by: Thomas D. Mooney
The Extended Play. For local scenes, they’re primarily used as an introduction–a starting point–for a band or artist. It’s a nice way to get something quick out into the market and establish just exactly what you are without having to describe yourself to newcoming fans time and time and time again. It’s also a bit of a safety net investment. No one wants to cut a full-length album before realizing that they all hate each other and can’t play well together.
Lubbock’s no different. Of the 15 EPs we highlight, 13 are “debuts.” They’re new songs from new bands who have, for the most part, only been in existence for the last year or so. Sure, some have been doing music things for longer than that, but I’m just saying, generally, that’s what’s going on.
It’s kind of a good sign to have EPs circulating. Obviously the full-length album is the optimum model for artistic expression, but EPs mean bands are forming and new songwriters are collecting songs and not being discouraged after their first crash and burn open mic night. It’s means things are happening, and if all goes well, things will be happening tomorrow as well.
We’ve taken and ranked our Top 15 Extended Plays released by Panhandle artists this past year. If you missed our Top 60 Panhandle Songs of 2014 list, click here. Be on the look out for our inevitable “Top __ Panhandle Albums of 2014” in the immediate future.
15. Chasing a Song
Justin Michael Bell
Justin Michael Bell is one of the newest singer-songwriters in Lubbock who could end up carving out a spot and sound. He’s part of a new crop. And like most of his contemporaries, he’s still growing and searching for that specific place, sound, and voice. But his debut EP, the aptly titled Chasing a Song, is a solid start. For some songwriters, it’s important in their development to just get something recorded. You can never underestimate having something static and physical. There’s some validation in that. Bell’s best attributes so far are his ability to infuse his pop sensibilities in songs that aren’t necessarily pop or rock songs. It may not be intentional, but he’s been able to write around his voice better than most starting out. There’s a dollop of cliché lines here and there, but they’re further and fewer between than a bunch of songwriters in the same position.
Standout: “Make a Change”
14. Demo ’14
To say the closer on Judiciary’s Demo ’14 is guitar riff heavy is an understatement. I really can’t get past those riffs. It opens with a laid back groove before changing gears about half way. It’d be ignorant to say that the hardcore band is all about smashing and bashing with clubs. Obviously it’s heavy, but there’s a bunch of subtle, small brush strokes that create a detailed painting–and this is just a so-called “demo.” And in case you forgot you were in West Texas, on standout track, “No Justice, No Peace,” the maybe throwaway outro reminds you that you’re still in Lubbock, Texas.
Standout: “No Justice, No Peace”
Caste put out their first and only EP, Proxemics, out last December. We’re not sure what happened, but the post-rock outfit has since broken up. It’s a damn shame too. Their debut wasn’t only really good, it was very promising. You could hear the band finding and locking on towards a definite sound. With much of post-rock instrumental from Texas, you can rarely outrun the shadow cast by fellow Texans, Explosions in the Sky. The influence on the band is an obvious one, but that doesn’t diminish what Caste did on tracks such as the 11-minute epic “Sons & Shore.” The big, vast, and enthralling as anything that’s ever come out of the stretch of road between Lubbock and Amarillo.
Standout: “Son & Shore”
Certain music styles are better cultivated in Lubbock than others. It’s not really a place that screams as a rock and pop epicenter. In saying that, Landon Scoggins’ debut, Chills, isn’t great just for the sake of being different from everything else around here. At the same time, let’s not act as though Michael Jackson records never made their way out to Lubbock either. Scoggins’ smokey vocals aren’t just some of the most powerful pipes in Lubbock County; they’re some of the most unique too. He never sounds as though he’s trying to sound like someone else–something we’re all too familiar with in pop music. Scoggins leaves everything out on the table throughout Chills. He pulls out a lot bells and whistles, but they never feel like desperate attempts to cover shortcomings or done for the sake of cliche.
11. Unicorn Piss
When you’re about to listen to a song called “Like a Freak” from an EP called Unicorn Piss from a band named Bad Elastic, let’s just say you already know it’s going to be really good or plain god-awful. There’s no middle ground. Coming in at around three minutes, “Like a Freak” just about checks all the boxes for a good punk rock song. The so-called “dust punk” four-piece is just that. Throughout Unicorn Piss, their the giant, thick, and fat guitar riffs pop out on the desert rock pieces. It’s a little more heavy than a band like The Black Lips or their Amarillo contemporaries Western Plaza–maybe a closer something like FIDLAR–but doesn’t stray so far off the path to abandon good pop sensibilities. There’s a heavy dose of grit and a slight “fuck off” attitude that seeps through that makes you know it’s a genuine.
Standout: “Like A Freak”
No one’s really ever captured the calm before the storm–the storm being a haboob rolling across the plains to sandblast the city of Lubbock–quite like DRAGG has with their magnum opus opener “HABOOBSMEN.” It’s that eerie silence only offset by some static and a couple drum stick beats that really do it. Then, like a wall of windy sand, the guitars blast you with such force. The Lubbock stoner by death metal band’s self-titled debut is one of the heaviest outfits to come out of Lubbock in a while. They’re dark, loud, and heavy. The sludge they create has an effect on you that few Lubbock bands have been able to properly capture. Brandon Blair and company know just where the edge of is. The line between great death metal and just death metal is a fine line and can be incredibly difficult to define–but whatever it is, DRAGG is on the right side. DRAGG is chalk full of West Texas weather–the aforementioned “HABOBSMEN,” “Blacken the Sky,” and “Windship.” We often speak about how artists are defined by their setting. DRAGG isn’t any different. In reality, they very well may wear these south plains on their sleeve more so than most.
09. Lungs, Heart, & Hands
When a scene is seemingly all racing towards the various sub-genres of Americana, Lubbock’s Ryan Spivey is going towards a desert oasis that’s an outlying Americana outpost in the not quite opposite direction. It’s an outlier. His first official EP, Lungs, Heart, & Hands, feels more indie dance-pop than it probably actually is–there’s still some solid acoustic guitar pieces that’d feel at home on any folk ballad. It’s a folktronica blend that’s part desert folk and part electric gypsy. There’s an undeniable groove current that carves out a home on LH&H–a common pulse on each of the five tracks. Songs such as “Maestro & The Beach” and “Going For the Throat” show Spivey’s ability to blend, meld, and fuse sounds that are part Easy Rider-era Byrds and modern-day Flaming Lips and Ghostland Observatory.
Standout: “Going For the Throat”
I get the sense that Strangetowne is just right on the cusp of breaking out. On the Amarillo Americana band’s debut, their really isn’t a song that stands out from the rest of the pack. I know, that sounds like a band thing, but really, it’s not. From the fun, banjo-infused opening “Amarillo Girls” to the even more fun times “Smoke a Joint,” and so on, it just never drops down a level. And it’s not like the EP is monotonous. The four tracks don’t fuse into a single piece because they all sound the same either. There’s plenty of variety. Overall, Strangetowne has created a rich, full sound that feels like just the surface is just being scratched by the four-piece. Part of the success for Strangetowne’s songwriting formula is that they’re not all coming from a single songwriter or singer. They’ve taken a page out of the Wheeler Brothers, Sons of Fathers, Avett Brothers playbook and utilized having multiple writers and singers. It’s helped the good songs get better and the bad songs from entering contention as an option.
Standout: “Smoke a Joint”
07. Long Way Down
The best moments on Casey Berry’s Long Way Down happen to be the ones where he dives head first into early ’70s style country–traditional if you will. Luckily, that’s the majority of the seven-track EP. The Amarillo-based singer-songwriter isn’t faking that southern Steve Earle vocal–there’s honest grit and break in that voice of his. It’s most apparent and real on the title track, “Long Way Down.” It’s a slow burner with a hint of blues lingering in the back. Add the howling harmonica in small doses and you’ve got the perfect sad bastard tune. Berry and company get a little rambling and rowdy here and there as well. “Blood of the Lamb” is a nice example of a late Saturday night in Berry Country. Without a doubt, there’s radio worthy singles all over Long Way Down–a few that have already been released and a few that will could–but it never feels as though that’s the lone intention of being written and recorded. Sure, Berry has a few hooks in him that sound great for radio, but really, they’re just solid, good songs regardless.
Standout: “Long Way Down”
06. Mitch Rambo
Mitch Rambo, for my money’s worth, has probably grown the most of the Lubbock singer-songwriters since genuinely embarking on a solo trail a while back. I’m sure he’s not figured it all out yet and there’s work to be done, but really, this guy has gotten good. He’s worked at finding his voice–both physically as singer and mentally as a songwriter. Vocally, he’s become smooth enough to handle the gentle folk-rock songs he was writing. We all know Rambo, pound for pound, is one of the most gifted guitarists in the area. He has edge, grit, and can turn heads in any bar with the best of them. His self-titled debut isn’t that at all though. They’re benign and gentle. On songs like “A Thinker’s Plea,” half way through, you want to check and make sure it’s alright that you’re listening. Maybe you caught him on something that’s supposed to be only for his ears. It’s stark and bare. You lend in to make sure you fully hear and understand the minimal lines of words Rambo croons softly.
Standout: “A Thinker’s Plea”
05. Skin Walker
The Man & The Medicine
Dallas Owens looks just as he sounds. He’s a wiry little guy who looks like he has a story he’s just itching to tell someone–some fucked up something that happened to him on the way to his current location. Like with his Skin Walker, you’re sometimes not sure exactly where he’s going, but you’re intrigued nonetheless. The often jangling Owens has a way of laying a trail of crumbs within his storytelling. His style of building a verse–from a distance–looks frantic and wild, but it’s only when you really examine his word play that you fully understand that this juggling act is both carefully calculated and a strength that so few possess. You hear this best on tracks like “Dance in the Sunshine” where he goes into another gear vocally and is on the verge of going full rap mode. This is also where Owens does his best Tom Waits meets Mance Lipscomb impression vocally. He’s not afraid to try out things that simply may not work. But here, it does. He’s somehow both a mad scientist unafraid of experimenting with things outside the box and a genuine singer-songwriter who paints within the realms of that classic folk songwriter we’ve all grown accustomed to thinking of walking down the streets of Greenwich Village, circa 1962. It’s Inside Llewyn Davis and Inside Blaze Foley. It’s Inside Dallas Owens.
Standout: “Skin Walker”
04. Two Wolves
“Up Around the Bend” is the second song on Two Wolves, the debut from Lubbock’s Dave Martinez. There for a while, it felt as though Martinez’ debut was seemingly always going to have the same fate. We were always going to be waiting. But maybe, it’s a good thing Martinez didn’t rush to record. Maybe it’s a good thing he’s taken his time. It’s not as though Martinez didn’t have the songs to record, but maybe, he just didn’t have the right ones. I mean, the standout track “Number 7,” gets that specific title since it was the seventh song Martinez wrote in a particular month. Note, there aren’t seven tracks on Two Wolves. Why? I’m sure because they’re still in oven. At just under 15 minutes in length, Two Wolves is one of the shortest pieces of work released in Lubbock in recent memory. That fits Martinez better than most. It’s Martinez, his acoustic, and some harmony vocals from Callie Weaks here and there. That’s it. It’s the truest form of folk music happening in Lubbock currently. Martinez claims he doesn’t write songs while drinking–while it may be true, it feels as though each of these five nuggets all started out from drunken walks and serene hungover mornings. That’s where the story is found. In a lot of ways, Martinez is a working man’s songsmith. He’s not using too many five-dollar words to say something he could say with change. There isn’t much fat on the songs. They’re lean, sharp, and quick.
Standout: “Number 7”
03. The Dignity of Movement
Before Michael Lambert released The Dignity of Movement, he did something that few artists do. He released a free four-track EP of covers. They were some of his favorite songs from four artists who are special to his latest music project, Slow Relics. The four (City and Colour, Manchester Orchestra, Karen O, and Iron & Wine) covers don’t necessarily make The Dignity better or give you a better understanding of what Lambert’s five songs on The Dignity, but it does give you some insight on where the artist is coming from. It’s a nice prefix to the proper introduction of Slow Relics. The first thing we heard from Slow Relics was last year with a song called “I, And I Alone.” It ended up being in our Top 15 Panhandle Songs of the year. We knew it was a great song, but we really weren’t sure exactly what Slow Relics was going to be. Was it a throwaway side-project? A band in the making? Thankfully Lambert released four more songs to accompany “I, and I Alone” earlier this year. Lambert’s airy and light vocals seem to float around his acoustic guitar (and occasional ukulele) arrangements. On tracks like “The Flood,” local trumpeter Nic Shute adds some nice accents to Lambert’s Sufjan Stevensesque pieces. Overall, what we get is a simple collection of crisp and cool harmonic baroque folk rock ballads that Lambert’s sure to build on in 2015.
Standout: “I, And I Alone”
02. The Goners
Lubbock’s version of Texas Country has always generally been left of center. It’s given us a more eclectic, honest version of the ever-growing-towards-mediocrity genre that seemingly dominates the minds, hearts, and wallets of Texas’ youth. Thank God The Goners aren’t anything remotely near any of that. I’d go as far as to say that Lubbock needed The Goners more than Heath Tolleson and company could ever imagine. Maybe Lubbock didn’t need The Goners, but it definitely needed something like The Goners. The five-piece Goners released their debut self-titled in late May after spending some time out with Alan Crossland at Route 1, Acuff Studios in April in which they channel their inner Whiskeytown, The Band, Jayhawks, and early Thrift Store Cowboys to create a blend of alt-country that’s both refreshing and familiar to Lubbock, Texas. Familiar–partly because Tolleson, Brian Duhan, Sarah Duhan, Jerry Serrano, and former drummer Elec Winner–are all familiar faces and players. There’s maturity and intimacy in their playing that creates an atmosphere you can’t help but relax to. With storytelling songs like “Lighter Shade of Blue” and “Postcards,” you sit back and listen. It’s reassuring that a band is more focused on storytelling and song than the hoopla that can surround the circus. More so, it’s nice to know that their already readying their next move–this time with an even more collaborative effort amongst its’ five moving parts.
Standout: “Lighter Shade of Blue”
01. Yesterday’s Souls
The three-piece Veda Moon take things slowly. Their debut EP had been in making for some time, but once it was finally released in early 2014 (it’d be a few more months before they eventually released it online as well), but damn, was this work the wait. Yesterday’s Souls is easily the most polished piece of debut material Lubbock has seen. There’s seemingly no growing pains or weaknesses. “Sleepwalker” was ranked the 16th best track of 2013 while “Well Under Spell” and “Death and Decay” come in at 2 and 19 on this year’s list. The jazzy dream pop combination at work is foundation for the EP. It’s accented with feathery chimes and flutes–most notably on “Well Under Spell.” While you’d never guess that this was originating from the Panhandle flatlands on first listen, it’s not good just because it’s different from anything else happening in the area. It’s not a novelty act. Uniqueness fades with repetition while solid, sound pieces continue to evolve with every additional listen. Yesterday’s Souls falls in the latter. You get a sense of nostalgia while listening–I mean, look at the title. It’s all so familiar yet, faded and fuzzy. In many ways, Veda Moon fills the whole in your heart and head that you never knew was missing. It connects the dots between the dream and awake states. When the EP ends, you end up longing for something you never thought you’d miss. There’s not been anything like this in Lubbock in some time–and nothing quite whole and mature ever–you just hope this isn’t just a fast burning candle that never gets replaced or followed up on. I want more and I want more now.
Standout: “Well Under Spell”