Over the course of 2013, we’ve reviewed over 100 EPs, LPs and singles. We’ve covered dozens of live shows, premiered a handful of new videos and interviewed some of our favorite local artists. All in the name of making the Austin music scene accessible to as many of you as possible. Culled from hundreds of submissions over the course of the year, these are our 50 favorite Austin songs (limit: one per artist) of the last year.
10. Slugbug - Truck Month
The first time I heard Truck Month was during a bout of insomnia, and I thought I had imagined it. An alien experience, Truck Month is Americana for a nation of cyborgs. The album gives you a brief glimpse of all its disparate elements with the short burst that is “Living in a Dome,” which manages to move through a dizzying array of sounds and genres in less than two minutes. And that pace continues throughout the album, with tracks like “Macintosh Tapes,” a song that starts like a John Carpenter theme before a proggy drum and synth breakdown calcifies into baby making music for modems. Slugbug spent three years working on what they’ve described as the “definitive LP of the post-information age” and I’m inclined to trust that boast. – Nick Hanover
9. Little Radar - Souvenirs
On their first full-length, Little Radar take a quantum leap beyond their previous work. The songs on Souvenirs are full of catchy hooks, but where it shines is in its unique, almost otherwordly presentation. If I could coin a term to describe it I’d call it Dreamgaze: a bizarrely compelling mutation of dream pop and shoe gaze with just a dab of space rock for good measure. There is a subtle complexity to Souvenirs that only reveals itself after repeated listening, as each song’s delicate layers reveal themselves on some kind of musical time release. The more I listen to this musical drug, the less I want to listen to anything else. – Brian Audette
8. Wild Child - The Runaround
Wild Child could have been another saccharine folk-pop band. The boy/girl vocals, the bouncy ukulele, the hooks sung with nonsense syllables, and the swells of strings could have added up to something sweet but dishonest. Yet their Ben Kweller-produced sophomore release has propelled them to national acclaim, and for good reason; with its fluid soundscapes and insistent charm, The Runaround is both sweet and substantial. – Kevin Allen
7. Sarah Jarosz - Build Me Up From Bones
Sarah Jarosz’s third album comes together into such a staggeringly flawless compilation that it’s hard to determine the steps the album takes, even though you end up in a new place at the end of the journey. The astounding mastery of the mandolin, banjo and guitar and her honey-smooth voice all combine effortlessly with her memorable lyrics. Jarosz’s mesmerizing original compositions account for nine of the 11 tracks on Build Me Up From Bones, fleshing out the set with stunning covers of Joanna Newsom’s “Book of Right-On” and Bob Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate.” – Bailey Cool
6. Emily Bell - In Technicolor
Emily Bell’s powerful southern soul-rock voice is perfectly displayed in her debut album, In Technicolor, as a lovely blend of vintage-inspired rock and roll and Southern anthems. Bell is equal parts Debbie Harry and Adele; she splashes around in the recent wave of U.K. neo-soul singers and also stays solid in her Houston roots, embodying a stomping rock and roll rhythm that runs raw and untamed throughout her album – which I still can’t stop listening to after all these months. – Bailey Cool
5. The Octopus Project - Fever Forms
Having outdone themselves in the realm of progressive post-rock on Hexadecagon, The Octopus Project’s latest LP, Fever Forms, seems determined to tread new ground. With far fewer massive, meandering soundscapes and several downright radio-friendly tracks (“Whitby”), Fever Forms should almost be the kind of album that an existing fan of The Octopus Project’s unique electro/analogue fusion would cringe at. And yet as such a fan, I found Fever Forms to be both refreshing and vibrant. The Octopus Project are approaching themselves from a different direction on this album and you’re pulled along for the ride before you even have a chance to question it. – Brian Audette
4. Okkervil River - The Silver Gymnasium
I really prefer to listen to Okkervil River albums while reading along the lyrics. Will Sheff is a master lyricist, and The Silver Gymnasium is just the latest demonstration of that. With a set of songs centered around growing up in rural New Hampshire in the 1980s, Sheff dives into themes of innocence, alienation, and all the other good and bad feelings associated with adolescence, and each track is rich with characters and details that make you want to keep coming back. Yet, the music is a criminally under-rated element of Okkervil River’s music. Would “On a Balcony” feel as triumphant as the words are without some truly spectacular music? Would “Stay Young” convey the thrill of youth if didn’t sound like a summer anthem? On The Silver Gymnasium, Okkeril River deliver the whole package – an album that delivers on every level. – Carter Delloro
3. Black Books - Black Books
Black Books spent the year making a name for themselves in Europe by opening for the Flaming Lips, shooting a stellar video for “Favorite Place,” and releasing the massive single “The Big Idea.” As Black Books proves, all of the attention is well-deserved. Black Books use space better than anyone else right now in order to create canyon-esque soundscapes. Take a deeper track like “Paradise.” When the chorus hits, you can almost picture the tens of thousands of people singing along in unison at the stadium. On “Maria,” a dance-y rhythm builds into another cathartic experience. For Black Books, emotions are larger than life and their music complements that perfectly. Their self-titled debut is every bit as big as the hype they’re building, and translates into one of the most memorable albums of the year. – Carter Delloro
2. Zorch - Zzoorrcchh
Several years ago, Zorch released “Zut Alors” as one of their first singles, and has proven to be their thesis statement for their first record. Listen to the way Shmu and Zac Traeger combine soaring melodies with stuttering avant-garde flourishes and you will hear the blueprint for everything on Zzoorrcchh. “Mutwa” is a percussive exploration of all the challenging weirdness Zorch can muster, as throw what sounds like the kitchen sink into the mix. Yet, “We All Die Young” is nothing but epic, soaring hook. Each lovingly crafted track, frenetic to the point that you run out of breath just listening to the album, merges Zorch’s love of both the strange and the sublime. On paper, it shouldn’t work; on record, it’s breath-taking. – Carter Delloro
1. Bobby Jealousy - The Importance of Being Jealous
Bobby Jealousy is in the midst of one hell of a run. Initially known as a side project for A Giant Dog’s Sabrina Ellis, they burst onto the scene with last year’s A Little Death, which would have been our album of the year, if not for career-making turns from The Eastern Sea and Dana Falconberry. Almost exactly one year after their debut, Bobby Jealousy released their sophomore album, The Importance of Being Jealous, and proved that the first one was no fluke. Importance established Bobby Jealousy as one of the premiere bands on the Austin scene – a fact that is reaffirmed every time they take the stage.
Importance is a full 14 songs, and not a single one of them misses the mark. It’s nearly impossible to pick a standout track on this record, as most bands would love to have even one of these songs as their go-to number. Ellis and Seth Gibbs’ voices mesh across almost every song, trading off harmonies and delivering one memorable hook after another. Just listen to the anticipatory bliss of “A Brand New Day,” the folksy swing of “25 Years,” the groovy rock of “Baby I’m Down,” the 60s rave of “There’s Nothing You Can Do About It,” the goofy but touching “Fall Asleep In Your Arms” (and on and on) and try not to smile and nod and jump for joy.
Importance illustrates a group of musicians and a pair of songwriters at the top of their game, churning out perfect songs left and right. It’s the kind of record that makes following local music so much fun – an affirmation that a prospective talent is even better than you could have imagined. – Carter Delloro