Every month we turn the spotlight on a new release from a Texas artist with a series of weekly features that give you a sneak peek at the new music and some insight into the artist behind it. Here’s a look back at our 2017 Artists of the Month.
January: Tomar and the FCs
Tomar and the FC’s are a new band on the Austin scene, but vocalist and frontman Tomar Williams is no stranger to the stage. He was lead singer in his family’s band in the 80’s, and has continued to back up many Austin musicians over the years, including, most recently, Latasha Lee. He’s also co-produced some Texas hip hop classics from Paul Wall and Mike Jones. But the FC’s marks Williams’ return to the vocal spotlight, and backed by a powerful soul four-piece, he’s taking full advantage of the situation. Just a few months into their existence, they’ve already turned heads at SXSW, gathered a ‘best of the year’ from the American Statesman for their early 2015 EP, appeared on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, and headlined New Year’s Eve at the Continental Club. Their debut album, Heart Attack, packed with great performances, will only accelerate the frenzy.
February: Molly Burch
Growing up in LA with movie business parents didn’t set her a similar path, but at a young age, Molly Burch did discover she loved something else – singing. So off she went to Asheville, NC to study jazz vocals. There her rich voice thrived, and before long, she met a musical kindred spirit – guitarist Dailey Tolliver. Looking for more singing opportunities, Burch migrated to Austin, and while gaining a footing in her new home, began to experiment with writing her own material. By the time Tolliver joined her in Austin a year later, she had plenty of songs to record, so they went to Cross Record’s Dripping Springs studio and made her debut album, Please Be Mine, in just two days. Burch’s singing style is a bit of a throwback, she seems more inspired by the lay-back cool of Nina Simone and Sam Cooke than by modern-day American Idol histrionics. Like her influences, her songs speak of romance and yearning, but she’s not a nostalgia act. Her album, which was released February 17th, rings out with freshness and confidence.
March: Ty Richards
In this world, there are artists in a rush – anxious to paint, put to paper or record every thought that comes into their head. And there are those who think, perhaps even overthink, and take their time. With over 200 unreleased songs recorded, Austin’s Ty Richards sits squarely in the latter category. Part of the same fertile Denton scene that spawned Midlake and Sarah Jaffe, Richards first performed at the age of 13. From 2001-2006, he fronted a band called Twilight (nothing to do with the movie series, he takes pains to point out). But mostly, he recorded. And recorded some more. His years were dotted with personal tragedy, health problems, a successful sideline career as a graphic designer, and a new wife and family that he packed up and moved to Austin in 2014. Somewhere in there he decided it was time to get serious about music. Released on the day of the thirtieth birthday, Zillion is a debut album that doesn’t sound like one, full of spry, fuzzy psych-pop that sounds like the work of an accomplished veteran. Which, come to think of it, is exactly what he is.
A lot of young Austin bands don’t hang around for too long, and with no new music since their 2103 EP No Years, it might be easy for the casual observer to assume Growl was one of them. You’d be wrong, though. Growl never really went away. In fact, these cacophonous indie rockers, fronted by vocalist Santiago Dietche, have been hard at work on their debut full-length, Won’t You (released April 7th). Subject matter-wise, this is an album from a bunch of (slightly) older musicians dealing with new challenges, but it’s lean, hungry drive makes 2013 sound like yesterday.
May: The Octopus Project
As a group of multi-instrumentalists who began with a largely improvised mass of electronics and guitars, Austin’s Octopus Project quickly stood out in Austin as something really unique. The cables strewn everywhere gave the band their namesake, and the relative stability of their lineup allowed them to, over time, expand their sound. Beginning in 2002, they have released six albums, each different in approach from the one preceding it. They’ve added more lyrics, tightened up song structures, and developed into a formidable live act. For their new album, Memory Mirror, the band worked with two acclaimed producers – Dave Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Tame Impala, Flaming Lips) and local wizard Danny Reisch (Shearwater, White Denim, pretty much everyone) – and the end result is an expansive and swirling wall of sound all boxed within catchy and tightly framed pop songs.
June: Night Drive
Back in the Eighties, the world was lousy with bouncy synth-pop duos. But Austin’s Night Drive is reaching beyond imitation. While the era is evoked by their instrumentation, their sound is modern and foreboding on their eponymous debut, out June 16th on Roll Call Records. You’ve likely heard some of their early singles – they’re included here along with newer metaphorical material like “Trapeze Artist Regrets”. Rodney Connell and Brandon Duhon claim in their bio they met after a woman they were both dating – each of them unaware of the other – died in a car crash. True or not, it’s a strange tale for a duo whose energetic debut seems cloaked in mystery.
July: Sarah Jaffe
Sarah Jaffe was only twenty-two years old when her seasoned debut recording, Even Born Again, was released in 2008. Already a fixture in the fertile Denton musical landscape, her profile began to soar. Soon she was touring with artists as varied as Lou Barlow and Norah Jones, and was pushing her acoustic music into the electronic pop ether. Since then she’s had raves in Rolling Stone, made the rounds on the talk shows, collaborated with Eminem, placed her songs in a couple of films, and released a handful of absorbing albums and EPs. Her fourth full-length, Bad Baby, like each release that has preceded it, finds Jaffe again moving in creative new directions. There’s a dance-floor propulsion, and Jaffe is quick to credit the newly spacious feel to her layered pop to her many collaborators, including photographers and illustrators. Bad Baby was released July 7th.
August: Magna Carda
Even from their 2012 beginnings on St. Edward’s campus, it was obvious that MC Megz Kelli and producer Dougie Do shared a unified vision. Their group, Magna Carda, brews a jazzy, retro, soul-steeped stew, (think Erykah Badu, Digable Planets, Robert Glasper) that has only improved with time, bringing them both fans and critical acclaim. The creative musicians that round out Magna Carda’s lineup push their sound in new directions, making this band much more than just a producer’s studio project. They’ve just released their latest set of songs, Somewhere Between, and they’re off to NYC later this month to show them off.
September: Duncan Fellows
From humble, sweaty beginnings using music to make it through Texas heat in an AC-less house with (potentially) as many rats as residents, Duncan Fellows have come a long way in the past 3 years. They’ve teased their fans with singles, EPs, and plenty of great live performances, but now they’ve released their debut album, one with two moods to reflect, as the title suggests, both sides of the ceiling. In the past year, the band has been playing shows in Austin as well as across the country. They toured with Houndmouth through the Southeast and with Joseph on a run of sold-out dates along the west coast. Between trips they have been in Denton, Texas recording their debut LP, Both Sides of the Ceiling.The album was written mostly over the summer of 2016 and into the fall which becomes apparent in the composition of the tunes. The first tracks are bright yet biting, not taking themselves too seriously (similar to the band), but as the album progresses the mood turns.
October: Palo Duro
The beginnings of Austin’s Palo Duro date all the way back to 2012, when Gold Beach leader Michael Winningham sought some help from an old friend to try and finish the group’s latest album. Sam Cohen, who first helped Michael arrange a song when they were both sixteen years old, has gone on to produce the likes of Kevin Morby and Benjamin Booker, and his collaboration with Winningham quickly led to something bigger than either of them expected. Time passed, keyboardist Carlos Orozco was recruited, ideas flowed, and whatever the end results were, it became obvious this was no longer Gold Beach. More musicians joined the rotating cast, numerous songs were recorded, and Palo Duro was born. By last year, the band had come to the attention of Brian Burton (Danger Mouse), who released their first single, “Darken The Glow” on his 30th Century label in March of this year. Now comes the band’s first full-length, Ryou Cannon, which expands on “Darken”’s driving world-funk and atmospheric drive.
November: Kalu & The Electric Joint
When Nigerian-born Kalu James, who’s been on the scene as a songwriter for years, began a month-long residency at the Continental Club Gallery with another Austin mainstay, guitarist JT Holt, they both knew there was chemistry afoot. But neither knew the weekly shows would last nearly three years. Along the way, drummer John Speice joined the party, and Kalu And The Electric Joint officially became a thing. The Joint is an only-in-Austin conception of African polyrhythms, American soul, and blues-rock that sounds as if all the genres had grown up together. And now, they’re releasing their debut album, Time Undone, recorded over the period of a year out in Driftwood, Texas, and produced by Brett Orrison (Black Angels, Widespread Panic). Guest stars include members of Widespread Panic, War On Drugs, The Sword and Grupo Fantasma, who all contribute to a soulful world groove.