BOO85: “Heart”

There’s a crass type of middle school comedy that still elicits cackles far past its “prime”. And following the rich Texas tradition of juvenile band handles like Dicks and Butthole Surfers, the name choice behind BOO85 is a breasty testament the infectious fun from five bosom buddies…even though it is pronounced like a mid-decade spectral scare (“boo eighty-five”).

This all-women Austin outfit navigates the cleavage of rock between alternative and pop. And that titillating twist is perfectly pressed against BOO85’s penchant for swaying bass and guitar, well-rounded drums, and lascivious vocals. BOO85 first slipped out onto streaming right around this same time last year, followed by the Exposed EP that summer and their jangly rendition of “Santa Baby” for the holidays. Clearly, they’re not going tits up anytime soon.

And this Valentine’s Day, as the girls gear up for a March 15th show at Knomad Bar, BOO85 presents their strongest recording yet. The opening bars of their new single “Heart” instantly recall Pixies, but soon shape up into some dream pop shimmer on the hooks, a “how was this not made in the ’90s” bridge section, and an intrinsically feminine energy throughout. So while we hope BOO85’s taking the tunes seriously doesn’t cover up the group’s characteristic fun…”Heart” is seriously good.

Jefferson Clay: “Freaking Out Is Fine”

The gift and curse of modern artist multiplicity is so immense that it’s nearly unfathomable. For listeners, it opens a Pandora’s box of choices to the point that we almost have to rely on streaming algorithms and pre-made playlists to find new sounds. And while artists themselves can still easily find musical role models to emulate, where do you even start in terms of identifying your contemporaries and narrowing down your competition? Well, especially for a solo act here in the already-flooded Live Music Capital, it not only depends on talent, but indeed, a calculated release schedule to keep all those easily-disinterested listeners engaged. Just check out Austin singer-guitarist Jefferson Clay‘s single discography, which now totals at a dozen, including the Fall 2021 breakout/playlist darling “Sun-Glo”. Clay wisely kicked off his streaming presence within the first two weeks of the global shutdown, back when everyone was begging for any kind of variety to help stave off cabin fever. But Clay kept the momentum going with three more singles for 2020, and a pair both for 2021 and 2022, all of which maintain a well-branded minimalist aesthetic in terms of visual art. And as opposed to a fad-chaser desperate for metrics, fortunately Clay has the wisdom to recognize the artistic wholeness of a debut full-length, Elsewhere. Somehow. Somewhere., which drops…sometime soon. Continuing the journey from his salad days of underage 6th street shows to co-headlining 40 Acres Fest at his alma mater, appearing on American Idol and opening for REO Speedwagon, Elsewhere…is an indie-pop alt-rock R&B tumbler of Clay’s ever-maturing talents wrapped up in one easily-accessible package. Ahead of the “Too Damn Hot” showcase 8PM this Friday at Burleson Yard Beer Garden in San Antonio Jefferson recently unfurled a twofer that evokes Max Frost, which isn’t a huge surprise since they were produced by Max/BLK ODYSSY collaborator Victor Gaspar. So funnel the earworm that is “Freaking Out Is Fine” straight into your cranium and try not to incorporate it into your daily wakeup routine.

The Crayon Set: “Sunlounger”

With excessive heat warnings dominating forecasts here in the American Southwest and little to do about it other than stay inside or lather on sunscreen and bee line towards shade, there’s no harm in reframing our seasonal misery by listening in on lighter summer sounds coming from across the pond. Enter Dublin five-piece The Crayon Set, who, as of now, like KUTX, have officially been around a full decade. While the quintet’s eponymous 2013 inception lies in indie pop, The Crayon Set expanded their genre color palette to include Americana and synth pop with 2017’s Lost Languages and 2021’s Downer Disco, respectively. So even though they categorize themselves as alternative pop, The Crayon Set’s clearly comfortable experimenting with a wide variety of stylistic pigments for their hook-heavy originals. Case in point: The Crayon Set’s first single since last year’s “Love Is a Real Place” and what’s so far their standalone offering of 2023. Although the band’s handle combined with a music box intro might make a for a knee-jerk reaction that this is a children’s tune, the music video for “Sunlounger” (which features clips from 1969’s La Piscine of Alain Delon and Jane Birkin rompin’ around and breakin’ all the pool rules) cue you into a much more mature nature. “Sunlounger”‘s meditative orchestral flourishes, sensuous boy-girl vocal harmonies, and sneaky psych guitar sound almost like a previously unreleased Damon Auburn-produced track from David Gilmour’s On an Island. It’s a sonic equivalent to what summer hedonism should look like as imagined by drizzly Dubliners, not a sweltering hellscape like the one here in Texas, so click “play” and start the siesta whenever you’re ready.

Fort Never: “Take A Look At Us Now”

You might’ve seen recent headlines about Fort Hood changing their name to Fort Cavazos. Which, apolitically speaking, is fascinating because there was also an outfit right here in town under the same name who pulled pretty much the same move almost a decade back. But even before the Austin trio formerly known as Fort Hood adopted a new handle, the idea of rebranding amidst disappointment was already ripe in their minds. You see, before vocalist Chantell Moody moved to Austin, she felt emotionally destitute in Des Moines. Although she traveled light when relocating to the Live Music Capital, a set of pipes just as immense as her heart helped her achieve frontwoman status with The Digital Wild. After linking up with producer Timmie Rook, the pair began collaborating as Fort Hood and relaunched themselves as Fort Never with the recruitment of drummer Deano Cote in the mid-2010s. In the Fall of 2017, The three-piece dropped their debut 8-track Home, a garrison of Portishead-esque trip-hop, electronic dub, lo-fi folk and experimental arrangements in the vein of tUnEyArds. At the turn of the 2020s, Fort Never unfurled a pair of singles, the second of which enjoyed a Mobley remix in 2021. Well last weekend, Fort Never came strutting out of the portcullis with an absolute beauty. Sounding like Citizen Cope on a double dose of dopamine, “Take A Look At Us Now” (alongside its music video) wows with a languid boom bap beat, calm yet confident piano chords, pensive guitar, strings that give “Bitter Sweet Symphony” a run for its money, and a masterful vocal performance rivaling that of Roses Gabor all in just under five minutes.

Madison Baker: “U-Shaped Dent”

As we’ve come to expect in the Live Music Capital of the World, this past weekend once again treated us to a bevy of release shows. But among the many, one you might’ve missed came on behalf of Madison Baker, who, alongside our September 2019 Artist of the Month Flora & Fawna, Glasshealer, and Clover the Girl, scorched the Swan Dive stage on Friday night.

The occasion? Madison Baker’s latest single “U-Shaped Dent”, breaking a nearly two-year period of no releases. In contrast to the BeyoncĂ©-esque trap and R&B drum programming that helped define Baker’s 2021 EP Boundary, “U-Shaped Dent” is a real endeavor into alt-pop; it sounds like Imogen Heap and Robyn hive-minded their vocal techniques into a relaxed-tempo Flight Facilities track. And although the single’s promotional photos find Madison rummaging through a junkyard, rest assured “U-Shaped Dent” salvages the crisp, clean production and feathery falsetto we’ve been missing since Boundary.

Madison Baker’s next listed gigs include an appearance at Planet K next Friday, March 10th and BLK Vinyl on Wednesday, March 15th, which ought to help you put a dent into your annual live show quota.

Felt Out: “Closer”

Given the generation-sprawling success of industry darlings like Billie Eilish and Future, it’s safe to say that the use of auto-tune has become a near-universally-accepted aesthetic. Or at least more so than when “Believe” first broke conventions in 1998 or when the disdainful “D.O.A.” dropped in 2009. Auto-tune’s ascent into ubiquity has also aligned nicely with an advent of alt-pop over the past decade, a movement that wouldn’t be what it is without acts like Felt Out.

Cemented in ten years of friendship, Austin multi-instrumentalist/producers Sowmya Somanath and Walter Nichols first showed off their sultry smooth style on Felt Out’s 2019 debut full-length Superfluid. The pair also passed off a trio of Superfluid B-Sides back in 2021, but since then we’ve felt a bit in the dark about what’s next for Felt Out. Today, that all changes.

Felt Out announced their sophomore full-length Until I’m Light earlier this morning. The ten-track LP’s set for release on April 14th, toting some of the most innovative harmonic auto-tuning we’ve heard since Imogen Heap’s mid-2000s heyday. The record’s lead single “Closer” just touched down alongside a phantom-filled music video, whose forlorn dynamics and fleshly form will make you feel held all the way up to Until I’m Light‘s release day.

Glass Mansions: “Standing O”

Back at the turn of the millennium it was a pretty interesting phenomenon seeing the label “alt-rock” dominate genre preferences. Now, immersed in the status quo of DAWs and MIDI arrangements a full generation later, we’ve come full circle with “alt-pop”. So if you’re on the prowl for the top purveyors of alt-pop right here in Austin, have peek into Glass Mansions. Made up of vocalist/percussionist/sampler Jayna Doyle and synthesist/guitarist/bassist/keyboardist Blake Arambula, this two-piece definitely ticks a box for member efficiency. In the half decade since breaking ground on Glass Mansions, the pair’s atemporal open house of synth-driven, rock-grounded, dance-adjacent tastes has landed their tunes on MTV, Netflix, and Bravo. And in the live realm, Glass Mansions has glistened onstage alongside Phantogram, Robert Delong, and Young the Giant across Warped Tour, SXSW and beyond. Amongst all that applause and exposure, Glass Mansions has gleaned how to please listeners of all kinds. But as a female-led project, even Glass Mansions has unsurprisingly been smudged by institutionalized oppression. So today, a week out from their free Beach Fossils after show next Friday at The Mohawk, Glass Mansions has pulled the curtain back on their latest music video. Between its news footage, stacked-tv overstimulation, and undeniable crossover appeal, “Standing O” may make you wanna rip your monitor right out of its socket…at least wait ’til you give Glass Mansions a follow.

merci, mercy: “Sick To My Stomach”

You hear a lot of Australian music on 98.9, so much that you may wonder, “is this supposed to be the Aussie music experience?” But despite how well the continent’s handled quarantine, they haven’t stopped sharing great music, and we’re just trying to keep up. As of yet, though, we don’t have Sydney’s merci, mercy in rotation, but that may soon change.

This composer made her debut right at the beginning of the pandemic with her 2020 EP no thank you, no thanks, and has since garnered 12 million streams with her luminous vocals and immaculate sense of pop songwriting. merci, mercy’s set to share her sophomore EP later this year, and released one of its singles just yesterday. With a synth-heavy, retro-percussion groove, “Sick To My Stomach” could easily become one of your favorite bops of 2022, but don’t let that head-bobbin’ beat overshadow the earnestness of these habit-kicking lyrics.