Austin is never exactly hurting for quality releases from local artists, but 2018 felt like a major growth year for the city, particularly for genres that struggled in the past to get recognition. It was a year where the city’s hip hop community got national attention from outlets like Pitchfork, where the historic overthrow of a shocking number of GOP seats in local and federal government fueled renewed punk vigor, where our best and brightest electronic acts continued to rack up high profile releases and placements. Austin was a force to be reckoned with in every way in 2018 and 2019 is primed to be even more impressive.
We already counted down our 10 favorite videos, but the album output of Austin acts was particularly notable this year. New artists like Abhi the Nomad broke through in a major way, while standbys like Wild Child continued to shine and favorite from last year, such as fuvk and Blastfamous USA, expanded their sound in fresh and innovative ways. Without further ado, here are our picks for the 10 best albums by Austin artists in 2018…
Popper Burns Pure Disgust
Living through 2018 meant living with disgust– it was a nasty, brutish year that most of us are eager to move on from. So, while Popper Burns’ Pure Disgust hasn’t made me feel any less like shit in the month since it came out, it has nonetheless provided a blueprint for channeling all that filth and fury into something that is, if not cleansing, at least powerful. Building on the kinky cacophony of their eponymous debut, Pure Disgust showcased Popper Burns at their savage best by making things darker, more violent, more unsettling. From the moonlanding watch party brawl soundtrack of “Apollo 11” to the unhinged suburban freakout of “Sun Tan” to the acid tinged fever visions of “Night Terrors,” Pure Disgust thrills and disturbs in equal measure. Assuming we survive the next few decades, when someone asks what it felt like to live through this era, all I’ll have to do is play them Pure Disgust. – Nick Hanover
Malik Elijah & Ciro Mont Lazy
Malik Elijah & Ciro Mont came out of 2018 creating a contender for album of the year for Austin artists with Lazy, an easy listen experience in the best possible way, with laid back instrumentals and beats that slap hard. Standout track “Dope” coasts by on an amazing instrumental, showcasing the next level production that carries on throughout the whole album, prompting you to want to bump it in the car at all times. Malik holds his own when it comes to the writing and lyricism aspect of Lazy, throwing out breezy flows that recall a relaxed Big K.R.I.T.. Moments like “Dirty Vans” make you ride a slack vibe, allowing yourself to get lost in the piano and minimalist beat. Lazy is one of 2018’s brightest hidden gems, and it’s only a matter of time before it really takes off to the masses, so hop on this ride while it’s still early. – Alex LaFuente
Wild Child Expectations
Slickly produced, expertly arranged, and beautifully sung, Expectations more firmly cements Wild Child’s sound while broadening their horizons and hopefully their reach at the same time. Just as it was on their previous album Fools, frontperson Kelsey Wilson is again the most potent weapon in the band’s arsenal. Wilson has one of those voices that only comes along once a generation: strong and technically gifted, but totally unique and preeminently confident. She’s able to take songs like “Think it Over” and the titular “Expectations” and elevate them to a whole other level via her vocal delivery. This along with the entire band’s flawless performance continues to make Wild Child an act to watch, as they slip ever more confidently into a new (perhaps more broadly appealing) comfort zone after their initial three album growth spurt from folk curiosity to pop up-and-comers. – Brian J. Audette
Samantha Glass Nine Memories Between Impression and Imprint
The bulk of venerable local label Holodeck’s output skews towards the aloof and enigmatic, with synth machinists performing midnight dark orchestrations that exude icy distance. But Samantha Glass’s Nine Memories Between Impression and Imprint, the label’s greatest achievement this year, was startlingly personal and raw, providing an unfiltered glimpse inside the mind and anxieties of its creator. The single “Cruel Anxiety” laid it out best, its simple production and airy melodies beautifully framing Glass’s disaffected baritone vocal before opening up for a liberating and soaring chorus. Liberation can, in fact, be found all over Nine Memories, the darkness of the instrumentation serving as a personification of the anxieties Glass seeks to escape, from the gender expectations of “Putting the Male to Rest” to the stoic stifling of emotion in “The Carpenter in Us All.” Nine Memories doesn’t offer any resolution or answers, instead what it provides is something realer and more useful, a rare opportunity to understand someone else, without subterfuge or posturing. – NH
MeanGirls Is This Me Forever
Is This Me Forever feels like a wound you can’t help but prod. Raine Hopper’s songwriting gouges into thoughts of regret, rage, anxiety, and sadness – of reaching a point in your life when it feels like your choices matter, and you can’t help but wonder if you’ve made the right ones. There’s no shortage of punk/emo bands willing to serve you their heart on a plate, but MeanGirls’ sophomore album does it with deceptive sophistication. The 11 songs are tightly orchestrated blasts, deftly toeing the line of being confessional and witty without being self-indulgent, and being noisy and visceral without being sloppy. The guitar hooks are snappy, addictive and at points veer close to indie-pop, as on “Sleeper Hit,” a song about longing over someone who didn’t even take the time to break up (“I guess I was sleeping when you said it’s over”). Hopper’s sardonic drawl fulfills the disaffection in her lyrics, and often finishes with a bite of subversion. As on the closing track, “Into a chocolate shake I cried/Is this me? Is this me forever?” MeanGirls reliably hit on a fundamental, awful truth that the devastating and the absurd are rarely strangers to one another. – James Fisk
Fuvk time series
Fuvk is Austin music’s anonymous queen of melody and feeling. Lovers and mourners and lamenters and yearners will find plenty of room to swim through her sweet piercing music, which I’ll call “lo-fi bedroom emo pop.” Her 2018 album time series is her best accomplishment yet, a compact but delicately packaged collection of five tender, thoughtful tracks about longing and adoration.
On “time series” Fuvk elegantly balances simplicity and complexity, both in instrumentation and lyricism. On opening track “pairs of two,” a line like “bumblebees and lilies remind me of you” comes out tremulous and powerful, despite its pure and simple language. And “smile,” which boasts a whopping eight lines total, is marked by savvy hooks, addictive beats and crisp guitar work. Closing track “calm down” is dizzyingly, desperately, romantic; “I cannot help myself, I’m restless, I am shaking at my knees,” the artist bashfully but urgently admits. Finally, lest you think fuvk might be too soft to be sharp, album standout “fckbdy” opens with the blunt and eminently relatable opinion “I don’t like your fuckbuddy.” crooned with clear-eyed frankness.
In summing up my feeling about fuvk and “time series,” I need to echoing one of the artist’s own lyrics: “please don’t leave for a while.” – Kayleigh Hughes
Click Clack Blue Eyed Black Boy
As far as the mainstream was concerned, Austin hip hop in 2018 was all about the moody excess of trap, where Soundcloud singles and dirt bike filled YouTube clips reign supreme. But on Blue Eyed Black Boy, veteran Austin rapper Click Clack showed there was still something to be said for full length works exploring subjects more complicated than whole galaxies of multicolored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers and those who love them. As its title suggests, Blue Eyed Black Boy is an album of paradoxes, where the conflicted pleasure principles of orally minded anthem “The Times” sits alongside “Thicc,” an autotune saturated exploration of all things thicc, where the soul searching neuroticism of “Letter to Bob” shares a room with the unabashed commercialism of “Birfday.”
What connects it all is Click Clack’s effortless charm and confidence and the crisp, exploratory production of Ballteam, who tackles all but one of the tracks. Like the best kinds of collaborators, Click Clack and Ballteam push each other towards bigger and bigger aspirations, making Blue Eyed Black Boy something that even the biggest hip hop acts struggle with: an album you can actually enjoy every goddamn minute of. Click Clack might not have gotten that coveted Pitchfork shoutout this year, but he should rest easy knowing he put out not just the best Austin hip hop LP of the year, but one of the finest in the city’s history. – NH
Mobley Fresh Lies Vol. I
Bold beyond measure, unafraid to take chances, slickly produced, and sonically resplendent, Mobley’s Fresh Lies Vol. I proves that just because a song is danceable, doesn’t have to mean it can’t also be deep. Mobley has always been a talented producer, musician and showman, but his subtle lyrical skill really shines through on Fresh Lies Vol 1, giving voice to the questions, isolation, and anguish of a tumultuous modern society. Through a haze of heady introspection, Mobley tackles the easy to ask, but hard to answer questions of “who am I?” and “where do I belong?” through 10 tracks steeped in pop R&B heritage. Backed by synth-heavy sonic arrangements that hover just above the pop status quo, Fresh Lies Vol. I’s complexities are subtle, but hard to ignore, making this an album that’s eminently approachable, while also providing a welcome challenge. – BJA
Blastfamous USA BUSA Flock
We covered rapper Zeale on Ovrld within our first month of existence, and his trajectory since has been one of the most exciting to follow over this decade. In Blastfamous USA, Zeale has finally found his Run the Jewels. Collaborating with NGHT HCKLRS on the most aggressive beats of his career, Zeale has channeled his longstanding political passion and natural pop sensibilities into music that sounds just as urgent as his lyrics truly are.
On BUSA Flock, Blastfamous USA partner with some of the other top artists of color in Austin (Phranchyze, Mobley, Fort Never’s Chantell Moody, BLXPLTN) to produce an array of sonic styles that all still center around the reality that we are living in unprecedentedly turbulent times. While each collaborator brings a distinct style to the table, Zeale’s passionate delivery still leads to a cohesive EP full of songs that could soundtrack a peaceful march or a violent riot. Either way, BUSA Flock will inspire and motivate you like nothing else out right now. – Carter Delloro
Abhi the Nomad Marbled
When Abhi the Nomad said “Beat up vehicle only takes the CDs/So donʼt you ask me for the fucking aux cord,” on “Dogs,” I felt that. It’s sort of an inverse sentiment to Chance the Rapper’s “All Night,” which boasts a similarly glimmering and energetic vibe as it describes Chance’s much more luxurious ride. Much of Marbled, Abhi’s jaw-dropping debut album, invokes “can relate” feelings, as the rapper shifts from funky and soulful to grinding to melancholic to wistful all while speaking truths about the joys and many challenges of being young, brown and striving in America. He raps and sings about being a misfit, living on coupons, stained mattresses and frozen burritos.
Abhi’s work, which crosses the boundaries between indie, hip hop, pop and rock, is informed by his remarkable life spent moving from country to country, eventually settling in America before being booted out when he lost the immigration lottery. He’s back for now on a student visa, but his situation is tenuous, making his musical accomplishments all the more magnificent and meaningful; come hell or high water or yanked visa, this artist is going to make his art.
Throughout Marbled, Abhi is thoughtful — see “Spacecraft” or “Marbled” — and smooth as silk — see the sultry “Sex n’ Drugs” — delivering track after track of polished, radio-ready earworms with depth to match their addictiveness. The artist shines his absolute brightest on “Letter for God,” a song with equal parts irresistible hooks, savvy lyrics and brilliant instrument combos that that anyone with sense will immediately flag as a worth breakout track. But truly, there is not a single misstep on Marbled, the most promising debut Austin album I’ve heard in my decade living here. – KH