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, a round-up of the best tracks coming out of Austin each month, which you can also listen to on our Mixcloud:
When KindKeith sings “We’ll keep it simple,” you get the sense that it’s about more than a relationship, it’s about an artist philosophy, too. “Simple” is the type of song that wraps itself around you like a blanket softened by time and love, simple in its construction but complex in mood and feel. With just a laid back groove and a warm voice that stays right in that middle ground between sleepy whisper and morning afterglow cooing, “Simple” is pure bliss.
Jackie Venson “Vintage Machine”
If any Austin artist has truly risen to the moment during the pandemic, it is undoubtedly Jackie Venson. The rising guitar icon has conquered racist booking institutions, turned an ACL appearance into a heartfelt memorial to black lives lost to police brutality and has climbed her way to the upper echelons of livestream performers. “Vintage Machine,” from the album of the same name, is the cherry on top of an incredible year, feeling like both a victory lap and a metamorphosis, showing the remarkable strides Venson continues to make in her craft while nodding to the paradoxically vintage and futuristic aesthetic of her sound. Propelled by a bubbling bass and an emphatic vocal, “Vintage Machine” channels the funk of the ’80s as well as current artists like Janelle Monae who have helped the genre move into the future, all while still finding room for Venson’s guitar pyrotechnics and increased interest in synths.
Stiletto Feels “I Wanna Break It”
Since they arrived in 2015, Stiletto Feels have been dedicated to fusing together the experimental mad science of Battles with anthemic, arena-ready pop rock, resulting in a sound that is simultaneously unpredictable and hypnotic. “I Wanna Break It,” from their new album Push Back, is perhaps the apotheosis of this– fuzzed out, insistent lead guitar stabbing at bombastic synth bass, vocals that shift from soaring to conversational, drums that are somehow both tight and chaotic. It might not make much sense when described but damn if it doesn’t feel great to blast on repeat.
Like his visual work, Velcrowolf’s buzzy electro-rock is pure, unadulterated fun, pumped full of imagination and wonder and an overflowing toy box’s worth of ideas. The entirety of the Destroyer of Batteries LP is stuffed with irresistible tracks but the one I keep going back to is “Betaraylove,” with its punk-y rhythms, thrift store keyboard tones and teen crush vocals. Put it on and I guarantee you’ll have a hard time resisting putting it back on, over and over and over.
Abhi the Nomad & Kato on the Track “Tom Cruise”
Protextor and Bird Peterson “Look Around (ft Doc Brown)”
It’s been five years since Bird Peterson and Space Camp Death Squad teamed up for the masterful “Chuck Roast,” a filthy electro nursery rhyme that climaxed in a round of profanity hurled at targets ranging from John McCain to the DMV. Though it’s not quite a full reunion, Protextor and Bird Peterson’s “Look Around” brings Space Camp’s Doc Brown into the fold for a nasty takedown of the current GOP platform of brutality, bigotry and bullshit. With the deranged marching band beat leaving plenty of space for Protextor and Doc to open fire on their targets, “Look Around” is righteous fury aimed squarely at those who “Pull the trigger while they tell you how/Cancellin’ not fair.”
WKDZD “Moments in Space”
Eimaral Sol “10K”
A year ago, on the lush and inviting Sol Soliloquies, Eimaral Sol established herself as a bright spot in an already dazzling Austin R&B scene, blending together vintage sounds from doo wop to sock hop pop with just the right dose of modernity. Now with “10K,” her very welcome return, the sound is darker, more ominous– music for the demise rather than the rise of the afterglow. Some of that comes from Jordan Knul and Robert Sewell’s production, with its sternum shaking bass and distorted boom bap, but it would be there even if this was an acapella recording, as the “10K” of the title refers to the number of reasons Sol has to move on from a lover who did her wrong. And yet if you listen closely, you can hear that sunshine still coming through, in the twinkling electric piano, in the lilt of Sol’s voice in certain moments, all indicating that whatever bad is going on now, Sol won’t just persevere, she will thrive.
Spirit Ghost “Matt Demon”
There is no shortage of acts channeling either The Ramones or The Beach Boys directly but Spirit Ghost is one of the few artists indulging in that in a way that feels fresh rather than staler than a Coney Island pretzel. “Matt Demon,” from Spirit Ghost’s latest singles collection, drives that home especially well, pairing Ramones vocals with melodic Beach Boys bass and a shuffling beat, pushing the surf rock guitar to the fringes, where it can enliven rather than stifle things.
Graysons “Don’t Let Go”
Relocated from Detroit, post-punk outfit Graysons immediately make themselves stand out from their Austin peers with “Don’t Let Go,” a track that pulls from the same well of influences but shows impressive craft. Crisply arranged and layered, “Don’t Let Go” frames its Soft Moon-esque rhythm and monotone vocals with reverb drenched guitar licks that bring to mind Echo & the Bunnymen and Johnny Marr in equal measure.
Jonas Wilson “Be Like the Water”
Over the course of this year, Jonas Wilson has used his solo platform to showcase a wide range of styles and influences, making it clear why he has been the go to producer for so many different facets of the Austin scene. New single “Be Like the Water” continues that by showing the trip-hop and Britpop realm of Wilson’s sound, with its Clinic-like beat, Spiritualized vocals and organs and eventual descent into chiming guitar stabs. It’s a dynamic and intriguing twist on Wilson’s already expansive palette, adding cinematic flair to his blues-y charm.
Billy King & The Bad Bad Bad “Love a Little Closer”
Sometimes all you want is some good ol’ fashioned gritty garage rock, with no modern hang ups or ironic postures. And when that mood strikes you, you can’t do much better than Billy King & the Bad Bad Bad. “Love a Little Closer” shows why the group is such a reliable fix– howling vocals, riffs a’plenty and pounding rhythms are all there, but there’s also impressive dynamics and melodic layers, making it clear these aren’t some one and done amateurs but grizzled lifers.
Brother Sports “Two Weeks”
Up until this moment, I was unaware that I needed a cover of Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks,” let alone one that sounds like it was cranked out by some college kids snorting too much adderrall while avoiding studying for finals. But here we are, with Brother Sports delivering just that. Ditching pretty much everything from the original but the vocal melody and bass intrusions, Brother Sports turn the previously longing blog rock era hit into the soundtrack to a desperate attempt to cling to youth before it fades away, like a house party birthday bash for the last one in your friend group to turn 30.
Kydd Jones “Skate World”
Few artists in Austin hip hop have the range that Kydd Jones does, with his ability to swerve between ominous grinds, club ready bangers and lush, sensual pop. It’s that latter style that gets worked out on “Skate World,” with dreamy production from NIP twisting around Kydd’s seductive vocal, sustaining an atmosphere of velvety textures and intimate gestures.
Buffalo Hunt “Life Not on My Terms”
If St Vincent had teamed up with Broadcast, it might sound something like Buffalo Hunt’s “Life Not on My Terms.” With its arch, literary vocal and tightly wound groove, “Life Not on My Terms” expertly sustains a dramatic tension that is both delicious and suspenseful, and signifies Buffalo Hunt as an impressive voice in the Austin indie scene.
Tele Novella “Technicolor Town”
Tele Novella have always defied easy classification, injecting their indie pop with anything from swamp boogie vibes (“Trouble in Paradise”) to fuzzy stomp (“Don’t Be a Stranger”) to Brill building majesty (“Sacramento”). But new single “Technicolor Town” adds a new wrinkle in the fold with its Ink Spots style campfire shuffle and warped sampler beat. Natalie Ribbons’ comforting, hiccupy voice is still the focus but the mood is more plaintive and nostalgic in the original sense than playful and teasing, making it all the more fitting for the times.
Half Dream “Adventure Song”
In their relatively short existence, Half Dream have nonetheless proven themselves to be a well-developed songwriting unit, with a knack for dramatic arrangements and immediately irresistible melodies. “Adventure Song” is perhaps the purest distillation of their myriad talents on the impeccable Monster of Needing, showcasing the ability of the band to seamlessly connect Americana rootsiness with National-style grandiosity and Paige Berry’s warm, impactful vocals, which alternately recalls Neko Case’s dramatic flair and Mitski’s intimacy. “Adventure Song” is a refreshing and thrilling anthem from what is swiftly becoming one of the most impressive new bands in the city.
Allie Ingle “Trying My Best”
Simple as Allie Ingle’s “Trying My Best” is on its surface, the song is imbued with that subtle, incomprehensible magic that you also hear in work from artists like Elliott Smith and Sufjan Stevens, where it’s the air between notes and the unsaid things between words that pulls you in. Ingle’s voice also shares a tender vulnerability with those icons, which, when paired with the fragile production and delicate instrumentation, makes for an almost voyeuristic experience, as though you’re listening in on the inner thoughts of someone rather than a song. Like fuvk before her, Ingle has the makings of a master.
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