the Cipher, the Daze, and the Steps

From Soldiers to Warriors, Straightjacket Hymns, and Take It All In (Playing in Traffic)

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With debut From Soldiers to Warriors, the Cipher heralds the rise of homegrown hip-hop out of high schools and 'hoods and onto Austin stages. It's message music of the finest kind, exhorting listeners to participate within their community over smooth beats. The crew includes three young women whose "Give me what I need, the respect I deserve" on "Female Emcees" is plaintive and anthemic. Good sounds from a scene that has some of its own on the silver screen this year: Zeale and Phranchyze made it into Bandslam, as did Joker and the Daze. Lucky for trio the Daze, its debut, Straightjacket Hymns, hit stores just as the movie was released, a righteous opportunity to crank up the Texas crunch ("Red," "The Motions"). Well-informed by Aerosmith/Skynyrd antecedents, the Daze is quite capable of balladry ("Come, Child") and melody ("In Spite of Any Doubt"), but there's no question its heart is in the backbeat of songs like the explosive "Smithereens," "Blizzard Woman Blues," and "La Rosa de Don Juan." Quartet the Steps pack five songs into Take It All In with no mercy and a lot of attitude. It pays off on the Chris "Frenchie" Smith-produced EP, cutting to the chase on "Loose Mind," "Dagger," and "Blonde Smoke." The band members' neat trick is taking the essence of music from every decade previous and echoing it so precisely that it transcends the classic rock they adore and suggests music in the upcoming decade will be in excellent hands.

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