The opening cut of Kiddie Wonderland embodies every formidable strength in the de Schmog arsenal. There's that quirky, backward-looking 1950s sensibility, showing itself in a gently retro chord progression that would be right at home on the Grease soundtrack. There's Kilian Sweeney's chirpy vocal, offset by Diane Koistinen's mock-operatic trill. There's that super-simple guitar line, unsullied with effects. De Schmog straddles a line that no other band in Houston -- and damned few elsewhere -- can balance: an obviously nostalgic love for a simpler kind of music, wherein melody and vocal dynamics and sweet sentiments are still attractive traits, and a modern sense of humor that keeps the whole thing from sinking into the shticky retro morass of Vince Vance and the Valiants-style yucks. That lead track, the one that wraps it all up, is called "Talking Butthole."
There are another 15 tunes on this disc that expand on the theme, but each one taps into the essential sweetness of de Schmog's mission, whether it's the dreamy, vaguely psychedelic popscape of "Children of the Son" or the bare-boned folk of "Cherubs of Hades."
These are good-natured tunes about girls and boys and the ways they dance around each other during recess, all filtered through a sensibility that's way more sophisticated than anyone's willing to let on. Check out the genuinely creepy poltergeist-style vocal Koistinen layers onto guest guitarist Scott Ayers' bedrock in "Summer." Or the right-on head-trip strum of "Want." Or the ease with which Sweeney turns the indignation of "Dog" ("Why you talkin' 'bout my dog?") into a trembly funk rock ode. The list is long.
Musically, Kiddie Wonderland is de Schmog at its most sure-footed, with careless sounding riffs hitting all the right notes and the rhythm chugging along with perfect nonchalance or plowing into the faster songs with conviction. Violins, courtesy of Chenoa Sovinsky and Jennifer Neira, add a touch of weeping complexity to "Sun Hun" and "Hummingbird."
Kiddie Wonderland doesn't touch de Schmog live, which is the common complaint, but it comes as close as can be expected in a medium that forfeits the band's on-stage chemistry.
But having said that, it remains to be noted that Kiddie Wonderland is one of the most accomplished discs to come out of Houston since the Pain Teens released Destroy Me, Lover almost two years ago. It's a goofy, clever, engagingly lighthearted romp, and if anyone in Houston truly has an interest in well-played, well-written music that doesn't go out of its way to alienate its intended audience, they'll latch onto Kiddie Wonderland like a needy tick.
-- Brad Tyer
The Coolest Shit in Texas
Broken Note Records
The Coolest Shit in Texas is a ten-song compilation of mostly Houston bands produced by 30footFALL guitarist Tony Avitia -- yet another in a long line of well-intentioned folks attempting to graft together, on one sampler CD, the combination of local sounds that will finally cause people outside of the scene to perk up their jaded ears and say, "Hey, there's some pretty interesting stuff being made down Houston way." It's a necessary attempt, but not an easy one, as evidenced by that section of the liner notes expressing "No Thanks to: People who sit on their ass and complain about how the music scene sucks, but are too fuckin' lazy to do anything about it, [Sector II Records chief] Ron Goudie for moving to Austin, people in the press who require you to kiss their asses, and a big, wet, slimy 'FUCK YOU' to those of you who didn't think I could get this thing out." For those trying to make things happen, apparently, it's a cold, bitter world out there. Unfortunately, the reaction, in that liner notes and on the album, is too heavy on the attitude and not heavy enough in substance.
Avitia's conception of the coolest of Texas shit is built on guitars -- fast, fuzzed out, trashy, thrashy, angry wall-of-distortion guitars. Houston bands like Taste of Garlic and Dinosaur Salad layer theirs over those rough funk-rock basslines that Houston bands love, and locals Vice Grip and Tread may be based in punk attitude, but the guitar slam is pure metal. Dallas' Pervis contributes the disc's best track with "#3," a headlong rush into thrash made more interesting by the female lead vocals, but on the rest of the disc, undistinguished male barks and mostly poor vocal-mixing jobs have the unfortunate effect of making everything sound more alike than different. Heel breaks the monotony with the rumbling bass intro on "Dead Fly," and 30footFALL's "Fifteen" stands out favorably by carrying more punk-rock fun than attitude.
If what you need to know is that there's no shortage of local and regional bands that can find a heavy riff and milk it with competence, The Coolest Shit in Texas ought to be reassuring. And if you're the sort of noble do-gooder who thinks it's a good idea to support local bands so that these ten might have the rare shot at a decent chance to develop, you should definitely buy yourself a copy. If you want anything more than that, you're probably asking for too much.
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