We asked a question to two of our music writers: whether they released a great album, went on a tear with shows, broke through with national media, or otherwise impressed, what bands or musicians made a move that made us take notice of them in 2012? Here are Christopher Mosley’s picks. For Dick Sullivan’s choices, go here.
Unconscious Collective: It shouldn’t take any medium other than music to convince you that Dallas’ Unconscious Collective is one of the most strikingly original and technically gifted acts in town, a sentiment which the release of their long-awaited debut album supported. But if you stick with sound alone, you are missing part of the experience.
A well-made short film by activist filmmaker Fabián Aguirre was recently shown at the Texas Theatre, and the group’s visual presence—including body paint and loin cloths—was every bit as fascinating as their improvised music, which blends prog, metal, and jazz.
Pinkish Black: This once slept-on Fort Worth duo formed from the tragic wake of the Great Tyrant and the passing of the brilliant bassist Tommy Atkins, to become one of the more touching success stories in local music. Pinkish Black’s sound is so intimidatingly cacophonous that it has caused more than one faulty-eared reviewer to assume the band is creating its storm through the use of guitars, when it assuredly is not.
Given that the band made it into the top ten of Pitchfork’s metal releases for the year, and thus topped some of their own heroes in the process, they could very well be the most successful guitar-free “metal” band ever to erupt from the fertile metallic soil of North Texas.
Able Youth: One of the timeless complaints in the “Why, Dallas?” aesthetic argument concerns the lack of really brave, wild, or even willfully tacky music. We just don’t seem to have as much fun as we should, and when we try, the fun looks like a video shoot that’s gone over-budget. The overriding goal for most of the city’s acts, no matter how daring they fancy themselves, seems to be one of commercial origins; and yet, Dallas, pound-for-pound, has yielded a scant amount of real moneymakers.
Then a project like Able Youth falls out of the sky and tackles the most commercial music imaginable: A Madonna song from the Late 1990s. It’s irreverent enough to come off as sarcastic, and yet has enough flash to work as well as any other Dallas product. Combined with the random appearance in a gallery space, the act served as a reminder that subversion is most appropriate under the upturned noses of commerce, turning its own shiny tools against itself.
Eyes, Wings, and Many Other Things: There was a time when I found this group to be as baffling as anything else, starting from their mouthful of a name to their nearly unclassifiable music. But over the years, the picture has sharpened, much like their largely instrumental set dynamically builds, yet without ever succumbing to the simplistic conclusions drawn by many an atmospherically-minded wannabe.
EWaMOT (even the acronym doesn’t work) has an independent spirit that emanates with a quiet strength. The group’s esoteric, yet high-quality label, Pour Le Corps, has selflessly propelled other local acts to places they otherwise might not ever reach. They’re doing so the old-fashioned way: on cassettes sent through the mail.
Deep Throat: Just as the aforementioned Unconscious Collective had a short film revealing their non-musical side at Texas Theatre recently, so too did Deep Throat front-person Taylor Kimbrough, a Denton-based artist with a zine called Cheap Thrill. The short was titled, Don’t Kill My Buzz, and revealed the contrasting daily life nuance of someone who usually seems to stomp the Earth with more ideas than she will ever have time to pursue.
Onstage, Deep Throat is perfectly asymmetrical: featuring a classically trained bass guitarist (Shane Hutchinson), a justifiably confident drummer (Will Stockton), and an avant rock-sympathetic guitarist (Mike West) whose collective take on punk rock is still complex and intricate, no matter how much it attacks. Kimbrough on the other hand is able to weave in and out of the controlled chaos, by twisting and improvising with audience members and band members both, never quite ruled by the activity around her. There are few bands in town as capable of putting on an actual rock show in the true lost-Michiganian essence (or what that once meant), and no other lead singer embodies those same endangered qualities of the low arts at their nastiest.
Track Meet: The de facto leader of the local dance collective that calls itself Track Meet is Rodrigo Diaz AKA Ynfynyt Scroll, an outspoken producer and DJ who once covered the Denton music beat for the Dallas Observer. Diaz once took issue with something I wrote and responded with this profound and well-worded statement of mission (excerpt):
To lump me in with people that will, currently do or at any point have cared about the state of the Denton DIY rock-informed indie culture is to misunderstand a vital point in my views toward all of this: my interests and tastes are not, nor have they ever been, represented in Denton by anyone except me and my closest friends. There is no “scene” for what I espouse outside of about 5 people (most of whom don’t live in Denton), nor was I ever a part of any existing scene in the past.
Indeed, this future-leaning take on music and culture is very much at the heart of why Track Meet has been such an interesting local force. They don’t seem to be concerned with many of the trappings of rock and traditional hip hop-influenced scenes that permeate most Dallas nightlife, not its lineage, not its present state, and certainly not where it’s going. When not in the club or behind a South Dallas art gallery, their world seems to exist almost completely online, taking shots at sacred cows like old school hip hop and devil’s advocating for maligned genres such as dubstep, while using the most shunned imagery—everything from Mead fractals to outdated prototypical VR displays. Their local heroes are not singer-songwriters who used to be on major labels, but instead seem to include bass music expat Prince William, and pretty much nobody else.
Even when I find myself wanting to disagree with them, I still can’t argue with a collective who had the foresight to book Chicago’s DJ Rashad to play the Crown and Harp on a weeknight, or Ben Aqua’s Assacre project at Elm Street Lounge. Track Meet seems to move so quickly, dismissing and embracing every micro-trend at light speed, that it always feels as if they are already in the future, already flicking it off. Which is exactly why you should pay attention to them.
Sober: It’s been a “breakout year” for DJ Sober, which seems odd since he has been a staple in the community for about a decade. His work has been heard everywhere from Beauty Bar to Cowboys Stadium, on a cruise ship, or a semi-legal Cinco de Mayo patio party behind a salon in Oak Cliff. The rap group for which he produces and DJs, A.Dd+, toured nationally with Black Milk and gave Dallas rap some of its largest gains into hip, non-Dallas territory in years, culminating in an appearance at Fun Fun Fun Fest last month. To see Sober working a show, no matter how small the club or how large the festival, is to feel confident that Dallas’ most professional and diverse selector is handling duties. It’s been encouraging to see him getting the attention he has always deserved, and we’re lucky to have him.
Midnite Society: As much as I have a distaste for nostalgia, Midnite Society represent everything that went right in the late-20th Century Underground, with an aggressively inward presence that is as sheepish as it is charming. The clicking drum machine rhythm keeps things lively no matter how much members Bill Cumfy and Casey Oakes seem to want to slump into a heap of unspooling sweaters and loud guitars. This group comes off like the last two guys in town who are singing and playing melodic music like they mean it, and any show is always a little better if they’re in the lineup.
Treelines: It’s a December weeknight at Sundown at the Granada, and a “supergroup” is playing a song that mentions the word “Christmas.” (If it wasn’t Christmas, it was something seasonal.) I should be pissed. But I’m not. Though the Treelines include members of bands who are all very capable and talented (Ryan Thomas Becker, Grady Don Sandlin, and Tony Ferraro), the show is being thieved away by lead singer Amanda Newton, who tells me she plays music “for fun,” and that her bandmates “want to make a living off of this….” “This” most likely means the other projects and not the Treelines, which is too bad.
Becker’s guitar is terrifically loud beyond all reason, there are feedback issues, and the mix of those two factors threaten to unravel the entire intimate feel of event. Thankfully, that never happens. Newton has a timeless voice that bridges the gap between torch and twee, and she makes even the most standard moment feel meaningful and just a little sad. Just when I think I have the local music scene all figured out, something like this comes out of nowhere and sticks a mic stand in my spokes.
Bukkake Moms: Right from the start, you know this group is aiming for obnoxious, assuming you have any clue what their tasteless name means. Their song titles are even worse. The music itself is not as offensive, which is a disappointment at first, until it becomes apparent that there is a lot happening here. The little time signature changes, mixed with a sophisticated approach to composition noticeable on repeated listening, have had me thinking that this young band is just playing “What’s Grosser than Gross?,” because that’s simply what they feel like doing at this point in their development. They may think it’s funny to brag about how many McRibs they have eaten in a week, but watch out, once they ditch the fast food and sex jokes, this gang will probably make some real noise, whether in Bukkake Moms or some other project on the horizon.
Photo at top: Pinkish Black