Why yes, of course I have thoughts on the Black Pumas’ new single; plus, Grocery Bag and Half Dream


The first course is here, two months ahead of what can probably be safely characterized as the most widely anticipated main that Austin music has produced in some time.

“First course” feels like a more apt characterization than “appetizer” for “More Than a Love Song,” Black Pumas’ first single off their just-announced sophomore album, Chronicles of a Diamond. “More Than a Love Song” doesn’t have the brevity or singular stylistic focus of an appetizer (or starter, if you prefer). It’s something more substantial, a nearly five-minute portion size that will be recognizable as quintessential Black Pumas, but expands across the plate in front of you.

The stomp of handclaps and tambourine underpin an initially familiar-feeling showcase for Eric Burton’s soulful ascents and inflections and Adrian Quesada’s guitar teases with psych-ish pipe-ins. A very-Pumas message of inspiration quickly takes center stage before a spoken third verse sets the stage for a long-outro gospel-choir takeover, atop classic soul organ, urging us to “Fly together.” With a facially similar spirit to megahit “Colors,” this might sound like a fleshed-out version of an unused cut off their debut, but that’s not a bad thing. They went from C-Boy’s to the Grammys in record time because they’re good at this kind of thing. “More Than a Love Song” is a first course that’s agreeable until the duck confit gets to our table on Oct. 27.

Some other recent singles from around town:

Grocery Bag, “Alone” and “XING”

Ultimately, in the auditory happy space occupying the head where these words come from, rock ‘n’ roll is always going to be king. While just about every genre offers something good, great and spectacular, there’s nothing that will beat raw, beaty, charged variations and renovations of early rock, garage, psych, vintage punk and classic rock. It’s the music that still does the best job of rattling and awakening the world — at least, when people open to being rattled still seek it out and let it.

Enter Grocery Bag and their first two tremendous, and tremendously promising, singles: “Alone,” which dropped in late June, and “XING,” from late July. “Alone” is zero-to-60 garage fuzz and fumes, working in psych and bloopy space-rock as lead vocalist Isabella Martinez despairs in a reverbed void about women’s reproductive freedom: “Being left alone/In time of need/Taking away my right/Of life just so something can breathe/I never asked/For this life/They never asked/To be born in this cruel world.” With the guitars of Martinez and Dillon Aitala, the bass of Logan Kerman and the drums of Jimmy Mercado rumbling and roaring, it’s striking enough even before you can discern Martinez declaring, “I don’t wanna be a vessel for your pleasure.”

Only by comparison does “XING” plod slightly; clocking in at double the running time, it’s another urgent rocker with pronounced dynamic shifts, more ripping guitar work, and a bass-and-guitar break that breathes and builds to a synth-bedded, banging conclusion. Both of these are tasty stompers that showcase this young band’s punkish spirit and versatility. Austin will essentially never have enough bands of this ilk — if its members know what they’re doing. Grocery Bag does.

Half Dream, “Will I Still Bloom?”

“If I find myself somewhere in the middle/Does that mean I’m just a little less special?” is an accompanying question here to the song’s title, which will also serve as the name of Half Dream’s forthcoming debut album. This melodic, dream-folk-rock examination of personal growth, and the uncertainty it brings, has a lot going for it: Paige Renée Berry’s low-key plaintiveness, Jake Ames’ tremulous, in-the-shadows lead guitar lines, tight production from Elijah Ford and a chorus that grabs you without strangling, like the best folk-rock always does. Another fine early piece of an October LP release: Will I Still Bloom? is out Oct. 7.