Houston Calling

Houston Calling‘s favorite Houston releases of 2009

December 21st, 2009 · 10 Comments

2009 was the best year for local music I can recall since I started Houston Calling nearly seven years ago. The range of music coming out of the city is impressive–experimental rock and hip hop, punk, noise rock, folksy singer-songwriters, electronica, and indie pop–and Houston’s musicians really stepped it up a notch this year. It was tough to narrow down the list, but here are the 20 releases by Houston musicians that I enjoyed most during 2009.

Houston Calling‘s favorite Houston releases of 2009

1. Benjamin Wesley, Geschichte
While Wesley’s one-man-band live act is the ideal way to experience his music, this EP succinctly captures his unique cross-section of styles. Here’s some of what I wrote in my review of the EP:

Musically, Wesley does his best to capture the essence of his live sets (for those who have seen his performances, you know; for those who haven’t, check Vimeo). However, what separates Geschichte from the live experience is his lyrics–it’s much easier to focus on what he’s singing about when you’re not standing in awe of what’s happening onstage.

Benjamin Wesley’s is a prime example of what keeps Houston’s music scene thriving and engaging.

WATCH: live at Cactus Music

2. Paris Falls, Vol. III
Houston couple Ray and Jen Brown, along with drummer Mikey Deleon, make classic rock for the indie set. The music is sedate and meandering, without being jammy or stale.

WATCH: live

3. Chase Hamblin, A Fine Time EP
Here’s what I wrote about Hamblin’s EP earlier this year:

…a collection of songs that play on the 60s British invasion with a modern twist…with only five songs, Hamblin raises the expectations of how local music can sound.

WATCH: “Bye Bye” live | Live from SugarHill, Ep. 8

4. Arthur Yoria, 281
Another great release from one of Houston’s most beloved songwriters. Here’s what I wrote about 281 upon its release:

Yoria’s tongue-in-cheek humor is intact on 281‘s “The Libyans” (“I just want to play my golden fiddle”), “I Don’t Wear Red” (“I’m the one who stays when you leave, but I’m the one who gets free beer”) and the all-too-personal “Don’t Mess With My Rectum If You Like My Erection.” But the experimental pop storytelling of “I’m The Cold One,” the sedate “Tell Me I’m Wrong” and stoner-rific “Blue”—not to be confused with Yoria’s similarly mellow ode to Xanax, live favorite “Little Blue”—are 281‘s high points. Recalling his past anxiety and seemingly constant relationship issues, the songs are obvious outlets for Yoria’s insecurities; he sings about what everyone feels but hardly anyone ever discusses. 281 shows a maturing Yoria comfortable enough with himself to again push the boundaries of his music.

WATCH: “I Wouldn’t If I Were You” live

5. Robert Ellis, The Great Rearranger
Ellis is a musician that seems to never be satisfied unless he is making music. From his work with musician Chase Hamblin to various local side projects to old-school country covers at Mango’s to his excellent solo work, Ellis definitely stayed busy this year. The Great Rearranger is a folk album that could have been made at any point in the past 50 years and would still be as strong as it sounds today–and that is a testament to Ellis’ songwriting. After a single listen, I couldn’t get “Good Intentions” out of my head–good luck getting it out of yours.

WATCH: “Good Intentions” live

6. Young Mammals, Carrots
It’s been a pleasure watching this band from its high school beginnings. The band’s first official full-length, Carrots naturally displays the group’s Pixies influence yet also deftly shows that Young Mammals is made up of more than mere influences. One of a handful of local bands with true breakthrough appeal, it will be interesting to see (and hear) how the band progresses.

WATCH: “Dragon Wagon” live

7. listenlisten, Hymns From Rhodesia
The level of local talent creating folk/Americana music the last couple of years is impressive. On listenlisten’s second full-length, the band further delves into the haunting musical territory it explored on its debut. With a dark edge that attracts a variety of fans, Hymns… even helped the band earn attention from Rolling Stone this year.

WATCH: “Safe Home in Port” live | “On The Water” official video

8. The Literary Greats, Ocean, Meet The Valley
I first saw The Literary Greats at a Free Press Houston block party a few years ago. Since then, the band has steadily progressed–its latest album hit the CMJ 200 and gives off a heavy “We’ve doped up on Wilco and The Replacements since the last record” vibe. There’s definitely nothing wrong with that.

WATCH: “Show Me The Coast” live

9. Born Liars, Ragged Island
I’ve been a fan of Jimmy Sanchez’ music for years. With Born Liars, he’s veered from his classic punk roots to more of a late 70s brand of punk, a la The Stooges. Like Exit Smiling, a favorite of mine from 2006, Ragged Island oozes the same dirty, bluesy rock that’s been famous for decades–but no one else is doing it in Houston, and no one does it quite like Born Liars.

WATCH: Channel 39 promo spot

10. Wild Mocassins, Microscopic Metronomes EP
This almost-too-cute-to-be-taken-seriously group of indie popsters has taken Houston’s indie music scene by storm over the last couple of years. While I enjoyed its B-52s set more than anything, there is no denying the songs on this EP.

WATCH: The Austin Sessions #11 live

11. Big Sir Junior, Self-titled
Local bassist Rozzano Zamorano (Fondue Monks/Rozz Zamorano Trio) gathered some very talented friends to play an intimate show at Jet Lounge. The result is an impressive live debut. Here’s what I wrote about the album for Houston Press:

A cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Do Yourself A Favor” kicks off the album with a funky vibe similar to Zamorano’s work with Fondue Monks. “Going to Church” is a blues-infected jam, and the cleverly titled ten-plus-minute “Weather Retort” is the group’s nod to Jaco Pastorius, a big influence on Zamorano’s style.While experimental jazz certainly isn’t every music lover’s favorite, Super Live is an impressive snapshot of a live set that suffers only from the fact that nearly all good live recordings leave listeners wishing they had been there for the event itself. Hopefully Big Sir Junior will give us another chance.

12. The Factory Party, After Death There Is Nothing
Two words: Factory Records

Watch: live at The Mink’s Backroom

13. The Watermarks, Thoughts Like Bombs
My favorite quote about this band: “”If Phil Spector made an album with Jesus and Mary Chain and New Order, it would sound like The Watermarks.” The band has been getting a lot of attention as a result of its latest release (with a song on MTV’s Styl’d), and was recently featured on the “Unsigned Spotlight” on Undercontrol.org.uk. Not content to be 80s synthy new wave throwbacks, The Watermarks puts its own spin on the genre.

14. Buxton, “Flint”/”Feathers” 7-inch single
I’ve written before that Buxton is Houston’s Wilco. These two songs (on 7-inch vinyl) are strong enough to make my favorites list this year. Impressive stuff.

Watch: “Feathers” live | “Flint” live from Joe Mathlete’s living room

15. Bright Men of Learning, Champion Sounds EP
It’s been a few years since BMOL released new music, and Champion Sounds was worth the wait.

Watch: live in 2007

16. Inner Lights, Self-titled EP
Bridging the gap between Britrock and southern rock’s jammier tendencies, Inner Lights may seem like it sometimes has an identity crisis–but with a solid songwriting base and hooks galore, the band’s music speaks for itself. The EP’s songs have a raw, garage-y feel to them. Inner Lights recently recruited a new guitarist so be sure to check out their live sets soon.

Watch: Ahead Shot interview

17. Guitars, White Night White Night
Guitars’ limited vinyl release of White Night White Night was a much sought-after commodity this year. Thankfully, the band still offers the digital release if you ask nicely. Like the similar-sounding Sonic Youth, Guitars owes its sound to late 70s-era NYC.

18. Glasnost, Great Divide

Another synth-heavy 80s throwback that is more Duran Duran than Depeche Mode. But any band that includes drummer Paul “The Falcon” Valdez can’t be bad, right?

Watch: Live from SugarHill

19. Teenage Kicks, Uptight
Teenage Kicks will best be remembered as a band that dripped potential but that ended before it really had a chance to blossom. One of several bands that bit the dust this year, Teenage Kicks at least went out on a high point–Uptight is a good headstone.

Buy it here

20. Something Fierce, “Where Ya Goin Man” / “Spray Coat” 7-inch single
My favorite local punk group returns with another single that shows why the group is the best at what it does. The band mixes a solid punk, DIY ethic with catchy pop hooks that are impossible to deny, and is another one of Houston’s top contenders for making it big outside the city/state.

Watch: Live from SugarHill, Ep. 11 | “Aliens” official video | “Hey Houston” live

Please be sure to show your support for these bands by purchasing their music. Have a great Christmas.

See you in 2010.

Tags: Miscellaneous · Music · Reviews

10 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jason Smith // Dec 21, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Very cool of you to do this list! I see a lot of good releases on your list, but you forgot or didn’t like (and how could you not like them?) my favorite album by a Houston act in several years, The Tontons.

  • 2 Krystal // Dec 21, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    Spain Colored Orange. The Ton tons, and Ozeal’s EP were all worthy listens as well. Can’t wait to hear more about these artists in 2010

  • 3 DAC // Dec 21, 2009 at 1:31 pm

    I knew it was only a matter of time before I caught flack for that…

    I am one of the minority that hasn’t really caught on to them yet. Not that the talent isn’t there, but it just doesn’t stand out for me.

  • 4 Jason Smith // Dec 22, 2009 at 9:24 am

    That’s fine, David. Everyone has different tastes. I guess I just wanted their name in the mix. There are several bands on your list that don’t hit with me, even though they are super-nice people.

    Actually, now that I think about it, I respect you more that you wouldn’t include a band just because people “expect” you to. That said, I hope you try to go to a couple more Tontons shows and let their music sink in.

    Thanks again for all of your writing on the Houston scene.

  • 5 Chase Hamblin // Dec 27, 2009 at 10:40 pm

    Thanks for all the support, David! Great list.

  • 6 Stewart // Dec 30, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Hey I really appreciate you putting two of my releases on here! It means a lot!

  • 7 Mark C. Austin // Jan 5, 2010 at 11:42 am

    Great list. Robert Ellis and listen listen are on constant rotation with me. And have been for a while.

    I know we’ve discussed this before, but how is it possible that both Runaway Sun and The Tontons dont please your ears? Blows my mind. That Tontons album is easily one of the best local rock albums in the past 5-10 years or more. Really original, killer stuff.

    Oh and that Springfield Riots EP outshines several of the albums/EPs/splits on your list. Give it a shout sometime.

  • 8 Free Press Summer Fest preview: Buxton // May 19, 2010 at 9:17 am

    […] description, have ranked Buxton’s releases among my favorite local releases in both 2008 and 2009, and look forward to the band’s future […]

  • 9 Free Press Summer Fest preview: Robert Ellis // May 20, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    […] musician-of-all-trades Robert Ellis released one of my favorite local albums of 2009, The Great Rearranger, and continues to gain a bigger audience with his country-tinged folk music. […]

  • 10 Review: Benjamin Wesley, Think/Thoughts + win tickets to release show // Apr 4, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    […] Geschichte, Benjamin Wesley’s debut solo release, the Houston-based musician introduced himself as dark […]

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