Mixtape: Best of Austin Texas 2018

2018: It was a wearying year, to say the least. On a global level, it was war and famine and dismembered journalists; on a national level, well, it was just about the worst thing you could imagine; locally, here in Austin, a series of horrific bombings shook the city’s soul. There was a bleakness in the air. The water went bad, and then it was fine. It was a tumultuous and scary time for many of us.

Against that backdrop, it can seem superfluous to even talk about music. But in a real way that I truly believe, music will always matter. It’s so much a part of our lives. Music will always be a way to cope with—while at the same time revealing truths about—the time and milieu in which it is made. Austin in 2018 is no different.

Maybe it’s just that I’m compiling this mixtape in winter, but it feels right that a lot of these songs display varying strains of melancholy and general bummed-out vibes. “Hey, here we are, another year, same time same spot,” intones Leslie Sisson on “Baby Blues,” as if picking at a scar. Warm and spare, Sun June’s “Discoteque” feels like a winter morning in bed, while “Gold Rush,” by Why Bonnie, is in full heart-pounding romantic mode, cinematic in its attention to detail.

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In “Sweet Home Alabama," by Caroline Says, quiet harmonies lope gorgeously atop a dusty sample, entering a rarified hypnotic bedroom pop lane that Deerhunter once occupied. Meanwhile, Blushing’s aching, fuzzy “Sunshine” stares dreamily through a shoegaze photograph, while the eerily composed, powerful “Black Willow,” by Loma, seems to gaze straight through time itself.

There’s something magic these songs, different as they are, seem to share. This isn’t “confessional” music, the performative kind that’s asking for attention. There’s something deeper, a bone-deep aloneness to this music. It’s been hurt— and it hurts.

They weren’t the only ones on this playlist working the darkness territory. Erika Wennerstrom, Bill Baird w/ Jana Horn, Hovvdy, and daphne tunes in the acoustic world; Samantha Glass, Lou Rebecca, Click-Clack, Magna Carda, and TC Superstar in electronic and hip-hop; Pleasure Venom, Borzoi, and Mamis in punk — all of these artists made terrific art by exploring the varying flavors— worried, reassuring, sentimental, zoned out, dry and witty, eviscerating, hurt, pissed-off, celebratory— that can be found in darkness, or melancholy.

Molly Burch made introspection sound the most fun and empowering this year, especially on the playful, swaggering “To The Boys.” Calliope Musicals, too, offered a laser beam of joy and good astral advice on the truly epic, Bowie-level beautiful “Cosmic Poison Arrow.” Jarebear did a whole record of optimistic music that anyone can love (digitally released by First Humans, with vinyl to come), with all the trappings of an indie rock perfectionist genius. The Crack Pipes’ “Fake Eyelashes” bears the same tuneful optimism as Daniel Johnston. Walker Lukens dropped the single “Baby,” an immaculately-crafted, clever, and ultimately heartfelt pop song that had sticking power.

Harlem came back sounding great, somewhat mellowed but still funny and smart, especially on the genuinely moving “Cry Now Cry Later.” Being Dead happens to be a band that reminds me of Harlem, especially that band’s 2009 era, all warm-hearted scream-a-longs. “Wild man, well he don’t get no respect, he lives far out in the woods away from the INTERNET!” And no words are needed on Brownout’s lively version of Public Enemy’s “911 is a Joke,” which is as get-up-and-groove as you might expect, without losing sight of the stone-cold reality the song is referring to. Black Pumas’ smash “Black Moon Rising” felt like an instant classic, luxurious and humid.

What I’m trying to say is, these songs matter. They will affirm you. They will sustain you. And I truly mean this— here in this town, this one-hour, forty-five minute mixtape really is just the tip of the iceberg. Every song here makes me sit back in awe at the redolent splendor of hard-working talent in this town right now. I really want people to know about it!

I hope you enjoy this mixtape, which to me, is an enthralling document of a time and space that feels ripe with creativity and possibilities. May your 2019 be fruitful and hopeful, and may there be grapefruit.

—Eric Braden