The 100 Best Albums by Austin Artists of the 2010s: 20-1

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 final 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!)

20. Speak Pedals

Though I originally wrote off Speak as just another bubbly electro pop group after their debut, I switched gears almost immediately after listening to their sophomore LP Pedals. While the difference may be subtle to some, to these ears Pedals practically sounded like the work of a whole new band. Time, touring, and cutting ties with major labels will change a group though and in Speak’s case it seems to have matured them a great bit. Featuring their signature well-balanced blend of keyboards, guitars, and percussion, Speak’s sound on Pedals evolved to include a rich, smoky character, with nary a hint of bubble gum, though still fun and inviting.

Through 14 masterfully mixed tracks, Speak explore a murky landscape often conjuring images of dark pop masters like Depeche Mode, while still evoking more contemporary sources such as Washed Out, M83, or even Caribou. From opener “Gates”’ unforgettable keyboard riff and pounding rhythm, to “This Much I Know”’s Muse-like progressive build, and penultimate track “The Meantime”’s sky high crescendo, Pedals is about as perfect an electro pop album as I could ask for. – Brian J. Audette

19. Dana Falconberry LeeLanau

In Dana Falconberry’s 2012 album, LeeLanau, we are given three different narratives. In one, we see Nature, with a capital N, its own entity and purpose. The second, we hear Falconberry’s interaction with Nature, her lulling voice sweet against thrums of drums and other musical textured delights, telling the stories of her relationship with the earth and how it is juxtaposed with her whereabouts. The third is an omnipresent Falconberry, something that is simultaneously herself and her world. LeeLanau and its intricate arrangements meanders along with its observant lyrics, describing the natural world in dedicated wonder. It’s a true delicious triumph, with Falconberry’s vocal wisdoms harkening to Edward Abbey’s famous words, “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.” LeeLanau is a beautiful testament to not only Texas and its natural wonders, but how satisfying the world becomes when the line between us and the trees gets blurred. – Eryn Brothers

18. MeanGirls Squirm

There has been a musical progression from creativity to convention along the historical timeline of emo, and MeanGirls’ Squirm, in spirit, occupies a much closer point on this timeline to the good old days of the emo scene than the more commercial era most listeners might associate with the genre. For starters, Squirm is pretty lean when taken as a whole (less than 20 minutes of music stretched across nine tunes as opposed to the often bloated runtimes of radio emo,) but the songs, succinct as they are, still sound epic and carefully orchestrated. Much of the guitar work, in particular, is reminiscent of the more melodic stuff from Sonic Youth’s oeuvre, as on the opening track “A Comprehensive List of My Failures.” These are songs coated in a patina of ‘90s alternative rock ambition yet played with the galloping swagger of punk rock. But thematically, this album at its center is about coming to terms with self-identity and bucking the intolerant attitudes that exist in our culture toward transgendered men and women in particular. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Trans Exclusionary Radical Fecal Matter,” a humorous and caustic statement against those who would stand in the way of transgender progress. While it’s unfortunate that the battle over trans rights– and with the TERFs who stand in their way– has only intensified since 2016, Squirm remains a vital soundtrack for trans soul rebels and their allies, wherever they may be. – Justin Finney

17. New China Bar & Grill

Did New China graft Chavez’s guitars on to the herky-jerk body of early Minutemen and add a vocal track composed entirely of Kathleen Hanna’s most off-the-cuff moments? Maybe, but the result was still a style with neither precedent nor peer in Austin.

Bar & Grill has enough ideas to make a record twice its length, and a lesser band might have done just that. Instead, our cup runneth over with freshness, urgency, and riffs that would become catchy if they weren’t so quickly discarded. The vocals, similarly indifferent to the effort spent composing, seemed to decide on a line-by-line basis whether to go full emo or to make a mockery of the proceedings. All this was true of the album’s predecessor, the 2013 release Buffet, but here the twists and turns give the songs narrative and drama despite the difficulty of remembering how the tune began, or even what was happening a minute ago.

Like a buffet pan of crab legs, seen and savored only by a lucky few, New China went fast and left Austin wanting more. It’s a shame the third pan never left the kitchen, but the loaded 2-3 minute songs of Bar & Grill are bounty enough. It’s hard not to enjoy music this comical played with such commitment. – Robin Sinhababu

16. Jordan Moser Long Night

Jordan Moser’s Long Night is an accomplished testament to the art of listening. Part hyggelig live performance (every track was recorded live, minus pedal steel), part obscure folk record found in a dollar bin, and part listening to your friend sing on a front porch, Long Night is an intimate and textured palette that succeeds due to Moser’s canny musical ear, and also to the observative eye of engineer Eric Whittans at Homestead Recording in Fayetteville, AR. The most fascinating thing about this record is that no matter the song, the aura of night emanates. Whittans translated Moser perfectly here.

In tracks like “Down With Me,” arching yet restricted harmonies mingle with pedal steel and engage with the silence around the band. You can almost hear the imaginary canyon Moser and Burch are standing in. In “The Devil,” it’s as if Moser is standing right next to you, articulate and vulnerable in your ear.

To create a sound that interacts with silence is masterful listening. Jordan Moser, with his thirty minute Long Night, proves that space, time, reflection, and open ears make one hell of a record. – EB

15. Mother Falcon Alhambra

While the band would go on to release two more high quality, full length albums, as well as some EP’s, singles, and a cover album of Radiohead’s seminal OK Computer, Mother Falcon’s Alhambra remains a high water mark for this symphonic pop-rock orchestra and perhaps their most memorable collection of songs. This is probably the Mother Falcon album that (for me) most closely replicates the sound and experience of seeing the band play live. I can distinctly remember the first time I saw them play. It was at SXSW, in a room upstairs at St. David’s that felt for all the world like a high school band practice space. Alhambra was their latest release at the time and this was the final night of SXSW and my final showcase that week. I was a fan of the band already, but was unsure what to expect from such a unique group in a live setting. From the moment the symphonic ensemble began playing the audience sat in silence, our rapt attention hanging on every perfectly placed note. It was a magical experience that at the time I would have attributed to relief from the exhaustion of walking around all week for SXSW and finally being able to sit for a band, but would later understand it to simply be the effect that Mother Falcon’s performance would always elicit from me. I sat with a giant grin on my face for the entire performance and vowed never to miss the band playing live if I could at all help it. Such is the magic of this album and this band. – BJA

14. Fuvk Time Series

Fuvk is Austin music’s 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 echo one of the artist’s own lyrics: “please don’t leave for a while.” – Kayleigh Hughes

13. Feral Future Haematic

The lead off track of 2014’s Haematic, “Funeral,” ends with about a minute of feedback squalls. It’s the sonic realization of all of the simmering anger inside of Feral Future towards the men and partners in their lives. It’s one of the most vital punk albums of the decade. On “Hostile (PTSD Love Song),” lead singer Relle screams, “I wanna ruin you because you ruined me!” Haematic doesn’t hold back and retains its awesome power from start to finish. If the #MeToo movement hit our culture this decade like Nirvana’s Nevermind, Haematic was the Pixies, laying the foundation for the impending sea change. The personal wasn’t quite political on Haematic; it was really fucking personal, and Feral Future made sure you knew that. It’s not just an album of intense lyrics, though. The music is phenomenal. From the whipsaw of “Blackout,” simulating the feeling of being gaslit described in the lyrics, to the damn near poppy lead single “No Means Nothing,” the beats and melodies carried the day. And that crackling undercurrent of distortion crept up throughout the entire record, reminding you that even if you were dancing or jumping, the anger was always right below the surface. – Carter Delloro

12. Wild Child Fools

Wild Child’s third LP Fools remains one of my favorite albums that I have issues with. The titular lead off track still feels awkward to me (too much going on in the rhythm section and jockeying for position among the instruments) but this is easily the Wild Child album that I’ve listened to the most and would be the one I’d use to introduce someone to the band. While Kelsey Wilson has always been front and center with Wild Child (alongside band co-founder Alex Beggins) Fools is the album that makes a case for her taking a much larger role in fronting the group. Her voice has always been one of the defining features of Wild Child, but Fools gives it the spotlight it deserves, emphasizing her sonic range and the mesmerizing lilt of her vocal delivery. The album chronicles the ups and (especially) downs of a relationship on the rocks, and takes us through the stages of grief along the way as the relationship terminates and a sense of calm is regained. Closing with the melancholy, but weirdly bouncy and upbeat “Trillo Talk” whose lyrics ultimately relay a reluctant coming to terms with the break up that has run its course through the album, Wilson sings “You said I should’ve been a better babe/And you can go and be a better babe/For anyone else/Anyone else but me. Fools is a journey worth taking and a relatable one for anyone who’s ever loved and lost and moved on. – BJA

11. Institute Salt

On its release in late 2014, Institute’s Salt EP was a bit of an outlier in both the local and national punk scenes, nostalgic for an era that really wasn’t en vogue, clad in the muddy production and shadowy tones of late ’80s SST acts with hints of Touch ‘n’ Go’s early catalog. A work that stood squarely out of time and out of place, alienated by sonic fashions and the disappearance of the regional scenes it takes inspiration from, it was also driven by that alienation, making it a release that wants you to feel alienated along with it and ended up all the more timeless for it.

Salt’s titles even state as much, ranging from “Nausea” to interactions with a “Familiar Stranger” before closing with “An Absence.” The lyrics of the songs are basically impossible to make out since they’re delivered in a blunt but murky fashion, not so much declarations of language as ominous vocalized anger, further alienating listeners. When words do filter through, they skew hostile, like the anti-chorus of “It don’t mean shit!” in “Salt” or the opening “You were ashamed/Of what you knew” refrain in “Immorality.” Classic-era hardcore bands always made sure you knew where their rage was targeted– Reagan, adults, bros– but Institute deals in the kind of rage that builds inside you without explanation and pushes you away from people. These are songs as primal scream therapy, the specifics mattering less than the overwhelming feeling and the ecstatic release of such. – Nick Hanover

10. Zlam Dunk Balcones

Balcones was the final release from Austin’s post-punk, math rock, indie-dance powerhouse Zlam Dunk. This seven-track EP does more than just take off where 2010’s Noble Ancestry LP left off; it sees this group both refining and expanding their sound in ways that I can only describe as epic. For the uninitiated, Zlam Dunk can best be described as “dance music for hardcore kids”. The combination of driving beats, frenetic picking, and potent lyrics create a sound that recalls the mathy, but danceable compositions of Q and Not U and Fang Island, with the edge and lyrical drive of bands like Fugazi and Texas’s own At The Drive-In. With this final album, Zlam Dunk really seemed to have matured as a band. The lyrics on Balcones feel much more refined than those on their debut. Even songs like “British Teeth,” with its boy-meets-girl theme, possess a certain poetry and sincerity that I feel goes a step beyond what’s on display on previous releases. As with many post-debut EPs, there seems to be something transitional about this release. For example: the synth that was so prevalent on their debut takes a back seat to the rest of the band on Balcones. But while the overall tone of the album is less playful and more anthemic, there is still a certain danceable quality to this release that begs listeners to get up and move. – BJA

9. Various Artists Casual Victim Pile

For all practical purposes, on a musical level the Austin 2010s began with the Casual Victim Pile compilation, both in regards to its literal release date– it dropped right at the start of 2010– and thematically. Curated by Matador Records’ co-founder Gerard Cosloy, CVP was a spiritual successor to the Bands That Could Be God compilation he did for the Boston scene a few decades prior, intending not to be a definitive overview of the scene but a passionate mixtape of acts that stood out to him. None of the groups on the compilation were anything close to big at the time of release– Harlem make an appearance and later in 2010 their LP Hippies would make a splash, granting them default headliner status, I suppose– which made Austin itself the selling point.

But the Austin presented here is not the Austin contemporary audiences or even modern audiences would recognize, it’s the dirty, grungy, dangerous Austin of the Teeners’ unhinged vintage hardcore on “Nazis on Film,” the anxious, cavernous cacophony of Dikes of Holland’s “Little City Girl,” the cedar fever dream of the Golden Boys’ “Older Than You.” What CVP communicated to the indie glitterati outside Austin was that the most thrilling music happening in the city at the start of the decade wasn’t coming from indie rock careerists or twee folksters but in the dim corners where fuck-ups and miscreants and oddballs were getting drunk and playing to handfuls of friends and enemies just for the sheer delight of it. – NH

8. Molly Burch First Flower

On First FlowerMolly Burch made a major leap forward by seemingly asking herself a question I have often pondered: what if Serge Gainsbourg and Lee Hazlewood swapped studios, a la The Holiday? Unapologetically Francophilic yet injected with a dusty western swagger, First Flower is romantic without being maudlin, self-deprecating without being overly needy and at the heart of it all is Burch’s commanding, smoky presence. The songwriting and arrangements are impeccable– “Dangerous Place” and “To the Boys” in particular seem like they would have been titanic chart toppers in the late ’60s–but Burch is the kind of intensely magnetic yet deeply human performer that Gainsbourg and Hazlewood would have stabbed each other for the opportunity to work with. And who could blame them? First Flower is a superb showcase for Burch’s abilities that you don’t listen to so much as you want to bind it to your very soul, obsessing over every breath as much as every note. – NH

7. Popper Burns Pure Disgust

If Popper Burns’ eponymous debut was about unfiltered libidinous expression, its follow-up is about the guilt and shame revealed in the harsh afterglow. It is, after all, right there in that title: Pure Disgust, as fitting a title as you’re likely to get from a band. But what makes Pure Disgust so much more fascinating than even that description suggests is its aura of morbid anxiety, set off by things as benign as grocery lines and tan lines and as terrifying as our “country of insolence” and deep ocean Lovecraftian horrors. In Pure Disgust, the world really will come to an end if you act on your urges.

Pure Disgust is a band at the height of their powers, indulging in a mastery of aesthetic that is enviable and exquisite. The mood may be gloomy and menacing but like a brutal horror film witnessed at too early an age, it makes you deeply aware of the thrill of being terrified, of having ample reason to fear the dark. Call Pure Disgust music for a graveyard rave. Call it a party playlist for the mole people. Call it a soundtrack for a stabbing. What it is is a testament to the allure of our own panic, our primal death urges given voice and rhythm, made danceable and irresistible, worming away at your brain more effectively than any squirming parasite ever could. – NH

6. A Giant Dog Pile

A Giant Dog’s 2016 album has it all. The hooks that we love from Bobby Jealousy are present in “Get With You and Get High” and “Sex & Drugs,” representing the ballad side and the rocker side of that early 2010s Sabrina Ellis project. The sugary power of Sweet Spirit, Ellis and Andrew Cashen’s other project, is all over album standouts like “I’ll Come Crashing” and “Sleep When Dead,” except with more of the darkness that A Giant Dog is known for. And then there’s the X-style punk embodied in “Not a Miracle” and “Too Much Makeup.” Pile is raw, powerful, hooky, and earnest. You can mosh to it, you can twist to it. It’s at times celebratory and at other times depressing. In short, it’s life. The apex of an incredible decade for A Giant Dog, Pile embodies the messiness of life. Its range of emotion is what we’re all capable of on any given day. Behind the jokes and mountains of distortion, it’s one of the realest records of the decade. – CD

5. Troller Graphic

Troller’s sophomore LP Graphic is pleasurable intensity personified, provoking the feeling not of pursuit but of the start of gratification, the escalation of pleasure.

Graphic is a work that consistently communicates the feeling of foreplay– through distorted bass that swells and expands with libidinous energy, through Amber Starr-Goers’ eerie vocals bleeding out around the edges, through melodies that trace like fingers across hungry skin. The songs on the album are structured like torturous teases, denying climax and pushing listeners to give into a nonstop heightening of intensity, the gratification coming not from occasional deliveries of ecstasy but in the perpetual withholding of it, a promise that the end result will be far greater. Lush instrumental passages like “They Body” flank more substantial erotic hymns, dreamy moments like “Storm Maker” deescalate the audio arousal, the work on the whole ebbing and flowing to suit the delayed gratification.

Graphic is the sound of a body perpetually on the precipice of release, of an open mouth silently begging for more. More art should aspire to communicate so boldly and uniquely. – NH

4. Bill Callahan Dream River

Bill Callhan’s Dream River is the type of album that just kind of washes over you. A listen-through feels much like the title suggests: washed-out, dreamy electric guitar passages flow one to the next sans resistance, meandering and hypnotic as a ride down a river. Keep on that river long enough, and you’ll find yourself fully seduced, immersed in a strange soundscape with only Callahan’s contemplative baritone as your guide. You may start to feel like you’re listening to a meditation tape. As always, though, Callahan’s lyrics are more than up to snuff and impossible to overlook. But the real treat here is the subtle, ever-morphing instrumental parts. He evokes some mind-blowingly delicious guitar textures, and the frequent use of flute and hand drums gives the album a spooky ancient American vibe. File this under hazy, pensive ear candy fit for a foggy head, but be aware – with its visceral, cryptic lyrics and restrained, nuanced playing, Dream River will challenge you as much as you want it to. – Kevin Allen

3. Sweet Spirit Cokomo

At a very tight 12 tracks, Cokomo immediately stood out on release as a more confident and fuller departure from Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen’s prior work, less chaotic than emotionally volatile– this is music that aims to soundtrack not just the journey to hastily planned house parties but also the regretful drive home that follows. Some of that is due to the sorrowful way Sweet Spirit utilizes classic rock influences, turning Austin’s embarrassing crush on all things ’70s into something more melancholic. “Break Your Bones,” for instance, marries a Beatles riff to ’70s Stones sleaze but Ellis’ melody is profoundly exhausted, making it clear that when they sing “If you land your ass in jail/I’m gonna break your bones” it’s from the perspective of someone worn out by a lover who can’t stop making the same mistakes only to realize they’re making the same mistakes themselves by never carrying out that threat of repercussions. In a city where the party never stops and the drug soaked heyday of four decades past is viewed as a narcotic garden of Eden, Sweet Spirit are a perfect expression of the burden of good times, the throwback angle of their sound fun but also a reminder that we keep falling into the same traps, embracing the same old shit, desperately trying to never grow up.

And still Cokomo makes for a bracing experience, never letting you settle as it shifts gears musically and emotionally without warning, unified only by its unease and the vivid portrayal of the emotional and personal hardships that keep pushing the definition of better further and further past attainability. If you’re a safe traveler, maybe you want road trip music that is strictly comforting and familiar. Cokomo isn’t that kind of soundtrack, it has familiar audio milemarkers and textures and familiar emotional baggage for anyone still trying to discern their role in life but it rejects comfort, instead wanting to explore the deeper meaning of the chaos it surrounds itself with. And I think anyone who has been in Austin long enough will agree that at a certain point in your journeys, that self-awareness is what you really need. – NH

2. BLXPLTN New York Fascist Week

If Black Cop Down was half revolutionary rhetoric and half uplifting exploration of the struggles of everyday life, BLXPLTN’s New York Fascist Week is a complete manual for living under the New World Order, with explorations of federal failures we need to learn from (“FEMA”), blunt predictions of our eagerness to accept fascism (“Auf Wiedersehen”) and the growing militarization of operatives of the state (“Blood on the Sand,” “Gun Range”). That’s not to say the band dropped their talent for hooks in order to make all out dirge music, it’s just that on NYFW they found a way to replicate the equilibrium of still fresh classic “Start Fires” for the length of an entire album.

But more than that, New York Fascist Week is pain in all its forms– physical and emotional punches to the gut, howling bursts of grief, broken fingers still reaching out to aggressors in one last attempt at understanding and unity. It says a lot that the album’s most brutal, heartwrenching moment doesn’t even come from one of its more ambitiously mixed and constructed numbers but from the simple electro-pop of “How Many Shots,” which conveys so much more with the combination of its frank title and repeated declaration that “You are not alone” than any number of essay length protest songs. New York Fascist Week remains a vital and reassuring release at an exceptionally dark and troubling time. If you’re looking for solace, for hope, for catharsis, for righteous fury, for love, respect, dignity, New York Fascist Week is the only album you need. – NH

1. 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 worthy 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

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

100-81 | 80-61 | 60-41 | 40-21

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