We're admittedly the most insular, introverted member of the Rocks Off team. You're more likely to find us sitting in our apartment with our headphones on digesting new music than out carousing with our peers. And we're OK with that, mostly because Daddy Rocks Off occasionally asks us to write pieces like this one.
2010 was a great year for locally grown music of all stripes, shapes and sizes. More and more bands are hitting the road to show people that we actually have a viable, vibrant scene here in Houston, and it has become much more difficult to decide which show to go see on any given Thursday through Sunday night.
Hence, it was quite a chore to dig through many of the fantastic releases during the course of this year to determine exactly what we liked the most, but we did it, because we like you.
In Alphabetical Order:
Bun B, "Trillionaire" Album: Trill OG
The beauty of this track is that it serves as somewhat of a mission statement for one of Houston's standout musical ambassadors. From the opening salvo where he gets things "crackilating," to declarations that he's "Trill until I D. I. E." or "from P. A. T. to your town," Bun B states the case for his place in rap history.
As T-Pain intones in the chorus, Bernard Freeman is most definitely a "self-made trillionaire," and the rest of us are simply trying to catch up to him. On a record laden with hits like "Put It Down," "I Git Down 4 Mine," "Snow Money," and "Ridin' Slow," this one is definitely our favorite.
Fat Tony, "Nigga U Ain't Fat" Album: RABDARGAB
If you ask us, this guy is one of the best rappers making music today; it's just that most people haven't had the privilege of hearing him yet. With this song, Tony launches into a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek diss track that tells people not to worry about what his name means. Just know that he's better than you, makes better music than you, and that his Mom used to buy him jeans off the husky rack (and we feel your pain on that one). Think of this one as the snarky kid brother to Bun B's "Trillionaire."
Grandfather Child, "Waiting For You" Album: "Waiting For You" b/w "Dog Water" 7"
The guys who comprise this act are some of the most active musicians in town, whether as solo acts or working in each other's bands. With Grandfather Child, Lucas Gorham takes the lead, and the result is this genitals-stirring song that comes across as delicious cross between James Brown, The Rolling Stones and vintage boogie-woogie goodness.
Humongous vocals laden with soul, power and sex are supported by glistening guitars and dense bass work. Go buy this vinyl single, and then go make some babies.
Hollywood Black, "Wine Skins" Album: Devils That We Are EP
This trio has been a longtime favorite of ours, so we were excited to see them release a fresh batch of songs earlier this year. This standout cut matches gritty punk with indie and pop textures, and the edges here are definitely rougher and harder than anything on the band's earlier records. With good energy and pacing throughout, the song is political and strident without ever being too obnoxious as it seeks to take down a hypocrite or three who definitely hasn't been practicing what they preach.
Hollywood FLOSS, "Life" Album: House of Dreams
This fine gentleman put out a record earlier this year that more people should hear. On this track, FLOSS lays down a soulful slow jam, complete with ghostly keys and clattering drums, as he talks about his love of life. The twist is that he's personified life as the woman of his dreams, but she tends to play a bit hard to get.
However, that proves to be the point of the lyrics, in that we need to chase after all that life has to offer us, despite how mysterious and frustrating it/she can be at times. If you're into a healthy dose of deep-thinking and philosophizing with your rap lyrics, look no farther than this guy.
Indian Jewelry, "Never Been Better" Album: Totaled
Few acts in Houston better display our status as a place that can be rather dirty, gritty and post-industrial than Indian Jewelry. On this cut, the duo creates a bed of eerie, pulsing electronic noise through various keyboard lines and synthesizer patches before flatly, metallically, and somewhat ironically intoning (with heavily treated vocals) about how life has never been better. The song's teeth come from a snarling swirl of guitar shrieks and thrumming, distended bass thumps, and the overall effect is a great metaphor of what you see once you decide to visit the less glamorous and arty sections of our fair city.
Kennedy Bakery, "Avenue C Shells" Album: Historical Fiction EP
Houston has been a hotbed of folk and country revivalism for a few years now, so the time is right for a group like Kennedy Bakery to arrive. Led by the Gillian Welch-like tone of Erin Rodgers, this group features bright folk-pop elements that are fresh, clean, and simple. Yet, in true country fashion, upbeat tunes often mask sad lyrics, because when Rodgers sings, "I put my ear to the shell of the city to listen for the past," it's evident that she's an old soul seeking for something (or someone) she's lost. Look for this band to land on more bills with heavier hitters around town in 2011.
listenlisten, "ghost" Album: dog
Anyone who's ever experienced a live set from this talented quartet knows that you're not going to be jumping around for joy at the end of the show. Yet, what makes this band so very compelling is their inherent knack for songcraft and weaving a fantastic story that demands you pay attention to hear how things end.
An acoustic guitar and gentle piano set the table for a mellow tune, but Ben Godfrey's aching, matter-of-fact vocals start talking about families dying and dealing with the physical and literal ghosts of that tragedy. The music is warm, but the tale is definitely quite icy, and the organ and dark guitar that enters halfway through only deepen that mood. Standing as the second track on dog, "ghost" sets a strong tone for the rest of the record.
The Manichean, "Lacerus" Album: Whispers EP
Merging the theatrical with vibrant post-punk, this wide-ranging collective of musicians has given us its most direct, accessible tune ever. The guitars are sharp, the horns bleat appropriately, and the syncopated drums set a brisk, kinetic pace. It's all over in less than three minutes, but that's plenty of time for Cory, Justice and Co. to wow us with intimations of the occult, pagan practices and mystical religiosity. The band just released a collection of remixes surrounding this track, and the early press is quite positive about what's happening here.
Tambersauro, "Mr. Mannhauer" Album: From The Last Day I Saw You
Technically, this excellent act is on indefinite hiatus, but we couldn't resist the chance to talk up one of our favorite Houston groups. On this selection, Jeff Price issues out a cry from amongst the proletariat, letting the bourgeois plutocrats know that they're tired of the crushing, mind-numbing sameness that dominates their lives, and they're not going to take it any longer.
The instrumentation's grim, bare-bones pacing serves as a great complement to the bleak lyrics, and the effect is quite reminiscent of the art-rock-meets-post-punk aesthetic of The Fall. Everything stalks along gloomily until the band launches into a proggy gallop towards the end, calling to mind the rush of workers for the doors at the end of another seemingly interminable workweek. We already miss these guys.
Tax the Wolf, "Eagle" Album: Hold the Sun
Then again, there are superb young acts like Tax the Wolf who've come along to fill that void. A spaghetti western-styled intro, complete with whistles and plinking acoustic guitar, start things off, but the guys eventually settle into a creepy psych-rock groove that's enchantingly post-apocalyptic in feel.
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Fans of Deadwood, The Preacher, Pink Floyd, and stirring guitar work will love what they hear from this song. To continue an earlier analogy, this band could easily be the rambunctious little brother to listenlisten - both share a dreary view of the world, but Tax The Wolf is a bit more frenetic and out-spoken with its response.
Wild Moccasins, "Skin Collision Past" Album: Skin Collision Past
Last, but definitely not least, we have a song that serves as the title cut and the lead track on one of our favorite Houston records from 2010. We've waxed eloquently across these pages as to why we're so fond of this band's pop energy, zip and zing, but this selection says it much better than we can. The guitars jangle and buzz, the keys plink and the vocals of Cody and Zahira dance, flirt and play with ease (as only lovers' can do).
But to our ears, what really anchors this band is the effortless strength provided by a sturdy rhythm section and the fantastic guitar work. You can call it hype, but we think that Wild Moccasins have what it takes.