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Voice of Eye
Vespers
Cyclotron Industries

Voice of Eye's 1992 Mariner Sonique documented a trippy improvisational session of mood music and ambient sound created with the help of a variety of homemade and manipulated instruments. At the time, caught up in the idea of the "song," I didn't really know what to make of its seemingly formless soundscapes, or how to judge their merits, since the reference points for this sort of unbounded experimentation, and for what it was supposed to do for a listener, were few and far between. They still are, but what the Houston group has made clear with Vespers -- a more deliberately composed, extended suite of similar sonic voyages -- is that in the still largely uncharted territories of experimental sound, Voice of Eye is its own reference point.

Vespers comes with a note on the back cover: "Product of serious sound warpage, no synthesizers were used in the creation of this music." The result is an entirely organic sound, not to be confused with the clang and clash of its industrial cousins, that aims to envelop rather than confront. Bonnie McNairn is credited with voice, flute, shanai, samples, bass thing 2, slide whistle, percussion, and tape machine thing, while partner Jim Wilson handles jeemna, guitar, bass, bass thing 1, percussion and sitar, with additional help from Marlon Porter on percussion and Ure Thrall on voice, guitar and samples. The result highlights none of the above, with subdued rhythms serving as a loose anchor for swelling and subsiding sounds that lend themselves to whatever wide array of mystic visualizations a listener might care to bring to the table.

Vespers is, as McNairn once told me, music to fall asleep to, but it's not anything you could call easy listening, and likewise, it's not music to put you to sleep. Like the ocean swells much of Vespers evokes, there are dark undercurrents at work to disturb pretty dreams. Vespers might be better described as somnambulant, in that it taps into that semi-sleep state where motor function is maintained even while the brain is in trance. There's an unusual logic in the construction -- one that doesn't partake of the common logic of songcraft -- but even in its extreme individuality, Vespers remains open on all fronts to imaginative interpretation. It's a quality not to be found in most recorded music, and it's that quality that makes Vespers endlessly fascinating, even while it is, in conventional terms, almost completely incomprehensible. The packaging, not coincidentally, is gorgeous.

-- Brad Tyer

Sol y Luna
Sol y Luna
Pulse Productions

Locals Sol y Luna carried the "Best Latin" category at this year's Houston Press Music Awards, but strictly speaking, the six-piece band isn't "Latin" at all, despite the heritage of its members and the Spanish-language vocals featured on this, the band's debut release. Rather, a melding of American and Hispanic cultures is the motivating force of this music, as is made clear on overtly patriotic tracks like "Americano."

The songs here carry a bit of Latin flavor, but that flavor is imparted more by the language of the lyrics and high-flying Santana-style guitar solos (the instrumental "Paz y Amor" is dedicated to Santana) than by traditional Latin rhythms. Structurally, Sol y Luna's nine songs fall into an adult contemporary/easy listening vein that neglects to take full advantage of either American rock or Latin rhythm roots. Not until the fourth track, "Americano" -- dedicated to and highly derivative of Marvin Gaye -- does the band catch fire before easing back into a highly professional, but unsatisfyingly slick comfort mode.

What Sol y Luna set out to do with this collection -- bring an American rock sensibility to Latin-rooted music, and vice versa -- seems a promising idea, and there are sporadic spots on this album that indicate the mission's potential. But for the most part, the only surprise the disc holds is the hybrid's lack of a distinguishing personality.

-- Brad Tyer

Cotton Mather
Cotton is King
Elm Records

Nothing makes a rock critic happier than stumbling across the rare record that combines genuine pop songcraft, jangly guitars and a literate sense of wordplay in a hook-filled package that's across-the-board strong enough to skip the filler entirely. There aren't many records like that out there, but Cotton is King is one of them, and the Austin band that produced it probably could have gotten rich and famous off it, if only this had been released in 1981.

Then again, if Cotton is King had hit the streets in '81, it might well have been slagged as a shameless Squeeze rip-off. Thirteen years later, it sounds more like the great lost Squeeze album that never was, and anyone who can convincingly rip off Squeeze has got all the goods they need in my book, anyhow.

How and why a Central Texas band arrived at this Anglo-pop attitude -- they're wearing suits and ties and Beatle hair on the cover, for God's sake -- is beyond me, but whatever the reasons, singer Robert Harrison takes his lyrical and melodic cues, and a catchy fondness for puns, from early Difford and Tilbrook, and works in elements of Elvis Costello and late Jam-era Paul Weller to arrive at songs that sound almost exotic in their smartness. In the great Anglo-pop tradition, these are funny, reflective, self-conscious tunes about girls (see "April's Fool" and "Miss Information"), and bubble-popping dismissals of the tragically stupid ("Mr. Should," "The Words of Shaman Roger"). Cotton is King is bubble-gum pop that's not vapid, and truly rocking rock that can make reference to Under the Volcano without sounding pretentious. I'll eat it up all day long. Watch this band.

-- Brad Tyer

 
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