- Illustration by Yogurt Lump
All morbid jokes about 2016's record wretchedness aside, the year did see a lot of activity and great work from local musicians of all types. No matter your genre of choice, there's a good chance that plenty of stuff you would like was done by local artists last year.
As a way to help you kick start your new year, and hopefully invigorate your zest for the local music scene, we offer a list of 20 acts that you'll want to start paying close attention to – immediately. Choices were made based on recent, notable activity (especially the release of new music) and anticipated activity in 2017. To be sure, this list could easily have been at least twice as long in a city so packed with diverse talent, but, as it stands, we're pretty proud to submit this list of worthy artists, as a fine (at least initial) representation of the best of what San Antonio music has to offer.
By the way, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the fact that you can catch damn-near all of these folks at Paper Tiger's Free Week shows (which continue through January 7). Just saying.
Formed just last year, with an all-girl lineup (most of whom play in other rad local bands too), Topo Chica has a sound that is, on the surface at least, just as bubbly as its namesake. The five-piece's lo-fi, dream-punk vibe, as revealed on the single “Leonardo,” the group's first and (so far) only release, is bright and confident in a refreshing and endearing way.
With an increasing live presence around town and a series of indications that the chicas spent the end of 2016 doing some recording, Topo Chica seems poised to develop into one of SA's most interesting bands this year.
SA bubble-punk duo Baby Bangs may be a side-project times two—singer-songwriter Elena Lopez's main band is the indie rock band Octahedron and drummer Dane Rousey holds it down in experimental rock act The Freebiez—but there's nothing about the new band that feels extraneous. If anything, Baby Bangs' quickly-developed chemistry gains in whimsy and insight where it cedes pressure to more established other projects.
The two-piece dropped its first EP, huh?, in 2016 and is already at work on more music. Meanwhile, the flippant immediacy and wistful emotiveness of huh? made it one of our favorite releases of last year.
The Freebiez are all over the place, which is a good thing. When we tell you that the young two-piece (sometimes three) has a sound that ranges from doom-folk meanderings to goof rock noodling, from straight up noise worship to garage rock, from wild experimental rock to pretty (if depressive) lo-fi pop—we are not kidding, and we're also just talking about one LP, December's rad Nervous McGervous.
Following up the excellent Two EP, released in February 2016, The Freebiez dropped the awesomely-titled Nervous McGervous and promptly hit the road to spread its strange, dark gospel. Watch for more unholy badassery from these guys in 2017, and get yourself to one of The Freebiez’s punishing live shows.
We Leave at Midnight
Seven years into its existence as a band, We Leave at Midnight (WLAM) has been one of the most inventive bands in San Antonio for a minute now. While the group, led by mad pop genius and tempo change enthusiast John Dailey, hasn't gigged with much frequency of late, WLAM celebrated the triumphant release of its second LP in December. The LP, The Holy Rolling Flower Band, demonstrates marked growth for the group's gently psychedelic, endlessly inventive, and complex sound. You'll want to be on the lookout for a chance to hear WLAM play this thing live in the new year.
Islands & Tigers
One of the most fun bands in town to catch live, Islands & Tigers serves up some seriously catchy and gnarly grunge pop, with a punk attitude and an occasionally melodramatic flair. 2016's superb, self-titled release collected the best songs from a number of EPs that the young band has already put out (since forming in 2012).
While the album perfectly highlights the band's great potential, high energy, and lead man Bobby Rivas' knack for writing engaging and memorable songs, it also acts as a sort of summation of Islands & Tigers' work to date, clearing the way for new stuff in the new year.
Alright, alright... We know damn well that San Antonio singer-songwriter, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Marcus Rubio—who is currently recording and performing (sometimes accompanied) as More Eaze—lives in Austin now. He moved there a couple years back, after finishing up a Master's Degree in Music Composition at California Institute of the Arts.
But Rubio still performs here frequently and works with a variety of local organizations and artists, so we think it's fair for us to go on claiming the insanely prolific artist, who works in styles as seemingly disparate as long form drone, folk-pop, orchestral indie rock, deconstructed r&b, experimental electronic, and sound collage, just to name a few. He released no less than three odd, lingering, and excellent albums in 2016, and 2017 is already looking even busier for Rubio, who told the Current that as many as nine new releases may see daylight this year.
While White Elefant—the local indie rock four-piece led by singer-songwriter Josh Mathis—had a quiet 2016, due to an unplanned hiatus after essentially losing bassist Cass Grady, we can expect that to change in 2017. The sharp and consistently interesting indie post-grunge group has found a new bassist in The Rosedale Highs' Dustin Olinick, and Mathis told the Current that the band will be playing more shows soon and is even (slowly) back at work on new material to follow up 2014's understated gem of an LP, Nights & Weekends.
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy (TGLH) is an experimental metal band for people who don't like metal. But, TGLH, perhaps the loudest band in town, is also for metal lovers, so don't get it twisted. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist and songwriter/composer James Woodard, the band makes droning, ambient, and artful sludge that simultaneously brandishes raw power and surprising subtlety.
TGLH's last release was in 2014, the group's masterful sophomore album All Sadness, Grinning into Flow, but, in addition to touring nationally, the band plays local shows regularly. Woodard told the Current that 2017 will see a few split releases, plus some other goodies, from the group.
High octane spirit-rock duo Lonely Horse has had a bumpy yet charmed ride over the last few years, during which time they’ve released two staggeringly good LPs (and one EP) of bluesy, fiery, and propulsive garage rock. They’ve also recorded at Sonic Ranch Studios in Marfa, been courted by major labels, been fucked over by a glad-handing industry would-be or two, and generally held it together in the face of disappointment and unplanned restarts. 2017 will see the band free of previous obligations to focus on continuing to perfect its singular sound.
If you were paying attention to San Antonio music from the mid-aughts onward, chances are you took note of Chris Maddin. The lead singer and principal songwriter in the now-defunct cinematic indie-rock band Blowing Trees, who has also released one excellent solo album (The Tiago Splitters) and two albums of solid electro-singer-songwriter stuff (as FILMSTRIPS), Maddin's knack for writing memorable, inventive, and deceptively-simple songs, his electric stage charisma, and his huge honey-hued voice set him apart from many of his peers. After a few years of relative inactivity, Maddin will return with a solo album (called Sterequiem) in 2017.
Alyson Alonzo, who helms the elusive, big soul band Sugar Skulls and works solo on some next level R&B shit, is one of the biggest talents in town. Her voice alone, with its range, power, warmth, and tremendous gift for movement, would be argument enough to prove this statement true. But, Alonzo's winning persona, somehow brash and vulnerable all at once, and the way it shines through in her songwriting and her performance presence, is also a part of what makes her great.
Updates on new music are few and far between, though Alonzo performs fairly often and has made reference to solo and Sugar Skulls recording sessions. So, we'll just have to wait and see and be content to catch her at Youth Orchestra of San Antonio's sure-to-be-awesome Purple Rain Live show (March 13 at The Tobin Center).
Look: Third Root is the best hip-hop act in San Anto. Pure and simple. Rappers Easy Lee and Mexican Stepgrandfather (who's also an Associate Professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio) ride gritty and world music-infused beats from DJ Chicken George with a hip-hop alacrity and message-centered tenacity that puts them in a category of their own. The group's finest work Libertad, released in late 2016, is a great distillation of Third Root's sound, politics, and penchant for making good music at the intersection of the two. 2017 should see more live shows from the woke trio, which means more chances to witness just how powerful real hip-hop can be.
Volcán is a young, contemporary, indie orquesta Latina, comprised of thirteen members all rallying around dazzling lead singer Jose Huizar and principal songwriter Jaime Mejia. The group's sound is kinetic as hell, combining elements of cumbia, Latin pop, jazzy big brass, Chicano rock, and indie rock for an arresting amalgamation that works far better than it seems like it might. While the group's sizzling debut EP, Ritmo, Cultura y Amor, will delight you, our recommendation is that you catch Volcán live, when the band's brilliance is on full display, if you're looking to become an instant devotee.
Experimental-electro/shamanwave act Something Fiction, led by producer/songwriter Matt Humble, has forged a truly unique and ever-blossoming sound for itself, over the course of a few EPs and two singles. The somewhat hermetic group has been busy of late running Timewheel, the label they founded, and laying the groundwork for an exciting 2017. While details have been slow to emerge, (being cryptic is apparently part of the act's mystical bent), Something Fiction is finishing up work on a new album, due sometime in the spring, and plans to play more live shows.
Riot grrrl revivalist crew and Chicana power punk posse Fea, helmed by Girl in a Coma members Phanie Diaz and Jenn Alva, released its scorching debut last summer, to wide acclaim. Naturally, the group's sound immediately caught hold in San Antonio, since the music seems to have the city in its very DNA. But the four-piece, who has already been touring nationally, has also won over fans and music critics around the country. Fea's song “Tragedias” was even named a Top Song of 2016 by NPR. With Girl in a Coma still waiting in the wings while band leader Nina Diaz tours her rad solo album, expect more chances to catch Fea and maybe even more new music in 2017.
You don't have to be stoned at all to enjoy the party-punk/grunge-pop stylings of young SA band Junkie—but we'd imagine it certainly wouldn't hurt. The group has released quite a smattering of instantly enjoyable music in a pretty short time, culminating with 2016's W/E, the band's most fully realized effort, and there's no indication the guys will be hitting the brakes anytime soon. In fact, Junkie has already announced plans to release a new LP, entitled FELIZ, this spring. Just try to keep up. And, nevermind all that talk about how weed kills your productivity.
There's a remarkable balancing act that happens in the music of noise-punk outfit Filthy, one of the best new SA bands to emerge over the last few years. While there's an unsettling and jarring aspect to the band's tunes, there's also an (almost pretty and) beautifully eerie pop element to them. This balancing act makes for music that maintain a kind of taut raptness from the listener, who rightly expects that, especially in the live setting, anything could happen around the next corner. Check out 2016's excellent, if criminally brief, Cure It EP and make it your business to follow Filthy this year.
Mockingbird Express is the far out, throwback psych-rock project from longtime SA musician and font of psychedelia Marc Smith. The three piece has already built up something of a buzz around itself for its unhinged and trance-inducing live shows, full to bursting with musical invention and the wild magic of improvisation. Now, with work on its debut album coming to a close, the group has slowly started to reveal what its recorded incarnation will sound like. And it is glorious, indulgent, sticky, garage psych with spiritual tones and vibrations culled from the eternal frequency. Be on the look out for the full record in 2017.
A longtime local favorite, Alvaro Del Norte's furious, accordion-anchored, Tex-Mex-Punk band Piñata Protest (PP) has slowly gained the attention of a much larger national and international audience. And, in the type of political and social climate we are living in these days, it's easy to see why people might be thirsty for aggressive music with powerful cultural touchstones and progressive rage aplenty. The band hasn't released any new albums since 2013's star-making El Valiente, but, with the national spotlight on, as PP continues its tour with extreme metal favorite Brujeria, the time is certainly ripe to be hearing a lot more from Del Norte and company.
Wayne Holtz is out there. And, we mean that both as an expression of his truly individual and over the top sense of style and his uncanny penchant for literally seeming to be everywhere in 2016. As a social gadfly and style icon, Holtz is pure, unmatched fabulousness. As it turns out, he's also a delightful songwriter and performer, with a sugary and doomy 1980s sound to his high-drama songs. In the live setting, Holtz offers an event and not just a show, but even on record, the songs on his 2016 debut Post-Plexi feel quite alive and of the moment, despite stylistic nods to bygone times.