Ear Traffic’s best local albums and tracks of 2022


Real quick, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it yet again: The year doesn’t end on Nov. 30. It drives me up … not a wall, but perhaps an easily scalable chain-link fence … that year-end lists and retrospectives often drop before December is even half over. That’s why I wait to celebrate the best of the year. In my case, Ear Traffic’s “fiscal year” lasts from Dec. 15 of the previous year to the same date on this one. Every album or track released after Dec. 15, 2022 will be considered a candidate for the 2023 year-end list.

Rant/procedural explanation over. Suffice to say that Austin artists of varied genres produced some eminently replayable and compelling music in the year that’s in its final hours as I write this. You’ll find those genre-spanning successes well-represented in my personal picks for the 20 best songs and five best local albums (for now, full-lengths eligible only) by local artists in 2022. (OK, maybe one more procedural note: Any artist with Austin-metro residency ties is eligible for these lists, no matter how famous and successful, or whether they’ve moved home bases elsewhere. Yes, Willie Nelson [not on this year’s lists] and Spoon are still part of our collective crew. Yes, Carson McHone, who now calls Canada home, is eligible, too.)

Here are my picks for Austin’s best music of the year.


Five Best Local Albums

5. Sir Woman, Sir Woman

From the “They haven’t put out a full-length yet? Huh” department, we got a delightful debut LP from Kelsey Wilson’s nearly flawless soul-groove project, hot on the heels of a trio of big wins for the band at the Austin Music Awards. Wild Child frontwoman Wilson (top photo, from the band’s AMAs performance) has spent about three years making Sir Woman such an acclaimed local fixture that it feels like they must’ve put out a couple of LPs by now. But this was their first, and it captured the smooth, trad-funky energy that makes the band so engaging live. AMA honorees “Blame It on the Water” and “Party City” sparkle, while more singer-songwritery tracks like “Good Lady” and “Overboard” both have peak Carole King vibes. Perhaps the secret weapon is that Wilson — with the able help of her large backing band, including backing vocalist Spice and keyboardist Daniel Creamer — knows how to bare her soul without overdoing it.

4. Andrew Cashen, The Cosmic Silence

A Giant Dog/Sweet Spirit guitarist Cashen and his vocalist bandmate in both, Sabrina Ellis, just seem to have more ideas coming out of them than can be contained in one band, or even two. Good thing, then, that they both find so many outlets. (Seriously; every time you think you have a full catalogue on all the projects Ellis or Cashen have going on, you find out there’s another one.) The Cosmic Silence, Cashen’s love-focused second solo LP, rides an eclectic and quirky vibe to intriguing,  satisfying heights. Cashen’s tasty bursts of classic-psych guitar and disarming ventures into higher vocal registers (Ty Segall-ish standout “Bad Man,” first released in ’21) share considerable space with semi-dark balladry highlighted by his dry baritone and complementary female backing vocals. Sax and synths enter the chat, too. But there’s no wild kitchen-sink feeling here; The Cosmic Silence manages both variance and cohesiveness. It’s a well-wrought aural reminder that love can sound a lot of different ways.

3. Spoon, Lucifer on the Sofa

Back in February, I wrote that Lucifer on the Sofa should settle comfortably toward the top of the second tier of Spoon albums. I’m standing by that — and it says a lot that a second-tier Spoon album, in my estimation, still earns a lofty year-end ranking in a music scene chock with good stuff. Lucifer on the Sofa’s cherry on top to earn this ranking may be that smooth Austin-referential title track that closes on a mood approximating what the Arctic Monkeys are trying to do these days, but better. But the base of Lucifer’s greatness is the fire that transparently still burns within Britt Daniel and Jim Eno after all these years, with “The Hardest Cut,” “Wild” and “Held” all variously spilling with exuberance, vulnerability and a palpable appreciation of what familiar rock ‘n’ roll stylings can still inspire within us.

2. Pleasure Venom, Rebirth/Return

At ACL, Audrey Campbell pre-touted this first LP from her long-running, in-your-goddamn-face punk grievance dispenser Pleasure Venom as being “tight as fuck.” True advertising, and Rebirth/Return is more than just that. From the opening “uhs” and rattle-the-glass melodic rage of “Behind Their Eyes” onward, Campbell, guitarist Chase Dungan, bassist Jordan Emmert and drummer Thomas Valles clobber your eardrums with a fleet, beefy dexterity. Campbell communicates her innermost turmoils, misgivings and had-enough social commentary through short bursts of phrasing, commanding chorus deliveries that leave no power unspent, and screams and yowls that are remarkably digestible and unabrasive, perhaps owing in part to Elliott Frazier’s remarkably balanced production. Whether it’s Campbell grabbing you with the anthemic charge of lines like “Peril calls me astray” and the undeniably galvanizing shouts of “Getting tired of living this shit!” or Dungan unloading an expert riff on you, this is a fairly remarkable record all the way around. The local punk scene isn’t exactly hurting for contenders to the throne, but with Rebirth/Return, Pleasure Venom makes a convincing case for the crown.

1. Deezie Brown, 5th Wheel Fairytale

Victory has a thousand fathers, JFK once said, and the father of my favorite local album of the year has about as many influences. Bastrop-bred Deezie is a man of multi-faceted, multi-media creativity, with reverence for the work of his hip-hop forebears informing this expansive, imaginative Southern rap epic full of inviting beats both maximal and spare. Bars from Brown and a bunch of talented guests/friends sink their teeth sharply into your psyche even when the words aren’t confrontational. “Jeromeo and Juliet (Good Friday)” introduces its engaged title characters with a “Black Skinhead”-ish beat, one of several moments that recall both the edgier and warmer sides of vintage Kanye production. Piano plinks and guitar underpinnings (courtesy of the Peterson Brothers) on the defiant “Reporting Live From the Southern State” help make it a southern-rap triumph, along with Brown’s wide-ranging musings. Sweet rides and basketball-great shout-outs — two mainstays of Brown’s musical DNA — lighten the mood while projecting his outsized confidence and ambition. When Deezie raps, “This is not a song, it’s a movie reel,” well, that’s how this whole thing feels — and it’s in the hands of a meticulous director. 5th Wheel Fairytale is one song short of an hour, but not a minute feels wasted. And on repeat listens, you find more at which to marvel.


Ear Traffic Local 20: Best Local Tracks of 2022

20. Annabelle Chairlegs, “Tolls (To See Me)”
19. Alesia Lani, “I Don’t Mind”
18. Carson McHone, “Someone Else”
17. Kady Rain, “Take Me Home”
16. The Deer, “I Wouldn’t Recognize Me”
15. MISSIO, “I Wanna Fight and You Know It”
14. alexalone, “Rainbow”
13. Party Van, “Purple People”
12. Primo the Alien, “Worlds”
11. Spoon, “Wild”
10. Urban Heat, “City Lights”
9. Pleasure Venom, “Behind Their Eyes”
8. A. Sinclair, “Somewhere”
7. Black Angels, “Firefly”
6. Deezie Brown, “We in the House”
5. Andrew Cashen, “Evil Queen”
4. Darkbird, “3-2-Wake Up”
3. We Don’t Ride Llamas, “Venus & Mars”
2. Pleasure Venom, “Peril”
1. Urban Heat, “Have You Ever?”