Born Stupid (Shimmy-Disc/Joyful Noise)
Gibby Haynes pulled focus in the Butthole Surfers, but Paul Leary set the stage for the frontman's star turn. His fevered mix of acid-smashed arrangements and twisted guitar heroics sculpted the Surfers' best tunes with a trash can full of eye-popping, ear-gouging noise that still rings true today. Despite a secondary career as a producer, Leary's been strangely silent since the Surfers slipped into hibernation, with only 1991's wild-eyed quirk The History of Dogs to his solo discographical name.
Now, exactly three decades later, the local axe maniac steps center stage with an overdue follow-up, February's Born Stupid, appropriately released on revived weirdo rock label Shimmy-Disc. Setting aside gonzo psychedelia for demented Americana, Leary immediately unfurls the freak flag with the title track, a slice of mentally unstable C&W that's both artistic manifesto and arch commentary on the attention span of post-Trump Americans. "Mohawk Town" applies a spaghetti Western filter to the all-American "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" rhythm, though it keeps the punks-vs.-punks storytelling cheerfully unintelligible.
Sometimes the guitarist appears to be making a children's record, though "Do You Like to Eat a Cow" (a folky sing-along celebrating carnivorous living), "Throw Away Freely" (a waltz that sounds like a failed audition for a Dr. Seuss special), and "Sugar Is the Gateway Drug" (a brief "Just Say No" message from what sounds like a smack-addled Keebler elf) would get him banned from most elementary schools. Leary also digs through the catalog of his alma mater, recasting the Dicks tribute "Gary Floyd" as oddly poignant psych folk and "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave" as the kind of profane fireside sing-along that gets camp counselors fired. Further spelunking unearths a sonically overhauled but spiritually faithful version of "The Adventures of Pee Pee the Sailor," written for and originally recorded by ATX's seminal Bad Livers on their Leary-produced 1992 LP, Delusions of Banjer.
Keeping the production cluttered rather than overwhelming, Leary saves the most Surfers-esque touches for his gravedigger baritone, filtering it through enough effects to prove Haynes wasn't the only one adept at giving audible evidence of the voices in his head. Though aesthetically different enough to establish a separate identity, Born Stupid unsurprisingly taps into the mother ship's ability to provide a uniquely filthmongering escape from sordid reality. – Michael Toland
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The Vapor Caves (Yadira Brown and Andrew Thaggard) return to your poolside playlists via Steve Arrington/Kashif-influenced gated drums and synths on the effervescent Jackie Venson-assisted "Dreams" for Austin Boogie Crew Records. "We knew she would add something special, but the session flowed so naturally and led to the magic this tune is today," said the duo of the local guitar hero. The unexpected but welcome addition to a dance-floor-ready "psychedelic, modern funk journey" feels right at home behind Venson's fireworks. – Kahron Spearman
Late night, eyes red and mouth watering at the drive-through, you need a soundtrack. On Ben Buck's third full-length of hip-hop instrumentals, the Austin triple-threat keeps his beatboxing and spicy raps in the trunk, Whatabanger favoring pure MPC beatsmanship with a strong thematic flavor. J Dilla baked Donuts, but the son of drummer, deejay, and music scholar Mike Buck savors regional fast food. Peppered with audio morsels of vintage Whataburger ads and burger-centric film clips, the big and brisk compositions here stack sparing instrumental ingredients atop crunchy drums sauced with heavy production textures – not unlike the patty melt on Texas toast. The stoic "Honey Butter Banger" head-bobs supreme, but Buck's at his best when he gets nasty, greasy mushroom Swiss dripping off his fingers. "Triple Cheese" conforms noisy static into a 90-bpm banger, while the bass drum "Big Mick" makes your headphones shake – Kevin Curtin
Bluegrass stringer Sol Chase and comically tilted post-grad copywriter Jared Huskey make an unlikely pairing, but then the Armadillo Paradox thrives on incongruous absurdities. On top of that list sits the capital city itself, which the duo pillories titularly at the heart of their debut long-player, Out of Gas in Oil Country, with, "I don't have enough money to buy into the bullshit you/ Keep trying to sell me about Austin." The acerbic satire works behind expert musicianship and sincerity of delivery, as on openers "Your Eyes Are Like Stars" and horn-blasted "Can't Hold a Job," lambasting love and financial realities with Huskey's droll Stephin Merritt vocals. Chase hits more directly with his traditional folk tenor, whether with the caffeinated outlaw breakdown of "Drive All Day," the relationship regret of "I Wish I Had More Exes," or the bitter history of systemic racism in "American Defeat." Even the bizarre hallucinogenic "Reincarnated Werewolf Astronaut" captivates with a dark, twisting arrangement. Like a bluegrass-based Croy & the Boys, the Armadillo Paradox unwinds an impressively captivating wit. – Doug Freeman
2018's long-awaited debut platter from Jaimee Harris, Red Rescue, didn't surprise in its emotional depth, but rather the songwriter's rocked-out arrangements. The powerful disc roiled with energy and biting defiance, a treatise on survival, addiction, loss, and coming through on the other side. The Congress House Sessions strips down seven of those 10 tracks, and what she trades in via the ferocious rock backing of Red Rescue, she more than makes up for in the clarifying quake of her naked vocals. Opener "Damn Right" especially stuns acoustic, pushing her lyricism to the fore, and "Depressive State" feels remarkably more vulnerable without losing its sharp hook. The soft, torquing tension of the LP's title track strikes even more brutal on the EP without the swelling closing release. As Harris prepares a follow-up, The Congress House Sessions showcases a different but equally stellar side of the songwriter. – Doug Freeman
You know those thought distortions of the pandemic brain: feeling like a caged animal while the absence of social fulfillment makes the potential pointlessness of life more glaring. "Paying bills and getting paid/ Is that the reason I was made?/ Or will my cosmic grace be realized in endless space?" intones Lolita Carroll on this stellar pop single conveying the crushing inner crisis that plagues us. The Austinite's gentle delivery nears ASMR territory over a strong, subtle rhythmic foundation of delay and decay-addled beats and pulsating bass guitar. An in-your-head meditation that's surprisingly uplifting, not only through catharsis but through a feeling of emotional responsibility. – Kevin Curtin
Who tops your post-pandemic concert wish list? The Dead Coats make a convincing case to be the live band of the vaccine summer with Big Wish, a bombastic amalgamation of classic rock & roll. Recorded live in two days with producer Chris "Frenchie" Smith (...Trail of Dead, Ringo Deathstarr), the first release for local imprint Dissent Records bursts in guitars ablaze and voices wailing. "I'm 23 with authority," frontwoman Lauren Warner belts in "Stoner Ray," doing her best Chris Cornell impression. "I'm a shooting star/ Not a setting sun," she quips on the monotony-rejecting "OPF." Her operatic runs command this crisp half-hour, but guitarist Joshua Jones propels the frontwoman well, chopping through nimble opener "Fire Again!" and the jigsaw riff of single "Forsake My Name" before slowing to the soft blues licks of "Blood in the Water" and "Good News Last." This music belongs in a sweaty club, but if you're itching to rock now, these guys ignite a safe outdoor space just fine. – Carys Anderson
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Skylar T partakes in a bit of everything: YouTube, TikTok, cosmetology. The Texas State student began releasing music last summer, and new single "My Dance" continues her gleefully boastful ways. The 21-year-old Austin native declares a willingness to "tussle" within any jungle over an upbeat, siren-heavy instrumental deviating from the Detroit sound of previous release, "Pretty Bitch Freestyle Remix." Skylar juxtaposes rhythmic spells ("I just like to do my dance/ Baby didn't know I'm advanced/ Nearly lost his mind, I put his ass in a trance") with the lack of need for a man to have fun in the first place ("I be lit when I'm alone/ I be dancing in the mirror/ Getting thick, playing my song"). The music video finds Skylar strolling & twerking in the woods with a snake casually draped around her neck. – Derek Udensi
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Arkansas-born, Luxembourg-raised rapper D.Harmon penned his latest single after stateside calls for equality shed a new light on the global fight against racism. "Noir Sur Noir" is French for "Black on Black," and the sentiment of living with an uplifting lens toward Blackness strikes close to the song's core message. "After attending protests in the U.S., I decided to speak on unjust murders and police brutality, which I had never experienced overseas," the Austin-based rapper said via Instagram on March 19. He subsequently aims with pointed yet measured fury at enablers of an unjust system. "You can't take a shot and hope we crack a smile/ Serve and protect like you forgot Trump a pedophile/ But you're targeting our boys and you aiming at our girls/ We sit back and pray for Gigi 'cause her daddy changed the world," utters the 27-year-old in retaliation. DMV rapper Cicero also lends a verse: "Black lives don't matter if these times ain't proof/ It's a lot of n****s talk 'bout solutions, but who act on it?/ Son can't even watch these shows no more/ There ain't no Black on it." – Derek Udensi
Austin multi-instrumentalist Brian Donohoe gets around: jazz saxophonist, sessions for Snarky Puppy and Adrian Quesada, prime mover in multistate muso act Progger. Recorded during and clearly inspired by the pandemic, Donohoe's first solo album puts his skills in service of a whipped cream blend of jazz, contemporary R&B, and electronica. In other words, "fusion," but this isn't Return to Forever. Instead, Donohoe and guests from around the world paint colorful aural soundscapes, ranging from the sensual ("Maze") and dreamy ("Disaster Area") to the groovy ("Slacker Sauce") and pleasantly weird ("More Salt," which seems haunted by the spirit of Dallasite MC 900 Ft. Jesus). Melody and rhythm take precedence over improvisation, although when that's required Donohoe usually yields the floor to his friends despite his own considerable skills. Songs for Trying Times may sound as insular as any other album created during lockdown, but it does so with a warmth that invites commiseration rather than promoting solitude. – Michael Toland
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