Obsessive Personality (Celestial)
Strange, I don't remember doing any acid in the Eighties. Still, Obsessive Personality feels like a horrific flashback to the nauseating "underground" party circa 1985. Every wimpy-ass electronic dance noise ever to come out of a synthesizer or a sequencer or a computer (think background music for health club commercials) can be found on O.P. Stimulus, a local duo formerly known as Convenant, is the sonic synonym of the dance-driven Europcrap begat by New Wave and fully grown by the mid-Eighties. And it is, quite simply, dreadful. The pain, however, isn't in the destination (like there is one), it's in the journey. You suffer through 40 minutes of retreaded low-grade techno only to be rewarded with an extended mix version of the album's opening track, "Experience." It must be akin to how Prometheus felt serving day two of his eternal sentence: "Didn't I just endure this? Is this going to end? Ever?" My CD player indicates that Obsessive Personality is only 49 minutes long, but it has to be inaccurate. Flashback or not, just say techNO.
1 Star -- Michael Bertin
An all-instrumental split LP with Milwaukee's Vocokesh, Derobe is yet another well done ST-37 project. Starting their four-song side off with the vaguely Beatlesque "Poppy Fields" -- which unfortunately never really goes anywhere -- things just get stranger and stranger, such as the band's inclusion of a Urinals cover, "Surfin' With the Shah," and the old Elegant Doormats tune "Nicht Jetzt." This being an instrumental, jam-type album, however, it's difficult to tell the old from the new -- the sonic wall of sound and fury just keeps coming throughout the disc. Vocokesh's side sounds a bit more polished and has more song structure than ST-37's, but as always with this sort of "space rock," you either like it or you don't. Personally, I miss the lyrics, but Derobe is still a good place to put your mind when you're not using it.
2.5 Stars -- Ken Lieck
One of the better ambient groups I've come across in a while, locals Robert Mace and Stephen Thurman do a terrific job of adding heart and soul to what can be an occasionally soulless genre. Okay, the way they list their songs (i.e. .01-.65 c10.05.94 t07:23, etc.) is annoying as hell to those of us used to more conventional, less Front 242-esque track titles, but that's not what's at issue here. Quaquaversal cover the ambient scene with everything from quiet, hushed, clickbeep, sinewave lethargisms to more straight-ahead, techno-oriented pieces like, well, like track .03. It's not quite as organic as, say, Aphex Twin, but at the same time it's hardly your usual dry, unreflective, bland ambient-in-a-box that you so often encounter on new, unproven bands that appear out of the blue. It's cool to realize that Austin even has much of an ambient scene, much less one that's producing solid, head-phucking stuff such as this. The question is, though, can local outfits like this pack a club date? Last year's South by Southwest electronica showcase featuring Spring Heel Jack et al proved the need for more electronica/underground venues and shows here in town, but nothing much has happened since then. Quaquaversal -- with much of their music bordering on Orb territory -- would be the perfect test run.
3 Stars -- Marc Savlov
O Earthly Gods (Cool Blue Pool)
What style of song starts with one mournful violin playing over a light drone, is joined by a harmony viola, and ends with both stringed instruments -- still in slow pathos -- playing on top of heavy back beats? I don't know either, but that's how Govinda's "Romance & Seduction" goes. Shane O'Madden's musical second self, Govinda, is also another name for the Hindu god Krishna, and visiting celestial beings is what O'Madden does on O Earthly Gods. Some of these gods are full of love ("Bella Notte"), others are more concerned with existential emotions ("Transformation & Immortality"), while still others ache with profound feeling ("Moon at My Window"). Mixing phat beats with acoustic strings can sometimes sound out of place, but when this composite does work, it elicits two emotions at once: one floating and just out of reach, the other thickly visceral. The unmistakable Irish fiddle riff in "Celtica" played over slow industrial beats sounds a bit like Sinead O'Conner's stunning remake of the folk standard "I Am Stretched On Your Grave," the vocal intensity of her performance replaced here with intertwined harmony runs on violin. "Moon at My Window," with its lateral movement and faraway vocal lines, could perfectly complement emotionally aching celluloid footage. While there are exceptions ("Follow us to Freedom" sounds forced at times), most of the electronica mixed tunes on O Earthly Gods do work, occasionally sounding as if recording avatar Bill Laswell's living spirit descended on Andromeda Studios. More adventurous in intent and result than Govinda's previous album Move Divine, O Earthly Gods is a map for a rendezvous with your personal pantheon.
4 Stars -- David Lynch
Starting with the cover (the title suggests Martin Denny while the sepia tone images recall Nine Inch Nails), Kontiki is one album that strives to confound the listener. Once again, Cotton Mather are trafficking in their standard Beatlesisms, but this time they seem determined to specialize in chaos, leaving you to occasionally unearth the twists of Lennon from beneath a sea of songs with double-tracked vocals that don't quite match up, tempos that change on their own whim, tunes that start and end abruptly, and the sounds of broken toys and power tools. This would all smack of "too-much-time-in-the-studio-itis" if it weren't so damned clear that the band meant all this to keep you listening. They needn't have bothered, as the songs, still largely borrowing from Rubber Soul but also boasting snippets of Dylan, Byrds, and solo Lennon, are as sparklingly catchy as ever. And as much as I hate to admit it, the gimmicks do work. Aside from a couple of songs nearly ruined by over-flanged vocals, the little fripperies only jump out and scare you if you aren't paying attention. Sit back in your chair with an umbrella drink (to appease the Album Title Gods) and really listen to Kontiki and you'll be safe.
3.5 Stars-- Ken Lieck
Owen Temple is only 21, but the Kerrville/Mountain Home native has already impressed a lot of people, starting with General Store producer Lloyd Maines. Then there's Rich Brotherton and Mark Patterson from Robert Earl Keen's band. Longtime Austin dues-payers Bukka White and Riley Osborne too. And there's a lot to be impressed with. Temple has a sharp eye for observation like Keen ("So I inched across the fencelines and rushed across the roads/I was watching close for green and white INS Broncos"), a voice like a young Ray Wylie Hubbard, and the good sense to write a song about an unsung Austin landmark like the Dry Creek Café ("So if you want to keep the bulldozers back/Stop and get a drink at the Dry Creek shack"). From subject matter to vocal tenor to instrumental arrangements, Temple fits right in to that cowboy/frat territory ruled by Jerry Jeff Walker, Hubbard, and Keen. And, except for a tasty clarinet solo on "Jaded Lover" and a duet with San Marcos folksinger Terri Hendrix on "If You Called," he doesn't venture very far outside, either. But he's young. He'll grow. And he's got a damn fine start.
3 Stars -- Christopher Gray
Phil Comes Alive (Spitune)
Imagine four UT guys sitting at the Black Cat -- empty on a Wednesday night, 'cept for some skinny college-boy looking type singing songs on the stage. They're all drinking their Shiner Bocks, watching this guy ramble his Southwestern prairie rock just like Jack Ingram or Todd Snider. The words keep flowing, that wry Texas wit and sly grin permeating every rhyming line. The guy's trio is in total lockstop, the rhythm section drawn as tight as the snare is sharp -- the pace a good acoustic gallop throughout. There's songs about drinking and driving around ("Rolling"), chewing ("Snuff Machine"), boozing roommates ("My Roommate"), playing in a band ("Playing in a Band"), and drinking ("Drink When I Think"). Throw in a couple of chicks, that Mexican babe "Maria," and "Katarina" the babysitter, and the party is on: Dude, this guy sounds like Joe Ely on that live CD you have. Or Keen. You know, where it's live, and he's telling stories, and he's totally rocking. It was just like that night we got totally drunk at the Side Street Bar and he was playing. Remember? Man, this guy is totally awesome! Yes, indeed, life is good.
3.5 Stars -- Raoul Hernandez
Bicycle Vigilante (Angry Neighbor)
If there's one thing Austin has a plethora of, it's atypical singer-songwriters. In fact, there's so many of 'em that they're, well, typical. You wouldn't know that from their CDs, though. Amberjack Rice, for example, has fashioned his full-length debut into anything but an acoustic solo piece. From the opener, "I'm Crazy', which sounds like the Ramones if they'd come of age in the Thirties, Bicycle Vigilante is a flat-out barnburner all the way through; it may also be the all-time record-breaker as far as the number of musician bartenders to appear together on one album. There's no shortage of musical styles on this disc, as evidenced by the Primus/Butthole Surfer hybrid title track, which is the theme song for a very unusual superhero. Elsewhere, the dominant standup bass and acoustic guitar are used to more conventional ends. Overall, a helluva lot of fun, and a much better experience than sitting in front of your stereo listening to one guy play a guitar.
3 Stars -- Ken Lieck
"I tell you there is love..." insists Lourdez Pérez in Vestigios, the title track of her new CD. It seems a mournful, empty promise, really, considering the recurring themes of despair, injustice, and indignation which pepper the tales within: of the Chiapaneca, of the Puerto Rican nationalist, of Luisa Capetilla, the cross-dressing labor organizer arrested in Cuba for her "starched pants and leather billfold." Likewise, Pérez's fingers take graceful strides across minor chords which sound like hectic gasps beating out in time and calling out in urgency -- the music a humble yet fidgety partner for the gravity of the stories told. Her voice -- that voice -- is a warm bed of freshly turned, fertile earth and promise, which strikes out in defiance one moment and coos with hopeless romance the next. The brilliant, "Toreando Un Siglo (Bullfighting a Century)," a homage to Perez's abuela who "insists on staying and... win the bet with God," is but one canto which expresses this range. The album blazes with harrowing and heartwarming stories of women and courage and justice. Ultimately, the despair equals hope, the injustice incites resolve, and the indignation forces the hand of pride. There is love... more than mere vestiges.
3.5 Stars-- Kate X Messer
ASYLUM STREET SPANKERS
Nasty Novelties (Freedom)
Sure, sometimes a slow tease is nice, and sometimes what you can't see is sexier than what you can, but there's also something damned alluring about a woman proudly proclaiming, "I've got nipples on my titties big as the end of my thumbs/ I've got something 'tween my legs make a dead man come." Ohhhh Christina Marrs, you naughty little temptress you. If a tenth of what you claim in "Shave `em Dry" is accurate, then just take me now and go to town. Nasty Novelties ain't your ordinary collection of bawdy cover songs inappropriate for mass consumption -- just listening is enough to make you feel a little deviant -- it's just plain dirty. In fact, the band manages to squeeze in no less than 14 censorable words in the first 90 seconds of this four-song EP. Nasty Novelties isn't completely crude -- there's a bit of playfulness in the sexual one-upmanship of "If You Want Me to Love You," and it's done without a single swear word -- but, man, if you have kids, don't play this too loud. Actually, at 15 minutes long, this sucker will be over before anyone can get to your door to complain. Fifteen minutes? Hmmm. That's even about the right length.
2.5 Stars -- Michael Bertin
Land of Rhythm and Pleasure (Freedom)
It sure was fun while it lasted, but Austin's visegrip on pure-country credibility had to relax sometime. Judging by The Land of Rhythm and Pleasure, the debut from H-Town's hard-working Hollisters, that grip is now chill as Eightball & MJG after a long night of blunt smoking. Starting quite symbolically with a rip-snortin' cover of Libbi Bosworth's "East Texas Pines" and closing 12 songs later with the border-flavored "Pink Adobe Hacienda," this 713 crew can match the best the 512 has to offer -- and then some. Building on a granite Cash foundation (especially "Good for the Blues," "Goldbrick Wheeler," "Heart" -- just about any song, really), the band tacks on a couple of sly nods to country's rockier moments ("Deacon Brown" virtually quotes from the Band's "Evangeline;" two songs later comes a cover of Nick Lowe's "Without Love") as evidence they're not totally stuck in 1963. But the way it looks in 1997, even though Casper Rawls produced the CD and Austin's Freedom Records released it, the Houston Chronicle's Rick Mitchell's estimation of the Hollisters as "the best country band east of La Grange" stops about 60 miles short. Westward ho!
3.5 Stars -- Christopher Gray
Barrel Chested (Doolittle)
There are several ways to go with this one: Hick AC/DC? Hick Social Distortion? Hick Crazy Horse? Actually, there's no need to indulge in gratuitous hick-ification for the sake of giving reference points since Slobberbone's Barrel Chested is essentially just a Jason and the Scorchers album. And a damn fine one at that. The Denton trio's second shot of sagas about drunken self-pity goes down with a burn. It's just teeming with scorchingly sloven guitar solos and bigass bar chords. Even on the seemingly straight country numbers, like "Engine Joe," Brent Best eventually gives into the itch to fry it up with Seventies rock star abandon. One of the better collections of songs about getting fucked up (and fucking up) since, maybe, the Gear Daddies' Let's Go Scare Al, Slobberbone's new one is a solid piece of evidence that to make a good album, you don't need to adhere to any sort of pretentious aesthetic or even find a new way to finesse the American experience via semi-senseless phrases. Instead, all you need is a good drunk, some bad mistakes, and a fully functional volume knob.
3.5 Stars -- Michael Bertin
Millican (Cold Spring)
It's not Willy Braun's fault he sounds so much like a pre-rehab Steve Earle, but God help his band Reckless Kelly in trying to bust out of the Guitar Town ghetto. True, they don't discourage those kinds of comparisons very much -- hitting the random button while Millican is in the CD player is all it takes. If it lands on "I Still Do" or "Waitin' on the Blues," then a walk down Copperhead Road can't be far behind. Even more than Earle, however, there's a real rock edge to this local band's songs, making fire-breathing bottle-raisers like the Cajun-spiced "Drink That Whiskey Down" all the more potent. The regretful "Hatax" is as solemn as anything Son Volt has put to wax, "Baby's Gone" could easily fill a slot on John Mellencamp's Lonesome Jubilee dance card, and "Hey Say May" is really just the Wallflowers' "The Difference" with twangier guitars and a harmonica. On "Back Around," Braun wishes he were a vampire "so I could stay out all night long," but what he might be wishing instead is that Millican didn't deposit Reckless Kelly smack dab in the demilitarized zone of country's current "alternative" wars. They're better than that.
3 Stars -- Christopher Gray
A Tone for My Sins (Dallas Blues Society)
If anyone knows what it must have been like for Jimmie Vaughan to watch Stevie Ray Vaughan step into the limelight, it would be Denny Freeman, who was lead guitarist for Paul Ray & the Cobras in the Seventies when the younger Vaughan joined the group. Back then, Freeman was content to let the youngest hotshot rage onstage while he stepped back and quietly peeled off sinewy riffs that snaked around the Cobras' bluesy repertoire and coiled themselves into tight, sharp leads. Twenty years later, Freeman's mastery of guitar is what makes the Dallas native's A Tone for My Sins, a classy, classic entry into the ranks of guitar recordings. It's a dozen instrumentals that bump, hump, shake, grind, and rock from a musician that "shine[s] at creation," as liner notes writer (and Reprise Records veep) Bill Bentley says. Consider the trailer trash bop of "Vigilante," the soulful strut of "Don't Stop Now" and "Wah Wah Toosie," and the possibilities that lie with the nasty lure of "Cat Fight" and "It's a Love Thang." Freeman knows when to hop ("Swing Set"), when to jazz ("Stealin' Berries Part II"), and like a true gentlemen, when to give girlfriend Kathy Valentine a wicked wah-wah solo bouquet ("Aftershock"). That's Denny Freeman for you, the gentleman's guitarist. Just don't mistake his playing for polite.
3 Stars -- Margaret Moser
ONE -- TEXAS ELECTRONICA
Contrary to prevailing attitudes, Texas music isn't only Stevie Ray, Dusty Hill, and Johnny Motard -- it also has a solid bedrock of electronica surging through the Lone Star underground, notably in Houston and Dallas, but here in Austin as well. With this first volume in what should be an ongoing series, Mike Stewart and Myles Faulkner's new, upstart label, Face, is helping put names to the heretofore faceless click `n' beep outifts, house crews, drum `n' bass knob twiddlers, and assorted other audio experimenters working in club-oriented recesses of Texas sound. It's about time, too. From the propulsive jungle of Claude 9 (one half of Austin's Ragamassive) to the more classic house beats of Chris Anderson and Andrei Morant (of Houston's Matrix Crew), One is a solid sampler all the way across the board, much better than many of the K-Tel knockoffs you're likely to find nestled amongst either Waterloo or Alien's
various artists sections. Granted, at this stage electronica as a genre is still a form without noticeable territorial boundaries or inflections -- there's no real way to distinguish One from any other regional compilation other than by its title. That doesn't reflect badly on the sounds, though, and if anything else, Face proves that the Texas underground is a rich, varied, and exceptionally funky place to be spinning.
3 Stars -- Marc Savlov