But Class of 2016 is intended as a sampler pack, a well-curated collection of sweets for you to pick and consume in whatever way you see fit. The early rock revivalists fare especially well here, particularly Mean Jolene’s “Bump the Rump” and Lola Tried’s “Blue and Green,” both of which mine ’50s sock hop melodies to great effect. But the most surprising moments come from the acts looking towards the future, whether it’s Pema’s “My Intentions Are Good” and its mash-up of tUnE-yArDs vocal looping and Talking Heads arrangement or Common Velvet’s “It Was Your Idea Not Mine,” a rare post-rock indebted song that shows off an impressive grasp of melody and a disciplined approach to structure.
More classically leaning Austinites will likely be impressed by the portions of the compilation that nod towards the alt-country past of the city, too. Plantation Band’s “I Just Want You” could have come straight from late ’80s Austin in the best possible way, featuring twangy guitar riffs and a boozy rhythm supporting nasally harmonies and sorrowful lyrics of longing and regret. Poly Action recalls the same era but on the other side of the street, coming across as a lost college rock artifact with its power pop production and mumbly vocals. Both acts connect the compilation to the ’80s and ’90s heyday of Austin music but in an inventive and refreshing rather than stale way.
Class of 2016 is a focused and passionate collection of some of Austin’s best new talent that takes delight in the fact that it’s barely scratching the surface of what’s out there. The message Ben Shorts and company are declaring with the compilation is that this is just a convenient starting pack, and the goal is clearly to get you seeking out new discoveries of your own. After all, graduating classes don’t come in isolation, there are always future graduates following close behind.
Several of the Class of 2016 bands, including Vampyre, Oozer and Mean Jolene and more, will be playing the compilation’s tape release show tonight, August 12th, at Barracuda.
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