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Swamp People

Recent local releases by Screwtape, John Egan and Southern Backtones have Houston on the brain.

Local artists don't release new music every day, or even every week, but enough do to keep the pump primed on a pretty regular basis. We thought it would be fun to go over a few such releases during those weeks our colleague The Nightfly is soaking his feet. At least in part, our first three records make use of their surroundings not only as background material but also subject matter.

Screwtape, Dust It Off Make It Shine: It wouldn't be right to call Screwtape local rapper Nosaprise's side project, because it's very much its own animal — in fact, the trio won Best Indie Rock in last year's HPMAs after only a few months of existence. Nosa has always reminded us a little bit of Q-Tip, and he does here on this new EP's rap songs, the piano-scored "What's Goin' On?" and "Keep It Moving." But mostly he wants to vent, whether or not he happens to be rapping. Nosa knows the value of a cathartic burst of guitar noise, whether he's venting about his hometown's shortcomings ("In My City"), more personal matters ("Friends Like Foes") and even the simple pleasures of blasting out one feedback-soaked power chord after another (the instrumental "DUSTED"). He must be a Dinosaur Jr. fan.

John Egan, Phantoms: Solo bluesman John Egan welcomes guests like cellist Bonnie Whitmore, David Rice and Little Joe Washington on his first album in three years, but the key supporting role here is played by his National Resonator, one of those shiny silver guitars that sting and snarl. Egan sings in a tone that suggests someone is constantly walking over his grave, and his lyrics are loaded with bad mojo like nature gone haywire ("The Mississippi Ran Backwards"), apocalyptic visions (Sideshow Tramps staple "John the Revelator") and a clenched-teeth cover of Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper." For "Down in Houston," he listens to ZZ Top in the middle of the night and rides around with some girls in a pickup truck, making both activities sound not innocent at all. Phantoms is as atmospheric as the new Southern Backtones album (see below), and much more haunting, especially Egan's ode to an empty house, "You Don't Hold Me Anymore." This record will give you the creeps, but in the nicest possible way.

Southern Backtones, La Vie en Noir (ZenHill): Backtones front man Hank Schyma sounds like he's got a little Honky Tonk Blood hangover on his band's first album in five years, but he did end up six feet under in that 2011 movie made by local musicians. Schyma's HTB co-stars Johnny Falstaff, John Evans and Rev. Craig Kinsey show up to continue the thread of shady people doing shady things. However, besides occasional touches of Texas twang like "Bandera," the album is transplanted to a much more continental milieu. Noir has a French title and the Eiffel Tower on the cover, but its real domain is a few hundred miles northeast, the nocturnal pleasure paradise of Berlin when David Bowie and Iggy Pop were making their sleep-starved, substance-fueled albums The Idiot, Low and Lust for Life.

See you in a few weeks. Send any new local releases to 1621 Milam, Suite 100, Houston TX 77002. Downloads and Bandcamp URLs are acceptable, but our old-fashioned fingers would much rather have a hard copy.

chris.gray@houstonpress.com

 
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