Once again, a wealth of exceptional tuneage exploded from the great 817 this year. On a purely technical level, there were at least –– at least –– 538 good-to-great songs. Can’t wait for next year’s Music Awards. The members of our nominating committee are going to pass out from analysis paralysis. But what good is a year-end list without some sense of curatorial discretion? Without some idiosyncratic flavor? Without decades’ worth of published music musings to legitimize it? Kinda? (Maybe?) Enter: the following 2015 tracks either from the Fort or with a Fort connection. Enjoy!
1.) There’s a lot to love on Andy Pickett’s debut album, but the smoothest, most memorable joint is the title track. Equal parts Randy Newman, Steely Dan, and Christopher Cross, “It Happens Every Night,” a sort of diaristic complaint from the mountainous singer-songwriter’s part-time giggings as a bar bouncer, staggers along to a thick, crisp, quiet bass-drum groove as Pickett wraps his distant, airy voice around a juicy little Tin Pan Alley-esque melody. The inoffensively repetitive chorus –– “It happens every night / It happens every night / To meee” –– is so smooth, it could talk its way past White House security. The gentle giant Pickett gets a lot of social media love, but he’s deserving of much more than that.
2.) From an eponymous album chock full of yacht-rocking brilliance, Vodeo’s “Light as a Feather” is super-tight, hyper-melodic, and hella groovy. From an intro of slinky bass riffage and pulsating kick drum, twin guitars shuck and jive like two prize fighters in gold lamé jumpsuits around frontman Jonathon Gehringer’s breathy, slinky, panty-dropping voice. Wake up and play this, KXT. Now. Damn.
3.) Angry, loud, moody, thunderous, melodic –– on Huffer’s “High Hopes, Tight Ropes,” from the hard-rock trio’s stunning self-titled debut EP, the line from Sabbath to Soundgarden is manifest in the desperate-sounding vocals, the tribal banging, and the guitars’ molten flutter and wow. Yeah, yeah. There’s no shortage of stoner-rockers in North Texas, but no one’s really doing the THC-meets-heroin thing quite like Huffer.
4.) Not that anyone should care what major label he’s signed to or how many Grammys he’s nominated for, the first single from Leon Bridges’ debut album is amazeballs, period. Sounding as if it had been recorded in 1957, the softly swaying “Coming Home” is punctuated by a chorus –– “wanna be a-row-uh-ound” –– that’s powerfully sublime and totally disarming. Sam Cooke would be proud.
5.) In a righteous world –– heck, in a righteous scene –– people would be making a huge fuss over Shadows of Jets. The vehicle for veteran singer-songwriter Taylor Tatsch does nothing but pump out delicious guitar-pop gems. “Feel,” from SoJ’s three-song EP Grow, is highly recommended for fans of Blinker the Star, Son of Stan, and New Radiant Storm King. Poor Tatsch. I guess he was born about 30 years late.
6.) My favorite Clear Acid track of 2015 is a demo, but who cares. “sonic palette demo” is badass and pure Clear Acid, meaning it’s dark, loud, and genuinely creepy as fuck. Over screeching, howling guitars that seem to follow a general direction and splashy drums, a sweet, distant voice limns a legato sort of Brit-pop melody –– the juxtaposition between the harrowing instrumentation and vocal ebullience just makes everything that much unsettling, like setting fire to the stacked bodies of Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, and Davy Jones while they’re still alive. The breakdown, in which the tempo dives off a cliff and the violence gets ramped up, goes on too long, but by the time the ending arrives –– just the word “down” intoned over and over above a deflowered version of the beginning strophes –– you may wish to go back to a less skin-crawling time.
7.) It’s a tie. And the two songs couldn’t be any more different. Dove Hunter’s “Dream Catcher” harks back to Appalachian folk and Delta blues as re-imagined by time-travelin’ hipsters who understand how to get heads banging and booties moving –– and that’s credit mostly to frontman Jayson Wortham’s grittily twinkling ES-250-sounding axe and the skipping, hopscotching, occasionally drum ’n’ bass-y stickwork from Quincy Holloway (Sub Oslo).
Conversely, Squanto’s “Frontiers” has been assembled from a million cybernetic glyphs. “The hollow flute-like two-note whistle that changes color slightly and lords over the [song’s] tinny, banging calypso beat … is as discomfiting as looking at a bunch of tiny holes or the nub of a severed limb –– you can’t un-see that shit the same way you can’t un-listen to that melody” (“Squanto’s Spear of Density,” Nov. 11).
What “Dream Catcher” and “Frontiers” share is a deathly serious darkness that’s inescapably frightening. And so damn depressing.
8.) You can’t help but jam along to this. The pounding, relentless beat is righteous, the warped, boinging surf guitar bone-rattling, and the vocal melody singalong-able. Fungi Girls’ “God Cops” reminds you why this trio of still-young’uns cannot be fucked with. Guitarist/singer Jacob Bruce, drummer Skyler Salinas, and bassist Deryck Barrera have been ruling the North Texas scene since first forming in 2008, when they were but teenagers. “God Cops” came out in ’94 and was re-released as a cassette single for Fungi’s 2015 summer tour with Los Cripis. As a famous MC named after a handheld construction tool once said: Can’t touch this.
9.) It’s never been any secret that War Party digs mid-career Clash and early Elvis Costello. And Little Anthony. (For real!) But with “Eat Rent,” part of a trilogy of 2015 7-inchers, the quintet has fine-tuned its ragged, reluctantly melodic sound to a delectable, singular apotheosis. Over an elegantly simple descending riff and stuttering rhythm, frontman Cameron Smith yelps about being down and out on the fringes. “Every day / And every night / Enough alcohol to / Make you blind, baby / Every day / Every night / And I grab my guitar / Press my eyes / The band is going to play tonight.”
Right-o, motherfuckers. National media outlets need to start paying some attention to this prolific, hard-working outfit.
10.) When I first stared this job, lo, these 13 years ago, some tallish fresh-faced dude had the audacity to pop into my cube with a CD-R of his band’s latest studio exploits.
“We’re Brasco!” he said, friendly enough, extending his open palm.
And I was like, “Pfft. Yeah, whatever. Have you heard Lift to Experience yet, cuz?! Or Tripping Daisy?! Whatevs!”
But you can’t blame me. I had just moved to the Fort from New York City. Like every other idiot on the planet, I assumed Fort Worth was merely a suburb of Dallas. I quickly and happily realized the error of my ways. (And I’d like to think I’ve done a lot since then to help distinguish our respective scenes and ours and Denton’s for the sake of celebrating our individualities.)
The moral of the story: Can you believe that still-youthful, still-spry (“semi-spry”?), fresh-faced former Brasco frontman Kevin Aldridge is not only still at it but kicking effing ass?! In October, after years of steady recorded production, the 78-year-old singer-songwriter released “Winner Leaves Town,” a moody yet loudly rocking barn-burner recorded with in-demand Fort Worth producer Jordan Richardson, a.k.a. Son of Stan (Squanto, Bummer Vacation, Tidals). Aldridge has not been this wheels-off since Brasco. Looking for references? There really aren’t any. Except, well, Brasco. And Neil Young in a particularly aggressive mood. For some reason now, I’m inclined to say, “Look out, all you young wannabe hard-Americana stars. Kevin Aldridge is about to show you douchebags how it’s done!” But I probably shouldn’t embarrass him any more than I already have.
Stay tuned next week for my favorite albums of the year. But please feel free to bitch about my song choices presently. Remember: Unlike Music Awards, this column is not a democracy. Peace.
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