One of my favorite things about reviewing music in Houston is that you don't just appreciate or criticize the music the city produces. You solve it like a video-game puzzle...if you're lucky. How can someone really stand up and try to do a conventional review of a P.L.X.T.X. album? That's not dancing about architecture, it's more like trying to describe the beauty of a butterfly to a blind water snake by putting it in one of Jigsaw's traps.
Case in point: Mlee Marie Mains and her wild band, of which she is sometimes the only member, Hearts of Animals. The woman is brilliant, and so is the music on her latest album, Another Mutation.
Mains has now on her third critically-acclaimed album, and 2007's Lemmings Baby is required listening for any fan of recent Houston music. Understandably, she has a bigger sound by now, and thought that echo-y emptiness is still there, it throbs in a cosmic way like a good Breeders record.
Seriously, no one else on the planet could write a song like "Porn From the Seventies" and make it this mind-bogglingly beautiful. In only six lines (that's all the lyrics it's got), Mains does things to your perception of beauty and love and sex and affection that is just indescribable. "See this, back when sex was shot with the same love that we shoot epic landscape introductions and kisses in the rain?" "See the light caress thighs and eyes?"
"That openness in art is dead dead dead before we were even born." Dammit, Mains, you are killing me over here.
Then while you're still recovering from that, you get "Jesus Drug," in which she totally takes down fanaticism, but does it in her trademark pixie-like Sunday-school-teacher voice. She sounds like her music should be "cute," you know, but it's not cute. It's cute like ladybugs are cute until you learn that they are cannibalistic monstrosities that simply come in pretty packaging.
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The clues are there. The guitar work on Another Mutation dances towards punk but more comfortably straddles the best of the more intellectual '90s alternative bands. Imagine if Kim Dead had killed Frank Black and fronted the Pixies wearing his skin like a Wookie costume; that's the sort of balls that Mains is capable of.
The only real complaint against the record is that it occasionally tends towards redundant. Mains keeps her songs short, and she's enough of an experimental multi-instrumentalist to add garnish, but there's no denying that many of the songs bleed into each other rather than flow into each other, thanks to a rather limited rhythm section and a fondness for the same chord progressions. They're good songs, don't get me wrong, but without a bit more variety I'm thinking that a couple of EPs would have been the better way to go.
If she'd started at "Songbird" and clocked out at "Ever Be," I'd probably be calling it this greatest Houston EP I have ever heard. It's a minor complaint, though.
Another Mutation is a more than worthy entry into one of our top talent's already unbeatable catalog. I look forward to her loosening up a bit in the future; it'll make the lyrical bitch slaps even better 'cause you won't see them coming at all.
Hearts of Animals releases Another Mutation tonight at Rudyard's, 2010 Waugh, with Young Mammals and LIMB. Doors open at 9 p.m.
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