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20. ‘I Am Taking You Tonight’ - Guns of Navarone
For a town that built itself on rockin’ country, or country-rock, or however you want to call it, this list has been shockingly free of country-inflected music. Fortunately for us, Guns of Navarone put out new material this year. With some nice pedal steel tones, “I Am Taking You Tonight” appeals to the country-lover in all of us Austinites. What’s that? You don’t like country? That’s okay, this shit rocks hard. The lyrical themes are universal: “There’s nothing left to do / The only thing to do is self-destruct / Downtown, stumbling around / Trying to catch your eye” is how the track opens. Frontman Cory Reinisch is earnest and relatable as he tries to figure out his romantic life in front of a backdrop of some of the best country-rock in town.
19. ‘One More Way of Moving On’ - The Sweet Nuthin
Speaking of countrified music, “One More Way of Moving On” sounds like the rockin’-est moments of Johnny Cash’s catalogue. It’s the soundtrack to any of the drunken, questionable nights you likely had at some point in 2011. The Sweet Nuthin have made a classic song that chugs forward relentlessly with a rolling bass line and relentless drum beat. Singer Evan Charles sings the verses in a monotone that makes him almost sound bored – which is a great contrast to the rest of the music and which makes the melody of the chorus that much more powerful. When he sings “I don’t care what you say / as long as you ain’t sayin’ goodbye,” it’s with all the swagger of someone who secretly knows he’s doomed but can’t bring himself to admit it. And as it turns out, that’s just one of the ways to move on.
18. ‘The Unknown’ - MoTel Aviv
Still sad about Ian Curtis’ untimely suicide? Is “Pride (In the Name of Love)” not New Wave enough for you? Do you like your choruses as big as Red Rocks and your bass lines as thick as Farrah Fawcett’s hairdo? “The Unknown” sounds like authentic early 80s British post-punk/New Wave, but possibly rocks even harder. Singer Rodney Connell belts, “I’m wide awake in a post-modern nation” and proves it with this retro banger. The rhythm section is incredibly tight while the guitar stabs punctuate the air around Connell’s melody. And that chorus: “We are one as the radio plays tonight.” This is an ode to the power of music; you can hear it in your ears, but you can also feel it in your guts.
17. ‘Wilderness’ - The Great Nostalgic
The Great Nostalgic had so many amazing tracks on this year’s Hope We Live Like We Promised that it’s nearly impossible to pick just one. Check out “Morning Light,” “Spirit World,” “Hustlers and Junkies,” or “The Great Unknown” for other highlights off the album. But “Wilderness” remains the album’s literal centerpiece. It’s the almost exact middle of the record and everything seems to radiate out from it in all directions. As lead singer Abram Shook described the song in an interview with us earlier in the year, “It’s got a pretty catchy format, hooks and an epic ending.” Shook and company are confident and talented enough to twist songs in any which way, but on a song like “Wilderness” they know when to let a great song be.
16. ‘Wounded Knee’ - Little Lo
The lead track from June’s A Poison Tree EP, “Wounded Knee” is everything you could want in an indie-pop outfit these days. They’ve got great harmonies, melodies and an ear for the dramatic. The first chorus that kicks in at 0:54 recalls The Arcade Fire with its grand wordless refrain. Though they go for grandeur in both sound and lyrics (“Even though they died, they lived, they lived more than I have tried,” i.e.), they retain a preciousness and approachability that keeps the song grounded. When the outro comes together with its unison singing, strings, and horns, it’s hard not to feel completely uplifted.
15. ‘Dry Ice’ - Pure X
“Dry Ice” fades in already in progress, rising up out of nothing like…a block of dry ice? It’s unclear if it was Pure X’s intention, but this sultry slow jam has many of the hazy properties of its title object. The guitar tone is phenomenal – rising and falling, whirling and dipping, weaving all around the steady pulse of the rhythm section. Pure X’s focus on atmospherics served them well this year, as their sound tapped into the current indie zeitgeist more than perhaps most Austin artists. Their 7.6 from Pitchfork was the second-highest of any Austin group this year (second to Okkervil River), and their stock just continues to rise. By the end of the song, the instruments gradually slow down and meander off into the ether, as chill as dry ice.
14. ‘Eva’ - Knifight
If we had been in existence last year and had a best-of-Austin 2010 list, Knifight’s “Girls Don’t Get Crushes” would have been near the top of it. And this year they somehow managed to follow that gem with “Eva.” (And to think – this could have just as easily been “Never Coming Home!”) Knifight has something of a killer formula going here: they take shimmering synths, layer them over a pounding drum machine rhythm, and weave in John Gable’s rich baritone. “Eva” also shows great command of the arrangement – Knifight know exactly when to drop out which instrument to maintain listener interest over a 5+ minute song. By the last minute, they introduce a ringing guitar lead over the fantastic bass line. “Eva” is a marathon, but it’s one that you just never want to end.
13. ‘Pillow Talk’ - Wild Child
It’s no secret that we here at OVRLD are huge fans of Wild Child, and we’re not alone. After the release of their debut LP earlier this year, this track skyrocketed to the top of the Hype Machine’s playlist and their CD release party packed the Parish in one of the events of the season. On the surface, their sound is so simple – ukulele, cello, shaker – so what is it that so many people are responding to? Unlike most bands today, Wild Child bare their souls in their music. Listening to them is like hearing a private conversation between former lovers, with all the accompanying emotions of jealousy, guilt, hurt and anger. It’s an amazing experience whether it’s alone with your headphones or amongst hundreds of strangers, and “Pillow Talk” is the epitome of their capabilities.
12. ‘Prospect Park’ - Golden Bear
Golden Bear’s Alive was one of the albums that really blew us away this year. Thanks to production and engineering from Danny Reisch and Eric Wofford, the record just sounds amazing and Golden Bear know how to make the most of this. “Prospect Park” begins with a monstrous sound – guitars, pianos and drums all crashing in a cacophonic chorus. The song moves quickly around its melodies, sounding like the Flaming Lips covering 60s British baroque poppers, like the Zombies. It’s a triumphant song in both sound and lyrics; it’s hard not to feel exuberance when, at the 2:09 mark, they scream out, “And this city makes me wanna live, I wanna live, and have the moments where I feel it all…” “Prospect Park” is the place where anything becomes possible.
11. ‘Chandeliers’ - The Dark Water Hymnal
We’ve been listening to this song for months now, and it’s still just as gripping as it was the first time. This is the perfect song for after something has happened: the morning after drinking heavily, the parking lot after a funeral, the day after a birthday party. It’s a soundtrack for any situation that is tinged with both hope and regret, nostalgia and melancholy. It’s two chords that cycle around and around until you’re reborn in a new moment. “We’re all out of bullets and they’re coming right for us, dear / The walls are shaking; here come the chandeliers,” sings Jeremy Ballard. He’s describing a hopeless situation, but the music suggests things may not as bleak as he thinks.