By David H.
On the 1983 Ramones album, Subterranean Jungle, the song “Outsider” has always been something I’ve connected with. I’m not cool or hip, I’m not in the “right” circles, and I’m always looking inside from the “nerds table.” Another year gone by, and another chance to compile what was best across the board in Houston and beyond. As much as my ears will miss the sounds of George Jones, and my consciousness will forever be in debt to Nelson Mandela, this list will be missing an obit section. What’s left is the best of what I saw, what I experienced, what I heard, and even what I ate. It’s all subjective, just one man’s opinion-from the outside.
Best Albums of The Year
1. The Next Day David Bowie - I wish there were more artists who would take a ten year hiatus from making music. However, I sincerely doubt that most could make their return half as strong as Bowie’s The Next Day. Recorded in secrecy with longtime collaborator and producer Tony Visconti, the album was released only two days after the label learned of it’s existence. In typical Bowie fashion, everything down to the cover art is a reinvention of himself. Through fourteen tracks, Bowie marks his return with a blistering and more rock based scope than his previous efforts. He even reworked the song “I’d Rather Be High” recently for a Louis Vuitton advert, thus proving at sixty six, he’s as solid and poignant as ever.
2. …Like Clockwork Queens Of The Stone Age - If …Like Clockwork is the result of lying dead on an operating table, then we should hope more artists almost pass away more often. After leaving the confines of the major label world for greener pastures at indie label Matador; QOTSA made their return with their most dark and deep album to date. With an appearance by Sir Elton John, and upbeat tracks like “I Sat By The Ocean” and “My God Is The Sun,” the band made an album that marked a return to form. I think this album could have been released in 1978 and it would still sound just as timeless.
3. Bulldozer & Bubblegum Kevine Devine - Somehow, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Devine was able to release two of the best breaths of fresh air into a stagnant music world. Complete with heartfelt melodies, sweet ballads, and perfectly timed hooks; this was the biggest surprise of 2023. The Rob Schnapf produced Bulldozer, had moments where Devine seemed to channel the spirit of Elliott Smith, while adding his own sound to every well crafted track. The more quick and uptempo pace on Bubblegum made for a sing song album that’s hard to stop listening to. The design of both albums, full with lush sounds, harmonized vocals, and pop goodness that appeared in a time when music needs it most. I feel like I haven’t gotten chills like I did on the track :Little Bulldozer,” since I first heard the drums come in on “Independence Day” from Smith’s album, “Xo Xo.” And I don’t think I heard another fresh sounding full effort by a band all year, like I did on Bubblegum. The first three songs alone from Bubblegum are better than most songs I heard all year. Both albums were released on the same day & both should’ve made everyone’s top lists for sure.
4. I Hate Music Superchunk - I think it’s difficult to find out a band who you once loved, has a new album out. While the previous Majesty Shredding was a great return, I Hate Music has the vibe of On The Mouth that really reels you in. This album made it’s way at the top of my favorite Superchunk records of all time. It has catchy and poppy moments without sacrificing the art within. I think I sang the track “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo” for three days after the first listen. Songs like “FOH,” “Void,” and “Low F” make the most rocking Superchunk in over a decade, and worth putting into your regular rotation.
5. Bye Bye 17 Har Mar Superstar - I don’t even know if words can describe how insanely talented this guy is. When you listen to this album, it evokes the emotions of the 70’s era of soul and funk that’s become iconic in retrospect. So, when a little white guy belts out such tunes like “Lady, You Shot Me,” “Prisoner,” and “Rhythm Bruises;” you have to give him mad respect. Bye Bye 17 is the album Justin Timberlake should have made if he had the soul, or Kanye would have made if he actually revered any artist other than himself. If you can throw on some headphones and lose yourself in the sound, you’ll definitely find the soundtrack to couplehood; or at least what you should play when you’re attempting to score. I’d love to tell you that you’ll dislike this record, but I feel it’s too infectious to not fall in love with.
Best Local Music
1. Wolf House We Were Wolves - The anguish that comes from growing up in Beaumont with Houston in the distance can’t be lost on four guys who will prove to you that Beaumont makes more than fossil fuels. Brash, unapologetic, and furious; Wolf House should come with some Advil from all the head banging it induces. But, it’s such a tight album, you don’t care about the occasional neck pain, or the speeding ticket you’ll get from getting down while behind the wheel.
2. This Is Your Brain On Love Fox & Cats - If you wonder what happens when a guy who likes pop rock writes songs with a girl who plays the drums like Neil Peart, then Fox & Cats are your answer. In five songs, the duo proves that you don’t need more members to make a great record. If this album is proof that good stuff can come from Clear Lake, then we should start looking to the suburbs for such greatness in the future.
3. S/T EP Brand New Hearts - Though only four songs, and released on cassette(Thank Goodness for iTunes), the former members of Ultramagg, Lucky Motors, and Panic in Detroit prove that the guitar solo hasn’t died. It’s catchy, melodic, and strong while it reminds you of bands like Weezer, The Lemonheads, and The Replacements. Complete with harmonized vocals, hand claps, and dozens of hooks; you’ll listen to it until everyone you know either hates you, or until they become a fan as well.
4. Slow It Down 7” The Suffers - It was a banner year for The Suffers with appearances at FPSF, The Paste Untapped Festival, and The Holiday Hangover, Hell Yeah show. I seriously don’t think there’s a stage big enough to contain the sound of this band, and especially the vocals of Kam Franklin. Though only two songs, I found myself jamming it in the car, on the MetroRail, and even in the kitchen while I cooked dinner. The mix of styles on these songs would make every soulful artist from Joe Higgs to Isaac Hayes proud that someone is keeping such sounds in our ears.
5. Trill O.G. “The Epilogue” Bun B - For all the critics that called Yeezus genius, I can only assume that they didn’t hear the actual genius behind this album. With guest spots from 2 Chainz, Rick Ross, and Raekwon to name a few, Bun proves that great hip-hop really comes from the dirty south. The rhyming on the song “No Competition” alone is enough reason to buy this album, though I’m still singing the lyrics to “Fire” at least once a week.
I actually didn’t eat anything in 2023, that was new or better than what I had in 2023. I’m also hesitant of picking new places, because so many don’t make it from one calendar year to the next. The Best Tacos are still at Taqueria Laredo on Washington Avenue and the Best Burgers are still a tie between Stanton’s City Bites and Lankford Grocery. I’m not a fan of trendy spots, so my favorite Sushi is at Osaka on lower Westheimer, and my favorite Indian is still Shri Balaji Bhavan on Hillcroft. If you want the Best Pizza in Houston, you have to trek out to the burbs and eat at Tony’s New York Pizza on Jones Road, just past Fallbrook. It’s definitely worth the drive.
Lisa Falkenberg I would be lying, if I said that when I came across Lisa’s article, “Modest Proposal For The Lone Star Prostate” I wasn’t days from killing my Chronicle subscription. I think it’s a mix of being a one paper town, and journalists without the guts to ask tough questions, or the skills to ask the right ones at least. But, with Falkenburg covering the irony behind Greg Abbott’s stance on TORT Reform, to the ludicrous nature of the new Abortion laws; I renewed my subscription. I actually find myself looking forward to reading the paper again, something that’s almost non-existent in today’s world.
Best Moment in Houston TV
Mayoral Debate PBS Did you know that our city has a Socialist Party? I didn’t, but apparently; Michael J. Fitzsimmons is the Socialist Party’s idea of a good mayoral candidate. I’m not sure which was more hilarious, Fitzsimmons’ plan to put shower facilities in Houston parks for the homeless; or Eric Dick’s “pity party” about being made fun of about one’s name. Ironically, the same name that he uses in his ads that say, “Need a lawyer? Hire a Dick.” There were some other people on the stage, but we all know it was between Hall and Parker; which was pretty much how the debate was directed.
Best New Bar
Little Dipper Anyone who’s grown up here has seen our city attempt to “revive” a downtown that hasn’t been very vibrant throughout most of our lifetimes. A really cool baseball stadium and some shopping venues that are coupled with corporate dining and a small park; just haven’t been enough to cement downtown as a “cool” hangout. So, when I heard that the two couples behind Poison Girl, Black Hole, and Antidote were opening a bar on Main street; I was in the least a little relieved. Relieved because even to the casual observer, one could see that these heavy hitters could actually make a dent in such an area. While backing the OKRA Charity Saloon and having one of the best employee retention percentages for the service industry in Houston, these guys really hit a homerun with Little Dipper. It’s not too nice and not too dirty, Little Dipper comes off as exactly what downtown needs; a place for all. It definitely feels like Poison Girl’s older brother, or a spot where suit and tie types can mingle with those who are tired of the youth in the montrose. It’s certainly proof that less is definitely more.
Best Live Performance
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis @ FPSF I think that watching two guys mesmerize a crowd, while introducing our mayor alongside JJ Watt was one of the best sets I saw all year. I Love Mike Watt, and so by saying that Macklemore’s performance was better than Iggy & The Stooges, says a lot from me. I’m not a rap guy, but for about an hour, I heard people sing along, hop up and down, and stand in awe as these guys made their presence known in the best way possible.
Best Local Show
Open Mic Night at Warehouse Live The cast of characters that bravely grab the mic at the Tuesday night Open Mic at Warehouse Live, is immeasurable. It was the only local show I saw all year, where all of the big and small acts supported each other ten fold. It was also the only show where you could, FOR FREE; see up and comers like Gabe Bravo & Ashton Womack, middle of the road acts like Brian Zeolla & Jaffer Khan, and seasoned vets like Ali Siddiq, Theo Taylor, & Andy Huggins. The support these acts all show each other was truly awe inspiring, and hilarious at the same time.
Space & Hello Lucky I know that its rather odd to have a tie, but in the case of shopping; both shops were at the top of my list. From the outside looking in, the two shops are quite similar, yet different. Space has the beauty of having a new location filled with goods that are all American made. This includes art and jewelry. Hello Lucky offers similar items in home goods, clothing, and jewelry; yet many are made by the shop’s owner. Whether you prefer the Montrose vibe of Space or the homey feeling of Hello Lucky in the Heights, both offer great gifts at reasonable prices.
Best Record Shop
Heights Vinyl I think that about ninety seven percent of the albums at Heights Vinyl is severely underpriced. In an age where we’ve become complacent with the music we stream, download, or pirate; it’s nice to have a trustworthy audiophile in owner Craig Brown. The store offers up new and used turntables, speakers, and receivers alongside records. All of the gear comes with a thirty day guarantee and by offering such a diverse array of analog gear, hopefully future generations will appreciate the benefits of such a rich sound. They also do repairs, and seriously have such a great selection of out of print goodies mixed with new albums, all at fair prices.
Houstonian of The Year
Craig Hlavaty, Houston Chronicle/CW 39 I usually don’t feel like one person can make a difference in this world. In this town, it seems that no matter how positive someone tries to be; there’s always someone who will trash what they’re doing. Then, there’s Craig Hlavaty, the red headed stepchild of Houston media. Tattoed, not so tall, and stocky; nothing seems to deter Hlavaty from waiving the “Houston Rocks” flag wherever he is. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone so genuine, someone so sincere, and someone who lived what they preached in the media world. If Craig writes about why you should go see Slayer, it’s because he’s going too. His presence at the Chronicle feels like that cool older uncle you have that gave you your first Ozzy record. I think his genuine nature of wearing a George Strait shirt while analyzing and professing love for “…Like Clockwork” just proves that he’s a “what you see is what you get” kind of guy. And, his “Between The Lines” segments on channel 39’s “NewsFix” are pretty much the only reason any of us watch the show. Hlavaty has shown us how great our city is on a much larger stage. If the people at Tribune or the higher ups at Hearst are looking for some direction, I think we would all agree to more Craig across the board.
Best Act of Stupidity
The National Media There’s a reason that several generations don’t know that there’s a magazine called Rolling Stone just like there’s a reason that people don’t read newspapers much anymore. It would be simple to say that the internet has taken many of the fellow readers away, though this year was proof that print was almost as bad as the 24 hour news channels with “cut & paste” journalism. If you’re wondering what I mean, I’ll make it simple with two examples. Miley Cyrus and twerking take the number one spot. It’s ridiculous that almost every news outlet in the country claimed that Miley defiled the MTV VMA’s with her dancing. Nowhere, was there a mention about the creepy guy in a Beetlejuice outfit who gladly let her grind his crotch, nor was there mention of the “family” programming that MTV is known for in shows like 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom 2. No, instead shame was cast on a twenty year old girl who danced like every twenty year old girl dances in a club.
The second spot can be claimed by “Yeezus.” Rolling Stone, Pitchfork, and The A.V. Club all hailed it as a masterpiece. Which would have been notable if they had called it what it really was, terrible. Quite possibly the worst made album I’ve heard in my life, Kanye proved that he can package up a crappy album with no cover, and critics will still kiss his ass. Keep in mind, that I call it this bad, and I’ve heard “The Elder” by KISS. I tried at least 20 times to listen to the album, but ears aren’t ready for noises coming from nowhere, with no intent. It sounds like a generic and lackluster copy of a BLACKIE album, if BLACKIE had no talent. I mean, he doesn’t rap, nor does he sing on the album. And, with the exception of “Black Skinhead,” it sounds like someone without rhyme scheme or ability to mix sounds together made it. I should note that I have grown to like the bizarre nature of the opening track “On Sight,” but the rest of the album lacks substance or pop. If this is Rick Rubin at his best, then he should retire. All of the praise for one artist from everyone, while wagging the finger at the other was shameful and bad journalism.
That’s it, just one man’s opinion. There were great people, great sounds, and great everything in Houston and abroad this year. 2013 was yet another year where Houston showed why we live in such an eclectic and amazing place, we can still show a little greatness; even if you’re on the outside looking in.