Songwriting, execution, production, lyrics… It all counts when choosing the “best” anything on anyone’s list. But ultimately it all comes down to vibes. The following list is as flawed, incomplete, and subjective as anybody’s, but hey, what can I do? These are the albums, EPs, and artists that moved me. When I think of 2011, I think of these guys and gals.
Little Brave’s Wound & Will and Little Brave at Sam’s Burger Joint. Originally from New Braunfels and now living in Austin, the artist formerly known as Stephanie Briggs didn’t have a CD release party: she had an art installation. Dance, theater, lights, first-class sound (per Sam’s usual), and even confetti. It was a fitting tribute to one of the best break-up albums I’ve ever heard. Runners-up: Education at Sam’s (Age Cage CD release party), Texas Tornados at Sam’s, and Mitch Webb & The Swindles at Saluté.
Gary Clark Jr. at Sam’s Burger Joint. He’s a unique bluesman: neither a traditionalist nor an innovator, he consolidates Hendrix, Stevie Ray, ’90s grunge, hip-hop, soul, and R&B into a cool mix that makes your jaw drop. He can outgroove and outplay any fucker on earth, but he’s into songs, not showmanship.
Consider my year’s best shows above and take a wild guess. Sam’s Burger Joint sets the standard when it comes to sound in this city. It is both big enough and small enough, the engineering is superb, and the veggie burgers are out of this world. You can’t go wrong with Sam’s.
Gordon Raphael in San Antonio. Fortunately, SA didn’t become Seattle (what the hell did that mean, anyway?), but several local bands gained studio experience and a handful of solid records were made in the process (even those that didn’t make my EPs of the year, like Tangible Green’s Breathe Heavy EP, which I really dug). Raphael cares about the music and the musicians. That’s why it all sounded real.
Those who know me know that I have a Jurassic take on EPs: They’re something you do once in a while, between albums, or just at the very beginning of your career. To put out EP after EP, refer to an abbreviated disc as “my album,” or to dare to make a career out of it so “the fans can have something now instead of waiting,” well, to that I say: screw the fans. Do you want to be an artist or an entertainer? EP’s don’t have the weight or long-lasting power of full-length albums. The Strokes’ real discography starts with Is This It, not The Modern Age. Having said that, my favorite short takes are Gary Clark Jr.’s The Bright Lights, Pop Pistol’s Disappearing Edges (an exact replica of what they are in person: warm, entertaining, direct, and always ready for fun surprises), Chacho & Brance’s The Como Sessions (too bad they don’t play more often, but I’m looking forward to their mix of Delta and country blues and soul/folk on a full length), and Nicolette Good’s rootsy five-song eponymous EP that confirms her as one of the best singer-songwriters in town.
This is where things get messy. I find it very strange that Exits & All The Rest, the album widely recognized as the best for Girl in a Coma (our most successful rock outfit, whether you like them or not), is not to be found in most top 10 lists sent to me by other players in the local music scene [see “(Some) People’s Choice” in the Sound and Fury blog at blogs.sacurrent.com]. Could it be we are so hard up for “new” sounds that we must forget the bands that have already received plenty of ink? Perhaps the album’s November debut worked against it (by which time many of you may have already catalogued your picks?). In any event, from my position, 2011 belonged to Girl in a Coma… and then came all the rest.
1. Girl in a Coma, Exits & All The Rest
If this had been an album by a new band, we would all be drooling over it. No other album had better songs (meaning: not just ideas, but best completed songs), maturity, and execution. And nobody, nobody, nobody within greater San Antonio sings better than Nina Díaz.
2. The Offbeats, Lights Out In The City
The best concept album of the year, from the cover to the last song.
3. Education, Age Cage
It took me a few listens, but it finally hooked me and won’t let go. Doesn’t hurt that they’re also one of the best live acts in the city.
4. Blowing Trees, Wolf Waltz and the Big Nothing Now
Is there anybody more versatile and artistically ambitious and daring than Chris Maddin? Him and his band/s haven’t done the album of their lives yet, but this is pretty darn good.
5. Hyperbubble, Drastic Cinematic
Dear Jeff and Jess: I hope you’re having nice holidays. Please: cut the crap. We want you to perform more often. Keep those CDs coming, but please give us at least one good live performance a year. Thanks.
6. Carlton Zeus, The Spread Mixtape
He’s a clown, a provocateur, and he knows exactly what he’s doing. The best local rapper, hands down.
7. Glambilly, White BBQ Sauce
As a militant vegetarian, this is the only BBQ sauce I’ll take. A strong showing from one of SA’s most underrated talents.
8. Mexicans with Guns, Ceremony
This isn’t hip-hop or electronica. It’s something else. Meant to be heard from beginning to end with no interruptions.
9. Transistordale, Transistordale
Probably the best Texas blues album you never heard. Key track: “Games People Play.” Long live (and record) the older dudes.
10. Victoria Celestine, From The Outside
The best local voice since Nina Díaz, and superb alternative country-pop songwriting. “I instantly thought, ‘Oh wow, I’m watching someone who may be a new Patsy Cline set into the modern world!’” producer Gordon Raphael said upon seeing her perform at the G.I.G. ’Nuff said. And she’s only 15. •
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