Locally Speaking

My Top Ten Local Albums of 2011

The spoils of the Houston music scene in 2011 were bountiful. There was Robert Ellis's big national debut in Photographs, which garnered him virtual ink with most every major music blog, not to mention a host of opening gigs for the likes of John Doe and his hero George Jones.

Online musical clearinghouse Bandcamp allowed bands and artists to show off their musical wares, without having to really make physical copies of a release. Jack Freeman's Lynnie Free's Juke Joint was a late-year surprise, following up 2010's Dark Liquor EP with a set of underground R&B and neo-soul, with a dirty shot of blues on the closing track "Juke Joint."

What follows is two lists — one from me, and one from fellow Houston Press music writer Shea Serrano — featuring the best of what we heard and saw in Houston in 2011, from murky noise, to stalwart punk, to expert Houston hip-hop, and a gaggle of fresh faces we were glad to welcome aboard.

Robert Ellis isn't Houston's secret anymore.
Robert Ellis isn't Houston's secret anymore.
The Tontons count Bun B as a fan.
The Tontons count Bun B as a fan.

10. The Tontons, Golden

"Golden," the title track from the Tontons' latest EP, wowed almost everyone in Houston — including rapper Bun B, a frequent face at the band's gigs — with its pulsating hookiness and lead singer Asli Omar's fist-shaking, Debbie Harry-biting sensuality. That could be because it's been the most non-Tontons-sounding Tontons song, a strong departure from the usual kaleidoscopic vampiness we've gotten used to since their debut recordings. Houston scene vet/secret weapon Derek Dunivan handled the bulk of the production and engineering, adding his audible fairy dust to the tracks.

9. Cop Warmth, Die Slow

"Drugs Over Food" is all you need to know about Pasadena-bred Cop Warmth's March 2011 release Die Slow. Coming from the same city as the quickly evolving B L A C K I E, whose legend is starting to filter across the pond, Cop Warmth has a weighty pedigree. Continuing in the proud tradition of Houston noise legends like Don Walsh and his Rusted Shut, Cop Warmth's newest ain't pretty, but it doesn't mean she isn't worth a good, lusty, long look. As loud and chaotic as they are, they are deceptively catchy. The boys finished up 2011 with a pseudo-national tour, spreading the Warmth up into New York City.

8. Titan Blood, Titan Soul

This sidetrack from hardcore act The Burden had all the aggression of that band's hardcore work, but with a decidedly different punk swang. "Weird Territory" and "I'm a Goon" sounded like the long-lost debut salvo from a speed-addled Detroit garage-rock band in the late '60s, just as the aural tides were changing.

7. Sideshow Tramps, Revelator

The musical palette on the Sideshow Tramps' full-length Revelator ranged from Django Reinhardt gypsy to grease-stained and scuffed rock and roll, all while keeping two feet entrenched in a sound that can only come from the Bayou City. The band — Shane Lauder, Scott McNeil, Geoffrey Muller and the singing Reverend Craig Kinsey — makes believers regularly with their live shows, and Revelator is the best document you can bring home from a Tramps show, besides, well, an actual band member.

6. Something Fierce, Don't Be So Cruel

This year, Something Fierce released Don't Be So Cruel, the follow-up to 2009 full-length There Are No Answers, and the band's first release since last year's seven-inch "Where You Goin Man." The trio of Steven Garcia, Niki Sevven and Andrew Keith made an album that rolls on a worldly groove that reaches out far past Houston, Texas, and at least the contiguous United States. The tracks are equal parts slow and methodical — an adventuresome task for Fierce — while other entries echo what made you a Fierce fan in the first place five years ago.

5. Poor Pilate, Poor Pilate

Poor Pilate's 2011 album creeped up on us over a few weeks, but once it fully latched into our brain, each spin got sweeter and sweeter. The eponymous self-release from the newly minted quartet made good on the promise of their live shows with such like-minded groups as Finnegan and the Literary Greats. What sucked us in about Poor Pilate on record was the loudness it possessed, perfectly cacophonous without being grating. Singer and keyboardist David Lascoe handled production duties over seven months, leading into the late October release. If you enjoyed J Roddy Walston & The Business's last few trips through Houston, meet your backyard Leon Russell-lovin' heroes.

4. Ryan Scroggins & The Trenchtown Texans, Folk Devils/Move to the Country

This double-shot from Scroggins and company was one of the biggest surprises of the summer, with the band coming forth with not one, but two albums. One was geared towards Lee Perry freak-dub and an antique shop full of noise (Folk Devils) à la The Clash's Sandinista!, while Move to the Country was a more straightforward set from the Trenchtown Texans we have known for close to a decade now. Country is a quaint and introspective piece of work, with songs like "Sunshine" perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon. The farther along we get in years, the more enticing Country's title track will be. These two discs continue to prove that Scroggins is one of Houston's most precious natural resources, like tacos or Lone Star beer.

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What, no Literary Greats? I'm with Jason, they definitely would have made my list. I'd have to check on some others to confirm they are indeed 2011. (Most of my local artist CDs are from 2010, or earlier such as Runaway Sun's self-titled EP or Mystic Cross - Visions of Time).

Jason Smith
Jason Smith

Dear Houston Press,

Here's my list:

1. The Dead Revolt: Vanixer (Prog/Hard Rock)2. Robert Ellis: Photographs (Country/Folk)3. Pale: In the Time of Dangerous Men (Britrock)4. The Manichean: Sakura EP (Indie)5. The Tontons: Golden EP (Indie Soul)6. The Wheel Workers: Unite (Indie)7. The Literary Greats: Black Blizzard (Americana)8. Roky Moon & BOLT!: American Honey (Glam Rock)9. Something Fierce: Don't Be So Cruel (Punk Pop)10. Folk Family Revival: Unfolding (Americana)

* Honorary Mention goes to Featherface, who I thought released their superior It Comes Electric EP in 2011, but actually released it in October, 2010... I listened to that disc a LOT this year and I'm still including it on my personal list anyway.

Do yourself a favor and check out these Houston bands and others you don't already know. That's the only way the Houston Music Scene will prosper.

Thanks, Jason SmithBass, ALKARI


I just can't believe that there was no mention of the super talented, Brant Lee Croucher, and his debut album Old Denton Roads?


i always wonder why houston lists always forget houston artist yppah. he is about to release his 3rd album on ninja tune. anyone who knows electronic music will know the prestige of this label. songs from his albums have been on commercials, video games, featured in c.s.i., house, and had a prominent spot in the kevin spacey movie 21. he has done a tour with critically acclaimed artisy and labelmate bonobo. he has djed large showcases overseas with dj food, amon tobin, kid koala, and others. he continues to represent houston although he recently moved to long beach, ca, and houston has constantly refued to represent him. he has made some of the most interesting and up to date records to come out of this city in the last 5 years but you guys constantly snub him. just curious why.


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The Scroggins cd's took us 3 years to complete! It was a lot of blood sweet and weed but it came out awesome! Glad it made your list.



Austin, believe it.

Craig Hlavaty
Craig Hlavaty

Doesn't sound like he released an album this year.


Second this.


i was actually refering to every hp list. no articles, no reviews. nothing. from an artist thats having more success than any other eclectronic artist from houston right now that i know of.

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