Future a blur... Granted, Schrasj's recent decision to embark on an indefinite hiatus doesn't make a whole lot of sense -- especially now. This last year or so has seen the ambient noise-pop trio (and sometime quartet) emerge from its self-absorbed shell and come tentatively into its own on-stage. Thanks mostly to their spacy, hypnotic, self-titled debut CD on the local 76.2% Records, the group was also beginning to show faint signs of a life above and beyond Houston's artier underground enclaves. Media mentions were trickling in from as far west as Austin, and it looked as if this Public News poster band might have a shot at breaking out of the Inner Loop scene's overprotective sanctum of hipness.
Among Texans in the know, Schrasj has been mentioned in the same breath as the heady cult favorites American Analog Set and Furry Things, whose label, Trance Syndicate, has given the band its blessing in print. Some have even speculated that Schrasj might earn its own place among the legitimate post-psychedelic inheritors of the dreamy, disjointed aesthetic handed down by pioneering Houston experimentalists Red Krayola and the 13th Floor Elevators. The group even landed a gig in Austin, praise God.
But that significant surge of momentum has hit a wall, so to speak, with the departure of drummer/band co-founder Alexei Angelides, who split for London a few weeks ago. Apparently, the trip is exploratory in nature, undertaken for no reason other than pure curiosity and governed by no particular real-life parameters (though he did find a job). In other words, Angelides simply packed up his shit and left -- which, again, might not make a lot of sense to most of us. The band could find another drummer and continue. But that isn't even an option as far as remaining Schrasj members Terri Loewenthal (vocals, bass) and Gram LeBron (guitar, vocals) are concerned.
LeBron looks at it this way: "In a way, it was kind of cool, because we knew we weren't going to burn out," he says. "We had a month to work as hard as we could and then [Alexei] was gone."
From its inception, Schrasj has been a rather perplexing entity, surviving mostly on impulse and seemingly fueled by unexpected twists of fate. The group came together in January 1995 at Rice University, where LeBron and Angelides met while working lunch duty at the school's faculty dining facility. Fellow Rice undergrad Loewenthal, LeBron's girlfriend at the time, was brought in to sing and play bass. The group's live debut came at a small on-campus party. Since then, the trio has been augmented by a series of guitarists (Will Adams was the most recent), none of whom have stuck around for long.
"We've always had a problem with that fourth member," admits Loewenthal.
Adds LeBron, "For a while, we had this old drunk in the band. He was a good guy, but he would just get drunk every time we played and it got really annoying. Then we had this guy who was really into being an artist [LeBron gives the word some effeminate embellishment]."
Over the course of the band's on-again, off-again existence, LeBron and Loewenthal got married, watched their house -- and most of their belongings -- go up in flames and saw their marriage disintegrate. The band's temporary breakup was the inevitable result of the couple's divorce. But as the harsh feelings mellowed over time, LeBron and Loewenthal realized their creative chemistry hadn't suffered, and Schrasj reunited, remaining intact until Angelides's recent move.
Then, there's also the matter of the band's CD, Schrasj, a lethargic amalgam of slightly off-center grooves and reluctant craftsmanship that straddles the wavy continuum between the well-grounded song structures of female-fronted post-punk acts like Velocity Girl and Blake Babies and the more impressionistic atmospherics of Velvet Underground disciples Galaxie 500. The sonic embodiment of a grade-school daydream, the band's music rarely attaches itself to anything stable or predictable. And when that happens -- as on more conventional tunes such as "$10," "Age of Consent" and "Moneyshot" -- the results are far from ordinary. The group's deceptively complex ribbons of sound hang there precariously, standing out like colorful shreds of a burst balloon snagged in the branches of a bare tree. It's pop music, sure. But it certainly takes a roundabout way in getting there.
"The thing about pop is that it's so predictable," says Loewenthal. "And that's the part about it that I don't like so much."
Indeed, it's hard to believe that anything associated with Schrasj could be considered predictable at this point. Now that the band is all but history here, LeBron and Loewenthal are finishing up the follow-up to Schrasj, on which Angelides laid down most of the drum parts before leaving. Once that's been released, LeBron and Loewenthal are planning a trip to London, where, if everything goes as planned with Angelides, they may even resurrect the band. And seeing as just about anything's possible with this bunch, one shouldn't rule out a Schrasj phenomenon overseas.
Raves and wave-offs... Charity is always a good thing during the holidays. So, in the unconditional spirit of giving, I'll suggest picking up 104 KRBE Private Sessions Vol. II, for the simple reason that the proceeds from its sale go to the Houston AIDS Foundation. Other than that, though, there's little in the way of compelling reasons to warrant its recommendation. As the title implies, this is the second of two limited-edition CDs documenting KRBE's Private Sessions series, intimate "unplugged" showcases co-sponsored by the station and the Art Institute of Houston. And as the artist lineup implies, it's about as bland as its predecessor.
On Vol. II, you'll find tastefully executed and produced contributions from Jewel (waxing unusually humble here, I might add), Alanis clone Meredith Brooks, GQ-quality crooner Duncan Sheik, the Merchant-less 10,000 Maniacs, Beverly Hills 90210 dream boat turned aspiring singer/songwriter Jamie Walters and a few others. Most play it safe, adhering to the note-perfect acoustic renditions of their "adult alternative" hits -- you know, the tunes listeners have come to love (or loathe) over the last 12 months. Some of the artists are captured blatantly sucking up to the radio station ("It's because of you that I get to do this every day," spews Jewel just before breezing into an uninspired version of the ubiquitous "Who Will Save Your Soul?"), while others are captured simply sucking (No Mercy's unconscionably saccharine "When I Die"). But hey, it's the thought that counts.
Etc.... Two of the city's finest Spanish rock outfits, Seres Ocultos and Tribu de Ixchel, will headline a Friday double bill at Club Chicago. This ought to be as good a time as any to sample in person Houston's stake in a burgeoning national trend before (as some industry watchers are predicting) the whole thing gets too big to rub up against.
-- Hobart Rowland
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