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 bands to get you up to date and make each of your workdays a little easier.
Sweet Spirit and Britt Daniel- “Have Mercy”
Birds abound in Sweet Spirit’s new collaboration with Britt Daniel, “Have Mercy.” Beginning with a stated belief that whip-poor-wills are lonesome before confessing she’s ever actually seen one, Sabrina Ellis goes on to concoct a treasure trove of astute observations about our feathered friends, from the mockingbird’s songs to lovers to the cardinal who has the women sighing as he’s caught some coyote’s eye. “Have Mercy” and its B-side “Paper Tiger” are teasing birdsongs themselves for Sweet Spirit’s upcoming full length debut, nonetheless they’re substantial, showcasing the sweeter end of Ellis’ vocal talents and Andrew Cashen’s growing knack for developing timeless pop that’s full of character. Britt Daniel takes a backseat here, providing harmonic support and also programming the ’80s pop beat (all on his birthday, apparently) but on “Paper Tiger” he’s a bit more at the forefront, if that’s your thing. Sweet Spirit and Spoon are on tour together, so maybe if we’re all lucky, there will be more collaborations between the groups in the future.
Tee Double- “Black Fist Solid”
Before Tee Double’s “Black Fist Solid,” the thought of a Gary Numan hip hop collab never crossed my mind. A synth connoisseur who makes his own beats out of the comfort his home studio, Tee Double probably pieced together “Black Fist Solid” from many of the same elements Numan would have worked with on The Pleasure Principle– the man himself may not be present but his audio fingerprints are all over it. The paradox of those unexpectedly paired elements make “Black Fist Solid” a disorienting listen at first, especially since Tee has recorded it in a way that has the warmth and space of late ’70s production. This is more than a novelty though, the beat bringing out the best in Tee, his usually laid back flow amped up and complex, dropped down to a syrupy-hook on the choruses only to morph back into double time daredevilry on the return to the verse. The result is the artistic apex of Tee Double’s new album Gas Mask and a reminder that Tee Double has become the preeminent Austin hip hop veteran for a reason.
I have no idea what the age range of Ovrld readers is, so pardon me as I lapse into a not-quite-old man remembrance of a fad from yesteryear. Not long after the advent of the 21st century, a group called The Books were considered to be the fucking be all end all of hype. They had a quirky origin story– one of them lived on the Appalachian Trail! they bonded over Shooby Taylor records and found sounds! at a dinner party, no less!– and tastemakers across the globe elevated them to such an extent they got commissioned by the French Ministry of Culture to literally make elevator muzak. To live through this was to wonder if the world had gone mad, until you realized that no normal person knew who the fuck the Books were and if you were a good human being that thought comforted you. Tapes are a new Austin band that throw me back to that time and yet…I can’t hate it. What pushed me over the edge with the Books was how hard they worked to make their snooty intellectual bonafides apparent at all times…or maybe I’m projecting and that was merely their fans. Anyway, “Youth” has a Books feel to it, in the sense that it’s a mix of ponderous mystery and familiarity, given a melody that is warm and comforting on top of a beat that is busy but stripped down enough to remain easy to follow. For modern context, “Youth” would pair well with that new issue of Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve and Gold Panda. Or to put it in more human terms, consider it a fitting soundtrack to a humpday drive on a lunch hour already gone long.
Francine Thirteen- “Lady Mary, the Highborn Fire”
Ever hear a thing and find yourself so perplexed by it you can’t stop listening to it? No promises, but I’m reasonably certain I’m about to cause that to happen to you with Francine Thirteen’s “Lady Mary, the Highborn Fire.” At least, that’s what happened when I heard it. Put a gun to my head and force me to slap a genre on “Lady Mary” and I’d tell you it’s trip hop, except trippier and with most of the hop removed. A more abstract “Black Stacey.” A more skeletal “Cowboys.” Except that’s all wrong, “Lady Mary, the Highborn Fire” is its own damn thing, disarming and haunting and beautiful. Francine Thirteen’s voice does things most human voices don’t seem to do, striking ethereal highs then adopting some other more reptilian form, only sounding “normal” when adopting a stage whisper to clue us in on Lady Mary’s real motivations, why she is considered “a trickster above all else.” All the while, a graveyard beat comes in fits and starts, Hausu piano lines arising from faded mausoleum corners, a two chord sequence of night terror stabs popping in and out. Austin artists like to tell friends their music doesn’t sound like anything else, and as good friends we smile and nod and say we understand. But in Francine Thirteen’s case, that’s absolute truth.
Critical Dad- “Boy’s Club”
Leave it to a band named Critical Dad to concoct a deceptively clever takedown of masculinity. “Boy’s Club” has a twisty classic punk structure, which makes sense– a hardcore track condemning bro culture would just be a case of a pot calling a kettle black– but it also makes that snotty plea for dudes with “shitty attitudes” to teach Critical Dad “how to be men” more fun than preachy. In sonics and themes, “Boy’s Club” easily fits in with Critical Dad predecessors Big Boys, but Ian Rundell’s recording drives that home even more, making the instrumentation thin and fuzzy and low enough in the mix to force your focus on to the vocals. It pays to dig a little deeper though, as the band has some surprising chops, from that odd opening bassline to the impressive number of chords and changes the band works into a punk track that clocks in at under two minutes. Big Boys might be the clearest local antecedent but it wouldn’t be hard to connect the dots between Critical Dad and similarly anti-masculine protopunks like the New York Dolls or Jayne County and the Electric Chairs.
Critical Dad play Ovrld’s Summer Music Sampler event at Spider House this Wednesday, June 3rd with Uncle Jesus and New China.
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