Beautiful Nightmares (Bully World)
Understandably hungry amid a broad reset, the grimy Beautiful Nightmares features veteran Austin MC Lil' Bully (LaDarrian Torry) sounding appropriately desperate not to allow the sun to set on his rap career without a proper fight. Consider the cinematic, Boz Bozi´c-produced five-track EP his statement of purpose. Here, the rapper sounds like Superman – spinning the globe backward, reversing time, pulling our star back to the high noon of an alternative future.
Abolishing the ominous "DoWrong" handle (revist "Hip-Hop on the Verge," Music, Jan. 16, 2015) and adopting new official moniker Lil' Bully "doesn't mean to step on others," says the nephew of late League of Extraordinary Gz leader Octavis "Da 6th Street Bully" Berry. "It's a reminder to be fearless and to be yourself unapologetically, and to never compromise your morals no matter the severity of the circumstances." For him, those "circumstances" include the shooting death of his father and his own noted run-ins with Austin law enforcement.
Both chapters have created a new maturity and focus in Torry.
Simultaneously, his and Bozi´c's combined insistence on low waste, renewed intensity, and pathos begins from the first word. On the muddy, North Memphis-tinged trap of "Van Go," the rapper describes running from the police followed by a new lease on life after a defibrillator jump-started his heart. "I've been like this ever since I was a kid!" he says in a chant on the Swagga P-assisted block-centric "Django."
Bozi´c's cogent production reaches haunting levels on "Lick," akin to a trapped-out, late Nineties Portishead. Torry's deepened voice and streetwise flows carry wisdom and experience versus the youthful, white-hot fury of previous projects. Moreover, the extended play shines in its tautness and efficiency, with only one track over three minutes.
An all gas/no brakes affair, the 14-minute runtime serves its voice as the best he's been. LaDarrian Torry is no longer a resentful, wayward boy. No, Lil' Bully is a young man with a label, star potential, and a plan to reach new heights. – Kahron Spearman
Facebook Live/YouTube, Friday 26, 7:30pm
Initially scheduled as a stacked New Year's Eve show at Empire Garage, then pivoting to the web during last week's most homebound stretch of the year, the Black Live Music Fund and Six Square's Thankful finally finds a spot. No loss to the lineup, all seven artists are scheduled to perform with mainstays and up-and-comers bridging hip-hop and neo-soul including Eimaral Sol, Nook Turner, Deezie Brown, J Soulja, Jake Lloyd, and Nnedi. Headliners Riders Against the Storm share an exclusive performance celebrating the release of new album Flowers for the Living, the eponymous single of which featured Clarence James and dropped in December. The event is free to stream, and donations can be made to both orgs running the event. – Greg Stitt
"Home is a sarlacc pit," deadpans a voice on "You Are Not the Hero of This Story," the intro to Mobley EP Young and Dying in the Occident Supreme. Backed by an Ennio Morricone Midwestern theme and marching percussion, the song compares the all-encompassing maw from Return of the Jedi to the indifference of Western society until the song ends with, "There is no frontier." That preludes "James Crow," a sleek, bouncing, radio shoe-in that he wrote back in 2018 in Thailand, an opportunity affording him an objective lens to critique America's systemic racism. Its grim wordplay prompts more of the same with the sinewy, electro limbs of existential malaise ("Nobody's Favourite") and hedonism ("Lost Boys/Occidental Death"). Like 2018 debut Fresh Lies, "Dreams of Empire," and "Mate" find the ATX pop polymath navigating his nuanced relationship with the United States. Yet beneath both those layers – waxing poetic and sleek, modern musicality – Mobley masterfully composed a guitar-centric pop piece that gleans an expansive palate of R&B bass romp and supernova psychedelia. Just as the beautiful twofer "Lost Boys/Occidental Death" splits, the former into a dilated trip and the latter into an intimate requiem, the EP begs to be expanded into a full-length album. – Alejandra Ramirez
Beto Martinez might become to Buda what Adrian Quesada manifested in Austin: cottage industry, scene ambassador, national breakout. Both men won a Grammy in Latin big band Grupo Fantasma, both hail from Laredo – a city that breeds ambition and arch survival techniques – and both guitarists produce, talent scout, and branch off into other vehicles. The latter you know from Black Pumas, while Martinez posts up in Santana-esque powerhouse Brownout and South American psych groovers Money Chicha. Now comes Los Sundowns, pairing him with Daniel Villarreal, drummer for Chicago alt.Latino group Dos Santos. On the duo's eponymous six-song EP – dropped on Martinez's label imprint Lechehouse Music, which also titles his Buda studio where initial sessions occurred last January before COVID swept the planet – Los Sundowns plays to its name. Like a time-lapse video of 24 hours in the desert, the subtle but continuous flow and grow of neon electro-life is hypnotic. The siren-esque bleat of keyboards, which creates the instant sway of the alternate Latin reggae pioneered by Alamo City hero Augie Meyers in the Sixties, carves out space with the guitar on an oasis groove of fiery, muted, sunset pinks. That's opener "Los Angeles," while wind off the ocean crests "Endless Bummer." Bilingual, balladic, atmospheric, nocturnal: Los Sundowns. – Raoul Hernandez
Sudden and unforeseen creation, Ordainment of Divinity emerges from the caves of Austin's most wretched metal band. Last year elicited Skeleton's smashing self-titled album on primo Northwest imprint 20 Buck Spin and 2021 promises another full-length, but betwixt them lands this surprise EP. Intro "Opening Rites" pumps a droning organ over cinematic percussion: a kick drum that sounds like soldiers marching into hell, plus a whiplike crash cymbal, and another mysterious instrument that may just be a rattle filled with human teeth. The black sacrament then explodes into tracks titled "I" through "IV," orchestrated solely by guitarist David Ziolkowski, that take the group's blackened, blasting, death metal to new levels of intense rawness. Demos from the lair. – Kevin Curtin
You can't spell "evolve" without "love" ... and a couple extra letters. Ever a quirky lyricist probing the human condition, Wilson Marks examines romance with an appreciation for the unknown on this standalone single following his virtuous 2020 LP True Beauty Is in the Random. Behind the restless kick drum of a lo-fi loop, Janie Cowan's slippery upright bass, bent electric guitar, and hotel lobby piano, "Reinventing Cupid" coalesces trip-hop, coffeehouse jazz, Harry Nilsson lyricism, and a Flaming Lips-like psychedelia. Meanwhile, Marks' boyish voice breaks the fourth wall with the winking quatrain: "You can't believe everything that you've heard/ Every pop song is a problem/ Coined by one who couldn't solve them/ Excluding this." A direct hit from cupid's bow. – Kevin Curtin
Until he gets back onstage, Texas' best balladeer keeps his weekly residency ritual alive with Sunday and Wednesday livestreams, yet James McMurtry's also been digging through the archives. Last summer, he offered up an EP of live shots with his band ripping at the Continental Club, its proceeds benefiting his homebase club. Now he drops the other side of the repertoire with this four-song solo acoustic set from the club's intimate upstairs gallery. The live favorites pull from 1995 LP Where'd You Hide the Body, gritting through his harsh narratives with "Delaware," "Melinda," and classic "Levelland," and closes with the sharp-picked "Peter Pan" debuted on 1997's It Had to Happen. McMurtry's vivid tales of edged-out lives and obstinate endurance remain unparalleled. – Doug Freeman
Since releasing their Vol. 1 LP in 2019, David Beck's quintet has upended country classics with Tex-Mex flavor and stellar results. Last year, they shuffled through renditions of Merle Haggard's "If We Make It Through December" and paid tribute to the late Billy Joe Shaver with "Live Forever." Now, they offer up homage to King George Strait with his two-song A Tip of the Hat. "The Cowboy Rides Away" swirls behind David Herrera's accordion and synthy keys by Peter Huysman, but the cumbia rhythm that Beck's upright bass and Dees Stribling's drums find in "Ocean Front Property" provides a real treat as the Strait classic emerges uncanny and new. – Doug Freeman
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Bryson Philen details the ambitions of a bona fide hustler on debut solo album Trill Livin'. The J Soulja associate rhymes with fervor while refusing to shy away from getting personal across the January tape's 10 songs. Poignant closing track "Right Here Right Now" directly addresses both the North Austin MC's response to his mother's drug usage and his desire for a reprieve from the pain. Philen makes himself vulnerable in openly questioning the merits of his blessings and hardships alike. He's a battle-tested fighter thankful for each day, yet he pauses to ask why intermittently. He demonstrates a penchant for melody, yet maintains the essence of street-hardened bars that strike an emotional connection to many lyrics. It's a formula New York rapper 50 Cent utilized effectively during his peak, a blueprint followed by Bryse on the clearly 50 Cent-inspired "Ambitions of a Hustla." These 27 minutes make the 4Life4Ever Ent. artist one to watch going forward. – Derek Udensi
Scary situations can do a lot of things to a person, so Stretch Panic built an art fortress – or rather, haunted house. MJ Haha, Jennifer Monsees, and Cassie Baker go on a ghoul-inspired excursion decorated in surf moods and indie hues on debut full-length Glitter & Gore. Taking notes from Alfred Hitchcock for "Psycho Mama," and influenced by all things spooky, the local trio tackles anything from the stifling patriarchy to blood-sucking relationships ("Vampire Love"). Featuring songs from their 2017 debut EP Ghost Coast alongside eight new pieces, the Panics breathe new life into their early garage recordings. With the addition of a full minute of melody and dramatic key change, "Symphony of the Night" now resonates in chilling vocalizations and paradisical bass lines. For the finale, listeners find themselves "At the Ball," slow dancing to a psych-driven Carrie fantasy. That's before the Austinites switch gears into hopping swing riffs. Wielding whimsical lyricism and futuristic synth waves, the Panics encourage us to be kind to fanciful pop. Have a little empathy. – Alyssa Quiles
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