2016 is destined to go down in history as a year of upheaval and distress, as sure a sign of the end of a certain era as 1969 was, only somehow more apocalyptic and unruly. It is impossible to look back on a year of such intense loss and chaos without sadness and anxiety, but as we head into the even more uncertain future of 2017, it’s important to think of the powerful moments we came together, of the high water marks in art and culture that gave us hope no matter how bleak things looked.
In 2016, Austin music in particular stood out as potent and vibrant, full of important artistic statements from acts new and established, from every genre and corner of the scene. Over this week, as we near the end of this Year of Failure, Ovrld will be celebrating the victors amongst us, the creators who prevailed and stood up and shouted themselves hoarse confronting the rapidly approaching void. We began with a look back at our favorite photography we ran this year, then we selected our 25 favorite songs and now we’re counting down the 10 albums that stood out the most to us in 2016. Just as the song list was incredibly difficult to narrow down, choosing our favorite albums by local acts this year was harder than normal, with many of our longstanding favorites continuing their rises to the tops of their scenes while several newcomers blew us away with their debuts. Nonetheless, we’re confident these ten albums show how beautiful and challenging the Austin music scene was this year and why 2016 will go down as one of the scene’s best years artistically even if it was a disappointment in every other sense. That said, most of the fun of these end of year lists is hearing what you would have picked, so don’t hesitate to let us know what you wish made it!
Fort Never Home
Home is the sound and feel of 2016, the year that our millennial economic ennui transformed into existential dread. Vocalist Chantell Moody channels Bjork in her articulation and Beth Gibbons in her wearied delivery as she sings about the rootlessness that this year brought us. “Home: Everybody’s got one, even though sometimes you don’t know where it is,” she croons in “Home Song” and each of us know exactly what she means.
Timothy Ruch and Deano Cotè create a soundscape split between electronic and organic instrumentation that is at once listener-friendly and completely terrifying. Check out the a cappella breakdown in the midst of “Searching for Something” followed immediately by heavily distorted lead vocals to get a sense of how these elements can all combine into a whole as complicated and nuanced as the reality in which we all now find ourselves. Fort Never have created something wholly original with Home, and it is the unlikely tonic for what ails any and all of us. – Carter Delloro
Sertified Chips and Salsa: The Side Order
All throughout Chips and Salsa, Sertified and producer Haris Q sound like they’re out to blow a scene wide open, eager to prove to their peers that there is such a thing as an Austin sound and they’re at the forefront of it, stepping out of the long shadow the drowsy Houston aesthetic has cast over the ATX for decades. As collaborators, Sertified and Haris are particularly well-suited to breaking down sonic expectations, with Haris’ globe spanning samples and deft handle of gutpunching low end flattering Sertified’s curiously weezy and dexterous flow.
Like any good dish, Chips and Salsa shines in the way it balances its ingredients, shifting from the spice of “Fresco” to the refreshing tang of “GivAFk” to the earthy meatyness of “Back 2 the Block” to the airy yet substantial “Lost Land.” Though it’s subtitled “The Side Order,” Chips and Salsa is one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable dishes Austin put out in 2016, proof positive that Austin can compete with the best more nationally recognized hip hop scenes have to offer. And like any great meal, it ultimately leaves you stuffed yet wanting more. – Nick Hanover
Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes S/T
On their self-titled full length debut, Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes take the promise of their EP/demo and expand on it, upping the ante at almost every turn. Like the bastard children of Nivana’s Kurt Cobain and My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, CSSS offer up a noisy, yet nuanced wall of sound that I like to think of as Grunge Gaze.
While it may be easiest to immediately recognize Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes by monster guitar assaults like album opener “(I)”, where the band really excels for me is when they slow things down and ditch the seemingly 300 guitars for a scant 20 or so. In these moments they almost remind me of Dinosaur Jr. by way of Alice in Chains: thoughtful, but sparse lyrics over threadbare rhythms and stoned beats, with a hint of menace lurking around every riff. While songs like “(I)” and “Gambit” have their place, it’s “Sundance Kid” and “Under the Texas Sun” that feel freshest and get me excited. What’s clear on this LP is that Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes lack no confidence and their sound is incandescent, offering a kind of freshness and nostalgia that sincerely rocks. – Brian J. Audette
Pleasure Venom Hunt
In the underbelly of Austin’s punk scene skulks a band with an intense amount of attitude and a love for post-punk and ‘60s music aesthetics. Pleasure Venom blew me away when I caught them at Cheer Up Charlie’s a long while ago, and I could not wait for a release from them. Hunt came out in February of this year and captured a snapshot of the band’s energy in six songs that are equal parts the Fall, jammy psychedelia, and riot grrrl. The EP brings something very new to the Austin punk scene that I think adds whole different kind of spice to this dish that we’ve been cultivating in this town. – Bram Howard
Honey and Salt Seams of Value
Austin’s punk scene is rife with all manner of combinations of noise, hardcore, and garage of a variety of stripes, but Honey and Salt walk the more technical, composed line with their vocalized and energetic math rock sound. Seams of Value set the foundation for a beautifully blossoming band that bring their influence of early ‘90s twinkling sounds – a la American Football, Don Caballero, and the like – into a concoction that achieves both straightforward, powerful playing and introspective, refined musicianship. It’s a fantastic album not only because it implements a somewhat unexplored sound that isn’t seen as commonly around town, but because it represents a band with an amazing amount of talent and creativity. Definitely one of my favorites out of 2016. – BH
Good Talk S/T
From the moment it starts, Good Talk and their debut self-titled album showed what they intend for you to experience; simple and engaging indie pop with the best of the past mixed in with the hope of what’s to come. It sums up what Austin music continued to represent in 2016, that age old cool of being in a band where some guitars, bass and drums are all you need to make some fine music.
While Good Talk doesn’t push any envelopes, there’s no reason to when it does such a great job of reminding you of how great some of the indie pop was back in the 90s ala Dinosaur Jnr and Built to Spill. That doesn’t mean it’s a covers album, or only a nostalgic distraction, it captures something that you want to leave on from start to finish due to its hooks both in melody and instrumental arrangement. It also has a fun and engaging vibe, but to read out the lyrics there’s still thought and sincerity in what’s been said, which is always a nice combo. In what was my first year in Austin I appreciated having Good Talk as one of my summer soundtracks as I adjusted to the heat, discovered the benefits of breakfast tacos, and had a good introduction to what Austin bands can deliver as well as what Ovrld is helping to uncover. – Joel Greatbatch
Nick Hanover and I have mused that Troller should be soundtracking all the most badass movies. Graphic gives you hints of vampiric tastemakers like Blade, A Girl Walks Home At Night, The Hunger, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The title song even starts off like, to my mind, if Peter Murphy of Bauhaus directed The Breakfast Club. Perhaps the reason listening to Graphic brings to mind so many different cinematic touchstones and thoughts about moviemaking is that Troller’s sound, especially as expressed so smartly and cohesively on Graphic, is incredibly visual, their aesthetic is so intense and original, really begging listeners to script stories and scenes that illustrate the band’s dark and inviting daydreams.
Graphic is a high water mark in Austin electronic music. The first third is all delicious heaviness, before the band gives the listener their version of a breather with “They Body” a soft and sweet two-minutes-and-change of clean and playful melody, still, of course, featuring an underlying foreboding wall of synth. “Stormmaker” follows, fever-dreamy and unhurried, and the rest of the album is Troller just hitting the mark again and again before the eight-minute powerhouse of a closing song “Torch,” which makes you feel like you’ve become several entirely new and more interesting people by the time it concludes. The production on Graphic is expert, but equally critical to the album’s success is Amber Star-Goers’ voice, which pitches and swells and howls, living out a hundred heartbreaks, ecstasies, and revelations in every song. Graphic is really one of the most cinematic experiences in music this year. – Kayleigh Hughes
A Giant Dog Pile
Here I was thinking Bone would surely always be my favorite A Giant Dog album when along comes the self-deprecatingly titled Pile. An instant classic so jam packed full of hits it was difficult to nail down any one track for our 2016 best song list. Although it is miles more melodic than any of their previous work, Pile still maintains what A Giant Dog is at their core: fucking downright nasty rock n’ roll. From the opening guitar flair that dares to usurp Radiohead as the best song titled “Creep,” it flies from track to track not losing an ounce of momentum. The driving drums on “Sleep When Dead” positively double dog dare you not to head bang yourself right into a wretched case of whiplash. The chance to have a breather finally arrives with the weird, wavering “Jizzney”; frontwoman Sabrina EIlis’s piercing vocals cut through the kooky, slowed down track even beneath warbled effects. This nuanced softness is later amplified with the addition of Spoon’s Britt Daniel joining the belting group of Ellis and Andrew Cashen on the druggie love ballad “Get With You And Get High.”
Pile is perhaps the finest tuned Ellis and Cashen have ever been as a vocal pairing with tracks like the aptly titled “King Queen” allowing them to bounce off each other beautifully. The group’s instrumentation is similarly in peak form with the guitar licks on the hormone-laden “Seventeen” sounding downright diabolical. While the clipped and blaring “& Rock & Roll” serves as much more than just an ode to the genre but a revelry in the accompanying lifestyle and camaraderie found in the pit of every A Giant Dog show. However in what is perhaps fitting for a year that saw so many icons stripped away from us, Pile’s most persistent theme is that of our own ever encroaching mortality. Whether tackling the death of a father on “Too Much Makeup” with biting, twisted humor or desperately clinging to life with thinly-veiled jestful fear in “Sex & Drugs,” death resurfaces time and again. However there’s an acceptance here, even when the partying is over and the hangover is spent contemplating mortality and mistakes. Why dwell? Hit play, down some more hair of this dog and embrace the nastiness of life with glee. – Nate Abernethy
Various Artists Slack Capital
With Slack Capital, Big Bill and Austin Town Hall Records did a phenomenal job of capturing the sound and attitude of the city, while also being the vessel delivering us all the greatest songs of the year. Giving us a tune to chant when mad at the never-ending pile-ups on I-35 (DUMB’s immortal “I Don’t Want to Die on I-35”), to being sick-and-fucking-tired of men thinking they’re doing us women a favor when we hook up with them (Sailor Poon’s instant classic “Leather Daddy”), to being annoyed at those dumb friends with babies showing us their cute vacay photos from Reno (Big Bill’s anti-drone anthem “Every City”), this comp does a neat job of giving us anthem after anthem. On top of being a perfect album to listen to as a soundtrack to ATX life, this is just a straight-up long list of the best performers in town. I’d recommend you just use it as a checklist of who to catch during 2017— or if you’re a real go-getter, during Free Week. – Ashley Bradley
BLXPLTN New York Fascist Week
The only thing I know for sure about 2017 is that we’re going to need a proper soundtrack as we fight to stay alive and BLXPLTN have already given us that soundtrack. New York Fascist Week is more than a sophomore album by a rightfully celebrated local group, it’s a vital revolutionary text, one of those rare works that appears at a pivotal moment in history and communicates swirling emotions that otherwise defy language. It’s an album of both loss and triumph, of grief and celebration, of fury and hope.
As disparate and contradictory as its individual elements are, New York Fascist Week is nonetheless an amazingly consistent work, with even its most ferocious moments (“Blood on the Sand,” “New York Fascist Week,” “Auf Wiedersehen”) packing ample singalong hooks while its somber sections (“Gun Range,” “How Many Shots”) pack unexpected punches. Few Austin works in any era have so effortlessly defined the mood of a population and you’d be hard pressed to name an Austin band that has symbolized revolutionary energy as well as BLXPLTN have in their brief existence. Unfortunately none of that is enough to unseat despots and maniacs but there is no album I’d rather have ringing in my ears for whatever war is coming. – NH