It's hard to know exactly what to listen to in a time like this. Do you numb the chaos with mindless lyrics (thank God the "Baby Shark" curve flattened some time ago), or do you embrace it with more challenging fare (Looking at you, Fiona Apple)? Do you find comfort in familiarity with songs you already know ('Alexa, play Journey.'), or do you venture out into the unknown and embrace new releases (Job well done, Fi)? If you identify with the latter — this list is for you. Even in a pandemic, Houston music doesn't stop.
Over the last month, Houston artists scrapped their performance calendars, but forged on with digital campaigns for albums, singles, and music videos. If you're already a fan of local music, you may know these artists' music. Hell, you might even know these artists personally. But if you're early in your journey of discovering the vast musical hot spots of Houston, this list is just a glimpse of five artists that comprise the extended Houston music network and released new music over the last month. From Hip Hop to Indie-rock, Cumbia to Post-pop, you might find your next quarantine jam right here.
Gio Chamba, "Exit Space City"
Gio Chamba is something of a Houston Music treasure. Since splashing onto the scene early last decade, he's enthralled audiences with his electro-cumbia offerings, blending genres on the track to taste, like a chef with no written recipe. Over the course of the quarantine, Chamba has steadily released new music with singles "Mi Selva," "¡Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay!" and "Katana." His latest, "Exit Space City," is, unsurprisingly, irresistible and infectious. Good luck keeping your hips still as Chamba navigates your ears through the song’s addictive opening hook, its relentless percussive counterparts, and a tropical infused mid-section, before gripping you back to the original melody and rounding out the affair with a grinding guitar solo that could soundtrack your very own liftoff into another atmosphere and out of Space City...just don't land in Dallas on your way down. Play this at your next Zoom house party with the album art as your virtual background. Stream Gio Chamba on Spotify and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.
Camera Cult, "Chivalry & Courtly Love"
Houston Press' Best Live Act of 2019 might not have many live shows this year due to coronavirus, but that didn't stop them from releasing their inspired, unapologetically romantic new single "Chivalry & Courtly Love" last week. The track is a sonic departure from their previous efforts; synths are (mostly) out, guitars and drums are in, solid songwriting and performances remain. It's easy to imagine an American Idiot era Green Day writing the song's dramatic introduction, easier to picture Fall Out Boy hollering the chorus ("Did you ever learn to love again? Or did you throw away your heart like I did?"), perhaps easiest to envision yourself playing this song on repeat in your living room until that sweet day when you can sing along with the guys at Satellite Houston. Play this about an hour after eating an edible, especially if your first love crosses your mind. Stream Camera Cult on Spotify and follow them on Instagram and Twitter.
Mind Shrine, "5 Long Days"
Local indie darlings Mind Shrine released "5 Long Days" to streaming platforms back in March after returning just in time from a pre-pandemic East Coast tour, but "Days" lands on this list thanks to its music video which they released on Earth Day and filmed in New York while on the road. According to their Bandcamp page, the song stems from being stranded in LA last summer after a potential collaborator and host ghosted them the day they arrived to the city, making them temporarily homeless for "5 Long Days." The video yanks the band out of Houston and drops them in the heart of New York City where they deliberately, lyrically reject Los Angeles. They trade Sunset Boulevard bogus for Manhattan shenanigans (Brooklyn, too), opting for stoop guitar solos, balcony air drumming, and rooftop pushups with a city view. Talk about a Houston State of Mind, man. Play this while taking your daily neighborhood walk - socially distanced, playing air guitar, and wearing a face mask, of course. Stream Mind Shrine on Spotify and follow them on Instagram and Twitter.
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John Allen Stephens, "Molotov"
Since last summer's "Addiction," producer, songwriter, and owner of Third Coast Recording Co., John Allen Stephens has been blazing down the honesty trail, using his new music as a vehicle to open up about vulnerable life experiences previously unshared with others. In his latest genre bending single "Molotov," Stephens recounts throwing a Molotov cocktail into someone's yard and, per an Instagram post, becoming a felon at age 21 as a result. Heavy stuff? Sure. But Stephens' slick-as-always production effortlessly drives the track forward like a Lamborghini cruising at maximum speed, blending hip hop and jazz with an attitude-dripping melody The Weeknd might be proud to have on his own record someday. Play this in your car while
speeding down the Southwest Freeway driving Houston's customary five or ten miles above posted speed limits. Stream John Allen Stephens on Spotify and follow him on Instagram and Twitter.
Kringe, Don't Think Too Much
From his viral TikTok page, to his dedicated fan base, to his new album Don't Think Too Much, all signs point to Houston based rapper Kringe having a moment. His full-length effort Don't Think Too Much has its fingers to the pulse, seemingly designed for the attention deficit TikTok listener with its blink-and-miss-em tracks (none top three minutes). That an artist thriving on a snippet based platform like TikTok finds focus on an LP is a victory for the album format, but not a surprise coming from an artist with an underdog spirit. Kringe is wise to backdrop the entirety of his melancholic opus with cohesive, muted palettes - ideal for a listening experience without skipping a track. The songs pair sincere melodic nuggets with production that blends minimalist hip hop sensibilities and the lament of a recurring Spanish guitar.
Lyrically, Kringe captures the underlying life anxieties young twenty-somethings love to sing about living with. It's there - but you can also dance your way through it. Play album opener "Spanish Dance" while working your way out of a rut you may or may not have fallen into since the pandemic hit...then play every song on the album after that. Stream Kringe on Spotify and follow him on TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter.