by Nick Hanover
If you live in Austin then you already know there’s too much damn music to keep track of. And sometimes you just want to sift through it in bite-sized chunks. We totally understand. Allow us to introduce you to The Latest Toughs, five tracks from five artists to get you up to date and make each of your workdays a little easier.
Vapor Caves “Bitch to the Boys”
In their brief but adventurous existence, Vapor Caves have worn a number of sonic personas– eerie trip-hop, sultry R&B, smooth house purveyors. Their latest single “Bitch to the Boys” unveils yet another a new identity, albeit one that nicely fuses together a number of its predecessors’ traits (as well as elements of their puckish media savvy): a take no shit feminist spin on the electro-funk of Chromeo. Over bubbling slap bass and boom bap, vocalist Yadira Brown rap sings her way through a week in the life of a woman whose refusal to put up with thirsty men earns her a rep as “a bitch to the boys.” From DM sliding to condescending mansplaining to a phone call from a bro that literally interrupts the song, “Bitch to the Boys” is a feisty and danceable rundown of the microaggressions that women endure every day. So when you hear it out on Red River, boys, maybe actually listen for once.
Vapor Caves play Native Hostel this Thursday, October 24th for the inaugural Feel Yourself Awards
A Giant Dog “No Cars Go”
When it hit indie music with the force of a 10 megaton bomb (or more accurately, a 9.7 Pitchfork review), Arcade Fire’s Funeral also seemed to firmly usher in a new era for Merge Records, one that was previously hinted at by Spoon’s Kill the Moonlight a little over a year prior. Hooks and anthems were in and the roaring guitars and slacker cacophony of the label’s early years were now in the backseat. Leave it to Spoon mentees A Giant Dog to find a way to combine all of those worlds, almost exactly 15 years later, with a cover of Funeral’s follow-up Neon Bible, in its entirety. “No Cars Go” is the ideal representation of that bridging, launching with a swirling sonic mess that wouldn’t be out of place on a Superchunk record before the band properly launches into a glammy, gritty take on the single, fuzz guitars and a “I Wanna Be Your Dog” style single note piano riff replacing the accordions and synths of the original. More than a mere cover, A Giant Dog’s “No Cars Go” fully seizes the song and makes it an anthem for the grimy youth of car-centric Texas, haunting derelict buildings and record shop venues for something like home. Consider it a baton tossing, proof positive that Merge’s future is in very good hands indeed and those hands aren’t afraid to hold on to what came before.
Corey Arnell “‘Me’ Song”
It’s only a matter of time before we’re facing an entire wave of Lil Nas X wannabes, desperately fusing together country and rap like a million Bubba Sparxensteins. But for the moment, there are only a smattering of artists taking up the reins, like Austin’s own Corey Arnell. To be clear, Arnell doesn’t appear to have explicitly sought out to make his own “Old Town Road” with “‘Me’ Song,” from his new EP Excellent!. But the hint of it is everywhere, from the “What in tarnation is going on down here, gardangit?” dialogue kicking things off to the twangy instrumentation and trap bass combo. But the guitar sample is more country and lonesome crowded western than straight country and Arnell’s flow is twisty clarity, as different from Lil Nas X’s mush mouthed rumble as a buffalo is to a steer. That said, it’s just as likely to stick its aural spurs into your brain and just as likely to never get out of your head once it has.
Street Sects “Tomorrow is a Trap”
No one would ever accuse Street Sects of being poppy but on their new single, “Tomorrow is a Trap” they nonetheless cram in enough hooks and melodic asides to a budding Swedish pop writer envious. That’s not to say “Tomorrow is a Trap” lacks any of the menace and mayhem Street Sects have come to be known for; it’s an industrial banger through and through, beginning with the screech of metal on metal and the chest quaking rumble of a building detonation, continuing on to larynx shredding howls. The hooks come out in force by the time the bridge builds, though, starting subtly at first with percolating synth bass until the chaos quiets down enough for the vocals to shift gears towards whispered theatricality amidst klaxon leads. Street Sects have always had more than a bit of peak era Nine Inch Nails in their DNA but on “Tomorrow is a Trap” they truly sound like NIN’s evolutionary successors.
Flora & Fawna “Shallow”
Based on the art for their eponymous EP, you might think Flora & Fawna are some kind of early ’00s twee-pop group, like Fiery Furnaces with a dash of Sia. But their sound is darker and bigger than the cover suggests, closer in spirit to Portishead by way of Adele, or Lana Del Rey if she was a Manchester native rather than an LA obsessed New Yorker. “Shallow” is the duo’s most potent work to date, a brassy romantic put down with torch singer flourishes set against a thrillingly cinematic beat. It’s the type of song that sneaks up on you, the tendrils of its hooks setting in before you even realize you’re humming along to it. If Flora & Fawna can consistently make material like this, it won’t be much longer before they’re too big for this town.
Got a single you’d like to be considered for Latest Toughs? Email us with Latest Toughs in the subject!
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover