Grassroots support for the arts in town isn’t shabby. Seemingly every other week, word comes down of a new club or venue in town –– if there wasn’t a demand for clubs, they wouldn’t be opening. But the support could (always) be better. Without independent musicians –– and indie artists, organizations, and businesses –– a city can lose its soul and end up looking like any ol’ slice of suburban American pie. To keep Fort Worth funky, you must support its artists.
So for your listening (and purchasing) pleasure, consider my favorite albums and EPs of the past year or so.
EPs of the Year
5.) Fractions, Hentai Improvising Orchestra: What’s the opposite of groove? Noise? Pure sound? Whatever it is, it’s not as interesting as the mellifluous sonic art created by Fort Worth’s longest-running and perhaps only group of New Music practitioners. The slaps, squalls, and eerie, echoing percussive effects actually gain momentum by the middle of the EP, a 15-minute live recording from The Cellar in November.
4.) Christmas with Lindby and Friends, Lindby/VA: Those crazy Lindby folks tackle December the 25th in their particularly light-hearted and skillful way. The centerpiece is a version of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over),” featuring guest vocals by Calhoun’s Tim Locke, The Breakfast Machine’s Meghann Moore, Jody Jones, Larry g(EE), and Josh Weathers. But fellow nerdy travelers will find special pleasure in Lindby’s take on the classic duet “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” –– instead of two lovers, “Cold, It Is on the Dark Side” stars Luke Skywalker and Yoda on the planet Degobah.
3.) Kicker, The Longshots: Just two-songs long, but, man, what two songs, especially “Me or California,” my fourth favorite tune of 2012. Kicker is just another feather in the ol’ cap for Dreamy Soundz (Fungi Girls, Year of the Bear, Solo Sol), the burgeoning analog recording studio and record label on the Near Southside. The ’Shots are wrapping up their debut album with drummer/singer-songwriter/producer Jordan Richardson (Ben Harper, EPIC RUINS, Son of Stan, Skeleton Coast) at The Swamp, a.k.a. Electric Barryland, in Justin. In celebration of the release of a compilation cassette tape from Dreamy Soundz and Lo-Life Recordings, The Longshots will perform on Saturday at The Chat Room Pub (1263 W. Magnolia Ave., 817-922-8319) with two Fort Worth faves –– War Party and Doom Ghost –– and some outfit called The Great Big Belugas. Cover is a measly fin.
2.) Wherever Your Place May Be, Cleanup: Cleanup purveys a brand of mostly instrumental post-punk that’s tight, knotty, and expertly performed. Like Two Knights’ Parker Lawson, Cleanup’s Landon Cabarubio mostly plays his guitar like a piano. His fingers dance across the fretboard, tapping, pulling, and sliding out melodies that twinkle and swirl. Like the best prog- or math-rockers, Cleanup seamlessly transitions from quietude to explosiveness, with melancholy bridges and tangents pulsing in between. The band’s next two shows are Friday at The Cellar (2916 W. Berry St., 817-923-6116) with Secret Ghost Champion, Igneous Grimm, and Big Brown Shoes, and Saturday, Dec. 29, at Zio Carlo Magnolia Brew Pub (1001 W. Magnolia Ave., 817-923-8000) with Arbitrary Montage.
1.) Spaceway Sessions Vol. 1, The Hanna Barbarians: The first in a planned series of EPs recorded at Spaceway Productions with in-demand producer Will Hunt (Burning Hotels, Holy Moly, Calhoun), Vol. 1 may be the best thing the Barbs have ever done, which is saying a whole helluva lot, considering they’re one of the best bands in Texas. Loud, groovy, and also contemplative, the EP includes my top song of 2012, “Way Down.”
Albums of the Year
10.) I Love Fort Worth, various artists: This mix tape features more than 80 tracks by just about every badass 817 rapper you can name, including local godfathers Twisted Black and Six 2 plus Smoothvega, Immortal Soldierz, Snow Tha Product, Cas Iron, Royal South, Romeo No E, and more. Nothing but the hits here: Black’s “I’m a Fool Wit It” and “I Don’t Wanna Touch the Work,” Immortal Soldierz’ “We Stay Ready” featuring Slim Thug, and one of my top 12 songs of the year, Vega’s “Hold It Down” featuring Paul Wall.
9.) The Viper Sessions, Kevin Aldridge & The Appraisers: In a just world, veteran singer-songwriter Aldridge would be touring the cosmos alongside Steve Earle and the ghost of Townes Van Zandt. Alas, the real world is cruel, and Aldridge has to subsist on hearty praise from a local North Texas alt-weekly. The album’s gorgeous melodies and despair-laden lyrics vault it into the local alt-Americana canon.
8.) Split CD, Special Guest/Not Half Bad: The music? Well, it’s angry, catchy, and, despite the fuzzy bass, tinny. In other words: It’s nothing you haven’t heard before, but it’s still kickass and well structured, with touches of Oi! mixed with swaying Irish-drinking/fighting-song swagger. The bands say the album is a “perfect blend of hate, pop-punk, and taco-core.” Sounds like a party to me.
7.) I’ve Lost Everything, Innards: Crazy-tight post-punk from four skinny young gentlemen who might be alcoholics. (St. Ides is apparently a big influence on all of them.) But, damn, these kids can play. They shift tempos crisply and generate enough melody to temper the rapid-fire bashing and screamo vocals. Recorded and mixed by Michael Briggs, I’ve Lost Everything is pretty melancholy. Themes of loss and positivity weave through the bombast and bubbly breakdowns. Move over, Two Knights.
6.) Things Can Change, Madràs: The swan song (for now) of frontman and co-songwriter Jeevan Antony, a Dubai native who was forced out of the country this summer after his visa expired, Things Can Change is a sweet, bittersweet reflection on life, love, death, rebirth, and happiness. Each song quietly sparkles like a glint of sunlight off a dusty ruby. Recorded at Dreamy Soundz, Madràs’ opus is a rare gem indeed.
5.) Animisms, Jefferson Colby: Talk about prolific. Jefferson Colby has pumped out seven albums –– bona fide albums –– in seven consecutive years. All of the previous albums had their moments of greatness but never flowed. This time is different. From start to finish Animisms rocks balls. The massive, propulsive, syrupy rifferama, stomping rhythms, and familiar melodies call to mind The Toadies and Queens of the Stone Age. JC hasn’t received a lot of press or buzz over the years. I doubt Animisms is going to reverse the tide of critical indifference, but music lovers need to start paying attention to this band. Now.
4.) Zero Point, KatsüK: Easily the most ambitious album of the year, Zero Point is a masterstroke of sumptuous melody, panoramic sonic and lyrical themes, and world-class instrumentation. Most of the 14 tracks are monsters: sweeping and epic but never bloated or grandiose. Doing serious, generous rock shouldn’t be as easy as frontman Daniel Katsük and company make it seem, and rich, complex vocal melodies are here to stay as long as this band is around.
3.) Huj! Huj! Hajrah!, Foxtrot Uniform: ZZ Top, Foghat, Robert Johnson: The references are there but never obvious, never gratuitous. The debut album by the duo of guitarist/vocalist Kenny Uptain and drummer/backing vocalist Kelly Test unfolds like a vintage horns-free Stax Records long-player, full of highs and lows, grit, and emotion.
Tie 2.) Last of the Originals, Fort Nox: Full of phat beats, tight rhymes, and more than a little funk, this long-awaited sophomore album by the, uh, three elder statesman of Fort Worth hip-hop tackles the blinged-out baby-gangsta music that passes for commercial rap nowadays. A good dose of nostalgia-fueled levity –– “Funky for Ya” is almost proto-disco, with its majestic strings and ’70s-R&B chorus –– and lots of freestyling give L.O.T.O. a full-bodied, dynamic flavor. Produced by Ernie G. and loaded with killer old-school samples, Fort Nox’s latest is a statement record that demands your attention.
Tie 2.) The Phuss, The Phuss: Produced by Toadies frontman and local legend Vaden Todd Lewis, who never produced a non-Toadies album before, the North Texas trio’s debut detonates in your ears like an A-bomb. The raucous fury spreads via catchy riffs, thunderous rhythms, and frontman Joshua Fleming’s bratty, sneering vocals, singing/screaming about sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ rooolllll! Loud and brash but never dissonant or false, The Phuss is a re-imagining of Sabbath on speed.
1.) Skeleton Coast, Skeleton Coast: Consider this auspicious debut from one of the most interesting bands in North Texas as a sort of aural hallucinogen. Sonic textures and patterns neatly crisscross and embrace, forming chasms of melodies, surging rhythms, and “tsunamis of sound,” as I once wrote (“Sailing Skeleton Coast,” Oct. 31, 2012). Co-produced by Jordan Richardson and Steve Steward (Oil Boom, EPIC RUINS, Kevin Aldridge & The Appraisers) and released by Dreamy Soundz, Skeleton Coast resonates as fully as it does by mirroring the human experience: euphony and cacophony, chaos and order, war and peace. Bravo. Skelly Coast plays Saturday at Lola’s Saloon (2736 W. 6th St., 817-877-0666) with Blackstone Rangers, local indie faves Calhoun, and New Yorkers-via-Fort Worth a-va-va. Cover is $5-9.
And though I’m probably going to kick myself after this story comes out for forgetting a record or two, there’s still enough information here to prepare you for your season of supporting local artists. Now and forever.