The Latest Toughs: Popper Burns, Lauren Burton’s Wicker and More

Latest Toughs

This week’s key word is evolution. Evolution in the sense of some groups morphing into new forms that more than follow up on their initial promise, like Space Camp Death Squad and Scuare. Evolution in the sense of veteran performers finding new voices, like Lauren Burton’s Wicker. Evolution in the sense of new Austin sounds, from the anti-punk eccentricity of Popper Burns to Plato III’s deconstructive hip hop. Hopefully your week is as highly evolved as what we’ve picked for you to listen to…

Space Camp Death Squad- “Joe Dassin”

The list of killer hip hop tracks leading off with a French pop sample has to be pretty tiny, right? The closest thing that’s coming to mind for me is that time Blackalicious sampled Harry Nilsson’s “Me and My Arrow” for some hellfire pop but that’s a bit of a cheat since Nilsson is just an American guy who happened to influence a lot of chain smoking French dudes. That lack of precedent is part of why my ears perk up every time I start up Space Camp Death Squad’s “Joe Dassin,” which gets its name from its cheery lift of French icon Joe Dassin’s ’60s hit “Les Champs Elysees.” This being Space Camp, the lyrical focus is cheery in a different way, a glib dismissal of bill collectors, homophobes, exes and, uh, Lord Jamar, all of whom are given the “peace see ya later” treatment. That said, I’ve got a Slick Rick fixation I will never apologize for, so the highlight of the track for me is Secret Levels’ spot on impression of The Ruler himself.


Plato III- “Only Rapper Alive (produced by Eric Dingus)”

Based off title alone, you’d think Plato III’s “Only Rapper Alive” would be a more serious bit of braggadocio than anything Space Camp has ever churned out, but it’s a chill track that seems to reflect on the nature of the game itself, with the suitably reflective Eric Dingus production keeping the mood somber enough to be serious but light enough to make every deflating chuckle from Plato III entirely clear. If I had to guess, I’d say the title is a knock on the critical reflex of standing artists side by side, making up-and-comers like Plato feel like they’re being forced to compare to whatever only rapper is alive in the critical eye at that moment. For Plato, that seems to be Drake. So let me just go on record as saying that of Dingus’ two collaborators, I think Plato brings out the best in him, giving Dingus some welcome self-effacing charm and slack charisma to his heavy, spacy beats. I wouldn’t say Plato is stuck on some Omega Man shit just yet, but this recent run of singles has shown steady, consistent improvement and his peers would be wise to pay attention to his work ethic.


Popper Burns- “Too Punk for Punk”

Had the B-52s been a No Wave band, I’m reasonably sure they would have committed a number of vile acts to dream up lines like “Woke up from a wet dream/Starring Dee Dee Ramone/Burned a copy of Blank Generation/So I could snort the ashes.” Instead, those words come from Popper Burns, a brainy, sleazy anti-punk ensemble who combine sassy attacks on hipness with herky jerky rhythms and snide carnival melodies. Most of Austin’s current weirdo wave passes as harmless, devoted to off-kilter pop that your grandma might call “eccentric,” but Popper Burns gives in to the danger of weirdness, refusing to pass as anything other than the suburbs’ worst nightmare about what happens in Austin clubs. That “Too Punk for Punk” title and chorus isn’t merely a tasty sound bite, it’s a mantra for the odd vanguard, a break from the hippie bro homogeny of Austin garage and psych-tinged punk and thank fucking gawd for that.


Wicker- “Blue and Green”

Slightly more presentable for the parents is Lauren Burton’s new project Wicker, a ’50s pop inspired outfit that also features contributions from power pop genius Phil Ajjarapu. Wicker’s debut track “Blue and Green” is a perfect showcase for Burton’s voice, the instrumentation low key yet inviting, leaving ample room for Burton to display all the character and texture that makes her voice stand out so much from Austin’s unusually high number of generic singer-songwriters. Burton’s previous gig A Giant Dog had a number of throwback elements itself, but here Burton gets to step into the spotlight and display haunting emotion that would have seemed out of place in that more raucous project. “Blue and Green” is a luscious debut for Wicker and the power pop fanatic in me is already hungry for more.


Scuare- “Quittich”

Scuare indicates that “Quittich” is something tossed off, an unfinished thing he grew too frustrated with to complete. If that’s the case, I’m a little terrified of what Scuare’s fully finished new projects are going to sound like, as “Quittich” is a blitzkrieg beast, an all-cylinders blast of verbage set to some glitched out 8bit terror. The focus is on the artistic process, the unpredictable waxes and wanes of creativity, a subject that maybe gets ink maybe too frequently except here it’s met with waxes and wanes in Scuare’s own flow, that starting shock of speed dialed back and spun around as necessary for pointed highs and lows. Danny Brown fans will recommend a similarly adenoidal tone to Scuare’s flow, though I’d argue Scuare has a better handle on melody than Brown did at a similar point in his career.

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