pop rock

Nané: “Always On My Mind” (Live in Studio 1A)

As with any active artistic community, the Austin music scene has suffered its share of too-soon tragedies. And the passing of Daniel Sahad – the flamboyant frontman of Austin sextet Nané who left us in April ’22 – still feels especially fresh in our memory.

Thankfully Daniel’s legacy still lives on through his music, Nané’s remaining members, and the pair of recorded performances Nané gifted KUTX (as our January 2021 Artist of the Month who finally slid into Studio 1A later that December) that have since become treasured mementos and unbiased testaments to Sahad’s dearly missed talent. But also, this weekend marks the anniversary of April 7th as Nané Day, which was officially decreed by the city mere weeks before Daniel’s death.

So come help celebrate Sahad’s life on Nané Day 8:30PM this Sunday at Empire Garage featuring Nané with Quentin Arispe guesting on lead vocals, plus opener Jefferson Clay for a tribute concert and closing ceremony whose proceeds benefit the SIMS Foundation. If you can only attend in spirit, at least revisit the video of Nané’s December ’21 Studio 1A session below. Because the whole set captures Sahad’s nimble charisma, immense kindness, and tip-top vocal execution, particularly on the band’s biggest hit “Always On My Mind” – which, down to its title, beautifully embodies the enduring imprint of Daniel on his former bandmates and anyone else who ever felt his touch.

The Lemon Twigs: “They Don’t Know How To Fall In Place”

You know the expression “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”? We’ve always though the phrase was a bit unfair to the citrus, because cultivation is actually a tedious process of temperature control, planting trees, pruning, and patiently waiting for seedlings to get big and yellow. Not only that, but once the batch is ripe and hardy, lemonade is just one of the many recipes that infuse those unique flavors.

So we’ve been kind of thinking about The Lemon Twigs with a similar outlook; ten years since the D’Addario bros started their high school pet project, The Lemon Twigs sound more mature than ever, and over that decade they’ve lent their style to dishes of baroque pop, art rock, glam, indie, and beyond. And especially in the last year or so, the boys have been busy! With the retro soft rock taste of last May’s Everything Harmony still fresh in our mouths, this morning The Lemon Twigs announced their sixth full-length A Dream Is All We Know – out May 3rd.

Yes, we were foolish enough to assume that early January’s “My Golden Years” was all the stand had to offer for now. Instead it’s just the first offering and album opener from this fresh, dozen-track bushel of pond-crossing ’60s sensibilities. Like swingin’ London squeezed the sweetest bits out of the Haight-Ashbury scene and vice versa, that well-aged jangle really pops on A Dream…‘s sophomore song, “They Don’t Know How To Fall In Place”, which, down to the grainy look and color processing of its music video, oozes that iconic 1960s counterculture aesthetic.

King Air: “Power Ballads”

On this second New Music Friday of 2024, we just gotta give a bow to some Austin pop rock royalty. We’re talkin’ about husband-and-wife songwriter-producers Joy and Bill Baldwin, best known by their collaboration King Air. After securing a legacy in marriage and parenthood, the Baldwins – both veterans of the ’90s local live scene – finally sat down and held court in what would become the pair’s kingdom – songwriting.

As with any parents in need of some quality quiet time, King Air initially crafts most of their tunes on the acoustic front. That said, over the past dozen years and four EPs they’ve churned out some really impressive guitar-vocal-and-drum-driven indie rock that incorporates the most appeasing breezes of ’80s college jangle, ’90s alternative, and turn-of-the-millennium post-punk-revival.

Well, next Friday King Air’s decreed to bless us peasants with their debut full-length, Natural High. We’ve already caught some of Natural High‘s buzz and fuzz from two lead singles released last year, both of which benefit from an ongoing relationship with Nada Surf/Moving Panoramas collaborator Louie Lino. So while we don’t know what’ll happen to the grid during next week’s big freeze, us subjects can at least expect a modicum of harmony under King Air’s two rulers based on the LP’s final lead single, “Power Ballads”. Electricity and cold weather aside, “Power Ballads” charges and warms with a hit-inspired hearth that evokes heavyweights without sounding derivative.

Gary Devlin: “Waves”

We’ll never deny the merits of lyrical therapy. Then again, the staying power and worldwide accessibility of meditative genres like classical and jazz has little to do with curated words. And more often than not with that universality, comes positivity.

Cut to El Paso-born, Arlington-based songwriter-guitarist Gary Devlin. Sure, Gary’s got the makings of a great singer, as heard on his 2016 debut Pick Your Heart’s Desire, but he also appreciates the intrinsic power of letting his six-string do the talking for him. That’s no doubt thanks to Devlin’s upbringing in a golden age of rock composition, when Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Zeppelin, and the too-many-to-list rest were the standard for quality songwriting. The way he sees it? Why put a perimeter around genres when you can make your mission statement “feel good pop rock”?

Well, to get the ball rolling on his as-of-yet-untitled 2024 LP, last Friday Devlin imparted some of those lessons onto a sans-lyric love song. And because it’s inspired by that-most complicated emotions, this sprawling five-minute instrumental doesn’t really stick to one lane. Instead “Waves” weaves smooth acoustic guitar jazz with ’70s-inspired prog rock that doesn’t pause until a final cathartic repose.

Impasto Gardens: “Glass Dose”

Now that we’ve had ample time to metabolize our holiday meal, might as well move back to the normal programming with the final New Music Friday of November. And today we’re listening to Austin singer-guitarist-producer Joseph McCaffrey, who you might recognize as the cofounder of mid-aughts indie pop outfit Nightmare of You. It’s been a little over a decade since we last heard from NoY, and now that McCaffrey’s entered his 40s, he’s leaning into that middle aged call to cultivate.

That’s right, just last month McCaffrey formally introduced us to his new solo project Impasto Gardens, a visually inspired crossbreed of shoegaze, pop rock, and indie psych – tangled somewhere in between Ride, Slow Dive, Explosions in the Sky, The Stone Roses, and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Late last month, the first single for Impasto Garden’s upcoming eponymous debut, “Support Systems”, made for a great introduction to McCaffrey’s newfound style, and has already racked up 40,000 spins on Spotify alone. And today he takes those textured nuances even further with the LP’s second harvest ahead of its release next January.

As the eighth of Impasto Garden‘s near-dozen tracks, “Glass Dose” provides a pivotal beat to transition into the album’s final act. Spacey guitar subdivisions and a complex drum pattern instantly paint a picture in the initial moments of “Glass Dose”, and as the reverb soars, so does the sense of translucent psychedelia in this succinct yield that’s strong enough to stand on its own – complete with quick-pan piano, un-buriable bass lines, and vegetative vocals.

Stella and the Very Messed: “Merchandiser”

Lots of longtime local concertgoers are likely to remember Cruiserweight. Now Cruiserweight has shared new music as recently as 2021, but not long before that, a couple of its crew members split off and started something a bit more…messy. We’re talking about Dave Hawkins and Stella Maxwell, co-founders of Austin quintet Stella and the Very Messed.

After testing out a couple of stripped-down demos at the turn of the decade, Stella and the Very Messed got a jump on the impending pandemic in early 2020 with their debut nine-track as a five-piece On Fences. Sure, S.a.t.V.M. retain a lot of the straightforward pop-rock formulas, hook-ready melodies and all, of their predecessor, but Stella et. al are admittedly more risky when it comes to playing around with arrangements and placement of instruments. Even though they kept listeners engaged with a triplet of new tunes in mid-2021 (Marigold), Stella and the Very Messed reckoned with the all-too-real creative obstacle of parenthood last year and ultimately decided to tap the brakes.

Well Stella and the Very Messed are finally back, and apparently pretty keen on making the most of their latest batch. They joined forces with Test Tube Audio producer Kevin Butler as well as Paradise Lunch co-producers Adam Mason and Walker Lukens to elevate a pair of pop originals into the pantheon of 2023 Austin-originating stunners. Catch the full band next Saturday at Sunny’s Backyard for an Oktoberfest release show, get a glimpse into “Crystal Ball” when you can, and make some space in your wardrobe for a T-shirt or two as you cash in with “Merchandiser”. It’s got a deceptively gentle introduction, because once “Merchandiser” hits the 40-second mark, the five-piece fires on all cylinders with ’80s-style synth arpeggios and MIDI percussion, moody electric guitar chords, a serious strut of a bass groove, and, almost goes without saying, the frontwoman’s fierce, refreshingly human vocals.

Walker Lukens: “Man & Wife”

As a commemoration of factory personnel, harsh conditions, and tumultuous union strikes, Labor Day often loses its meaning for all the folks just enjoying a Monday off. But a century-plus later, we can still take a moment to appreciate some less-industrial aspects of life that often get taken for granted. For example keeping up a clean, appealing appearance usually takes a continued concerted effort, and once those looks help you land a partner for life, the work doesn’t stop; it’s a real labor of love to keep a marriage going strong past the initial honeymoon phase. Keep those in mind as we commend all the hard work Walker Lukens has done over the years. He’s elevated himself from mere multi-instrumentalist/singer-songwriter to a monolithic must-have producer-for-hire here in Austin, not to mention a concept-driven creator who’s helped mastermind the Song Confessional podcast and the vast Texas Wild collaboration. Still, seems like Walker’s got an undying hunger (and somehow enough time) to make great tunes on his own accord. On that note, this Friday Walker Lukens finally unleashes his fourth full-length Accessible Beauty, self-produced and recorded at Lukens’ Paradise Lunch recording studio. He’ll be taking these eight mellow originals on the road for a week-long East Coast tour in October ahead of three Central Texas shows in mid-December, including “The Last Walt” December 15th at The Paramount as part of KUTX’s 10th Birthday Concert Series. But even though the locals will have to wait a while to catch the new Walker live, Lukens was kind enough to toss us some early access to Accessible Beauty with the LP’s latest and final lead single. A spiritual sequel-of-sorts to this April’s “The One Who Loves You”, “Man & Wife” keeps the affection flowing with shimmering synths, vocal harmonies that weep with reverb, and a hard-rocking hook that gives this multi-coupling of sounds some tasteful dynamic range. So consider celebrating Labor Day with a spell of spontaneous romantic gestures that’ll reaffirm the work you’re willing to put into a relationship (be it currently in existence or a dream for the future). And even if you’re single by choice and plan on keeping it that way, the soft, mature sensuality of “Man & Wife” will make your inner beauty feel sexier and more readily available then it’s ever been on a Monday.

Britny Lobas: “Marina”

When a key contributor breaks out of an early musical vehicle to focus on solo momentum, it can be really empowering. Whether it’s Brian Eno’s ascendance into experimentalism after leaving Roxy Music, Danny Elfman’s evolution into a Hollywood soundtrack darling following Oingo Boingo, One Direction’s Harry Styles dominating mainstream attention in the late 2010s, or Gwen Stefani’s post-No Doubt success, going solo can lead to great things.

With 20/20 hindsight in mind, one look at Austin pop-rock quartet Corbella’s eponymous EP artwork was all we needed to figure out that frontwoman Britny Lobas was the bella that ball. Now, a few years before Corbella’s 2019 heyday, Lobas did drop a collaboration under her own name but it wasn’t until the turn of the decade that she re-emerged as the beast we revere today. Atop fashion statements that give PJ Harvey a run for her money, Britny Lobas continues to flock towards the radio-proven formulas of Celine Dion or Shania Twain and belt her way into the pop-rock pantheon, leaving thirst and admiration in her wake after each enthralling live performance.

Maintaining Lobas’ quality-over-quantity pace of one studio single per year, her latest auspicious offering precedes a single release blowout this Saturday at The Pershing along with The Reverent Few. Mooring buoyant guitar licks (both acoustic and electric), a call-and-response chorus that’s beggin’ for audience engagement, and a vocal dyad-dominated bridge, “Marina” harbors a Summer boat-party-ready pop-rock powerhouse, whether or not it refer to a woman’s name instead of a yacht dock.

Quentin And The Past Lives: “I Am The Gun”

We’re in the final seven days of Love Austin Music Month and in the home stretch ofATX Gen Next: Adventures in Person, which features this year’s roster fromAustin Music Foundation’s Artist Development Program. Quentin And The Past Lives especially shines among ADP 5’s Class of 2022, thanks in no small part to the canned heat unleashed by The Past Lives’ eponymoustattooed and often half-nude frontman,Quentin Arispe. The group’s got some exciting opportunities coming up, including a SXSW appearance and a Half Time performance for MLR Austin in late May. But before you catch Quentin And The Past Lives in person, trot along to the alt-rock-soul trigger discipline of “I Am The Gun”!

TC Superstar: “Nothing to Believe in”

As music technology marches on, the world of synthetic sounds continues to grow. But despite the digital wealth of wacky tones available in this home studio era of ours, for some folks, you just can’t improve on classic hardware. Case in point, Austin synth pop enthusiasts TC Superstar, who first gave us their teleporter to the ’80s with the 2017 LP Masc.

These Studio 1A veterans give the likes of Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode a run for their money, and make it look easy too, a legacy that continues with their new album. TC Superstar’s been sifting through the post-pandemic static for their upcoming concept record, As Seen On TV (out September 17th), and its most recent channel came through last Friday, “Nothing to Believe in”!

Sara Niemietz: “Lovely Lies”

You might not recognize the name Sara Niemietz right off the bat, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen her onscreen or heard her voice in a major soundtrack. The Los Angeles-based actress/singer-guitarist launched her career all the way back in 2002  portraying a young Carol Burnett in the pre-Broadway production of Hollywood Arms, and released her debut live LP the following year. Since then Niemietz has skyrocketed into the cultural zeitgeist, lending her eerie vocals to The Exorcism of Emily Rose, CBS’s Under the Dome, and ABC’s Scandal, not to mention long-term collaborations with West Wing composer W.G. Snuffy, adult contemporary icon Melissa Manchester, and yes, even B.J. Thomas.

Between all her endeavors, Niemietz has never stopped bulking up her own discography, building up her reputation as a Renaissance woman with her mastery over genres ranging from gospel and blues to jazz, pop, and rock. And following up last year’s aptly titled LP twentytwenty, Niemietz has kept busy in 2021, having already delivered three studio singles within the past few months, including the seductively smooth “Lovely Lies”!