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We’re serious. We’re going to sit here and discuss EVERY band that is scheduled to play this year’s ACL Festival in September. It’s going to happen. Don’t believe us? Don’t think it can happen? Just keep watching. We dare you.

For those that have been living under a rock for the last couple of years, Fleet Foxes are a big deal. They become bearded indie-darlings after the release of the pastoral, harmonic debut album, and with the recent Sub Pop release of the even more harmonically stellar Helplessness Blues, they’ve become the CSNY of the current hipster generation.

Hailing from the rainy Northwest, Robin Pecknold and crew did what many suspected might not be possible. make many forget about the first album. Not that anyone will, mind you, but they can if they want to. That’s how great the new disc is. They built upon their vibe without screwing with it and without completely copy-catting it. A tricky feat to say the least. Perhaps you’d like to read more specific thoughts on the new album so as to familiarize yourself? Check out what I had to say when I reviewed the record for Twangville.com a while back.

Deservedly, these guys will be playing a more prominent, later-day slot than they did in 2008, when they played around noon at ACL.

Another band that not only shares a record label home with the Fleet Foxes, but a regional one, as well as love for ragged folk with sweetness to spare are relative newcomers The Head & The Heart. Sweeping out of Seattle, this buzzed-about six-pack of folkies has just released an album that’s more than likely to find it’s place along Fleet Foxes when it comes to many a year-end best-of list (no, it’s not too early to talk about that.) Don’t trust me? Click play on the tune below, and get ready for some mellow, folkin’ gold, my friends.

Lost In My Mind by theheadandtheheart

For years now, Centro-matic, a band that began in Denton well over a decade ago, has been known as a prolific group that has risen to a rather lofty status in the world of American Indie-rock. Led by Will Johnson, now an Austinite, the band hasn’t yet put out a record that one would consider anything less than stellar.

The band members themselves are highly sought after when it comes to contributing their individual talents to other’s projects, even. Johnson was the touring drummer for the massive Monsters of Folk project, and he also played guitar on Patterson Hood’s (Drive by Truckers) last solo album. Of course, that’s aside from his many producing projects. Drummer and sound engineer extraordinaire Matt Pence has toured with Jason Isbell while multi-instrumentalist Scott Danbom has played with Slobberbone and Sarah Jaffe. See? In-demand!

Their new album, Candidate Waltz, has reawakened many to the greatness of this band and has already began earning more than its fair share of rave reviews and predictions of the album finding its way onto a solid amount of year-end-best-of lists (Hint: There’s no way it’ll avoid landing on this blog’s list of 2011′s Best Texas Albums. Not a chance).

Enough of me blabbing. Since it’s always nice to see fellow Lone Star dwellers win praise from outside of our own borders, I’ll just let you see for yourself, OK?

 

 

 

 

So, there. Centro-matic might be a band from our state, but it’s clear that their appeal lies beyond the Red River. Still not sure? Check out the tour schedule for the guys. There aren’t many corners of the great 48 they wont be hitting soon, if not later…

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned how I really want to hit the Disc Golf course soon. It’s something I haven’t done before and Texas provides many an opportunity to do so. Well, here’s something else I want to do, but haven’t yet. Hit Marfa!

The dry, West Texas town not too far from Big Bend National Park has obviously become quite the trendy locale in the past few years, and from what I can tell, that trendiness is for good reason, really. It’s often referred to as a sort of artist’s retreat of hideaway; a bohemian enclave deep in the heat of our state, away from the typical artistic areas of the Hill Country or even certain parts of the Gulf Coast. In recent years, the town famously provided the backdrop for the Oscar-winning Coen Brothers film, No Country For Old Men.

Something even more than all of that recently caught my eye and really made me understand what I’ve been missing by not having visited Marfa before. Back in April, Mumford & Sons, along with a few other bands condcted a tour where they were carried by train and performed at various, funky spots along the way. Marfa was one of the stops and word of the show that resulted is that it was one heck of an event.

Mumford & Sons about to perform in Marfa

The concert took place at El Cosmico, a spot that seems to only be possible in the arid environs of the west. Run by Liz Lambert, who is responsible for the always in-demand Hotel San jose in Austin, El Cosmico’s website describes itself as “part vintage trailer, yurt and teepee hotel and campground, part creative lab, greenhouse and amphitheatre – a community space that fosters and agitates artistic and intellectual exchange.”

Sounds pretty cool, right?

Look, I’m sure there are tons of cool bars and foodie spots in Marfa, and I’m sure the lights are cool and all, but I think I’d be fine figuring all of that out once I got my teepee all set up, first…you?

Look: I know that we can get very wordy here and get all kinds of crazy with trying to label artists and detail exactly what nice, neat little corner of the musical universe a song or album might fit into. No biggie, really. We all just want to understand music and know what something sounds like before we even here it. You know, if someone tells you that a band reminds them of the Replacements, and you aren’t a fan of that band, then you may want to avoid them if you dont want to make the effort to judge for yourself (hey, we’re all busy, you know?). Maybe a friend tells you that a certain song sounds “like what country music should sound like,” and you despise country music in any form, then again, it’s good to have a general idea of what to expect, thanks to a comparison someone you trust provided.

Well, I don’t know what to tell you about Dead Rider. Their sound is just so…so…perplexing? Maybe? I guess? I know that the Chicago-based band’s new album, Raw Dents is a masterwork of odd angles, off-kilter tempos and general weirdness…which is 100% greatness.

Some call them art-rock, others have called them industrial, some even detect some funk in the mix. OK, fair enough. I get all of that…I think. How about this for a description. When I click on their video for “The Pointed Stick” (below), or listen to Raw Dents, I can’t easily tear myself away from either. So, addictive and enthralling. How’s that for describing their sound without actually describing their sound…HUH???

Thankfully, this weekend, many Texas (and even a few Okies) will get to form their own description of this band that has simply taken my brain hostage in recent weeks. On Friday in Austin Dead rider will take over Emo’s, and then make their way north to infest the Doublewide in Dallas on July 2nd, before hitting Oklahoma. Do not miss this band!

It’s a combination as musically pleasing as it is downright sweaty and dirty. The punk of the Ramones and the twang of Billy Joe Shaver and the writing of Steve Earle. Dallas’ The Von Ehrics are so back and so badder than ever.

Their 2009 album, Loaded, was indeed loaded with peddle-to-the-metal “punktry”, and their blistering new album, Two Foot Stomp (from Lucky Buck Records), is even more so. One of the remarkable aspects of the new record is in the way that the band can scrape and thrash their way through a song yet the tune’s melody is as evident and pleasing as one could possibly hope for, in any type of song, let alone a raucous punk tune. “The Last of The Working Slobs” is a prime example of The Von Ehrics’ keen sense of melody in the midst of madness. For those who may be wondering just how country a punk band can be, look no further than “Smokewagon” for your proof.

While the Robert Jason Vandygriff-led outfit (that’s been together for a decade now) boasts original tunes that stand on their own, the band has an excellent ear for which tunes to cover on their offerings. Hayes Carll’s “Down the Road Tonight,” from his album Little Rock (the album that many people should listen to once they’re done with Carll’s more recent Lost Highway releases) makes for a I-can’t-believe-this-hasn’t-been-covered-before-by-a-punk-band moment. Another cover on the album, a version of Tanya Tucker’s FM Gold classic tune “Texas (When I Die),” could’ve been turned into an ironic, jokey tune, but these guys just let it rip and let the song be what it is, naturally. On their last album, the band covered Shaver’s “Old Chunk of Coal,” proving that timeless country tunes are indeed timeless, regardless of what sonic blaket they’re wrapped in.

The band will be touring the country in the coming months and of course, will be all over Texas, with July stops in Dallas and Ft. Worth, especially.

 

It’s become cliche to say that we all should remember that Memorial Day is about more than picnics at the lake and getting the day off from work. Well, it’s true, regardless. Here’s a couple of Tex-centric videos that cover both sides of the American holiday. Above, James McMurtry recalls stories from his youth and the America of the past. Below, Jason Isbell performs at Stubb’s in Austin and provides a wonderful rendition of his song “Dress Blues,” which is, to me, the greatest war-related song written since the days of the Vietnam conflict. Sorry, I know this is the land of the free and we all have the right to our own opinions, but watch the video below. If you arent moved to at least goose-bumps, if not tears, then something’s not right.

OK, I know it doesnt seem like that long ago, because it wasnt. But 2010′s ACL Festival is a distant memory, regardless. Why? The line-up for 2011′s edition of the annual party in Zilker Park was officially announced recently, and for those who claimed the organziers had an off year with last years billing (for the record, we didn’t think that), it would seem that such complaints will be hard to come by this year.

Kanye West, Stevie Wonder, Coldplay, Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket, Cee Lo Green, Fleet Foxes, Allison Krauss, Ray Lamontagne, Nas & Damien Marley, Social Distortion and Ryan Bingham headline an insanely fun group that, as was the case last year, will surely provide many an opportunity for tough decisions once the schedule is announced in a couple of months.

Aside from Bingham, there are several notable acts with Texas ties, as usual. Iron & Wine, Court Yard Hounds (the Dixie Chicks sans Natalie Maines project), Jack Ingram, Hayes Carll, Gary Clark Jr., Patrice Pike, Hudson Moore and of course, as usual, Asleep at the Wheel will certainly lend the festival its usual taste of the Lone Star State.

So, this is only the beginning. This year we at Best of Texas are going to take the ACL preview to new hieghts (at least for us). We’re not going to throw out a few big names and wait until after the September festival is over to tell you how it all went down, no sir. Starting NOW, we’re going to begin a musical oddysey that will see us give you the reader a short (and sometimes not-so-short) introduction into each and every act that will grace an ACL 2011 stage. Sometimes we’ll tell you about several at once, in some form or another. Sometimes we’ll just post a video and a couple of quick thoughts on an act or two, and at other times, we’ll kill a few hundred words on an act that we think is particularly special and certainly worth your time, should you head to Austin between Sept 16-18. 

Since this is the first one (of so very many to come), let’s get one of the big names that needs very little introduction out of the way: Kanye West.

Headlining the Friday night schedule, competing for ears with Coldplay, who’ll be rocking the other end of the park around the same time, most likely, West has established himself as a festival act that is as unpredictable as he is ostentatious and genius. Full disclosure, West’s 2010 record My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy was my vote for record of the year when I voted in the Village Voice Pazz and Jop Poll (the album ended up at #1, among 1200 voters from publications all over the country including Rolling Stone and Spin).

OK, we’ve got almost four months until that magical weekend, so please check back regularly for future ACL band intros. I promise: it’ll be well worth your time, oh fellow festival goer.

The term Alt-Rock has been beaten to death, and for the most part, much of what makes up Alt-Rock isn’t much of an “alt” to anything. Such isn’t the case with Manchester Orchestra. The Andy Hull-led five-peice is an Atlanta based outfit that doesn’t aim for the banal formula that helps trendier bands end up on “rock radio.” Instead, as evidenced in their excellent new album, Simple Math, they take chances and never provide a predictable expereince that leaves you feeling as though you’ve heard it already.

Together since 2005, they have put out only 3 official albums, but a handful of EPs, also. It’s been reported that Simple Math is a concept album, where Hull (who is the band’s writer) uses a first-person perpspective to “question everything.” A more sonically cohesive effort than their previous two efforts, there isn’t any doubt as to why this band is packing large clubs around the country. Of course, it doesnt exactly hurt to be sharing a bill with another band that has garnered more than their share of media-buzz in the last year or two: Cage the Elephant (their “Aint No Rest for the Wicked” is one of the best rock tunes of teh last 5 years, easy).

These two acts, which have given Alt-Rock fans actual alternatives, will be hitting Texas in the next week or so. May 27th will see the double bill hit Houston, then Stubb’s in Austin on the 28th for a sold-out show. The tour will see its Texas-leg end in Dallas at the Palladium Ballroom on May 29th.

Manchester Orchestra – “Simple Math” from DANIELS on Vimeo.

 

The zany punks from Denton are back with a new album, their 11th record, actually. Bowling for Soup’s Fishin’ For Woos, an album that the guys have released on their own after the last few records felt the velvet touch of the major label treatment. Now, don’t assume the method of distribution has had any effect on the overall sound of the band, as it certainly hasn’t. Power-pop-punk is still the order for the day here.

Here’s where it get’s tricky.

After 11 albums, there are more than a few folks who aren’t interested anymore in the tales of these guys hating work, loving the weekends, and getting back at girls that have scorned them with their music. With Fishin’, there’s a lot of ammo for those folks. There is literally not an ounce of any sort of growth evident on this album. But does there need to be? What good is so-called growth if it takes a band away from who they are? If this band “grew”, then “I’ve Never Done Anything Like This,” a catchy and hilarious tale of a party girl who tries to hide her true nature, wouldn’t have made it onto the album, probably. What good what that be?

A tune like “Here’s Your Freaking Song” is what many critics/haters are using as their main object of derision when discussing the band’s percieved lack of artistic evolution. While family-men approaching middle age that have been making cartoon music in recent years dont exactly make convincing, rebellious teenagers, they shouldn’t have to be ”convincing” from a sense of being authentic. Does a band that plays music geared towards people of their own age-group automatically equal evolved, or mature or authentic? Not really.

Fishin’ isn’t anything new, and the band surely isn’t reinventing themselves this time around, but they are making a calculated (does that equal mature?) choice to produce an album that is clearly a play-off of their strengths and a move that keeps them algined with their fan-base that has long supported them (again, 11 albums and a decade or so together isn’t a small feat). Ask BFS lead singer Jaret Reddick, and he’ll tell you that this album represents what it is that this band does, and change for change’s sake is fruitless, let alone needless.

Actually, the record is fun and catchy and packed with the sounds and tales that have made them a band worthy of discussion in the first place. If one requires reinvention with each new album, then this band probably isn’t - hasn’t ever been - for you. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We even like to be challeneged fairly regularly in our musical diversions and excursions, from bands that in fact claim or desire to be challenging or constantly evolving. Bowling for Soup doesnt make such claims and shouldnt be required to do anything other than to have fun, drink beers, bug the girls the claim to hate, but really love and to make the music they want to make.

In its second season, Texas Music Scene has established itself as a serious outlet for Texas Country talent. Hosted by a legend in his own right, Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, the show focuses on both the past and present of the state’s musical gifts. Enjoy!