What a year for Austin music! If we tried (and believe us, we didn’t – the first of the month somehow always seems to sneak up on us), we couldn’t have come up with a more representational cross-section of all the delights this diverse music scene has to offer. So it’s the holiday season – let’s celebrate! Here’s a roundup of our 2022 Artist of the Month champions.
Revisit all of our 2022 Artists of the Month
The shimmery pop melodies that adorn the work of James Bookert’s San Gabriel project might not be exactly what you’d expect from the multi-instrumentalist, who’s already been a part of two Austin bands, Whiskey Shivers and Wild Child. Yet here they are, reverb-drenched and metronomic pop gems that bounce around your cortex, many of them assembled behind the counter of the east Austin liquor store where Bookert spends time when not on the road. “With Shivers,” explains Bookert, “My role was as a writer, singer, and instrumentalist. Generally, someone would bring in a song, and we would flesh it out together, and then eventually head to a studio. [With] San Gabriel, I’ll generally write a song in thirty minutes, [songs] that for some reason, always come to me around 2:30 am. Then the next day, if I’m home, or have time at work, I’ll start recording. I’ve got a couple guitars, a few keyboards, a bunch of guitars, a couple of synths, and a laptop. So I just play them all on the recordings, and build the tracks out like that. I’ve always enjoyed making music in solitude, this is more of a continuation of that. It’s fun, easy, and informal.” Bookert says he was initially releasing these tunes ‘at his leisure’, but there’s a new batch, including the standout singles “Another One” and “Tape Machine”, scheduled for March, with a San Gabriel full-length to follow later this fall. – Jeff McCord
Read more about San Gabriel and catch his Pop Up Session HERE!
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We all start out one thing. For Jalesa Jessie, known to Austinites these days as Chief Cleopatra, she began as a Corsicana kid dabbling in piano, marching in her school’s drum line, listening to a lot of gospel music. Things happen, grab your attention, alter your perceptions. One of the first Jessie remembers is a Smashing Pumpkins video, which helps to explain why her subsequent R&B/funk/hip-hop recordings as Chief Cleopatra have always laid down an underlying rock foundation. Another explanation is the edge of guitarist Leonard Martinez, her musical collaborator she met after relocating to Austin in 2012.
Read more about Chief Cleopatra HERE!
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Kelsey Wilson once told NPR her stone soul SIr Woman project was “an outlet to work through my own shit.” Maybe so. Wilson’s deep pedigree includes the wildly different Austin bands Glorietta and Wild Child. But whatever the intent, Wilson’s personal outlet didn’t stay personal for long. Fans didn’t miss the way Wilson slipped inside and made herself at home in her easy rhythmic strides. She won Best New Act at the 2020 Austin Music Awards, just in time for the pandemic to shut down plans for her tour and the release of her new album Party City. Instead, a shutdown EP, Bitch, surfaced that summer. And now, her long-awaited debut album, now titled Sir Woman, is about to see the light of day. Wilson’s ode to Austin, “Party City”, carries with it the irony of the last two years. Yet the sentiment is earnest, as it is on her nostalgic hill country romp, “Blame It On The Water.” There’s a carefree and joyous feel to these songs, which carries over to her newest single, “Cape Town Plush”. Yet it’s introspective slow simmers like “Overboard”, “Sleeping Or Dead” and “Good Lady” where Wilson’s warmth radiates. She closes her eyes and gets lost in this music. You will, too.
Read more about Sir Woman HERE!
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Call it ‘album interrupted’. Austin songwriter Stephanie Hunt, recording under the name Buffalo Hunt, had released her album Ambitions of Ambiguity as far back as the fall of 2020 on Bandcamp, but then pulled it back. In the last two years of pandemic, Hunt knew she couldn’t give the record a proper sendoff, so in its wake, the only evidence remaining are a few charismatic videos, “Living In a TV”, “Apple Tree” and “Addicted to Reality”. The songs reveal Hunt’s penchant for crafted, lush pop melodies with Disney-esque harmonies, not entirely dissimilar to St. Vincent. And something more: a need to escape an uncertain existence. The long wait, along with her work as part of the more theatrical music duo Nancy and Beth, heightened anticipation of Buffalo Hunt’s re-emergence. Now, back in her hometown of Austin, armed with a new label – Nine Mile Records, Stephanie is finally ready to put things in motion. The album’s stylings swing wide, with expert backing by the Texas Gentlemen, Shakey Graves and others. And if the scars of uncertainty remain, there’s also promise. Whatever happens next is her own, and finally, this is her time.
Read more about Buffalo Hunt and her new album, Ambitions of Ambiguity, HERE!
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There may be a better Austin single than Good Looks’ “Vision Boards” released this year, but I seriously doubt it. On first listen, this gut-shot, aimed at the expectations of myopic privilege, chants the mantra pounded into vocalist Tyler Jordan’s head: “If the answer’s in yourself, then the failure is your fault.” The laundry list comes next; short bootstraps, ten percent of sales, all “just not working out.” If this sounds like an unrelenting whine, it’s completely the opposite. Something about the repetition, the urgency, the cascading guitars of Jordan and Jake Ames, the near-perfect tone in Jordan’s voice – he’s just not buying this shit. Then the bridge – curiously, at the song’s end – builds to a euphoric peak, as Jordan vanquishes his parents, his demons, God, and even the voice in his own head. “Shut the fuck up,” he tells it. Whoa.
Read more about Good Looks and their hit single “Vision Boards” HERE!
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Caleb de Casper
Caleb De Casper’s debut album, Femme Boy, is a heat-seeking missile aimed at your underpants. And like any good weapon of mass libido, it has the power to make you both uncomfortable and aroused, often at the same time. Unabashedly sexual and unapologetically queer, De Casper struts through 12 songs ranging from glammed up synth-pop in “Danny You’re a F*ckboy” to gloomy ballads like “Never Home,” lamenting the real-world pain and alienation that comes with not fitting in. All delivered with an unflinching, sometimes shocking honesty, that can make even the proudest libertine blush. A classically trained pianist and composer hailing from North Carolina, Caleb De Casper didn’t always feel so welcome sharing his art. A risk that has paid off for him as an artist and for all of us Austin music fans who get to enjoy his notoriously over-the-top performances. The City of Austin has even declared April 21st to be Caleb De Casper Day.
Read more about Caleb de Caper and his debut album HERE!
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After Austin’s Jonathan Horstman left his previous band, he was not anxious to return to that situation. Yet he still wanted to create music. It was only through necessity -a sleeping wife and infant daughter- that he began to plunge into the world of analog synthesizers. “I needed a way to work on music in headphones and synths scratched that itch,” Horstman explained. “I learned as much as I could about every synthesizer I could get my hands on, trying one for 3 months and recording as much as I could, then flipping it for another and repeating the process.” Assuming the Goth-heavy synth sound of Urban Heat was rooted in a love for eighties music, I asked about his influences and got a surprising answer. “ I wasn’t exposed to much music growing up outside of old hymns, so there wasn’t really a reference point. I would just write songs like I always had, except instead of a guitar I would use a synth, and add Linndrum samples. I think that’s what a lot of early synth music was, so that might be why it feels so heavily rooted in the 80’s.”
Read more about Urban Heat and their new EP, Wellness, HERE!
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Bastrop-raised renaissance man Deezie Brown has been appearing on our airwaves since his 2018 debut, Judith. Between the formation of his hip-hop duo Geto Gala (alongside fellow Austinite Jake Lloyd) and an ACL Fest performance at the mammoth Miller Lite Stage, this past year has done well by Deezie. After a recent My KUTX taping, KUTX Producer Jack Anderson sat down with Brown to discuss creative development, accomplishments, and his sophomore album, 5th Wheel Fairytale, out August 2nd.
Read more about Deezie Brown and his newest album, 5th Wheel Fairytale, HERE!
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As much as anything, it was a leap of faith. Moody Bank$ grew up in Torrence, California, came to Texas to play college basketball at Concordia in Irvine, and moved around a lot of other places. She ended up with a psychology major, working in behavioral therapy. “I never really felt like it was what I was supposed to be doing,” Moody confesses. “Everything was good and I was following all the rules, but I kept having a void inside of me, and I didn’t know why. I got a job offer actually, in Austin to work at this studio. Within a week I was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to do this.’ I just packed up all my stuff and drove to Austin and that was it. I never looked back.” Even so, making her own music was not her game plan. “I have always been a singer and I’ve always written songs, but I never actually felt like I could personally do it for a living until I came to Austin. I was just surrounded by so many beautiful people making art and making music. It’s truly where I found myself.”
Read more about Moody Bank$ HERE!
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Como Las Movies
It’s been quite a ride over the last couple of years, and re-reading the 2020 Chronicle interview with Como Las Movies frontman Nelson Valente Aguilar brings all the anxieties of the time back to the fore. So have things settled down? Yes and no.“Post-pandemic has been a whirlwind,” says Aguilar. ”I was planning to take a break from Como Las Movies and focus on dj-ing, since my singer decided to step away. I did not have any interest in having to search for a [new] singer. After a DJ gig with my drummer in Mexico City last December, he suggested that we should come back and play a gig. My response was, ‘What about a singer?’ He responds with a simple ‘You’.”So Aguilar has jumped back into the music with both feet. He had been teaching fifth grade, but like everyone else, his priorities have shifted. If Aguilar sounds a bit overwhelmed, it’s likely from his newfound enthusiasm for re-launching his on-again off-again project. Como Las Movies’ new single, “Cafe’, picks up right where they left off, with a smart groove and an easy charm. Asked about what he is enjoying the most, Aguilar responds, “Everything about the process is enjoyable.”
Read more about Como Las Movies and their new single, “Cafe” HERE!
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“Commitment”, the 2019 song that changed everything for the Austin-based band Luna Luna, unspools like a Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes slow cooker. It’s a soul ballad that takes its time. So it’s ironic that it blew up on TikTok, the app engineered for short attention spans. In just a couple of years, Luna Luna has become a fixture on the Austin scene, and the band just wrapped up performances at ACL Fest. Now comes their new single, “Talk Too Much”.It’s a spright and snyth-y pop mover, full of hooks. And something else: It’s bilingual. Kavvi describes how it came about. “We don’t do it that often, honestly. It’s just coming natural now to when we perform. We do covers sometimes and they’re usually like Spanish covers. We’ve started to listen to more Spanish music together as a band over the past year, just gotten more in touch with that. Spanish music in general is starting to boom here in America in general. So it just came out natural. The cool thing about the song is it has a lot of influence from different eras, nineties style pop in there…”
Read more about Luna Luna and their new single, “Call Me Up” HERE!
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