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Deli(cacies): Our Favorite 2021 Tracks, Straight Outta ATX





Deli(cacies): Our Favorite 2021 Tracks, Straight Outta ATX

Is it too late for an end of year list? Maybe! Who cares! We’re two years into a pandemic! Time is a construct! Music is forever! God is dead and we have killed him!

As it so often does, music offered us something special in 2021: a sorely-needed respite from a dark and often dismal period in human history. As I look back, now fully a quarter of the way into an also-pretty-shitty 2022, I barely remember the personal disappointments, political frustrations, or painful realities the year brought. I just remember the music.

 
Because 2021 was a good year for music (though I will gladly and violently contest anyone who says that there has ever been a bad year for music. You just weren’t looking hard enough). But it was a particularly good year for local music. The songs below are true (deli)cacies that filled my year with hope and meaning and sometimes the simple comfort of good, clean fun. Here's hoping they bring the same to you.

Check out our top 10 below, then head over to Spotify to check out the full playlist of our local favorites from 2021.  

 #10 Slow Down by David Shabani

 

On the stand-out track from his mellow and melodic album Shabani’s Smooth Sounds of Summer, David Shabani urges his listeners and a frantic world to “Slow Down” and soak in the sunshine. A soothing French vocal sample skates over a warm, vaguely aquatic instrumental, inviting listeners to sink into serenity, before velvet vocals wash over us like ocean skim — comfortable, comforting, familiar. 

Charismatic and captivating, with addictive cadences that occasionally evoke Kid Cudi and Theophilus London, David Shabani has refined a sound and aesthetic that appeal to mainstream sensibilities without bending backwards to them. I'm excited to enjoy his journey as he channels that innate polish and charisma into a more substantive, meaningful release.

#9 Count Of by fuvk:

 

One of the budding lofi movement’s finest and most forlorn artists, fuvk is quietly creating pop jewels from the comfort of her bedroom. Though her latest album twentytwenty is occasionally cheerful, even buoyant, “Count Of” is filled with regret and reverberation, a lethal injection of youthful melancholy both universal and inescapable.  

 

The track is a masterclass in minimalism, all the more stunning for its simplicity. Crestfallen chords echo hollowly in a cavern of empty space. Almost-jaded lyrics (“i’ll give you to the count of five to say goodbye/i won’t let you change my mind”) ring with the crushing realization of love’s inevitable end. But, despite it all, fuvk refuses to surrender. Despite it all — the futility of clasping ephemeral love furiously to your chest as it dissolves between your fingers, the impossibility of fighting against a foregone conclusion — fuvk clings to a fundamental belief: belief in love that will redeem all the agony. Belief that all of this was worth it. Belief in better things to come. 

 

#8 Paranoid by The Teeta

 

 

Floating precariously over a sinister walkway of skittering snares and menacing keys, The Teeta delivers a drugged-out tirade against the corruptions of a monotonous and unforgiving world. His off-kilter cadences sway woozily downstream, not so much following the beat as being dragged along by it — a branch caught in the currents.

That’s a particularly apt metaphor given the emotions The Teeta pours into his microphone for the track’s relentless two minutes. “Paranoid” is the cathartic release Tony Soprano craved, chased, and so desperately needed: a cascade of anger, apathy and unbridled vulnerability. One lonely, tormented verse sprawls between two furious choruses, a frantic exercise in free-association that reveals a paranoid and introspective conscience craving penance (“We make mistakes in this life, give me a chance to pay it forward”) and liberation (“Lot on my mind, I just want to be free”). 

 

The track fades into oblivion feeling unfinished, denied the satisfaction of resolution. But that’s intentional. In The Teeta’s world, it’s necessary. “Cause when it’s over, it’s just over, we gotta get going” — whether in music, in life, or in death. 

 

#7 Don’t Resist by jaytea

 

 

One of the finest feelings in life is hearing amazing new music. Another is sharing that new music with your friends, and family, and the people pulled up next to you at a stoplight in their shitty souped-up Subaru, and the neighbors in the next door apartment who smile and wave but are definitely the ones putting post-it notes under your door asking you to “stop smoking weed” or “put clothes on when you’re watering your plants outside.” 

 

But nothing, and I mean nothing, feels quite so electric as discovering new music. That doesn’t mean listening to whichever nepotistic byproduct paid to get play on your streaming service of choice. It means keeping your ears open to exciting new songs wherever they exist. It means staying up til the wee hours of the morning, running only on whiskey fumes and taki dust, as you chase that adrenaline rush shared exclusively by crate diggers and archaeologists.

 

That’s what I felt like when, in between a blur of noise rock and ambient krautrock and jungle rave, I stumbled into “Don’t Resist” during a deep dive into #austin’s recent additions on Bandcamp. I felt like my digging had unearthed not just treasure, but something new. Something truly unique.

 

The track itself is a wonderful restrained chillhop interpretation and expression of the frustration shared by an entire generation of young people being overstimulated to the point of numbness. jaytea’s upbeat “lofi pop” is lush and hypnotic and interesting — but it’s also “just” a loop. There’s excitement. There’s beauty. There’s rhythm.  But it never really goes anywhere — there’s no development, no evolution.

 

But that’s because that’s the way life feels right now, for a lot more of us than I think we sometimes care to admit. It’s just a loop — an engaging one, to be sure, full of responsibilities and small excitements and bad news and notifications. But it all feels so repetitive, so mundane, so constant, to the point that even the joyful things in life just seem a little bit more muted.

 

That state of being constantly worn down, dulled by constant distraction and dominated in small (but also absolutely massive) everyday ways, sits at the heart of “Don’t Resist.” Those words arrive verbatim during one of jaytea’s subdued verses, but they express what every one of us is asked to do, every day, by the powers that be. Bombarded by bad news, we are asked not to resist or get angry, so we distract ourselves to numb the anger (“Staring at a screen to keep my rage in check”). In the face of oppressive persecution via police and the prison system, we’re told to sit down, shut up and not resist being incarcerated, confined, treated as something less than human. Promised agency in the “land of opportunity,” we are coerced by capitalism to “find a low wage” and “keep [our] hopes in line.”

 

But there are times in the song —during the chorus, especially, before that easy, familiar beat kicks in and a sedated verse lulls us back to the status quo. —  where jaytea’s rage and resentment bubble to the surface. These moments feel urgent. They feel hopeful and energetic and expressive. They feel like a revelation: that despite who we’re expected to be — or perhaps because we’re expected to be that — none of us can just sit back and “be a good boy.” Not this time.


#6 Freedom Comes by Clarence James

 

A dogged declaration of optimism and faith, “Freedom Comes” stands in stark contrast to The Teeta’s turbulent “Paranoid.” He exists in the same fucked-up world, make no mistake. That world is decried in the song’s impassioned intro: “Their hatred is so strong because they know, if we were to ever separate and and start to love each other, this place would fall over night.”

But it’s also a world Clarence James is determined to protect and preserve. His message of perseverent faith is a call to action (“Don’t let them police your soul, if we unite then we’ll grow” and “Keep on fighting when the fight gets old”) and an affirmation of all that is good in the world — of a world that is good in and of itself (We’ll be alright, yes I know. You tell me different, well I know it ain’t so”). His insistent assurances buzz over a fuzzy, cheerful backdrop, strolling a mellow march to the promised land.

But Clarence James is not entirely content trusting in the eventual destiny of decency. The final thirty seconds of “Freedom Comes” delivers a magical moment of urgency and passion, and perhaps my favorite musical moment of the year: a velvety beat switch creating space for the gifted guitarist to layer Buckethead-esque riffs underneath one final resounding revelation: “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear!”


#5 Diggy Dah by Riders Against the Storm

Booming with boastful exuberance and delivered with the playful swagger of T-Pain at his blustering best, “Diggy Dah” breathes new life into the gravelly, menacing horn synths that rattled carframes and defined TNGHT’s two-year (2013-2014) domination of early trap music. The track is a thunderous and thoroughly-deserved victory lap for the acclaimed husband-and-wife superduo who have shaped the local hip-hop community for nearly a decade, and who constantly represent their city with style and aplomb.


Saluting RAS Day (August 29) with a city-wide festival devoted to music’s magical alchemy. Stepping onto global stages with truly mythical figures from hip-hop’s pantheon: Erykah Badu, George Clinton, Yasiin Bey. Creating spaces of truly radical joy for their communities, in their communities. From their platform, Riders Against the Storm champion collective healing: through music, through movement, through the intimacy of the everyday. From their pulpit, they preach peace, love, and liberation.


So, no matter how long their moment may be (and long may it continue!), they deserve to seize it, and enjoy it, and celebrate it. And that’s what “Diggy Dah” is: a celebration of life and the power it gives us. A celebration of hip-hop as culture and community. A celebration of celebration itself. 

 

#4 ‘Til This Pain Goes Away by Jackie Venson

 

Some musicians sing with the voice of the people. Every syllable, every strum rings universal, reverberating truth.


Others distill that shared reality into something more personal, more painful, and in some ways more pure. Each song is a shard of the self, sculpted and sharpened with surgical sincerity. The pain is venomous, virulent, but their voice is only their own. 


Jackie Venson, somehow, does it all. She narrows the scope of the cosmos until all that remains is the self. She expands the scope of the self until it envelops the entire universe. She shreds with swashbuckling style and absolute sincerity. 


That radical vulnerability brings profound, aching depth to the bluesy battle hymn “‘Til This Pain Goes Away.” We feel her frustration as texture, coarse and caustic against our skin. We see the striations of her sorrow on the insides of our eyelids. We taste her cold, bitter realization that  “the world don’t cherish truth” and “there seems no limit for the depth of human hate.”


But it does something else, too. It creates connection. It awakens a sense of solidarity. Her pain becomes our own, because it has always been our own. Her vulnerability becomes our own, because it reveals our depths as well. And her complete, unflinching conviction — that she ”will not be fooled, shall not be moved,” that she will “be the proof that love conquers blues” — becomes our own too.


Because if the self is universal, if the universe can be contained in the self, then self-affirmation becomes about so much more than you or me. It becomes about us. It becomes about everything we can do, everything we can accomplish. Everything we can be. 


#3 Into the Fire by Brother Thunder 

I’m gonna say this once, and only once, to get it the fuck out of the way: Black Pumas don’t own their “rock and soul” sound, and they aren’t the only kickass band in this city.

Yes, Brother Thunder shares a similar soulful sensibility, punched up with a splash of good-old-fashioned rocanrol and psychedelic undertones. Yes, their lead singer sings with a gritty gravitas that almost feels familiar. Yes, it probably sucks that their debut EP arrived under the radar of the now-iconic local act’s spectacular breakout season.


But Brother Thunder are their own wonderful, weird entity. Call them Rodman to the Pumas’ Jordan, Rip Hamilton to their Chauncey Billups. And call me crazy if you want, but “Into the Fire” packs a more meaningful punch than anything the Pumas have released to date. 


The track hits like a sonic blast of Barton’ Springs frigid water. After a short, stuttering entrance — not unlike those timid steps we all take when approaching the pool’s blue opal surface — we plunge into the deep end. A wall of solid sound — electric jolts of jerky guitar, a crash of cymbals — meets us, shocking the system into action. 


And, make no mistake, “Into the Fire” is a song of action. It craves it. It demands it: the action of introspection, of asking yourself the tough questions that we sometimes think we can go through life without addressing: “Are you who you wanna be? Are you just the same? Is your mind made up with things? Or is it empty space?” 


At times, it feels like Brother Thunder has unearthed its answers and found them liberated and liberating. At others, those paralyzing questions come back, niggling and nagging, threatening to drag us down with our fears and doubts.


But, as with all things, the answer lies in the question itself. Through soaring, searching meditation — through the urgent act of embracing discomfort and stepping into the fire’s cleansing agony — we begin healing. We are reborn.


#2 Blame It on the Water by Sir Woman


Joyful, jazzy, full of playful piano runs and the woozy bounce of ‘80s synths, “Blame It on the Water” is a testament to the magic of movement. Not movement for a purpose, or to a destination, but movement for the sake of movement. Movement because it feels good: to dance, to swing, to boogie, to nod your head and waggle your finger and smile a wide, heartfelt smile.


That’s all Sir Woman wants: to feel good, and to make us feel good. That’s the overriding message of “Blame it on the Water,” after all: do what makes you feel good. Lilting vocals bubbling to the surface in buoyant bursts, radiant frontwoman Kelsey Wilson urges us to feel good through the simple joy of movement.


Dance with delightful abandon. Leave the easy comfort of unspectacular love. Just move, wherever and whenever the rhythm takes you, without a worry for what you might be leaving behind. Water doesn’t feel guilt for flowing. Birds don’t feel shame for leaving the nest. 


Because to move is to live, and to live is to move. And goddamn if Sir Woman ain’t gonna live.


#1 ZOMBiES by Harry Edohoukwa 


Writing this list was easy.


Well, that’s not true. Writing this list was hard as fuck, and has taken far longer and far more of my headspace than I’m proud to admit or would care to do the math for.


But making this list was easy. Sure, some hard decisions had to be made, and there’s a feral pack of disgruntled musicians after me whose songs absolutely deserve to be in this list and probably would be on another day or in another life. But that all happened beneath the clouds, in the masses, below the horizon line of one gleaming, screaming, agonizing black hole of a track that devoured me and my attention this year.


“ZOMBiES” by Harry Edohoukwa is toxic. It’s intoxicating. It’s sonic smog that fills your ears and your face and your body and your soul. The bassline stalks through murky shadows, each footstep crashing against a stark, cavernous emptiness. Metallic flashes of feverish guitar wail in the weeds. Edohoukwa pleads for guidance, for adoration, for salvation, every word drenched in shrieking desperation. He is tortured and tormented, fevering and fervent, touched by the divine before being abandoned to sadistic savageness. He is the rose that grew from the concrete — into an apocalyptic graveyard where to flourish is to be plucked, chewed, drained like marrow.


But despite it all — despite this perverse divine betrayal that promises ecstasy, delivers punishment and teases redemption — he feels chosen. He is paranoid (“Everybody wants a piece of me cause I’m up”) and distrusting (“Zombies looking for life…. So put your hands where I can see them”) and perhaps even unworthy (“I should have died today, all them zombies”), but he feels chosen anyway, 


It’s that hypocrisy that creates Edohoukwa’s cleaving cognitive dissonance. The song crescendos into an agonized, animalistic yelp before clattering, crashing, crunching into chaos. And all that remains is the lonely, haunting refrain of all that’s left in the aftermath of glory: “Zombies.”

 

-Adam Wood

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