17 Houston Acts to Watch Out for This Year

BAGHEERA This slick, funky electro-duo has a huge year in store that only starts with a collaboration with Twin Shadow hooked up by Red Bull's Sound Select Program. Bagheera's Aidan Kennedy says he's still figuring out what to do with the songs he has stockpiled, but he knows he'd rather "get the right people involved" rather than release the music themselves.

"We're in no rush, and we're having a blast with all of the live-show support and opportunities we've been given over the past year," Kennedy says. "We have some really awesome festival plays this year that we aren't allowed to share yet, but we COULD NOT be more excited."

CATCH FEVER This indie-rock trio, whose melancholy and melodic sound recalls anything from Depeche Mode to Band of Horses, hope to have their album out at the end of February. The three members are all Houston natives, came together about two and a half years ago, and touch on anything from love and war to drug addiction and the local music scene in the album's seven songs.

"We try to maximize our creativity with only three people," says Josh Wilson, who plays bass, piano and sings. "The album has a lot of vocal and instrumental layers, and is comprised of very dynamic and different-sounding tunes. I feel what we're able to accomplish with only three people, the intricacies of our arrangements and the way our songs move set us apart from other indie-rock acts."

ROBERT ELLIS True, Robert Ellis has technically moved to Nashville, but he'll always be a Houstonian to us. Plus The Lights on the Chemical Plant, his second album for New West, is mostly about Houston. The album is due February 11, and single "Only Lies" has already premiered on Esquire.

"Photographs was very much first-person from my perspective," Ellis says of his previous album, released in 2011. "Much of the material on Chemical Plant is based in character studies or in fictional stories. Also, Chemical Plant has a big full-band arrangement on most songs, but not in the traditional classic country way that Photographs did. Stylistically, we wanted this one to be a little bit more ambiguous and try to develop what will hopefully become our own sound people think of when they think of us."

FEATHERFACE After releasing their first vinyl single, "Ourselves Together/The Cosmic Draw," these mellow psych-rockers also recently completed a video for "Cosmic Draw." They hope to have a second LP to follow 2012's Actual Magic out by the end of the year, but admit it's early to start talking about that.

"The way it's turning out so far, we're really excited about the sound of what we're working on," the band says. "I think people will be surprised. They can definitely expect some new songs turning up in our live shows as we get closer to the album coming out. Wish I could get more specific, but like I said it's pretty early on in the writing process for us."

We understand. See Featherface live at our Houston Press Artopia party on January 25.

CHASE HAMBLIN The Beatlesque retro-rocker says he hopes to release two 7" singles soon and a full-length, more "groove-driven" followup to 2013's VAUdeVILLE later on in the year. "The last record was fairly rootsy and very '60s," Hamblin reckons. "I'd say the upcoming material will be more psychedelic and more modern but with an clear connection to what I've done previously both in vibe and lyrical content."

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CRAIG KINSEY The Sideshow Tramps front man and Honky Tonk Blood co-star says American Roots and Blood, the followup to 2011's The Burdener, is meant to highlight America's musical history... all of it. That includes early-American church music, Sacred Harp singing, Southern gospel complete with a ranting preacher and full choir, Mexican-style number, garage-rock, a pop type song that sounds like Weezer, and his epic 14-minute Civil War ballad, "Gettysburg," a friendship tale of a deserting Confederate soldier and escaped slave. It's due in early spring.

"It was not intended to be a concept album, but it looks like it is," Kinsey says.

KNIGHTS OF THE FIRE KINGDOM The KISS-loving stoner-rockers are hoping to release their nine-song album in March, on vinyl/digital only, "for folks that are interested in something tangible with artwork and stuff," explains Knight Jeoaf Johnson. They would have had it out sooner, but thought better of it.

"The first time, we stepped back and weren't very happy with what we had," Johnson says. "So we scrapped it all and did it over from scratch." Good call - he let us preview the album, and it's a doozy.

MYSTERY LOVES COMPANY This trio employs the unconventional orchestration of guitar, cello and clarinet to create beguiling acoustic pop, not to mention an example that what happens at an open-mike night can sometimes last much longer than a song or two. In October 2012, self-taught songwriter Carlos Machado met cellist Madeline Herdemean at one such night; they were just starting to play out as a duo when they met clarinetist Alauna Rubin at AvantGarden the next May. By that summer a Kickstarter campaign was underway, and the trio unveiled their first full-length A Mystery Yet Unknown about a month ago.

"A Mystery Yet Unknown represents our thoughts about what a record should be - a single meaningful experience from beginning to end -- as well as a good indication of what to expect from us in a live setting," Machado says. "We built this record the way we build our performances, with moments and movements instead of tracks, letting the set itself dictate what belonged and what didn't. In my opinion the result is a record with its own voice and personality, and because of this approach we are happy to say there is much more to come."

OMOTAI Fresh Hell, the super-heavy sludge-metal quartet's followup to 2012's Terrestrial Grief, is now available to preorder via Bandcamp and will be released in February. Its seven songs include "Get Your Dead Straight," "Giant Pygmy" and "Throats of Snakes," so be sure to take a long shower afterward.

RUNAWAY SUN The bluesy Americana-rockers plan to release a series of digital singles this year, starting with the horn-heavy ballad "Song For You," says front man Andrew Karnavas. In an effort to get all four members to write songs, each member can introduce any song he wants at practice for two months at a time, "a way for us to explore the band's writing possibilities from all angles and inform each other how our music brains work," Karnavas offers. They also plan to record an acoustic EP at No Label Brewing Company on February 7, an event open to the public.

Meanwhile, Karnavas' kids-oriented project, Andyroo, will release the album Color Your World and perform for the second time at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

SOME NERVE This hardcore group formed in late 2012 and expects to release their 11-song debut full-length during the first quarter of 2014. Mixing punk-rock roots with skills that reflect most of the members' metal/progressive-rock backgrounds, the band says the album was recorded "completely DIY to completely preserve the musical ideas of the band without any outside influence."

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THE SUFFERS After the year they just had, where the ten-piece became one of Houston's most popular bands in the course of 12 months, the Suffers are hard at work trying to top themselves. Singer Kam Franklin says they're still prepping the first full-length album they hope to release in the second half of 2014. "As the songs come together, we will continue to drop singles," she allows. Much sooner will come a video for their most recent single, "Gwan."

THELASTPLACEYOULOOK The bruising, anthemic and bearded quintet has just issued a new EP, Rip It Out, that will be available on iTunes in late January. It's their first significant release since since 2009 album See the Light Inside You. Guitarist Derek Young says TLPYL is also planning a series of videos for covers such as "Man of Constant Sorrow," Stereophonics' "Maybe Tomorrow," Eric Church's "Drink In My Hand," and whatever else their Kickstarter donors have suggested.

THE TONTONS The Tontons' first full-length LP since 2009's The Tontons, Make-Out King and Other Songs of Love, is due February 18, with a release show tentatively set for March 1 at Warehouse Live. They've been accepted into SXSW, and recently Rolling Stone premiered first single, "Magic Hour." Several songs were written and finished while be band was living in the studio, explains guitarist Tom Nguyen.

"It was definitely a very difficult album for us to record," he says. "It took several months between tours and I think that shows on the album. It's a very honest record. Originally, there was no concept for the album, just a couple of songs, but I think it all came together."

VENOMOUS MAXIMUS Gregg Higgins, singer of this much-tattooed doom-metal crew, says to look for Firewalker, the followup to 2012's Beg Upon the Light, in the summer. "The subject matter is about the sun, so we are trying to release it to match the season it's about," he explains. "On this record we tried to do everything the opposite. The last record was about being in the dark -- this record is about illumination and flames!

Venomous was also going for a more mature sound, Higgins says, noting that they've grown from satisfaction with "actually creating a good band" to much greater ambitions: "We really wanted to go after some of the biggest influences in rock and roll and tackle epic songs," he says. "When I was young I never thought I would be in a band that would be playing music like Fleetwood Mac [and] Alice Cooper, as just megabands of that era. But that's what we are going for."

THE WHEEL WORKERS Steven Higginbotham says his melodic indie-rockers' third album is in some ways a continuation of last year's Past to Present, which is now almost exactly a year old. Some songs on the new one just weren't developed quickly enough to make that one, he says. His experience working with producer Dan Workman ("a wonderfully intuitive working relationship") has led to more analog synths on the new album, among other things.

"It's also looking to be a pretty uptempo effort, with some of our most frenetic, intense material to date," Higginbotham adds. "The lyrics often come late in the process, so they will reflect a different period in my life. The sociopolitical content is still very much present, but there will also be more songs of a personal nature."

WILD MOCCASINS At last, the Moccasins are all set to release their sophomore New West album, the groove-laden art-pop of 88 92; it's due February 4 with a release show February 8 at Numbers with Young Mammals, Young Girls and DJ Bagheera. Whereas singer/guitarist Cody Swann says its predecessor Skin Collision Past reflected how his and partner Zahira Gutierrez's actions affected other people, 88 92 -- an appealing synthesis of dance-friendly New Wave acts like Talking Heads and the B-52's with a contemporary electronica touch -- is about the way others have affected the couple.

The title track comes from Swann's memories of his mother's stay in a psychiatric hospital: "My mother was required to create a password for visitors to enter the floor and chose '88 92' as hers," he says. "The numbers themselves are mine and my brother's birth years combined."

Note: a separate article detailing Houston rap releases expected in 2014 will follow soon.


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