Latest Toughs: Institute, Ghost Wolves and More

by Nick Hanover

Latest Toughs

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.

Institute “Powerstation”

From the moment its faux Gary Glitter intro stomp begins, Institute make it clear they’re out to subvert expectations with their new single “Powerstation.” The warbly glam at the start eventually gives way to Mark E. Smith style rambling over molasses thick rhythms, the guitar and bass lashing out with escalating riffs while the drums roll until they drop off the edges of the production altogether. Institute’s previous work evolved from violently cathartic art punk to unexpectedly wide ranging in tone but “Powerstation” indicates the band’s upcoming album Subordination will utilize martial rhythms and dreary sonic spaces to soundtrack the looming collapse of America, a grim proposition the band has arguably been encouraging us all to prepare for since day one. There will be no more catharsis, there will be no more speed-addled audio meltdowns. There will only be sludge and horror and sluggishness.

Francine Thirteen “Lust Heals, Give Me My Sin Again”

It’s appropriate that Francine Thirteen’s “Lust Heals, Give Me My Sin Again” is debuting to acclaim at the same time Bruce Miller’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale is. Thirteen’s ouevre is full of explorations of mythical femininity and the subjugation, empowerment and grief of women, specifically through the lens of fertility and sexuality motifs. “Lust Heals” could function as a rebel yell for handmaids, a rejection of fundamentalist appropriation of love in favor of the rawer, more uncontrollable lust. The song is also more pop minded and futurist than Thirteen’s Mary cycle, where Thirteen’s commanding, celestial voice was backed by Sun Ra accoutrements and sparse, fitful percussion. Here, Thirteen embraces more of her trip hop influences, her voice ethereal and high while delay saturated electronic percussion and dread inducing bass tones skitter about behind her. Though her vocal delivery is as dramatic as always, “Lust Heals” shows off Thirteen at her seductive best, surprisingly tender and sensual, melodies weaving like fingers across the skin of some object of affection.

The Ghost Wolves “Crybabies Go Home!”

“Crybabies Go Home!” has been a feature of Ghost Wolves sets for years now, but I’m hoping that its placement on their new sophomore album Texas Platinum will propel the song to the international status it so rightfully deserves. “Crybabies” functions as a perfect anthem for Austinite entitlement in particular; is there a more convenient response for music “fans” groaning at the concept of the cover charge or transplants filing formal complaints about barbeque smells? Live the song is a righteous blast of noise but the album gives it more room to breathe, the guitar heavier on the reverb than the fuzz, Mike McCarthy’s production emphasizing Carley Wolf’s yelps and put downs while synth effects shoot off in the background. There’s still ample bile and bite to the track, now it just comes with the musical equivalent of a shiteating grin.

Ghost Wolves return to Austin on May 27th to play their album release show at Swan Dive.

Critical Dad “The Fall (Berlin Wall)”

Although Critical Dad are usually viewed as a ramshackle pop punk band, the quartet have always seemed like they could morph into an unhinged post-punk band with ease. That seems to be the guiding thought behind “The Fall (Berlin Wall),” from their new EP Free Songs. The track makes its chief musical influence clear right in its title, but Val Brown’s snarling vocals are more John Lydon than Mark E. Smith. It’s Milo Royal’s arhythmic and destructive drumming that mostly makes the Fall connection clear, while the rest of the band builds up a tempestuous  racket, the guitars building up anxiety by swirling towards melodic deliveries that never actually arrive. “The Fall” is a song of external and internal conflict colliding, of microcosmic concerns mirroring macrocosmic catastrophes; it’s the soundtrack to your worst personal and political fears coming true while any control you might have once had over your place in life shrinks until it’s no longer detectable.

TOMA “Going Nowhere”

While other indie bands are sucking every last bit of life from the walking dead that is New OrderTOMA are creating a fresher sound by exploring similar territory as the perennially underrated Kiwis Split Enz. The band’s recent single “Going Nowhere” showcases a number of notable Split Enz traits, from the bubbly organ sounds to the airy production and fleet rhyth. But TOMA stand out from other New Wave leaning peers by using that shared DNA not as crutches but as spice to add depth to their charming and novel twist on neu New Wave. “Going Nowhere” may not break entirely new ground, but it does build on what’s come before in delightful ways, and as a result it feels refreshingly timeless, equally at home in 2017 as it would have been in 1982.

TOMA play Cheer Up Charlie’s Wednesday, May 3rd with The Irish Exit and more.

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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