The 10 Best Houston Releases of 2016 (So Far)

EVELYN RUBIO
Hombres
Hombres was minted in 2014, but some belated radio attention vaulted it to the upper reaches of Billboard’s Blues Albums, Latin Albums and Latin Pop Albums charts back in March, more than enough reason for it to be considered one of Houston’s albums of this year. Fashioned from demos Rubio recorded with the Calvin Owens Orchestra before Owens passed in 2008, and released in both English and Spanish versions, Hombres delivers plenty of high-stepping big-band blues before moving on to more cosmopolitan jazz-pop numbers like “Freedom” and “I’m Gonna Love You Tonight.” It was never in doubt that Rubio — a beautiful, blond Latina who wields a mean tenor sax and vocals to boot — would become a star; the only question was exactly how long it would take. CHRIS GRAY

THE SUFFERS
The Suffers
Smart management, enviable connections and steady media attention have elevated the Suffers to household-name status (in Houston, at least), but they were a band first — and for being ten members strong, an unusually elastic, deceptively tight one at that. Somewhat easy to forget in the wake of their stardom are all the gritty rehearsals and gigs at Fitzgerald’s and the Continental Club in the early days; above all else, The Suffers represents at least four years of hard, even grueling work. The songs are written about and for lovers, and are brilliantly sung by Kam Franklin, but the album’s lava-lamp ambience can’t quite disguise the fact that they were also meant to sound huge — at outdoor festivals as much as in the bedroom. The genius of The Suffers is that they really do work both places. If three or four songs wind up in car commercials next year, don't be surprised, but it doesn’t matter. Even as far as the Suffers have come, the band remains superior to the brand. CHRIS GRAY

THE WIGGINS
Greater Minds
The Wiggins released Greater Minds a little too quietly a few months ago after nearly a year in virtual hiding. But this album of cranky trash-­rock, outsider ballads and acidic folk music run through sticky distortion, à la Konono No 1, stands out, way out from the crowd, as does the Wiggins on any of the irregular occasions he plays. He’s a great performer in the Cleveland way, with a distinctly anti­-rock charisma and similarly anti-­trend personal-style­­­ windbreaker and loose­-fits. No one around here sounds like the Wiggins. But in a wider context, the garbage­town auteurism of Greater Minds, wherein every little piece of blown-­out sound — from his unmistakeably nasal, end­-of­-the­-night voice to the minimalist drum­-machining and guitar-playing — has only one job and none are allowed to waste your time, recalls The Wiggins’ kinship with crank prodigies like BR Wallers of the Country Teasers/the Rebel, and Dan Melchior, as well as artistic forebears Billy Childish and Jonathan Richman. Just listen to “Annie,” track three; it’s as tightly­ wound as something by Wire, but slow and crumbling, like the interior of a house after a blaze, and then it ends abruptly with a strange Link Wray coda. Even his cover of Randy Newman’s “Burn On” is no longer Newman’s own, but broken in, lightly wrecked and hammered back into form. This is the Wiggins getting into the promised land, playing fast and slow, uncompromising, confident, but not fronting, both circumspect and blistering. TEX KERSCHEN

GERRITT WITTMER
Unknowns
We all have to speak in the language of our time. Code music, written in spaces, silences, alluding to traumas, dreads, breaks in cognitive processing later resumed. I can’t help it­­­ I’ve never experienced abstraction, only newer connotations and groupings. Here and there, rotor ­blades turning, hole­-punches, conveyor belts, repetitive-motion stressors, highway hypnosis, some allowances to mechanical inertia, the end of the session, invading presences, ellipses. A lot of this music usually ends in a flood or a frittering away, but this is fully thought­ out, arranged for you in advance. Gerritt writes code the way Samuel Beckett wrote plays, but heavier on the terror. TEX KERSCHEN



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