It’s late January, and I typically post Houston Calling‘s year-end local favorites list during the same year in which the music was released, but there are valid reasons for the delay. Sure, life gets in the way. But 2012 was also the best year for local music in the 10 years of Houston Calling‘s existence. Each year has delivered great albums, but the past few years–and especially 2012–have been exciting. It’s great to see bands reach out beyond Houston’s walls, touring nationally and internationally, putting out well-received records, and playing festivals. Add that to Free Press Summer Fest, superb local labels, promoters, and websites, and venues that support local bands, and Houston’s independent musicians are finally getting the attention they deserve.
I’ve combed the bins at Cactus, boned up on my Space City Rock, and filtered my inbox for whatever I might have missed out on. It’s inevitable with the amount of musicians in this city that I’ve glossed over a few. However, the following list details the releases by Houston musicians that I enjoyed most during 2012.
Houston Calling’s favorite Houston releases of 2012
For the second year in a row, a relatively unknown musician from Houston appears on my year-end favorites list. Nate McKee–aka The Answer Page–hasn’t yet performed live (that I know of, anyway), yet continually makes thoughtful and exciting records. Songs of heartbreak, distance, and dealing with the past are recurrent themes, and something to which nearly all listeners can relate. If you missed this album, I cannot recommend it enough. Seriously, go buy it now.
One of a few New West signings from Houston over the past couple of years, Buxton’s music is a little bit country, and a little bit rock’n'roll. Thankfully, more rock than country.
VIDEO: “Down In The Valley” (live)
3. Drowner – Self-titled (re-release) (Saint Marie)
One of my local favorites of 2011, this album gained fans with a 2012 release on Saint Marie. Any fan of My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, or Cocteau Twins will find Drowner to be an undiscovered gem.
LISTEN: “Point Dume” (via Soundcloud)
4. Grandfather Child, Self-titled (New West)
Soulful, ballsy, rockin’–and unexpected–all at the same time, this “super group” of local musicians (Lucas Gorham, Ryan Chavez, Geoffrey Muller, and formerly Robert Ellis) is also among the Houston bands signed to New West Records. It’s well-deserved and hopefully will get the band the widespread attention it deserves.
VIDEO: Live session
5. New York City Queens, Burn Out Like Roman Candles (Regressive)
Great melodic indie-pop–with hints of Starsailor-esque Britrock–that you’ll find yourself humming along to almost instantly. The familiarity of the group’s songs doesn’t come from influence or homage, but rather from a solid sense of songwriting that captures the listener’s attention and demands focus. This ranks among the best albums to come out of Houston in a while, and was an easy choice for my top favorites of 2012.
VIDEO: “Waited For You”
6. Benjamin Wesley, Think/Thoughts (Self-released)
In my review of the album, I wrote:
On his latest album, Wesley thankfully doesn’t stray far from the inventive songwriting that’s made him one of Houston’s most unique artists. The songs on Think/Thoughts are often sad, sometimes playful, and still bristle with hope. Highlights include “Aliens” and “Catch My Shadow,” two songs that show Wesley’s signature sound–subtly crafted beats and melodic synths make up the bulk of Think/Thoughts‘ musical framework, along with meandering guitar and the occasional distorted scream. However, “Temper,” “Great Moments In Life,” and “I Take It Back” are where Wesley lays himself bare for the listener…deeply personal and reflective lyrics and uncompromising style help make Think/Thoughts a standout. By the time Wesley declares “I’m so awesome, tell everybody you know” (on the poppy “I’m So Awesome”), there’s no denying he’s right.
VIDEO: Live at Cactus Music
7. Yppah, Eighty-One (Ninja Tune)
This isn’t the first time an album by Joe Corrales Jr. (aka Yppah) has appeared on this list. And again, Corrales has reached new heights. This is one of the few instances where a press release actually does the album justice:
Corales’ bifurcated belief in the power of both hip hop and My Bloody Valentine is still evident, but this is the warmest, most uplifting music he has made.
VIDEO: “Film Burn”
8. Linus Pauling Quartet, Bag of Hammers (Homeskool)
Local stoner rockers return with a vengeance. There’s a reason why these guys have had a nearly 20-year career, and listening to the professionalism and sheer geekery inherent on the album makes it readily apparent. I’d love to see these guys on a bill with Queens of the Stone Age.
In 2004, Houston’s Southern Backtones released a self-titled EP that marked a radical shift in the band’s sound. Originally a rockabilly project–with a fairly rabid fanbase–the Backtones instead channeled glam-era Bowie and late-80s college rock, alienating some fans but gaining many more in the process. In the years since the last release, other than the occasional single, the band has been mostly quiet, honing new songs, chasing storms, and finishing up 2011?s Honky Tonk Blood film. Given the band’s previous dramatic change, it should come as no surprise that La Vie En Noir brings another departure in styles and sound.
Singer/guitarist Hank Schyma’s deep and sexy vocals are in full effect on the new album, but it’s the music that again is the major difference. Full of spaghetti western influences–with the requisite hints of glam–La Vie En Noir is a dark, mind-altered trip through windy country roads and out of the way, Tarentino-esque dive bars. Southern Backtones’ music seems a perfect soundtrack for these types of experiences, and songs like “Bandera” (moody, country-tinged) and “Dive Disco Misfits” (glam rock) best demonstrate the extreme range of the band’s influences.
10. The Rebecca West, Lost And Found EP (Self-released)
Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of The Damnwells. Given the fact front man Alex Dezen has teamed up with his sister, Houston musician Cameron Dezen Hammond, and her jack-of-all-trades musician husband, Matt, it was inevitable I’d give the band a chance. But I was skeptical. The project screamed of glomming onto the already crowded indie-folk bus, but the trio’s songwriting alone makes Lost And Found a keeper. Space City Rock published a great review/interview with the band this year.
VIDEO: “Lost And Found”
11. The Manichean, Lovers (Self-released)
Dramatic in the best sense of the word, The Manichean’s music is difficult to pin down. Some songs are over-the-top rockers and some are mellow poetry, yet both styles work. For a while now, the band has been one of the most talked about live acts, and Lovers definitely captures the excitement of its performances.
12. Featherface, Actual Magic (Self-released)
I cannot put my finger on exactly what draws me to Actual Magic, but a lot of the album reminds me of a modern-day ELO–and that is definitely not a bad thing.
VIDEO: “I Saw You Dancing”
13. Omotai, Terrestrial Grief (Treaty Oak Collective)
The fact that I see metal bassist Melissa Lonchambon (who also plays in Peloton) and her producer husband at the local grocery on a regular basis [no, I'm not stalking you guys] makes me laugh. Sauntering down the aisles at 8:30am on a Sunday isn’t typically what you’d think one of the most rockin’ musicians in Houston would choose to do. But it’s true. Anyway, a drastic departure from her days in Sharks and Sailors (a personal local favorite), Omotai is excellent in that it plays to the best qualities of heavy metal: raw, crunching guitars, and deadly, powerhouse rhythms. I can’t wait for the vinyl edition that comes out in February.
VIDEO: “This Is For Zora”
14. Female Demand, Outside The Universe (Self-released)
Insanely experimental guitar and drums–and loads of pedals–make for a strangely addictive mix. Seeing the band’s showcase at 2012′s Houston Press Music Awards was hands down one of the most energetic and fascinating sets I saw. Outside The Universe lets you control the volume. Sadly, the duo has since disbanded. You owe it to yourself (and the band) to buy a copy of this album. Seriously.
VIDEO: Live from Free Press Summer Fest
15. The Dead Revolt, A Night Of Nostalgia EP (Self-released)
Prog rock for the modern day, without the pretense of most similar bands.
STREAM: “Delusions of Grandeur” (via Bandcamp)
16. Bang Bangz, Self-titled EP (Self-released)
“Dreamy” and “moody” are words the band uses to describe itself. And they’re not far off. There’s definitely an electronically sedate aura to Bang Bangz’s songs, which continues to help the band build a name for itself locally. The band’s full-length is out this spring.
LISTEN: “Give Up The Ghost” (Radiohead cover/remix, via Soundcloud)
17. Weird Party, Hussy (Self-released)
Weird Party’s music is an amalgam of the greater aspects of underground rock–that raw, intoxicating, unbridled passion–late 70′s punk, and indie rock, that reaffirms my faith in gritty, sweaty rock’n'roll. There always will be, and always should be, bands like this.
VIDEO: “How The Breast Stung”
18. Day Sailor, EP (Self-released)
While Day Sailor’s songs aren’t typically my style, there’s no denying the pristine vocals and songwriting that run throughout the band’s EP. It’s mellow and thoughtful, and that’s what kept me listening.
19. The Ghost of Cliff Burton, The Maybe Laser (Self-released)
Irreverent and off the wall, exactly as you expect from former members of The Black Math Experiment (“You Cannot Kill David Arquette”). Where The BME’s oddball antics might alienate some listeners, The Ghost of Cliff Burton’s songs are poppy and catchy. Still unique though… Sadly, the band went on “indefinite hiatus” at the end of 2012.
20. The Wiggins, The Myth of Man (Team Science)
Equal parts raw and noisy, musician Jon Read’s latest release as The Wiggins skirts along the fringes of early 80′s British alternative rock (a la The Jesus and Mary Chain and Joy Division) and late 70′s New York City punk (a stripped Stooges comes to mind at times). Fans of the mainstream will likely find little to like in The Myth of Man‘s buffet of influences, but discerning ears will definitely enjoy the experimental bent.
VIDEO: “Golden Age”
Please support these artists by purchasing their music.
Let me know what some of your 2012 favorites were.