2014 is going to go down as one of the tumultuous years of the fledgling 21st century, and Austin wasn’t immune to the chaos and uncertainty that plagued the year. From the tragic deaths at SXSW to the passing of adopted Austin son Ian McLagan, there was plenty of sadness in the Austin music scene, but it was also a year that saw some of the most vital works to come out of Austin in years. We reviewed a dizzying number of tracks and albums this year, but we felt there were 25 songs that stood about above the rest, and symbolized the fear, hopes and anxiety of 2014. This is not a definitive list, and it took quite some time for us to decide on these 25, so we hope you’ll let us know your own choices and continue the conversation in the comments. And if you missed our Top 10 albums, check those out here.
Boyfrndz – “Shape Shifter”
From the moment Robin and I covered this in our podcast earlier this year, I knew this would be one of my favorite songs of 2014. It’s a standout track on Boyfrndz’s second full-length, Breeder, and it’s mostly for that incessant drone. The pulsating synths keep the time while Boyfrndz can explode around them with skronking guitars or frenetic drums. It’s a hypnotic sound perfectly captured by expert engineer Erik Wofford, and has rightfully led to a breakout year for this captivating psych-rock-ish group. Settle into the darkness and the reverb, and do your best not to start nodding along. “Shape Shifter” will worm its way inside you unexpectedly, and refuses to let go. – Carter Delloro
Walker Lukens- “Lover” (James Koo for D.R.U.G.S. remix)
Austin music is a lot of things. But we’re not exactly a hub of remix culture. That might explain why I was so delighted by Walker Lukens’ foray into the territory with his batch of Devoted Remixed tracks, taking songs from his 2013 release Devoted and rejiggering his singer-songwriter croon in all sorts of fun directions. My favorite of the bunch was James Koo’s remix of “Lover,” which turned the soft rock bombast of the original track, with its already distinctive production and rhythm section, into sounds syrupy and sinister, Walker’s voice dropped low and hidden at the end of a long, dark hallway. It borrows more than a few pages from Houston, essentially chopped and screwed, but it’s a wicked pleasure to listen to and a sound we hope hangs out a while. – Jake Muncy
Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes – “Underneath the Continental Divide”
Titanic two-piece Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes took my ears by storm this summer with their unexpected and brilliant four song demo Demoage. Evoking early hardcore, 90’s grunge, and pre-Hot Topic emo, this guitar and drum duo produce a sound that’s both way bigger and more exciting than any two people should be allowed to be. Each song could be the seed for a separate album on its own, but I keep coming back to “Underneath the Continental Divide” as sort of the odd man out, but also as a bridge between the various styles on offer.
Built off of a semi-stoned rhythm and riff, “Underneath the Continental Divide” evokes an early 90’s vibe, buttressed by Steve Pike’s bass-bolstered guitar and lazy lyrical delivery reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr.. Eschewing more traditional rock structuring, “…Continental Divide” doesn’t rise and fall so much as meander around, repetition inherent in its charm, focusing the listener on the subtle variations in the guitar work and Jacob Cruz’s accomplished drumming, culminating in a total break down of musical elements and collapsing in on itself like so much static, but not before leaving it’s mark and begging the listener to return. – Brian J. Audette
Max Frost- “Paranoia”
Max Frost’s heavy-hitting latest release Low High Low skyrocketed Mr. Frost into star-status with its release in late 2013, packing one hell of a pop-punch. Lyrically exploring the lows and highs of his own constantly shifting emotional states of life, the 17-minute five track EP is anything but frozen. Mr. Frost’s juxtaposition of several different genres he is fond of — funk, electro, hip hop and blues — created moody music with a bitchin’ melody.
Off Mr. Frost’s highly acclaimed album, Max’s “Paranoia” is a favorite here at Ovrld. The track fully immerses the listener and brings to life Max’s dueling use of both modern music techniques and old-school funky flare. The back-beat– complete with staticy synths, snazzy snares, snaps, claps and rain drops– compliments the vocal range echoing from Max’s pipes of perfection. The hit may be bare boned, stripped to its bare necessities, but in this case less truly is more. You can hear every part clearly, with each part complimenting, not competing, with the other. The catchy tune, along with his newest release, solidified Max’s name as Rolling Stone’s “Artist You Need To Know,” as well as a success story we like to shine some spotlight on here at Ovrld. – Jenny Stark
Kenny Gee- “Swang and Bang”
The big dig on Austin hip hop is that its too obsessed with Houston rap to be its own thing. I think that can be a valid complaint if you focus on some of the more prolific Austin hip hop acts breaking through, but even so, that complaint distracts from all the genuinely diverse and interesting stuff coming out of ATX at the moment. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that Kenny Gee’s ESG-quoting and sampling track “Swang and Bang” isn’t so much a tribute to H-town as it is a send up of the notion that Austin can’t stand on its own.
Self-describing his lyrics as “abstract thoughts from your average poor kid,” Kenny Gee is cannily self-deprecating, but also aware of the abstract, hazy feel of his twist on ESG’s classic. Subbing out the 1995 shout out for Gee’s birth year of 1996, “Swang and Bang” starts as a dreamy throwback before Gee flips it and begins to speed up his flow around the chopped and screwed sample, breaking down expectations of where he was going to go or what his sound should be. It’s the kind of track that makes your ears perk up from familiarity but immediately makes it clear that it has its own volition. There was a lot of promising hip hop in Austin in 2014, but on “Swang and Bang,” Gee showed that he’s eager to carve out a space for himself on the national level, intercity rivalries be damned. – Nick Hanover
Feral Future- “XOKO”
What makes a song the best of the year? For that matter best of an album? Most will remember Feral Future‘s breakout year and impactful album for the wonderful “No Means Nothing.” However there was another overlooked track on Haematic that easily ranks as one of my favorite songs of all time.
It all starts with a crackle as frontwoman Relle Sonnenschein channels equal parts vicious and heartfelt as our heroine declares she’s leaving a destructive alcoholic. You can’t help but admire the real anger behind the exclamation “How dare you?”– there are no apologies, no sympathy and no real analysis of addiction. This is not that story, it’s the story of the righteously pissed off lover. How dare you choose that bottle over me? Its the kind of song that at the very first play made me question why we weren’t all spending every moment constantly talking about this track. Its difficult to decipher individual instruments but one things for certain, this whirlwind medley drives hard before a power chant of “XO! KO!” fades out with one more oh so sweet run through the chorus. It’s tracks like this that exemplify why Feral Future is one of the strongest acts to come out of Austin in a long time. – Nate Abernethy
Ume – “Black Stone”
Lauren Larson continues to outdo herself. Known for her hard rock riffage in Ume, “Black Stone” may be her purest metal moment yet. The first thirty seconds is vintage heavy metal that will transport you to a time before those glam hair bands turned “metal” into a dirty word. “Black Stone” is unadulterated power, with that intro culminating in some massive backing vocals. From there, though, Ume start putting there own spin on things.
Larson’s vocals don’t cut so much as soothe; it’s quite a contrast to her vice-like guitar. When things kick into high speed for the last third of the track, Ume illustrate how the hard rock you might hear on the radio from bands like the Foo Fighters is a pale imitation of what could be. “Black Stone” manages to marry hooks and power, and is perfect proof of why Larson is one of the hardest-rocking people in town. – Carter Delloro
Bird Peterson ft. Space Camp Death Squad- “Chuck Roast”
One of my favorite concert memories this year was when Space Camp Death Squad played the Chronicle Cookout. They put on a great set, but that’s not why it’s a favorite memory. No, that would be because of the ever shifting expressions of the stage security guard, who spent every song morphing from “into it” to “confused as fuck” to “outraged” and then back to “into it” as Space Camp Death Squad’s schtick eventually either made sense to him or he forgot why it bothered him.
Like Das Racist before them, Space Camp Death Squad are a hip hop group who aren’t afraid to cut hip hop tropes open, skewering the cash money, bitches and hoes, guns in the air stereotypes that freak out suburban parents everywhere while also lampooning the minstrelsy that commercial hip hop has become. SCDS’s output was limited this year, but their team up with Bird Peterson, “Chuck Roast,” is one of the best encapsulations of their sound and aesthetic to date, a too-clever futurist hip hop track where the lyrics are horribly mutated variants of nursery rhymes and the chorus is a laundry list of hot topics the band wants to say fuck you to, or, to paraphrase Ryan “Doc Brown” Darbonne, it’s some white trash swag with a Harry Belafonte flow. – Morgan Davis
Purple- “Beach Buddy”
Despite my love of Purple, “Beach Buddy” is actually an unusual pick for me. (409) is jam packed full of hits that all hold a special place in my heart but this carefree surf tune brought back distant memories of crackling fires and broken hearts on the Texas shores. A body shaking bassline thanks to Joe “Pranktser” Cannariato drives this lighthearted romp through waves of guitar groovings with a barely there fuzz and southern twang as if Surf Curse blew the dust out of their amps and headed south. The track is also the most restrained I think you’ll ever find Hanna Brewer as she decisively and steadily tomahawks the drums and wrangles that southeast Texas accent into a charming coo.
“Beach Buddy” was absolutely the song of the summer and in time will be a classic that all your hip friends throw onto pool party playlists. Seemingly never satisfied, with a new EP in the works, Purple is diving into a whole new batch of genres and experiments, and it may mean we may not see the sights of another Beach Buddy for awhile. So go fill your bathtub, don your swimsuit and fantasize of one final day of summer. I think I’ll join ya. – Nate Abernethy
Dana Falconberry – “Palmless”
Raise your hand if your first thought on hearing that drum machine intro on “Palmless” was “This can’t possibly be the new Dana Falconberry song.” For a singer-songwriter who gained national attention for the organic feel of her 2012 album, Leelanau, it was a bold move to release a track with a mechanized rhythm track, processed shimmering guitars, and a low, monotonic hum.
And yet, the track is unmistakenably Falconberry’s. From the moment – ten seconds in – when her delicate vocals appear, she brings humanity to the automated background. The entire song is a tension between the “real” and the “fake” and Falconberry ultimately teases out the warmth in her cold studio touches. “Palmless” was a fearless step forward for Falconberry, who has shown a mastery outside the strict confines of her folk milieu. She is one of the great innovative musicians in Austin right now. – Carter Delloro
Phil Ajjarapu- “Nothing is Connected”
“Nothing is Connected” is not a song title that necessarily inspires joy. It’s a myth dispelling, a dismissiveness toward mystical solutions and soft comforts. As a song, though, Phil Ajjarapu’s two and a half minute track is surprisingly warm even as it cuts. It’s something of a thesis statement for his debut album, Sing Along Until You Feel Better, situated a little after the album’s halfway point: don’t try to make sense of the ugly things that happen. Sometimes, shit just goes wrong. Instead, make a joyful noise. Survive.
Sonically, “Nothing is Connected” is a stripped-down interlude, centered around a woodsy acoustic guitar and fuzzed-out, lo fi production, a vibe that feels more Andrew Jackson Jihad than most of the album’s more energetic power poppy moments. Sing Along Until You Feel Better was one of the most simply pleasurable albums I came across this year, and “Nothing is Connected” is the track from it that I come back to most often, bringing its strange joy to my doorstep. Don’t overthink it, it tells me. Be cynical, if that fits you. But don’t stop singing. – Jake Muncy
The Sour Notes – “It Could Be Worse”
The penultimate track “It Could be Worse” on The Sour Notes’ latest LP Do What May, screams in on a psych-tinged tsunami of reverb-laden guitars and scintillating synth organ with the promise of balls-out rock bravado and poppy hooks. Never one to belabor a lyric, Notes’ frontman Jared Boulanger keeps it sparse, but packed with punch on “It Could be Worse,” eschewing endless repetition for timely change-ups in tone and tempo.
Evolving from its electric intro, the song enters a valley of sultry psych haze about half way through before concluding in an anxious, desperate swell accompanied by the ghostly chant of “All for one/When we need you.” In the end “It Could be Worse” is another quick, but fruitful sojourn into a favorite corner of The Sour Notes’ rich oeuvre. – Brian J. Audette
Shakey Graves- “Dearly Departed”
Shakey Graves has been less than a stranger to success this past year, gaining massive popularity and plays with the release of his latest album And The War Came in early October. The new album is softer in sound than his freshman release Roll The Bones, but is harder at its core– the meaning in the lyrics. The sorrowful tune addresses “the trials and tribulations of becoming domesticated, letting people into your world and letting go of selfishness—the story of becoming a pair, losing that, and reconciling with the loss and gain of love” as Shakey told High Saloon. Though some of us grave-diggers were sad to see his lone-wolf act and trusty drum-kit case go, Shakey more than made up for the deficit with the presence of beauty Esme Patterson on vocals and the rockin’ Boo on drums.
“Dearly Departed” (one of my favorite songs on the new joint) is an hauntingly breathy duet with seamless songstress Esme Patterson that takes your breath away, addressing the despair and detritus left behind after a love is lost. Originally written as a tongue-in-cheek haunted house-esque joke on sex for Halloween, Shakey and Esme both saw both the tracks and their pairings potential once it was performed, causing the crowd to go completely bonkers. Though a joke in the beginning, “Dearly Departed” seems honest, interactive and utilizing back and forth shifting of vocals to give the illusion of closeness and cohesion. The track– in fact the entire album– is backed by Shakey’s co-producer Chris Boosahda, aka “Boo,” who accompanies the two on drums. The addition of Esme’s vocal flare and Boo’s skills on the drum and snare compliment Shakey perfectly, creating a completely unique alternative-country sound. – Jenny Stark
Abram Shook – “Distance”
More than any other Austin artist, my 2014 was defined by Abram Shook. I’ve long been a fan of his work with The Great Nostalgic, and his first solo effort, Sun Marquee, was a continuation of his great work with that band. Of the many great tracks on that record, “Distance” distanced itself as a local standout in 2014.
It’s interesting to me that “Distance” resonated so deeply this year, because Shook’s previous highlights were defined by fascinating lyrical wordplay. Yet, in “Distance,” Shook’s vocal delivery is often muddled in favor of a distinct overall vibe. The track calls to mind a lazy day at the beach with its mid-tempo shuffle and it’s sunny major-key rhythm guitar riffs. That catchy synth line reveals Shook’s effortless way with a melody, and the outro contains some beautiful overlapping vocal lines. All told, every piece of this arrangement and this song fits perfectly to create a comforting indie pop gem. – Carter Delloro
SPEAK – “Gates”
When you have a song like “Gates” on your album, it would be a crime not to put it front and center. SPEAK’s decision to make “Gates” the first track of their second LP says volumes about the savvy and maturity this group has acquired since their first release several years ago as it’s not only one of the best tracks on the album, it’s one of the best tracks I’ve heard all year. Opening with a stabbing, crystalline keyboard riff then exploding seconds later with an equally catchy guitar riff and pounding rhythm section, “Gates” sets the tone for the rest of Pedals in more ways than one. Opening lyrics “This is my second life/Is it Hell or Paradise?” lays the groundwork thematically for the rest of the song and the rest of the album; this is about second lives, second chances, labors of love, and of sacrifice. And oh man is it ever catchy.
Echoing the moody minor key electro pop tonalities of Depeche Mode and M83, “Gates” excites and entices, while maintaining an edge of uncertainty, a leap of faith just over the horizon. If that leap of faith is the rest of the album, it’s a leap worth taking. Without a doubt, “Gates” by Speak has earned a place in my list of all time greatest side one-track one’s. – Brian J. Audette
Twin Vision- “I Believe in Drugs”
I traipsed all over the globe in 2014 and no matter where I went or who I met, if I blasted one play of Twin Vision‘s “I Believe In Drugs” listeners always stopped mid-sentence and inquired, “Who the fuck is that?!” A demonic blare of guitar leads right into Michael Kristoph’s effortless and pristinely placed mumbles. His nonstop spitting like a bumping mine car running off the rails turn schizophrenic slam poet lyrics into a damn fine rocking tune.
The song feels grimy like something you kicked out of a gutter or so forbidden your mother would banish it and send you straight to confession, and by the time the titular line kicks in it echoes and disintegrates less like a psychedelic spin and more like a psychotic meltdown. A truly unique singularity possessing a dynamic scope, the only garage band that came close to rivaling Twin Vision’s superiority in 2014 was duo Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes. We first demanded you check out the tune all the way back in February and despite nearly 11 months to change our minds “I Believe In Drugs” still remains the top track of the year. With an amazing accompanying music video, one of the coolest show flyers I’ve ever seen and a no fucks given humorous live presence, 2014 was the year Twin Vision slyly stole the top spot. – Nate Abernethy
BLXPLTN- “Stop and Frisk”
Opening with a gnarled electric guitar like a noose hewn tight, “Stop and Frisk” is industrial protest, a riot in a warehouse. Its rhythm is angry and punchy, and its chorus, punctuated by screams and roars all around it: “Stop. And frisk!” Stop. And frisk!
Named after New York’s famous and famously racist demonstration of police power, BLXPLTN’s incredible track is one of the best protest songs in a year that needed them. It’s simple, almost pre-linguistic in its methods: by shouting loud enough, it eschews complex messaging in favor of the simple truth. The truth being, of course: Fuck. That. 2014 may very well be remembered as the year of Fuck That, which makes this song’s place on our list all the more important. More than any other year in recent memory, we needed a song like “Stop and Frisk,” and well, what do you know, BLXPLTN delivered. – Jake Muncy
Tele Novella- “Trouble in Paradise”
Sharp and stylish, Tele Novella look and sound like a French New Wave interpretation of an American rock band, clad in pastels and equally colorful rhythms, their allure smokily sexual and mystifying. The band’s releases to date have mostly come in single form, but that fits the image too, like they’re some alternate reality incarnation of the go-go 45s shared between the teen lovers in Moonrise Kingdom. These sporadic releases have all been electrifying teases of the band’s kitschy world, but “Trouble in Paradise” was their masterpiece in 2014.
Seductive without trying, “Trouble in Paradise” is the soundtrack to a dolled up noir, its coily boogie beat adding emphasis to Natalie Ribbons’ demand that we “do like the animals do.” There are a lot of ways you can take a statement like that, but Ribbons’ delivery makes it certain that regardless of what she means, the repercussions might be fatal. When Ribbons coos “I’ve come from the wilder side/Bringing trouble to paradise,” not only do you not question her vague origins, you delight in them, eager for whatever trouble she’s brought even if it spells doom. Every piece of “Trouble in Paradise”‘s arrangement is equally dangerous in its seductiveness, on down from that hip shaking beat Matt Simon provides to those gorgeous group harmonies and snaky guitar. No one else in 2014 made giving in to bad thoughts so appealing. – Morgan Davis
Magna Carda: “Banger Jones”
Austin-based collective Magna Carda is quickly putting Austin hip-hop back on the map and into the spotlight. The advantageous ensemble, though having been on their grind for some time now in the underground scene, is finally catching the limelight they truly deserve with the release of their album Van Geaux. Comprised of four talented locals, Megz Kelli, Dougie Do, Eric “The Greek” Nikolaides and Derek Van Wagner, the group forms a quartet of epic proportions.
Off their latest release, the track “Banger Jones” is a mint classic, like shoes made by italians or ghetto blasters. Megz Kelli’s brisk, lickity-split spitting and gritty sense of style gives hip-hop heads a hard case of whiplash. Beatmeister Doogie Do, the group’s pianist, did no wrong on the keys providing the track with a little pizzaz. Eric “The Greek” Nikolaides is God-like on the guitar– his nimble fingers and electric speed stings blessing the track with “the funk.” Derek Van Wagner’s braininess on the bass lines rounded out the track perfectly, blending the hard lyrics with the upbeat beat. Altogether, the track gives exactly what the title alludes to– one hell of a banger with some serious swagger. – Jenny Stark
The Capitalist Kids – “Not ‘95”
No stranger to subjects both personal and political, pop punkers The Capitalist Kids offer up something of a shot across the bow to Austin’s punk scene with the lead off track to their latest LP at a loss. The opening line “No one in this town likes pop punk/Cool kids like their garage punk /If your band has fuzzy vocals/You’ll be a hit with all the locals” seems to indict the antithetical music-as-fashion approach punk and in the second verse goes on to lament “They say our moment passed us by/It’s 2013, not ‘95/What’s the point in keeping pop-punk alive?”.
Couched in The Capitalist Kids’ signature fast and tight delivery it’s easy to miss the malaise behind these words, but as an opening track the song sets the tone for much of the rest of the album, still poppy and political, but a bit more introspective than previous offerings. In tried and true punk fashion however the chorus redeems any sense that mainstream music realitiess can keep the band down saying “We’re not going anywhere/Damn good thing that we don’t care/Not here to impress no one/We’re only doing this for fun.” In less than two minutes, The Capitalist Kids sum up the highs and lows of being a local band with “Not ‘95” and true to form, make it fun as hell in the process. – Brian J. Audette
Feral Future- “No Means Nothing”
If Austin music was one thing this year, I’d say it was brave. There was a surplus of groups willing to tackle difficult sounds and difficult subjects, and Feral Future lived up to their name by being one of the fiercest, most outspoken bands in the city if not the world. Their debut LP Haematic offered up ample evidence of this, but lead single “No Means Nothing” was its breakthrough moment, a sharp, vivid blast of metallic punk that sought to establish the band’s fearlessness in one succinct line: “These girls are TOUGHER/Than your feeble attacks.”
The blast of righteous sonic anger that erupts as “attacks” rings out drives that point home even before its flip of victim blaming rhetoric comes in on the chorus, the “No Means Nothing” shout emboldened by the snarled “To me” that proceeds it. Feral Future shared sets with the likes of Perfect Pussy and Mannequin Pussy and other feral feline based touring acts, but “No Means Nothing” helped prove they were even more devastating performers than those buzz bands, capable not just of messy maelstroms but also of heartfelt anthems for the oppressed and victimized and often times in the same song. – Morgan Davis
Otis The Destroyer- “Goldfame”
As someone once said to me, “In any other city in the world, they would be THE rock band.” As a music fan it’s a nice problem to have: an over-saturation of spectacular bands. However, if any song confirms that Otis reigns supreme its “Goldfame”. Dark Arts was an enjoyable EP through and through, but its downfall was it felt truly experimental…in that even the band was still experimenting what exactly this new beast was. “Goldfame” was the singular track that at the year’s end still captures the magic of what exactly Otis The Destroyer is and where its going. Catchy as hell, trippy enough to satisfy the space venturing stoner in all of us and just plain fucking rocking. I never thought I’d say it but the demise of The Couch may be the best thing to ever happen, as from the ashes two amazing bands have emerged and found their own footing. From vocalist and guitarist Taylor Wilkens’s dreamy wailing, the fingerlicking fingerpicking of Anthony Rucci on the guitar to the snappy cymbal halting of drummer Jud Johnson and don’t forget bassist Nick Joswick lost in his own personal party/bass coma side-stage, “Goldfame” feels deliberate, restrained and ultimately definitive. – Nate Abernethy
Keeper- “Happy to Be Sad”
The bonding together of two lustrous lovers– local production powerhouse Andrew Thaggard, aka Boom Baptist, and vivacious vocalist Yadira Brown of Keeper, birthed a track that is anything but played out since its introduction. The newly minted couple had just began their swooning when Andrew was sent overseas to Japan to perform. Yadira, being the babelet with bodacious pipes she is, wrote him a tune and laced her lyrics over a drum loop with support from her long time friends and fellow Keeper band-babes Erin Jantzen and Lani Camille Thomison. She sent the rough acapella to Boom and being the master-mixer he is, Andrew saw the love song’s potential and began working his magic.
Keeper has exploded both under and above ground this past year, solidifying their position as a tulip-tickling trio that’s been described as Austin’s own white TLC. Thier bewitching vocals carry a breathy tone and strong harmonizing unity, perfectly complementing each member’s boisterous vocal ability. “We’re all switching lead vocals throughout the song: Lani on the first verse, Erin on the bridge, me on the last verse. We back each other up on everything,” Yadira states with a smile.
Likewise, Boom Baptist has recently blown up in the underground Austin scene bringing his diversity to the forefront of local Austin hip hop production. From psychedelic to funkadelic, synthy to slow-mo, breathy to bad-ass bassery and everything in between, Boom continues to make a splash in the local beat-making community. – Jenny Stark
Hundred Visions- “I’m Inoculated”
I’ve probably written about Hundred Visions’ “I’m Inoculated” enough times to fill a chapbook by now, but fuck it, this was probably the best indie pop song of the year and not just in this city of gluttonous music fans. A sneaky pop stowaway on the otherwise darker and more vicious Spite, “I’m Inoculated” is one of those songs that worms its way into your brain but somehow doesn’t make you hate it for doing that. I hear it everywhere I go, and it’s in my brain in a way that forces me to convince others to let it get into theirs too. Which could also mean I have rabies.
But I’d like to think that I’m not dying from a Pontypool-style audio strain of rabies but am instead just so filled with joy by a piece of perfect pop songcraft that it has made some serious cracks in my otherwise profane, cranky exterior. I mean, just listen to those simple but delicious riffs, that incessant beat, that casually clever vocal demeanor. Listen to that toyshop synth (or is it a guitar masquerading as a toyshop synth?). Listen to that blunt, pogoing chorus. The only thing that brings out my inner crank when I listen to this track is the unfortunate knowledge that you bastards didn’t turn this into a national hit that would make Hundred Visions visible enough to finally oust “White Lies” in the Austin earworm wars. – Nick Hanover
BLXPLTN- “Start Fires”
I chose not to number Ovrld’s lists this year because I think that sort of thing distracts from the positive emphasis these kinds of features theoretically should have and instead just leads to a lot of pointless bickering on social media and in the comments about why so and so is above so and so. But with that said, BLXPLTN’s “Start Fires” was undoubtedly the song of the year, and that’s not just, like, my opinion, man. BLXPLTN popped up more than any other group on our writers’ nominations (with Feral Future close behind, hence both groups being the only artists with two entries), and “Start Fires” was the song that was nominated the most. But even if that wasn’t the case, I would argue to the death that it was Austin’s most potent musical statement this year.
Though we’re living in an era where frustrations are at an all-time peak on so many levels, we’re painfully low on protest songs, but that’s exactly what “Start Fires” is. Aggressive in its rhetoric, “Start Fires” is nonetheless a song about togetherness, about finding power in numbers and joining forces to topple oppressors wherever they may be. Its point is that countries are like forests and sometimes they need wildfires to clear out the detritus, and if you want to start a fire with BLXPLTN and the rest of an angry, oppressed America, just say the words. There were literal fires and metaphorical fires all over this country in 2014, but BLXPLTN ignited fires inside, turning that rage into an artistic expression of vulnerability, loss, suffering and even hope. Maybe, like me, this song was your soundtrack as America was forced to turn an ugly inward in Ferguson. Or maybe this song was your soundtrack as grand juries failed to deliver justice after. As sad as it is to think that “Start Fires” is unlikely to become irrelevant any time soon– maybe not even in our lifetimes– there is nonetheless something triumphant and incredible about how well it expresses myriad cultural hurts and experiences.