The 100 Best Albums by Austin Artists of the 2010s: 40-21

Best Austin Albums 2010s

As thriving as the Austin music scene was in regards to singles in the 2010s, the city has arguably always been more of an album town and that remained true in the decade. The well-reviewed geniuses of the prior era, including Bill Callahan, Okkervil River and Spoon, continued to put in incredible work, while buzzworthy acts like A Giant Dog, Dana Falconberry, S U R V I V E and Molly Burch came into their own. Meanwhile, Austin rap cohered in an unexpected way and bore a treasure trove of landmark albums while the synth scene finally got overdue recognition as that community released its own string of milestones. That, of course, means that trying to select the best of the best is a fool’s errand, but at Ovrld, we have always been a little foolish, so without further ado, here is the fourth part of our list of the 100 best albums by Austin artists of the 2010s (and don’t forget to check out our songs list here!)

40. Markov This Quiet

With tight precision Markov explored a detailed sonic landscape on their debut LP This Quiet. Evoking aural images of hardcore mainstays like Hot Snakes and Refused, Markov rip and shred their way across the 10 tracks of this album without pity. With piercing guitars, scratch-throated vocals, and ferociously driven rhythm, Markov take no prisoners whilst making a name for themselves in the annals of hardcore history. This Quiet is a whirlwind blend of razor sharp riffs and tight compositions hurtling around like a kid in a circle pit and when all is said and done this energetic, aggressive album begs for repeated listening. – Brian J. Audette

39. Gary Clark Jr. This Land

Being Black in America has never been an easy thing by any stretch of the imagination. I can personally attest to that at times it seems like there is no hope that we will ever be fully accepted. You would think this wouldn’t be the case in the 21st century, yet we’ve had to deal with overwhelming amounts of racism, from police brutality, to racial profiling, to overt discrimination and beyond. We deal with that frustration the best we can. Most notably, for centuries Blacks have dealt with the frustration, anger and hopelessness with music, just like Gary Clark Jr did with his Grammy award winning album, This Land. The title song sums the album up perfectly, and not just for Black people, but for all marginalized groups that are heavily discriminated against in this sometimes not so great country, that no matter what our race, creed, religion, sexual orientation is we all live here so it is our land and home just as much it is the next person’s. Gary weaves tales of being a part of a rich culture here in America and being respected for it. The album fits perfectly in a time where it is harder than ever before to overlook the extreme racism, police brutality, xenophobia, sexual discrimination and sexual assault that keep so many down. This will be an album that lives on for the ages due to its social relevance and impeccable musicianship. – Aaron “Fresh” Knight

38. Sailor Poon B-Sides

Sailor Poon are a band like no other. With B-sides, the explosively creative, bizarro twang-punk feminists, bolstered by fearless leader Billie Buck, deliver a 17-minute burst of seemingly spontaneous oddities, expressing a freedom many can only dream of feeling. From the groovy “FUPA” to the psychedelic, sexy-thesaurus vibes of “Boobies,” Sailor Poon brazenly embraces all sides of womanhood, including the sexy and the gross, and even radically suggests that maybe gross can be sexy and sexy can be gross. And amid the self-acceptance disguised in kook (and all that sweet, sweet sax) is a simmering rage, which the band, ultimately, rightfully aims at the cishet, white supremacist, patriarchal structures we’re all bogged down by. May we give thanks for songs like “White Male Meltdown” (“tell me what you think about the wage gap, tell me what you think about my thigh gap”) and “Hard to Be a Woman,” which showcase their perspectives in such a strong, unashamed — and unashamedly weird — way. – Kayleigh Hughes

37. Harlem Hippies

Harlem were by no means the first indie rock darlings to emerge from Austin but they feel like the first ones who were distinctly of the 2010s, with Hippies appearing right at the start of the decade with a flattering Pitchfork review in tow. In that review, David Bevan describes Harlem as “a garage band studied in the ways of Nuggets but clearly enamored with Pixies,” which not only accurately sums up Harlem but also the peppy, messy lo-fi rock scene they seemed at the forefront of. But where so many of those Burger Records also-rans have gone the way of the Nuggets acts they worshipped and been mostly forgotten, Hippies remains solid gold because of the timelessness of the songwriting hidden behind all the fuzz. Despite its cutesy title and Casper referencing lyrics, “Friendly Ghost” is an out and out blast, so much so Hundred Visions would, uh, “borrow” the guitar lick from the verse and turn it into the core of “I’m Inoculated” four years later. “Be Your Baby” is the kind of bratty teen romance bop Nobunny would stab someone with a carrot for; “Scare You” is the fitful “take me back” follow up for when that romance combusts. It would take Harlem almost an entire decade to follow this material up, but who can blame them when they got it so damn right the first time around? – Nick Hanover

36. Leach Millennial Spirituals

Where electronic artist Leach truly excels as a musician is in earning the swell, time and time again, and Millennial Spirituals offers some of his best examples. It’s full of that gentle and earnest dedication to a mood, the purity of sentiment in lyrics that balance precise human moments with elements of surreal abstraction, which build from a quiet and unrushed loveliness into a grand expression, a swell of melancholy or love–or most often a melancholy sort of love–that holds the listener still and breathing heavy. Each song feels like an opportunity to pause for feeling in that gauzy liminal space between what you used to know and where you’re headed.
I’ve said this before about Leach, but his music deserves to be called pretty and that deserves to be a pure compliment. Millennial Spirituals offers precise and original melodies, sparkling tones, and tender, unashamed take on love and self-reflection in times of transition. – KH

35. Capitalist Kids Lessons on Love, Sharing and Hygiene 

Lessons on Love, Sharing, and Hygiene was The Capitalist Kids’ third full-length album and easily one of the best out of an impressive discography. Playing loud, fast, and crisp, The Capitalist Kids are likely to draw immediate comparisons to bands like Green Day, but punk aficionados may be more likely to point to polarizing punkers Screeching Weasel or the punk masters of social commentary Bad Religion as better examples. Whoever you might think they sound like, it’s hard denying that The Capitalist Kids are catchy and on Lessons on Love, Sharing, and Hygiene they expanded both lyrically and stylistically, becoming even more accessible without losing their edge. What you’ll find on Lessons’ 15 tracks is a mix of love songs, social repartee, and political cynicism all delivered at top speed and with a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek sarcasm. Whether it’s “Parachute of Gold”‘s admonishment of corporate America, “Ayn”’s sarcastic ballad to objectivist figurehead Ayn Rand, or “Socialism Ain’t a Dirty Word”’s righteous indignation, Lessons on Love, Sharing, and Hygiene makes me smirk, think, and rock out all at the same time. –BJA

34. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein Stranger Things OST Vol. 1

When The Duffer Brothers pitched Stranger Things to Netflix using just a trailer they had made, it already had one of its key elements in place: the music of Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein via their band S U R V I V E. While that may not have been the one element that secured the pitch, it undoubtedly went a long way towards establishing the unique mood the Duffer Brothers were looking to create, one that avoided “’80s cheese,” and as the show’s immediate success proves, they were right to trust in Dixon and Stein. Unsurprisingly, the duo’s work for the show– wondrous yet menacing, vintage yet looking towards a future that could have been– took on a life of its own, provoking a demand for similar sounds in other soundtracks while finally breaking open the Austin synth scene on a national level. Soundtracks, even good ones, rarely hold up long after their release, but Dixon & Stein’s Stranger Things work has become iconic, timeless and pivotal. – NH

33. Walker Lukens Tell it to the Judge

You know how sometimes a small, indie filmmaker gets tapped for a big budget studio picture? And you know how sometimes it can be so delightful to see them explore their style with more resources? That’s Tell it to the Judge. You hear it in album opener “Jacket on Ya Shoulders,” where Walker Lukens kicks off the track with a vocal loop that would have fit right in on his debut, Devoted. But more and more gets added to the arrangement until it’s bigger and heavier and slicker and richer than anything we’d heard from Lukens before. Across the length of the record, Lukens flexes his songwriting and production chops, like on the Spoon-esque stomp of “Where is Thunder Road?” or the eerie Modest Mouse darkness of “Lifted.” While the retro soul of “Every Night” scored most of the attention from this 2017 release, the ’80s pop of “Don’t Wanna Be Lonely (Don’t Wanna Leave You Alone)” is an absolute stunner. Where Devotion’s stylistic explorations left the record feeling a bit disjointed, on Tell it to the Judge, Lukens lets his sonic imagination fly while sounding confident and completely coherent. It’s as self-assured a sophomore effort as you’ll hear. – Carter Delloro

32. Okkervil River Away 

An Okkervil River release in name only, Away is essentially a Will Sheff solo record (hence kicking things off with “Okkervil River R.I.P.”), deviating from the rambling, rollicking twang the group had come to be known for. But it’s by no means a wasteful experiment, in many ways it gets to the heart of Sheff’s songwriting, more directly connecting him to the lyric poets who made up his influences, with contemporary reviews referencing icons ranging from Van Morrison to Bob Dylan to Leonard Cohen. Of those, the former is the best fit– “Call Yourself Renee” has the pastoral quality and jazz flourishes of peak Van– but Sheff and co-vocalist Marissa Nadler have a haunting beauty to their vocals that distinguishes the material from those gruff masters. There is also an unexpected current of soul to the songs, as on “Mary on Wave,” where Sheff’s fragile vocal is buoyed by a rhythm section that wouldn’t be out of place on a Neville Brothers recording. A profound and shockingly intimate peek at otherwise hidden aspects of one of Austin’s most beloved songwriters, Away may be a departure from the sound Okkervil River is best known for, but it was all the more rewarding for it. – NH

31. Abhi the Nomad Modern Trash

Abhi the Nomad burst onto the Austin music scene in 2018 with his debut album, Marbled. The album was met with a great reception here in Austin and nationally and had the backing of the legendary Tommy Boy Records, which brought more eyes to the growing local rap scene. It would be a hard act to follow for any artist, but Abhi rose to the occasion with Modern Trash. A top 40 seller at Waterloo Records for several weeks (no mean feat for a hip hop artist in a city as reluctant to accept hip hop as Austin), Modern Trash is filled with fun filled party anthems like “BTFL” and “Silicon Valley,” while also full of explorations of everyday worry, love, and frustration on such songs like “Modern Boi,” “Play God” and “House of Clocks.” The album gives off a Beastie Boys meets Jamie Lidell feel, with Abhi’s lyrical skills framed by rock and electronic infused production. I imagine more eyes will be upon Abhi and hopefully Austin after this solid release. – AFK

30. The Eastern Sea Plague

I first listened to Plague back when I was just starting to really explore the Austin music scene beyond the bigger names that were more nationally recognizable. I had heard of Eastern Sea at least by that point, but other than something vaguely folkish, I really had no idea what to expect. I can still remember playing Plague for the first time, planning just to get an idea of it and then sitting nearly silent until it came to an end. “This is an important work” is what I thought to myself at the time and still do. A labor of love that almost nearly didn’t come to be, Plague oozes with passion. Best taken as a whole, it’s hard for me to dissect the album or divorce any of its 12 tracks from the rest. Listening to it now, Plague definitely feels of a time. Eastern Sea’s brand of baroque, wispy, progressive folk is reminiscent of bands like Grizzly Bear and Bon Iver who were enjoying some success around then. This fact does nothing to diminish the work in retrospect however and Plague packs as much punch now as it did nearly a decade ago. – BJA

29. Ringo Deathstarr Colour Trip

Let’s get this out of the way up front. Yes, Ringo Deathstarr sound exactly like vintage shoegaze. I would consider them traditionalists, not necessarily making strides in the sonic palette of their genre. For a casual music fan, you could slide any of these tracks into a My Bloody Valentine or Ride playlist and they wouldn’t necessarily know the difference. But in many ways, that’s amazing. Ringo Deathstarr are among the best to make their kind of music, even if this debut album did miss Loveless by 20 years. What undergirds their success is just how great these songs are. Colour Trip kicks off with an incredible trio of songs: the dancy percussion of “Imagine Hearts,” the melodic drive of “Do It Every Time,” and the sunny bounce of “So High.” Ringo Deathstarr are masters of their sounds, but it’s always to evoke the feelings in their songs. The breathy dreaminess of “Kaleidoscope” evokes the depth of Elliott Frazier’s crush, for example. Ultimately, Colour Trip is an album about the joys of being in love. The shoegaze is just the vehicle for showing us what that feels like. – CD

28. Tele Novella House of Souls

Over the course of an impressive flurry of singles, Tele Novella stood out from their Austin indie rock peers with music that nodded towards the campy end of the ’60s rather than the psychedelic, sprinkling elements of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins over a stew of Lee Hazlewood production, Nancy Sinatra style and Burt Bacharach hooks. For their full length release House of Souls kept the soul of that pop oddity stable but smoothed it out a bit, sounding not unlike Belle & Sebastian’s swampy cousins, particularly on breakout single “Heavy Balloon,” with its angelic chorus following lyrics about things going bump in the night. Meanwhile, “Sacramento” seems as though it was dialed in from an alternate reality’s AM station and “Fruits of Misery” is a sockhop slow dance for the undead. House of Souls stayed true to the spirit of Tele Novella’s earlier work while ramping up the ambition and scope, providing everything you could hope for in a cult band’s big break while also showcasing the oddball charm that has long made Austin such a unique scene. – NH

27. Jess Williamson Native State

On Jess Williamson’s Native State, the songs generally swell and recede at an unhurried pace, meditatively, yet a few curious shifts – drops, if you will – populate the album. On “Spin The Wheel,” for example, a stormy mix of electric guitar, cymbals, and wine-glass synth yields suddenly to brilliant electric organ chords and a lilting boom-chick. “Now they’re singin’ all mornin’, now they’re singin’ all night,” Williamson sings and repeats, giving in finally to the temptation to craft an easy refrain out of her oft-quotable lines.

Williamson wraps her mouth around words in peculiar ways, certainly; she sounds occasionally like she’s holding marbles in her throat. The melodies she chooses are likewise idiosyncratic; she bounds around upon scales, popping in and out of falsetto. But for all the weirdness, her voice captivates, and her lyrics hit hard. Atop these dark and wistful soundscapes, her cloudy alto oscillates from a croak to a caterwaul, holding the listener rapt all the way. Take this album all at once, because a song or two just won’t do – this is a singular sonic exploration, and at just under thirty minutes, it’s over before you know it. – Kevin Allen

26. Big Bill The Second Bill

Where their debut EP A Hard Day’s Bill was mostly stylistically coherent, closer to the classic ’70s UK punk end of the spectrum than anything else, Big Bill’s follow-up The Second Bill wildly deviated, with vocalist Eric Braden taking more confident reins, dropping the bulk of the reverb that shielded his vocals to reach way up into the most nasally registers of his voice rather than try and hide it. The result is a work that is simultaneously more musically mature– it fitfully hops between punk, indie, power pop, surf and even a bit of twang– and more thematically and tonally adolescent. Take  “Sweet Boy,” where the band morphs into something at first resembling the Nerves as Braden does his best to convince some wary bystanders that he is not “a bad, bad man” but is in fact a “sweet boy.” Even when the band is outright threatening victims, like on the similarly power poppy “Don’t Try to Run,” there’s a sweetness to it, like they’re both confident in and apologetic about their inherently evil disposition. That dichotomy ensured that Big Bill would go on to become perhaps the most emblematic band of modern Austin’s reputation as a never never land for wayward quasi-adults, too strange to mature, too fascinating to not gawk at in wonder and/or envy. In lesser hands, that behavior would get old real quick, but by the close of the decade, Big Bill remained as charming as always. – NH

25. US Weekly US Weekly

It’s tough to pin US Weekly down. Their sound is unique, yet familiar and over the past couple of years I’ve attempted to turn people onto them with comparisons to similar (yet oh, so different) acts. The artful swagger of Nation of Ulysses, the hoarse vocal delivery of Black Flag, the irreverent playfulness of Pixies, and the social awareness of countless bands before them. All and yet none of this describes US Weekly. This is easily one of the most “punk” albums of the decade and another huge step forward for this band. It’s subversive, edgy without trying to be hip, and woke as fuck. In the age of Trump, so-called “men’s rights activists,” corporate cronyism, and actual goddamn Nazis, this is the kind of album we need. On this LP US Weekly do what punk does best and they sound great doing it. Take my advice: pick this up, play it loud, don’t sit down, don’t shut up. – BJA

24. Bill Callahan Apocalypse

Given Bill Callahan’s prominent stature on the indie scene, there has been a lot of digital ink spilled over his records. Since a lot of the focus has been on the depth and mastery of his lyrics, I want to highlight the beauty of the music on Apocalypse. On opener “Drover,” for example, he builds the relentless darkness of his meandering verses and bridges about as far as they’ll go before welcoming in some sweet relief in his major key chorus. Album centerpiece “Riding for the Feeling” is sparse, delicate and tender. Even if we’re not quite sure what the title phrase exactly means, we know exactly what it feels like. Throughout Apocalypse, I’m struck by the similarities to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. I think you hear it most on “Free’s,” with its wandering flute but the whole record shares the pastoral elegance of that 1968 classic. Like the impressionistic painting on the album’s cover, Apocalypse is a record about feeling and sense more than any specific message. And if this is any indication, the apocalypse might not be so bad. – CD

23. Glue Glue MLP

Hardcore had a resurgence on the whole in the 2010s but even its most well-regarded new pioneers would struggle to compete with the output of Glue, where sly heavy metal riffs are as likely to appear as d-beat. But it’s not just the subtle derivations from tradition that make Glue stand out from the pack– it’s the masterful way the band arranges the songs, making every shift and turn noticeable and thrilling, a very welcome departure from the sledgehammer approach to sculpting so many of their peers take. On “Clown of Thorns” they make half a dozen or so rhythmic shifts before hitting the frenzied chorus, which in turn gives way to a drop for a riff; later, on “Pig Fucker,” Glue approach hardcore like Black Sabbath on meth, taking that iconic sludgy lurch but speeding it up 3x the recommended tempo. Bold, rousing and invigorating, Glue MLP made the case for Glue as the most dangerous band in hardcore. – NH

22. Alex Napping Mise En Place

At its heart, Mise en Place is a collection of melancholy dream pop, interspersed with artsy indie rock jangle. The moody honesty of the album’s evocative lyrics illustrate the growth this band has gone through since their last release. “I can dream all day/‘Bout what it’d be like/For our pictures to share walls/And the neighbors be nice” sings front woman Alex Cohen in “Living Room,” just one of many personal moments on the album. In addition to the lyrical maturity, the rest of the band has expanded their sound beyond the signature rock jangle of their earlier releases. Crisp, baroque guitar work laced with angular riffs winds its way through each track, accompanied by dreamy rhythms and the soft slap of muffled drums. Cohen’s breathy vocals at times evoke Bjork-like quirkiness, while at others appear to be channeling the otherworldly, pixie charm of Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino. There’s a sad beauty in these compositions and lyrics that paints a familiar world of loves lost and tough decisions made. As a full length debut, Mise en Place delivers on the promise of Alex Napping’s previous releases, while taking the band in new directions. – BJA

21. Shakey Graves And the War Came

It’s hard to make a commercial breakthrough while still being true to yourself, but somehow Shakey Graves did it with his 2014 record, And the War Came. Prior to this record, Shakey was a gritty, bluesy folk troubadour and he never loses sight of that here. He doesn’t sell out with a different sound; instead, he stays true to himself and delivers a record full of heart, passion and great songwriting. Of course “Dearly Departed” gets the bulk of the attention, but there are gems up and down this album. Shakey Graves rarely loses sight of his steady bass drum pulse which grounds his finger-picked rhythm guitar parts. On the beautifully arranged “Family and Genus,” he makes use of strings and synthesizers. “Only Son” is slathered with layers of vocal accompaniment. “Hard Wired” and “If Not For You” are a more ‘classic’ Shakey sound with nothing but his guitar and bass drum. All of it resonated because, in a decade marked by the corrupting impact of our digital environments, Shakey Graves’ indie roots music felt like the organic, authentic antidote we needed. – CD

Read the rest of our Best Albums of the 2010s selections at the links below

100-81 | 80-61 | 60-41 | 20-1 (coming Friday)

And continue reading our Best of the 2010s coverage at these links to our best songs selections

100-81 | 80-61 | 60-41 | 40-21 | 20-1