New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
What we’re listening to
By Kevin Curtin, Doug Freeman, Derek Udensi, and Michael Toland, Fri., Oct. 16, 2020
Atonement (Hex Records)
Atonement, in the Christian paradigm, means ponying up for your sins.
Think about that. Simply being born into this world with opposable thumbs makes you wicked, a ludicrous concept if you've ever held a baby. Nevertheless, we're supposed to reconcile with God through sacrifice and guilt.
The term takes on a different meaning as the title for the Exhalants' sophomore full-length, particularly the second syllable. Atonement packs a lot of "tone."
The deafening ATX trio's utilization of a clean sound, scarcely hinted at on their eponymous 2018 debut, first appears on opener "The Thorn You Carry in Yr Side," wherein a glacially serene guitar interlude interrupts the track's otherwise bass-heavy, Unsane-like, cement mixer sound. That shoegazing element thrives on "Definitions," a midtempo, talk-sung potboiler where you can actually feel Steve Pike's strings vibrating on the aluminum neck of his guitar, eventually erupting into a fog of distortion and cymbals.
That growing sonic dimension adds an extra air of breathability to the dynamic punks' decibel-pushing sound.
And you'd hate being "Richard." Over an agile 16th note riffing, Pike assails the subject with a virulent bark: "What makes a man a coward? Is it his pride or wealth?" The harsh frontman mines his most abstract poetry to date on trumpet- imbued, post-punk mariner "Lake Song," a two-perspective lyric about the uncertainty of life.
Even on an LP thriving with music diversification, Exhalants' secret weapon remains powerful, multipart breakdowns. They reach an instrumental Everest on the roaring "End Scenes," whose crunch bass from Bill Indelicato flips the time signature and drummer Tommy Rabon's fierce rolls split the difference between hardcore and free jazz. That's the Exhalants' move: songs with lots of distinct parts that never feel compositionally abrupt.
Serious song constructors, these three. – Kevin Curtin
Kerrville Folk Festival Virtual Celebration
YouTube, Saturday 17 & Sunday 18
Kerrville boasts the longest continually running music festival in North America, so although the 49th annual spring campout necessarily canceled, the streak continues online. The free virtual version replicates KFF's unique community gathering, most notably with the prestigious New Folk Songwriting Competition concluding Saturday behind a winners concert. Second weekend highlights also include concerts from Trout Fishing in America, Peter Rowan, and Latina supergroup Texicana Mamas (Tish Hinojosa, Stephanie Urbina Jones, and Patricia Vonne). The true Kerrville magic happens around the late-night campfires though, and the song circle camps also gets a virtual revamp on Zoom. – Doug Freeman
Ali Holder October Livestream
Facebook/Instagram, Saturday 17, 7pm
Ali Holder delivered her second full-length album quietly this spring, but Uncomfortable Truths remains one of 2020's best local releases. A breakout for the songwriter, the LP courses with a raw energy and insight, at times scouring with the fierceness of Fiona Apple ("Take Me as I Am," "Speak One") and searing with the confessional honesty of Aimee Mann ("Bad Wife," "California," "Lightning Rods"). Holder seeks a voice for wounds beneath the surface, digging into the quiet devastations buried under scars but still throbbing and powerful. In the excavation, she finds an exceptional beauty and strength. – Doug Freeman
Quin NFN, "First 2 Do It"
Quinlan McAfee gathered steam with a consistent stream of fury-filled releases a couple of years ago and last year inked a deal with indie label TenThousand Projects, home to rappers Iann Dior and Trippie Redd. March mixtape Quincho felt like a solid return to the 20-year-old's fast-paced roots. Teases of its "deluxe" version followed this summer after a collaboration with Compton MC Mozzy ("G-Route"), yet no new material debuted. "Da 4" East Austin flagbearer recently revealed on his Instagram that the updated version of Quincho remains shelved due to label conflict, but also declared his intent to drop songs in the meantime. "First 2 Do It," currently a YouTube exclusive, features Quin in his usual element of street-oriented trap. Accruing more than 350,000 views in less than two weeks, the clip reasserts Austin hip-hop's brightest star. – Derek Udensi
Kade Fresco garnered enough momentum in 2017-18 to draw a Lil Baby feature ("On My Own") before the Atlanta superstar blew up last year. The Pflugerville native born Stephon Brown founded his own video directorial brand, Fresco Filmz, but drops several tracks annually. The current Houston dweller released two contrasting singles in August. "Love Shit," featuring a sing-rap style in Auto-Tune over an acoustic guitar loop, shrugs a simple premise: Fresco's tired of fake love from romances and friends alike, so from now on he's only coming through with his "gang." On "Off Rip," the 26-year-old rapper pops off like a rottweiler. – Derek Udensi
Walter Tragert: "The Wreck of the MAGA Armada"
On Sept. 5, a flotilla of fools dropped into Lake Travis for a "Trump Boat Parade." The influx of activity contributed to choppy conditions and four boats sank, their passengers requiring rescue by emergency responders. An instantly iconic photo of waves overtaking a vessel hoisting no less than 10 Trump flags looked like a hilarious play on Washington Crossing the Delaware. In the wake of the Trump navy debacle, cunning local lyricist Walter Tragert repurposed Gordon Lightfoot's 1976 maritime folk staple "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." New lyrics include: "Jet skis and yachts met a wind of five knots with those free maskless faces a'smiling/ When the lake stole their fun, they all called 911, 'Twas a socialist number they're dialing." – Kevin Curtin
Band of Heathens: Stranger
Band of Heathens' seventh studio outing grapples with the disconnections of our time, though the veteran Austin quintet continues to polish down its notorious live jamming impulse for smoother, Seventies folk-rock vibes. The quintet choogles with a Southern rock energy for opening "Vietnorm," then leans into a Mavericks-esque melody on "Dare" and the dark, swanky strings and growl of "Black Cat." Otherwise, Tucker Martine's production keeps things light and tight, setting up a dichotomy between anxious ponderings ("How Do You Sleep," "Truth Left") and the band's harmonies and easy grooves (road odes "South by Somewhere" and "Ashville Nashville Austin"). Stranger doesn't pretend to offer answers or antidotes, but it manages to soothe in seeking calmer heads. – Doug Freeman
Alex Maas, "Been Struggling"
Alex Maas possesses one of the most timeless voices in Austin music and now you can really hear it. Amid the droning soundwaves of his flagship act Black Angels, the Texas native hovers sonically like the throat-of-the-universe, but with the first glimpse of his debut solo bow, an increasingly down-to-earth, emotional quality carries through. Via an economical three-word hook ("you shoulda been"), his voice pierces vintage pop landscape. An uptempo waltz of glistening steel guitar notes and propulsion from a hefty snare, "Been Struggling" teases Dec. 4 full-length Luca, co-produced by Spaceflight Records maestro Brett Orrison, which Maas says reflects "a whole different part of my brain." – Kevin Curtin
Churchwood: Plenty Wrong to Go Awry
Four years away and six months into the 2020 horror show, Churchwood returns! Eric Bohlke now pounds skins behind guitarists Bill Anderson and Billysteve Korpi, bassist Adam Kahan, and firebrand mouthpiece Joe Doerr, but Plenty Wrong to Go Awry on perennial Satan Antonio imprint Saustex Records indicates nothing else changed. The locals still play blues as if the instructions got lost in translation, with dissonant guitar harmonies circling each other like crabs and the rhythm section kicking the beat around like a soccer ball as the whiskey-voiced Doerr spits out a deranged barrage of verbiage befitting his status as a professor of poetry. Churchwood's beautifully misshapen sound is perfect (dis)comfort food. – Michael Toland
ZZ Top: Live in Texas double white vinyl
Debut domestic waxing of a 2007 rodeo in Grand Prairie that yielded a CD, DVD, and Blu-ray the following year, Live in Texas endures as thick, juicy, and filling as Lone Star BBQ. Whereas this sequesterization, as Dr. John might have slanged, began with the Hall of Fame Houston trio in a Netflix documentary, this white vinyl double LP fits another catalog rhinestone in the Texans' belt buckle. Although Billy Gibbons starts opener "Got Me Under Pressure" at a croak, Dusty Hill duets a save and by "Jesus Just Left Chicago" everything's smoothed out into the gloriously pressurized, post-industrial sludge blues the band's been pounding out in its forge since Recycler in 1990. "Muchas gracias," growls Gibbons. "Are we having a good time now?" Yais. B-side bonus track "I Heard It on the X" rumbles thick and beefy like an enchilada, but rejoinder "Just Got Paid" fairly melts under withering slide guitar from Gibbons. Simmer down then occurs on album midpoint "Rough Boy," sonically wrought utilizing the LP art's cool blue hues. Side C back-to-backs "Gimme All Your Lovin'" and "Sharp Dressed Man" get down-n-dirty, while the final wax flip quakes a prehistoric-heavy "Tush." Have mercy. – Raoul Hernandez