Not just another cranky pop band... In attempting to bundle Super Deluxe's moody nature and strange work habits into a single, excusable cliche, it would be easy to type "temperamental artists." That's how they're often described. But it isn't the whole story. Super Deluxe lead singer Brandon Blake, for one, insists that he's simply a nice guy -- a bit flighty, perhaps, but a happy human being.
"We've just been really busy," says Blake, explaining why he's often difficult to reach, even when at home in Seattle. "I'm a fairly decent person, actually."
It just so happens that Super Deluxe is also a fairly decent band. In fact, I'd venture to say that they're fairly super. The band's debut, Famous, flies by like a 33-minute sugar rush, its songs sweetly addictive and its sound urgent but tunefully succinct. Originally released on the Portland indie label Tim Kerr Records, the CD is now in major distribution on the Warner Bros.-backed Revolution. Super Deluxe will be in Houston Wednesday to promote the disc with a show at the Urban Art Bar, sharing a bill with rural Pennsylvania's Solution a.d.
Like the best emotional popsmiths with brains -- from the Beatles to Squeeze to fellow Seattle denizens the Posies -- Super Deluxe dresses its romantic crises and bouts of painful introspection with a soothing salve of chiming guitars, hopelessly infectious hooks and sumptuous harmonies. When you get right down to it, Super Deluxe often comes off like a cross between all three of those aforementioned bands, each of which, in its respective decade (or decades) of peak performance, redefined pop music. So it seems a little unfortunate that Blake and the rest of his band (guitarist John Kirsch, drummer Chris Lockwood and bassist Jake Nesheim) must share their city -- and what remains of the '90s -- with the Posies, a group that's slugged it out with the local grunge majority six years longer than Super Deluxe.
"The Posies were a huge influence on us," admits Blake. "We definitely share an audience -- especially [in Seattle]."
Blake denies that there is any real competition between Super Deluxe and the Posies, and the facts seem to back him up. The two groups have played together on countless occasions, and former Posies drummer Mike Musburger lent his percussion skills to Famous. On the other hand, Posies co-leader Ken Stringfellow stopped just short of dismissing Super Deluxe in a recent interview with the Press, implying that the band's musical formula was a bit lightweight.
While he seems interested to hear about Stringfellow's comments, Blake continues to maintain that there's no bad blood between the groups. He has his own take on what separates the two.
"We have a more fun approach, whereas the Posies are sort of bitter," Blake says. "They're trying to be a bit more edgy these days."
Past reviews of Super Deluxe in concert promise a show that rocks harder and more humorously than the Posies have of late. The group is known to decorate its stage with an assortment of tacky '60s and '70s props -- including plastic fruit and bubble machines -- to accentuate the kitsch-pop effect, while playing with a disregard for volume and execution more akin to a bunch of punk rockers. Not that any of that naked aggression makes an appearance on Super Deluxe's somewhat wispy new single, "She Came On" -- or on most of Famous, for the matter. All the same, it's still mighty catchy stuff.
"I'm sure in some hard-core, alternative minds, [pop] is a negative term," says Blake. "But these days, even Nirvana is considered pop. I'm perfectly happy with it."
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See, the guy's not so temperamental after all.
Release activity... Spiritually enlightened Houston rockers the Zealots ring in the release of their ten-song debut CD, Nowhere, with an in-store performance at Cactus Music Saturday. A full-scale celebration will be held June 15 at Instant Karma. Succour, a new British ambient/experimental noise compilation, is now available in Houston; the double-disc collection features local contributions from Charalambides, Kable, Dunlavy and the Linus Pauling Quartet. If two CDs' worth of this strange stuff isn't enough for you, don't despair; a second compilation is due out later in the year. Before heading out of state on tour, Houston's Latch Key Kids will host a little soiree Friday at Fitzgerald's in honor of their new seven-inch single, Punk Rock Does the Body Good. Joining the Kids for the mosh-fest will be Everready, Los Skanarles, Sore Loser and River Fenix.
Etc.... Bred in Alabama and seasoned in the chilly environs of Buffalo, New York, blues guitarist James Peterson comes to Billy Blues Thursday in support of his new release, Don't Let the Devil Drive. Also touting a new CD, Viva! Los Straitjackets, Los Straitjackets bring their masked Mexican-wrestling personas and instrumental surf-punk sound to the Fabulous Satellite Lounge the same night. Performing Friday at The Equinox, Great White falls neatly into the "they're still making music, but most of us would never know it" camp. Still, you've got to give this persistent metal/blooze outfit some extra credit points for keeping things running on fumes since 1989, when the Los Angeles group had its only Top Ten hit with a shrill version of Ian Hunter's "Once Bitten Twice Shy."
-- Hobart Rowland