As 2014 rolls along, we’ve seen an abundance of stellar releases from SA artists and our expatriates in Austin. Though it’s been a broken border for some time now, the I-35 divide between San Anto and Austin seems to be more fluid than ever, as confirmed by Flower Jesus Quintet’s split release Cosmic American Music with Low Times, a SA-ATX hybrid.
Upgrading from quartet to quintet with the addition of guitarist/noisemaker Torin Metz late in 2013, Flower Jesus take Cosmic American Music’s A-side, released on Austin’s Aye Aye Aye tapes. Beginning with slow burner “You Are How You Are,” FJQ places three ambient pieces between their vocal-led cuts “Sunset Smile,” “Tall Whites Master” and “Chemtrail Blues.”
Though the experimental works add a foundational weirdness to fulfill the title’s cosmic claim, it’s the type of music that’s more interesting to create than to listen to. But, like most process music, the idea behind the trial totally rules. With their previously released tape single “Massive Cave” as a source text, FJQ copy-pasted, reversed and manipulated their previous material to new effect.
When FJQ steps to the line as a full band, they deliver with raw style. On “Sunset Smile,” singers Louis Davila and Rob Martinez bend their pop hooks effortlessly, as bassist Daniel Ray and drummer Josh Vera thrust the song forward. “Tall Whites Master” vibes on a Velvet Underground feel, while “Chemtrail Blues,” their best recorded effort yet, builds over a popcorn funk beat and a two-note drone, as Martinez’s reverbed baritone take center stage.
Moonlighting as Low Times’ bassist, Rob Martinez joins his cousin and Aye Aye Aye Tapes’ founder Erik Camacho for Cosmic American Music’s lo-fi B-side. Like Dick Dale’s surfin’ U.S.A. guitar licks broadcast through a VHS player, Low Times see-saw between Austin psych forefathers the 13th Floor Elevators and Bay Area garage lords Thee Oh Sees as their primary sonic molds.
Like FJQ, Low Times dot their Cosmic side with interim tracks “Your Letter” and “I Totally Samba You.” Unlike their transitional cousins on side A, these tunes hold their weight as individual works; fun little moments of acoustic sobriety in an otherwise raging bender of well-executed, slutty garage rock.
Though Flower Jesus Quintet’s contribution to Cosmic American Music is slightly less determined than their homies from Austin, they’re also reaching into more difficult territory, with fewer like-minded artists from whom to draw influence. As one of the few local groups that extends their aesthetic vision into visual art and social media, FJQ is one of SA’s most promising bands at a promising time in Alamo City music.
Jackson Albracht has been churning out charming indie pop tunes as Slomo Drags since his relocation to Austin. The mind behind San Antonio’s defunct Cartographers, Albracht has just released Slomo Drags, a four-track debut that expands on the rococo pop songwriting and arrangements of his days in SA. Helping to create that natural extension, San Anto guitarist and former Cartog Raul Alvarez aids and abets on six-string duty.
Lyrically, Albracht takes simple song concepts and packs them with cliché-defying language. “You can p-p-p-pick your favorite c-c-c-creation myth,” he sings on “Pick Your Favorite,” dropping subtle internal rhymes within a larger song structure. Similarly, the guitar work on Slomo Drags starts each piece out straight-ahead, only to develop into orchestrated art rock riffs. Highly involved without feeling dense, Slomo Drags is a testament to Albracht’s songwriting abilities. Like Chuck Kerr in Seattle or Marcus Rubio in LA, it’s nice to check in with San Antonio natives tearing it up in new terrain.
With a long-running deal with Detroit’s Fountain Records and now receiving cassette distribution through Fullerton, Calif.’s badass Burger Records, the Rich Hands return in good standing for their second LP Out of My Head. With some internet hype and the Burger button of approval on their denim jackets, the album’s 11 tracks of short and sweet garage pop could be the Rich Hands’ breakout effort.
For their sophomore album, the Rich Hands look retrospectively to break the garage rock prototype. With organ and tambourine adornments, the trio would fit in quite comfortably on a Johnny Thunders-heavy mixtape. Album closer “I Get By” pulls from glam rockers like T Rex and Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal-era Lou Reed, while holding onto a garage sense of simplicity.
On Burger Records alone, there’s an overcrowding of awesome, distortion-driven bands with a taste for sugar-sweet hooks. With the tweaks made on Out of My Head, here’s to the Rich Hands’ status as the fairest Burger of them all. Either way, don’t expect the three-piece to win Most Underrated Band again in the Current’s Music Awards (voter’s choice) later this year.
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