I could make a pretty good case here for why 2017 wasn’t Houston’s best year. I could also make a pretty stellar case for why it was our sickest year yet. The honest truth is, it was probably both. Houston’s a big town, and it’s music, like it’s people, so often reflects that. A melting pot of unique and diverse experiences, both joyful and painful, Houston’s uncanny ability to give two people just 20 minutes from each other wholly different perspectives on life is consistently a breeding ground for a rich spectrum of sonic diversity, and 2017 brought some of the best yet.
Anyway, in the words of Joe Perry, let’s let the music do the talking. I’m not a big fan of ranking art numerically or even to some extent qualitatively, so here are 10 of my favorite tracks I heard from Houstonians this year, in no particular order.
Lamellophone and the Gulf of Mexico – Slow Meadow
Slow Meadow’s Matthew Kidd is Houston’s unsung ambient giant. On his most recent record, Costero (Spanish for coastal), recorded at famed Sonic Ranch on the border of Texas and Mexico with the help of a virtuosic string quartet, Kidd transcends our mortal realm with haunting piano melodies and lush string accompaniments meant to evoke the feelings of Kidd’s youth by the gulf and freeing oneself from disillusionment. Easily the most gorgeous composition on this list, “Lamellophone and the Gulf of Mexico” floats the listener along those salty seas with every rising crescendo, like the cresting of a wave that suddenly disappears seamlessly into the abyss.
Ride Home (DJ Candlestick’s ChopNotSlopRemix) – Fat Tony
If you learned anything from 2017 in hip-hop, it’s that flutes are fucking dope now, okay? DJ Candlestick puts the woodwind on center-stage in his chopped and screwed remix of Fat Tony’s whip-approved, after party banger, “Ride Home,” from Tony’s most recent LP, Macgregor Park. The tracks already delicious, flute-laden instrumental is heightened by Candlestick’s impressive knack for percussion and Tony’s end-of-the-night stories are made all the more punchy and all the more trill by the slower tempo.
Quietly – Vodi
Houston’s busiest new band — mostly because I’m pretty sure every member is in a minimum of seven other outfits — shines like the reflection of a street lamp on an oil slick coating a lonely Texas highway on their debut record, Talk. Reminiscent of the nostalgic keys of Bruce Springsteen or The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” “Quietly” uses sweet piano harmonies and no-frills guitar work to take the listener on a journey through the loneliness a bad day can bring and the ways in which we fight to overcome that despair.
What Would You Do – Anti-Lilly & Phoniks
I have to admit, a large part of why this track made this list is due to how head-over-heels in love I fell with the soul sample that Phoniks, producer and co-architect of their recent release, It’s Nice Outside, allows to belt skillfully beneath Anti-Lilly’s dense verses. Make no mistake, Lilly shines just as bright as he painfully let’s us in to the anguish surrounding him and his community lately, posing to us the question of how we’d respond to such constant conflict.
C (Glossolalia) – LIMB & birdmagic
Glossolalia is the latin phrase used to describe the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. I’m not sure why, but the word feels like an impeccably accurate title for this collaborative glitch-banger between Houston noise chieftains LIMB and birdmagic, likely a part of a full EP the two have mentioned they plan to release together. The track contains one of the best samples of Michelle Week’s “The Light” that I’ve ever heard and is certain to inspire holy epiphany on any dance floor it’s played on.
Make Up – Belvoir
It took me far too long to come around to Houston indie-rock/pop four-piece Belvoir’s latest EP, The Way You Were Last Night. The record weaves effortlessly between the boundaries of rock and pop and even a little country twang in its instrumentation and explores the boundaries of modern love in its songwriting. “Make Up” evokes that crisscross with multiple unique guitar tones peppered throughout the track and lead singer Brandt Archer’s relatable tales of the pitfalls of failed romance.
U2O – football, etc
The band long at the forefront of Houston’s particular brand of “third-wave emo revival” dropped their newest EP, Corner to (I assume) immediate sullen, lonely bedroom listens and long, angsty car ride jam sessions this past May. Not a disappointing track on the album, “U20” teems with nostalgia as it creeps into your memories with it’s reverberating, slow guitar melodies, crashing cymbals, and it’s story of two friends or lovers reflecting on their past now that they’ve grown older together.
Tension – LACE
It’s been a while since we heard from Houston punk “super-group” LACE. Fortunately enough, they decided to drop two new tracks from next years debut LP Human Condition just before 2017 came to a close, and they are heavy. Impressively produced, “Tension” feels like a riot of pure noise as the distorted, reverb-y guitars fight the tight but powerful percussion while both battle vocalist Joshua Bosarge’s gut-wrenching but contained screams on specious pain.
Ma Be Ham Nemiresim (Googoosh Cover) – Khruangbin
While not quite the sophomore EP that everybody in this town is clamoring for, the Houston psych-funk powerhouses don’t disappoint with their cover of this Azerbaijani classic. Recorded for Floating House’s summer compilation, Philia: Artists Rise Against Islamophobia, whose proceeds went to benefit Unity Productions Foundation, the song’s exotic guitar work and always satisfying bass-lines of pure unadulterated funk are more than enough to hold listeners over until Jan. 26.
Electrify My Soul – BLING ST.
Electronic R&B duo BLING ST. might be the most exciting musical project to look out for in 2018. Composed of Stoo Gogo, whose voice sits somewhere perfectly in between the bombastic Natalie Cole and the delicate pointedness of Shamir, and producer Luis Cerda, keyboardist for alt. rock band Vox Vocis, the pair released their debut, Costume, last summer. Featuring shimmering keys, ethereal synths, and borderline disco rhythms, the real treat to “electrify my soul” is Gogo’s immaculate vocal range on full display here.