Revisit all of our 2021 Artists of the Month
We’ve been keeping a watchful eye on Nané since their debut single “Always On My Mind” earned a heavy rotation spot on our airwaves late last Fall (and deservedly so). The group was born on the UT campus back in 2016 when singer Daniel Sahad first linked up with guitarist Ian Green, and soon Nané was having no problems selling out venues like Stay Gold, mesmerizing thousand-person crowds, and opening for Black Pumas and Bob Schneider.
Now with the added firepower of bass player Scott McIntyre, keyboardist JaRon Marshall, and drummer Brady Knippa, plus a self-titled debut album produced by Grammy-winner John Speice IV and engineered by Adrian Quesada of the Black Pumas, Nané is poised to claim those major headlining spots for themselves when venues reopen.
Among all the successful talent emerging from Central Texas – Waco’s Hi-Five, San Marcos’ BROCKHAMPTON, Austin’s Gary Clark Jr. and Black Pumas – you can add another rising star to the list: Wes Denzel. The budding rapper/songwriter has been quietly building his career out of San Antonio. He released the EP Every Summer in 2019 and followed up with the full length I Was Almost Happy in late 2020.
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Is there that much difference between love and loss? Austin band Sun June, who jokingly refer to their 2018 debut recording as ‘regret pop’, found themselves in different circumstances when the time came to record their new album, Somewhere (released February 5th via Keeled Scales). Collaborators Stephen Salisbury and Laura Colwell are now a couple, and that became the foundation for new material. “I guess the biggest difference,” vocalist Colwell considers, “is how we are looking at our relationship together, and at grief in a more present way. We aren’t looking too far in the rearview – rather we are exploring who we are to each other now. We’ve also been going through a few life changes together and that snuck its way into our songs. Time is weird and, while we try to do our best to not repeat past mistakes, sorrow still seeps in.”
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Austin’s Calliope Musicals often call their music psychedelic, but don’t expect fuzz drones and sitars. They’re psychedelic only to the extent that their wild technicolor pop feels mind-expanding. Over the years their songs have exploded with ideas, pushing the limits of what three minutes could constrain. Yet on their new EP Between US, out April 23 on Spaceflight Records, something new takes over – call it rhythmic purpose.
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Sasha and the Valentines
So You Think You’ve Found Love?, the first full-length from Austin’s Sasha and the Valentines, eludes your usual indie-rock expectations. Lead singer and principal songwriter Sarah Addi might cite the Cranberries, Beach House, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra as influences, but the lived-in pop that spills out of the album seems more akin to a bygone era. Think Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry”, Dusty Springfield’s “Just One Smile”, or Nancy Sinatra’s “Some Velvet Morning” (which Addi admits is a favorite, along with her grandmother’s copy of the Moody Blues “Nights In White Satin”). This is an album that betrays some serious contextual planning. “I think that subconsciously came out of my like, well, love” Addi confesses, “of the movie musicals like West Side Story and The Sound of Music. And the kind of dramatic, beautiful, melodic songs that come out of those things.”
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In a world full of surprises, here’s a band to match. Austin’s Indoor Creature, a six-piece group of twenty-somethings, makes modern pop music. Think Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Beach House, and the like, and you wouldn’t be too far off. You know, bands that like exploring production and have an arsenal of more than three chords at their disposal. And though Living In Darkness is the third Indoor Creature release, in many ways, it feels like their first.
Singer and principal songwriter Caleb Fleischer explains. “Our previous work was really just me and Travis [Kitchen, drummer, guitarist and band co-founder] doing full-on production, letting the creativity find the path. We were pretty much genre-less for a while. It was electronic drums, samples and real instruments, and we kept getting the same critique: ‘Wow, we really like the way you guys sound live but none of your recordings sound like that.’” So they set out to make a record that sounded like the live band. “Without losing too much of our creativity, because ultimately, in the recording setting, you want to go for gold even if you won’t be able to replicate it. We wanted to have all the tracks with real drums, we’re going to learn how to record drums and we’re going to record all the instruments. This one was kind of a throwback, I guess you could say, to more of a traditional way of making an album.”
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When it comes down to it, many musicians have similar origin stories: Older siblings and/or parents deeply into popular music, playing songs and dragging them to all sorts of inappropriate shows at a very young age.
Yet for Daniel Fears, things went another way. Growing up in a religious Houston household, secular music was strictly forbidden. Fears caught the music bug from a different source.
He explains. “We were going to Lakewood Church in Houston. My mom was the music director there. I’d go to rehearsals with her, so I’m hearing these excellent church musicians probably three times a week as well as on Sunday morning.”
Working with producer Moses Elias, Fears culled hours of studio time down to a powerful six-song EP, Canopy. Recorded and released during the pandemic, the music is intimate, intense, sublime. An impressive video companion is also available on YouTube. And he’s already working on new material, all of which fall under the same emotional grip. It’s as if he’s making up for lost time.
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I’ve heard a lot said about the Austin music scene, from it being a stepping stone city for artists to it the way it creates the best live performers. That last one holds true for the New Jersey native, now Austin-based soul crooner, Sam Houston, the frontman for BLK ODYSSY. BLK ODYSSY have honed their skills on the stage, and become one of the best performing bands in Central Texas, finding their voice in full force on their new album, BLK Vintage.
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When vocalist Acey Monaro lit out for her native Australia last summer, she and her husband Ben Burdick left behind high COVID rates, an inactive Austin music scene, and the rest of their band. Go Fever, a fixture on the Austin scene since 2017, had just finished an intense ten-day June session at White Denim’s Radio Milk studios, recording their second album. But when it would be released, or when the band could reconvene, remained uncertain.
In this time of endless introspection and echo-laden synthetics, Velvet Fist has the effect of a door slamming at a funeral. You sit up and listen. Call it melodic ferocity. It can be a bit retro (the band calls themselves ‘uncool’ in their bio, and Stones and new wave influences do bob to the surface), but their songwriting wit places them very much in the present day. It’s bracing hook-laden indie rock, where auto-tune is vanquished, guitars aren’t shy, and neither is Monaro, powering track after track into a thrilling frenzy. Like all good records should – and so few actually do – the nine tracks fly by. It all ends way too soon.
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It was a great plan. The Austin outfit Money Chicha, a more nimble offshoot of Grupo Fantasma, plays the Amazonian psychedelic rock Cumbia known as Chicha. They had already brought in Peruvian Chicha superstar Jose Carballo (guitarist of La Nueva Crema) for a couple of short sessions and workshops they captured on tape. And they also had started work on their own second full-length album, after years of single releases, recording at Sonic Ranch Studios in West Texas.
COVID derailed it all, of course, and left the band with two unfinished albums. So they combined them.
Joining Carballo and Cruz in the all-star lineup is Colombian American vocalist Kiko Villamizar. And the band has assembled some mash-up videos, with Carballo filmed separately, to help promote the release. The result, Chicha Summit, is an exuberant joy to hear, a non-stop rhythmic propellant with explosive guitar bursts, that sounds like it was just as much fun to play.
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Buffalo (real name: Carl) Nichol’s thin and wiry music bristles in the best American blues tradition. Nichols’ unadorned voice is framed by steel picking, while the occasional bass drum wanders in to lay down a beat. His evocative storytelling speaks of a country that doesn’t work for everyone, with a voice in turns gritty, soulful, impassioned. Born in Houston, raised in Milwaukee, now based in Austin (“I heard great things about [the city] and wanted to see what it was like“), Nichols leaves wide-open spaces in his songs that speak of his own nomadic existence. “Listening to this record,” he says, “I want more Black people to hear themselves in this music that is truly theirs.” Without a misstep, his tales of suffering hit points both personal and universal, and with quiet grace, he pulls you deep into his world.
His debut album, Buffalo Nichols, is out now on Fat Possum Records, their first present-day blues signing in years.
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