Any local musician I spoke with in 2011 had to endure my persistent inquiring as to when their next LP would be delivered. Even when it was an EP about to drop, I'd ask, ask, and then ask their mothers. While EPs seldom cut national profiles, The Great '85’s Believe It broke my heart and melted my face. Meanwhile, Education's LP Age Cage — released beneath deafening hype — fulfilled a musical promise even if it failed an industry one. Selecting a local top 10 list proved to be like favoring children: I could have easily doubled my local faves. More importantly, however: buy these records!
1. Education’s Age Cage
Even the toughest cynics thought Age Cage would start “something” for San Antonio. It did. Sort of. Famed producer Gordon Raphael did not aid Education in initiating a grunge-like explosion of local bands. Instead, he helped them record a flawless rock record, marrying the relentlessness of early players Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis with the kitchen-sink composition of modern indie. Age Cage is instantly loveable, with sweetly stinging melodies and bone-rattling instrumentation. The songs are mostly about young love, an old trope made new in the shadow of the album’s title (what young lovers in their prime don’t wish to be caged by a moment in time?). While the record doesn’t shy from embellishment, it’s not bogged down by instrumentation, either. It’s just damn good at being a damn good rock record.
2. Bryan Hamilton’s Welcome To Dreamland
Welcome to Dreamland is encapsulated no better than in “Sleepy Souls Awaken,” where a Vishnujana Swami sample waxes, “I’m not black or white. I’m not pretty or ugly.” Being a spirit and having a body is the great theme of this record, a blood-letting of the soul.
3. Blowing Trees’ Wolf Waltz and the Big Nothing Now
Anyone who has seen Chris Maddin play solo at Broadway 5050 knows how fascinatingly erratic he is, playing strings of random covers before marathoning side B of Abbey Road. Wolf Waltz follows this tradition, short on hooks but beautifully grand on composition.
4. Carlton Zeus’ The Spread Mixtape
Zeus is becoming Saytown’s Kanye West: a polarizing talent with mad hustle. The Spread Mixtape is a pure party rap featuring screeds on getting mani-pedis before getting laid. His rap hedonism makes him a refreshing oddball in SA hip-hop.
5. Bad Breaks’ KRTU Plugged In Session
Bad Breaks’ live “mission statement” captures indie pop's essence. Chuck Kerr [full disclosure: he’s the Current’s art director] and company deliver urgently, but never let go of the classic cool of their sweetest forebears (think Spoon, the Strokes). An endearing, highly hummable debut.
6. Hyperbubble’s Drastic Cinematic
Synth-popper duo orchestrating fictional film noir soundtrack. As eccentrically badass as it sounds.
7. Chisme’s Storytellers
MC R-E-L and producer Pointing Fingers drop lo-fi hip-hop as appropriate for the club as a headset.
8. Mexicans with Guns’ Ceremony
The masked beat junkie presents dance as spiritual communion with our Mexican and South American ancestors.
9. Mega Man’s Mega Man The Album
The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, Daytes, and XRY covered some of gaming’s best eight-bit tunes and released them on cassette inside game cartridges. Sick.
10. Greg G’s Gold Rush
A stellar collection of hip-hop that is all things to all palates. Greg G remains artful gold undiscovered by the mainstream.
The year’s five best EPs
1. The Great ’85 - Believe It
The Great ’85’s Believe It is packaged to look like mail. It’s only appropriate then that their EP is a love letter to SA’s millenials, born into disillusionment in both rarefied weather and a rejecting economy. Whether clamoring their loss of innocence (“The Great Snow of ’85”), aimless toil (“A Hard Year”), or shared misery in love (“Believe It”), The Great ’85 could not be more relevant to the creative professional and professionally creative. Meanwhile, guitarist Nick Mery and producer Edwin Stephens (Blowing Trees) crafted something elegantly raucous, full of mournful horns, booming synth drums, hijacked news reports, and guitar cable noise. The Great ’85 captured the mania of living in 2011, making it beautiful, heart-breaking, and redemptive. As such, the news of their quiet disbanding is a shot to the solar plexus. May their lone doc endure.
2. Pop Pistol’s Disappearing Edges
Pop Pistol's android sex rock coalesced into an EP that bests their debut. In exploring long-form composition in a short format, they delivered greater dynamics and restraint. See the stratospheric fifth minute of opener “Skyscrape the World,” where they blast a danceable wave of rock.
3. Trip the Light’s Fantastic EP
More than a record for rainy days or staying in bed. Trip the Light’s Anthony Burchell celebrates computers and instruments from all eras. On a Facebook picture featuring floppy drives and an old tube monitor he wrote, “I make music with all the junk your parents threw out.”
4. OBX’s Rage
An EP about scaling the ladder or dying trying, full of both achievement anthems (“Rage of a Bull,” “While My”) and celebrations of skeezy living (“This Is My Life”). This is San Antonio’s Everyman, a toilsome truth-teller aspiring to clean underwear and lemon chicken.
5. Egshan’s 111
Only a fool would pretend that Egshan don’t have more camp than the Occupy Movement. Their eclectic stoner rock is mercilessly groovy and capital P Professional. Muscular polish shines on the blues rocker “Blue Day” and the psychedelic “Static.”
Check with the Current on Wednesday for 2011 favorites from Music Editor Enrique Lopetegui and Arts Director Chuck Kerr on Wednesday.