One Man’s Opinion: The Best of 2023
Buxton, Photo: Courtesy of Artist
It’s funny to me, that I thought I could go lighter in 2023 than I did in 2023. I remember thinking that I’d write less and go to less shows, however that changed quickly. I was lucky enough to watch artists record, I got to go to every festival I wanted to attend, and I even got to experience new things. This year my experiences were more broad than years past while in 2023 I attempted to soak up as much of our city as I possibly could. Below are what I witnessed, what I heard, and what I experienced first hand. Whether or not you agree with anything on this list or not, please remember that it’s really just one man’s opinion, and nothing set in stone. Art is always subjective, but this was the best that I saw and heard this year.
Best Taco Truck
I’m petrified of gaining weight, and it’s my cross to bear. I will only eat out things that I know I can’t make on the same level that they’re being served to me. I sincerely Love the tacos at the Washington Avenue taco stand, Taqueria Laredo. But I had tacos out a good bit this year, and the tacos at Boombox Taco were easily my favorite from a truck. I love when someone gets that barbacoa shouldn’t be greasy, the fact that they have veggie options for people I’m with, and the fact that every taco offering on the menu is served with incredible flavor. They’re also a good portion per tortilla, which is even more amazing than the fact that they’re top notch and they’re priced right to enjoy more than one.
Best Live Music Venue
I see a lot of live music, like basically more than everyone you know. I enjoy every music venue in Houston for varying reasons. I like Rudyard’s because it’s intimate, I like Warehouse Live because of how diverse it is with different rooms, and I like Continental because it’s like a throwback with modern elements. But no other venue this year was as eclectic and diverse as Walters. For starters, they have the best sound guy in Houston hands down with Terry Nunn. I’ve seen bands play way too loud or way too quiet in other venues, then I see them at Walters and the magic that Terry has on a board makes them sound the best they’ll ever sound. The cover is hardly ever outlandish, in fact, I don’t think it ever was once this calendar year that I saw. The drinks are hella’ cheap, and the room has this sort of “catching a band in your garage” feel without being dirty. The bands they hosted this year ranged from legends like Jandek and Sir Richard Bishop, to the odd leaps they hosted with locals like Ak’chamel and touring acts like Big Business. That’s before having Subhumanz, Of Montreal, and the final Erase Errata show, or the fact that locals get treated like everyone else, with dignity and kindness. Everyone gets taken care of at Walters and it never feels like you’re getting gouged. I’ve spent many a late night talking to the owner, bookers, and staff at the venue and one thing comes across as abundantly clear….they’re fans too. And that’s pretty damn awesome. The fact that there’s now a record store in the front with Deep End Records is just the icing on the cake.
Best New Enterprise
Last year I went with Wonky Power Records, and we’ve seen what they’ve done in 2023. This year I actually chose two, because they both show so much promise behind so much hard work and hustle.
The first of which is comedy collective and soon to be venue, The Secret Group. These guys, lead by comedy booker Andrew Youngblood, have done more for the Houston comedy scene in a year than has been done in the past twenty. For starters they book the biggest and best names that anyone outside conglomerate Live Nation can get. Secondly they had the foresight to add a comedy stage to a music festival on Houston Whatever Fest. And if that weren’t enough, they went ahead and booked and produced their own comedy festival with Come And Take It, going into its second year in early 2023. Watch out for these guys as they are going to make traditional venues like Joke Joint and Improv sweat while they bring in bigger names and throw more and more top notch events.
The second is Roologic Records. Ruben from Def Perception, aka DJ Baby Roo has been in the music game so long, that it only makes sense that he’d eventually start his own record label. The catch here is that they also created their own digital distribution channels, and their releases have footprints all over the world and in varying digital storefronts. Add to that the fact that he went out and signed newcomers like Dirty & Nasty as well as Genesis Blu and Space Villains, he also picked up Houston veteran Kyle Hubbard. If that just wasn’t enough, this whole operation speaks volumes as to what one person can do. The way they drop and stream singles on all platforms, the way they press releases complete with barcodes and shrink wrap, and the fact that they’ll drop plenty of releases next year proves that they’re a label to watch out for.
Album of The Year
Buxton “Half A Native,” Photo: New West Records
“Half A Native” Buxton
Around the middle of the calendar year I started realizing that I had listened to this record weekly since I received the advance copy. There’s something so beautiful, so strong, and so endearing to this album that I still find myself marvelling in its overall sound. From the opening beauty of “What I’d Do,” followed by the waltz meets seventies rock vibe of “Good As Gone,” the craftsmanship of the songs immediately pulls you in. The group brings in poppier tunes like “Half A Native,” and “High Tones,” while adding rock muscle with “Miss Catalina 1992,” and yet; they really just sound like a more grown version of their former selves. In fact “Miss Catalina 1992” echoes so much of what this band could have in store for the future that it forces you to marvel in what could be. That heavyweight grumble in the riffs just tells the listener that this is a whole new Buxton. There’s something amazing about how “The Heart Won’t Bend,” comes across, only for the band to follow it with the hook heavy and upbeat tone of “Icebreaker.” The beautiful lyrics, the lush instrumentation, and the way in which each song feels like something grander than the band themselves made this my favorite album of the year. I feel like it’s one of the most beautiful albums I’ve ever heard, and definitely one that has earnest craftsmanship from start to finish. These guys got to where it took Wilco twice as many albums to get to in a fraction of the time, while they pushed the envelope on what they could sound like. It should be noted that I wasn’t a big Buxton fan prior to its release, yet “Half A Native” has me waiting for what they’ll do next, while giving me an album to enjoy until that occurs.
Five Great Albums
“To Pimp A Butterfly” Kendrick Lamar
I think it’s only fair to say that there are elements of this album that are like looking into a crystal ball for hip hop. The fact that there’s no trap on it, the fact that Thundercat was allowed to make things as funky as he wanted, and the fact that the way in which Lamar backs up the power of the lyrics with a flow that’s hard to match; makes this an album that will be revered for years to come. The soulful nature of the album’s opener, “Wesley’s Theory” and the harsh nature of “King Kunta” makes it one of the most diverse albums in hip hop’s history. If you can’t wrap your head around the fact that “Alright” became a hit, just ask yourself this, “when has a hip hop track been structured like this without losing a beat prior to this song?” Lamar expands the guise of what hip hop can sound like while adding poignant lyrics and beats that are in a class by themselves. Never before has the opening track of an album laid out the premise of the entire record with such grace and skill as Lamar does here, and it’s definitely one of those albums that we’ll call seminal twenty years from now.
“Deeply Rooted” Scarface
You have to love an album where every song could be a single on its own, and not just a promotional tool from an artist with too much hype behind them. The twelfth album from Houston’s own, Scarface added his best album since “The Fix” to his already banner year. You have to wonder if Rap A Lot is kicking themselves for letting this one come out off of their roster, as the narrative of growing up in Fifth Ward is one that everyone should hear, and revel in the beauty in which it is presented. Tracks like “Rooted,” “Dope Man Pushin’,” and “Steer” show that this third of Geto Boys can still get creative and keep his signature sound intact. While tracks like “Fuck You Too,” and “All Bad” echo the Brad Jordan of the past with a new twist. You can’t stop listening to this album to the point where your windows are dropped and you’re creeping slow through our city with it as loud as your speakers will allow.
Sophie, Photo: Josh Blankfield
I don’t even know if one person can wrap their heads about how insane this guy is. He’s basically doing things in dance music that no one else is doing without freaking people out. The eight single collection has the British producer over turning the knobs on pretty much everything he touches without sounding like it’s coming off the rails. The insane loops on “Lemonade,” the dark and ethereal synthed out beats of “Hard,” and the broken synth sounds of “Vyzee” make this one of the most future sounding albums I’ve ever heard. It’s basically block house with more pop, but the advance had me secretly jamming it while I waited for what seemed like an eternity for it to drop. Though some of these tracks have been out for a while, the fact that they’re under one place just makes you realize fast that this guy is more future than pretty much everyone else. Keep your eyes and ears open, because this guy will be on everyone’s lips next year.
“The Beyond/Where The Giants Roam” Thundercat
Somewhere in the world, somewhere between earth and space, Thundercat exists and alongside producing some killer music for others, he found a way to release this beautiful six song album. Like a modern day R&B masterpiece, every song from the opener “Hard Times,” the following tune “Song for the Dead,” and “Them Changes” with Flying Lotus; the artist finds a way to lend his falsetto vocals while introducing many to the funky jams and R&B smoothness that hasn’t been on this level since either were introduced. Each track has an inherent beauty while still giving you the hooks you need to hold interest. “Lone Wolf and Cub” sounds like something Marvin Gaye would make in a modern era, while “Where The Giants Roam/Field of the Nephilim” sounds like something from Frank Zappa and George Clinton. The way in which each song has this slow jam with snap sound makes it future on so many levels.
“La Di Da Di” Battles
It would brave for pretty much any act to make an instrumental album, if that act wasn’t a three piece made up of three very diverse and almost magical musicians, also known as Battles. The groove heavy nature of “The Yabba,” the pop induced feeling of “Dot Net,” and the technical structure of “Summer Simmer” make this the most intriguing album of the band’s career. Relying on the instruments and electronics only, it makes you almost wish their previous works didn’t have vocals to distract you from their prowess. The way that they craft the electro heft of “Dot Com” or the way that they perform the almost found sounds of “Fauna']);">Flora>Fauna,” makes you thirst for more from a band who will make us all wait four more years for another album.
Five Pretty Damn Good Albums
“Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack U” Jack U
Wait…I like Justin Bieber now? That’s what I kept asking myself while I grooved out all year to the crazed and tropical dance track “Where Are U Now.” However, Skrillex, Diplo, and Bieber not only captured my attention, but the two producers made one of the best and catchy things you can put in your ears. “Febreze” might be the best thing that 2 Chainz has done in recent years with the twisted synths and snap heavy beats and one of the craziest drops ever made, while “Take U There” made many of us give attention to Kiesza. The reality of it is that for a collaborated album, it was one that I found myself getting down to with friends on a regular basis. And I can’t hear any of the drops without singing along…no matter where I am.
Sleater-Kinney, Photo: Chad Batka
“No Cities To Love” Sleater-Kinney
“I scramble eggs for little legs,” from “Price Tag,” might be one of the most memorable lyrics I’ve heard in a long time, and thus it’s proof that the women in Sleater-Kinney have grown up. The way in which the trio has found a better way to convey their message, the way in which the bulk of these songs were catchy without feeling trite, and the way in which this record kicks from start to finish makes you happy that it came out. Stronger than the band’s previous album “The Woods,” this release proved that sometimes time off for a band can be a great thing. The dual vocals on “A New Wave” in the chorus always gives me chills, while the head bopping nature of “Hey Darling” just means that the song needs to be placed on repeat. It’s always nice when a band reunites and doesn’t suck…and I doubt anyone would say that these three are close to sucking.
“Star Wars” Wilco
At first listen, I thought this album was closer to a Nels Cline solo release. Then with a second listen and a more open mind, I realized that Wilco has figured out a way to make their sound work. The thing that makes the album work is that the band experiments while keeping the pop hooks intact like a harsher version of their previous release, “The Whole Love.” The first three songs alone show growth, depth, and remnants of the band you remembered from their early days. Then tracks like “The Joke Explained,” which feels closer to John Lennon than Wilco, or “King of You” come in and find the band heading in an expansive space they haven’t explored since “Summer Teeth.” The end result is something beautiful, catchy, and inventive…which isn’t what you expect from bands that have been around twenty years.
Blur, Photo: Dave J Hogan
“The Magic Whip” Blur
Returning to form without sounding repetitive is probably the hardest part of a band reuniting, yet on this album it feels like the Britpop act found a way to bring what they’d done since breaking up into the studio and mixing it with the vibe of their older works. The opening track “Lonesome Street” has a mix of songs from “Modern Life Is Rubbish,” and “Parklife,” while they add electro instrumentation that makes it sound new and fresh. “Go Out” feels like a newer version of what the band did on their self-titled release “blur,” and “Ice Cream Man” feels like Graham and Damon’s work away from the band. Tracks like “Ong Ong” and “Ghost Ship” show the band growing into the future, and hopefully this album won’t be a one off, because you can jam it nonstop.
“Art Angels” Grimes
So, I’d be lying if I said that I was much of a Grimes fan prior to this year. In fact, when an ex girlfriend begged me to watch Grimes’ performance at Fun Fun Fun Fest, I was hesitant to say the least. However, what I saw was the most impressive sets I’ve seen in a good while. The energy level of her set was insane enough to make me drop in headphones and listen to this album on the walk back to the car from the festival grounds. I have a love for pop music and Grimes definitely knows how to make it. Tracks like the ultra pop heavy “California” alongside the fun sounding “Flesh without Blood” caught my attention. While the throwback to eighties synth pop sound of “Kill V. Maim” really held my attention. The fact that she produced the album herself just shows how much smarter she is than the rest of the industry. Because when you can mix pop with crazed synths and beats, you’re more than likely at the top of everyone’s list when it comes to producing tracks for others. The fact that I not only like this album but that I still listen to it regularly, is as much as a shock to me as I’m sure it is to you. But, good is good, and this album is definitely good.
Best Album You Didn’t Hear
Daniel Romano, Photo: Courtesy of New West Records
“If I’ve Only One Time Askin’” Daniel Romano
Canadian country and western performer Daniel Romano isn’t a household name, he doesn’t really tour through Texas, yet somehow he made an album that could’ve come out from Texas in any time between 1965 and 1979 and you’d think it was current in that time frame. This entire album is filled with songs that sound like something from the jukebox at any Texas honky tonk or icehouse. Opening with “I’m Gonna’ Teach You,” Romano echoes the grand country swing of artists like Hank Thompson, while he keeps it seventies light on “There’s A Hardship.” Honestly, I could tie every track on this album to another great artist. I’ll just say this, if you despise the country pop that’s coming from Nashville, give this album a spin, as it’s pretty damn amazing and should make you a fan from the 1st listen.
“Beauty Behind The Madness” The Weeknd
“Sound & Color” Alabama Shakes
“Death Magic” HEALTH
“I Want To Grow Up” Colleen Green
“Bad News Boys” The King Khan & BBQ Show
Best Thing To Happen For Houston Music
The Broad Range of Festival Options
Sometimes festivals aren’t the best places to catch a band perform. However Houston really has their “A Game” on point when it comes to making sure that things sound and go better than you might be used to. The variation in festivals whether it be like the massive undertaking of FPSF, the comedy festival Come And Take It, the mixture of music and comedy on Houston Whatever Fest, or the futuristic feeling of Day for Night. And these are just the larger scale festivals as we also have Untapped, Beer Fest, and more than you can really count. It’s nice to see that Houston has such a nice mixture of festivals that all have solid lineups that cover pretty much the calendar year here around town.
Best Thing To Happen For Houston That Happened Somewhere Else
The Suffers, Photo: Daniel Jackson
The Suffers performance on The Late Show with David Letterman
For starters, if you were like me, you attending a watching party to watch this in a room full of people. I did mine at Phoenicia MKT Bar, but I heard about them all over the city of Houston in people’s houses and bars, which that alone is amazing. You should know that The Suffers weren’t the only Houstonians in 2023 to appear on the show before Letterman retired, as Nick Gaitan appeared with Willie Nelson and Billy Joe Shaver earlier in the year. Also, Lizzo has since appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. However, The Suffers did what any great bands should have the power to do, and that’s bring people together. It warmed my heart and still brings tears to my eyes to see people get excited for the band. Chapy’s solo, Kam’s powerful vocals, and the tightest mixture of brass and percussion this side of the Motor City all culminated into what felt like the band at the top of their game. The best part of the whole performance was the kind things from the television icon’s mouth at the end when he said, “if you can’t do this, get outta’ the business.” Truer words were never spoken, and 2023 should prove that Letterman was onto something when The Suffers drop their long awaited full length and plan to take over the world.
Best Touring Show
Of Montreal at Walters
I didn’t catch the second time the Athens group made it through town this year, but the first one was pretty amazing. The way in which the band told a story through visuals while burning through a set of old favorites alongside new tunes was mesmerizing, while they engaged the audience and played like they did ten years ago.
Best Local Show
black kite & Jawwaad/BLVCK FETISH at The Nightingale Room
I saw a private set from BLVCK FETISH in the freezing cold, and I knew that each time I saw it afterwards, would be just as mind blowing…and I wasn’t wrong. Jawaad mixed in dark electronica and jazz flavor atop a hip hop set rife with energy and pop. His set was one that I wished had more people at, but The Nightingale Room is only so big, and it was packed as it was. This was followed by a crazy and energy heavy set from black kite. The trio was hampered by a sound guy who refused to make the vocals louder, so the group invited the audience into the balcony before dropping one of the best sets they’ve performed so far. Singer Vicki Tippit at one point pounding on the floor, birdmagic playing secondary drums, and James Templeton triggering electronics from his ferocious playing meant that this was one of those shows that made me happy to actually get down at.
Best Touring Show You Didn’t See
The Rentals, Photo: David Garrick
The Rentals at Walters
It should be noted that Matt Sharp, frontman for the band, stuck around and signed everything that was placed in front of him, while letting everyone pick his brain about vintage synthesizers. They played their new stuff, they played all of your favorites, and they performed like they were in front of a sold out crowd. They went into the audience and played a cover song with some oddball instrument as well as told stories of the past and present. Including a rendition of “Friends of P” complete with the Ghostbusters theme thrown in, Sharp fake killed a ‘Stay Puft’ Marshmallow Man while dressed as a Ghostbuster while he sang from atop the bar like he was playing for his life. Sadly, I think there were less than fifty people at this show, which made you feel much more special when they played harder as I’d seen them play before.
Best Local Show You Didn’t See
Devin Finch Will Debate Anyone at Beta Theater
You might not know local artist Devin Finch, but I’m sure you’ve seen his handy work on show posters over the years. He’s brash, he doesn’t care what you think, and he never minces words. This show had Finch debate a young homosexual man who he berated and debated while the two called each other names that would make anyone cringe. However, it was funny and entertaining, and a show that hopefully, Houston gets to see again. Sadly, there were less than twenty people at the show, though as far as I could tell, Finch didn’t care who showed up if anyone showed up at all.
Best Festival Performance from a Touring Act
Battles, Photo: David Garrick
Battles at Day For Night
I wish that these three had played for another hour longer than they did. Those who attended were given a treat as the band performed old favorites and new tunes from their latest album. There was something magical to watch a band throw in improvised versions of their songs while witnessing their interactions on how to end each track or how to make changes to them for this show. The high energy, the altered versions, and the fun that is a great Battles set was all over this 57 minute set, and one that was definitely one of my favorites all year.
Best Festival Performance from a Local Act
Gio Chamba at FPSF
The amount of energy that Gio brings to a normal performance is about quadruple of what most acts bring. The amount of energy he and percussionist Coffee Guzman brought to the searing heat of FPSF was on a whole other level. Hopping on the risers, hopping into the crowd, and inviting everyone in attendance into his Cumbia world, Gio solidified his rep as one of our city’s hottest live acts, while making a horde of new fans at the same time.
Best Festival Performance from an Act I Wasn’t Familiar With
Julien Bayle at Day For Night
I didn’t know much about Bayle prior to catching his set at the first year festival. I knew that he was from France and that he played electronic music with his visual set, and that was about it. What I saw was an artist with the best visuals I’ve seen ever from a live set. I’m talking seizure inducing stuff where the flashes of light that danced in sequence with his music were as crazed as his electronica programming. His music was bass heavy complete with synths that I hadn’t heard on the glitched and chopped version in which he utilized them. Meeting Bayle after his set solidified that he’s an artist that we should all pay attention to. His descriptions of how he performs made me realize that not only can I still have my mind blown from a performance, but a person can still teach me so many things.
Best New Houston Comic
Zahid Dewji seemed like at some point in 2023 he turned a corner, found his voice, and started dropping jokes that hit like they were supposed to hit. 2015 saw him hosting a slew of shows and getting the crowd at Tom Segura to laugh hysterically. This guy was pretty much everywhere that would have him, many of which were high profile shows while somehow, still making show posters and hosting a monthly show at Beta Theater. He got semi-nude on stage with Eric Andre at a Fun Fun Fun Nights event, he performed in a contest, and he continuously honed his craft all year. Keep an eye on him as 2023 might be the year that he starts becoming a name larger than just one here locally.
Local Album of The Year
Mikey & the Drags, Photo: Daniel Jackson
“Make You Mine” Mikey & the Drags
This wasn’t a tough decision, though this was a really great year for Houston music. It wasn’t a tough decision because the album literally sounds like a period piece but doesn’t feel dated. It’s like the band went back to the 1960’s, recorded the album, and brought it back to release it. The head bop sound of title track “Make You Mine,” the slow build of “Can’t Help Yourself,” and the dance party vibe of “I Got A Bottle” made the album hard to stop listening to. It’s catchy, it’s riddled with hooks, and it’s the best representation of garage rock that I’ve heard in a very long time. The way that organ glides in on the songs like it’s supposed to, the way in which the drums pop but don’t deter from the pace, and the way that the guitar and bass play their roles respectively made this my favorite Houston release of the year. The album just proves that with great songwriting, a plan, and great musicians, you can still make an amazing album that sticks in your head after just one listen.
Five Great Local Albums
“Citizens” The Wheel Workers
I don’t know who knows this, but Steven Higginbotham is a mixture of insane genius and prolific songwriter. For starters, the band released this EP a year after releasing a fully pressed to CD & vinyl double album a year prior. Secondly, he did the same with this release except this time he made a video for every song on the album. This record might be the most eclectic and great things you can hear by mixing the genres of pop, rock, and electronica like pretty much no one else. The poignant lyrics, the hook heavy structure, and the fully fleshed out tracks are all elements that made this album top notch from start to finish. The bombastic nature of “Yodel,” the soft and sweet demeanor of “Whole Other World,” and the pop structure of “Wage Slaves” made this album one of my favorites of the year. If you add on the hooks of “Burglar” and the breakneck pace of “Citizen Incorporated,” you’re left with a band that’s going for broke and succeeding at the same time. Oh..in case you were wondering, the follow up to this album, is literally almost done. Like I said…insane & prolific at the same time.
“/\” android genius
I have to say what a difference a year makes. Aside from the fact that this producer had himself taken off of the listing for a local awards ballot, the leaps and bounds that he’s made as an artist are grand. The darker and harder elements of this release are present from start to finish, while the tracks begin and end like little pieces of time that are only available in limited supply. The banger nature of “yokai” alone makes this one of the best electronic things to drop in Houston in a good while, and the fact that he’s always working on new stuff just means the name android genius will be one you should get used to hearing a lot of.
Raymond A & DJ Baby Roo, Photo: Trish Badger
“The Unexpected” Raymond A x DJ Baby Roo
How good is this album? I’m not a mixtape fan, yet I found myself jamming the advance for everyone who got in my car this year. Representatives from record labels, energy drink companies, and other artists who I gave a ride to all got to jam this mixtape while strolling with me. The rhyme flow from Raymond A is some of the best you’ll hear coming out of Houston, and DJ Baby Roo drops real record scratches like it’s 1989. However, none of this release feels dated, and in fact it makes you reminisce about old school hip hop while Raymond cuts through songs with his intense mic skills. The opener, “Intro” pops hard, the sweet snap of “Crash Dummy” stays with you for weeks, and the bounce feel of “Thinking of Me” mixed with those record scratches is on a whole new level. Since you can hear these two in Houston’s Def Perception, it makes you wonder what they’ll have in store for 2023.
When you write a 2,500-4,000 word weekend piece every week, you have a tendency to hear a lot of music. That article is how I found the music of Spring’s Inzi, and I wrote the review on first listen. The album is full of catchy and folk pop songs like the opener “Size of Heart,” or the pop heavy “Hollow Symphony,” or even the sweet nature to “One Man Show.” The thing that makes the album worthy of multiple listens is that it’s poppy without feeling manufactured or fraudulent. Tracks like “Little Inspiration,” and “Vanity Fair” add depth to the album, while tracks like “Lying Riot” show that there’s more to the youthful singer than pop tunes. The reality of this album is that Inzi’s voice is the real star, while the music just adds to the treat of listening to her belt a tune.
“Consequences” Since Always
First albums are either on point or they miss the mark, but for Houston’s Since Always, their debut was one that I found myself listening to on the regular. The way the sweetly voiced vocals mix in with the band’s mix of shoegaze, indie rock, and first wave emocore is something that I’ve wanted as a music fan for years. It’s like the band studied all of those genres and then wrote a near perfect blend of the three. The almost Mineral sound of opener “The Underground,” the searing depth of “Dark of the Room” where the band almost mirrors early Superchunk, and the driving and emotional force of “Nothing Stays” makes this an album you need to hear. I mean, there are all kinds of influences from The Cure to Pixies on the title track, “Consequences,” that you can’t shake nor can you keep from falling in love with how grand it comes off as. Never before have I heard a band who truly “got” what they wanted to do and then executed it with such skill and precision. This album should give you the feels while making you bop your head, which is what I think most records should strive for.
Five Pretty Damn Good Local Albums
“Brand New Hearts” Brand New Hearts
In today’s hip hop and electronica world, Brand New Hearts reminds you that two guitars and traditional rock structure are what made America great. The album pops from the beginning to the end while employing a ton of hooks. Tracks like “Dirty Windows” bring back sing song vocals, “Details” brings back the guitar solo, and “Pity Party” reminds you that two guitars are always better than one. The album is full of melody, well written songs, and catchy choruses that stick with you days after just one listen. It’s definitely something you’ll find yourself jamming on the daily after you hear it just once.
“Chamba” Gio Chamba
Gio Chamba might be the most energetic performers you can ever have the chance to see in your own backyard. Houston has needed someone of this caliber for a long time, so I was worried that he couldn’t recreate his energy on an album. I should’ve known that wouldn’t be an issue for the cumbia producer. From the opener, “Enter Space City,” the following track, “Chipi Chipi,” to the closer “Finest One;” Gio keeps the energy high and encapsulates his sound on a top notch level. Not only does Chamba introduce many to a different form of music, but he does it in his own style while keeping all of it on a whole other level.
Another Run, Photo: Trish Badger
“Be Honest” Another Run
You probably don’t realize that this band has been around for as long as they have, and this album proves that they’re still growing with each passing year. The way in which they add melody and a stronger guitar tone one opener “I’m Gone,” places the album ahead of their previous works. While the slow jam nature of the title track, “Be Honest” showcases a mix of the band’s past coupled with a hook that comes out of left field with the intensive energy they’ve become known for. However, it’s was the album’s closer, “Knock Me Out,” a soft and almost pop ballad that had me the most impressed. It shows that these guys can write a serious hook heavy track that could make it onto soundtracks, radio, and beyond. And that proves that these guys are onto something larger than being just another rock band.
“Disappear” Football, Etc.
It kills me that this three piece is a big deal everywhere but their hometown of Houston. This EP has so many strong elements of despair, hope, and friendship while the songs stick in your head for long after each listen. The title track “Sunday” is so first wave emocore that it could have come out in 1996 and it would have felt like it belonged. The poppy and catchy sound of “Receiver” shows a different side to the band, while the last track “Open” has so much depth and emotion that it feels like something from a personal journal. The EP pops from start to finish, they add extra instruments to add a beautiful notation, and it’s a mix of the past, present, and future of emocore more than pretty much anyone thing else happening in the genre now.
“Desert Son” Moji
Moji is something else, like something that’s hard to explain. The three piece has a jazz guitarist, a rock drummer, and a vocalist that has some of the strongest and deepest ranging vocals I’ve ever heard. On their EP, the three piece mixes all of these elements to almost start a whole new genre, or at least join the ranks of any genre where “amazing” is the litmus test. The depth of how the drums thunder alongside the dripping guitar tones underneath Moji’s vocals on “Ceasefire” is something that shakes your soul. However when you’re this eclectic, that means that you’ll have a track like “Free” that feels like a mix of a free form jam and a rock jam where a Motown era vocalist sits in with the band. I feel like if you haven’t heard this band then you are missing out on one of the best things to come out of Houston in a good while. The diversity of their sound alone should make you want to give this release a spin, and the catchy nature of it makes you want to put it on repeat.
One More Great Local Album
Roosh Williams, Photo: Courtesy of Artist/Instagram
“Unorthodox” Roosh Williams
You probably didn’t know that this Houston native beat out heavy hitters on the iTunes rap release section when this barn burner was dropped earlier this year, but one listen should tell you why. Roosh spits lyrics like his life depends on it on “Extraordinary,” he adds middle eastern tones on “Rdouble,” and he goes to a hint of the old school on “Squad.” Of course, the fact that he had a collaborate with Houston’s Scarface on “Deep End” just proved that those who dream to go further usually can and will.
“The Night Goes on For Days” Jealous Creatures
“Otto” Phytosophie and The Invisible Man
“War” Dead To The World
“As Part of Me” King Finn
Best New Houston Band Name
The Satanic Overlords of Rock N Roll
Best New Band
Since Always, Photo: Courtesy of Artist
Albums to Look Forward to in 2023
The Young Mammals
The Wheel Workers
The Killer Hearts
Best Poster Art
Last year I went with Shelby Hohl and this year isn’t any different. This guy never ceases to amaze me with his talents and creative mind. His Death Grips Poster was magnetic, his YOB Poster was on point, and his Black Lips Posters were the perfect mix of art and concept to convey the show. I think what makes this guy’s stuff stand out most, is that the art doesn’t deter from the event, which is really the point.
Honorable Mention Poster Art
Tim Dorsey: Beta Bracket Contest Poster
Eric Castorena: Dolly Barnes at Rudyard’s
The Rap Year Book, Photo: Shea Serrano
The Rap Year Book: Shea Serrano
Filled with actual rap history, Shea did it again by bringing rap to life complete with great illustrations, a forward by Ice-T, and insightful tidbits on every page. It doesn’t hurt that it was a New York Times Bestseller, or a Washington Post Bestseller, or that it’s great for pretty much all ages.
That’s pretty much it as far as 2023. I’d like to thank everyone at every festival that allowed me to attend, every music venue that’s been nothing but hospitable towards me, everyone in the city who’s ever told me thank you, and everyone at Free Press Houston for letting me do what I do.