David Okamoto takes his annual year-end look at the best music stemming from Texas, and once again, it's a mixed bag.
Lone Star State music was all over the map in 2012, and my 10 favorite releases by Texas-based or -born artists raised the bar — or at least a ruckus — in a variety of genres.
At No. 10 is Sumone 2 B Young With, an online mixtape by rising San Antonio hip-hop producer Beautiful Lou. Buzzy rappers such as Himanshu Suri and Kitty Pryde helm the mics, but Lou’s pulsing, punch-drunk beats steal the show.
High, Wide and Handsome by The Trishas is my No. 9 pick. Featuring Kevin Welch’s daughter Savannah, the Austin quartet’s luscious four-part harmonies showcase their bluegrass roots and Nashville crossover promise.
Blak and Blu by Gary Clark Jr. crash-lands at No. 8. The 28-year-old Austin blues guitar kingpin is a gale forced to be reckoned with in concert. While his unbridled passion arm-wrestles the reverb-drenched overproduction to a draw on this CD, his gritty potential still shines through.
At No. 7 is American Girls, the self-released effort by Austin’s K. Phillips that marries the soulful swagger of early Van Morrison with the roadhouse bravado of Exile on Main Street.
Meltdown by Denton’s Mind Spiders roars in at No. 6. Formerly a one-man side project of Mark Ryan of The Marked Men, Mind Spiders has blossomed into a full-fledged punk-pop band that hotwires Ramones-like adrenaline and trippy ‘60s keyboards into cohesive chaos.
My No. 5 choice is Love This Giant, the quirky collaboration between David Byrne and Lake Highlands High School grad Annie Clark, who records under the moniker St. Vincent. Arty pretensions are quashed by the funky rhythms, and Clark sounds more hypnotic than histrionic on such mesmerizing numbers as “Optimist” and “Ice Age.”
The self-titled debut by Dallas’ John Singer Sergeant ranks No. 4. The name is a pseudonym for Deathray Davies leader John Dufilho, who wrote every song and plays every instrument — but he surrenders lead vocals to his pals, including Rhett Miller and Sarah Jaffe, who uncover emotional wrinkles that his own voice might iron out.
At No. 3 is Through the Deep, Dark Valley by San Marcos duo The Oh Hellos. Siblings Maggie and Tyler Heath use the rustic folk-rock popularized by The Lumineers and The Head and the Heart as a foundation, and their soul-baring songs of regret and redemption erupt into a joyful noise.
My No. 2 favorite is Little Broken Hearts by Dallas-raised Norah Jones, who continues to defy pigeonholing. This moody collaboration with producer Danger Mouse, who surrounds her animated voice with loping beats and jagged textures, comes across sensual and sinister at the same time.
My top Texas album of 2012 is Ben Kweller’s Go Fly a Kite, which celebrates every style he has mastered since emerging as the teenage frontman of Greenville band Radish in the early ‘90s. In another era, the heartwarming twang of “Full Circle” and the power-pop crunch of “Jealous Girl” could have landed Kweller on the top of the charts — but this year, he’ll have to settle for being at the top of his game.
David Okamoto is a content production manager at Yahoo! in Dallas. His music reviews have previously appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone, ICE magazine and the Dallas Morning News.