10. "Horses Talk in Their Sleep" by Gabriel Knight Hancock
Gabriel Knight Hancock is one of Oklahoma’s most underrecognized talents. His voice is one of a kind, his performances are profoundly understated, and his songwriting is as good as modern Okie royalty like Parker Millsap and John Moreland. Anyone who hasn’t seen him play a solo show simply can’t attest to the power of his singular artistry, and that’s because no recording has yet been capable of capturing it (though 2015’s lo-fi Baby Cow Boy comes close).
“Horses Talk in Their Sleep” is a valiant attempt at meeting audiences half way. It brings together a familiar full band sound not unlike those artists mentioned before, but it makes a few eccentric choices that keep it from falling into cliches. It’s notable how few harmonies are in the recording and how minimal its lone guitar solo is, but the most striking aspect of the arrangement is a modulated electronic whirr that mirrors Hancock’s eccentricity while embodying the restlessness of his subject.
The title is not just an oddity. As the chorus goes, “I know every trail you took to get here / Your horses talk in their sleep.” The song is addressed to an unnamed person who’s lonesome and having a hard time, and the narrator extends a helping hand on the chorus. It’s simple enough of an idea, but Hancock elevates it to something deeply meaningful through an organic use of old-fashioned descriptions and thoughtful, memorable imagery. As in many of his songs, every line is quotable.
“Horses Talk in Their Sleep” is a minor step in the artist’s full repertoire, but even so, it is full of that which continually makes Gabriel Knight Hancock one to watch.
9. "2222" by Costello
Released on Halloween with an accompanying surreal music video, “2222” is a hazy psych rock single that draws from a disturbing sleep paralysis episode that Costello’s principal singer and guitarist once had. Freaky stuff, no?
The song hammers relentlessly with on-the-beat drum hits and a shared bass and guitar riff that cycles over and over in the stereo channels. Costello has proven that it’s capable of more complex arrangements, particularly on its underrated album Conscious Trip from January, so the composition and mixing is significant here.
Where much of the band’s material is atmospheric, with a wide, contemplative sonic space for guitars to echo in, “2222” decidedly cuts back on the distance. Rather than drown the guitars out in reverb, the recording pulls them up front as two booming pillars, binding the vocals within the left and right speakers. The instrumental performances are also decidedly distorted and grimy. All of this adds to a claustrophobic onslaught, especially when listening with headphones.
The song’s lyrics literally open with imagery of the frontwoman’s “waking sleep” and being held hostage by a number of grappling hands, unable to move. “2222” then reflects on the nightmarish experience as a metaphor that can be interpreted any number of ways, though songwriter Clare Costello has offered her inspirations. For a band that likes to retain a mystique with its art and would rather listeners parse through its reverb for lyrics than post them, it’s significant that Costello would overtly show its creative gears, even if the title is still just out of reach. Clearly, “2222” carries a lot of personal and emotional weight.
Eventually, after a slowdown bridge of extra beat counts and a second round of psychedelic corrosion, the nightmarish trip recedes into the distance over a kick drum and a vocal refrain. The ending gives a welcome breath of relief, but there is still a haunting mist in the air that keeps “2222” from feeling fully resolute. The music video offers a clearer narrative with a character arc, but even it exists in the ambivalent space between black and white.
8. "Just Can't Stop" by Weston Horn and the Hush
Chock-full of electrifying performances, “Just Can’t Stop” takes the classic sound of rock and roll and pairs it with a modern groove.
The extravagant Tulsa band fronted by Weston Horn includes a full horn section, and this track makes the best use of it. Everything from funky guitar to bright dance piano to hand claps jam along with the song, but it’s really the horn punctuations that drive this single home and stick with the listener after its fade-out exit.
Taken from the band’s new full-length album, Vol. 1, “Just Can’t Stop” is about a longtime musician who can’t quite reach his dreams, dealing with bouts of hard work and feeling downtrodden. When it comes to pursuing music, though, he “just can’t stop.”
The song starts with an energetic simmer, though, not getting caught up in the negative side of the story but rather setting the stage for what eventually becomes a dazzling celebration of music itself. Soulful lead vocals lead the way as the single builds through verses and choruses until at last it is nothing short of a big party.
In becomes clear by the end why the track fades out rather than lands a big finish. Weston Horn and the Hush know how to deliver a good time that, well, just can’t stop.
7. "Feel Rightt" by Javon Sparxx
Set against a smooth, luxurious sample of trumpet and strings, rapper JaVon Sparxx’s “Feel Rightt” hits the sweet spot with sincerity and style.
The beat, which flirtatiously sits between a straight and swing rhythm, brings out the tentative confidence that Sparxx expresses in his lyrics, which are a club-like come-on to a romantic interest, but with none of the sleaze. It’s refreshing to hear a song that doesn’t depend on objectification to be sexy, and it’s more surprising when its very title is a smooth nod to consent. Given the cultural climate of 2017, it’s rather fitting.
A later verse even goes so far as to consider the source of some standoffishness in women, recognizing that bad past relationships and shallow guys can have them “Puttin’ up them walls, tryin’ to make you great again.” As Sparxx later emphasizes, though, he’s not looking for a “pit stop, just tryin’ to get a little tick-tock (time, tell me).” It’s a nice alternative to the ever-popular BuzzFeed articles compiling screenshots of fragile Tinder dudes calling women names over rejection.
For listeners not concerned with things like progressive lyrical content, though, there is plenty left to appreciate. JaVon Sparxx is smart with his craft, letting the vibe of the track dictate his casual flow instead of flexing all of the abilities he keeps in reserve. This keeps the song a relaxing listen, especially given just how breezy the production is. The buttery smooth instrumental gives credence to the single’s source mixtape, The Butter, which was released by Sparxx back in February and as of yet can only be heard via physical copy.
“Feel Rightt” holds up remarkably well on repeat listens and is worthy of a spot in many a feel-good playlist. Hookup singles don’t come more thoughtfully made or tastefully delivered than this.
6. "Lines" by Chase Kerby
Chase Kerby is the kind of artist whose music is so attached to his ongoing state of being that his career can’t help but ebb and flow with the tide of his life.
Since officially going solo a few years ago, he has dabbled in a number of projects. His full band work with Chase Kerby + The Villains often touts a clean pop sound that came around the time of his appearance on The Voice. His less collaborative material includes new EPs and compilations of backlogged songwriting, all with varying degrees of style and studio treatment. It’s been a bit erratic, but that’s not so surprising given some of the personal ups and downs he’s had during this period.
“Lines” (stylized “LINES”) hails from Kerby’s new EP of the same name, and it’s a somber, atmospheric look at a relationship that’s run out of love. Delivered in a moody 6/8 time signature, the song features a chorus that says, “All we talk about are lines / And how I cross them all the time.” It’s more or less about the trappings of the interpersonal incongruencies that are left when love can no longer bridge the barriers, which can be the cause of great heartache.
The sound of “Lines” recalls 2014’s Tidal Friction, which was the last time a Chase Kerby release felt entirely focused and produced instead of something to tide fans over to his eventual debut full-length album (which should be coming sooner than later now, thanks to a recently funded Kickstarter campaign).
While not as hardhitting as 2015’s “Wishing Well” or as inspired as 2016’s “Tears for Fears”, “Lines” is something of a return to the studio indulgences that has made Kerby’s music so transformative on records past. His vocal overdubs are spectacular and plentiful, often stealing the spotlight even when they’re in a nonlyrical supporting role. Given that his voice is his greatest and purest instrument, it’s a more than welcome development.
5. "Peach Boyz" by LCG & The X
LCG & the X are a garage rock quartet that lives to purge the demons of relationships past. Drawing from the spaced out side of psychedelic rock and the jagged edges of punk, the unabashedly all-girl band has been gaining a lot of buzz since its relatively recent inception.
On “Peach Boyz”, one of four early singles the band released through Bandcamp, all of LCG & the X’s trademarks are present. Led by a fiery, dagger-shouting lead vocalist, the four-piece keeps its music straightforward and its style rough around the edges. This helps ensure that the vengeful tone of its material is heard loud and clear, though the saucy inflections of its frontlady would be plenty enough to carry the point.
Lyrically, the single jumps into a peeved flurry against deceptive wannabe lovers. Echoing one of its other singles, “Lil Peaches”, it comes from the perspective of someone who has been used. “Peach Boyz” is moreso written around a theme of rejection, but it flips the tables partway through when the untrustworthy party comes back around. The early lines of “you shot me down” become “I shot you down,” and it makes for a simple yet effective song progression.
The song is fun and catchy, with fat, buzzy guitar work and some well-suited vocal effects adding requisite energy to the vocals and material. There is also a spacey synth line that cuts in and out for an added layer of enthusiastic weirdness, something the band proves to have a taste for from the track’s tongue-in-cheek autotune intro. Read the official lyrics for additional quirks like emoticons and stylizations that can’t be picked up on a mere listen.
Though “Peach Boyz” is a lot of fun, it’s also rooted in something more serious, and it exemplifies the band’s mission to turn emotional lemons into lemonade. In LCG and the X’s case, though, the fruitful beverage of its music retains a sour jolt.
4. "Get in My Car" by Broncho
Taken from this blog’s Singles Grab Bag series:
Broncho (stylized BRONCHO) follows up last year’s Double Vanity LP with a little somethin’ somethin’ to tide fans over until the next project. “Get In My Car” is a garage pop hookup tune filled with all the band’s signature traits: colorfully distant guitar riffs; light, intuitive vocal swagger; thick reverb effects; and playful lyrics. It is also Broncho’s best summertime single since 2014’s breakout hit “Class Historian”.
The topic of “Get In My Car” isn’t new–the song’s very title begs comparison to a popular Billy Ocean hit–but it’s so catchy and carefree that it hardly matters. Breezy arpeggiated guitar lines back the chorus as an up-tempo melody carries the straightforward lines, “I like to go fast, I like to go far / Won’t you open the door, get in my car”.
Most notably, the verses confidently skip measures in unexpected places. Here, the four-piece plays it completely straight, letting the flirtatious musical winks work on their own within the song’s 4/4 meter. It’s a clever, confident choice that subtly adds to the single’s fun energy.
On paper, the lyrics could be seen as a little too persuasive, depending on the sensitivity of the listener. If it weren’t for one key line–“You feel it out, but you don’t quite know if you should”–the singer’s advances could seem completely one-sided and pushy. Broncho seems to be tuned in to modern-day dating concerns, though, as the brilliantly self-aware line about consent shows. “Hit the lights and give me permission” is both awkward and amusing, and it’s the kind of phrase a hip indie rock act wouldn’t have dreamed up a few years ago.
Like the band, “Get In My Car” has a weird charm to it, and it seems to say that Broncho might be kicking into high gear again after the slower-paced output of 2016. It may not land like “Class Historian” did, but it has nearly as much replay value, making this a more than worthy road trip song.
3. "Thangs feat. Miillie Mesh" by Bleverly Hills
Over the past dozen months, OKC hip-hop producer Blev has made a conscious effort to come out from behind the turntable. Under the artist name of Bleverly Hills, he has taken to the mic with solid results, and the highlight of this is “Thangs” from his Compilation One.
Sampling what sounds to be a kalimba, the producer assembles an infectious beat that is as slick and perfected as they come. Though it certainly takes part in some ongoing trends, it does just enough differently to be original, with choice audio effects and percussive elements used thoughtfully. The lack of dark synths, autotune, and overbearing trap snares are refreshing as well.
What really makes the track shine, though, is the cadence of every moving part working together, and that most notably includes the raps. Bleverly Hills and exceptional feature Miillie Mesh each take a verse and deliver with a stylish, nimble flow that begs for a reunion in the future. Their inflections on “Thangs” are similar yet distinct, and combined, they nicely counterpoint the chorus, which consists of multiple lines of various pitch entwining with one another.
The only complaint is that it wraps a bit too soon. A release this tight has enough momentum for a third verse, but instead, it indulges in its deftly arranged chorus for a few bars before gradually slowing it to a stop.
As it stands, “Thangs” is an impeccable effort that executes to a tee and makes it look easy. More epic and meaningful fare came out this year, but none quite plant a hook the way “Thangs” does. It’s a club-ready track prepared to turn heads and volume knobs alike.
2. "Listen to Your Mother" by Special Thumbs
Soothing and vibrant, “Listen to Your Mother” is a lushly arranged rock number that brings more of the heady abstract songwriting that Special Thumbs specialized in on 2016’s debut, Pollen. Appearing as part of a two-song release called Advice, “Listen to Your Mother” is steeped in thoughts of futility and mortality, explored through generational wisdom.
Not one to pander, Special Thumbs includes lines like “My patience told me sedulity will compel me to form,” which is the sort of thought that could come just as easily from a seasoned philosopher as from a particularly verbose stoner. Chances are that the band would enjoy the company of both.
Alongside these elusive thoughts are shimmering guitar and keyboard layers that fill a cloudy expanse over the course of the song. Here, cymbals do not crash but are rolled into distant flourishes. Plenty of echo and reverb effects bring an atmosphere to the single, but they are careful not to overshadow the performances. In studio, the band focuses more on quality capture and mix than post-production despite how easy it could be to drown the single in effects.
“Listen to Your Mother” flows right into its B-side, “Quit Yr Job”, which has many of its own highlights (the sounds of baying hounds and a tea kettle, for instance). Together, they make Advice a remarkable experience, especially for clocking it at just under eight minutes. As Special Thumbs continues work on its eventual full-length album, releases like this only serve to hype what the band will think of next.
1. "Mr. Brown" by Flock of Pigs
Norman genre-bending buzz band Flock of Pigs has had a flagship year, with a slew of high profile shows and a new EP under its belt. Before all of that, though, came “Mr. Brown”, a glorious assembly of funk, rock, jazz, and hip-hop that dropped early in the year. Though 2016’s bluesy “World Premiere” was officially the band’s debut, it’s “Mr. Brown” that really prepared the world for what would come.
Sizzling drums, funky bass & electric guitar strums simmer as the track begins its gradual and transformative build. The band’s rapper frontman then steps in to kick off an electrifying performance as keys and trombone join. The song then ventures from its central groove to visit ever-changing pockets of sound, often dipping into bright, glistening moments of piano and sustained low end from the bass and brass.
Partway through, the emcee breaks into song, holding his own on the vocal chords as the music swells beautifully. It’s only for a brief moment though, as the band cuts down to bare drums as he drills home more bars. It’s a striking left turn that sends the single away from a more expected conclusion and into yet another segue, this time with jazz guitar.
The most remarkable part of “Mr. Brown” is how coherent it is. The transitions are surprising, but they feel natural once they hit. With an array of instruments performing an even more diverse array of styles, the choice to get creative with the structuring might have proved too much, but Flock of Pigs pulls it off gracefully. It’s so smooth and accessible that it’s almost pop music.
By the time the song finally climaxes in a burst of backing vocals, vibraphone, and spastic drums, the energy is palpable. “Mr. Brown” is a tight, colorful single that offers a ride unlike any other this year.