If you think Tucson bands are all about desert rock and Calexico, it’s time to take another look at Arizona’s second city. From Hotel Congress to the Rialto Theatre, 191 Toole to The Flycatcher, the Old Pueblo almost always injects a little local into every live show. So snatch up Tucson releases at Wooden Tooth Records, check out releases from Leisure Hive, Baby Gas Mask, and Diet Pop, and start listening to these 11 Tucson bands right now.
10. Foxx Bodies
Basically from the instant this group stepped into the scene about six months ago, Tucson crowds were enamored with frontwoman Bella Vanek's ability to be both highly emotive and somehow completely dry all at once. Verses sang in near monotone as Vanek clutches the mic with both hands transform into powerful, shrieking Riot Grrrl-style choruses, backed by distorted guitars and crashing drums. Discordant and heart wrenching at times, but too real to relegate to melodrama, the band's first release in August 2016 offered a strong picture of what you can expect from them in the years to come.
While some more literal metal bands on the Tucson scene are getting signed to notable labels, you have to respect North for trudging through waves of metal's popularity in the town for over a decade. Offering a dark, angsty, and unique sonic perspective, North's take on post-metal never hinges on doom, sludge, or death tropes. Instead, you'll find metal in a state of either deconstruction or evolution on their 2016 release, Light the Way.
OHIOAN's O Ryne Warner sought to capture the sonic soul of the desert on his newest album, EMPTY/ EVERY MT. Thematically, he was drawing connections between his upbringing in coal country to the destruction of Native sacred sites in southern Arizona for copper mining. What came out is a fierce and occasionally overwhelming homage to Americana that meets at the intersection of country and psychedelia. Where "Bad Altitude" inundates, though, Warner dials back sweetly on tracks such as "Like Survival," striking a balance that keeps you wanting more.
7. Lenguas Largas
In the past eight or so years, Lenguas Largas has become something of a Tucson legend — an assortment of musicians cobbled together from other notable Old Pueblo acts that became an entity entirely its own. Obtrusively fuzzy with little concern over what a song should sound like, Lenguas Largas offers up a trippy maze of vibes difficult to peg down. When the band plays live, it's a must-see situation, no matter what part of Arizona you're living in.
6. American Monoxide
You might know Dimitri Manos as one of the members of Dr. Dog, or you might know him from Tucson’s Golden Boots. In any case, his solo project, American Monoxide, started as a stream-of-consciousness musical experiment to help keep Manos creating in his own time. What it turned into by the time he released In Flight Mode is an irresistible slice of sunny, quirky indie rock that’s a little bit country and a lotta bit weird, courtesy of Manos' bunch of busted instruments as the backing.
5. Karima Walker
Recorded in Tempe at Fivethirteen Recording, Karima Walker's Hands in Our Names is a collage of sorts — a quilting of styles and influences and sounds that paint a picture of who Walker is without needing to go into specifics about her personal life lyrically. Ambient recordings collected around Tucson and the surrounding desert act as an instrument as much as Walker's earnest gospel/Americana-style vocals. By the time Walker finished recording all of the bits and pieces that would go on to make this record, she had a crate of tapes and a bunch of digital files that she wove together to create a style that's as folksy as it is experimental.
4. Asian Fred
It seems to be cool for bands to act like they weren't influenced by the Beatles, but, lucky for listeners, Asian Fred doesn't seem to be worried about being cool. Instead, the band offers up fun rock tunes of the indie persuasion. Frontman Fred Huang, formerly of Of the Painted Choir, gives a nod to old R&B and Motown tunes — citing his love of those classics as the source of the band's grooviness. While they have yet to release a full-length album, you can bet it'll be one you'll listen to on repeat in your car with the windows down and the volume up once it arrives.
3. The Myrrors
Perhaps the most confusing part of the Myrrors as a band is their following. Sure, Tucson scene folk know about the band, but it seems their reach extends more popularly outside of the city. A Phoenix analog could be AJJ. Anyway, folks seem intent on forming an identity for the band that places them as these wandering desert rat gurus, operating on another plane. After the swirling, transformative Entranced Earth came out, it's almost hard to disagree with that portrayal, whether it's actually the case.
Brittany Katter, lead of the band Katterwaul, loudly proclaimed her disillusionment with what she describes as "Peter Pan syndrome" on the band's first album, 15 Forever. Her distinct voice carries the message in an unmistakable way with in-your-face lyrics and building intensity. Inspired by artists as varied as Bikini Kill and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Katter serves up a biting criticism alongside garagey jams we can all get down to.
1. Vox Urbana
If you want to know why you should know about cumbia redux act Vox Urbana, look no further than their Cumbia Corridos project. Melding the sounds of classic cumbia with rockin' vibes, the band set out to create music that meant more. After gathering interviews from immigrants in Tucson and the surrounding areas, the members of Vox Urbana told the real tales of folks struggling to survive on either side of the border, transforming their crossing into epic corridos that were somehow totally danceable and heartbreaking all at the same time. The songs were performed live in Tucson earlier this year, but the band plans to release them as an album in the future.
You're probably never going to see Matt Rendon perform Butterscotch Cathedral material live, but that doesn't mean you should overlook this one-man project. For fans of Brit Invasion like the Who or stateside acts of the era like the Byrds, Rendon delivers a master class in psych stylings, partially due to the fact that he's been toying with the genre for decades in bands such as The Resonars. Lush, trippy, and constantly evolving, Butterscotch Cathedral's sound can keep you hooked through songs that last nearly 20 minutes.
Tucson has a long legacy of weirdo bands being strange for the sake of being odd. It's part of what makes the music scene great. Satanic go-go girl group B4Skin, helmeted Delta blues act Bob Log III, and more are just some of the many oddities that come from the Old Pueblo's dusty, pothole-flecked streets. However, with songs like "Boys Night" and "Time Traveller," Whoops offers some truly goofy tunes that endear any Tucsonan bogged down by seriousness in the scene. Often adorned in any number of bizarre wigs, Whoops is a breath of fresh air that's all about getting people dancing and laughing a little to their bizarrely catchy synth jams.
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