The Top 25 Songs by Austin Artists in 2017

2017 was an immensely challenging year no matter how you looked at it. In many ways, Austin was a city under perpetual attack, whether from our own governor, who urged other Texas towns to view us despicable heathens, or from the federal government itself, which sought to make an example of our city for refusing to cooperate with the increasingly more terrifying powers at ICE. And yet despite all that, Austin continues to thrive and grow.

Part of that is due to the resilience and strength of Austin’s artists, whose abilities to bring together and embolden the community were needed more than ever in this volatile year. Music in particular is able to unite people in incredible ways and in 2017 Austin musicians delivered on this to an incredible degree. We already showed some of that energy via our selection of our favorite photos from Austin music this year, our picks for the top 10 videos by local artists and our selections for the ten best Austin albums, and now we continue with our choices for the top 25 songs of the year. The songs we’ve picked run the gamut from anarchic electro-punk to swaggering hip hop to lush R&B but they all showcase the richness of our scene. 

The Red Heroes “Player 2”

“Melancholy memorial,” “soaring tribute,” “emotional outreach,” all these terms and more describe the musical rollercoaster that is The Red Heroes’ “Player 2.” Penned in memory of a band member’s son lost to Preeclampsia, the track opens innocently enough with a noodly bass line, the crisp patter of drums, and an upbeat punk rock riff underscoring a mournfully relatable lyrical lament.

Halfway through the song, guitarist Travis “T-Baby” Bennett appears to be building towards a formulaic guitar solo to close the track out, but instead the song shudders to a stop and takes an emotional gasp of air before the band explodes together in a torrent of melodic anguish. No longer able to hold back, Bennett roars forth with a soaring, inspired guitar solo that’s both heartbroken and triumphant, a lightspeed journey through the stages of grief that culminates with the entire band joining together for the final refrains of “I’ll always remember you/I’ll always remember/Because you were my player 2.” – Brian J. Audette

Protextor & Brother Bear “Not Tonight!”

Protextor & Brother Bear’s inspiringly ambitious collaboration, American Neon, peaks with the single, “Not Tonight!.” Danceable and compassionately aggressive, the song focuses on 2017’s all-too-familiar self-reflexive anxiety. To a backbone of sensual horns and an infallible rhythm section, Protextor sums it up “When there’s a war outside your crib/You never go home.” But the chorus reminds us that sometimes it’s ok to say no to the voices of malcontent. No, not tonight. Tonight is for love. For self love, for loving each other, for getting naked and lost together. “Not Tonight!” evokes a confident vision of the future in which love and resistance go hand in hand. – Allanah Jackson

Aquatic(a) “Most Daze”

“Most Daze” opens with a steady, Jesus and Mary Chain sounding drum beat and a super fuzzy guitar crunch that then breaks into a gliding, powerful chorus. This alternation works beautifully for this song, drawing a contrast between a more subdued, vocal-based song structure and a more energetic, totally instrumental guitar sound. Aquatic(a) might be a fairly new group, but they’re already a great addition to Austin’s growing shoegaze scene. – Bram Howard

Ultra Realist “Do What You Want”

As impressive as Austin’s electronic scene has become, it often feels a bit lacking in, well, fun. But in 2017 we were gifted with a number of releases from Ultra Realist that sought to change that. “Do What You Want” stood out as the best of the bunch, a vibrant and playful single where chirpy sounds and buzzing bass went off left and right like confetti bombs while Ultra Realist urged you to “do what you want, but don’t get caught.” Despite the dizzying number of ingredients in the mix of “Do What You Want,” the track is impressively light and airy, its peaks coming as much from random drops and silences as from instrumental elements. “Do What You Want” may not be the most cerebral release this year but there were few tracks I enjoyed anywhere near as much. – Nick Hanover

The Digital Wild “Wait”

Dust dancing across light beams. Sandcastles in the sand. Two people making one shadow. The Digital Wild’s “Wait” recognizes the beauty in the little moments in life. But it’s a sad song. The dust is the remnants of formerly live people. The sandcastles inevitably get washed away. “Nothing really ever lasts,” Chelsea Seth Woodward sings. That means the tender moment he’s sharing with his partner will inevitably pass. “Stay in this moment,” his voice pleads, climbing higher and higher until it breaks. The pulsing synths, Chantell Moody’s effortless backing vocals, the patient tom fills in the chorus – it can only delay the inevitable.

“Wait” is a song that tries to hang on to the ephemeral but knows that it will fail. Sometimes, Woodward is at peace with that; other times, it seems unbearable. Despite being one of the great tracks of the year, this song, too, comes to an end. At least we get to share its breath. – Carter Delloro

The Sour Notes “Clock Strikes Twelve”

“Clock Strikes Twelve” opens The Sour Notes’ latest LP Darkest Sour with the kind of bravado and intensity one would expect from a fresh-faced band that’s new on the scene and looking to make a name for themselves. That The Sour Notes have been grinding out similar tracks for nearly ten years just goes to show how much life is still left in this project.

Opening on a solid rock riff, but tinged with psych haze and shoegaze-y reverb, “Clock Strikes Twelve” immediately demonstrates the greater intensity of the guitar work on the album as it echoes with menacing intent. A crisp bass line amps up the tension through the verse, tapping out a tight rhythm of bright notes while listeners are layered with a dreamy gauze of ghosted vocals. It’s a song filled with intensity and immediacy, viewed through a dream pop lens, and spiraling out into the cosmos. – BJA

Max Wells “Guidance”

There’s something thrilling about a hungry artist who’s out to prove himself on every release. That has been the default mode for Max Wells since he first appeared in the Austin hip hop scene but “Guidance” took that further than ever this year, with Wells attacking TRWB’s beat with the ferocity of a lion on the prowl, ripping apart rivals questioning his skill. The production is ominous and eerie, dominated by woozy synth bass and haunting leads, but rather than adhere to the plodding rhythm of the beat, Wells switches up his style and flow constantly, dropping hooks with unnatural ease. By the end, “Guidance” functions as a master class in showing off your skills without being overly flashy, making the case for Max Wells as a virtuoso of Austin hip hop. – NH

Glue “Hunger”

The enigmatic and elusive Glue have always been a sick band to me, with their update of a classic hardcore sound and incredibly intense shows. “Hunger” is a standout from their eponymous new album, ably showcasing the band’s chops. It starts steady with repetitious and buzzy guitar tones that follow a strolling drum beat alongside lashingly harsh vocals. This alternates with a chorus that cruises a little more in the hardcore vein, with d-beats dragging shredding guitar tones to a circle-pit-inducing melody. Glue manages to keep things simple, but squeeze an insane amount of energy and feeling from their songs. “Hunger” is a perfect example of this and handily proves that Glue are one of the best punk bands of their generation. – BH

Brutalism “Chowder”

A catchy, chaotic guitar riff drives Brutalism’s “Chowder” and it feels like driving your beat up Honda with the windows down, high on the heat of summer. Passing mansions, you see into some chandeliered room and suddenly a life of thoughtless consumption plays out before you in lyric form. Effortlessly cool and subtly poignant, Chowder calls out to everyone sick of endless desire and reassures us: “Winning in life/Is pointless death.” A good reminder for the new year. – AJ

Lola Tried “San Marcos” 

In 2017, Lola Tried turned out track after track of sharp, irresistible power pop, rightly winning the attention of the city’s indie rock scene. On the band’s earnest single “San Marcos,” singer and guitarist Lauren Burton is the picture of vulnerability as strength, relaying intricate and heartbreaking details of time spent feeling adrift and alone with a wry sensitivity. Though the song is specific to the titular town of its title, it’s a narrative most of us have experience with as we seek to get out of whatever personal limbo we’re stuck in. “San Marcos,” is an anthem for everyone who has ever felt lost and adrift with Burton serving as living proof that you, too, can escape. – Kayleigh Hughes

Sertified “On the Go”

There’s always a high risk for failure when a rugged rapper decides to go pop. All too often, the transition involves the artist shedding everything that made them interesting in the first place in favor of a sanitized, uninteresting sound. Luckily, Sertified avoided that with “On the Go,” a single that works perfectly as both a pop track and a representation of Sertified’s personality. “On the Go” is Sertified at his most laid-back, TXB’s lush production drawing out the good time vibes of Sertified’s flow and freeing him up to take it easy. This is a single that you immediately warm up to because it feels so breezy and natural, like day drinking with friends on a sunny weekend, and what’s more pleasant than that? – NH

Triplets – “Check Please”

Triplets’ “Check Please” sounds like little else I heard this year. Like a combination of M.I.A. and early Azealia Banks, Wangene Hall is pure, undistilled attitude all over this track. Her swagger is palpable, and is more important than any of the lyrical snippets scattered throughout the song’s 2.5 minutes. Bradley Will creates a musical bed that is spare but vital, quickly initiating the listener into a sonic world of its own. “Check Please” doesn’t rise and fall; it doesn’t climax. It’s almost more of a sketch than anything else, but that’s part of the thrill of it. Triplets let the rhythm breathe. They trust that Hall can captivate, and she does. It’s one of the great ironies of the year in music that a song titled after the end of something is the most stunning introduction of the year. – CD

Little Thief “For Kevin” 

Little Thief is one of Austin’s best kept secrets, and I hope that in 2018 she starts to get her due. Over the course of “For Kevin”’s five minutes, the brilliant cellist and sensitive, empathetic vocalist blossoms from an elegant string performance into dozens of throbbing electronic layers.

On “For Kevin,” Little Thief laments the fact that “this is all my fault,” voice cracking as she admits toward the end that “I would give anything/To feel your hands in my hair/As I’m falling asleep.” Part of the magic of Little Thief is how the artist is able to deliver such a pure, graceful, and vulnerable performance. “For Kevin” — and indeed Little Thief herself — is utterly disarming and utterly beautiful. – KH

Go Fever “United States of My Mind”

As much as I love his music, I can’t deny that Elvis Costello is a colossal dick. So thank the heavens for Go Fever, whose leader Acey Monaro serves as a very welcome heir to Costello’s songwriting chops without the assholery. Nowhere is this clearer than on the band’s standout track “United States of My Mind,” which has Monaro refusing to beat herself up over her perhaps misguided optimism. “I sometimes get it right/But I always do it well,” croons Monaro over a decidedly Attractions-like backing, walking us through mistakes and missteps while also defiantly stating “There’ll be no regrets/With this getting shit off my chest.” We should all aspire to be as comfortable in our skin as Acey. – NH

US Weekly “American Piss”

After a quick opening with a couple of snappy tom rolls, “American Piss” dives headfirst into a raucous art-punk riff that saws away over the lilt of an undulating bass line. A moment later everything tightens up into a series of stabby, frenetic notes as vocalist Chris Nordahl’s hoarse screams unleash a lethal tirade of lyrical admonishment. “Third world realities/Blocked from my mind/Scroll past fatalities/Ignore the signs” sings Nordahl, dripping with disdain for social media slacktivists and political bystanders. ⅔ of the way through, the song breaks down with a jazzy bridge as Nordahl bemoans conservative profiteers, singing about “Martyrs with handguns … With the right to get off easy” before the song runs headlong into a false finale that jumps back into the earlier frenetic stabs in the song’s final seconds. “American Piss” is just one of an explosive handful of songs out for blood and ready to take on the status quo on US Weekly’s live hand grenade of a self-titled LP.  – BJA

Glaze “No Surprises”

“No Surprises” opens with extremely dreamy guitars whipping into the space to create an immediate amount of energy before a layer of speedy drums leads us into an explosion of wailing guitar tone and melody. The vocals are distant and harmonize in that almost dissonant way, like Have a Nice Life operates on, but remain altogether clear, adding a dreamy texture to the overall sound.  And then a warbly, guitar-driven solo mumbles its way to the forefront before shrieking into a bridge that ends up on a final harmonized chorus, abruptly closing the song. It’s a bold conclusion to an absolutely fantastic track, highlighting Glaze’s ability to reenergize shoegaze. – BH

Mélat “The Now”

Mélat is one of Austin’s most gifted vocalists, blessed with an excellent ear for melody and a rich tone. But on most of her songs, you get the sense that Mélat is holding back, leaving room for the production to shine, perhaps, or out of a desire to be humble about her talents. “The Now” has no such qualms. With its minimalist production from Jansport J, “The Now” serves as a dazzling display for Mélat’s abilities, giving her plenty of space to channel her inner Mariah Carey. Mélat seems perfectly at home in “The Now” and it’s a thrill to listen as she stretches her vocal wings, reaching ever higher. – NH

Sweet Spirit “The Power”

At the 3:26 mark of “The Power,” Sabrina Ellis, Austin’s premier rock and roll frontwoman, stubbornly insists, “I’m not done.” It’s a simple and unnecessary statement of fact, because at that moment, the horns are swelling, the drums are thumping and the band is showing no signs of slowing down. They know she’s not done, but she’s going to tell them anyway. And why not? “The Power” is Ellis speaking for anyone who has felt that they have no voice. She’s speaking for all of us.

This year, traditionally powerless people fought back. The women of the #MeToo movement were named the People of the Year by Time Magazine, and they forced a sea change in how we collectively view “powerful” men. “The Power” was released months before the #MeToo movement took hold, but it came after the Women’s March and the airport protests, amid the Science March. This was the anthem that our year needed. Ellis is our avatar, realizing all of our dreams and inspiring us to be better and stronger. We all have the power inside of ourselves. And, like Ellis, we are not done. – CD

Caleb de Casper “Good Boy” 

Caleb de Casper is Austin’s reigning king of camp and kink, and his spectacularly inventive residency at Cheer Up Charlies was a high water mark of 2017. On the standout disco-glam track “Good Boy,” de Casper teases out the naughtiest elements of Abba and stitches them into a delirious, pulsing theatri-goth dance experience. He can be your good boy, you make him a bad boy, and the whole flirtatious dynamic is like a soundtrack to the sort of playful, indulgent party you’ve always wanted to be invited to. – KH

fuvk “Silence”

There’s an almost magical quality to the music of fuvk— the mysterious songwriter’s material is so pure and powerful it almost seems like it’s coming from some otherworldly realm. Though fuvk was less prolific in 2017 than she was in 2016, “Silence” stood out as a particularly magical release. The song featured a newly expansive sound for the songwriter, her soft, velvety voice and guitar work joined by keyboard, hand percussion and bass. But as always the focus is on fuvk’s melodic skills and the interplay between her own multitracked vocals. “Silence” is the sound of an unnaturally talented songwriter testing the boundaries of her style, opening up new paths and making it clear that she’s just getting started. – NH

Sailor Poon “Marry Myself”

Sailor Poon’s B-Sides and Rarities exhibits a much more experimental and distinctive side to the band, but there is still that Sailor Poon garage flavor that can be found throughout the album, and no song exemplifies this more than “Marry Myself.” An eerie organ line and stomping drum beat leads everything in before the band’s snotty vocals guide a swaying verse into frame. The chorus has a speedy, ‘60s psych vibe with alien synthesizers and delightfully bratty backing vocals. The song closes on an almost hardcore note, with one-two drum beats, chaotic synths, and a screeching, echoed-out saxophone, clipping along at double time. How could you not be super into it? – BH

Magna Carda “Joccin’”

Magna Carda rightfully have a reputation as one of Austin’s most dynamic live bands but this year, “Joccin’” served as an explosive reminder that Dougie Do is one of the best producers in the game. Beginning with a menacing mix of klaxon synths and hard pounding beats, “Joccin’” eventually blossoms into a chill, soulful number, the two disparate worlds unified by Megz Kelli’s fiery delivery. Every second of the song oozes effortless cool, making it clear Magna Carda are too brilliant to be overlooked by the world outside of Austin much longer. – NH

A Giant Dog “Bendover”

Austin’s prolific garage-rock darlings are at their best when they’re drowning punk in a heavy dose of sex, and 2017’s “Bendover” is the perfect example of this dynamic: three minutes of ecstasy and by far the best song off of the band’s latest release, Toy. The explosive track alternates between trembling, low-voiced eroticism in its few but mighty verses and a fierce, energetic vocal and instrumental free-for-all during the choruses. The song teases and taunts, with Sabrina Ellis and Andrew Cashen harmonizing their way through a rumbling, Joy Division inspired declaration: “I’m not a lover, I am a fight.” Then Ellis breaks into perfect, hypnotic howls illustrating the intoxicating moment that pain collides with desire. – KH

BLXPLTN “Education Destruction”

Even before “fake news” took over the cultural conversation, America had a bad habit of stuffing history books with gross inaccuracies and outright lies. It’s that habit that BLXPLTN seek to call out and tear down on “Education Destruction,” a characteristically incendiary single from Austin’s most vital punk outfit. “Education Destruction” is BLXPLTN at their ferocious best, packed full of titanic guitar riffs, devastating drums and an abundance of righteous howls, all serving to make the revolutionary rhetoric go down easy. We may have all grown up being fed lies about our history but as BLXPLTN show, it’s never too late to claw your way out and find the truth. – NH

Blastfamous USA “Air Raid on America”

Zeale has been Austin’s chief pop-oriented rapper for years, and had plans at one point to make a serious play for the mainstream. As is the case for many Americans, however, 2017 was the year that Zeale got woke and “Air Raid on America” is his screed against the forces that are destroying this country from within. His smooth flow is still on display here, but he’s got a sense of urgency that hasn’t surfaced in his recordings before. Undoubtedly, the production from NGHT HCKLRS helps draw that out of him. They’ve created a dark, layered track that feels ready to burst at any moment, constantly egging on Zeale to deliver the rawest critique he can. Like Dua Lipa, he’s got some new rules. Hers, though, don’t culminate in “Do everything you can to make the Empire fall.” This is energetic political music that was rarely this direct in the mainstream this year, but Zeale articulated the feelings of millions of Americans frustrated with the powers that be and putting them on notice that things are about to change. – CD