Latest Toughs: Abram Shook, Vapor Caves & Jackie Venson 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 artists to get you up to date and make each of your workdays a little easier.

Flesh of Morning “Everytime”

After Drive, it felt like every indie artist with access to thrift shop synths pivoted to the sound of College & Electric Youth’s “A Real Hero,” twinkling pads and breathy femme vocals and cavernous drum machines as ubiquitous as that jacket. We’re far enough away from that now that it can sound fresh again, particularly when it’s done with as much flair and heart as Flesh of Morning’s “Everytime.” Lusher and more playful than previous single “Death Becomes Bitter,” “Everytime” feels like music for dwelling on new feelings for someone, that alternately giddy and nervous longing as you try to navigate optimism for something great and the fear that it will sour sooner rather than later. That must be the key ingredient making Flesh of Morning stand out from those long forgotten Drive clones– they sound like real human beings.

Matthew Leger “Retch”

Telepathy might not be real a human sense yet it exists in a way in art, where we get glimpses inside the minds and imaginations of creators. It’s particularly potent in the most intimate music, as voice and instrument combine to communicate emotions and moods and moments in a magic act of transference. That’s the experience that comes through on Matthew Leger’s “Retch,” an hypnotically fragile performance of beautiful vulnerability and longing, where the instruments sound almost bashful and Leger’s voice always seems to be on the verge of collapsing in on itself. In the lyrics, Leger speaks of desiring to “grow stupid in the sun,” to “Shed my shirt like dead skin/Pirouette like nothing’s happened,” and though that restless need to block out complex thoughts and be complacent if not happy is clear in those words, it’s the voice and melody that truly makes you feel what Leger is feeling. And isn’t that beautiful and perfect?

Abram Shook “Arcadia”

Abram Shook’s ongoing evolution into coke daddy Kevin Barnes continues to be a delight, with new single “Arcadia” delivering on endless grooves and falsetto come-ons and the most addictive licks this side of a Hall & Oates versus Loggins & Messina showdown. On paper none of the components of “Arcadia” should work, but what sells it is Shook’s inhuman ability to simultaneously sound intellectually disaffected and utterly sincere, like some Clone High abomination fusing together David Bowie space age goofiness and Steely Dan pop subversion. Satin Thief isn’t just an album title, it’s an appropriate description of Shook’s whole damn deal.

Chris Conde “Mariposa”

Fearless is a word that gets thrown around fairly often in music criticism but you’d be hard pressed to find a better personification for it than Chris Conde. Loud in every sense of the term, Conde’s music and stage persona are impossible to ignore spectacles, confrontational art pop explosions of beats, rhymes and ass. On the magnificent Growing Up Gay, Conde declared they’re “a faggot with a vengeance,” but on the upcoming Fake Four album Engulfed in the Marvelous Decay, we seem to be getting a glimpse at the aftermath of battling to achieve that vengeance. That isn’t to say any of the fearlessness has diminished but there’s a melancholy air to the growl and thunder, perhaps because without live shows to publicly exorcise demons in, Conde and so many other musicians are left alone in their isolated thoughts, a process made all that much harder by the sudden and brutal halt of momentum. Where the rest of what has been previewed of Decay is full of minor chord guitars and warped samples, lead single “Mariposa” tackles everything head on, Conde biting right into an especially volatile and abrasive Lazerbeak production. “This is my life now,” growls Conde, “this is my fight now, this is my day and my night now,” echoing the limbo thoughts of artists everywhere, trapped indoors with no crowds to feed off of and no real differentiation between days. But based on Conde’s lead here, it would seem the artistic floodgates are about to open and that pursuit of vengeance will head into overdrive.

Vapor Caves “Dreams ft Jackie Venson”

There is no sonic world I would want to inhabit more than the electro-funk utopia Vapor Caves have built in their records– bubbly grooves, silky smooth vocals, hooks for days. And as Jackie Venson’s vacation in “Dreams” shows, I’m not the only hopeful interloper. Beginning as an unexpectedly jaunty bop from Vapor Caves, with a “Genius of Love” influenced beat and buttery vocals, by the final third of its runtime “Dreams” has morphed into a sizzling jam, where all of those R&B hooks and jittery rhythms are joined by Venson’s fiery guitar– think of it as the greatest Austin infused pop-blues-funk since Stevie Ray Vaughan collided with David Bowie on “Let’s Dance.”

Got a single you’d like to be considered for Latest Toughs? Email us with Latest Toughs in the subject!

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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