The Mike Gunn
If any band slouching around the Houston underground has made a ripple outside its home turf -- not counting the in-limbo Pain Teens -- it's The Mike Gunn. One of my earliest tasks as a reviewer in Houston was to consider the Gunn's Durban Poison/Hemp for Victory double release, and it bored me to tears.
But you must learn something in this job (or, more likely, just change your mind every now and then), because I'm developing a real fondness for this, the Gunn's third full-length effort.
It's difficult to say why, because for the most part Almaron is more of the same plodding, Sabbath-derived riff rock, leavened with a few moments of dreamy psychedelia ("Dry Nod" is a fave example) and even fewer moments when the comatose pace is amped into something approaching rock ("Geezervision"). There's still plenty of slop filler with "The Window" and "All Across America," and enough aimless noodling in the disk's 70-plus minutes to make heroin seem like an amphetamine jolt. Nevertheless, the band uses its relatively limited tools wisely enough, laying convincingly opiated grooves beneath just enough humor to let you know that nobody's taking himself too seriously.
Or maybe, two years later, I'm just more tuned in to the in-jokes, from the lyrics to "Bullinga" (quoting an old review by KTRU habitue Heidi Bullinga: "They're not particularly innovative. They ain't no kind of virtuous souls. I don't even know why I like them."), to the admiring nods to the Gunn's fellow drone fetishists in Dry Nod ("Dry Nod," "Vaughan is Love") to the requisite song about guitarist/vocalist Tom Carter ("Tom's in the Bathroom" debuted on Hemp for Victory and is brought full circle, one hopes, with "Tom's Out of the Bathroom" on Almaron). Pain Teens vocalist Bliss Blood even makes a guest appearance on "Unblinking," topping off Almaron as the single most scene-self-referential disk on the Houston market.
Of course, the self-reference won't be funny to everyone, making a little broad-based comparison shopping a necessity. So: you know that new Soundgarden album, Superunknown, the one that's got all the critics blowing sunshine up Chris Cornell's nether port? I'd rather listen to Almaron.
-- Brad Tyer
The Mike Gunn will be one of eight bands to perform at the Bleachbath benefit Friday, May 13 at Harvey's Club Deluxe, 2524 McKinney, 223-4705.
Wild West Records
Ryan's niche as a local guitarist/multi-instrumentalist -- that of New Age dream-weaver -- is one for which there's not much serious local competition. Ryan uses the void to branch out into a wide array of world styles, making his sophomore CD, Another World, something of an armchair tourist guide for the exotically challenged, wherein we're dosed with "Bombay Blues," "Spanish Nights," "Island of the Falling Star," "Mysterious River," "Floating Garden" and the title track. Geographic silliness aside, Ryan plays beautifully, if not often excitingly, and the added ethnic percussion, horns and other textural instruments contribute a pleasant depth to exercises that might otherwise, and still sometimes do, pass without making many claims on the attention. The only serious drawback here is Ryan's remarkably unremarkable singing voice, which, in an understandable effort to add yet another element to the mix, only makes one hope that he'll divert some of the budget to a real vocalist next time around.
-- Brad Tyer
Rom Ryan performs Thursday, May 12 at Ovations, 2536 Times, 522-9801.
At Dave's Place (cassette)
Liner notes here thank Austin's dearly departed Bouffant Jellyfish "for being the baddest band ever," which tells you that one, D.S. has got good taste, and two, they're operating in that hybridized funk-metal land where every song drives at the same frantic pace, the guitars scream and wail and crunch, and not particularly interesting vocals shove their way to the front in a borderline rap torrent that aims for speed over soul. The six songs here are an eager bunch -- even if they don't allow much variance from the one-dimensional rock-yer-butt formula -- and they're probably a kick in the ass live. Being a demo and all, At Dave's Place suffers from the standard crappy production values, but for the time being, I won't hold that against an otherwise not unpromising slice of hard-rock funk.
-- Brad Tyer
Wax Trax Records
Ministry lite. Industrial, thrash, metal, techno... pick your tag, match it to the song, and don't be picky -- KMFDM's got a toe in each tub. Rhythm tracks operate on bpm overdrive, and all the genre's filtered/sampled/gizmo-manipulated standbys make their predictable appearances. Lyrically, there's a refrain of "kill kill kill" and repetitions of the group's name to keep subtlety freaks interested. If anything sets this product apart from its limited field, it's the frequent employ of grinding guitar riffs that lift KMFDM out of the wimpier netherlands of techno/house and make a somewhat stretched appeal to Metallica-oriented headslammers. Not bad, but just to put some perspective on Angst, you can buy an hour and a half's worth of bad crank for the same price and feel crappy about the experience for a longer time afterward.
-- Brad Tyer
MFDM headlines the Angstfest tour with Sister Machine Gun and Chemlab on Thursday, May 12 at Number's.