Year in Review

Houston's 10 Most Overlooked Local Records of 2015

These albums are not honorable mentions. They exist on equal footing with the "best" local albums released this year. Here are a few others you might have overlooked this year, yet require your undivided attention. 

FOX & CATS, Ampersand
"Black Hole," the standout track from Ampersand, says, "There is only one thing that I can say/ Your new friend is a fucking fake," sardonically yet earnestly, illustrating why so many Houstonians have fallen in love with Fox and Cats. Ampersand is filled with an entire lifetime of melodies, hooks and riffs in just one record. Each song is an ode to love's little disparities, the things we take for granted too regularly as a relationship shifts from the romantic phase into the unknown. Ampersand is not an apology, rather a reminder to be cautious when caught up in love's euphoric whirlwind.

Longtime fans of Indian Jewelry who expected more of the same from them will be horribly disappointed. The opening guitar line of "Vast Divisions" has not a damn thing to do with Roky Erickson; in fact, it sounds like an homage to former Flock of Seagulls' guitarist Paul Reynolds, while Erika Thrasher's vocals summon a near-fatal cocktail of Agnetha Faltskog, Debbie Harry and Siouxie Sioux. "Turn It On Again" turns into an anthem to pull our minds out of Narcissus' pond and out into the vast world surrounding us. Tex Kerschen has not given up on his own great wall of noise; he and the rest of Indian Jewelry have only widened it further to protect us from our own self-inflicted boredom. Doing Easy does just that.

BIZ VICIOUS, Reanimated
A hip-hop children's album designed to characterize the youth as the world's hope, Reanimated allows listeners to delve deeper into Biz Vicious' capacious heart and mind. The premise: during a zombie outbreak, a Wizard of Oz-like voice alarms the children about the danger; yet the same monotonous voice brings small shreds of comfort, informing the children that they are immune from the contagion. Each wistful track provides video game-like exposition to help each kid to survive and successfully endure the world gone mad. Biz speeds along the story by using his clever storytelling skills to weave an extended metaphor for youth's enviable innocence, pushing himself beyond his own comfort zone. Reanimated is tailored for an audience who needs hope during our topsy-turvy times.

Every Future Blondes release stands on its own, and Feather 17 is no exception. If Domokos Benczedi took anything away from his experience with Rusted Shut, it was generating attitude and atmosphere, subjecting listeners to the darkened, post-apocalyptic landscapes of industrial music's past while connecting it to the ever-present sound of progress. T.T. Boi's tape loops and Biagio's silver machines tamper with the senses, forcing us to wonder if our perceived reality pretends to exist. "Synths 1/Love and Destruction" and "FEHE'R A TUZ, FINOM A VE'RED" spiral downward into Hell's ninth circle. Medieval torture devices digitally designed, Feather 17 begs to be listened to with the lights on.

AK'CHAMEL, The Man Who Drank God
Ak'chamel took listeners who dared to listen to this understated yet exceptional album to the time when early man made music to praise the four elements, the gods who created them and the earth who housed them. Nigerian bells, Indonesian flutes, Tanpuras and human voices chant to the gods who make rain, curse the same ones who created the illnesses that destroy its human inhabitants and frighten the ghosts who haunt them in the dead of night. In a time when most musicians are so quick to apply the latest and greatest technology to their compositions, Ak'chamel launched themselves backwards to create music that is equally inventive — and better.

DIRTY & NASTY, Black Gold
Black Gold has one foot in Houston's past while forging a path in its inevitable future. "Whoo" is Houston's anthem of now, lyrically moving away from the language of swangas and lean and screw to reporting the reality of their surroundings — broken homes, broken dreams, broken trust. "Stacy Adams" provides a blueprint for why long t-shirts and nice kicks just don't do it these days because it is "Better than bummin' for change." Dirty & Nasty are Houston's OutKast, creating a genre unto itself. "Southern Man" beautifully employs Neil Young's song of the same name, illustrating that more things change, more they stay the same. Houston's hip-hop luminaries: prepare to share company with this dynamic duo. 

Avery Davis of —Us wrote a heartfelt love letter to his ex, and his goodbye provides him with the necessary catharsis to move on. Unlike other records bearing lost-love themes that often range from bitter to hateful, Davis replays the entirety of his relationship over and over, finally realizing the ending never changes. Brush away the mournful moments of "Pieces," and "See You Smile" emerges from irreparable love, bursting with hope, not bitterness. Musically, V.XXVII.IX employs M83's dramatic swells and cinematic appeals without the bombast and potential theme music for the newest Volkswagen Jetta commercial. No one instrument dominates — Davis' sweeping orchestral approach resonates long after the music finishes. 

Philippe Edison is a genius; there's no other way to put it. Although many now attempt to fuse jazz with electronic elements, none have tailored it to sound as unique as Edison's. "Dark Sin Phony" creates familiar dance partners who tweak together Houston hip-hop's familiar laid-back flow, except Varth Dader's wordplay contains more information in one verse than his contemporaries' entire musical catalog. "At Last, Phobia" showcases Edison's ability to make complexity sound simple and easy, layering moods and melodies that reach into the late Ornette Coleman's palette. Like Dirty & Nasty, these two much-needed new voices within Houston's hip-hop scene are both of Houston and distinctly their own.

The much-respected British music magazine Quietus recently compared Always to the cultural and musical impact the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and Nirvana's Nevermind had on their respective genres. Like it or not, Garza is Houston's great ambient-music composer. "February 1979" adds layer upon layer of melodies for 17 straight minutes. At four hours long(!), Always finds ways to maintain the listener's attention while trapped inside of its heavenly haze. A one-man Berlioz, Garza moves away from his reverent nods toward Fripp and Eno, establishing a voice that has become exclusively his own. 

They performed once. No one left underwhelmed. Speechless was more like it. One part performance art, one part poetry, and many parts musical astonishment, no other album pushed Houston further into its great renaissance than Otto. "Baila" bewilders and adds mystery while leaving many questions unanswered. The future of music is to appeal to each one of our senses, to rewire how we experience it visually, aurally and spiritually. Otto not only is the culmination of many hard-grinding musicians' dreams, but the realization of it in ways that can only be collectively manifested.
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Stephan Wyatt