PopeNQM's Weird-Ass Old Montrose Noise
Photo by James Medford
When everyone talks about Houston's "sound," the focus is almost exclusively on our contributions to the world of rap. I'm not knocking that or anything. I'm as proud of the Dirty South as I can be, but there are other sounds that seem to fly under the radar.
PopeNQM is a great example of the second wave of electronica that I like to call H-Two Electric. (Not to be confused with the aggressive noise scene we're also very underrated for.) Around the turn of the millennium, the city's electronica sound was internationally known for its big gothic suckerpunch until Tonezone Records failed and most of the musicians moved onto other things. Now we're seeing a new, more minimalist noise revolution hallmarked by ethereal dreams. BLSHS, Bang Bangz and Frank Ortiz are good examples, and PopeNQM's Ioep is a worth addition to the Houston synth pantheon.
The five-song EP tends towards the dystopic and sad rather than the more melancholy stuff you typically hear from those other groups. Destruction plays a big part in the lyrical themes of songs like "Texas Burned" and "Halo"; the latter especially, which comes out like the Book of Revelation if God had dictated it to a Korg instead of John of Patmos. Burning steel from the skies makes for a wicked counterpart to PopeNQM's surrealistic beats.
That's not to say there are not happy moments, though sinisterly gleeful would probably be more accurate. "Night in Our Noses," for instance, has a lovely Placebo vibe that is screaming to be used in some seedy club scene in a movie. It's probably my favorite selection from Ioep. The music is gloriously meticulous and repetitive like an old glam rock remix, grand and flat. It's also where PopeNQM really drops the mike hard, showing he has both crooning skills and an almost hip-hop delivery that has a slightly messianic quality. Or it would if it wasn't a tribute to being blasted out of your mind on the dance floor.
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The only real knock against the EP is that it is rather, well, unfinished. I'm a champion of records made in your bedroom that sound exactly like a record you made in your bedroom. I've done it myself on several occasions, but Ioep feels a little too insular sometimes. Some albums grow in the studio like it's a womb, but others stay trapped there like in a cage. It's really only until Ioep finishes off "Halo" that PopeNQM fully realizes his vision. There's a more experimentation, more voices, just more. Truth be told it's not all that epic a song, but after the previous four it's like a damned Sisters of Mercy tune.
PopeNQM has all the makings of a big wheel in one of our excellent but still sadly under-recognized music scenes. Ioep is a very solid entry for those of us who enjoy good, weird beeps and boops to accompany a bad mood. It's so decadently mood-altering.
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A side story from the author: PopeNQM told me that he'd been having trouble uploading the album and asked if we could meet up and he could hand me a physical copy. Normally I hate this sort of thing since it involves going outside and interacting with Meat World, but I agreed because I already had an appointment in Montrose picking up pet medication.
I ended up meeting Pope at the Black Hole coffee shop, and it was weird as hell, I have to tell you. That cute little shop was once the shitty convenience store where my future wife and I would stock up on candy, cigarettes and screwtop wine before settling in to watch Twin Peaks on VHS. It was right across the street from her apartment, except that those apartments on Graustark are gone too, replaced with more of those upscale complexes where the rent dwarfs the down payment on my car.
Pope and I shared a sad little grin and a laugh about the changing face of Montrose. Hollywood is gone and Lucky Burger is surrounded by chain-link fences. Hell, even the Numbers parking lot has been repaved and looks new. Everywhere you turn houses and quadlplexes increasingly look like infected sores next to their gleaming, pretentious titan neighbors. Driving home I sadly thought, "I bet no one here has to choose between paying for drugs or paying for art supplies anymore."
Montrose used to be where you went to get your tattoos and the clothes you'd get sent home from school for wearing. Now your offerings become more and more organic and whole and exclusive, not to mention that dressing up is no fun anymore when the young choose to rebel by turning into boring neo-cons who oppose feminism and masturbate with their genitals between the pages of Atlas Shrugged. Legally I should say not to actually try that, but frankly I don't give a damn if you cut your junk.
I'm not opposed to gentrification when it benefits the people who live there, but that's not what happened to Montrose. All that's going on is the elimination is one of the few places where it could be cool to be poor. You could have nothing but the time of your life living down that way, and considering how much our state hates anything that smells even slightly of poverty -- or God forbid someone trying to make art full-time when they should be paying for business school working a counter as if that's actually still a thing -- such places are like eliminated habitats. You can still be weird in Montrose, but more and more it's become impossible to be weird and broke.
It was nice to descend down there and get a strange electronica record on CD from a questionable weirdo off the back streets. It felt like the old days when Montrose could shelter the people who would starve for art. Those days are numbered, though.
Ioep is available now through popenqm.bandcamp.com.
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