New Austin Music Worth Your Bandwidth This Week
What we’re listening to
By Raoul Hernandez, Michael Toland, Carys Anderson, Derek Udensi, Laiken Neumann, Kevin Curtin, and Doug Freeman, Fri., June 11, 2021
Choctaw Wildfire Album Release: Uh-Huh
Sagebrush, Friday 11
"Omnipresence," bigass word: "the presence of God everywhere at the same time." Charlie Pierce possesses such an Old Testament voice on Uh-Huh, that of the One Above or He That Dwells Down Below. No in-between here for Omniscient, the narrator. Think Orson Welles.
From the count-in on the first of eight tracks, "Say No to Drugs," Hawkeye – er, Pierce – resounds right up front in the mix: left channel, right channel, mid channel, chest cavity. "I tried saying no to drugs, but the drugs don't take 'no' for an answer/ I took a turn at falling in love with a sweet little dancer." Like Charley Crockett, the vocal fingerprints of Choctaw Wildfire's alter-ego hook the ear at every point, here his "-er" on "answer" and "dancer" taking a hard R, like "-errr."
And the substance in question spills literally, but also ingests Bryan Ferry's favorite opiate as well as most musicians' ultimate life narcotic: "I paid my dues eating up road/ Lord, it's the only life I'll ever know."
Feel Pierce hammering down on piano, too, the ambience of the room big, bold, and brassy, like they cut Uh-Huh live at the Preservation Hall in New Orleans, only with a booming drum sound off the Secret Machines. Looks like Gibby Haynes, sounds like Leon Russell, wrote one geezer, and on "Say No to Drugs," the bandleader manages the command of the former without the aid of a bullhorn, yet with the anthemic magnetism of the latter's late musical realism. Meanwhile, the rhymes pump forth as if from a hospital IV:
"I've been up for days and days that I still can't remember/ And I spent a year or so, just trying to forget her/ Wouldn't let go when she wanted to run/ Sometimes a needle is a smoking gun."
Deep, heavy, and melancholic, "Say No to Drugs" still soars, chopping white-line fever by utilizing a troubadour's credit card. "I put down a fifth today, but I only did a little bit of cocaine," intones Pierce, blowing up the last word. "And I've been driving through the pouring rain/ It's been so very hard to maintain/ I feel the devil burning my brain/ Pour me a shot to keep me sane."
At the opposite end of the album, "Dingleberry Pie" bookends an equally up-in-arms rouser, about which the Chronicle wrote last October: "The return of Choctaw Wildfire stages a raid on the white man's bathroom, pantry, and presidency, brass promenade 'Dingleberry Pie' advancing the locals' first LP since 2015's Mad Dogs & Englishmen runoff Nowhere by ticking off some 80 pie types in just over three minutes." Its profane video summarized the 2016-2020 shit show most succinctly.
Between those two attention-getters, Uh-Huh falls in with a French Quarter drum and fife parade ("Doing Alright"); takes a dubby, Leonard Cohenesque jaunt ("Trouble"); ripples as if possessed of some vintage Tumbleweed Connection ("Survive"); and rumbles Waitsian ("Bad Road"), Pierce leading his band of merry men through a heavily Big Easy-centric stomp & holler. Core groupers Leland Potter (percussion), Will Landin (tuba, bass), Jeffrey Barnes (clarinet, saxophone), and Spencer Jarmon (guitar) enlist Michael St. Clair (trombone), Derek Phelps (trumpet), Kullen Fuchs (trumpet), and Zach Varner (clarinet, saxophone). Thus, horns snake throughout like serpents inside the Egyptian tomb Indiana Jones disturbed, while sticks on the tom, Toots Thielemans-esque mouth harp, outlining electric guitar, and a balladic thrust at an upbeat, cantering tempo ("Love Me") clock a Cosimo Matassa/Allen Toussaint tightness.
"I was fortunate to catch quite a few Dr. John shows," emails Pierce about the NOLA lean of Uh-Huh. "Saw him open for the Stones once at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Caught him at the Chicago Theatre as well; snuck backstage after to meet him. He nodded out mid-sentence when we spoke, which definitely wasn't out of the realm of expectation. Such an amazing performer and so much chutzpah."
"Chutzpah," that's Choctaw Wildfire in a word. – Raoul Hernandez
Grupo Fantasma, Nané
ACL Live at the Moody Theater, Saturday 12
Latin/rock/psych/cumbia/world-beat Austin conglomerate Grupo Fantasma put out its American Music Vol. VII in 2019, but the tour dates fell to the following year. Audiences thus missed the joys of the big band's most wide-ranging album yet, not to mention all the pent-up voltage musicians have begun unleashing. Grupo shows pulse high energy anyway, and with the opportunity to show off a strong album, this one should leave cracks in the floor from the dancing. An equally catholic rock & soul act who parlayed a sold-out residency at Stay Gold into opening gigs for the likes of Black Pumas, Nané opens, Grupo drummer John Speice IV having produced last year's self-titled debut. – Michael Toland
Darkbird, Otis the Destroyer, Blushing
Mohawk, Saturday 12
As Red River reopens, Mohawk returns with a stacked June schedule showcasing Austin's best indie acts. As Darkbird, headliners Kelly Barnes and Brian Cole dabble in both rollicking swagger and sentimental atmospherics, two ends of the alt-rock spectrum that find common ground in intensity. This duality explains the band's support: Shoegazers Blushing revel in the ethereal, while rock & rollers Otis the Destroyer nail Nineties-style organized chaos with melodic fuzz. Blow out your ears in the front or hang back from the club's top level and let this lineup remind you of all that can be done with a guitar. – Carys Anderson
Alex Coke Quartet
501 Pedernales, Tuesday 15
Decades into his career, woodwind-meister Alex Coke is a bona fide Austin jazz legend. A member of Dutch big band legacy Willem Breuker Kollektief for a decade, he co-led local bop quintet the Worthy Constituents and still serves in the late Tina Marsh's long-running Creative Opportunity Orchestra. 2019 release Liminal #1 features a typically adventurous slate of Coke originals performed with ATX luminaries like bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, trombonist Michael St. Clair, and steel guitarist Bob Hoffnar. Backed here by guitarist Bruce Saunders, bass thrum James Suter, and drummer Masumi Jones, Coke and company will swing like mad. Per usual for Tuesday Monks gigs, the show benefits the Austin Jazz Society's Project Safety Net, and while it will be livestreamed, a limited number of tickets for in-person astonishment exist. – Michael Toland
OTM Thraxx Twofer
Eastside rapper OTM Thraxx released nearly 15 tracks after deciding to pursue music full-time only last year. A new 90-second track premiered on YouTube last month before its June 1 upload to Spotify, "Time Is Money" acts as an introductory course to most things OTM Thraxx. A dirty guitar loop and 808s make up most of the beat for the 22-year-old to alternate various emotional states. A new YouTube video loosely centered around his recent birthday, "Chosen 1" showcases the burgeoning rapper in his preferred element of Auto-Tune-assisted rhymes as he explains hopes of overcoming various trap-related obstacles. "My name is Thraxx and I aim to make my whole city proud/ I can't let 'em make a strain off me/ Remain the same in my lane/ Imma stay a G," he declares as an elevator pitch. – Derek Udensi
8bit Wizrd: Good Morning EP
Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal
True to its name, Good Morning feels like a reawakening. The soft wails and lo-fi guitar of 2020 full-length Mood Killer sink into Reece Myers' new EP, buoyed this time by a twinge of hopefulness. The Aledo native sprouts "Phase" in quick strums that dance with a replenishing atmosphere. Even the few sharp plucks of "Through That Door" uplift the dense downbeat and hint at understanding: "I had to see a different side of it." Electric buzz backs a bout of moving on in "C'est la Vie," where a stumbling beat and sickly-sweet synths meet in harmony. Relief doesn't come easy, though. "Don't want to wake up and feel this burn again," he drones on closer "Any Day Now," with a tedious, mocking mantra close behind: "Any day now, it gets better." Flowing synths erupt into a bright, glittering wave; the repetition might work. In four tracks, Myers evokes a postapocalyptic optimism: still battered, unhealed, but marveling at possibility nonetheless. – Laiken Neumann
Giovanni Carnuccio III, "P.C.H.D.M.T"
The amalgamated acronym "P.C.H.D.M.T" fuses America's coolest drive, the Pacific Coast Highway, and the world's greatest hallucinogen, DMT. Just imagine that road "trip" – fractals on Hearst Castle, Big Sur in the spirit world. Giovanni "Nooch" Carnuccio III, who's hit the drums in Red Dirt acts like Turnpike Troubadours and Parker Millsap, now gets weird with genre-spliced beat music like an uncluttered Avalanches. Teasing July LP A Matter of Time, "Nooch" doses a sprightly flamenco guitar arrangement with dance-floor-ready drum breaks and synthesized Italian folk violin. Headphones recommended for the mind-altering stereo panning. – Kevin Curtin
Ida Red: Harmony Grits
Fronted by Rose Sinclair and Sophia Johnson, and with more than a name nod to Bob Wills, Ida Red's debut full-length sweeps with jazz-toned Western swing that tributes tradition while still licking remarkably fresh. The Sam's Town Point regulars raise a quartet to rip Wills' "Fat Boy Rag," Tennessee Ernie Ford's "Tennessee Local" and "Rock City Boogie," and the 1946 title track instrumental honoring female pioneers Mary Lou Williams' Girl Stars. Sinclair's steel guitar rivets against Johnson's six strings on originals like the lurking "Spider Blues" and sendup "Ida Blue." Johnson's vocals breeze "Restless," but the trading off on "Twin Guitar Special" captures the pair at their best. – Doug Freeman
Rett Smith, "The Hook"
Spotify, SoundCloud, YouTube
Behind last year's Giving Up on Quitting, Rett Smith turned a more introspective ear, shifting from the heavy riffs of his band Saents and more rocking territory of 2015 solo debut Tularosa. The Lone Star native also returned to Austin after stints in Nashville and L.A., and What the Walls Cannot See, due out later this year, further hones his brooding singer-songwriter direction. Lead single from third LP The Hook, the title track plods darkly behind his understated growl and recruits Jessica Lea Mayfied to shade vocally with her Midwest twang, resulting in a richly dark ballad that imagines Nick Cave as Texan. Smith writes with a somber intensity, yet remains compellingly melodic from the sunken, gasping chasms. – Doug Freeman