Call it the curse of the streaming life, but with Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, etc., loading up with new songs every Friday like clockwork, it can be easier to spend more time with new releases than to revisit albums that came out months earlier. But in that constant cycle, musical gems often get lost in the crush, and sometimes it’s worth skipping the latest cut to look for the things you might’ve missed.
Half A Native from Houston band Buxton is that sort of album. It was released in early March—while much of the Texas music world was readying itself for SXSW—on venerable alt-country label New West Records. The album is eleven tracks of lost love and loneliness filtered through distorted guitars, soaring falsettos, and a fair bit of honky-tonk twang.
It’s the sort of genre mashup that it takes a lot of confidence to pull together. Listen to the jagged, distortion-heavy guitar on the album’s second track, “Good As Gone,” with the plinked piano playing bright notes beneath it, for a glimpse at a band that’s not particularly interested in satisfying a pure country fix. Lyrics such as, “So ask me about the time that we met/You were passed out on the front lawn/Try to talk to you and ask you where you from/Baby what’s going on?” fit better in a rock context.
Blurring the lines between indie rock and country is nothing new, of course, and Half A Native doesn’t reinvent the wheel by adding elements of psychedelia to a pretty lap-steel ballad. But who cares about that when the execution of those genre twists are as lovely as they are on a song like the album’s title track? On “Half A Native”—a collection of chorus-free verses that use shuffling drums and finger-picked guitars to create a dreamlike atmosphere—frontman Sergio Trevino sings a series of metaphors about not belonging. Before the album’s release, the band’s publicist explained that “Half A Native as a concept is really about lead singer Trevino’s experience growing up as a Mexican-American in Texas but not being raised speaking Spanish, feeling always on the line in life, not knowing if what he’s experiencing is love or not,” a sentiment that’s obviously deeply personal, but the sort that’s also universal. Most people who are drawn to sad alt-country records can relate to feeling like they weren’t quite made for the world they’ve found themselves in, at least some of the time, and Trevino finds the universality in his experience.
The songs on Half A Native aren’t strictly abstractions, though. The themes the band explores here manifest themselves in a lot of ways, and the late-album standout “Icebreaker” captures the traditional story-song lament about trying to pick up a woman in a bar with the sort of elastic turns of phrase that we haven’t seen since the Empty Bottle was half-empty and the Old 97’s were wondering what was so great about the Barrier Reef. That’s a fine Texas music pedigree to be a part of, of course, and Buxton’s stomping drums, buzzsaw guitar solos, and honkytonk piano provide a fine companion to shaggy-dog lines like “I know you need some loving / and my car is parked / back at home with the gas light on / and the damn thing just won’t start,” cleverly inverting the cool-guy swagger these songs usually contain for something more thematically appropriate to the world that Trevino’s built throughout the album.
That same theme gets a less freewheeling treatment on the album’s closer, “Pool Hall,” as the sad shuffle of a lonely night out gets layered down with musical textures like something off of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. There’s a lot of ambience throughout Half A Native, showing up in unexpected places, in songs that are pure Texana. There are plenty of records that run the risk of being overlooked just owing to the sheer volume of music that exists in 2015, but it’d be a shame for that to happen to Buxton’s accomplished collection of sad songs buried in joyful noises.