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:
Brother Sports “Modern Days”
Over a series of singles and EPs spanning the past couple years, Brother Sports have established themselves as alluring purveyors of hazy garage pop, blending together Strokes-like guitar, chillwave production textures and an appealing contrast of confident bass lines and mumblecore vocals. Their new single “Modern Days” updates that formula with some ambitious arranging (dig that Boards of Canada-gone-chopped-and-screwed breakdown) and more pronounced hooks but it wisely avoids fucking up what has been working. “Modern Days” won’t completely smooth out the nonstop panic of the modern day but it will at least give you a dose of hummable relaxation.
Pelvis Wrestley “In Heaven”
The cosmic cowfolk in Pelvis Wrestley are less Orville Peck than BBQ soaked Magnetic Fields, all hiccupy vocals and warbly keys in service to literary lyrics and swirling melodies. “In Heaven,” from the superbly titled Vortexas Vorever, is the band in peak form, the rhythm section holding Benjamin Violet’s hallucinogenic songwriting together as androgynous vocals and string swells cause the paint to drip from the walls.
Mobley “James Crow”
Parker Woodland “The World’s on Fire (And We Still Fall in Love)”
With a title I suspect the late David Berman would appreciate, Parker Woodland’s “The World’s on Fire (And We Still Fall in Love)” manages that delicate trick of being hopeful while still acknowledging how shitty everything is. Recorded with just the right amount of grit by Ovrld BFF Jonas Wilson, “The World’s on Fire” hearkens back to the heartland sound of rock revivalists like The Hold Steady and The National without being overburdened by self-seriousness or sappy sloganeering.
Exhalants “Passing Perceptions”
Born from the ashes of heavy hitters like Carl Sagan’s Skate Shoes and Oozer, Exhalants fuse together those two acts’ Touch and Go clangor with the jagged riffs of early At the Drive-In or Refused. “Passing Perceptions” in particular is a furious and molten opening salvo, making it clear that Exhalants are dedicated to breaking free from both their pasts and the scene at large’s with a refreshingly bracing take on Austin post-hardcore.
Ben Buck “Combos ft. A-F-R-O and Jarv”
Despite his relative youth, Ben Buck has been a constant presence in Austin rap over the past couple decades, with his beatboxing skills allowing him to pop up as a surprise guest with everyone from Ghostface Killah to Space Camp Death Squad. But over the past year he has truly matured into a force to be reckoned with as a lyricist and producer. Buck’s new project Speaker Bump Deluxe serves as a major breakthrough, with some unexpected features (namely Blackillac’s Zeale) and a grimy production quality that recalls RZA without being beholden to that icon. “Combos” is one of the many highlights from the work, with a bunker busting bass quality that reminds me of the absurdly underrated Portishead spinoff project Quakers. Buck’s flow has evolved into something between Danny Brown and Ghostface and on “Combos,” that ragged rawness is nicely paired with guests A-F-R-O and Jarv for a heavyweight tour-de-force.
Fun Money “Finally”
If Grandaddy and Casiotone for the Painfully Alone had joined forces, I feel it might sound something like Fun Money’s “Finally.” Crunchy drums, lo-fi vocals and distorted organ sounds all collide on the track, with CJ Roberts’ strong songwriting somehow keeping it all together. A noise pop delight of the highest order.
Cosmic Convoy “Rosanna”
Despite their relative success and longevity, Old 97’s don’t seem to have influenced too many successors just yet. So it’s refreshing to hear Cosmic Convoy pick up the slack there on “Rosanna,” a fleet-footed bit of poppy alt-country that nods to the Murry Hammond end of the OId 97’s catalog while still sounding distinctly Austin. I get the feeling that this one is destined to get more than a few boots a scootin’ at Gruene Hall whenever things are anything resembling normal again.
Matt Puckett “Running”
It’s not too much of a surprise that on his new solo release This is Ending Mother Falcon’s Matt Puckett would delve into some twang– the versatile guitarist has always had a rootsy quality to his playing. What is surprising is that on “Running,” that versatility would get flexed so smoothly and seamlessly. Sprinkling elements of Bright Eyes and Sufjan Stevens over an undeniably Americana stomp, “Running” is the folk pop equivalent of an artisan fall cocktail– immediately comforting and familiar yet full of surprises.
Motenko “Follow Through”
On that note of comforting familiarity, Motenko channel smoky Southern soul on “Follow Through” without falling prey to suffocating nostalgia. Driven by a strong electric piano and rhythm section groove, “Follow Through” fits in with the rugged neo-soul of Black Pumas while also channeling the hopeful simplicity of Bill Withers.
Teeta and Willo “The Answer”
Bird Peterson “Tune In Pt. 1 and 2 ft. Bleubird”
If there is any unifying quality to Bird Peterson’s freewheeling opus I Am What You Am I Am, it’s a sense of unpredictable zaniness. Standout track “Tune In” truly drives that home, connecting as it does Bird’s schoolyard rap throwbacks with the psychedelic carnival atmosphere that permeates so much of his work. Cheeky, startling and deliciously weird, “Tune In” is Bird Peterson at his puckish best.
Pulsallama “Ulsapay Amalay”
Resurrected by Jean Caffeine, this rambunctious post-punk effort was recorded live for French radio, serving as a kind of theme song for Pulsallama. In the liner notes, Caffeine says she was sure this song would be a hit for the group, and it’s easy to see why– infectious, flirty and fresh, “Ulsapay Amalay” fills in the gap between The Slits and The B-52’s. Hopefully in reissued form it will achieve what it didn’t in its original format and get its due.
Ben Aqua “I Miss You”
It takes a brave soul to even attempt a Beyonce cover, let alone twist it into something borderline unrecognizable from the original. But that’s exactly what Ben Aqua attempts– and accomplishes!– on “I Miss You.” Tweaked until it has more in common with PC Music than Beyonce, in Aqua’s hands “I Miss You” is a sparkly, glitched out ode to quarantine longing.
Mamalarky “The End of the World”
There was always something a little off about Skeeter Davis’s hit “The End of the World.” Maybe I’m just saying that because at this point I associate the song more with the post-apocalyptic realm of Fallout 4 than oldies radio, but it would seem Mamalarky feel somewhat similarly. Their cover of the song, from Daphne Tunes’ COVERED series, sounds like something that got left out in the heat a little too long, with guitars that don’t chime so much as they drip and a rhythm section that sounds like it’s coming through the walls of an apartment building with no insulation. And yet the vocal builds on the ghostly quality of the original, elevating the lyrics beyond sap and straight into King Vidor-esque high melodrama. In short, I love it.
Mrs Ghost “Happy to Die”
I don’t know how many songs there are out there that reference the Yellowstone Supervolcano but I can confidently say Mrs Ghost’s “Happy to Die” is the best of the bunch. A morbidly funny indie rock number that hits that sweet spot between Sparklehorse, Daniel Johnston and They Might Be Giants, “Happy to Die” achieves everything promised by its title.
Juliet McConkey “The Deep End”
Possessing a voice with the worldliness of Lucinda Williams and an equally literary eye, Juliet McConkey seems destined to become a major force in Austin country music, assuming the world doesn’t end first. “The Deep End” is one of the many highlights on her album Disappearing Girl, a soulful examination of the struggles of a troubled friend that remains empathetic and reflective rather than judgmental, with the sorrow of being unable to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped coming through in the steadily rising climb of McConkey’s voice.
Jana Horn “Time Machine”
Like Joanna Newsom, Jana Horn has one of those voices that stops you in your tracks with its uniqueness and texture, like you’re hearing someone sing to you through some kind of rift in reality. The ethereal instrumentation of “Time Machine” frames Horn’s vocal perfectly, lifting her natural airiness up further while drawing even more haunting timbres out with chimey keys and brushed drums. That weightlessness also serves Horn’s lyrical perspective well, as she discusses a failed relationship like it’s a space where is an unwelcome visitor, as though she is “trying to fall asleep in a house that has no room for me.”
Will Johnson “El Capitan”
On “El Capitan,” Will Johnson sounds ancient beyond his years, like a first mate too loyal to abandon his eponymous captain, even in death. Backed only by delicately strummed acoustic guitar and a subtle swell of cello, “El Capitan” is gorgeous and stately, the production honing in on the earthly quality of Johnson’s voice, unhurried and reserved, plaintive and wistful. Lingering in the air long after it fades out, “El Capitan” is a masterful work that further displays how spoiled we are for great songwriters in Austin.
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