Fort Worth produced a ton of good records this year, and there’s just so much to choose from that compiling a judicious list of favorites is nearly impossible. But trying is part of the fun, right?
10.) It’s a toss-up between Holy Moly’s Brothers’ Keepers and Slumberbuzz’s self-titled debut album. On the former, frontman Joe Rose and company offer a little bit of everything –– including two-steppin’ floor-fillers, heartfelt ballads, and raucous barn-burners –– but never sound like anyone but themselves. Produced by Will Hunt (Burning Hotels, The Hanna Barbarians) at his Spaceway Studios downtown, Brothers’ Keepers is exclusively Holy Moly-ish: a barreling locomotive of a rhythm section, lotsa boisterous pickin’ and a-grinnin’, and high, lonesome pedal steel paired with Rose’s twangy voice and lyrics that are sometimes poignant (“Cocaine,” “Forge On,” “Linger On”) and sometimes uproarious (“Time Travelin’,” “The Good Fight”).
The latter is lo-fi, droning, and mostly mid-tempo with occasional blasts of swirling guitars and screeching feedback, harking back to late-’60s New York City, when the streets were mean and peopled by junkies, hookers, and artists. There may be a million reasons why this kind of sonority resonates as deeply as it does today –– probably impending World War III –– but you can’t deny its likability: As ka-crazy and reverb-y as Slumberbuzz may be, it’s also laden with catchiness, sturdy vocal melodies, and beats you can move to. Well, that you can zone out to, at least.
9.) If you think I’m cheating, well, you’re right. It’s another tie! This one between Wire Nest’s self-titled debut album, a sparkling ambient journey through downtempo electronica, and Rivercrest Yacht Club’s Aquanaughty, a direct order, sailor, to shake that ass! In other words, Aquanaughty is what you put on at 8 p.m. on a Saturday before hitting da club –– “Hustle-n-Grind,” “The Tuck,” and “International Waters” (“with international daughters!”) will definitely get the juices flowing –– and Wire Nest is for after the party, when you’re lying in bed with the headphones on and with maybe a fatty between your lips. The clickity clack of the smart, shimmering beats, the alternately windswept and clarion synths, and the flickering guitar lines are transportive. Next stop: Nirvana. Or Lake Worth.
8.) This dude cuts hair in Poly and puts out Kanye-quality pop-rap as if he were made of million-dollar bills. But mark my words: If Everett George keeps doing what he’s doing, he’s gonna be huge. Like, selling-out-the-AAC huge. As evidenced on his second album, The Do You Believe Project, the 29-year-old California native has all the goods: an easygoing, fiery flow that’s more about believability and meaning than flashy wordplay, an ability to craft delicious, mouthwatering hooks, and, naturally, phat beats (courtesy of DeSoto producer Rodney Willz).
7.) War Party’s ragged, hollow-sounding garage rock is carrying on a proud Fort Worth tradition. Flashback to Feb. 9, 1964. Like a lot of kids in a lot of American cities after The Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, young Fort Worthians picked up guitars and started making a racket –– in 2004, New York City-based Norton Records put out Fort Worth Teen Scene, a three-volume anthology of Cowtown sounds circa the mid- to late-’60s. Local musical ancestors like The Barons, The Elite, and Larry & The Blue Notes, live on in War Party’s long-in-the-making debut album.
Produced at Eagle Audio Recording on the Near Southside by Britt Robisheaux (Drug Mountain, Most Efficient Women, The Theater Fire), Tomorrow’s a Drag shimmies and shakes like a go-go dancer on bennies. Via clanging, non-distorted electric guitars, intermittent organ and trombone (!), and splashy, crackling drums, frontman Cameron Smith and company punch out 13 brief tracks that are as lush musically as they are lyrically. Sounding as if he had sung all of his parts into an empty soup can, the jittery-voiced Smith, always on the verge of rending his shirt and howling at the moon, calls up quasi-Springsteenian, urban noir tales from the underground, where true romance is doomed (“Hamsterdam,” “Royal Wedding”) and music represents both damnation and salvation (“Death of a Radiator,” “W.E.I.G.H.T.,” “Beginner’s Luck”).
Though bubblegum melodies pop up here and there, Tomorrow’s a Drag seems to be more about vibe and personal expression than, y’know, movin’ rekkids. Long live the teen scene, daddy-o.
6.) If Donald Fagen had died in August 1989 from masturbating too much to Barely Legal and his spirit had possessed a sweet, melancholic, pop-savvy Crowley teenager who spent most of his late-summer evenings at the mall, you’d probably end up with something like Divorce Pop. The debut album from Son of Stan, a.k.a. Jordan Richardson, is an opus of exuberant, romantically frustrated moodiness. You can dance to it, sure. (Try doing the Molly Ringwald to “Noxeema” or “Sadie.” You can!) But most of these nine tracks are quiet and intimate, with bouncing guitars, Casio-like beats, somber and swelling keyb’s, and Richardson’s feathery, distant voice. Co-produced by Richardson and Adam Lasus, Divorce Pop is a pastel-watercolor postcard from the edge (of a plastic butterknife slicing through a Cinnabon caramel pecanbon).
5.) Keyboardist/vocalist/lyricist Daron Beck and drummer Jon Teague have been through a lot over the years (“Pinkish Black Lights Up,” Dec. 4), but they have persevered, thrived even. In 2013, Pinkish Black put out the first of perhaps several albums with the major independent label Century Media. Produced by Matt Barnhart at The Echo Lab in Denton, Razed to the Ground succinctly manifests the gothic-metal duo’s shadow-clad distinctness. Death, destruction, blood, loss, and volume come through Teague’s inventive, often bone-crunching drumming and Beck’s seemingly multi-handed synthwork, which is sometimes siren-like or spookily atmospheric –– except when it’s utterly pile-driving, gurgling and growling like a pissed-off volcano. And with his rich baritone, Beck’s susurrations can be just as spine-tingling as his operatic roars.
4.) (It’s another tie. Sue me.) Produced by Russell Jack and released by Hand Drawn Records, Un Chien’s eponymous debut album is awe-inspiring. Ragged and raw yet deep and cushiony –– lots of sonic layers –– each song is so finely calibrated that one fudged or false note would ruin everything. This is operating on a Radiohead level, folks. And though you’d think that a cathedral made out of fine china and crystal would be twee, Un Chien is raaawk! solid. Led by former Stella Rose frontman Stephen Beatty, the quintet expertly navigates murky grunge (“Against Love,” “The Dreamer”), V.U.-esque acid trips through surging walls of sound (“Hey, You” and the epic “A Heavy Hand”), and sumptuous, pianistic neo-Brit-pop (“Gasoline Rainbow,” “Speak Slowly”), with co-vocalists Beatty and guitarist Rachel Gollay singing their hearts out throughout.
My other No. 4 is Calhoun’s Paperweights. Though only six songs long, it’s a juicy six songs. Mechanized beats and synthetic bells and whistles provide the canvas on which frontman Tim Locke paints wavy, multicolored melodies with his rangy voice, his normally acerbic lyrics tempered by his relatively new fatherhood. Produced by Spaceways’ Hunt, Paperweights may be pop, but it’s not disposable.
3.) On Inhumanistic, Mind Spiders marshal their clanging, snarling guitars, kitschy synths, and propulsive beats in the service of 12 quick hitters. The softer numbers bespeak early, tubular New Wave; the uptempo tracks do The Pogo like Candy-O and “Jocko Homo” on a prom date (with Donnie Iris as the evening’s entertainment). As the guitars and drum machines rattle and whirr, frontman Mark Ryan sings in his nasally, robotic tenor about love, life, and death, darting through his sharp, Panorama-era Cars-influenced melodies with the assurance and ease of a Nagel lady through CBGB’s. Released by Portland’s Dirtnap Records, Inhumanistic is the Fort Worth/Denton quartet’s third album in three years and best yet.
2.) Quaker City Night Hawks are gonna rattle your bones, and that’s that. The ingredients are simple: crunchy guitars with razor wire for strings, ringing and biting like chainsaws; punchy grooves; and co-frontmen Sam Anderson’s and David Matsler’s roughhewn, powerful, soulful vocals. While recording Honcho last spring, co-producers (and brothers) Grayland and Matt Smith kept telling Anderson, Matsler, bassist Patrick Adams, and drummer Matt Mabe to “make it greasy.” And the result is indeed earthbound –– bluesy, dusty, and warm –– but also, in its elegant simplicity, heavenly. Heads can bang to “Rattlesnake Boogie” (that pow! pow! pow! part is earthquaking) or nod like badasses in a ’70s-set Tarantino movie to “Stable Hand.” Butts can shake to “Lavanderia” and “Sweet Molly.” And souls can stir to “Yellow Rose” and, my favorite song of the year, “Train Rolled Home.” No-nonsense yet vibrant? That’s Quaker City Night Hawks. That’s Honcho.
1.) Ice Eater’s debut album, Don’t Care, is a welcome chunk of kaleidoscopic international flavor. Co-written by drummer Wyatt Adams and guitarist Zachary Edwards and produced by Alex Bhore (This Will Destroy You), these eight tracks share sonic DNA –– atmospheric guitars, complex beats, laser-like synths –– but are wildly diverse in structure, keeping listeners on their toes. A lot of credit has to go to Adams, who, dating back to his days with Burning Hotels, has never been content to just keep time. He essentially conjures melodies from his drums. Pair him with Edwards, who can make his ax sound like just about anything, including percussive instruments, and what you get is music this groundbreaking. One killer track is “Without a Blindfold On,” a chromatic jaunt buoyed by a syrupy vocal melody and a quicksilver riff full of steely harmonics (lots of squeak and chime). Another is “Surfing the Wave of Fun,” a blissed-out yet angular and ominous drive powered by a cold, honking staccato bassline. Who says Fort Worth doesn’t have any cosmopolitan glam. Good job, gents.
And that’s it. Merry Christmas, er’buddy.