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Odd Squad
Fadanuf Fa Erybody
Rap-a-Lot

Houston-style hip-hop -- the "H-Town" or "Fifth Ward" sound -- is frequently perceived as the Texas branch of West Coast and Miami gangster flavor. Geto Boys, Scarface, Street Military and the Underground Kings have all emerged from Houston to gain national visibility with variations on the "gangsta roll." But Houston is a diverse urban area. And like any area with a vital, if largely unacknowledged hip-hop scene, where there's a "roll," there's a complementary "bounce."

Odd Squad, with their first offering, Fadanuf Fa Erybody, has created a wildly amusing and constantly absorbing carnival of bounce. The Squad's treatment of the Houston sound strips away the bass-laden gangster veneer previously inseparable from most Rap-a-Lot recordings and leaves the inner-city hardness fully intact.

Look no further than "Hoes with Babies" to spot the roughest edges that also shape "S**t Pit," "Your P's Like Dope" and "Put Cha Lips." There's not much doubt as to where Rob Quest and Jug Mugg want the lips applied, but the Squad uses dextrous wit and rugged Pryor-esque humor to flip the script on sexist rhymes, giving space in the second half of the cut to the female version of brutal sexuality. The tough realism of Fifth Ward images is entirely present on Fadanuf, just reworked with a shrewdly comic spirit and combined with vocal styles and production details associated with Gang Starr's Brooklyn flavor -- a style not coincidentally masterminded by ex-Houstonian DJ Premier.

East Coast influence is especially evident in the fast-paced cuts "Here Da Say" and "I Can't See," which stray from the deep, rolling funk loops of the Fifth Ward style. The latter track belongs exclusively to Blind Rob Quest, who spends his verses here describing the possibilities in "hearing" what he "sees." Odd Squad's cross-regional mixture "Came Ta Get Down" features a guest appearance by Scarface in which the undisputed champ of Texas gangster rap breaks his own mold with a remarkably loose, subtle and unpredictable flow.

Odd Squad is undoubtedly important in linking aspects of the Houston sound with hip-hop of the South Bronx or East Oakland. Gangster rap has proven to be the most widely marketable type of hip-hop, and its feverish promotion has obscured other sides of the genre being developed in all cities, including Houston. It's not that Houston hasn't been producing alternative flavors equal to those of the "Brooklyn Bounce" all along; they've just been a far less accessible part of the complete scene -- a scene you can hear emerging through the phat noise that Odd Squad makes on an impressive debut performance.

-- Bryan Patrick

Picasso Trigger
!Fire in the Hole!
Alias Records

At some point in the past couple of years, punk rock entered its second generation -- which, if the MTV success of bands like Green Day is any indication, doesn't mean all that much soundwise. It's more of a change in attitude. The current generation of punk-rock upstarts understands far better than their forebears that the only thing more boring than middle-class suburban life is having to listen to middle-class suburban punks ranting about how bored they are.

Case in point is Raleigh, North Carolina's Picasso Trigger. Their first album, !Fire in the Hole!, is built around that contradiction -- they're still skeptical of everything punk rock was against, but they're damned skeptical of punk rock as well, and seem dead-set on mocking both.

That satirical bent shows up all over, from the mohawked, pierce-nosed kewpie dolls of the album cover to singer Cathy Poindexter's gleeful boast on "The Man's Fault" that she's "melted Minor Threat records into a bong," which seems to be as much about the inflationary market in punk-rock memorabilia as it is about the excesses of straightedge.

Given this tendency to cut both ways, it's impossible to know whether guitarist Lisa Cooper's repeated stealing from Black Flag's Greg Ginn is meant as an homage or as a giant inside joke. I'd guess a little of both; in fact, if you're looking for a one-sentence synopsis of Picasso Trigger, calling them Black Flag with Henry Rollins' snotty little sister on vocals wouldn't be too far off the mark.

And though I doubt it's what they had in mind, it's easy to imagine that Poindexter is taunting Rollins directly on "Colossal Man" (a single whose B-side was called "Terminator Hank") when she chants in her sickly-sweet voice, "He wants to kick some ass," as the band slogs along behind her.

Given the band's rather complex relationship to punk rock, it should go without saying that their live shows are equally contradictory; typical of Cathy Poindexter is to scrawl riot grrrl and straightedge slogans all over her body, bend over and show her white ass to the crowd, and then spend the rest of the evening tossing beer cans at everyone in the room.

-- Ross Grady

Picasso Trigger opens for Lucy's Fur Coat Thursday, March 17 at Goat's Head Soup, 128 Westheimer, 520-7625.

 
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