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.
Erick Mendoza “Get Along”
I feel it. You can feel it too. That sense that we’re an entire city in flux, either standing in the middle of some future shock crossroad where one path leads closer to utopia and the other disaster or already too far down the wrong way. Getting that feeling across in a simple little pop song should be impossible, but I think, maybe, Erick Mendoza has pulled it off on “Get Along.” With his Daniel Johnston possessing Brian Wilson voice, Mendoza is perfectly situated to represent the perhaps naive hope for something better that draws so many to Austin, doubly so when paired as he is here with a savvy mix of lo-fi production, thriftstore organ and baroque arrangement. But Mendoza’s lyrics are complex and specific, beginning by painting a detailed portrait of “rows of houses lined up in the city,” where “they’re raising prices just for something pretty” until it “Seems like there’s no room left in this ride/Despite the fact there’s seven strangers sitting right by my side.” Mendoza’s fears are ones many of us share– of the decay of a hopeful place, of dying in your sleep and being forgotten, of being ordinary and unremarkable– but unlike most of us, he has the ability to exorcise via perfect pop bliss.
brother sports “put out the fires”
Similarly lo-fi and maximalist, brother sports nonetheless occupy a different headspace than Mendoza’s “Get Along” on their restless single “put out the fires.” The fires of the title could refer to anything from the stress of every day life to the dwindling passions of a doomed romance– brother sports are essentially the masters of mumblecore suites, where the vocal equivalent of a kid kicking a can down a sidewalk is backed up by cinematic synth string swells and frollicking percussion. All that’s really clear is that brother sports have capital F feelings about a thing and they’re here to make your stomach go a flutter with their hooks and melodies until you’ve got that feeling too.
Hi, Gene! “Isolation”
Hi, Gene!’s “Isolation” may share a name with a Joy Division track but it’s got far more in common with fellow Mancunians and Factory label mates A Certain Ratio, what with that serpentine bassline and dancey beat and that noodly guitar that always seems half a step away from morphing into a jingle for a local business you’re absolutely certain is a front for something. In other words, it’s the type of post-punk revivalism I can never say no to, weird and flirty and alien rather than cold and dense and boring. Have no fear, though, it’s still plenty political, with references to labor strikes and the complicity of silence and the need to thwart the manipulations of the overseers of the invisible hand. After all, the only thing better than a riot is a riot you can dance to.
Small Houses “Safe Kill”
I tend to gravitate towards the same traits in singer-songwriters as I do in partners– I go for the souls with the scarred and aching cores, trauma screaming out from their pores, quavering hitches in their voices audible only in moments of unexpected punctuation. I’d call Small Houses’ Jeremy Quentin a catch on all fronts here; he sings with the brimstone eyed furor of the lone survivor of some accidental bombing, and he writes with the novelistic flair of the first reporter on the scene. “Safe Kill” from Small Houses’ new LP I Don’t Know What’s Safe is his current masterpiece, a dark but not grim ballad of a bad scene between a desperate pair with some memory of Ohio in common. Quentin initially paints that narrative picture in the “violent hum” of tape noise and a guitar, building to the “areola hiss” of full electric band and backing harmonies, voice breaking along with the southern drawl of a bent and reverberated guitar. Towards the end, Quentin calls out “It’s better if I don’t know what I am,” and if this is the kind of result that comes from him not knowing himself, I tend to agree.
The Vapor Caves “Sour Times”
Vapor Caves have been killing it with singles this year, unleashing track after track of acid R&B, pulling from all the best unseen corners of ’90s pop eroticism. But lest we forget, their core DNA is trip hop, and with their newest single “Sour Times,” they’re out to remind us in a big fucking way. Covering Portishead is a ballsy move, to be sure, but it’s no surprise that Vapor Caves are able to pull it off– Vapor Caves’ beatmaker BoomBaptist did once take part in a live scoring of the definitive trip hop documentary In Wax We Trust, after all. The real surprise here, then, is how Yadira Brown is able to inhabit and build on Beth Gibbons’ iconic vocal, making it a little more sassy and lush than stately and haunting; it’s not a tribute, it’s a dialogue, a way of honoring a titanic influence not with facsimile but with twists and turns building on the original.
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