Austin, the holy land for anyone who grew up anywhere else in Texas. There’s great music all over the state, but genres collide and expand here. I love the laid-back down-home vibe that you can’t truly find in New York or LA; I guess you could compare it to Nashville because of the country threads running through, but it recalls Portland, OR more to me. The words “desert” or “swamp” or “party” or “devil-may-care” come to mind far before “country”, or when I think of country I think of outlaws like Willie Nelson. Meanwhile, somehow the spawning of indie art-folk experiments like Daniel Johnston make just as much sense. All that wide open empty space leaves a lot of room for soul-searching.
When I was there I filled that extra room with queso :(
the black angels
The best band in Austin and everyone knows it. It's pure, rich, lush psych-rock, best jammed while speeding down wide open desert roads. Alex Maas has one of the craziest voices I've ever heard in my life; something about it is otherworldly and haunting. How do they get those guitar tones? Loyal to Austin, Maas and Christian Bland are a part of The Reverberation Appreciation Society, the collective that puts on Levitation Festival [and releases records from bands like Holy Wave (Austin) and Night Beats (Seattle)].
Zorch first blessed me at Death By Audio in Brooklyn (RIP) in 2011. They were weird as hell, electronic and dancey but also mathy and psychedelic, with such kinetic live energy (+ fun trippy light-show theatrics). I caught them a few more times over the years - most notably at a rabid house show in Austin during SXSW. In recent years I haven't seen them around, but it sounds like there may be new music on the way.
These dudes come out in full regalia; I pity any crowd that doesn't get to experience The Cape. This is ridiculous, energetic, spazzy, electro-dance-party space-rock, delivered with high-pitched urgency and the seizure-inducing production to match. I sold merch at their Royale show in Boston once and every picture I tried to take was a laser lightshow spectacle. Sad Sad City is a forever jam.
Explosions In The Sky
Meditative instrumental band often described as “cathartic”. Beautiful, melodic, interwoven guitar work that must have influenced a lot of post-rock that came later (I won’t name names. Hint: everyone). Can you imagine having caught one of their tours with Nine Inch Nails or Fugazi? Jesus Christ. They’ve soundtracked a few films which makes total sense considering their songs are more like scores anyway. EITS aren’t “metal”, but they’re appreciated and replicated by that community constantly, and it’s bands like this that come closer to the classical world than any other genre. Listen to anyone in this circle and be prepared to be transported to desolate landscapes for a bout of melancholic soul-searching.
Originally from my hometown of Beaumont, TX! We’ve clearly got the psych elements going on here, but I’m mainly inclined to call it shoegaze. Dreamy, atmospheric vocals dance around distorted guitars. Sometimes they’ll launch into industrial-sounding noise that’s somehow delicate at the same time (a combo mastered by HEALTH). Other times they’ll go full grunge. Their signposts are clearly the 90s, but it's the road less travelled.
Originally from El Paso, they’re kind of chillwave but lean more heavily on the psychedelics and reverb than on summer vibes. They’re not show-offs - you’re not on a ketamine trip or entering another dimension. Maybe you just smoked a little weed, not enough for paranoia, and you’re riding it out. The tracks that are buried in the mix are atypical; it might be the vocal or the main melodic elements, while the peripheral stuff is in the front, so you get that shifted fishbowl perspective. Which is how adult fear (the latest album title, and also my mood) actually does present itself - what you thought was important in your life fades into the background, and what bubbles to the surface to take it’s place surprises you.
Honorable Mention: At The Drive-In / The Mars Volta
They're from El Paso, but including them in any discussion about Texas music is necessary as a source of pride. Is it true they'll be returning soon? Knock on wood.