When we think back on the local music scene in 2020, it’s easy to be disheartened. The ongoing pandemic crippled the live music scene. Venues closed, artists suffered, and while a steady stream of in-house livestream concerts helped soften the blow, there’s nothing like experiencing music with a crowd of people.
But take heart! Austin music remained strong and prolific in the face of COVID-19. New music from nearly every beloved artist flooded our fair city and what better way to celebrate than Austin Chronicle’s yearly Music Poll? A great opportunity to not only vote for your favorite artists but discover new ones, this year’s poll is a who’s-who of local favorites. As a primer, here’s how to get involved, some of the key categories, and five of my personal picks. The choice is yours!
Exercise Your Right to Choose
Like everything during the pandemic, this year’s Austin Music Poll needed to adapt with the times. The Chronicle team slashed the normal slate of categories from the usual 50 to a trim 20. The team also jettisoned the genre categories (except for best Hip Hop) in favor of 2020-centric awards like Best Livestreaming Artist and Best 2020-Themed Song.
Polling is open until February 1st and can be done via their official website. And some of my picks are…
My Five Cents
Band of the Year
- …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
- Black Pumas
- Sam Houston & Blk Odyssy
- Ley Line
- Sit Woman
My Take: While Black Pumas will most likely walk away with this one (that Grammy nomination never hurts), I would love to see Ley Line take the gold here. This year’s “We Saw Blue” is a sensational collection of soul-stirring world music incorporating influences from a dozen cultures and climates. Ley Line is the embodiment of what we need as a society right now. Sounds and rhythms from around the world combined to create something beautiful and welcoming.
Musician of the Year
- Gina Chavez
- Jake Lloyd
- Walker Lukens
- Jackie Venson
My Take: AlthoughI adore every artist in this category, you can’t deny what Jackie Venson did this year. She released four albums, performed on ACL Live, and pioneered weekly livestream sessions when COVID hit. All the while, successfully fighting for social equality in the Austin music community by curating an All Black Blues on the Green concert. And she’s still one of the best guitarists in Austin. An exceptional woman who more than deserves this honor
Hip Hop Artist of the Year
- Deezie Brown
- Kydd Jones
- Magna Carda
- The Teeta
My Take: This is an insanely tough category. You could make an argument for every artist on this list, but I’m going to buck tradition and go Blackillac. ZEALE and Phranchyze’s one-two lyrical punch is one of my favorite musical tricks and this duo pulls it off beautifully. Plus “6 Ringz” is a straight-up banger.
Album of the Year
- “End the Summertime F(or)ever” – Botany
- “Candy Blue Like Screw” – Deezie Brown & EC Mayne
- “Welcome to Hard Times” – Charley Crockett
- “2020” – Eliza Gilkyson
- “Primates” – Greyhounds
- “We Saw Blue” – Ley Line
- “My Love is a Hurricane” – David Ramirez
- “Skeleton” – Skeleton
- “The New Sounds of Late Capitalism” – Star Parks
- “Trinidad” – Sweet Spirit
- “The Quarentine” – The Teeta
- “Vintage Machine” – Jackie Venson
My Take: Why oh why must you give me 12 choices! Taking away Ms. Venson and Ley Line, as I already picked them for an award, I’m still left with a wealth of good options. Despite some wavering, I keep returning to Star Parks for my best album of the year. Laid back, lo-fi, and steeped in late 60’s Brian Wilson-esqe songcraft, “The New Sounds of Late Capitalism” is a fantastic listen front to back. But, this is an incredibly good list to pick from.
Song of the Year
- “Revolution” – Heartless Bastards
- “IDK” – Tameca Jones
- “James Crow” – Mobley
- “Karen O” – Sun June
- “Walk with Me Austin” – Adrian Quesdada w/various artists
My Take: With love to all the nominees, this one’s no contest. The first time I heard “James Crow” from Austinot favorite Mobley, I knew it was a keeper. It’s a prime example of everything he does well. Take emotionally charged subject matter, wrap it into an addictive dance jam, and attach a world-class video to the whole ensemble. The result is an instant earworm that, in a fair and just world, would be a Top 40 hit.
“Walk With Me Austin” is important, and “IDK” absolutely slaps, but “James Crow” ticks all the boxes as a standout track in an uncertain year.
And the Winners Are…
In a normal year, the winners would be announced during the Austin Music Awards as a kickoff to SXSW. Although it’s unlikely an in-person event will be possible, the Chronicle promises something special to celebrate the deserving winners.
Whether that’s a traditional livestream or something with a bit more flavor, there’s no doubt the capstone to an incredibly odd year for the Austin music community will be one to remember. Make sure your voice is heard: Vote today!
@BillTuckerTSP wants to know:
Who are you voting for in this year’s Austin Music Poll?