Close-up of Black Basements vocalist Lisa Taylor, performing live.

5 Unsigned Austin Bands that You Should Hear

By Bradley Barnes
Music Journalist

The live music scene in Austin has been revered for decades now, with artists covering a diverse range of sounds and reaching world-wide acclaim. Legends such as Stevie Ray Vaughn and Willie Nelson have called Austin their home over the years, with more recent breakthrough acts like Ghostland Observatory and Explosions in the Sky seeing critical acclaim.

For every big act, though, there are dozens of bands hitting the pavement, and making a name for themselves in the underground. The following five independent artists are bands that I feel really deserve a spotlight, and may have slipped under your radar until now, so I hope that you will check their music out, and go see them live when you get the opportunity.

Gold Leather

The members of Gold Leather are posing in an empty bathroom with heavily graffitied walls.
Gold Leather. Image via Gold Leather.

Bandcamp | Facebook

Perhaps the noisiest band on this list, Gold Leather have hints of The Stooges, Bauhaus, The Jesus Lizard, and The Jesus and Mary Chain in their eclectic sound. Some songs are cacophonous noise rock soundscapes, some are swooning shoegazey ballads and all of it has a psychedelic tint that warps and bends in a dreamlike haze.

They’ve dubbed themselves “gold wave,” and have a truly unique sound that makes it difficult to categorize them, since post-punk, shoegaze, noise rock, garage and psych can all be heard in Gold Leather’s sonic barrage. As varied as their influences are, the members of Gold Leather mesh well together as musicians, and sound as if they already have decades of experience under their belts.

Concrete Shoes

Closeup outdoor of the four members of Concrete Shoes.
Concrete Shoes. Image via Concrete Shoes.

Bandcamp | Facebook

Concrete Shoes, if you wanted to get down to the most basic of terms, is a hip-hop group with live instruments. There have been a few other hip hop acts that have live musicians as official members in their lineups over the years, with The Roots being a notable example. Equal parts soul, funk, blues, R&B, rap, rock, jazz and spoken word, Concrete Shoes blends a lot of different tones all at once, creating some of the smoothest jams you’ll ever hear. The vocals go from rapping to soulful crooning, with the occasional slam poem mixed in, and the lyrics are very relatable.

Concrete Shoes are an example of how music truly is a vehicle for self-expression, and can be a high form of art. There is a feeling when you listen to their tunes that they approach the songwriting process with utmost sincerity. There are often multiple genres mixed into each song, but the transitions are so smooth and natural, you almost don’t even notice it. Concrete Shoes are well worth your time.

Semihelix

Outdoor closeup of the three members of Semihelix, surrounded by very thick underbrush.
Semihelix. Image via Semihelix.

Bandcamp | Facebook

If you were to take the dream pop of Mazzy Star and filter it through the psychedelic garage sounds of The Velvet Underground, you might get an idea of what to expect before listening to Semihelix. Vocalist Geannie Friedman has a vulnerable quality to her tone, somewhere between Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star, and Kimya Dawson.

The tunes have a melancholy quality, but are all very danceable, and waver back and forth between garage rock, shoegaze, and dream pop. You could imagine Semihelix playing on the soundtrack of some cutesy indie film, alongside bands like Bishop Allen, Shout Out Louds, and Vampire Weekend. Bittersweet, yet incredibly catchy, Semihelix sound like seasoned scene veterans, with a tone that is both twee and mature at the same time.

Black Basements

Shot of the four members of Black Basements, with deep shadows, standing in front of a dark red wall.
Black Basements. Image via Black Basements.

Bandcamp | Facebook

Punk rock has taken on many forms over the years, but it is first and foremost strongly rooted in guitar-driven rock and roll. This is a fact that isn’t lost on Black Basements, who have a driving, punk-oriented sound that incorporates elements of psych rock, blues, and even some roots rock. Lisa Taylor and Anastasia Wright both provide strong lead vocals, reminiscent of punk rock pioneer Patti Smith.

The music itself sounds like the more hard-rocking moments of Neon Bible-era Arcade Fire, mixed with a little bit of The Stooges, and some Fleetwood Mac thrown in for good measure. The resulting sound is hard rocking, rootsy blues-punk, with irresistible vocals that give the music an otherworldly quality, especially when they harmonize. I bet you can’t watch Black Basements and not absolutely swoon at the soulful vocal performance, while tapping your foot along to the beat at the same time.

Desilu

Polaroid-style photo of the five members of Desilu, seated on an old couch.
Desilu. Image via Desilu.

Bandcamp | Facebook

Desilu are pretty much an art project that has taken the shape of a band. There are so many sounds and textures to be heard on their 2016 release, Claws, you seriously won’t catch everything on the first listen. Not easily categorized, Desilu blend post-punk, psychedelic rock, garage, punk, and avant-garde art rock, in a hypnotic wave of lush musical textures.

There’s an almost tribal edge to the way the songs throb through the speakers when they play live, making it impossible to not be drawn in and move your feet. If Animal Collective were to go in a more punk rock direction, it might sound a little like Desilu. While the guitars permeate almost every nook and cranny of each tune, the organ-like synthesizers give everything a psychedelic sheen, creating a wall of sound that mesmerizes while it rocks you like the proverbial hurricane.

Featured image via Black Basements.

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