indie folk

Mountains in Stars: “Hazards of Loving Creatures”

You’ve heard it a million times before: a picture is worth a thousand words. But go ahead and try it out if you dare. Pick a picture and start verbalizing. Yeah…you’ll give up far before you get anywhere close to a four-digit word count. Music on the other hand? Each chord carries various connotations, which become more complex once in the context of a full progression. And for first time listeners, lyrics typically get eclipsed by the overall musical character. So when a picture inspires a piece of music, abstract beats verbose, because that pairing of art forms often has a more profound impact than words alone ever will.

Which brings us to Barry Stone, a real stalwart of Austin’s ’90s scene through his work with noise rockers johnboy and Desafinado. That legacy largely belongs to Stone alone. But the same can’t be said of the upcoming release from Stone’s indie folk trio Mountains in Stars. See, their debut album Watch the Years Gather interpolates century-old heirlooms from Stone’s great grandfather’s personal photography collection, (dating back to the early 1900s) for a new mixed media experience. From what we’ve seen so far, these skillfully-composed snapshots capture a bucolic equine atmosphere – which perfectly match the melancholy acoustic originals on this record.

More than a decade and a half after its initial recording, the full Watch the Years Gather package (40-page photo book and all) is finally being made available next Thursday thanks to a live music grant from the City of Austin Economic Development Department. You can get your hands on these temporally transportive documents straight from the source 4PM that same day at Northern-Southern Gallery as part of Fusebox Festival when Mountains in Stars performs alongside Knife in the Water pedal steel player Bill McCullough. And for early entry into this interpretative exhibit, sink your teeth into the soothing LP opener “Hazards of Loving Creatures”. Eerie, gorgeous, and otherworldly, it’s just the right kind of calm we could all use before a busy celestial weekend.

Giulia Millanta: “I Dance My Way”

Few people are as effervescent about their passions than those from Florence. But we’re not talking about the tiny Texas town about half an hour north of here. No, we mean the Tuscan capital that gave us cultural heavyweights like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, Gucci, Cavalli, and more.Well, in a testament to “you can take the woman out of Italy but you can’t take Italy out of the woman”, Austin multi-hyphenate Giulia Millanta‘s pace of polymath output raises her profile towards that of her legendary Florentine predecessors. She’s a professional chef and a published author. Yet Millanta still finds the time and energy to write and record original music – which doesn’t sound quite as impressive as it truly is until you factor in what all she’s working with: guitar, upright bass, ukulele, plus vocals with lyrics in English, Italian, Spanish, and French. Yeah…Giulia’s the real deal.And this year is set to be another fruitful one for Giulia Millanta’s big batch of crafts; she’s soon set to share a new Italian cookbook – Dinner with Giulia – Flavors, Songs and Stories of a Florentine Troubadour, not to mention her ninth solo full-length, Only Luna Knows on April 19th. And while yes, you can hire Millanta to cook, spin yarns, and sing songs right in your own home, you can also familiarize yourself with this indie folk innovator in some more open settings – 8:30PM this Saturday at The Purple Barn in Wimberley, 7PM next Thursday at Pecha Kucha, 6PM at Guero’s on Wednesday the 17th, and the Only Luna Knows LP release party 6PM on Saturday April 20th at Saxon Pub.So there you have it – a full course of Giulia Millanta concerts to choose from. Now treat yourself to one of Giulia’s three pieces of antipasta from the album. We recommend last Friday’s “I Dance My Way”, since it’s got that ristorante-ready arrangement of piano, electric guitar, double bass, percussion, and vocals – all for that extra zest of Texan + Tuscan twang. Mangia bene.

Leila Sunier: “All I Choose”

Just like the three wise monkeys, it can be enticing to turn a blind eye rather than than process a harsh reality. So even though switching on tunnel vision is probably your best bet when passing a bad roadside accident, it’s a lot tougher to avert your gaze from a “dumpster fire” at large. Because what you choose to observe directly affects both your wisdom and skepticism.

At least that’s the vibe we get from singer-songwriter-guitarist-producer Leila Sunier, who moved down here from her native New York not too long after dropping her 2020 sophomore Where Everything Is Perfect. A big fan of filled-out arrangements and compressor-contradicting dynamics, Sunier’s indie-pop-folk-alt-rock concoction has caught plenty of attention, including that of At the Drive-In producer Alex Newport and Austin’s own Ghostland Observatory, for whom she opened up last June.

Now that those flavors have ripened within Austin’s “blueberry in the tomato soup”, Leila Sunier’s set to hit high marks for self-reflection and social commentary on Too Big For Right Now, out this July. Ahead of a gig 10:30PM this Friday at Captain Quackenbush’s (with openers Taylor Kron at 8:30 and Howdy Cherry at 9:30), last weekend Leila shared the latest in a panoply of delicate-yet-purposeful folk forays off Too Big For Right Now, “All I Choose”. So if you typically try to cram multiple shows into the start of your weekend, maybe just stick with the obvious choice this time around. For right now, though, feast on the meditative roadside visuals of “All I Choose”, whose minimalist eggshell sonics swell into something much bigger than expected without becoming bombastic. It’s beautiful. It’s brilliant. And it’s a sure sign that Sunier will keep on soaring upward.

Great Howl: “Violent Wind”

After an especially excruciating summer, the sound of strong winds this past week proved a symphony to our ears. Whether or not that cold front ushers in a full winter season, we’ve been blessed with a chilly aesthetic that’ll keep our spirits warm for months. Which brings us to a fresh Austin octet.

Founded and fronted by multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Matt Mossman, Great Howl captures the best of indie, folk, chamber pop, and rock into a specific kind of soft intensity, almost like if Arcade Fire started crashing with Neutral Milk Hotel and decided not to check out. Less of a caterwaul and more of a mighty bay, we’ve already heard the first instance of Great Howl’s clever dynamics on their first studio single “Meet Your Maker”, released back in September. That tune not only introduced us to the eight-piece’s unique style, but also set the stage for their upcoming debut EP of the same name.

Produced by SMiiLE frontman Jake Miles, Meet Your Maker hits streaming December 15th, with a release show the previous evening at Swan Dive with Sammy G and Dog Island. But if you want to enjoy the weather as it stands right now, your best bet is to catch Great Howl 8PM this Sunday at Coral Snake, alongside Sad Pajamas, Gummy Fang, and Divine Calypso. Either way, Meet Your Maker‘s gale of a sophomore single (which just blew in this morning) “Violent Wind” will blow out any pre-existing earworms with four minutes of carefully subdued orchestral vigor that escalates from a slight breeze of trebly riffs into tempestuous hooks and a real storm of an instrumental outro before settling down with a lulling piano chord. Don’t batten down the hatches; just turn up your headphones and set “Violent Wind” to “repeat”.

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.

Kris Gruen & Kendall Jane Meade: “Heaven On A Car Ride”

While nepotism in Hollywood continues to give the questionably talented mainstream opportunities, it really doesn’t exist like that within the music industry. Like, if a performer’s truly not up to snuff, a familial claim to fame ultimately won’t get them all that far. Case in point, son of iconic rock ‘n’ roll photographer Bob Gruen, Kris Gruen, whose childhood exposure to turn-of-the-’80s NYC counterculture legends actually sent him on an impressive path of self-worth, one that eventually found him rubbing elbows with some of those same greats. Beginning with his 2007 debut Lullaby School, Kris Gruen has been bolstering his delicate brand of Americana and indie folk. Gruen’s momentum really took off between 2018’s Coast & Refuge and 2021’s Welcome Farewell; he’s since had the pleasure of touring internationally alongside KUTX favorites Chuck Prophet and Alejandro Escovedo. Now, Gruen is ushering in June with his sixth full-length In Bloom. Sure the LP features a cover of The Clash classic “Bankrobber” – a tasteful tie-in with Gruen’s star-charmed childhood, but the record also blossoms with some of his finest songwriting work to date. And ahead of In Bloom‘s release next Friday, Kris Gruen’s given us one more early look at what to expect; harvesting what started as a basic sketch penned by Mascott/Juicy frontwoman Kendall Jane Meade one idyllic LA afternoon, Heaven On A Car Ride just pulled up. Along with its music video, “Heaven On A Car Ride” is an indie folk embrace like a sonic seatbelt, a soothing hug of harmony and soft acoustic strumming. Either way, shotgun seat’s all yours.

Alex Gaw: “Something Behind”

It’s not really an industry secret that some of the very best songwriters are the most patient ones, the ones who soak up a ton of pre-existing stuff before ever playing their first note. And needless to say, if you’re close to the Live Music Capital of the World, you and your creative sponge are in pretty good shape.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Alex Gaw became a father in his mid-30s, settled down a stone’s throw away in Round Rock, and moved up from guitar and ukulele lessons to fulfilling, honest songwriting. On top of inspirational Austin mainstays like Bob Schneider and Matt the Electrician, Gaw’s biggest influences include Metric, Fleet Foxes, jazz, and Joy Division.

Gaw seems especially struck by that final act, considering the original title of his sophomore single explicitly name-dropped Joy Division’s infamously tortured frontman. But even after just one spin of “Something Behind”, its indie-folk eclecticism (which features Wilson Marks on electric guitar and loops), fine-tuned dynamics, and lyric-less refrains will leave you agog to hear more from Alex Gaw, wherever his next muse may lie.

Nick Adamo: “Lie to Me”

Every December, everyone says that this year was the absolute worst. And while I won’t debate the objective demerits of 2022, it sure has felt like an especially long turn around the sun. It’s wild to think about, but at the end of this month, we’ll technically be twice as close to 2025 as we are to the end of the 2010s. So just as we sometimes pine for simpler memories of pre-9/11 America, there’s a certain pre-pandemic charm to the tail end of the last decade compared to these “Boring ’20s”.

For example, here in Austin, singer-guitarist Nick Adamo made a double debut in 2019 with a twin-pack of surf-rock singles. But just as we thought Austin surf legends 3 Balls of Fire were about to have stiff competition from this young buck, COVID brought the world to a halt, and Nick Adamo retreated away from those good vibrations. We haven’t really heard from Nick Adamo since…until now.

Earlier this morning Nick Adamo broke the silence with his first single in three years. “Lie to Me” teams Nick Adamo up with NPR Tiny Desk veteran/vocalist Aubrey Hays, Pelvis Wrestley pedal-steel-guitarist Zack Wiggs, and even a string quartet courtesy of the Austin Symphony composed by Charlie Magnone. The payoff? A sandy folk-orchestral arrangement anchored by Adamo’s dexterous finger-plucking and sanguine singing. Catch Nick Adamo’s solo acoustic set 3-5PM this Saturday at The Domain (benefitting the Musician Treatment Foundation) and a full band single release show on December 14th, 10PM at Saxon Pub.

Deer Fellow: “Unravel”

Indie music in Austin, Texas: there’s a lot of it. You’ve got indie rock, indie pop, a little bit of indie electronic, and my personal favorite, indie folk. And that’s strictly due to the incorporation of acoustic instruments, something Austin duo Deer Fellow excels at. Made up of violinist-pianist-vocalist Alyssa Kelly and guitarist-vocalist Matt Salois, Deer Fellow’s been grazing local grounds (and far beyond) since 2016. The pair’s always shared complementary threads of creativity, but nowadays, especially after all those years collaborating in close company, Salois’ and Kelly’s respective singular talents have become intertwined well past the point of separation. That Shining-level cross-strand connection came to a head with the release of their debut EP Words Unsaid last year and is sure to continue on their upcoming sophomore record Unraveling. Unraveling follows a successful summer tour for Deer Fellow, who are set to hot-hoof across central Texas over the next week. This four-stop stint includes appearances in Manchaca and San Antonio plus a Sofar Sounds curation in both Houston and Austin, which kicks off this Friday in the St. Elmo district. But will those shows be Deer Fellow’s only output this winter? Frayed knot. Today Deer Fellow premiered Unraveling’s lead single and title-adjacent track, “Unravel”. What begins as bare bones guitar-and-vocals seamlessly unweaves into serene strings, call-and-response countermelodies, subtle drums in just over three minutes. It’s poignantly incandescent, so fair warning: If you’re already in an emotionally fragile spot at the moment, “Unravel” might just tear you to shreds.

Deer Fellow: “Someone To Watch Over Me”

One of the main reasons why jazz is my personal favorite genre is that once you’re familiar with the Great American Songbook, you basically have a loose blueprint for how each tune’ll turn out. Sure, every rendition is different, but even when chord progressions get lost in genre translation, those classic heads still dazzle. And although streaming numbers tend to determine the “best” version for newcomers, there are countless interpretations out there that cater to tastes across the board. One of those comes to us today courtesy of Austin duo Deer Fellow. As Deer Fellow, multi-instrumentalist-vocalists Alyssa Kelly and Matt Salois have amassed an impressive herd of fans. Deer Fellow’s 2021 debut EP Words Unsaid introduced us to the pair’s versatility, purposeful production, and evolving breed of intimate indie-folk-pop. Today, they put a timeless Gershwin standard on a new set of hooves. It’s been nearly a hundred years since George & Ira Gershwin first penned “Someone To Watch Over Me”, but thanks to Deer Fellow’s innovative vision, sparse orchestral harmonies, and spacious acoustic mix, there’s enough proof that this torch song still has plenty of fuel left to burn.

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.

Cujo Moon: “In the Stars”

If you’ve ever listened to Neon Rain, The Wild Jays, or Dream the Electric Sleep, you’ve already heard some of Trevor Willmott’s handiwork. Outside of those groups, this Lexington-born Nashville-based singer-guitarist-producer has also racked up millions of streams with his indie-alternative-folk solo project Cujo Moon. Cujo Moon first crept up in late 2020 with his debut EP Bridges and returned with its sequel, Bridges II, the following March. Cujo Moon’s third record Tides rolled in last August, inspiring comparisons to Elliott Smith, Jeff Buckley, and Bon Iver based on Willmott’s soothing guitar strums and gentle vocals.

Last weekend, Willmott bayed away a multi-month studio leave and embraced a crepuscular mindset on Cujo Moon’s fourth EP, Horizons. As with the rest of Cujo Moon’s catalogue, Horizons was written, recorded, produced, mixed, and mastered “lone wolf” style – entirely by Willmott alone. It’s a testament to the artistic impact that only comes with an auteur approach, something many solo songwriters overlook. Be it literal or through the use of emotional metaphors, Horizons sets its sights up to the celestial spirits and complements that connection to nature with earthy, ambient sonics, including piano and synth. You certainly don’t have to be an astronomer to appreciate Horizons but tracks like “In the Stars” will have you looking at the sky with a whole new sense of understanding and affection.

Deer Fellow: “For My Sake”

Going back to their 2016 debut single “Where I’ll Be”, guitarist-vocalist Matt Salois and violinist-pianist-vocalist Alyssa Kelly have been making listeners feel all warm and fuzzy inside with their project Deer Fellow. True to their name, this Austin duo’s shown a real camaraderie with the calming powers of nature thanks to an indie-folk-pop sound slathered in delicate harmonies, purposeful chord progressions, and sentimental subject matter. With the exception of last year’s Words Unsaid EP, Deer Fellow’s also proven a real mastery over standalone singles. And on a cold day like this in Austin we could all go for some of that warm and fuzziness. Thankfully Deer Fellow’s just issued “For My Sake”, recorded, mixed, and mastered by Erik Wofford and guaranteed to heat and heal you through a chilly weekend.