HOT TRASH: Soundalikes
At a dinner party for a friend’s birthday recently, we frittered away the latter part of the night listening to a playlist of New Order soundalikes, the same tracks they’ve been playing at local nightclubs these past 30 years. Perhaps it’s from a lifetime of buying off-brands at the grocery store and never having a disposable income, but I’d always considered them interchangeable: New Order was the brand, and Kon Kan, When In Rome, Anything Box, etc., were just variations in packaging, like the sacks of fruity oh’s or puffed rice or the discount bag of meat ends that I grew up with. And I loved the brand. This was before the Internet fixed my knowledge. Now I’m quite knowing. I’m down with all your trending cereals, your Tame Impalas, a few of the A$APs, all of the Grimeses, a selection of the various Iggys. I recently watched PT Anderson’s Inherent Vice, por ejemplo, and was only compelled to pretend to mistake it for The Big Lebowski a few times. Which is fine, no bads on PT, he's right in the spirit of the thing in a way, because Thomas Pynchon was always the poor man’s William Gaddis.
What’s more, I’ve been streaming a series about stylish gangsters from another time and the soundtrack is a lot of stylishly macho music from Nick Cave, White Stripes, Black Keys and other Jack White-related products. I like to watch it with the closed-captioning on, so that it reads "mid-tempo boogie shuffle" or "throwback blues-rock" depending on the needs of the story. I have nary a problem with the anachronistic soundtrack, and quite a bit of compassion for the accountants in licensing, because how do they know who to send the royalty checks to, when the syncs all sound like one band?
It’s probably a technology thing, just as with New Order before them. On one hand, New Order innovated a sound using the Fairlight drum machine and other equipment that was new at the time and came with its own charms and limitations, as did the band itself, then reeling from the loss of its forever singer, the combination of which circumstances resulted in their own brilliant discography, as well as a lot of pretty good knockoffs. Whereas the White Stripes and their ilk chose to LARP their way through a few select eras of mid-century music, remaining true to their roles to such a degree that the sound is as easily copied for others as it was for them in the first place. As for Nick Cave, he’s head and shoulders above the White Stripes gang as a writer, but he suffers from sporadic forays into the Tom Waits adult-contemporary zone. Meanwhile, Tom Waits can’t get a callback from his contacts on the inside at the licensing agency. In other news, an Internet playlist tried to trick me into listening to Radiohead yesterday. Sorry, amigo, I’m not that dusty.
Feat. a screening of “Succubus” by Cosmotropia de Xam
June 4, Satellite
Our own Ceeplus is a modern man who doesn’t shake from his interests and loyalties, old or new, and he has built this Mystic Disco, a night of many promises, around a screening of Succubus, a new film from witch house’s premier filmmaker, the curiously named Cosmotropia de Xam, whose stylized horror visions generously mix up giallo motifs with a lot of strobing shots of stylish waifs. And, Houston, stylish isn't a pejorative. Additionally, Cee will be performing as Markos Grave, joined by a veritable partybus of modern Houston darkwave, including MNYNMS, Funeral Parlor, and DJs Delphine Coma and Mr. Castillo, as well as video synthesizer Neil Ebbflo, with added aesthetic counsel from the Civic TV Collective.
Whither plunked witch house? For a fast second, the cheapo mix of trap beats, DJ Screw worship, plugin synths and microkorgs, and woozy occultism promised a fun detour through some new super-aestheticized favelas of the imagination. It was the last hurrah of the MySpace era, with its own superstars like Salem and oOoOO, as well as a succession of also-rans that could never afford vowels or who chose instead to give solace to wingdings and other forlorn punctuation in their naming practices, I never cared much about a cross either way, whether traditionally planted or upside-down, but I found the inexpensive production premise of witch house and the proliferation related Internet labels like Houston’s Disaro Records to be a nice little bit of technological naturalism. Laptops and Internet access aren’t quite free, but they’re easily acquired, much more so at least than studio time and German microphones.
Pop stars took up the upside-down cross quickly. Kesha turned her appearance on Saturday Night Live into a visual tribute to Houston’s How I Quit Crack, whose own inimitable crooning and blacklit flower videos existed well before and after witch house, for all their apparent sympathies. A little witch house lingers in the slight neo-goth touches that haunt the productions of forward-thinking, small-beat rappers like Earl Sweatshirt and Future. Most everyone else at least bought a draping black sweatshirt or a big Jodorowsky hat at their preferred fast fashion outlet, before putting the music down just as quickly, replacing the messy psychedelica of screwed-beats and imprecise oscillators with pallid imitations of Nitzer Ebb and Front 242.
A Twilight World of Ultimate Smoothness
Likewise, 2015 may be old news, deeply buried beneath breaking cultural developments such as The People vs O.J. Simpson (spoiler alert: He was acquitted of all charges) and the airport ban on hoverboards ("Too much competition for modern aircraft"), but the podcast A Twilight World of Ultimate Smoothness by David Wilcox and Johanna Hyman is worth a trip through some wormholes in ye wayback machine.
Maybe you remember Majic 102 from its domination of the eastern regions of the FM radio dial; maybe you remember David Wilcox from a past life here in Houston. In this six-part audio series, he plays Greg Willis, the unctuous, easily flustered host of a light R&B radio show beset by low ratings, disappearing sponsors, querulous callers, an ill-fated Slippers and Robes cruise, New Age quackery, a competitor’s "Todd-cast," and his own ever-worsening judgment. The series has a deadpan tone, full of countless tips of its hat to comics from Bob Newhart, Alan Partridge, Ricky Gervais, Chris Morris, Garth Marenghi and Martin Mull to Longmont Potion Castle. It likewise tips its shades to Houston quite often, via in-jokes and cameos and the music selections themselves, many of them played in full, albeit heavily processed forms, testifying to the series' abiding love for classic R&B smooth jams from the era of Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass and Sade, a bygone era for bygone people.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.