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Houston's Great Pop Hope?

It's been one misunderstanding after another, a veritable comedy of errors. Justice Records took the first arguably misplaced step, releasing the Jinkies "Instant Kar Krash" as a vinyl single with the song's lyrics printed prominently on the sleeve, revealing once and for all what most Jinkies' fans, positioned on the business end of a high decibel P.A. system, had happily neglected to notice: the sheer and utter vapidity of lines such as "Are you feeling dizzy / Don't it feel real good / Keep a spin-a-linging / And catch a brand new buzz / Oh slick butterfinger / Don't it sound real nice / It goes great with those waffles / You had the other day / Dizzy in a haze."

The second mistake was mine, when I mentioned to Jinkies second vocalist Giancarlo Caffarena (in passing and, I thought, good fun) that those lines constituted perhaps the dumbest lyrics I had ever heard. Apparently Caffarena took it personally, which set up an awkward moment one recent Saturday night at the Abyss, when Caffarena -- facing an imposingly tiny audience of me, the sound guy, the barkeep, the band's manager, and about nine others -- decided to devote some between-song patter to my observation. "Hey Carlos," he said, addressing 23-year-old Jinkies guitarist/lyricist/singer/frontman Carlos DeLeon. "You know, Brad Tyer thinks those are the stupidest lyrics he's ever heard."

Which prompted DeLeon to inform me and the few other surely uninterested bystanders that, well, he'd written that song watching Speed Racer and tripping on acid on a couch in Austin in 1991, so there, and what's more, who gives a fuck?

That, fortuitously enough, brings us neatly around to the point, which is this: if you give a flying leap about any of the above, it is surely at the expense of the self-evident truth that "Instant Kar Krash" is the single bitchin'-est tune to rise above the mire of the Houston rock underground in at least a year. And the lyrics that I thought were so stupid (and in all truth, they remain stunningly dumb) turn out, upon further reflection, to be an integral part of an encompassing bubble-gum package that's making musical, mindless, non-threatening rock and roll fun something you can once again have in front of a Houston stage. "Yummy yummy yummy, I've got love in my tummy" never won any profundity prizes either, but thank god it's had a more lasting influence on American pop music than anything Rush ever did.

In fact, the Jinkies Question (as I like to call it) hasn't a damn thing to do with the literary quality of the band's lyrics, and even less to do with what I might happen to think of them on any given night. The Jinkies Question, perhaps inevitable in the current local rock Zeitgeist, is this: can the Jinkies go where no Houston rock band has gone before (or at least where no Houston rock band has gone since King's X made its stab at national attention some ten years ago)?

The question of whether the Jinkies can be Houston's latest great rock hope isn't particularly pressing in the minds of Caffarena, DeLeon and his younger brother, drummer Mike, all of whom exude a well-developed grasp of the who-gives-a-shit attitude endemic to Houston's industry-shy underground. The Jinkies, predictably enough, just dig playing. To hear them tell it, any eventuality that might allow them to quit their slacker day jobs and take the show on the road would simply be icing on the cake, an after-the-fact bonus. But to enthusiastic band management, supportive local club owners, King's X and Galactic Cowboys guru Sam Taylor (who came out of semi-retirement to produce the Jinkies' demo), and a slew of scenesters who elected the Jinkies "Band of the Year" in a recent Public News reader poll, the question matters.

On the strength of the five-song demo tape presently being shopped around to labels, it's not hard to see why. The Jinkies write honest-to-god songs, with hooks and choruses and everything. And as disciples of a pop aesthetic that, according to DeLeon, tracks back to the Beatles' White Album, they've already mastered a simple skill that too many groups -- local and otherwise -- never seem to learn: they know when to stop. Ambitious bands have battled the idea since it was first recognized, but the plain fact of the matter is that a pop song that can't do its thing in two minutes and 45 seconds is a pop failure. With "Instant Kar Krash," especially, and to a slightly lesser extent the rest of the demo, the Jinkies get in, do the job and get out, which makes them prime candidates, in a local scene filled with wannabes and shouldabeens, for the elusive prize of wider recognition.

The DeLeon brothers began their quest, such as it is, in Austin, where they teamed with a bassist to form Meat Lovers Pizza, a self-described "bad garage band" that relied on screeched vocals and inside jokes to garner, over the course of several years, a more-or-less insignificant Austin audience. When the DeLeons moved back to their hometown of Houston, Carlos hooked up with Caffarena, a buddy from his Strake Jesuit high school days. Caffarena had been lending his session-man skills to acts as diverse as Rap-a-Lot Records' Black Monks, David Rice and Bloodfart, and was at the time playing with Sleeping Venus (a band that later evolved into Milkweed). Carlos joined Sleeping Venus as guitarist, but it wasn't long before informal jam sessions, and the desire for a vehicle to display DeLeon's precocious songwriting and Caffarena's accomplished musicality, led to the forming of the Jinkies.

The matchup of DeLeon and Caffarena suggests almost infinite possibilities, with Caffarena's Chapman Stick (which allows him to play simultaneous bass lines and lead guitar) fleshing out the sound of DeLeon's pop-pedigreed songwriting. To round out the band on drums, DeLeon brought in his brother Mike, who has proven to be the trio's most engaging stage presence, with a manic style that recalls nothing so much as the triple-jointed acrobatics of Animal, the drumming Muppet.

The Jinkies are a power-trio with a plus, and live (and on the demo), they place that time-tested format in the employ of alternating riff-heavy rockers (such as "Instant Kar Krash" and "Little Sister") and Anglophile balladry (the eerily Lennon-esque original "Yer Song" and a loving cover of Big Star's "Back of a Car"). The net effect is unlike anything ever heard from a Houston band -- polished and raw at the same time, unmistakably pop and yet honest enough to avoid pandering. It is, wonder of wonders, a fresh Houston sound, which is surely what earned "Instant Kar Krash" its spotlight role as the lead track on Justice Records' Hellhole compilation.

It's also that sound that has led so many local observers to point to the Jinkies as Houston's best hope for national rock recognition. And with the demo circulating and a potential tour in the planning, it's something that just may come true.

If nobody in the Jinkies is willing to make that kind of prediction, well, perhaps that's just the nature of the beast. After all, a "jink" is defined as a prank or a frolic, and that definition seems to encompass the prevalent attitude of the band. But the music on the tape promises something more, something summed up by Caffarena when he says, in reference to his group's name, "We don't give a shit about any of that. We just rock." He was probably trying to make a joke, but the fact of the matter is: he's right.

The Jinkies play for a meeting of the Houston Music Council Monday, July 10 at Zelda's, 2706 White Oak. No cover. Meeting starts at 7:30 and is open to the public. For info, call 862-3838.


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