Lots of good albums come out of town every year. Tons. But when time comes for me to compile this list, I have to stop and ask myself: Which local albums would I like to share with my wife? Haha. I’m just kidding. My wife likes the Indigo Girls. Seriously, though. I think: Which albums would I like to share with my Canadian friend Daniel, who’s been to more concerts than everyone in town combined? Or with my old college chum Tim, who has a pop palate almost as refined as mine? (Almost.) Or with my opera-singing older sister and three jazz-playing nieces? Or with a reanimated Lester Bangs? Or with Charlotte McKinney in the shower? The answers invariably lead to a shorter list than the one I started out with.
What makes a great album? Well, continuity is one thing. Unless. Unless the distinct lack of continuity betrays the artist’s true intentions. Like Fate in a Pleasant Mood or Trout Mask Replica. Then discontinuity is OK. So. Scratch that. How about something similar? How about a postmodern critique on the concept of the album? That’s good. I like that, too. I just can’t think of any fitting that dumb description.
How about good old fashioned kickassery? Just a strong assortment of tracks that collectively move the needle? That’s probably the chief criterion for cracking my list: kickassery, a quality of which the following choices have in abundance. Until next time, Merry Christmas, y’all.
1.) Here you go, Daniel.
My favorite local album of 2015 isn’t rap and doesn’t have a guitar in it. Pat Metheny, Robby Krieger, and John McLaughlin are probably going to stop talking to me now. Produced by Grammy-winning drummer/producer Jordan Richardson, a.k.a. Son of Stan (Oil Boom, The Longshots, Tidals), Color TV Death is a work of 22nd-century art, a collection of six early-Beck-ian tracks of non-danceable techno beats, assorted bleeps and bloops, and catchy vocal melodies which happily resists easy categorization. Squanto’s debut album is not simply sui generis. The songs work. Though my favorite track is “Frontiers” (my seventh favorite tune of 2015), “Sunshades” probably best manifests the ethos of composer/vocalist/lone band member Rickey Wayne Kinney: razor-sharp and ominous synths, staggering beats snapping and popping, and notes chopped and melodies looped ad infinitum to create a dizzying effect, like walking a tightrope over town on shrooms, with Kinney altering his voice from drunk pitchman packed with lies to gangsta rapper. Also selling lies. The corporatization of every facet of our lives appears to be Kinney’s chief obsession, though in a novel move he addresses some of his poetic screeds to familiars. As Gary Numan once asked: “Are friends electric?” Apparently, not all of Kinney’s are. Believe it or not.
2.) Here you go, Zombie Lester.
If uniqueness counts for anything –– and it does –– then Pinkish Black gets points for simply being Pinkish Black. Gothic, melodic doom-metal from a powerful drummer and a crooning keyboardist? Damn straight, Bottom of the Morning is unique. But it’s much more than just that. With more nuances and varied song structures and a lot less aggressiveness, Bottom of the Morning is a tasty improvement upon the 2012 self-titled debut LP from vocalist/keyboardist Daron Beck and drummer Jon Teague. You’ve still got those ethereal, yawning synths in the background, still got Teague’s bruising stickwork, still got Beck’s masculine like smooth voice, and you’ve still got his runs and riffs on the keys that go from bone-chilling (“Special Dark,” “Burn My Body,” “Everything Must Go”) to, dare I say, smooth (the title track, “The Master Is Away”). The biggest difference may be the songs themselves. They’re just a lot more dynamic. They have more changes, more curveballs, and offer more enticements to keep you listening and listening longer. Recorded at The Echo Lab in Argyle with Matthew Barnhart, Bottom of the Morning marked the beginning of a deal with Relapse Records, the internationally distributed label that also recently put out The Trouble with Being Born, the second album by The Great Tyrant, the band that Beck and Teague cofounded in the late aughts with bassist Tommy Atkins, who committed suicide in 2010 at the end of recording (see: No. 7).
3.) Here you go, Charlotte.
Leon Bridges yadda yadda yadda. Columbia Records blah, blah, blah. Debut album, Coming Home, recorded in the warehouse adjacent to Shipping & Receiving Bar with two dudes from White Denim and some badass boys and girls from yon Fort. Released in June, debuted in the No. 5 spot on the weekly Billboard Top Album Sales chart, generating a first-week consumption total of 42,000 (38,157 copies plus single sales and streams). Sounds as if it was recorded 60 years ago, not only because it was laid down on vintage equipment but because the songs –– all 10 of them –– sway and shine like the best of Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. That’s a huge compliment, by the way. In no universe is it not. Love ya, Leon! Call me!
4.) Here you go, Tim.
The first thing you notice is the voice. Low, gravely, monotone, and nasally, Tornup sounds a lot like Rakim, a.k.a. Possibly the Greatest Rapper of All-Time. With beatmaker B’SWAX and producer Berto G., the Fort Worth mic rocker somewhat quietly dropped one of the most progressive-sounding and -minded albums of any kind anywhere in 2015. Impossible Dreams (Artistic Ambition) comes from a new New Jack City, where Company Flow shares a tenement with DJ Spooky and Tricky. (I guess Rakim is their landlord.) To beats, melodies, and samples that vary from the artfully off-kilter (thinking specifically of the whiny, anti-cool guitar lick on “Front on Me” and the woodwind-ish refrain on “Lab Work”) to the plain outré (thinking here of the oscillating keyb’s on the title track and the Chipmunks-sounding harmonies on “Astral Glider”) Tornup applies his golden pipes to a dynamic flow. Sometimes he rhymes quick. Sometimes he rhymes slow. Whatever the speed, he’s always got more than money on his mind. “I know I’m already blessed,” Tornup spits on the title track, “Sometimes I wish I had the time to be depressed / But I’m busy making real heads invest.”
Impossible Dreams (Artistic Ambitions) may reflect a frustrated young soul, but dude doesn’t seem like the kind of person to let a little thing like The Biz get him down.
5.) Here you go, sis and nieces.
Dove Hunter is bigger than geography. That’s why I’m claiming them for us. That, and drummer Quincy Holloway is a Fort Worth cat. Anyway, after a long hiatus, the quartet put out Black Cloud Erupt Us. Recorded at The Echo Lab with Justin Collins, the spellbinding follow-up to the band’s 2009 debut, the spooky Southern Unknown, is an odd mélange of melancholically twinkling fingerpicking, hymnody-influenced melodies, and dub, which makes sense –– Holloway is a cofounder of Sub Oslo, one of the most popular dub outfits in Texas. And during the often bombastic and crashing choruses, Dove Hunter reveals an arena-rock vibe. Standout Black Cloud tracks: “Dream Catcher” (my other seventh favorite local song of the year), the reworked “Don’t Hurt Myself,” and the hypnotic, slowly burning “This Creek Will Rise.”
6.) Is there a better hardcore band in North Texas? Boy, I can’t think of one. Sin Motivo maybe? Space Beach? But when it comes to aggressive, progressive, inventive, natural-sounding darkness, Clear Acid is the tops. On the quartet’s debut recording, the album untitled three, disorientation is the flavor du jour. As if you’ve been conked on the head, blindfolded, gagged, handcuffed, stripped naked, and then shoved into a cold, dark, wet room where all you can hear are other people screaming. From the very first notes –– the warped guitars sound as if they’re melting –– Clear Acid establishes a vibe that is un-calculatedly disturbing and depressing. In addition to loud as fuck and heavy as sin –– and woefully under-produced –– untitled three is expertly played. The band executes multiple changes per song and never misses a step. Dear Secretary Carter. Blast this into jihadists’ prison cells. I guarantee you those bastards will spill their lousy guts.
7.) I’ve thought long and hard about this. OK. So. Oh Whitney, whose chief songwriter, Peter More, is from the Fort but now lives in Austin, recorded with Donald Fagen. Yes, that Donald Fagen. The Night Owl himself. And some of the self-titled EP was laid down at Eagle Audio Recording, on the Near Southside. “What if it sucks?” I kept thinking while lying in bed at night, surrounded by Steely Dan posters while listening to Aja through earbuds. Well. I probably would have folded anyway, such is my love of all things Steely and Dan-y, but I’m thrilled to report that Oh Whitney is wonderful. It has that slick, bubbly grooviness that Fagen popularized, replete with several scorching guitar solos, and enough melody to make program directors at college rock stations all over the country wet themselves. Love ya, Donald! Call me!
8.) Unlike Clear Acid’s untitled three, The Great Tyrant’s The Trouble with Being Born is scary on a theatrical level. Mostly. Sometimes vocalist/keyboardist Daron Beck loses his shit, and when he does, the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up as if they’ve just been goosed with a flaming hot sword. I mean. Screaming and howling, he sounds like John Wayne Gacy’s soul. Kudos to Relapse Records, the label that also took on Pinkish Black’s Bottom of the Morning, for bringing The Trouble with Being Born to life. You could argue that Pinkish Black is simply The Great Tyrant minus a bassist, but after listening to what Beck and drummer Teague have recently accomplished, The Great Tyrant is long gone. For one thing, Beck isn’t as prone to fly off the handle anymore. At least on tape.
The downside: We can only hope that Pinkish Black still does “Weidorje.” What a tune. As Beck trails a fluttering melody, his light keyboards “sing” harmony as the rhythm marches forward, and the piercing, chaotically swirling organ is pure early-Genesis in all the best ways. Or pure Weidorje. Great stuff.
9.) The debut album by The Fluorescents is everything that we Moby Grape/Beefheart/Elevators fans have been missing all these decades. Nowadays, laid down with Peter Wierenga, the drummer in Jake Paleschic’s band, making his debut behind the boards, sounds as if it was recorded in an empty tuna can –– and it’s righteous. Not quite punk, not quite psychedelic, and not quite New Wave but mind-bendingly groovy, Nowadays is all of that and more. Good job, lads.
10.) The spirit of Sabbath and Zeppelin is strong with this trio. FOGG’s High Testament was recorded with Ryan Lee at Fire Station Studios in San Marcos last fall but sounds as if it came out in 1975. Over thunderous beats, frontman Chase Jowell lays down some sweet, sweet fuzzed-out riffage and the kind of hot lixxx that would make Tony Iommi’s head spin. Seeing as Christmas is this week, buy High Testament for your favorite stoner-rocker. He probably already has all of the ancient vinyl you guys drool over anyway.
Honorable mention.) It’s a three-way!
A “three-way” tie, you filthy animals.
Epic and sweeping, Again, at Last is quite a statement from one of the youngest yet most interesting Americana stylists in North Texas. Featuring some killer performances and memorable melodies, Jake Paleschic’s debut album, laid down at Ramble Creek Recording Studios in Austin, is highly recommended for fans of Jackson Browne and The Eagles.
Carry the Blame is the debut recording by singer-songwriter Culberson, produced by Tyler Halford at his Dallas studio and loaded with sparkling country-influenced Americana numbers in the tradition of Jack Johnson and Sun Kil Moon. And, as with the jaunty “The Wedding,” even The Beatles.
Tidals’ Seplica’s Bedroom, produced by Richardson (see: No. 1), is brilliant sonic pastiche, almost as if band members Jeremy Lantz and Joshua Wrinkle are painting with sound. Representing the wider, more diverse, way much more jumbled –– intellectually, emotionally, financially –– world, the duo’s sophomore album means there’s more to this town than guitars and beards. Though both guys have beards. Big ones. Still …