folk rock

Matt the Electrician: “Human Echo”

It’s been a long time since Matt the Electrician made his last official house call. But although the days of his eponymous trade are behind us, Matt’s still got the spark to put a tap in our foot and a smile on our face each time he plays. In our ever-crowding, sometimes cocky live scene, Matt the Electrician really does humble the competition thanks to decades of astute observations and unpretentious performances, unplugged or otherwise. And with a discography as deep as his, comparing the output from his folk rock contemporaries to Matt the Electrician is almost like a drop in the ocean.

Speaking of which, Matt the Electrician just finished up his latest installation last Friday with his full-length The Ocean Knocked Me Down, a sixteen-track tidal wave of lighthearted fun and buoyant optimism that features some Austin favorites. Over the next couple weeks, this electrician will be workin’ on a regional circuit, with stops in Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas before returning to Texas in March. Glancing at Matt the Electrician’s calendar, there’s a suspicious gap right where SXSW lands, but we do know for sure that he’ll have another Austin show on April 20th at The Rollins Theater.

Until then, if you’ve depleted your remaining surplus of holiday cheer, let The Ocean Knocked Me Down wash away that wintertime blues with charming originals like “Human Echo”. The second track in The Ocean…‘s new batch, “Human Echo” reverberates with skanky ukulele, unruffled trumpet riffs, big bear hugs of group vocals, tasteful key chords, and the jocund wisdom that whatever it will be…is whatever it will be.

Alma Jette: “Demons”

When an artist spends precious set time talking about a song’s inspiration, they’re sometimes met with the demand of “less talk, more rock”. Which is pretty unfair, because when your tunes are left up to interpretation, setting the stage for your lyrics is just as important as contextualizing an ajar journal entry.

So we gotta applaud the admirable candor of Mary Bryce, who, on top of keeping her Substack regularly updated, is also quite the accomplished poet, painter, and singer-songwriter, best known in the latter category among locals as a member of long-gone Austin outfit SMiiLE. Like the best of us, Mary seized the start of the pandemic to begin working on a new creative outlet – Alma Jette (alongside a solo album recorded straight to tape) before re-locating to Los Angeles with her then-partner/SMiiLE frontman Jake Miles. But that brief period between the LP’s affectionate origins and the present hasn’t been without tumult; just last year, Bryce’s long-term relationship with Miles ended shortly after the pair’s L.A. home burned down.

Fortunately, those circumstances haven’t left too sour a taste in Bryce’s mouth. At least not enough to scrap the whole project. Instead, like a phoenix, those ten intimate snapshots have taken on more, wiser nuance with Alma Jette’s debut full-length, I Found A Reason, out late April. And since Bryce now splits her time between LA and ATX, it’s definitely worth catching Alma Jette in town for a single release this Friday ’round midnight at Sagebrush after openers Sammy G at 9PM, Other Vessels at 10PM, and Harry & Emmy at 11PM. That single – “Demons” – cuts straight to the chase of its title in its first handful of seconds before an enchanting orchestral arrangement pushes emotions to the top. It’s almost like a just-discovered Joni Mitchell folk rock single at a thematic midpoint between Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour and Star-Crossed. Just don’t blame Bryce when the waterworks start flowing…

West 22nd: “Sweet!”

If this intense summer heat is starting to fry your synapses and your mind is in need of a holiday…but you don’t really have time on the calendar or money in the budget for proper R&R, there’s a broad sonic convoy right here in town that’ll take your brain places, for sure. We’re talking about Austin quintet West 22nd. Based on the campus-adjacent coordinates in their handle, you can probably guess where West 22nd got their start. But it’s worth mentioning that the five members have home state backgrounds ranging from Georgia to California, a critical piece of West 22nd’s “cross-country road trip” aesthetic within their indie-folk-rock excursions. For those staying connected with the Live Music Capital from outside the city limits, let West 22nd take you All The Way Home this Friday with their debut EP that shares the title. For the locals, West 22nd commemorates the occasion with a release show 8PM that same evening at Mohawk indoors alongside Daydream Twins, Knox Write, and Sounds by Moonbby. And for everyone, West 22nd simmers and shimmers on All The Way Home‘s latest lead single, “Sweet!”. Simple kick drum and snare rim, easy-strolling bass, and soft-swaying six-string warm this arrangement up before impassioned pipes bring this thing to a peak, but the inter-instrumental energy across this relatively complex song structure is really what escalates “Sweet!” past vapid and saccharine and into satiating and sanguine.

Tender Wolf: “Good Day”

The dog days formally end this Friday, but each triple new digit forecast says otherwise. So while we approve of any and all forms of aestivation throughout this enduring inferno, we’re pretty blown away by all the projects that’ve premiered throughout this historic summer. One perfect example from right here in Austin? Tender Wolf. Founded by singer-guitarist J. Summar, cellist Courtney Waldron Daehne (both of Milktoast Millie & the Scabby Knees), Moving Panoramas/Sanco Loop drummer Phil McJunkins, and Schatzi bassist-vocalist Chris Nine, Tender Wolf began their languid bay back in June with their debut single “Piccadilly”. We’re not mussing up the four-piece’s fur when we say that they’re still in a pup stage, but between “Piccadilly” and Tender Wolf’s sophomore follow-up that just dropped last weekend, their brilliantly bleak folk-rock originals are plenty promising enough to make us want to get in good with the pack. So before the quartet takes the stage 8PM next Friday at Captain Quackenbush’s along with Bridey Murphy, let Tender Wolf take a bite out of your summertime blues with “Good Day”. Orchestral-grunge verses rev up to big impact choruses, but the real star of “Good Day” is its instrumental interplay; deft snare brushes and agile acoustic guitar riffs paw around steady cello swells, pizzicato plucks, and a minimalist bass line, creating a cozy foundation for those featherweight vocal harmonies.

The Best Around: “Lie to Me”

When decades of dominos fall before some of your finest work, it’s hard not to feel like fate led you to this moment. Just look at Austin songwriter Camron Rushin, whose grandfather worked with Lefty Frizzell producer Jim Beck way back in the ’50s. Within Rushin’s generation, there’d been about a ten-year-long break between artistic projects, but once he started sharing sketches with multi-instrumentalists Todd Pruner and Jon Merz at the start of the pandemic, the foundation was laid for The Best Around. If you couldn’t guess from the trio’s handle or their cutout ransom note/collage visual aesthetic, they’re not brazenly boasting about their abilities; they’re more navigating life like triplet Daniel-sans perfecting their musical martial art one waxing tune at a time. In wearing belts of both performer and audience member, The Best Around show up to the ongoing competition that is our Live Music Capital with a diverse style of art-rock. Last Friday The Best Around rolled out their ninth studio single total and first of 2023, one that features harmony vocals from Emma Kate, percussion from Josh Halpern and mastering from Cacophony Recorders’ Erik Wofford. A melancholy masterpiece from its first downbeat through its pre-chorus falsetto and cosmic Americana instrumental bridge all the way to its concluding chord, “Lie to Me” might honestly be The Best Around’s very best to date.

Andy Aylward: “No Surrender”

Whether its a stubborn molecule of toxic masculinity, a frank reflection on the fragility of life, or just a brash rock ‘n’ roll stereotype, “getting soft with age” is an oft-repeated adage, especially in the world of music. In the decade-long natural maturation of tastes between one’s preteens and post-grad explorations, there can be an almost parodic adrenaline-and-amp-addicted attitude that prefers to “die young” instead of “grow up”. And while claiming a traditional genre like folk is “hard” in contrast to say…punk rock sounds a bit silly, of course it’s all in the ear of the beholder. For London-born, Washington, D.C.-raised, and Austin-based songwriter Andy Aylward? A steady progression into soft-folk-rock hasn’t curbed any of the observational petulance of his adolescent punk days nor the nihilism of his post-college psychedelic experiences. Now whisked in the relative wisdom of his thirties, Aylward does make a conscious effort to eschew overt pessimism from his originals. But as heard on Andy Aylward’s 2019 solo debut Sometimes Rain, neither interjections of hope nor gallows humor mask the beautifully bleak honesty of his folksy poetry. Riding off a historically wayward relationship with cheap wine, bygone breakups, and the cross-country moves that eventually brought Aylward to Texas, Remember Me Like Birds On The Wind doesn’t relent an inch away from Andy’s intrinsic earnestness. These eight introspective, sparse arrangements were mixed by Fruit Bats/Kevin Morby producer D. James Goodwin for a minimalist affair that features The Cairo Gang’s Emmett Kelly, Stephen “Sweet Baboo” Black, and Captain Beefheart’s J.T. Thomas. Last Friday, ahead of Remember Me‘s April 25th release date, Aylward unleashed the album’s lead single that syncs up J.T. Thomas with trumpet-for-hire Paul Brandenburg for a jaunty jangler that just doesn’t give up, “No Surrender”.

The Deer: “I Wouldn’t Recognize Me”

Between blockbuster franchises, AMC spin-off series, and mobile games, we’re steeped in a culture obsessed with the grotesque, amoral, and ever-hungry aspects of zombies. But when you peel back the decaying flesh and fatigued growls, they’re really just creatures of transformation. Considering the positive connotations behind, say the resurrection of Christ or the ascension of the phoenix from ashes, maybe we’ve grossly misinterpreted the trope of revival after disintegration. And while there have been plenty of groups that’ve rebuilt after a recess, few have done it as elegantly as Austin quintet The Deer. Originally billed as Grace Park & The Deer, this band has undergone several stages of metamorphosis over the last decade, least notably Grace’s new last name. The Deer’s latest LP Do No Harm introduced us to an evolved sound – bigger arrangements, fewer folk-centered acoustic instruments, and more emphasis on psychedelia and indie rock. Well, today, ever defying expectations, The Deer just announced yet another remolding record, The Beautiful Undead, out September 9th. As you can tell from the title, it’s an album about regeneration after loss, and its My Morning Jacket-esque lead single “I Wouldn’t Recognize Me” will leave you reflecting on your own variations of the past and those still to come.

The Cactus Blossoms: “Hey Baby”

Although Minneapolis brothers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey didn’t begin singing together until they were in their thirties, The Cactus Blossoms and their handsome harmonies have already flourished a reputation that gives The Everly Brothers a run for their money. A half decade after The Cactus Blossoms released their debut LP You’re Dreaming and just two since their 2019 sophomore Easy Way, Burkum and Torrey have just announced a new full-length, One Day.

One Day drops February 11th of next year and The Cactus Blossoms have shared a little bit of its pollen early to keep our honey jar healthy, courtesy of the record’s soft-spoken, indie-folk-foot-tap lead single, “Hey Baby”!

Jenny Parrott: “The Fire I Saw (Is There Anyone To Meet Me)”

Unlike the similarly-named avian companion, Jenny Parrott has never needed to mimic anyone else to express herself. After moving to Austin a decade-and-a-half back, she fronted the Western swing three-piece Shotgun Party through three LPs and international tours, then got involved with folk rockers Loves It for two albums. Since then though, Parrott and her bilingual, triple-octave singing style have migrated into a soaring solo effort. Jenny Parrott’s sophomore LP The Fire I Saw takes the cross-genre embers of her 2017 debut When I Come Down and turns the heat way up with intricate synth-work and some of her finest vocal performances to date. The Fire I Saw drops next Friday the 12th, and Jenny Parrott performs 7pm that same evening at Hole in the Wall, but especially with the rapid temperature drops in the past 24 hours, it’s not a bad idea to land a warm spot early with the record’s title track!

Alexa Rose: “Big Sky”

Raised in a Virginia-West Virginia border town and now based out of Black Mountain, North Carolina, Alexa Rose has always had a rugged sense of country living and love of travel imbued in her music. Rose won over plenty of listeners with her intimate breed of Americana folk rock on her 2019 debut Medicine for Living, and with impressive maturation over a mere two years, is set to conquer a more cinematic sound with the upcoming Headwaters.

The nine tracks on Headwaters submerges you into Rose’s thorny examination of human nature through petals of poignant lyrics, bucolic arrangements, and of course, Alexa’s mesmerizing vocals. Headwaters streams in full on September 17th, and Alexa Rose has given a promising forecast to the record’s rockier side with its latest road-trip-inspired single, “Big Sky“!

Carsie Blanton: “Be Good”

Fueled both by her adoration and disgust over the world she inhabits, Philadelphia singer Carsie Blanton  strikes a balance between the seduction of jazz and the outspokenness of pop punk with her arsenal of societal anthems. Blanton’s upbeat brand of folk-rock defies any of the gloomy outlook you might take on given certain, pertinent subject matters, owing to the songwriter’s natural sense of humor and joy.

This Friday Carsie Blanton releases her LP Love & Rage, just under a dozen new tracks that tackle the facets of our current society and do so in a way that’ll keep your feet tapping with instant earworms like “Be Good”!