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 and now we continue with our 25 favorite songs by Austin artists. This was especially difficult to put together this year because the Austin music scene of 2016 is in a golden age, with underappreciated genres like hip hop and electronic coalescing into nationally competitive scenes while the always strong indie and punk communities thrived. Picking just 25 tracks was nearly impossible, and the songs that barely missed the list could have easily topped previous year’s countdowns. But 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!
BLXPLTN “How Many Shots”
The thing you learn about BLXPLTN the more you dig into their music is that they don’t want to be an angry band. At heart, BLXPLTN is a group that aims for righteousness and beauty, it’s just that our society is currently waging war against both of those traits, particularly when people of color are involved. And so BLXPLTN are forced to fight for the things that mean the most to them in art and life.
The moment where this is clearest on their sophomore effort New York Fascist Week is undoubtedly “How Many Shots,” a gorgeous synth-pop number that’s more Cure than Big Black, only instead of dealing in romantic heartache it deals in that unique heartache that comes from learning a loved one has been senselessly killed. But even then, BLXPLTN want the focus to be on finding unity and hope in grief rather than on unfathomable destruction. I don’t know if we deserved something as beautiful as “How Many Shots” in 2016, but I’m thankful that BLXPLTN have given it to us. – Nick Hanover
Basketball Shorts “Hot and Ready”
Like the pop of the ‘50s, like the punk mixture The Ramones gave it, if you’ve got a good song to play to the world then don’t muck around. Basketball Shorts “Hot and Ready” is a tune with a burning desire to have you listening and enjoying yourself without delay.
Upon hearing “I’m hot and ready” after 10 seconds of guitar riffery, you respect their urgency to be hitting a punky pop tune about asking someone to fall in love with you ASAP. And has there ever been a track that’s on a Best Of list that’s just short of a minute and a half? I doubt there’s many, yet I forgot how many times I tapped the play button to repeat. It’s a risky way to get someone to like your music– sell them short and expect them to return– but I couldn’t resist. You won Basketball Shorts. Let’s play again. – Joel Greatbatch
If you’ve ever lain awake staring at the ceiling late at night or on a lazy afternoon, full of unspecific longing and stirred by daydreams equal parts romantic and melancholy and maybe feeling a little bit fifteen again, you need to start listening to fuvk, and you should start with “Anywhere.” Calling to mind the gentle sensitivity, perfectly understated instrumentation, and disarming sincerity of the best of Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes, this unpretentious, loosely emo-revivalist single by the mysterious artist who goes by the moniker fuvk quietly and easily becomes the voice inside your head.
I’ve mused that much the best music of Austin this year has lyrically trended toward mantras and strong rhythmic mottos as choruses. Fuvk’s “Anywhere” offers that meditative power of repetition in its chorus chant of “I’ll go anywhere (anywhere, anywhere, anywhere) if you try to find me” but also sticks out from the crowd with its deeply poetic and powerful lyrical observations, marked by verses that hit hard not in spite of but because of their remarkable purity and precise simplicity. “Anywhere” is a song I’ve listened to on repeat to keep myself calm when I’m anxious, a musical talisman. “Anywhere” is my favorite lullaby. – Kayleigh Hughes
DUMB “I Don’t Wanna Die on I-35”
The opening anthem on the Slack Capital compilation, DUMB’s “I Don’t Want to Die on I-35” belts what we’ve all been thinking after leaving downtown venues those late nights. The words are both catchy and too fucking real with those chorus statements of “I gotta a drinking problem and a motorcycle” and “Everyone I know has been drinking tonight” making this song an instant Austin classic. – Ashley Bradley
Sailor Poon “Leather Daddy”
One of my favorite things about Sailor Poon’s utterly flawless “Leather Daddy” is the way that it makes explicit the deeply familiar but often implicit animosity and antagonism that bubbles beneath the surface of so many heterosexual hookups. Sailor Poon expertly takes control of that experience, wielding gleeful honesty and deserved disdain for the posturing men (even, and sometimes especially, the highly vocal “male feminists”) who need to be put in their place. For anyone who’s ever been massively underwhelmed by an egotistical guy who promises that he’s the best thing you’ll ever have (and that he might scare you a little because…he’s a man…and he knows how to do things), this song is a tension release valve, letting you scream everything you’ve always wanted to scream and letting you demand everything you’ve always been told was too selfish to demand.
What’s extra cool about the already ice cold “Leather Daddy” is that its reclamation happens on a musical level as well, as Sailor Poon takes back the jangly, playful, grungy, too-loud-on-purpose garage sound from decades of dudes who have made women much smarter and more talented than them sit in dirty basements and garages and rain praise on their lazy guitar work and mediocre, uninspired male viewpoints. – KH
Sertified “Back 2 the Block ft. Stat1 and Cap’n Kirk”
Austin hip hop had a banner year in 2016 but few local releases in any genre could top the colossal force Sertified’s “Back 2 the Block” hit with on goddamn day one. Sertified was a secret MVP on a number of his peers’ works this year, including Dominican Jay’s excellent Reality Rap, but “Back 2 the Block” is an impossible to ignore showcase for his talents, with one of Haris Q’s grimiest and most potent beats pushing him to unimagined heights.
Aided by Stat 1 and Cap’n Kirk, both of whom had their fair share of memorable solo tracks this year, “Back 2 the Block” is a direct assault on anyone sleeping on Sertified and crew, making it clear that anyone ignoring their output is putting themselves at risk. Sertified doesn’t just sound hungry on “Back 2 the Block” but downright feral, utilizing a foamy mouthed tone that was hinted at on his prior releases but always held in check. Other Austin hip hop artists may have gotten closer to national recognition this year, but no one came close to matching Sertified’s blend of murderous intent and seductive charm. – NH
Walker Lukens “Lifted”
On a mission to “Make America Lifted Again,” Austin mainstay Walker Lukens has had a downright transformative year. Applying the same looping doo wop beatboxing and sultry pop crooning that won our hearts in years past, Walker has found his musicianship elevated to a new level. Whether it’s the Jim Eno production, Luken’s own personal growth, some combination of both or just a messiah-like coming of greatness, with “Lifted” Lukens has struck gold.
While on the whole the new EP found itself delving into touches of anthemic soulful gospel and even electric ambience, Lukens’ greatest talent and seemingly sole goal in life remains to get feet moving and the title track “Lifted” delivers in spades. Despite the echoing wails of mechanical ghouls and hard hitting bass “Lifted” maintains a balance of childlike pop sense of wonderment that seeps deep into your bones. Its eerie, incredibly unique and most of all danceable as hell. – Nate Abernethy
Dana Falconberry and Medicine Bow “Powerlines”
In stark contrast to the boisterous rock n’ roll that often proliferates our year end lists, Dana Falconberry and Medicine Bow deliver a poetic and soothing number that shines like a bright beacon amongst the album’s sometimes gothic and nature-steeped mythology. Beyond the the whimsical woods Falconberry usually occupies and on the edge of the city lights, “Powerlines” lies somewhere between these two worlds. Trashcan rumbles and a swelling subtle fuzz underlies Falconberry’s soft spoken delivery with a crackle of electricity. These nuanced effects deliver the familiar buzz in the back of my neck reminiscent of lying in a bluebonnet field on the suburban fringe unable to escape the electricity humming above me.
“Powerlines” is the perfect melding of deft touches as it carries the intimacy of bedroom tape recordings while simultaneously showing off the orchestral talents of Medicine Bow. These delightful contradictions abound as despite the near whisper of Falconberry’s cadence, “Powerlines” carries a powerful ringing clarity that will burn itself into your brain.- NA
US Weekly “Wallowing”
There are times when I think that US Weekly may just be the most punk band in Austin. There’s just something about their attitude and delivery that feels simultaneously fun, challenging, and aloof and that along with their practiced, but loose playing and gruff vocals makes for a winning combo.
US Weekly dropped a pair of EP’s earlier this year and closing out the second of those is the track “Wallowing”, a bouncy song backed by the popping twang of an early rock riff paired with some subtle, grinding menace, and solid rhythm. I’ve made this comparison before when talking about US Weekly, but “Wallowing” is another instance where I find the band to be at their most Pixies-like. The clean, but haphazard instrumentation, Chris Nordahl’s abrasive vocal delivery, and the overall sense that it could all come crashing down on itself without a moment’s notice all contribute to the song’s charm and intensity. While “Wallowing” may continually ask “Why did you want it? You didn’t express it!” I’ll express this right now: I want more US Weekly! – Brian J. Audette
A Giant Dog “Sex & Drugs”
No matter the project, Sabrina Ellis cannot be constrained by expectations. On a remarkable album that finds A Giant Dog embracing the melodic side of their brand of punk, “Sex & Drugs” decides to conclude with a 12-bar blues R&B rave cataloguing as many vices as they can cram in. For just over two minutes, the song runs like Usain Bolt – all unrelenting energy and boundless joy that their contemporaries can only dream of.
As joyous at the song feels, though, the lyrics show an underlying conflict. What happens when you’re “too old to die young?” Even punks grow up, and how do you reconcile your reckless youth with an impending sense of mortality? In AGD’s case, you pray that “my friends all die before I go.” And still, while lamenting others “dancing away their heart and soul,” AGD can’t help but be the facilitators making it impossible to do anything else. – Carter Delloro
Ruby and the Reckless “Rainbows”
Punk diehard though I am; I’m a sucker for a good pop song. I’m also a sucker for violins in non-classical music and when Ruby and the Reckless dropped the single for “Rainbows” ahead of their full-length debut, the number of times I put the track on repeat was practically obscene. It’s tough to explain, but there’s just something about the composition and execution of “Rainbows” that strikes all the right chords with me.
Beginning with a simple drone, plucked violin strings, and bass, the track slowly ramps into an explosion of chorus behind Ruby Jane’s powerful yet pixie-like vocals and I think it’s here that the song really grabs me. Specifically it’s the moment when the chorus seems to end, but hangs on a few seconds more for a musical foreshadowing of the song’s explosive climax. It’s a lovely bit of composition that makes this song stand out from the standard fare and part of a perfect storm of elements that still have me hitting that “play” button again and again. – BJA
Pleasure Venom “In Heat”
The Dillo Milk compilations are a lot of fun as they feature artists we all know and love, but allow for some experimentation and freshness as bands put together brand new songs just for the comp. Pleasure Venom follow suit with their contribution “In Heat” as they keep bringing that swagger they’re so well known for. A spooky and uncertain intro leads us into an aggressive, hip-swaying mass of layered guitars that buzz the hell out of garage and flit about in clean bits of solo that mesh perfectly with the explosive backdrop. Audrey Campbell’s signature attitude is still very much present as she bobs and weaves among the instrumentation, completing another great Pleasure Venom track. – Bram Howard
Troller “Not Here”
If you’ve ever wished Beach House was even a little bit edgy or sexy, you’d be advised to dig into the catalog of Troller, one of the best electronic acts in a city full of some incredible electronic music. The mesmerizing and completely addictive first single off of their outstanding 2016 release Graphic, “Not Here” is a flawlessly produced powerhouse of a showcase for the synthy, sexy, darkwave group. (You can use “-wave” to make a genre out of anything, but I love darkwave as a descriptor for Troller, because “Not Here” and so many others of their songs really do offer heavy, reverberating waves of emotion.)
“Not Here” is full of glorious contradictions: it’s absolutely grandiose and yet also hot, shadowy, and intimate. There is a trembling urgency to singer Amber Star-Goers’ stellar vocal performance, but the steady force of the digital hi-hat grounds the song. And though the song’s chorus emphasizes absence, it’s impossible not to find yourself fully present in the sonic experience. – KH
Hardcore Sex “Down My Throat”
The first time I listened to a song called “Down My Throat” by a band called Hardcore Sex, I figured I knew what the song would be about, but that it would feature some coy double entendres. Bear Ryan doesn’t have time to be coy. At first glance, “Down My Throat” reads as an instructional guide for exactly how Ryan wants to have sex: “Shove it down/Down my throat/Choke me out.” Yet, thanks to some deft pronoun work, Ryan remains coy about what exactly “it” can be in various situations.
Brian Johnson’s dirty blues fuzz helps the song transcend from pure shock value into a primal articulation of base desires. He and Ryan know when to push the energy into the red and when to let up on the gas just enough to catch your breath. There’s no structure; they seem to follow their instincts about where the song should go and they always have the right answer. – CD
Keeper’s Corners EP, a collaboration with breakout Austin producer Bird Peterson, oozes new Austin talent to be shared. Its single “Dock” is Portishead style trip-hop that replaces the dreariness with a soulful three-part harmony and a melody that’s catchy as heck. “Maybe I’m meant to be yours” is what they ask of your ears, and while it doesn’t sound like a pop song at first, it’s during the entrancing and melodious chorus that its simple and relaxed pop sensibility comes to the fore.
Once the lyrics state “it wouldn’t hurt to stick around and find out” it would be hard to disagree. So to get a bit nerdy here, I imagined being in a sci-fi noir film sitting at a table in an underground bar, and three women wearing 50’s Wall of Sound outfits and matching wigs walk on stage backed by a band of strange aliens on faux-futuristic looking instruments, and as they begin to sway and sing “Docks” I take a swig of my space whisky and just enjoy the fine song that I’m hearing. I’m not expecting others to share such thoughts, but all should know it’s an essential track for 2016. – JG
S U R V I V E “Stranger Things Theme”
Fort Never “Home”
As great as the production is on Austin trip-hop act Fort Never’s standout 2016 single “Home,” the recording can’t even do justice to the experience of seeing the song performed live. The song’s rich, swirling soundscapes, crafted by producer Timmie Rook, are matched by thunderous and innovative drumming from Deano Cotè, and it all serves to enhance and amplify vocalist Chantell Moody’s warm, precise performance. She knows exactly when to tremble, when to withhold, and when to let the incredible range and personality of her voice serve as the guiding emotional force of the song. Where Fort Never and “Home” succeed wildly is in the effortless collaboration among the bandmembers, the creative fusion of each element, which builds for the listener a dreamy and brilliantly inviting sonic world that renders you mesmerized. – KH
Big Bill “Every City”
Big Bill has always carried the weirdo torch for Austin, breathing life into the dying flicker of “Keep Austin Weird”. This mission continues with “Every City” as the song begins in a jumbled mess before the hard guitar line finally gives this wonderful abomination some form. It may seem like I’m being critical but to the contrary, what makes Big Bill every Austinite’s favorite punk band is their insistence on making bizarre choices that simply just should not work. If Big Bill were a cartoon, which they’re teetering close to, they’d be Ren and Stimpy: grating but somehow inexplicably lovable. Besides, in a year where I fled the growing pains of Austin only to be confronted with the holiday blackface of Amsterdam, is there a more fitting chorus than “every city sucks”? So whether you’re on vacation, fleeing a hometown or desperately pursuing the unattainable satisfaction to your wanderlust just pop in “Every City” and chant along. Big Bill continue to try so damn hard to be uncool but bless them they just keep failing.- NA
Riders Against the Storm “Bulletproof”
Riders Against the Storm’s “Bulletproof” works for the same reasons that the subject of its homage, Luke Cage, works. There’s a level where it’s just straight up badass. The dancehall beat is irresistible and the vocal interplay in the chorus is mesmerizing. The song would be still awesome if all it did was sing the praises of one of Marvel’s coolest characters over this great track. Yet, as with Cage himself, “Bulletproof” finds a second life as a wish fulfillment fantasy.
In the age of Black Lives Matter, it’s an act of protest to declare oneself immune to the impacts of gun violence. When Chaka boasts, “Can’t put me in your casket/My skin is the armor, no fancy fabrics,” he’s trying on Cage’s identity for himself, and imagining the possibilities of no longer being threatened as he walks the streets. This touch of personal politics helps elevate “Bulletproof” from “cool” to “essential.” – CD
Ringo Deathstarr “Stare at the Sun”
I am an avid fan of dream pop and shoegaze, and all things they have bled into, so how stoked was I when I learned Austin’s got a bunch of great local acts carrying this banner, not the least of which is Ringo Deathstarr? I’ve been seeing these guys around town for several years now, and have always loved their output, and “Stare at the Sun” is no exception. Alex Gehring’s gorgeous vocals float above a pounding, dance-y drum beat as the mood fluctuates between a subdued, ethereal verse with clinking bridge strums, and an all out blaring mass of guitar sound that blurs the line between pop and noise in that beautiful way shoegaze does. It’s another classic from this band, and worthy of being one of the top songs of this year. – BH
Good Talk “Sunny Ray”
My initial interpretation of this song was a breezy ditty about some legendary surfer dude who you’d feel honored to ride some waves with. However, in conversation with singer/guitarist Jake Lauterstein he revealed the song is about real life avant-garde jazz musician Sun Ra, formerly known as Sunny Ray before he had a cosmic mind explosion. Jake admitted “I’m pretty sure it’s the first pop song to be written about an avant guard jazz musician”.
While each member of the Good Talk band is perfectly balanced— great melody, tight drums and bass— it’s the lead guitar licks throughout that give it the most charm. In fact, Jake and the band know how cool these licks are, as you can tell as they gleefully sing along to the guitar solo. Sunny Ray is a cheerful listen and is definitely what you want on your “Austin Summer of 2016” mixtape as you drive your convertible up the California coastline, or up and down sunny South Congress as you hunt in vain for a parking space. – JG
Jonny Jukebox “Summin”
Austin may not have a reputation as a home for future pop stars but that didn’t stop Jonny Jukebox from putting out a track that would have been a major hit in a just world (and let’s face it, 2016 was anything but just). With its slinky club beat courtesy of Alegal, “Summin’” functions as a platform for all of Jonny’s best moves as an artist and seducer.
Shifting from nearly whispered verses to flashier falsetto choruses and even a well-placed Michael Jackson riff, Jonny Jukebox pulls out all the stops to woo a woman away from a mediocre man, all while making it look effortless and fun. Though it’s clearly a work by an artist still experimenting in order to figure out what works best for him, “Summin’” was miles ahead of the bulk of his pop leaning local peers in 2016, offering plenty of reason to give in to his charms. – NH
The Red Heroes “Hate Song”
Looking for the lead off track on your next break up mix tape? The Red Heroes have you covered. Anchoring their debut LP Sing-Along Hate Songs, “Hate Song” is a pissed off pop punk anthem that doesn’t pull any punches with the disdain it expresses for an unnamed antagonist.
Featuring the chorus “This world, it needs another hate song/To add to the playlist we put on when you’re around“, this song doesn’t mince words. The track comes on strong, opening with a mall punk beat and lyrics that snarl and spit through pop hooks and jagged guitars. A third of the way through, the track takes a breather with some crisp solo noodling before returning full force to that bratty beat and the refrain “I’m not that into you,” layered over the chorus for the remainder of the song. As far as anthemic commiseration goes, you can’t do much better than this. – BJA
Body Pressure “Us Against You”
In a scene lush with experimentation with this framework we call punk, it’s appropriate from time to time to return to the roots of hardcore, and Body Pressure wears the genre on their sleeve with pride. Like any good hardcore track, “Us Against You” rushes through the door, full of aggression, before going into that fist clenching, tension building, two-step bridge that fuels your rage in all the right ways. The song then slides into a d-beat coda that finds the listener sprinting to and fro with fervor, pulling together a fantastic, classic hardcore song. I absolutely love this style of music, and when it’s done right, as Body Pressure have so artfully done, it never fails to energize me. – BH
Tele Novella “Even Steven”
Over a plucky bassline and a charmingly haunted organ, the ominous warnings moaned by Natalie Ribbons on “Even Steven” urge you to “Never trust the ones that keep the score,” and paint a picture of an evil character at the border between the real and the surreal (a border Tele Novella strides gleefully) who never plays fair and will keep the lion’s share, whereas “you won’t know what you owe him for.” Ribbons, who has one of my favorite singing voices of all time, lends the perfect amount of theatricality to her delivery, at one point letting loose a very witchy shriek, and her rich, low voice gives the song the strength it needs to go beyond simply a playful retro experiment and into a strong, well-designed and intentional commentary on the world’s real-life evil villains. – KH