Last year I wrote:
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’s only fitting that 2010 was another banner year for local music. This year unquestionably marked the best year for the Houston music scene and local music. With new clubs opening (and some being re-opened in exciting ways), the success of Free Press SummerFest, a more focused local music press, and more bands getting out and touring behind their releases, it’s been an exciting year. Here’s to a great 2011 as well.
Houston Calling‘s favorite Houston releases of 2010
1. Wild Moccasins, Skin Collision Past
An album that was also on my overall year-end favorites list, the group really kicked it up a notch with these songs. Here’s what I wrote in my review earlier this year:
Anyone who listens to modern music knows that the 80s contains a goldmine of influences, especially for the “indie” realm. But where many bands are content to rehash the sounds of their influences, Houston’s Wild Moccasins instead draws upon the era to create songs that are more inventive. On its latest, the band–vocalist/guitarist Cody Swann, vocalist/keyboardist Zahira Gutierrez, bassist Nicholas Cody, guitarist Andrew Lee, and drummer John Baldwin–could have easily relied on heavy synths and overly jangly guitars, but Skin Collision Past mixes indie-pop with post-rock overtones that makes for an infectious collection of songs.
VIDEO: “Skin Collision Past” (live)
2. Co-Pilot, The Course of Empire
Another Houston release that also made my overall year-end favorites list, Co-Pilot’s instrumental jams are up there with the best of the genre.
MP3: “Land Empires”
The songs on Kaleidoscopic Equinox (released via Chocolate Lab Records) build on the intricacies of jazz, the noodling of 70s-era progressive rock, and the walls-of-noise crescendos of modern instrumental indie rock for which the band is known. While Motion Turns It On’s influences may have seemed apparent on its earlier releases, with Kaleidoscopic Equinox the band breaks past any preconceptions of how it should sound. It’s an album from an unrestrained band unafraid of experimentation.
LISTEN: Stream Reverse Mirror Image
5. Bright Men Of Learning, Fired
This group of local music vets doesn’t release new music that often, but when it does you know it’s something worth listening to. Incorporating some of Houston’s finest guitar work, along with solid songwriting, Fired is full of songs reminiscent of early 90s “indie” rock. Once one song ends you can’t wait to hear what comes next, and then you want to hear it all again–the sign of a truly great album. I dare you to try to stop listening to Fired.
LISTEN: “Blood Rain”
6. Pale, “Catastrophic Skies” (video)
Truly an epic production, Pale created a video for its latest song that’s just like its music: over the top. You can read about my time at the “Catastrophic Skies” video shoot on the Rocks Off blog. Also, be sure to check out the recent review of Pale’s video in the new print issue of The Big Takeover.
From the outset, the members of Houston’s Castle Lights make no bones about the torch they carry for the semi-recent wave of brooding, radio-friendly Britpop bands, and the group’s songs reflect the Coldplay-Snow Patrol-Keane-Starsailor-Travis school of pop songwriting. The thing is, Castle Lights’ songs are every bit as catchy as their better-known counterparts, with plaintive vocals and big walls of guitars that lets the band stand firmly on its own, despite the similarities to influences from across the pond.
LISTEN: “Saint Era”
8. listenlisten, Dog
On its last album–which gained attention from Rolling Stone–listenlisten continued down the path of dark folk music it started on its debut. With Dog, its songs are no less haunting, but grip the listener with hints of promise as opposed to death. It’s an impressive batch of songs that will have you listening repeatedly. No one in Houston is doing it like this.
LISTEN: Stream Dog
9. Tax The Wolf, Hold The Sun
I’ve had my eyes (and ears) on these guys a while now, and Hold The Sun definitely doesn’t disappoint. Proggy in just the right amounts, Tax The Wolf is a must for local music fans who appreciate “classic rock” and The Mars Volta.
LISTEN: “184 Chromosomes”
10. Grandfather Child, “Waiting For You” (single)
Some of the city’s finest–and hardest-working–musicians (Lucas Gorham, Robert Ellis, Ryan Chavez, and Geoffrey Muller) get together and make something that, at least to me, was completely unexpected.
LISTEN: “Waiting For You”
11. The Rozzano Zamorano Group, 2012
Bassist Rozz Zamorano consistently creates solid jazz albums. While he’s probably best-known locally as the wild bassist for funk rockers Fondue Monks, Zamorano has been voted “best bassist” in the Houston Press Music Awards (and nominated multiple times). He also plays in Yoko Mono. His solo work–with and without other musicians–is influenced by Jaco Pastorius, among other greats. Check it out.
LISTEN: “Blues For Les Paul”
12. Tyagaraja, Open Book
Tyagaraja, aka Houston musician Jonathan Welch, won a slot to perform at Bonnaroo this year. From the outset of the contest his music seemed a perfect fit for the fest, which in its earliest days was made up of mostly jam bands and displaced flower children. Open Book–released during 2010’s Free Press Summer Fest–features the musician’s moody and introspective music, spiritual tunes with strings and softly-strummed guitar, bluesy jams, and country-tinged folk songs. Buy it.
LISTEN: Open Book
13. Southern Backtones, Unreleased Studio Tracks
After several years with no new releases, Southern Backtones returns with a trio of songs recorded at Houston’s SugarHill Studios. Much like the chasm between 2007’s Britrock-infused album and 1998’s rockabilly Los Tormentos de Amor, these songs–released as a digital EP via new local label ZenHill Records–mark a noted departure from what fans have come to expect of the band’s music. Instead of the bombastic, albeit dark, rock of their last batch of songs, singer/guitarist Hank Schyma and company (bassist John Griffin and drummer Todd Sommer) weaves a patchwork of gothic surf and flamenco-tinged tunes. Impressive. Buy it on iTunes.
LISTEN: “Angel’s Serenade”
14. sIngs, Hells
Former By The End Of Tonight member Brett Taylor essentially reinvented himself with this album. It’s such a departure from the music BTEOT made, yet is still experimental and forward-thinking as anything his former band released. It will be interesting to see what comes next.
15. Mike Stinson, The Jukebox In Your Heart
The former L.A.-based musician pens solid country songs that hold to the tried-and-true rather than the glammed-up pop version of country music Nashville has been spewing out for the last decade or so. Stinson knows how to tell a story, and does so with both tongue-in-cheek and with heart. “Stop The Bar” is a classic.
LISTEN: “Stop The Bar”
16. Omotai, Peace Through Fear
The term “face melting” may be overused in describing metal performances, but Omotai’s set at this year SummerFest fits it perfectly. A mixture of punk and metal, the threesome packs a punch that’s rarely heard in local music. This EP is a hint of what’s to come from the band.
LISTEN: Stream Peace Through Fear
17. Balaclavas, Roman Holiday
This album is made up of some of the most interesting “post rock” I’ve heard in years, and showcases the creativity of Houston’s musicians. At times, it brings to mind any number of 1980-era UK bands yet still manages to sound somewhat modern. Well done.
LISTEN: “Wine Skins”
LISTEN: Stream Under The Influence
LISTEN: “Iron Eyes”
Enjoy, and please check out these bands and support local music. Please feel free to comment and add your 2010 favorites.
Have a happy new year.