Pop Life

Friday Free For All: Anderson .Paak, P!nk, Alex Cameron, Banks & Steelz, Florida

The Friday Free For All relays albums, artists, videos and vibes the Houston Press Music staff has been grooving to over the past week.

NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series is my musical lifeblood. In the past few years, I’ve been introduced to more great artists from behind Bob Boilen’s desk than through friend recommendations and Pitchfork combined. Even after the twin splashes of Dr. Dre’s Compton and his own Malibu, I was only vaguely aware of Anderson .Paak’s existence. What these albums aren’t fully able to communicate is the effortless charisma (not to mention drum virtuosity) at .Paak’s disposal. In all the best ways, his music reminds me of Andre 3000 in his prime (of course, this varies from person to person, but I mean specifically The Love Below) and a happier Frank Ocean. Going back to this video and Malibu over and over is liable to make me forget the pain of probably never getting another album from those guys. Here’s to hoping Anderson .Paak is even slightly more prolific than his predecessors. ERIC SMITH

I happily all but stopped going out after my son was born in January 2015, and before that had long since grown numb when favored artists would bypass Houston on tour. That said, it still stung when the current summer pairing of ‘80s alt-rock princes the Psychedelic Furs and The Church skipped Texas completely, but that’s not the only reason behind the serious Furs kick I’ve been on lately. It’s Clint Broussard, who slipped “All That Money Wants” into a recent episode of his A Day In the Life podcast, and did it again a week or two later with “The Ghost In You.” By the time “Money” — lush, hungry, regal — appeared as a new single tacked onto the Furs’ 1988 greatest-hits record All of This and Nothing, their commercial heyday was on the wane; the original music has been scarce 1991’s World Outside. At their absolute worst, the Furs still made above-average arty Brit-rock, heavy on the Bowie, but at their best — “Mr. Jones,” “Pretty In Pink,” “Heaven,” “Here Come Cowboys” — they had a whiff of intrigue that, paired with singer Richard Butler’s romantic swagger and some badass saxophone, made them seem extra dashing compared to other post-punk bands, who could be awfully dour. The late John Hughes would no doubt disagree, but time seems to have relegated the Furs’ reputation to the B list compared to onetime contemporaries like The Smiths/Morrissey, Duran Duran and New Order. That unsavory bit of pop history is ripe for some revision. CHRIS GRAY

Newer bands and their whimsy confuse me. Part of that is I’m actually 400 years old (though in a darkened room I don’t look a day over 300). The other part is that leading music magazines have empirically proven that in music peaked with the release of the Beatles’ famous album, Greatest Hits, in October, 1958. With that in mind, I typically only listen to Reader’s Digest mixes, until now. I’m sure that most of you are, like me, ardent fans of of Bobby Conn and Tom Jones, so I implore you, give Alex Cameron a listen. TEX KERSCHEN

If you can get past the fact that he’s unwholesomely handsome, virtually a Christian Bale lookalike, you’ll see that Cameron is the newest in a line of poor men’s Sinatras, louche and desperate, with a schtick that lifts from old-guard entertainers like Tony Clifton, Neil Hamburger, and Nick Winters. While there’s a lot of atmosphere and nuance in his cheapo electronic ballads, at times the music glides dangerously close to Bruce Springsteen’s “State Trooper,” but Cameron takes the high road to camp. Like the old axiom about the existence of God, the mere thought that there may have been a time before ersatz earnestness proves the possibility of a time before ersatz earnestness. TEX KERSCHEN

Last Friday, Of Montreal released their 14th studio album, Innocence Reaches, and I have been unashamedly addicted to it ever since. The Athens, Georgia-based band's style of art rock continues to defy categories, labels and naysayers who may try to belittle leader Kevin Barnes’s influence in modern indie circles. Fact is, even 14 albums deep, they continue to impress and astonish. I keep waiting for a break in Barnes’s concentration, a lackluster album or a pathetic, sophomoric letdown after the glory days, but it’s just not happening. Barnes’s songwriting and arranging genius are second only to his theatrical performances and superlative live execution. As a deeply artistic visionary, Barnes brings a host of influences to every work, citing authors, painters, movements and entire genres for inspiration.

His seamless piecemeal musical works are often cloaked as monochromatic, but after several listens to an album, it’s obvious his work uses every color in the palette, and does so in continually compelling and surprising ways. What seems like disco-rock at a superficial level soon reveals itself as alt-country, punk or EDM. Barnes blends so many details into an album, layering styles, poetry and art, that it's easy to forget that what may seem like Dadaism or absurdity is actually profound music and brave expressionism. “It’s Different for Girls” may be the most important feminist song written this year and has largely gone unnoticed. “My Fair Lady,” about a lover who hurts herself, is easily one of Barnes’s most moving and emotional pieces. The entire album is filled with creative gems that speak to listeners through several musical languages — rhythm, lyrics, allusion, etc. I remain eternally frustrated that even at album No. 14, so many people still do not know about Barnes's brilliant compositions. Perhaps the only fitting response is to witness one of the greatest unknown musicians of our age when Of Montreal comes to Walters Downtown on October 29. KRISTY LOYE 

For a few weeks now, I've been contemplating what to write about Erik Petersen. By now, everyone who followed the career of the Mischief Brew front man knows he's passed from this life far too soon. I've written about the band before, hoping to attract the uninitiated to the ranks. In the hierarchy of folk-punk music, he was akin to Dylan or Stevie Wonder, upper-echelon artists WHO influenced others. It was a disappointing moment to see his name finally trending on Facebook for his early demise rather than the brilliant music he wrote and performed.

I felt a connection to Petersen because my son knew him a bit. He encouraged Jesse to live a troubadour's lifestyle, the kind Petersen seemed to have mastered into a self-sustaining career. And Jesse listened because he admired Erik practically from the first time he heard "Thanks, Bastards!" Eventually, when they met, Petersen gave the band his official seal of approval with a Tweet that said "Days N Daze – embrace the unwashed," an endorsement for a bunch of dirty kids that thrilled them and surely boosted their profile. As time passes, the hurt and unfairness of our favorite artists’ deaths diminish. It fades to an echo, drowned out by the din of voices singing the artist's lyrics for years and decades to come. As long as people seek poetic lyrics about freedom and justice, they'll sing Petersen's songs. We need more singing now to help drown the sorrow. JESSE SENDEJAS JR.

One of the greatest bassists ever to haunt the stages of Texas and beyond has passed on. Preston Hubbard, keeper of the low end for the Fabulous Thunderbirds and many other artists across the fields of rock, blues and R&B, was found dead this week at his home in St. Louis; according to americanbluesscene.com, he was 63. Hubbard played with the T-Birds for a solid decade, including the commercial-peak years between 1986’s Tuff Enuff and 1989's Powerful Stuff, but his many other credits included Roomful of Blues (his pre-T-birds gig), Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time, the Vaughan Brothers’ Family Style and even Ministry’s Filth Pig. He also fell hard into the typical musician’s lifestyle and paid a heavy price, writing a gripping account of his slide into addiction, incarceration and eventual rehabilitation for the Austin Chronicle in October 2000. Below is a brief excerpt, but the article is well worth reading in full. CHRIS GRAY

I have no regrets, except for hurting the ones who loved me. Fortunes come and go. I shot well over a million dollars into my arms, lost everything I owned, and still I came out with my health. I've been lucky and know it. I know I can never do another shot, another hit, another snort, ever. Next time, I'm dead.

I hadn't really thought about P!nk in a while, mostly because I hadn't listened to a P!nk song in a few years. Hell, she hasn't put out a new record in four years. But I was scrolling through Apple Music the other day and my favorite P!nk track, "Who Knew," popped into the feed. I listened to it. Then I figured, what the hell, let's listen to some more P!nk — so I proceeded to tear through the hits. I jammed to "Most Girls," went full emo with "Just Like a Pill" and "Don't Let Me Get Me," and sang along to "U + Ur Hand." I even rocked out to "Lady Marmalade." Point being, when talk turns to the most underrated pop acts of the past 20 years, P!nk's name should be on that list. She maintained an air of cool hardass while putting out radio-friendly pop. There's something to be said for that. CLINT HALE

This week I discovered Banks & Steelz, the collaborative project spearheaded by Interpol vocalist Paul Banks and de facto Wu-Tang Clan front man RZA. Combining Banks's Joy Division-esque vocals and eerie guitar riffs with RZA's smoky voice and poignant lyricism makes for a unique listening experience, one that probably wouldn't work if both artists weren't already so well-established. Against synthetic drumbeats, Banks croons and RZA breathlessly laments the state of the media, big business and even GMOs. And why not? At this point, who's going to call his street cred into question? He's already a legend. If Jay Z can get away with "Beach Chair," who's to say RZA and Banks won't be a hit? And from Banks's standpoint, why pass up the chance to collaborate and expand on his ever-growing repertoire? Successful band, check. Successful solo project, check. Successful collaboration...We'll have to wait a week until the duo's debut album is released to know for sure, but if "Giant" is any indication...Check. MATTHEW KEEVER

The dark and stormy country singer Adia Victoria has only received a passing glance in the Houston Press, and that's a crying shame. Her debut album, Beyond the Bloodhounds, is both a blistering critique and a sonic homage to her Nashville roots that's bound to shake and unsettle listeners. This is no Kacey Musgraves album: Adia Victoria's sound is ambivalent, visceral, deep and pointed. Reluctant expats will take comfort in the strange fruit of "Stuck In the South," while those looking for a lighter, doo-wop sound might go for "Mortimer's Blues." Keep an eye on this artist; she's a fearless asset to a sometimes toothless genre. KATIE SULLIVAN

Metallica released a new single Wednesday, “Hard Wired,” as a teaser to their upcoming album Hard Wired…To Self-Destruct! And while die-hard Metallica fans like myself have been waiting eight long years for a followup to 2008’s mediocre Death Magnetic, we can only hope that the three-disc recording lives up to the early-Metallica caliber we all so dearly miss. And I want (desperately) to love this new single, but sadly I just don’t; it’s a thin slice of the Metallica I once knew. Sure, James Hetfield’s voice is as strong as in his ...And Justice For All days, the drums are hard-hitting, drummer Lars Ulrich is incorporating new techniques, and the song recalls the glory days of speed metal, but the lyrics are emaciated, simple rhymes — the kind of emo poetry found scribbled on some kid’s spiral notebook in the back of a junior-high English class (“We’re so fucked/ Shit outta luck/ Hard-Wired to self-destruct”). I can’t help but ask what happened to the days of the Shakespeare- or Cthulhu-inspired epic tales of insanity, political corruption, life and loss. As if that weren’t bad enough, Kirk Hammett’s 30-second guitar solo is less than interesting here. What begins as strong playing just drops off — completely. The later time-signature change is anticlimactic, too; those used signal the most thrilling rides through Metallica’s arrangements, but now they just feel as if they're puppeting the old days. Come on, Metallica. We need you. If this is the best single on this album, then yes, we are fucked. KRISTY LOYE

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of seeing the return of the Dixie Chicks at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion. It was a great evening, with the group playing pretty much every song you'd want to hear at a Dixie Chicks concert ("Goodbye Earl"? check, "Cowboy Take Me Away"? You betcha, A version of "Travelin Soldier" that left everyone sobbing? Of course.) One song they played that I hadn't heard before caught me off guard, and that was their excellent rendition of "Don't Let Me Die In Florida," by Patty Griffin. It's a really humorous, rugged but upbeat country tune that's pretty self-explanatory. "If you catch me dying in Daytona, throw my bed onto a train," she sings, refusing to let her eternal resting place be the "Sunshine State."

It's a great song, and part of a strangely specific group of songs about really despising Florida. Now, I haven't spent much time there, and the last time I visited was back in 2009, so I have no ill will toward anyone from the state. However, the vitriol with which artists express their disdain for the state is quite fascinating to observe. I recently discovered Vic Chesnutt's "Florida," a somber ballad (like most great Vic Chesnutt songs) in which the singer imparts in his wry deadpan the observation that "there's no more pathetic place in America." He later pivots and says makes kinder remarks about the state toward the end of the song, but not before dramatically cutting it down.

Not every great song about Florida is negative; in recent years we've had Young Thug's bewildering psychedelic "Florida Water" and Lana Del Rey's decadent, cocaine-filled triumph "Florida Kilos." There's just something about songs trashing Florida that are so well done, filled with a breakneck determination not to get stuck there. Just look at "We Laugh at Danger and Break All the Rules," arguably the most loved Against Me! song, or at least the one that makes for the best show-closing singalong. (If you haven't seen them do it live, go to their Warehouse Live show this October; it's gonna be great.) The massive hook of "Mary, if this GM van don't make it across the state line, we might as well lay down and die/ because if Florida takes us, we're taking everyone down with us" has become a true punk anthem in the decade since its release.

The band is originally from Gainesville, and has other songs about the state, like "Sink, Florida, Sink," so even if the hate isn't completely sincere, it still makes for thrilling songs. Sometimes it's entertaining to find a genre or common theme in music that's so specific yet shared from different kinds of artists across the spectrum. In this case, it's songs about hating Florida. Please add any good ones to the comments, as I would love to find more. DAVID SACKLLAH
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