Houston Music

Gel

For a debut that gets off to a painfully rocky start -- think Nine Inch Nails on a chalkboard -- Gel's Box of Toys manages to cough up a couple of funky playthings by the end of the eight-song recording. To reach that point, unfortunately you have to wade through too many dull, predictable, overproduced tracks whose lyrics still need some time to, ahem, gel.

The problem here is clutter. Too often the driving power chords of guitarist Cedric Cortious directly compete with the smooth, liquid, sexy voice of Eric Xian Jimenez, the group's founder and instrumental jack-of-all-trades. Caught somewhere in the middle is the irrepressibly groovy bass work of Marcus Johnson.

With all the sonic competition, the music can't always find its groove, a mellow feel that frankly is the best part of Gel. "Take You There" kicks off the record with an assault of electronic beats. Jimenez, a former Latin recording artist, calls himself a sampling guru, and while the technical skill is there, the aural barrage is jangling and unsettling. After a few seconds, the cool effects just become uninventive and uncreative noise, distracting from the bass riff, the song's only salvation. Jimenez's wailing, heavy-handed vocal style doesn't help the tune either. He wants to "take you there," but after about 30 seconds, we can almost guarantee, you'll prefer to stay at home with the TV remote.

But it's too soon to give up on the Houston trio. "Lack of Faith" provides a glimmer of hope. Mellow and thoughtful, the head-boppin' tune benefits from Jimenez's more restrained vocal approach. Overall, Gel has much promise -- jungle beats, smooth vocals and good bass riffs -- but the band isn't quite ready to deliver on it just yet. So here's a suggestion: Burn the chaff, but stop to enjoy the tasty wheat, the hard-hitting "Box of Toys" and the yummy "Lack of Faith." As these guys come into their own, we hope they'll realize that it's not the electronic effects or the incessant driving guitar but the swimming beats that will put bodies in motion.

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Elizabeth Taishoff