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2013 SOTO Staff Picks

December 18, 2013

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It wouldn’t be fun if only I just rambled along about what I liked this year, so I reached out to my very diverse staff for their Top 5 Albums of 2013.  I think you’ll see that the SOTO clan like a lot of different things.  Enjoy.

You know what can, sometimes, kind of blow? Getting old. Yup, watching the old life clock tick on by, the responsibilities of life pile around your ears, those precious moments when you could just wile away an hour or five listening to a handful of new records. Well kiddies, those days are dead. Nowadays I’m happy if I can listen to the new Lil’ Wayne single more than a few times when I’m driving to the gym to work my gut out with my trainer Francis. What I’m getting at here is that though I wish my list was full of a shocking selection of diverse and mind-expanding music, well, it’s not. I stand by each and all of these picks but I can’t say I did the extra work this year to blow any minds.

Forgive me, and enjoy.

5. The National – If I Stay Here, Trouble Will Find Me
4. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold
3. Thee Oh Sees – Floating Coffin
2. Fuzz – S/T
1. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City

In keeping with my column, I fully intended to select nothing but chick-fronted albums in 2013. Laura Marling was one of my most-streamed, and my girl Neko’s latest was an insta-fave. But once I got back to looking at things, I realized my list was a little more eclectic than anticipated. Vampire Weekend never ceases to be the catchiest around, and Local Natives continue to lyrically break my heart with everything they put out. And there’s nothing like a little Washed Out to soundtrack a Sunday afternoon. Notable mention? Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds stopped by KCRW, resulting in a record store day release that I haven’t stopped listening (and crying) to since purchasing.

Laura Marling – Once I Was An Eagle
Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You
Washed Out – Paracosm
Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires Of The City
Local Natives – Hummingbird

I see it this way … 2010 was the first date, 2011 was the good times, 2012 was the breakup, and 2013 was when music took some “me” time. That does not mean this year did not generate some great or even classic records, it does mean that there was some experimentation that may or may not have worked out so well; see Drumgasm. That being said, there was still plenty of illuminations happening all over the musical cosmos in 2013. Labels like Chapter Music and Paradise of Bachelors killed it this year, as did Bedroom Suck and Fire Records. Though some more successful than others, 2013 saw artists and bands the world over restate time honored sounds and genres.

5. Fat History Month – Bad History Month (Exploding In Sound)
4. The Stevens – A History Of Hygiene (Chapter Music)
3. Purling Hiss – Water On Mars (Drag City)
2. Dick Diver – Calendar Days (Chapter Music)
1. Steve Gunn – Time Off (Paradise of Bachelors)

When I received my assignment to pick my Top 5 albums for the year, I thought that It would be a piece of cake: “5 albums? No problem.” But then I started to recall the various new releases from this year and felt twinges of panic and regret: “Who do I choose ? Who do I leave off the list ?”. I don’t have a complicated system for deciding on favorites; it usually comes down to what I listened to the most.  The focus for my 2013 Top 5 are all Austin-based artists, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy records from bands from other places. This year was also a fantastic year for some outstanding releases from some of my favorite local bands. They all share a common love for melodies, harmonies, and top notch songwriting.

Royal Forest – Spillway
Black Books – Black Books
Wiretree – Get Up
The Zoltars – Walking Through The Dark
Yum – Take My Blue / Santiago Dietche – Waxing And Roaring (tie)

This year there have been some amazing metal releases, I am not even giving lip service about my genre, it has been incredible the caliber of albums coming out, and to narrow it down to five, I had to switch a few things around from other lists I have made. Excluding Dillinger Escape Plan, Cult of Luna, Arsis, Black Dahlia Murder and All Pigs Must Die is heart wrenching, but these five bands have created some of the best music metal has heard in two decades. From noisy extremes like Nails, to groove laden jams on the new Clutch album, and the rebirth of the dormant Carcass to win the top spot on every list I have done.  So let it be written, so let it be done, the best metal albums of the year are:

5. Nails – Abandon All Life (Southern Lord)
4. Kvelertak – Meir (Roadrunner)
3. Clutch – Earth Rocker (Weathermaker)
2. Protest The Hero – Volition (Razor And Tie)
1. Carcass – Surgical Steel (Nuclear Blast)

Hey, everybody! It may surprise you that here in my natural habitat of the music blog, I am supremely uncomfortable making lists.  Yes, I listen to a lot of music, and yes, there is stuff I like more than other stuff, but really when it comes down to taking my favorite albums from an entire year and ranking them on such a fine gradient, I just get miserable and ambivalent.  There was a lot of great hip hop produced this year and these are all great albums, and these are only in an order because John Laird forced me to do it.

5. Shad – Flying Colours
4. Janelle Monae – The Electric Lady
3. Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
2. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels
1. Danny Brown – Old

2013 was a big year for pop music. Miley’s tongue was inescapable, British teens ran rampant, and through it all I reveled in the weirdness. The latter half of this year found me really embracing my not-so-guilty pleasure of pure female fronted pop, so I thought I should theme my Top 5 to mainstream pop with female vocalists. Specific enough for ya? But after all, there’s so much of it, sometimes you need a spirit guide. Like Katy Perry–those of you who wrote her off for bubblegum pop need to check out Prism, where her dark side shines and emotions run rampant. And Ariana Grande–the next in line for a breakout from the Disney dynasty actually has the pipes to back it up, and I can’t stop spinning her tracks. Meanwhile, singles shine for Lady Gaga’s Artpop, where any track could be a hit–and Do What U Want is climbing charts for a reason. None of the Lana Del Rey songs on 2013′s Tropico are new–all taken from last year’s Paradise–but these three songs might be her best so far and provide an excellent primer for burgeoning Lana fans. Number one couldn’t go to anyone but Lorde–sure, brush her off as a one hit wonder, but I’d take Tennis and Ribs over Royals any day–it’s an incredible album.

5. Katy Perry – Prism
4. Lady Gaga – Artpop
3. Ariana Grande – Yours Truly
2. Lana Del Rey – Tropico
1. Lorde – Heroine

So 2013 was pretty good year for music, yes? My thirst for catchy punk rock and fuzzy garage rock was quenched throughout the year. There were a bunch of albums I loved that did not make the very top of my list. I’m looking at you Ty Segall, Bad Sports, Mind Spiders, A Giant Dog, and Thee Oh Sees. I love you all but there can only be five:

5. Radioactivity – Radioactivity
4. Vaadat Charigim – The World Is Well Lost
3. Sweet Talk – Pickup Lines
2. Mikal Cronin – MCII
1. Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold

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2013 Austin Essentials: Volume 1

November 25, 2013

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A couple of weeks back I was thinking about my annual Top 50 Songs/Top 25 Albums lists (expect those to start on 12/2), and it dawned on me that I should do something separate specifically for Austin.  So, I did.  There’s no particular ranking to anything in Austin Essentials, I just wanted to share with you some local stuff that I liked a lot this year.  There’s 45 entries (culled from a group of about 70-80) that are spread out over three 15-track volumes, so look for a post tomorrow and then another on Wednesday.  Enjoy.

By the way, if I had one goal for SOTO this year, it was to try and include more mentions for Austin artists.  Overall, I think we did a solid job, but there’s definitely room to improve.  Hit me up if you have any suggestions for us as we head into 2014.

:A Giant Dog – All I Wanted:  Sabrina Ellis is one of Austin’s most dynamic singers, and there isn’t a single song on A Giant Dog’s Bone where her enthusiasm doesn’t shine through.  This pop punk gem is my favorite track on the album.  Find A Giant Dog on FB here, and buy their music here.

:Grape St – A Date With You:  Harlem’s indefinite hiatus has now formed three great bands – Lace Curtains, Daytona, and Grape St.  If you dig this song, then definitely pick up the album A Date With You.  All of the other tracks on it are just as catchy.   Find Grape St on FB here, and buy their music here.

:The Laughing – Disappear:  The Laughing kind of dropped off the planet for a while, but this year they made their return via Oscillation, a 10-track effort that features some really nice pop rock tunes.  Find The Laughing on FB here, and buy their music here.

:The Sour Notes – Do What May:  The Sour Notes may be great friends of mine, but I can honestly say they’re listed here because they earned it.  They’re one of Austin’s hardest working bands and their upcoming album, Do What May, is a really solid prog pop effort.  Find The Sour Notes on FB here, and buy their music here.

:Borrisokane – Amelia Fucking Earhart (A.F.E.):  For those of you who like your pop music to have an experimental side to it, there’s Borrisokane’s Murdering Teeth EP.  I think it’s one of the more quirky (in a good way, of course) listens to come out of Austin in 2013.  Find Borrisokane on FB here, and buy their music here.

:Love Inks – Time:  Love Inks are a quality act, but they don’t seem to have the biggest of followings in Austin.  We should figure out a way to change that.  The band’s album, Generation Club, is a must if you like minimalist pop.  Find Love Inks on FB here, and buy their music here.

:Whiite Walls – Easy Love:  When I wanted something dancey this summer I either tossed on Daft Punk’s Get Lucky or Whiite Walls’ Easy Love.  You can’t listen to it and not want to move.  Here’s hoping the band doesn’t take too long to put out an official effort.  Find Whiite Walls on FB here.

:Knifight – In The Fire:  Their name makes them sound like a punk band, but they’re actually more of a New Order/Future Islands type – dark and synthy.  Their debut, Dark Voices, is an intense but good listen.  Find Knifight on FB here, and buy their music here.

:Zorch – We All Die Young:  I love this track.  It’s wild and raw and should only be listened to at the sort of volume that makes your neighbors angry.  Find Zorch on FB here, and buy their music here.

:Boyfrndz – Water Weight:  Boyfrndz are one of Austin’s better experimental rock acts, and I thought they did a good job of proving that on their Natures EP.  Find Boyfrndz on FB here, and buy their music here.

:Major Major Major – Scream Queen:  I was a late adopter of this track, but once I did I couldn’t seem to get it out of my head.  Talk about infectious.  If we’re lucky, the duo will wrap their EP sooner rather than later.  Find Major Major Major on FB here, and buy their music here.

:Genuine Leather – Head Wound:  Chris Galis (from the Gorgeous Hands) heads up this breezy pop act.  Viper (Found A Good Place For My Love) is the other single that the band put out this year, and it’s also worth your time.  Find Genuine Leather on FB here, and buy their music here.

:Royal Forest – Goldwallpaper:  Over the years Royal Forest have really become a fine pop band.  If for some reason you didn’t check out Spillway, then seek it out.  It’s a nice listen.  Find Royal Forest on FB here, and buy their music here.

:Walker Lukens – Dear Someone:  Walker Lukens somewhat recently made the jump from NYC to Austin, and I’m happy that he did.  The guy knows how to write a good pop song.  Find Walker Lukens on FB here, and buy his music here.

:Yum – Take My Blue:  Yum just sort of popped onto my radar one day over the summer, and ever since then I’ve been a big fan.  Their album, Take My Blue, has a lot on it that plays like a lighter version of Warpaint.  Find Yum on FB here, and buy their music here.

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Stream This

October 18, 2013

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The SOTO inbox is always full of cool stuff that never gets to see the light of day on the actual site, and I’d like to change that.  So, every Friday I’ll be posting the best album streams and videos that were sent my way during the week.  Take a scroll and find something worth remembering.

FULL ALBUM STREAMS

Polica – Shulamith
Marijuana Deathsquads – Oh My Sexy Lord
Ryan Hemsworth – Guilt Trips
Ducktails – Wish Hotel
Dead Gaze – Brain Holiday
MO – Bikini Daze
Best Coast – Fade Away EP
Paul McCartney – New
Crystal Antlers – Nothing Is Real
Black Hearted Brother – Stars Are Our Home
JD Samson And Men – Labor
Crooks On Tape – Fingerprints
Tristen – Caves
Active Child – Rapor EP
Dosh – Milk Money
We Are Scientists – Business Casual EP
Anoraak – Chronotropic
Lynx – Light Up Your Lantern
Tancred – Self Titled

VIDEOS

Yum’s Take My Blue is out now.  They play Spider House Ballroom tonight.

Neiliyo just released the Grow’n Up EP.

Featherface will release the Ourselves Together/The Cosmic Draw 7″ on October 26.

Crystal Antlers just put out Nothing Is Real via Innovative Leisure.  They play the Mohawk on October 19.

Mike Donovan’s Wot is out now on Drag City.

Dismemberment Plan just released Uncanney Valley.  They play Fun Fun Fun Fest next month.

Aloa Input will release Anysome on November 5 via Morr Music.

School Of Night just put out a self titled EP on Transgressive Records.

Atoms For Peace’s Amok is available now.

Pink Frost’s Sundowning is out now.

Grails just put out Black Tar Prophecies Vol’s 4, 5 & 6 this week on Temporary Residence, LTD.

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Black Books, Yum (Jennifer)

October 16, 2013

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Now that the temperatures have started to cool off, it’s time to curl up with some local releases. Local dream/psych pop quintet Black Books released their self titled debut album this week. You can purchase their album online via Bandcamp or at Waterloo Records. I’ve been eagerly anticipating this record since enjoying the single and two EPs that they’ve released since 2011.

A few songs (Favorite Place, The Big Idea, and Maria) have appeared on their EPs, but the remaining songs are brand spanking new for your enjoyment. I was fortunate enough to pick up a vinyl copy of their album last weekend after their performance at Ditch The Fest Fest; it’s already had repeated listens on my turntable.

Their sound is sweeping yet subtle. The songs are filled with layers and swells of guitars, keyboards, and vocals that meet together with exhilarating and uplifting effect. At times, the songs feel like they could fill an infinite space, but there are also moments that provide a comforting warmth and intimacy.

To celebrate their album release, the band performed some songs for KUTX and now they’re off to NYC for a few shows at CMJ. Their next Austin show will take place on November 30 as part of a taping for The Good Music Club.

Up and coming local trio Yum are aptly named. Their sound is sweet, refreshing, and delectable. They are releasing their debut album, Take My Blue, this Friday, and their record release party will be at Spider House Ballroom that same night. I like them so much that I volunteered to participate in their album cover photo shoot as one of several people wearing skull masks. If you pre-order their album on Bandcamp, you will receive four songs that were featured on their episode for the Hardly Sound documentary series.

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Yum

October 3, 2013

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If you made it out to the Blackheart for the last SOTO Presents, then you probably saw Yum open the evening with a really nice set.  If you weren’t there, I hate you.  OK, not really.  Still though, you really need to hear this trio.  I think they’re one of Austin’s most promising acts.  Keep an eye out next week for a video to go along with today’s featured track, and then be sure to go celebrate the arrival of the band’s debut, Take My Blue, at their album release party on October 18 at Spiderhouse Ballroom.  Enjoy.

:Yum – Take My Blue:  Samantha Skinner’s soft vocal work is the definite highlight here, but I will say that I very much love the Warpaint-like turn of the arrangement around the halfway point of the song.  If you like your indie rock with plenty of ambiance, then look no further than Yum.

Bonus Video:

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Hardly Sound (Jennifer)

September 4, 2013

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Hardly Sound is a documentary series highlighting Texas underground music. It’s not your typical music documentary, though. Christopher Kim and Randy Reynolds, who created the series, know the struggles that artists face in making their voices heard. The episodes include music performances, as you might expect in a series about bands, but they’re captured in unique ways and settings to reflect the bands and their stories. For example, during season one they filmed Royal Forest playing and recording their song John Denver in a small Cessna plane; it reflected the creators taking a personal leap as well as the band’s sense of adventure.

During this past year, Kim and Reynolds used crowdfunding to bring a second season to life. They are celebrating the premiere of the new season tomorrow at the KLRU studios (Historic Studio 6A). It’s early (from 7-9 pm) and it’s free and open to the public. The premiere will include a sneak peak of episode one, featuring up and coming Austin trio Yum, a Q+A with director Christopher Kim, and then a performance by Yum.

The new season will also include episodes featuring The Villettes, RTB2, Wiretree, and Jad Fair. The stories are moving and personal; you connect not only with the music, but also with the people who create it.

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Pageantry, Yum (Jennifer)

July 3, 2013

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While I do love and support my favorite Austin-based bands, it’s also great to find new favorites from across Texas. One of my latest discoveries is the Denton-based “pop gaze” trio Pageantry. They released their debut EP, Friends Of The Year, last month.  The four song effort is packed with a lot of stuff – layered guitars and vocals complemented by a rhythm section that weaves a variety of sonic textures into an engaging sound that leaves listeners wanting more.  Their Austin record release show will be taking place at the Mohawk with Borrisokane and The Calm Blue Sea this Friday. This is a fantastic triple bill of Texas bands that I highly recommend.

Thanks to the guys behind the Hardly Sound documentary series, I found out about Yum, an up and coming Austin trio. They make sweet, dreamy indie pop that could be the soundtrack to your summer romance. A full length album is in the works, but in the meantime you can stream or download a few tunes from their Bandcamp and Soundcloud pages. The band’s story will be highlighted in an episode of Hardly Sound’s 2nd season. No available air date as of yet (the 2nd season is still in production and seeking financial support). I’m looking forward to hearing more from this band along and exploring their personal stories behind the songs.

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