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Reinvention or Reimagination: Sho Humphries Urges Us to "Dream Again"

Before embarking on his next great adventure, Austin ukulele sensation Sho Humphries made sure to bestow his loving local community with a parting gift. Sho’s debut EP Dream Again is a triumph of creativity, an exploration of sound and style from a young musician whose bravery surpasses even his immense talents.

In Sho’s nimble hands, the ukulele is transformed. Empowered. Liberated. He embraces the instrument as something far beyond its simplistic representation in public perception—more than a toy, more than an instrument for beachside celebration and casual singalongs, the ukulele is an embodiment of possibility itself. In Sho’s hands, the ukulele seems infinite, irrepressible. It breathes water and whispers fire and sings of a bright tomorrow.

The growth showcased between earlier releases and this new EP are striking. Sho’s 2017 instrumental album Making Summer Memories flirted with musical expressionism, pushing and pulling at the boundaries of expectation while staying firmly rooted in a larger framework for what ukulele music is and can be. Opening track “It’s Shotime!” is a notable exception, its near-frantic urgency and rock-and-roll aesthetic harbingers of both Sho’s sonic fearlessness and profound, near-brooding pensiveness. The rest of the album tends toward bright and buoyant, though the assertive percussiveness of each strike sometimes seem to belie an underlying (and typically teenage) impatience.

2020 single Love You! was the virtuoso’s first foray into electronic looping, his airy, math rock-y riffs given ample room to breathe and, in turn, breathing life into a lo-fi trend threatening to sedate swaths of the younger generation. The track showcases a young musician at peace with the process of finding peace — more patient, perhaps in love with the simple joy of making music. The chorus is endearingly heartfelt, and all the more powerful for it: “Breathe in, breathe in/Love out, love in.”

 With the Dream Again EP, Sho emerges more confident, more hopeful, that familiar sense of urgency appearing again but tempered now by faith in himself and the future. He is more accomplished than ever on the ukulele itself — every finger-picked run impeccable, every strum irresistible. But the sentiment underlying each song feels more profound, more mature, more complex. What might once have felt like emotional reactions are transformed into careful reflections and reimaginations.

The echoing, atmospheric emptiness of the title track slowly evolves, swelling with elegantly amplified ukulele riffs that complement, rather than overpower, Sho’s stirring baritone (on debut!). Tight songwriting and a deep appreciation for the power of empty space cultivate in a wonderfully distorted crescendo, with Sho’s direct poeticism lending a sense of urgency to Sho’s pleas for the world to “dream again,” to build a better future and to avoid our own mutually assured destruction.

A return to Sho’s sonic roots — hopeful, determined, vibrant — “Rising Hope” builds on that momentum. It is the song of rebirth and reimagination, the sound of grass beginning to grow again as a new sun shines a light on far-off horizons. There is a sadness of sorts underpinning it all, a recognition that new beginnings demand their own sacrifices — what once might have been innocent idealism is tempered by an acceptance of reality that makes Sho’s resolute optimism all the more impactful.

Vision and imagination, determination and dynamism — these are traits we desperately need in our younger generations, who we have collectively burdened with so much responsibility and expectation. Armed with his ukulele and a searching spirit, Sho Humphries is stepping into the world ready to make a change.

 — Adam Wood





Try Not to Cry: Scott Collins and Kydd Jones Release Powerful New Single

Austin talents Scott Collins and Kydd Jones come together for an unexpected, yet powerful collaboration that pairs an outpouring of emotion with beautiful melodies and poetic lyrics. Both artists have a considerably different musical background, with Collins sticking to a folk-rock, americana type of sound, and Jones being exclusively hip-hop. But it’s undeniable that they were able to mesh their styles together in a seemingly effortless manner, resulting in an alluring piece of music that will compel listeners to play this song on repeat.

The opening piano chords are perfectly complemented by Scott Collins’ high-pitched vocals, which serve as the lifeblood of the song. As is the case with many songs, the simplicity of the music really allows the vocals to shine with the aid of Jones’ production. Having known Scott for a while, I was initially a bit surprised to see him take a step into the hip-hop universe. But supposedly, this has been a prolonged goal for the local legend. He explains, “First off and above all, I've been listening to rap and hip hop my entire life starting with Kriss Kross, and since my youth playing basketball out in LA, Compton, Watts and more on a traveling basketball team… It's been a dream and career goal of mine to start singing with rappers and on hip hop records.” Collins was able to make this dream a reality through his relationship with the rising star known as Kydd Jones. Scott also mentioned that he wrote the hook roughly nine years ago, indicating that he was waiting for the perfect opportunity and partner to showcase what he had in store for so long.

There of course have been many collaborations from artists who cross genres to collaborate. But in some instances, the collaboration might seem forced or unnatural. One of the impressive things about “Headlights” is that it is so easy to digest despite these two artists being considerably different from each other. According to Collins, the creation process was indeed as effortless as it seems. “I already had the hook written so I just hopped into my studio with Engineer Dylan Fischer and recorded my vocals, acoustic guitars and keys… Kydd then rocked out all the production and his verse within a week, got it mastered and released it immediately the same day!” To assist in the process of creating such a cohesive track, Collins referenced “Love” by Kendrick Lamar as an inspiration to the track. There is definitely a smoothness to “Headlights” that is relatable to the Kendrick Lamar classic. “Headlights” consists of thought provoking lyrics, a silky beat, and a catchy hook, bridging these two artists together superbly.

Overall, the professionalism, skill, and creativity is undeniably palpable in this song. These are two musicians who appear to be approaching the prime of their careers. If it were up to me, I’d say Kydd Jones and Scott Collins should make an entire album together. But in the meantime, playing “Headlights” on repeat will have to suffice. Hit Scott's Bandcamp to check the track out and stay up to date with future releases.

— Quinn Donoghue

 





Jackie Venson Gets Down to Business with Latest Release

 

Jackie Venson wastes no time reminding us why she’s regarded as one of the best guitarists in Austin with her new single “Til This Pain Goes Away.” She manages to incorporate bluesy guitar chops, catchy vocal melodies, and thought-provoking lyrics into this two and a half minute track. Though Venson has experimented with drum machines and other electric sounds in recent memory, she reverts back to the straightforward, blues-rock sound that helped her emerge onto the scene. She’s more than capable of pushing the bounds of her creativity with new songwriting ideas and mind-bending guitar parts, but she’s also not afraid to strip things down, simply allowing her diverse skill set to shine brightly.

Her guitar playing stems from some of the most iconic guitar players of the past and present, including Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, and Gary Clark Jr. Yet her voice has more of a silky smooth, R&B aura that is reminiscent of Alica Keys, Sade, and Mary J. Blige. Put her voice and guitar abilities together, and you get a distinctive force of musical talent that results in sensational songs, such as “Til This Pain Goes Away.” One thing that always impressed me with Venson is her ability to execute intricate guitar parts while matching the melody with her singing. This Hendrix-esque songwriting tactic is on full display with this single, exemplifying her aptness of being able to play technically challenging parts, without sacrificing emotion and feel.

Additionally, Venson showcases her ability to write poetic and profound lyrics. She speaks about the importance of using her music as an outlet and perhaps, as her only choice to overcome the inherent pain and struggles that are associated with our world today. She writes, “These worries take my breath, my heart is a heavy ache/Don’t know what I’m gon do til this pain goes away/This world don’t cherish truth my spirit’s been mad for days/Don’t know what I’m gon do til this pain goes away.” Though we don’t know positively what’s causing her the pain and anger that she’s singing about, one could interpret these lyrics as being aimed towards the injustice and divisiveness that is plaguing our society currently. But no matter what she endures, she is able to find a semblance of peace within her music. This point is nailed down as the song continues: “There seems no limit for the depth of human hate/Only thing I can do is sing my songs and pray/For I see so much goodness blessings everyday/Please let that ease my heart til this pain goes away.”

To simply point out Venson’s bewildering guitar talent would greatly undermine her singing and writing capabilities. She continues to evolve into a full packaged performer and there’s never any doubt that she possesses an abundance of artistic integrity. Venson has already made a name for herself, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all if she winds up being the face of Texas music in the not too distant future. 

-Quinn Donoghue

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Abbreviations Show They are a New Force in Music with Debut Single

 

With only one single under their belt, the four-piece band from Dallas known as Abbreviations has effortlessly nailed down their musical identity. Though they can be categorized as dream-pop, the lyricism and the effectiveness of their playing makes any kind of labeling irrelevant. The musicality is undoubtedly simple, but there is an intangible magic to the song that makes it so easy to absorb, subsequently making it appealing to a mass audience. This new single puts a hypnotic spell on its listeners, leaving us to yearn for more.

Within the first minute of the song, I’m able to draw comparisons to bands like Beach House, Slowdive, and Cigarettes After Sex. Abbreviations share the same sort of atmospheric, psychedelic, and subtle textures that are associated with these other bands. There is a simplicity and space-like feeling that is homogenous with the dream-pop genre, and Abbreviations certainly possess those traits. Yet even with just one song, I can tell that they have been able to carve their own niche within this musical classification. “Turn on You” is a slightly more rock n’ roll version of your typical shoegaze tune, with the lyrical and melodic sophistication of the most iconic pop songs.

Speaking of the lyrics, Ashley Leer’s words contribute mightily to the “repeat effect” that this song produces. Sometimes with mellow, dreamy types of songs, it’s easy to lose focus on the lyrics as the music and vocals seem to flow together as one. That is unequivocally not the case with “Turn on You.” Leer provides some background to the content, saying “‘Turn On You’ is about that moment where you realize you have feelings for someone other than the one you’re with and the internal conflict that creates.” It’s possible to interpret this theme as a negative, but the self-honesty that she calls attention to ultimately brings out a positive message. It’s completely fine to think about moving on and looking to the future if that’s where your mind is wandering. Addressing these feeling are better than ignoring them and perhaps, that is what Leer is emphasizing.

While all the members have considerable experience playing in other bands in the Dallas area, the fact that they have been able to create a song with such cohesion and uniqueness as their first single is impressive to say the least. They have a sound that is familiar enough to satisfy fans of dream-pop, but they also have the musicianship and songwriting chops to engage music lovers of all kinds. “Turn on you” is just a teaser for all that’s to come from the Dallas quartet. 

 -Quinn Donoghue

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Darkbird Induces Non-Stop Dancing and Grooving with New Single

 

 

I remember seeing Darkbird live for the first time earlier this year at The Far Out Lounge, and their song “Heartbeat” really grabbing my attention. The song has an upbeat, disco-ish vibe that causes involuntary dancing with every listen. Simply put, the track is groovy as hell. Considering that Darkbird is more than capable of channeling a heavy-rock sound also, releasing “Heartbeat” further showcases their versatility and talent in a new light.

Though they can most easily be described as a straightforward rock n’ roll band, the diversity of influences and sounds heard within their music makes them undeniably unique in their own right. The lead singer, Kelly, elaborates on the many inspirations behind them. “The band has a ton of individual influences. Sonic Youth, PJ Harvey, Fleetwood Mac, Roy Orbison, Randy Travis, The Pixies, Dr. Dog, George Jones.... I mean, the list goes on. Depression is probably our actual biggest influence.” Darkbird covers a wide spectrum within the rock genre. I certainly pick up on some of the classic rock influences, contemporary rock, and everything in between. That being said, they have an uncanny ability to make all of their ideas mesh to form their own musical identity.

I think that even the members of the band would admit “Heartbeat” is different from the rest of their previous releases. However, the decision to try something new didn’t seem to be a super thought out decision. For Darkbird, crafting this song was just a spontaneous and spur of the moment thing that just seemed to happen. Kelly explains, “The song had no prior intention. Brian wrote a part, I wrote some parts and it just became a poppy, dance jam. And it's really about just needing to feel alive, whether it's love, a substance or even an actual heart attack that wakes you up and gets you out of the hamster wheel that life can become, something needs to give sometimes.” The fact that this process was so effortless for the band members makes the song even more impressive.

This latest release proves that Darkbird has no barriers or creative limitations. They don’t allow genre or outside expectations to weigh them down. They simply make music that feels right to them and I think it’s safe to say that it’s working out for the five piece band from Austin. Though they already have plenty of great songs for fans to listen to, “Heartbeat” might be their awe-inspiring track to date. 

 

- Quinn Donoghue

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