White Bronco’s Elevate the Lowlife is a Great Farewell from an Underappreciated Band

by Nick Hanover

White Bronco Elevate the Lowlife EP

I try to be on top of shit, I really do. So I’m not sure what I was doing in early November that caused to me miss out on White Bronco’s Elevate the Lowlife EP but whatever it was almost certainly wasn’t worth it, especially now that the band has apparently thrown in the towel. It’s disappointing when any promising band calls it quits before they’ve received their proper acclaim, but the disappointment is a little more profound in the case of White Bronco since their sound hearkens to a different realm of punk and indie than most Austin groups, a mixture of Chicago punk thuggishness, early Factory anti-guitar lead lines and a slight twang that brings to mind the pioneering Austin punk scene. The band has both Nirvana and the Pixies listed as soundalikes, but that’s truer in the “we share these bands’ adventurousness” sense than the post-grunge sense that probably got your hackles up when I mentioned it.

Much of the band’s dichotomous nature is the result of Steve Winstead and Danny Glaser’s twin guitar attack, with the duo operating at opposite ends of the spectrum, one usually unleashing brutish, chugging riffs while the other carves through that thickness with razor sharp, trebly leads. On “Sick” the spindly riff is buried so low in the mix it initially sounds like a ghost, something popping in and out of the ether very subtly as the dreamier, individually plucked notes of the main chords dance between the more intimidatingly physical rhythms of Matt Moore and Craig Dunlavey’s drums and bass. That icy hidden riff really only makes its presence known when the main guitar drops out, opening up tremendous sonic space for the dual shouted vocals and that nagging melody, driving home the feverish elements of the song. It builds to a sickly pre-chorus, this vertigo inducing ascent to a plateau that never comes, leaving you with this phlegmatic burst of guitars like having a sneeze cut off by a coughing fit and when it all ends, that disrupted mood is sustained, only now there are haunting “whoo oohs” and someone angrily shouting about their sickness.

Don’t interpret that as White Bronco only having one mode, though. The EP is split fairly equally between those more expansive, open songs, janglier up-tempo offerings and short shots of full on punk. The perfectly titled “Stars Look Pretty” has the band filling out every inch of sonic space with chiming guitars, punchy bass and incomprehensible shouted vocals, while “Soda Utter” kicks the EP off with a less than two minute long glimpse of the band’s Mudhoney side. There’s even “Lowlife,” a sort of combination of the two, where Kinks guitars join forces with Elastica guitars and then everyone gets so worn out from all the kicking and screaming they just take a little sleepy detour for the chorus.

White Bronco get especially adventurous towards the end of the EP, though, with the back curveballs of “Plane” and “C-Thru.” “Plane” in particular functions as a bizarro reality version of the band, with its slide guitars and Nashville-on-quaaludes rhythm. It doesn’t just hint at a very weird path the band could have traveled if they stuck it out, it also makes you wonder what the world might have been like if David Berman formed the Silver Jews with Frank Black’s help instead of Stephen Malkmus’. By contrast, “C-Thru” is more cowpunk (until it isn’t), its rhythm more intense, the guitars stabbing rather than lax, the vocals yelpy and brittle. If “Plane” is affectionately defeatist, embracing the inevitable end, then “C-Thru” is White Bronco throwing one last temper tantrum, telling scene apathy and rules of what a local band should sound like to fuck off. All of its sonic reference points are dated and unhip, from the alt-country twang to the fake out solo, which really just makes it a little too ahead of the curve.

I can’t really even do the critic thing of wagging my finger at everyone asking why they let this band slip through the cracks, because I’m guilty of it too. Even now, when we live in a world of instant gratification and easy discovery, this shit still happens, maybe even more so and all I can say is “at least I am telling you about this music a few months too late” rather than a few decades too late. Austin being what it is, White Bronco have likely already reformed under a different moniker, playing different sounds, and maybe the next time around they’ll be dead set in the middle of the curve rather than too far ahead of it.

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