Top 50 Austin Songs of 2011: #10-1

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For #50-41 of our list, please click here. For #40-31, please click here. And for #30-21, please click here. And finally, for #20-11, please click here. Also be sure to listen to each song on our media player above (may not work fully in Chrome). You can find links to previous OVRLD articles on each artist below their entry. And look forward to more Austin music list action next week.

10. ‘Inside Out’ - Sad Accordions
Sad Accordions had a banner year this year with the release of their The Color and The Kill EP and a split 7” with Monahans. We would have loved to recognize “Sacrificial Chumpsucker Diatribe” and “Denial Takes the Train,” which are both stellar tracks. But “Inside Out” stands as the group’s crowning achievement in 2011. For a generation raised with John Hughes movies as nostalgia, “Inside Out” is a welcome piece of ear candy. It’s got the ringing guitars, carefree melody and bouncing drums of the best of 80s underground guitar rock. Think latter-day Replacements or the sunniest of the IRS-era R.E.M. and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what awaits you with this track. Seth Woods (also of The Whiskey Priest) sings, “I’m waiting on the night to come alive,” but it doesn’t sound like he has to wait at all. “Inside Out” is what being alive sounds like.

Click here for our February write-up of Sad Accordions’ The Color and The Kill EP.

9. ‘Air Balloon’ - The Shears
This was the year the world was introduced to The Shears, and if you haven’t met them, get acquainted. Between the charismatic lead vocals of Inne Aguilar and the hooktacular songwriting of Aaron Blackmar, they quickly established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in the Austin music scene. Amidst a bevy of dance-inducing songs from the Shears’ self-titled EP, “Air Balloon” rose to the top (get it?). Lyrically, it’s a take-down of douchey dudes who think much too highly of themselves, but Aguilar keeps her head high while she’s slinging mud. It’s just one of the elements that makes the song so much fun, along with the omnipresent synthesizers and rousing drums. It’s hard to hear this and not immediately rise to your feet to start shaking it out.

Click here for our exclusive interview with The Shears in May.

8. ‘Downtown Girl’ - Not in the Face!
This song, as with a few others on this list, first came out last year. But it was in the context of this year’s Bikini that it really melted faces. Jonathan Terrell and Wes Cargal combine to make a noise bigger and brasher than the Black Keys or the White Stripes – though similarly blues-influenced. Neither of those groups have vocalists like Terrell, who sounds like a man at the end of his rope in “Downtown Girl,” even though he’s ostensibly just the narrator (the song is brilliantly written in the second-person). He manages to sing the chorus – “She’s just a downtown girl / And you know it’ll never go anywhere” – without coming anywhere close to sounding dismissive. Instead, he empathizes with our protagonist’s misguided hopes, while desperately wishing that things could somehow be different. The track is a perfect storm of rich lyrics, interesting music and killer production, all wrapped up in a gut-wrenching cautionary tale.

Click here for our June review of Not in the Face’s album, Bikini.

7. ‘Heroin’ - Moving Castles
Moving Castles is the side project of Knifight guitarist John Eric, and they quietly released their debut EP earlier this year. It’s got some great pop-rock spread amongst its five tracks, but “Heroin” is the true gem on the disc. The song is immediately likable thanks to the humor in its hook, “Every time I see you, you try to sell me heroin” and the accompanying “Her-o-in” backing vocals. Eric builds the song like an expert songsmith from its muted guitar chords in the beginning all the way through to the swirling explosion of the final chorus, which seems to have some new aural element jump out of its wall of sound upon each new listen. And as you’re rocking out to it for the fifth straight time, ask yourself, “Just how much better does it make this song that it is supposedly the most autobiographical in the Moving Castles’ catalog?”

Click here for our November review of Moving Castles’ self-titled EP.

6. ‘Carrie’ - SPEAK
SPEAK released a fantastic album this year, I Believe in Everything, but nothing on it could top the sheer perfection of “Carrie,” which first appeared on last year’s Hear Here EP (though “Wars” and “81” both come close). One of this track’s distinctive features is its non-vocal melodies, both of which are encountered in the first 30 seconds. SPEAK don’t feel the need to hold anything back, because the song is just that good. They can tip their whole hand right up front and know that “Carrie” is still going to be enthralling over the entirety of its near-four-minute run time. Singer Troupe Gammage sticks with his familiar lyrical themes of navigating the complicated emotional entanglements of a twentysomething, but remains just oblique enough to draw the listener in. Throughout 2011, there was no catchier hook to come out of Austin.

Click here for our September review of SPEAK’s new album, I Believe in Everything.

5. ‘You, Me, & the Boatman’ - Quiet Company
On 2010’s Songs For Staying In EP explored the unabashed joy of a committed, fulfilling, loving relationship in songs like “How Do You Do It” and “Things You Already Know.” Yeah, it was cheesy, but singer Taylor Muse was so earnest in his affection that it was infectious, and in a world of irony, the genuine sentiments were refreshing. This year, rather than steer the band in a different direction, Muse retained his love for love while incorporating his fear of death. “You, Me, & the Boatman” is the perfect co-mingling of these two themes. “It’s you and me,” sings Muse in the chorus, “our love is bigger than most everything.” Yet, when the specter of death threatens, Muse confronts it head on. “This existence is probably all we have,” he opines. Yet, his eternal optimism leads him not to nihilism from this realization, but rather to the idea that we should “live to love, and love to live.” Surrounded by horns and thudding drums, sounding like a looser Death Cab for Cutie, Quiet Company make existential crises sound like damn fun.

Click here for our August review of Quiet Company’s new album, We Are All Where We Belong.

4. ‘Hot New Jam from 73’ - Fresh Millions
Fresh Millions, fresh off their Best New Artist win at the Austin Music Awards in March, only had one release over the course of 2012, but they made it count. “Hot New Jam” manages simultaneously to be a perfect summary of the band’s work thus far and a giant leap forward for them. Much of their debut LP last year was based off of funky instrumental passages with some dabbling in Chromeo-style voice manipulation. “Hot New Jam” retains each of those characteristics, but tightens up the songwriting and introduces a hell of a chorus. It takes 1:12 for the vocals to kick in, but it is totally worth it when they do, and the instrumental introduction is downright infectious. They riff on the theme of Retro – which has been totally back in 2011 – while still managing to not actually sound like anything from 1973. It’s a forward-thinking dance song from an incredibly talented outfit.

Click here for our March review of Fresh Millions’ “Hot New Jam from 73” single.

3. ‘She’s So Scandalous’ - Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears

It felt like this album kind of disappeared after its initial release this spring. Sure, there was nothing on it as ubiquitous as “Sugarfoot” from BJL’s 2009 debut, but it is jam-packed with soulful goodies. “Livin’ in the Jungle,” “Booty City,” and “You Been Lyin” are just some of the highlights of Scandalous, but quasi-title track “She’s So Scandalous” still stands out as the top dog here. The horns are used to incredible effect, as their drawn-out notes and subtle dynamics absolute define the fantastic chorus. In fact, everything in the verses (the funky bass, the harsh rhythm guitar) is short and tight, creating a sense of urgency that is then relieved in the chorus when it feels like Lewis lets his band of the leash. The cymbals ride, the bass is smooth, the guitar loosens up, and oh – those horns! Lewis is a force to be reckoned with at the helm of this band, and with “She’s So Scandalous” has created a nearly perfectly soul song – one that not even the band itself wants to end.

Click here for our May review of Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears’ album, Scandalous.

2. ‘Bright Lights’ - Gary Clark Jr.
Clark is arguably one of the least cool musicians in Austin. He gets press attention from Rolling Stone instead of Pitchfork (can you think of any two more disparate paragons of coolness?), and he appears on Letterman instead of Fallon. His CD is more likely to wind up in the collection of a 50-year-old blues aficionado than in that of a Red River hipster. And yet, is there anyone in Austin right now cooler than Gary Clark Jr.? People With Opinions are calling him the greatest blues guitarist from Austin since Stevie Ray Vaughan himself, and “Bright Lights” makes the case singlehandedly. Clark rips lead after glorious guitar lead over one of the most solid rhythm sections committed to record this year. The tone of every instrument here is impeccable and Clark’s vocal delivery is pitch-perfect. This is the baddest of the blues, accessible to anyone, and through it all Clark keeps his cool.

Click here for our August review of Gary Clark Jr.’s Bright Lights EP.

1. ‘Mermaid’ - Okkervil River
Okkervil River released an amazing album this year I Am Very Far, with numerous fantastic singles: “The Valley,” “Hanging From a Hit,” “Wake and Be Fine” were among the many great moments on the album. And yet, the pinnacle of Will Sheff’s songwriting this year was left off the album – “Mermaid.” It first appeared in an inferior version on the 2008 soundtrack to the film In Search of a Midnight Kiss. Since then, Sheff has re-worked some of the lyrics and entirely redone the arrangement. Now, the music swells like the waves on the ocean as Sheff sings about kidnapping and raping a mermaid his crew finds on a sailing voyage. His songwriting prowess is at its peak throughout, like when he delicately describes his captor, “She’s pretty, I think / With her hair dark as ink / And her belly bone-white / And her lips of a slight seashell pink…” He plays with rhyme schemes and alliteration like it’s the most natural thing in the world. And by the key change in the song’s climax, Sheff is slowly drowning as his ship crashes in a storm – his captor with the opportunity to save him, but understandably passing it up. We hear his dying thoughts as he sings, “And I know that I’ll stay / And she’ll always be there / My hands stuck in cold sand / Seaweed strung through her hair” amidst swirling strings and grand percussion. It’s moving and masterful, and caps off what has been an amazing year in Austin songs. Here’s to an even better 2012!

Click here for our May review of Okkervil River’s album, I Am Very Far.