Caught 'Em in Autumn

Up against the wall, local scene

October 2007: Crane fall down, go boom
October 2007: Crane fall down, go boom (Photo by John Anderson)

What does Austin sound like right now? Well, to answer that question, which someone posed recently, you have to think about what it looks like right now. On Red River and surrounding areas, condos and hotels are springing up, buildings are being bulldozed down, and traffic cones and barricades line the street, guarding the ever-present rubble. There's an element of danger – you might be crushed under an errant crane – but there's also a surreal commingling of old and new and an uncertainty as to what lies ahead for the area.

The music scene on Red River is at an interesting tipping point, as well. Many of the "big" Austin bands of the last few years have outgrown the clubs, and there's now a unique and diverse influx of younger groups and musicians rubbing up against the old Austin guard. Red River's facade is undergoing a transformation, and while everyone's debating about responsible growth and the noise ordinance, the live scene is growing under the surface.

This is a small sample of some of the bands rising above the din of demolition and construction, and while this group only represents a fraction of the noteworthy bands out there every night, it's of a snapshot of Austin right now. Get ready to rumble. – Audra Schroeder

Zeale 32 (l) and Phranchyze
Zeale 32 (l) and Phranchyze (Photo by Aubrey Edwards)

Zeale 32 and Phranchyze

When Zeale 32 and Phranchyze step onstage, they do it in style, laced-up in limited-edition Nike Dunks that would make the most dedicated sneaker freak envious. The duo takes shoe fashion seriously. Phranchyze even penned a sneaker-pimp anthem.

Zeale (Valin Zamarron), 24, and Phranchyze (J.J. Shaw), 23, have also built a buzz with high-energy live shows and next-level beats. Zeale rides futuristic soundscapes with the swagger of a young Jay-Z, while Phranchyze adds relentless energy and comedic timing. In separate interviews, Zeale said he's been listening to Tool and Radiohead, while Phranchyze mused about the qualities of great frontmen like Axl Rose and Smokey Robinson. No wonder these guys don't sound like typical Texas screwed-and-chopped fare.

The pair knew each other growing up in South Austin and reunited several years ago at a UT rap battle. Though they remain solo artists, they've been collaborating ever since. Zeale was a 2005 semifinalist at the famed Scribble Jam battle, and the two recently joined forces for the 2-on-2 World Rap Championships. In the Houston regional division, the duo steamrolled the competition, handing out verbal beat-downs on their way to an undefeated record. In January they'll compete for $50,000 in the finals in Las Vegas. While Zeale is a more polished MC, Phranchyze's energy and theatrics make him a rap-battle beast. Take this extemporaneous knockout punch leveled at Houston's Versa Jay:

"I'll take this reverse albino Smurf and power-bomb him on this fine-stone earth until his spine don't work and he needs Terri Schiavo's nurse. ... You the only black dude that rocks a rhinestone shirt!"

Zeale and Phranchyze each roll out independent albums in coming months that might just ride the momentum from the World Rap Championships.

"I think it's good for the game that Texas has some representatives," Phranchyze says. "The question is, 'Can Texas come with a different flavor?' because all they're projecting is one side of Texas right now."

Here's hoping the game is ready for Texas hip-hop with a South Austin twist. – Thomas Fawcett

Caught 'Em in Autumn
Photo by Sandy Carson

Manikin

"You know how sometimes you see a band play a show, and it makes you happy to be exactly where you are? You don't want to be anywhere else or doing anything else; you are convinced that there is no better place in the world than where you are at that very moment? That's how I feel whenever I see a Manikin show."

Richard Lynn, founder of Super Secret Records, says he started his label after seeing Manikin play a warehouse show in Houston in 2001, and the love affair has continued from there. While the quartet pulls a few shards of its metallic clang and crunch from bands like Joy Division and Gang of Four, there is indeed an unmistakable Manikin sound. The current lineup – Alyse Mervosh on drums, bassist B.J. Schindler, trumpeter Bill Jeffery, and guitarist/vocalist Alfonso Rabago – has come a long way since forming in 2000 with Doug Cohenour on bass and Lisa DiRocco on drums. The sound, however, was already forming.

"We wanted something different than what was going on at that particular moment," Rabago says. "We wanted to be a punk rock and rock & roll band, but in the classic sense; it's both masculine and feminine at the same time. It was just natural for us to pursue a more post-punk sound."

Manikin's 2002 self-titled debut set a nice pace, but 2005's follow-up, Still, solidified the sound with buzz-saw guitar and a neck-snapping rhythm section. Rabago's shouts on Still's "Face the Wall" are genuinely menacing, and it's his often-militaristic bark that pairs Manikin with some of those "bleak" and "ominous" tags. Rabago sees nothing wrong with that.

"Yeah, it's on purpose. With all the sadness in the world, it's really hard not to be a little more serious. Besides, there are enough party bands in town."

Not that Manikin doesn't make people want to climb walls. Like all good punk bands, they keep it short and full of controlled shocks, and their upcoming 7-inch, M Theory, promises more plump, jerk-worthy slabs.

"The rhythm is king, of course," Rabago explains. "Developing a song between the three of us is a compromise. I tend to make the songs way too long, Alyse likes it short, and B.J. just wants to tear down walls." – Audra Schroeder

Caught 'Em in Autumn
Photo by Sandy Carson

Transmography

James Evans, the left-handed half of Transmography, is only half-kidding when he refers to his invented instrument of choice as "prepared guitar."

"I was attempting to create an electric percussion instrument using just guitar and metal," he expounds. "One of my old roommates worked at a construction site and was always bringing home these weird scraps, so I decided to plug it all in and give it a try."

Like an abstract artist throwing bits of paint at a blank canvas, Evans slashes and scrapes the cold steel, creating a junk pile of cacophonous sounds and rhythms. The guitar picks up the vibrations, which are then filtered through effects pedals and incorporated into Transmography's assortment of electronic instrumentals. It redefines "metal machine music," and when performed live, sparks fly.

"I can control the sustainability of the sound and even some of the pitches," Evans contends. "It turned out to be way more expressive than I was expecting. I've never played it the same way twice. That part of the show is always improvised."

Prepared guitar, however, is only one element in Transmography's ever-expanding palette of sound. The group originally formed in 2002 as an ambient, post-rock fourpiece but became increasingly more experimental as its members dwindled. Now Evans and percussionist Michael Frazier play musical chairs with instruments, taking turns on keyboards and drums (occasionally juggling both at once), while Evans lays down the low-end clutter on bass. Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of Transmography, though, is the duo's odd time changes, which play off the audience's expectations and need for resolution.

"We have a weird musical dialogue that's going on all the time," explains Frazier. "It really evolved on its own."

Recorded live at Matchbook Studios and released through the 8088 Record Collective, a nonexclusive digital-distribution network, Transmography's third album, Polydactyly, captures the duo's performances through eight inventive instrumentals that run the gamut from sweaty electro-punk workouts to drum 'n' bass suites akin to a Big Business/Don Caballero hybrid. They aim to push boundaries even further when they head back into the studio in December.

"I think our ultimate goal is to make people scratch their heads with one song and dance the next," Frazier concludes, "or both at the same time, if they're really talented." – Austin Powell

Caught 'Em in Autumn
Photo by Aubrey Edwards

Ume

If you've seen Ume live, you've probably been temporarily transfixed by singer/guitarist Lauren Larson's physical presence. A low purr turns into a gruff growl, and once she really gets going, pummeling her guitar and letting the unnnnhhh into her voice, her body and head seem to unhinge, and her blond hair whirls in dizzying circles. Possession is an understatement. Rounded out by drummer Jeff Barrera and husband/bassist Eric Larson, the trio balances vertiginously on the loud-quiet-loud dynamic, and it makes for a wham-bam of a live show.

As fate would have it, Lauren and Eric, who have been married for eight years, met in high school in Houston. "I was 13 or 14 and getting into punk, psych, classic rock," she says. "I was always more a pianist and oboist; then I picked up my brother's guitar and started playing Nirvana tunes, and then I started listening to grind-core."

When she inevitably joined a thrash-metal band at 15, she says she would stand onstage with her back to the crowd. Consequently, when Ume formed in Houston in 2002, there were initially no vocals.

"When we first started, I never sang; I was terrified of the microphone," Lauren relates. "Then I decided I was just gonna scream."

And she does, quite often and impressively. 2005's debut, Urgent Sea, on NYC-based label Pretty Activity, which brought them to CMJ this year, was an impressive but overlooked debut afloat with thrashy and sludgy guitar and a fist-tight rhythm section that called to mind bands like Unwound. A follow-up is in the works, but for the time being, it's Ume's live shows that put the chaos theory to the test. When Lauren flails around, as one reviewer put it, "like an unmanned firehose," it's a wonder she doesn't get whiplash.

"I try to not have any inhibitions and just rock out and have fun doing this," she says. "And I get, 'Oh, you're so little,' a lot. When people meet me in person, I catch them off guard." – Audra Schroeder

Caught 'Em in Autumn
Photo by Aubrey Edwards

Mothfight

When steampunk emerged as an offshoot of cyberpunk in the late Eighties, it quickly encompassed a subculture of retro, DIY, mod design fascinated by the Victorian era, and science fiction. With their elaborate artistic flair and penchant for gadget reverse-engineering, Mothfight has become Austin's contribution to the genre.

"A lot of times there's a discrepancy between technology and aesthetics, so being able to put those together in a way that includes both is important," offers Jessica Boettger. "That's sort of the idea behind steampunk, taking the technology and housing it in better aesthetics than we have today, something that's not factory-produced but handmade."

"We're really just interested in hooking things together to see how they work, and sometimes the inventions are awesome, though they may end up killing us later," adds Kevin Adickes with a laugh.

Gathered in the studio space the group shares with the Octopus Project, there's barely room for the sextet and their miscellany of assorted instruments and toys. The members, including Cue drummer Jason Brister and San Antonio violin whiz Marcus Rubio, joke with a youthful, rambunctious air apparent within their music, an explosion of seemingly chaotic sounds melding into a din of shouts and electronic manipulations.

Despite the almost entropic inertia of Mothfight's music, amplified by the unhinged intensity of their live shows, the group's songs are meticulously crafted. As principal songwriter, Adickes harnesses the various elements into a collaged coherence.

"I think that too often experiments are released for the sake of them being experiments and showing how clever you are," asserts Adickes, who has also played in the Octopus Project and Single Frame. "And I don't think that's what the end result should be."

For the release of their debut 7-inch, Hopscotch (Natrix Natrix), the group staged an extravagant Victorian pageant at Mohawk, complete with phrenology readings and a spirit photography booth, a union of modern technology and antique idealism. Unlike other bands that have begun to embrace steampunk as a musical genre, from industrial goths like San Francisco's Vernian Process to fantasy New Wavers like Seattle's Abney Park, Mothfight's relation to the genre is embedded more in approach than sound. – Doug Freeman

The Golden Boys
The Golden Boys (Photo by Aubrey Edwards)

Boys Town

"They're like the uncles you smoke weed with at funerals," Strange Boys mouthpiece Ryan Sambol laughs of the Golden Boys. "They're awesome."

What a pair. The Strange Boys, barely legal and hitting up garage rock with morning-after sway, and the Golden Boys, 10 years their seniors with a penchant for raucous live shows, trekked up the East Coast together late this summer. Tonight, they meet at Randall and Donya Stockton's Rio Rita, Beerland's Eastside little sister. No stage, no guitars, just a Chronicle tab and room to stretch out.

The Golden Boys' sophomore LP, Whiskey Flower (Emperor Jones), took a Texas heat wave and turned on the window unit last summer. Recorded in multi-instrumentalist Nathan Arbeitman's home with lots of help from Rock n Roll Rentals and Lone Star tallboys, Whiskey Flower is a sepia-toned photograph bled through nights of balls-out shows and a million miles of blacktop. And a third LP is already seeping out. The now-Austin fivepiece (singer Matt Hoopengardner was the last Canyon Lake holdout, with John Wesley Coleman on guitar, Bryan Schmitz on bass, Pat Troxel on drums, and Arbeitman) is a "chicken-fried psychedelic sonic hayride," paints Schmitz.

The Strange Boys
The Strange Boys (Photo by Aubrey Edwards)

"We're like selling acid to 12-year-olds," he jokes.

"And the Strange Boys are more like buying acid," pipes up 20-year-old guitarist Ryan Sambol.

While the Strange Boys might take notes from their elders – Ryan's brother and SB bassist Philip even cites Golden Boy Schmitz as a mentor – they stand cool and confident. Ryan's pursed vocals feed a stoned and psychotic basement party, as the Austin-via-Dallas quartet – the Sambol brothers plus drummer Matt Hammer and keyboardist Greg Enlow – muddies earlier spastic blasts on 7-inch Nothing (Dusty Medical Records). A long-awaited debut LP is in the can.

The conversation turns to influences, from the Golden Boys' Jay Reatard, Lee Hazlewood, and Yellow Magic Orchestra to the Strange Boys' Marx Brothers, baseball, and doughnuts. Then it's vinyl vs. MP3 – vinyl wins, of course – the still-strong local scene, and pizza. The Strange Boys quiet down (with two nondrinkers) and let the Golden Boys holler (only one on court-ordered abstention).

Troxel: "If there was an old band that got as drunk as they could with their best friends and got onstage and broke shit and woke up the next morning like, 'Wow, that was the worst thing ever, but I totally loved it,' then we're definitely ripping them off."

Schmitz: "When the Strange Boys get famous and the Golden Boys are riding their coattails, one of the first things that we're going to demand is that Randall gets everybody more beer tickets!" – Darcie Stevens

Caught 'Em in Autumn
Photo by Sandy Carson

Yellow Fever

Yellow Fever writes the kind of song that immediately gets stuck in your head. Not just one song but many songs.

The spawn of singers/guitarists Isabel Martin and Jennifer Moore has been a gnarly one: They were also in the short-lived Fart Face together, while Moore spent time in local faves Voxtrot and Sixties pop group the Carrots, and Moore, Martin, and drummer Adam Jones were in Teenage Dog, which also included Cole Huddlestein, who recently joined on guitar when Martin left for NYC. Whew.

As an inverse re-creation of Teenage Dog's spare, goofy pop, Yellow Fever evokes the hazy early-Nineties sound of the K Records stable: Take a simple bassline or snare; add honeyed harmonies; pair for instant catchiness. The vocal hooks that inhabit songs like "Psychedelic" or "Ratcatcher," from last year's debut self-titled EP, recall the sweater-weather sweetness of the Vaselines; even the a cappella "iMac," a regretful song about spilling a drink on a friend's computer, is endearing and affecting.

Moore and Martin's harmonies make up the core of Yellow Fever, but Moore says it came naturally.

"We would sing a lot when we hung out; then we would change the lyrics," she recalls. "Or we would just walk around and make up Broadway songs. Then we started writing our own songs. I would harmonize with my little sister to The Sound of Music, and Isabel was kind of like that, too."

The idea for Yellow Fever was to be unadorned, a less-is-more approach, and the initial trio of Moore, Martin, and Jones proved an ideal setup.

"When I was in Voxtrot, it was almost like there were too many people onstage," Moore explains. "So with Yellow Fever what I wanted was melodies, sparse with not too much going on, or at least less going on."

With a new member and a recent 7-inch, Culver City, on twee NYC label Hugpatch, the trio recently joined forces with local indie I Eat Records. When asked about the name, Moore admits she wasn't familiar with the term but is quick to point out just how indicative it is to their sound.

"I didn't know it was a nickname for malaria or an Asian fetish," she laughs. "I just thought it meant, like, enthusiasm." – Audra Schroeder

Caught 'Em in Autumn
Photo by Mary Sledd

Leatherbag

As Hurricane Rita bore down on Houston in the wake of Katrina in 2005, Randy Reynolds packed his car with two suitcases and his guitar and evacuated, leaving behind his hometown and the debris of a broken four-month marriage. Settling in Austin, Reynolds began recording under the name Leatherbag, releasing a string of albums for local imprint Superpop, which culminated in his full-length debut, last winter's appropriately titled Nowhere Left to Run.

"I'm in a completely different situation than I was, and I've had to learn to embrace that," reflects Reynolds. "There are a lot of songwriters I know that have to be in a bad place to write, and I just think that's crap. You have to learn that it's not just about yourself, and if you can get that first line, just write. Everything's up for grabs, whether it's a poster on the wall or something somebody said at a party. And as long as I have that line, I can go anywhere with it, but I can always come back and start again."

Following his lines, Reynolds has become one of Austin's best and most versatile young songwriters. His two EPs, last year's So Long, Sweethearts and splendidly melancholic Love Me Like the Devil, showcased his blues and folk roots, respectively, while Nowhere Left to Run shifted into Dylan-inspired rock behind a full band. In addition to working on two new Leatherbag albums, Reynolds also formed the improvisational noise trio Diamonhead, is collaborating with Philadelphia experimental-folkers the Nace Family, and recently completed a project with members of the Channel called No Bridges to Cross, whose eponymous EP will be released later this month.

"I've come to this realization that I'm 28, and if I don't take advantage of every project I can possibly do right now, what's the point?" Reynolds ponders. "The only thing left if you don't do this stuff is for you to say, 'I really should have done that.'

"Everybody wants to have that one moment where they get to say something really, really meaningful and have an audience," he continues. "It doesn't have to be so complex; you can say something really meaningful without saying much at all. But you have to work, and it's all work. You probably won't even know when you reach that place, because you'll be working. And that's why I'm working." – Doug Freeman

Caught 'Em in Autumn
Photo by Aubrey Edwards

White Denim

White Denim's live show exists in a continuum somewhere between a three-ring circus and a game of Simon Says. Vocalist James Petralli dances and cups the microphone as if his every movement were controlled by his guitar. Josh Block puffs cigarettes and hammers out sloppy polyrhythmic beats. Bassist Steve Terebecki lays down the Big Boys-esque grooves. The looseness and spontaneity pour over the audience, always appearing two seconds from completely falling apart.

"They're well-rehearsed songs that probably come across like we're just rocking out for the hell of it," surmises Block. "A lot of people think we're an improv band. It's always going to sound a bit different, but you just have to deal with what you have. We prefer to just not worry about it."

White Denim formed in February 2006, following the demise of the noise-rock outfit Parque Touch, and self-recorded a back catalog of more than 30 songs in their home studio. The trio's sprawling debut EP, Let's Talk About It, pressed on gorgeous red-and-white vinyl and released earlier this year, shows flashes of Captain Beefheart's warped brilliance and avant-pop musings, compacted into minutelong blasts of soulful post-punk.

"It's kind of a collage," says Petralli. "It has to do with the way we collaborate. We work a lot separately, and no one feels like their entire approach can be captured in a drunken three hours."

"We're pretty haphazard with it," Block furthers. "We pretty much just throw things up against the wall and see what sticks. The songs are always a work in progress. We learn how to play it live after we've shaped the recording."

Coinciding with the band's first-ever trip to CMJ, White Denim recently issued a nine-song tour EP, which reveals even more Faust-like studio experimentation, ranging from tin-can scrapes and banjo interludes to Sixties-style psychedelic freak-outs. The blog-championed threepiece is also in talks with RCRD LBL, an innovative new branch of Downtown Records (Gnarls Barkley, Cold War Kids).

"We want to keep exploring and doing things a bit different each time so that people have to wonder what happens next," Petralli concludes. "By the time we release a full-length, I think we'll be surprising a lot of people." – Austin Powell

Caught 'Em in Autumn
Photo by Sandy Carson

Pataphysics

Pat Healy, a former Zom Zom, is an excellent frontman, already adept at spazzing and twisting and doing the "shoulder dance." As Pataphysics, he initially played solo as a sort of hyperactive Gary Wilson, but he's now backed by Dirk Michener on bass, Chef Pittman on drums, Erich Ragsdale on synth, and Matt La Comette (also of electro project Aunt's Analog) on lead guitar. A typical show involves hearty audience participation, a great cover of Red Krayola's "Hurricane Fighter Plane," the channeling of early Devo, and possibly a chance to see Healy convulse like Richard Simmons after a Sizzler buffet binge. – Audra Schroeder

Caught 'Em in Autumn
Photo by Mary Sledd

Dana Falconberry

Dana Falconberry's voice is a study in paradox: delicately soft yet powerfully dynamic, warmly inviting yet brazenly defiant, emotive yet wise beyond her 27 years. She moved to Austin in 2005 after studying dance at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., and the Michigan native graced Peter & the Wolf's Lightness with an ethereal beauty that buffered Red Hunter's deep croon. Last year's debut EP, Paper Sailboat, established Falconberry as one of Austin's most promising singer-songwriters in her own right, encompassing a plaintive yearning borne within the title track and "My Sweetheart, My Dear," while "Leave in the Middle of the Night" surged with a bluesy restlessness, and the astounding "Sadie" anchored the EP with a ballad of loss. Oh Skies of Grey, Falconberry's full-length debut scheduled for release next year, expands her range even further with a full band and Gina Dvorak and Erica Maassen's enveloping harmonies. – Doug Freeman

Mice & Rifles
Mice & Rifles (Photo by Aubrey Edwards)

Country Sides

While local artists still pay homage to the holy trinity of Wills, Williams, and Willie, a crop of bands has emerged to tend Austin's progressive-country roots. The new breed may be best represented by the alt.country-themed Wednesday nights at Hole in the Wall, which includes the Lonesome Heroes, who have created a scene by bringing together notable acts ranging from the Texas Sapphires to American Graveyard.

Helmed by Rich Russell and Landry McMeans, with former Weary Boys Cary Ozanian and Darren Sluyter on rhythm, the Heroes' self-described New Age country pairs Russell's smoothly scratched vocals with McMeans' airy, twanged harmonies and expertly accented lap steel and Dobro. Sunny Eyed Highway Songs, the group's follow-up to last year's debut EP, Don't Play to Lose, is expected next year and further hones the band's forlorn sound.

Like the Lonesome Heroes, Mice & Rifles also drive an expansive but decidedly darker West Texas texture. Featuring members of Maneja Beto; Quien Es, Boom!; Grimy Styles; and Just Guns, the sextet reinvigorates roots rock behind Kevin Brinkkoeter's distinctive baritone and poetically sardonic lyrics. 2006's All Kites Up EP introduced the group, and next month's second EP, Beginner's Luck, promises to be equally impressive.

Currently finishing his third effort, Graham Weber may have one of next year's best albums with the release of The Door to the Morning, as he steps away from the singer-songwriter folk that defined 2003's debut, Naive Melodies, and last year's Beggar's Blues. The Ohio native's new songs roll through a full, piano-based rock sound that nonetheless maintains the subtle revelations of Weber's delivery, channeling John Prine ("Candle's So Close"), early Wilco ("Snow in July"), and Tom Petty ("After the Boulevard"). Weber is also preparing a collection of new songs for a live album recorded at the Cactus Cafe.

This summer the Archibalds quietly released a fantastic full-length debut, O Camellia, on Superpop Records, following the irreverent, genre-bending trail blazed by the Gourds. The project of Alabama transplant Joey Thompson, whose multi-instrumental backing has become a cornerstone in labelmate Leatherbag's band, the Archibalds contort country influences into warped folk-rock. "Sinking Ships" jumps with a zydeco zest, while "Meth Mouth" could have been dug up from Beck's One Foot in the Grave. The soulful "Muzzleloading Evangelicals," however, may best capture the quartet's blend of Southern rock balladry.

Finally, among this year's best folk debuts is the Dark Water Hymnal's eponymous release, eight songs that wash in the wake of early Iron & Wine. Jeremy Ballard's understated delivery plies Jim White's softer moments with the ominous beauty of Leonard Cohen. The recorded trio has since expanded to six members, filling out the sparse acoustic arrangements. – Doug Freeman

Caught 'Em in Autumn
Photo by Aubrey Edwards

Alright Tonight

If only Alright Tonight had been around to score all of John Waters' movies. The trio – Clarke Wilson of Those Peabodys on bass and former Attack Formation members Rebecca Whitley on guitar and Omari on drums – mixes a sweet, dirty cocktail of Sixties pop and early-Nineties punk à la the Rondelles. Whitley's Peek-a-Boo Records alums Junior Varsity are only a slight influence, though hand claps can and will happen. You can smell the cigarette smoke and hair spray from the first notes. – Audra Schroeder

Caught 'Em in Autumn
Photo by Mary Sledd

Brazos

As one of the central members of the notoriously impromptu Tonewheel Collective, Martin Crane became accustomed to playing with a loose assemblage of musicians, a trait that has served him well as his band, Brazos, attempts to find a stable lineup. Despite releasing two EPs this summer, the group has been forced to balance the schedules of Nathan Stein, who plays in Tacks, the Boy Disaster, and Paul Price, who joins Stein in the Early Tapes, while also adjusting to a revolving cast of drummers.

"Your style changes a little bit with every different drummer, and you can't help but play your instruments differently," reflects Crane as he picks apart pecans on the patio at Spider House. "Cully [Symington], the first drummer, was like big rock; every time he hit the snares it was huge, so we played huge. With Estaban [Cruz], it was more punk and scruffy, and we played looser with him, junkier. And Josh [Block of White Denim] is really energetic, supermanic."

Inconsistency has nonetheless proven valuable as Brazos reined the varying influences into one of Austin's best live shows. Brazos' two EPs display an even broader versatility, though neither features the band in its live formation. Feeding Frenzy revels in a lo-fi frivolity that recalls the Tonewheel Collective's gatherings, while A City Just as Tall, released last month on the artist-conglomerate label Autobus, was played and produced entirely by Crane. The recording belies its expansive orchestration, which layers jarring piano runs across "Comatose" and brooding beats and a backdrop of haunted, tinny guitar on "Mrs. Virginia," all accented by the fragile desperation of Crane's vocals.

"It was really more composed than played," he says of the new EP. "It was a painful process, in a room by myself. Just locked in my room. The two things that I got most from it were realizing the nuances of what you play that you don't really hear live, and that's what really makes a song jump out, and then learning how to just listen to a song and think about what it's not doing or what it's not getting done. It was a frustrating process." – Doug Freeman

Caught 'Em in Autumn
Photo by Aubrey Edwards

Ringo Deathstarr

Any old band whose singer ends a set by dry-humping his guitar so it emits an ear-splitting squeal of feedback can catch your eye, but Ringo Deathstarr's also really loud. The tinnitus-inducing combination of volume and reverb isn't anything new, but the quartet, led by singer/guitarist Elliott Frazier, takes its forefathers' advice and turns up the tremolo anyway. Their recent self-titled EP, awash in reverb with very pointed guitars underneath the squall, makes you long for the days of 120 Minutes, as Frazier's often Jim Reid's sonic twin. It would be easy to cook up a new genre for a post-shoegaze (nu-gaze?) band like RD, but, as Frazier demonstrated, lust-core is really more appropriate. – Audra Schroeder


Caught 'Em in Autumn

Lions

In the world of local fourpiece Lions, it's all about the rawk & roll. And maybe the 'stache. From the classic riffs of 2006 smokin' debut Volume One to the furious stoner jams and double-stacked amps of this year's heavier sophomore blast, No Generation, Lions leap from sludge to metal to Texas boogie in the time it takes to stomp the Big Muff and turn up the volume. Frontman Matt Drenik's no newbie to the Austin scene; along with drummer Jake Perlman, he worked up the Good Looks until eruption, but mixing with bassist Trevor Sutcliffe and guitarist Austin Kalman two years ago was like dropping whiskey and cream into a foaming Guinness. No Generation was saved from a major label nightmare at the last minute, but with "Metal Heavy Lady" rubbing elbows with Kiss, Alice Cooper, and Heart on the new Guitar Hero III, who needs a stinking label? – Darcie Stevens

The Jungle Rockers

These old-school rockers are so genuine their vinyl collection even smells like 1958. It's Bo Diddley by way of the Ramones, just technical enough to show their prowess but sweaty enough to prove their move from Cleveland to the South was warranted. The Jungle Rockers are sexy and dangerous, quiet and mysterious, the kind of boys who would've sent your mother to the priest for counseling. Last summer's eponymous debut EP introduced the boys to the River City, and in a matter of months, they exploded. No surprise; Austin loves them some bad boys who can swing that axe. "Check the way I walk, what I say, how I dress. I'm rockin' black Chuck Taylors 'case I wanna jump a fence. 'Cuz I'm a jungle rocker." Hell yeah. – Darcie Stevens

Teeners

A Teeners show should remind you why The Decline of Western Civilization was such a great movie. The quartet, led by screamer Johnny Vomitnoise, excels in loud and fast Germs-style punk with unintelligible lyrics, frantic guitar, and disheveled drums. This is the kind of music that makes people break beer bottles over heads and put cigarettes out on arms. Super Secret just released their self-titled 7-inch, featuring the vitriolic acid-throat of "Ms. 45." Vomitnoise's voice is a broken instrument in itself, half drunken shout, half bemused growl. Place that over a loose handful of ramshackle songs, and a Teeners' live set never goes far beyond 20 minutes, but it's exhilarating in a car-crash sort of way. Thanks to equally notable and frequent bill mates like the Hüsker Dü-ish quartet Party Garbage, the hairy attack of the Ape-Shits, and amped-up pop punk trio Sex Advice, Texas punk's still punch-drunk. – Audra Schroeder

The Murdocks

After releasing their eponymous debut EP in 2003 and full-length follow-up, Surrenderender, two years later, the Murdocks seemed to disappear with the departure of bassist Robert Houghton and drummer Tim Dittmar. Yet the band has always primarily revolved around the schizophrenic rock vision of Franklin Morris, and with Kyle Robarge and David Jones now filling the lineup behind bass and drums, respectively, the group has re-emerged with some of their best work to date. Whereas the Murdocks' first two albums rankled against an alternative punk edge, the trio's new songs burst with an almost power-pop fervor, melding classic Sixties garage with the contemporary indie lilt of the Shins. The newly formatted Murdocks plan to release the tentatively titled Roar EP by the end of the year, to be followed by a full-length in 2008. – Doug Freeman

The Strange Attractors

"The drone is supposed to take you to a different place than where you're at," offers guitarist and vocalist Jeremy Diaz. Following the demise of Dallas' Dead Sexy and Hot Rails, Diaz and fellow vocalist and guitarist Kevin Pearce descended upon Austin in the summer of 2005. The quartet's self-recorded and self-titled debut, originally intended to be demos, is one of the strongest local efforts this year, sounding at times like a darker and more claustrophobic Spaceman 3, with cryptic social commentary bleeding through the fog. "It's a byproduct of the times," says Pearce. "We focus on things that people don't necessarily like to think about or acknowledge." Diaz takes it one step further: "It's supposed to be a little uncomfortable for the listener." – Austin Powell

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Manikin, Ume, Transmography, White Denim, Leatherbag, Yellow Fever, Brazos, Mothfight, Phranchyze, Zeale 32, The Golden Boys, The Strange Boys

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