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Dear Sy~3nc3

First things first. Peekaboo Theory is not TV on the Radio.

Granted, some people might notice a similarity or two between the Houston and Brooklyn bands. Both play an intense, electronically augmented brand of guitar rock that draws from a vast range of musical styles from dub to hardcore punk rock. Both write a considerable number of songs about relationships, both interpersonal and more philosophical concepts such as the ongoing tension between humanity and technology.

TV on the Radio and Peekaboo Theory share a fascination with science, science fiction and computer jargon – TVOTR's latest album is last year's Dear Science; Peekaboo's, which was self-released last month, is called Sy~3nc3-&-Pr{}gr@m5 – and both drive music writers bonkers trying to describe their sounds in a convenient phrase or two.

And yes, both bands are comprised of mainly African Americans trying to find a niche in rock scenes dominated by lily-white hipsters. Don't think Peekaboo Theory hasn't noticed.

"The first name of our group was actually In Living Bone Brains Party TV Against the Machine," Peekaboo Theory told the Houston Press's Shea Serrano when the band was selected as our music blog Rocks Off's "Artist of the Week" last December – referring, respectively, to Living Colour, Fishbone, Bad Brains, Bloc Party, TV on the Radio and Rage Against the Machine.

"If any band has a member of color, we must sound like them, right?"

Right...and wrong. Peekaboo Theory's sound does contain elements of hard rock (Living Colour), ska-tinged heavy funk (Fishbone), brain-melting hardcore (Bad Brains), dance-friendly indie-rock (Bloc Party), turntable-assisted rap-rock (Rage) and a whole lot more besides. On one pass through the sprawling, disquieting Sy~3nc3, Noise jotted down Portishead, Mad Professor, Radiohead circa Amnesiac, Aphex Twin, Massive Attack and Yo La Tengo.

At a recent rehearsal at the warehouse-like Francisco Studios off McKinney, Peekaboo members also cited Queens of the Stone Age, Metric, LCD Soundsystem, the Velvet Underground, Aesop Rock and the Mars Volta, among many, many others. In fact, the six of them took about 20 minutes to run down their various musical backgrounds and interests.

"Whenever you have so many influences, you're bound to sound kind of unique," notes bassist and occasional guitarist Tony Roopa.

Just as it's almost impossible to specifically describe what Peekaboo Theory sounds like, it's difficult to tell when exactly they stop tuning up and actually start rehearsing. It starts as a wash of feedback and abstract noise, but little by little, distinct parts start to emerge: D-Walla and Ramon Wakefield's choppy guitar; a steady, insistent eighth-note line from Roopa; Kid Twist's almost delicate tip-tap drum part.

It feels both repetitive and improvised; sometimes they all play in unison, sometimes they're very much off on their own. Every so often, something resembling a lead part will emerge from the guitars' tremolo scales and barre chords, but it doesn't necessarily demand or even divert the listener's attention away from what the rest of the band is doing. When not screaming in Wakefield's face, Roopa does an occasional leg-kick, and for most of the rehearsal Kid Twist appears to be in a trance. Some people might call it progressive rock; others, rhythmic post-punk. Nobody would call it boring.

Missing is turntablist/laptop jockey FYIAAM (short for "Fuck you, I am a musician"), while vocalist James­cayn stands against one wall with his eyes closed, swaying his head from side to side and occasionally mouthing some lyrics. At the moment, Peekaboo is in the interesting position of being forced to practice without a PA system, so what is Jamescayn thinking while his bandmates are kicking up such a racket?

Thinking about how to translate what they're doing into something the audience can connect with, he says, citing a couple of specific examples from Sy~3nc3: "That's my only purpose. I feel like my lyrics on 'Immediate Hesitation,' the pattern is totally based on [Kid Twist's] drumming, and then on 'Hyphen,' I feel like the guitars are embellishing my vocals."

"If you were to lay our music out on a staff, you would see a whole lot of dynamic symbols," says D-Walla, who has the most formal musical training of anyone in the band. "We don't plan it, but it happens."

A few nights later at Rocbar, where the PA is one of the best in the city, Peekaboo Theory spends its first ten minutes or so warming up with a couple of relatively mellow reggae-inflected jams – Wakefield is a native of Jamaica; none of the six members are Houston natives – before slamming into overdrive with Built to Spill guitar thicket of "Hesitation" and lost Nirvana riff of "Slave Trade," an epic centerpiece of Sy~3nc3 that feels somewhat abbreviated but no less powerful live.

When they get to "Hyphen," another great windmill indie-rock riff – think the Strokes times 10 – fuels Jamescayn's non-screaming Chris Cornell vocals. He leans out over the stage, sweating bullets while the audience is seized by a mass fit of spontaneous, involuntary contortions and the band throttles a Led Zeppelin riff like a starving dog would a freshly caught rabbit. When the set is over and the MC5's "Kick out the Jams" comes up on the PA, even one of rock and roll's greatest all-time calls to arms feels anticlimactic and diminished.

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