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 bands to get you up to date and make each of your workdays a little easier.
Born Again Virgins “Quantify”
Ever listen to a song and feel as though you’re listening to something you shouldn’t? Not because it’s taboo but because it feels like you’re eavesdropping, getting a glimpse behind the curtain of the creative process. That’s the sensation provoked by Born Again Virgins‘ “Quantify,” the lead off track from their eponymous debut EP. Before we’ve heard her sing a single phrase, we hear Anna Roenigk casually strum her guitar and ask “Should I start from the beginning?” then utter a few non-verbal sounds. That false start sets an intensely intimate tone for the song after, the gentle strums and slow build up of the band adding to the effect, fitting for a song about reservations and struggling to find confidence in your voice. But Roenigk’s own voice is commanding and clear, cutting through the mix even as the band gets rowdier, turning eavesdroppers into a participatory audience, shifting discomfort into a warm welcome.
Retr05pect “Dream Home (ft. Scuare & no1mportant)”
Retr05pect’s new album The Real Estate Sessions is centered around the experience of artists in poverty, which isn’t too surprising considering it was created while its artists were recently unemployed. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an album of stark desperation and misery, nor is it some kind of questionable “poverty is the only true freedom” celebration. The album is better described as hopeful yet anxious, and nowhere is that truer than on “Dream Home,” where Scuare and no1mportant trade off verses about having “so little money” yet being “so in a hurry.” While Retr05pect’s beat offers a dazzling brightness, its cheery sample and click-clack beat hinting at better times ahead, no1mportant’s sing song flow works to make you whistle while you don’t work, setting the stage for Scuare’s slack shouldered exasperation. The dream home of the title isn’t a McMansion or a downtown condo but the perpetual hope of the artist for a decent living creating without the incessant fear of starving. And it’s all the more poignant given the fact that even as Austin becomes more and more of an economic boomtown, its artists are kept further and further away from ever fulfilling that dream.
Leather Girls “She”
Where most of Austin’s garage scene is content to apply the droning monotony of psych to insistent, shambling beats, Leather Girls stand out because of the eclecticism and instrumental intensity of their approach. The band’s latest single “She” is a mesmerizing showcase for the diversity of Leather Girls’ sound, throwing together weirdo punk vocals, layers of subtle psych haze and an instrumental approach that manages to fuse together The Stooges and The Who. “She” is terse and unhinged, like a serial killer’s idea of what seduction looks like, making it one of the most exciting moments in Austin garage rock since god knows when. If anything, it shares less DNA with our homegrown scene than it does with early Pretty Things, and for that we should be very thankful.
Krystal Optiks “Fools”
Ever since CHVRCHES blew up in a major way, a number of groups have sprung up trying to emulate their sound, none of them really making an impact, most of them merely emphasizing CHVRCHES’ worst elements while missing what makes that group work. So Krystal Optiks referencing CHVRCHES in press material for their upcoming album Underneath mostly worked to lower my expectations (the fact that their band name looks like it could also be the title of an Incubus album didn’t help, either). But their single “Fools” happily shows I was wrong to assume the worst. There are elements of CHVRCHES in Krystal Optiks sound, yes, but the differences are larger in number than the similarities. Kristen Estes’ vocal delivery is subtle and unassuming until its darker qualities envelop you and Travis Estes’ production has an antagonistic, menacing quality to it that is a nice surprise in the frequently saccharine world of electro-pop. The result is pop for the apocalypse, dangerous and forboding, sweet as antifreeze and just as deadly.
Glaze “No Surprises”
No one likes being on the edge of panic yet that feeling is something we frequently seek from art and entertainment. That fight or flight sense, that tingling when the adrenaline hits your system and you’re fearful and unnerved and yet also feel so completely alive, it’s a hard sensation to beat. Glaze‘s “No Surprises” nails that feeling so perfectly you wonder if it should be labeled contraband. It starts simply enough, just a washed out tremelo guitar riff, but then those heart bursting drums begin, somehow only getting bigger and faster and louder when the wall of distortion enters the fray. The vocals seem shellshocked by the titanic force of what’s behind them and so that too adds to tension, like a drowning person calmly reaching out to pull you down with them, hauntingly expressionless all the while. Pardon me, I’ve got to go throw a few cars at passersby to burn off all this energy now.
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