So many talented bands and musicians are playing Sunday's Music Awards showcase, it seemed wrong to feature just one. Instead, the Press music staff rounded up as many of the nominees' CDs as we could, plus a few singles for good measure. Hopefully next year there'll be even more. See the Music Awards supplement for showcase locations and times. Chris Gray
Lazy Are the Skeletons
Houston Press Music Awards
Lots of bands claim a Morrissey influence, usually without sounding anything like him. Scattered Pages singer Brandon Hancock not only does, but writes like Moz, too: "I didn't get this dressed up just to stand around the club, and I didn't wear these shoes out just to hold the carpet down. I wanna dance all night long can it be all that wrong?" What's more, this Baytown trio quite simply makes some of the prettiest music any rock band is making today. Multi-instrumentalist Andy McWilliams brings his love of Tom Waits-ish jazz to these twang-tinged, layer-cake productions, and through it all, the band never rushes to choruses nor hurries crescendos nor throws time signatures at you like an angry ninja. They just churn out one timelessly melancholy pop song after another, any of which you could equally imagine on KTRU or the Arrow. John Nova Lomax
Kemo for Emo
What Happens in Omaha
I suppose I should qualify my opinion of Kemo for Emo's debut, What Happens In Omaha, with two statements. One, I don't like pop-punk. Two, I hate it when musicians think it's cool to invent new spellings of words. Personal preferences notwithstanding, I can't fathom how these guys are so seemingly popular. To be fair, they are clearly well-rehearsed and play in lockstep, never missing a beat or even approaching collapse. Unfortunately, all this precision adds up to nothing more than tired, genre-worshipping mimicry. Sure, the band is tight, and their vocal harmonies line up right, but do we really need another Blink-182? Kemo clearly has talent; now they need to find a more original voice and even lose it a bit. After all, the best punk always feels a little dangerous, like the band is just barely restraining some hideous beast. Nicholas Hall
Never having met him, I'm still willing to bet Arthur Yoria drives all the girls crazy. Handshake Smiles has an easygoing charm and romantic streak a mile wide, echoing Paul Simon, Cat Stevens and that guy with the acoustic guitar who got laid way more than you in college. In Yoria's rootsier, more rocking moments, namely "Should Be," "Love Song in G," "Cuttin' a Rug" and the first-rate "I Told You Not to Write Again," Wilco's A.M. seems to be his main source of inspiration. (Good choice.) With hints of the Beatles, Kinks and Shins also surfacing, Handshake Smiles practically begs to be cued up for your next date night. C.G.
Monday Drive EP
DJ Sun's recording debut summons his various musical influences, seamlessly blending soul, jazz and reggae to paint a dreamlike, down-tempo soundscape. The debut pays tribute to Sun's early-morning Monday drives, routine trips that served as time for reflection on a recent bittersweet loss. Monday mornings reflected his "‘driving away' from the loss," offering a sort of retreat "to a better place." Encapsulating Sun's Monday mornings in five evocative tracks, Monday Drive is simultaneously reminiscent and hopeful, with guest appearances by Karina Nistal, Jawwaad, Mark Sound, Nappy G and Jessica Zweback. Valerie Alberto
The Medicine Show
Sideshow Tramps call their songs "peasant music," and for them peasants can be found in punk clubs, Gypsy camps and mountain bars where coal miners go to die of black lung and booze. Over the past five years, the band has built one of the most loyal followings in town with grandly raucous, vodka-drenched live shows, and The Medicine Show attempts to capture that steam-punk, bluegrass-meets-the-apocalypse vibe. It does, albeit with mixed results. On the good side, "John Went Up to Heaven," "Little Girl Called You," "New Train," "Josie," "Sugar Shack" and "Rag Tag Mess Around" are all short and sharp enough to translate well to disc. On the other hand, longer, more theatrical pieces such as "Funeral Song," "Lady Vodka" and "Fourth Street Mess Around" don't make the jump as well. Live, those songs come across as very much of a piece with the band, but on record they gum up the timing of the set as a whole. Still, The Medicine Show is more than capable of curing what ails ya between the Tramps' miraculously therapeutic live extravaganzas. J.N.L.
Million Year Dance
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Million Year Dance singer Jonathan Welch has an arresting voice with an impressive multi-octave range, which he uses in a variety of ways on Liberation: gliding like Jeff Buckley on downcast opener "Divine Intervention," despairing a cappella on "Dreams of a Vacant God" where he sounds a bit like Freddie Mercury and even approximating a musical saw on "The Deep." The bulk of Liberation calls for candlelight, red wine and inward reflection, with the notable exception of "Honey & Mud." Prodded by an eager electric piano, Welch massages the tune from a simmering Thom Yorke croon to a suave bit of poppy R&B not all that far off from Maroon 5. C.G.
You've already seen U.G.K. and OutKast's "International Player's Anthem declared this year's top summer jam, and I'll testify. It's impossible to get sick of Andre's off-kilter rhymes in the intro, over the gospel choir of the Willie Hutch-by-way-of-Project-Pat sample of "I Choose You," nor the part when the drum machine and Pimp C. simultaneously crash the love feast, nor when Bun B's mahogany baritone comes in to rip shit up as the drums go all clack-a-lack. An all-time classicÉ An O'Jays sample glides along behind former Worthing High students the Gritboys' midtempo "Ghetto Reality." The lyrics aren't exactly gangsta, and they sure as hell aren't about candy paint and other such tired trifles of the clichéd H-Town lifestyle we're all allegedly living down here. And that's why you won't hear it on the radio or see it on BETÉ If I had to guess where Karina Nistal was from after hearing one of her tracks, I would guess London first, then Miami. On DJ Hal's remix of "B4U Go," a jittery beat lopes along behind a layer of balmy synths that call to mind people like the Streets and M.I.A., while Nistal croons sweet nothings through a Vocoder as the track builds like a tropical storm. Another scribe has called this stuff "electropaella," a good word for a sound this tastyÉ Alongside U.G.K., Chamillionaire is poised to survive the great H-Town Rap Meltdown of 2007 with the strong "Hip-Hop Police," from his upcoming album Ultimate Victory. He's got a great formula: spit intelligent lines about stuff that matters over beats that sweep you along like a storm-swollen river. Then, acknowledge the music's rich past with a narrative story line, nod to Snoop Dogg, and some lines from Slick Rick da Ruler. Throw in plenty of melody on the hooks, and voilà another diamond floating in the toilet of today's chart-rap. J.N.L.