Ashbury Keys, Wake Up: Keep an eye on Ashbury Keys. The Houston trio's Wake Up EP is a reminder of that odd point in rock history when straight-up-the-middle bands like Semisonic and Matchbox 20 somehow got passed off as "alternative." You can hear flashes of the Wallflowers in "Wake Up," Weezer in "Hero" and blink-182 in "Oh My God," but Wake Up does not sound dated or derivative at all. There's very little grunge, just solid songwriting, catchy hooks and choruses, and at least one ballad ("Break") begging to soothe a bunch of young girls whose bumbling boyfriends just can't ever seem to get it right. Catch Ashbury Keys at Fitz in June.
Caveman Electric, Highly Dysfunctional (RTO Records): There's something vaguely menacing about Caveman Electric's Perfectly Dysfunctional, but then, what do you expect from that title? The Houston quartet shares two members and a very dystopic outlook with one of our most underrated bands, Peekaboo Theory, who are hopefully just on hiatus and have not gone away for good. But like Peekaboo, Caveman's music remains uptempo in the face of some pretty dark lyrical content — we'll leave it to your imagination to guess what "Killdren" is about. Sung and guitared by Ramon Wakefield, Highly Dysfunctional is bracing, if not exactly cheerful, modern rock. The one song that isn't a chugging, metal-tinged powder keg is subdued closer "Uncle Cletus' Poppy Seed Blues," which could almost be a Chris Cornell outtake. Or maybe Temple of the Dog.
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Hunter Perrin, Le Flashcube: Houston native Hunter Perrin spent four years in John Fogerty's touring band, but his latest project, Le Flashcube, is 100 percent choogle-free. He also has degrees in classical guitar from UT-Austin and Yale and the range to tackle everything from complicated Hector Villa-Lobos études to his own originals. Lightly sprinkled with accordion, vibraphone and trumpet, much of Le Flashcube gives off a vaguely European vibe, aside from the Spaghetti Western flair of Perrin's noirish "Santa Anas" and the straight-up surf-rock of "Juarez" (written by Perrin's Thunderado bandmate Paul Beebe). Perrin's light fingers are also reflected in the running time — although Le Flashcube is 16 tracks long, its 38 minutes go by like a heartbeat. While this is for serious fans of instrumental guitar music, people who like Dick Dale and Reverend Horton Heat's "Big Sky," it's hard to imagine coffeehouse dwellers leaving the room whenever it comes on.
Yppah, Eighty One (Ninja Tune): Yppah, a.k.a. Joe Corrales Jr., has been the resident Texan at London progressive electronic label Ninja Tune since 2006. He's a DJ, and can be heard scratching intermittently here, but "sound sculptor" might be a more appropriate title for his third non-remix album. Partially inspired by his surfing trips near Galveston and his new home base of Long Beach, Eighty One stitches together crystalline melodic passages out of strings and electronic keyboards, while the beats undulate but never intrude and the tempos barely break a sweat. Sprawling passages of placid Explosions in the Sky guitar surface on "Happy to See You" and "Soon Enough," and Björk-like Seattle vocalist Anomie Belle shows up for a handful of songs ("Film Burn," "Soon Enough") perfect for watching the rain streak the windows on a Sunday morning, if not operating heavy equipment.
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