The 14 Best Local Albums Of 2014, So Far.
As June winds down and we approach the midpoint of 2014, now seems as good a time as any to take an inventory of the best local albums released so far this year.
Thus far, we've seen some of the area's biggest acts of the past decade releasing some of their best material to date, sure. But, as we take a look back at the best that North Texas music had to offer this year, we've noticed that stunning debut efforts comprise the biggest portion of this list.
For that reason, we feel like it's important to stop down a second and really get to know some of these fresh faces and old favorites alike.
Each of these acts is worthy of a little extra attention.
Album: Take Pride In Your Long Odds.
What we've already said: Um, we haven't.
What else you should know: Since making its debut with 1997's lo-fi Redo the Stacks — an album that was reissued on vinyl earlier this year — this iconic Denton act always been something of an underdog. Now 11 albums into its career, the band's most recent release may not do much to help it shed its reputation as a band's band, but bluesy new singles like “Salty Disciple” are welcome additions to an extensive catalog just the same.
Recommended if you like: reminiscing about what Denton used to be like back in the day.
Artist: The Fox & the Bird .
Album: Darkest Hours.
What we've already said: “Standout tracks from that one include lead single 'Wreck of the Fallible,' a harmony-rich cover of The Flatlanders' 'Dallas,' and 'No Man's Land,' which, early as it is, already sounds destined to wind up on our list of the 2014's best local songs come the year's end.” — Cory Graves
What else you should know: Dallas neo-folk collective The Fox & the Bird's sophomore LP is chock full of gang vocals, heavy on harmonies and poppy as ever. As a whole, it's a batch of tunes is more self-assured and markedly more solid than the band's debut, largely due to the darker, more contemplative turn the lyrics take this time around.
Recommended if you like: singing harmonies while your buddy strums an acoustic guitar on his back porch.
Album: Inner Room.
What we've already said: “Denton musician Judson Valdez has always had a knack for arrangement. Has ever since the earliest days of his old band, Baruch The Scribe, which started out as a wholly acoustic outfit, then transformed into an all-instruments-on-deck experiment in sound. So, no, perhaps it comes as no surprise that Chambers, his current project, follows suit in its intricate, atmospheric nature. But maybe this is: 'Inner Room,' the debut single from the band's upcoming LP of the same name, even with its lush, delicate instrumentation, is far from a gutless offering; rather, it's the ballsiest track we've yet heard from the four-piece mood rock band (also featuring Piper Johnson, Chase Johnson, and Daniel Pelletier), thanks in no small part to its harmonious chorus, which rushes into the song like young child sprinting out onto the schoolyard at the sound of the recess bell.” — Pete Freedman
What else you should know: Despite the series of promo videos the band put out before releasing its debut effort earlier this month, we can't imagine many people actually hating Chambers. The band's unique harmonies are too powerful; it's arrangements just too deft and orchestrations too lush.
Recommended if you like: hating something before it's cool.
Artist: The Longshots.
Album: The Longshots.
What we've already said: “That blistering punk offering was produced by Jordan 'Son of Stan' Richardson, who recently won a Grammy for his work on Ben Harper's last effort. Anyway, the disc, which is being released on Frenchkiss imprint Mock Records, has already received lots of kind words from outlets such as Impose Magazine and CMJ.” — CG
What else you should know: The Longshots' brand of garage rock doesn't bear any overt cow-punk overtones, but it manages to sound distinctly Texan just the same. Or, more specifically, it sounds like the band's native Fort Worth — thanks, in large part, to the opening track that references that city's West 7th entertainment district. The burning Big Tex that graces this disc's cover is just a hint of the bottle rocket-launching, weed-smoking, good-natured, rabble-rousing snark that characterizes the bulk of the album's lyrical content.
Recommended if you like: sneaking into Lola's, skateboarding inside The Where House and passing out behind The Chat Room.
Album: Out of the Start.
What we've already said: Not much.
What else you should know: Picking up where his previous outfits — like Team Tomb — left off, Caleb Ian Campbell's new project is as elegantly delicate and beautiful as anything he's put out in the past, but with an added focus on simplicity. To that end, Moonbather boasts only half as many members as Campbell's last band. Electronic elements, such as laptop-sequenced drums, are a big player this time around as well — though not at the expense of good taste.
Recommended if you like: The Polycorns, Team Tomb or Caleb Ian Campbell's solo album.
Artist: Buffalo Black.
Album: REDPILLwondrland Part I.
What we've already said: “Writing, however, is where Kelley's strength truly lies. It's this ability that offers a cohesiveness and fluidity to the disc, for which the artist used beats from some six different producers. Overall, the album's tone is somber — at times desperate — and makes repeated use of industrial kicks and snares, most notably on lead single 'Bad Seed.' But his words always stand out: On each track, Kelley's lyrics merit careful listening; they drive the album and are never wasted on banal hooks or typical rap cliches.” — Mikel Galicia.
What else you should know: One of the most common complaints you'll hear about the Dallas hip-hop scene is that the same handful of acts always perform together and, usually, at the same handful of venues, no less. For what it's worth, you won't find Buffalo Black on many of those bills. But it's not because he isn't one of the best emcees in the city. Rather, Buffalo Black is more concerned with breaking through nationally than performing for the same handful of locals week after week. And it seems to be working for him, too: When not opening for progressive hip-hop acts like Jose James, Buffalo Black's scoring placements in Spike Lee's films.
Recommended if you like: doing the right thing.
Artist: Bad Mountain.
What we've already said: We haven't.
What else you should know: Bad Mountain may be one of the newest members of Dallas' exceedingly crowded Americana scene, but in a few short months frontman Jesse Anderson and a rotating crop of backing musicians that often includes members of Somebody's Darling, Goodnight Ned and The Texas Gentlemen have already become something of a standout act in its own right. Anderson's innovative and underrated guitar playing and headstrong live showings are a big part what's helped set Bad Mountain apart from many of its like-minded contemporaries. Coming armed with a strong set of tunes that sound familiar but fresh? That also helps.
Recommended if you like: Ken Burns' The Dust Bowl.
Artist: Blackstone Rangers.
What we've already said: “'Frozen Echo,' the first single released from Blackstone Rangers' sophomore effort, retains the same distortion and undulating feel that so made Into The Sea a treat, but it also boasts a fuller aesthetic — thanks in no small part to the recording studio, but also due to Smith's repetitive, cooing vocals, which run throughout the track.” — PF
What else you should know: As good as Blackstone's debut EP was, its follow-up finds the band more surefooted and confident than ever and, more importantly, much more sonically similar to the bands' atmospheric live offerings. That much can be attributed as much to the fact that the band recorded Descendant largely in its Oak Cliff-based home studio as it can to the fact that in the last two years Blackstone Rangers has grown into one of the most consistently interesting live acts in town.
Recommended if you like: fuzz, glorious fuzz.
What we've already said: “We've been hooked on Catamaran's undeniably infectious single, 'All Around,' for quite some time now. Hell, it even made our list of the best local tunes released last year.” — CG
What else you should know: They don't make songs much more ear-wormy than Catamaran's “All Around.” Impressively, the rest of the band's debut is nearly as catchy as that sparkling indie-pop gem. More remarkable, still, is just how closely to the album these guys manage to sound in a live setting.
Recommended if you like: surfing — or at least wearing tank tops to the bar.
Artist: Street Arabs.
Album: Bruised Fruit.
What we've already said: “Tthe Mark Ryan- and Jeff Burke-produced disc features much of the same lo-fi ethos and driving rhythms of those guys' own Radioactivity and Mind Spiders projects, but with elements of soul and doo-wop sprinkled in for good measure.” — CG
What else you should know: Unlike the DIY albums and digital singles the band released previously, Bruised Fruit is the closest thing to a big, glossy full-realized LP that Street Arabs has put out to date. And though there's some slick production and a more unified sound this time around, the band didn't sacrifice any of its lo-fi aesthetic or balls.
Recommended if you like: busted eardrums as much as you do ice cream headaches.
Artist: Blue, the Misfit.
Album: Child in the Wild.
What we've already said: “There's no denying Blue's resume: From his earliest days in Sore Losers to his production work for national artists and, more recently, his cultivation of an impressive hip-hop collective to call his own, the guy's accomplished plenty. Child In the Wild, however, is his greatest accomplishment to date.” — MG
What else you should know: The local hip-hop scene has made some big strides in recent years, but as much as North Texas' emcees, local media and, maybe more accurately, wishful-thinking local hip-hop fans would like to think otherwise, we're still far from the kind of national recognition so many in the area feel the scene deserves. As far as things have come, though, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone else in town beyond Blue collaborating with people like Kendrick Lamar.
Recommended if you like: playing hide-and-go-seek with your narcotics on the playground.
Artist: Booty Fade.
Album: Booty Fade.
What we've already said: “DJ Sober and Picnic's Booty Fade project has already established itself as a favorite here in town, if not for their generous sampling of nouveau classic Dallas hip-hop cuts, then for the fact that… the singles the group has uploaded to their Soundcloud page… are all bona fide dance jams.” — PF
What else you should know: It doesn't really matter when or where Booty Fade shows up to perform. When they do, a party is bound to break out. Loads of dancing, too. That much is pretty much guaranteed. And somehow DJ Sober and Picnic's debut EP is almost as fun to listen to at home or in the car as it is to see the duo performing the tracks live at a club. A deceptively impressive feat, to be sure.
Recommended if you like: pretending you can afford bottle service.
Artist: Spooky Folk.
Album: Youth is a Notion.
What we've already said: “Notable tracks include 'Disheveled,' which the band has been performing live since nearly the beginning, and the circa-2005 Ryan Thomas Becker solo tune 'Bottle the Bees' (which is not to be confused with the completely separate 2013 RTB2 tune, 'Bottle O Bees').” — CG
What else you should know: As well received as Spooky Folk's 2010 debut LP was, the band's long-coming follow-up finds the Denton outfit branching out into harder, alt-rock territory — and doing it well at that. And after four years of waiting for the band to finally release new material, Spooky Folk was able to deliver an LP that somehow lived up to the kind of scrutiny an extended between-album buildup often brings. Even better, they did it with a batch of tunes that boldly pushed forward, relying little on the formula that once helped make them one of Denton's favorite bands.
Recommended if you like: indie rock that's not particularly scary and not really all that folky.
Artist: Old 97's.
Album: Most Messed Up.
What we've already said: “The Old 97's have been prepping and promoting their tenth studio LP, Most Messed Up — an obnoxiously rowdy, booze-soaked scorcher that doesn't just beckon back to the band's earliest material, but blows some of it out of the water. Yes: Most Messed Up very well might be the best fucking thing the band's ever done.” — CG
What else you should know: After a handful of so-so LPs, these alt-country heroes now find themselves responsible for not just the ballsiest local album of the year, but maybe of their 20-year career. You probably want to be careful who you listen to this one around — not everyone will be as appreciative of the band's newfound embrace of the f-bomb as we are — and, let's face it, you're probably going to want to drink more than a few adult beverages as you take this disc in, too.
Recommended if you like: drinking, cursing, chasing skirts and, in general, just not giving a fuck.