Happy Thanksgiving, Houston. (Go Horns!) The holiday shopping season starts Friday, and considering the state of the economy, many of you loyal consumers are no doubt looking for a way to fill out your gift list without cooking your Christmas goose (or Hanukkah latkes), as it were. Luckily, Noise just happens to be sitting behind a desk full of (relatively) recent releases that would make fine — and cheap — stocking-stuffers for the local-music lovers in your clan.
(Note: Not all of these releases are available in brick-and-mortar stores, but they all should be available for order or download online. See "Web Slinging" box for corresponding URLs.)
Sharks and Sailors, Builds Brand New: Noise will lay off any Slint comparisons because he never listened to the Louisville band all that much, but Sharks and Sailors still sounds like a microcosm of the early '90s to him: the churning guitar dynamics of Ride and My Bloody Valentine and ethereal barely-there vocals of Lush (especially when bassist Melissa Lonchambon is singing); no one can make this much melodic noise without owing something to Sonic Youth. Dense as it is, though, every so often Builds Brand New occasionally approaches actual pop songs, especially on whiplash smile "Fix Your Radar," while "Rickshaw" comes up an inch or two short of being full-on metal.
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Freddie Steady's Wild Country, Million Dollar Gun: Appropriately for someone who grew up idolizing the Beatles and spent quite a bit of time in England in the '80s, La Porte native Freddie "Steady" Krc's sound has always been as much the pub-rock power-pop of Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds as Texas twang. Not that he's forsaken his Gulf Coast origins at all — the frisky, accordion-laced "What's So Hard About Love" could be an homage to still-extant swamp-pop icons the Boogie Kings, while "Times Are Getting Tough" is as honky-tonk as they come.
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Moodafaruka, Essential Moodafaruka/Who R U: Double shot from the long-running Houston group dedicated to bringing authentic Mediterranean music to the bayou. Essential compiles tracks from the septet's (sometimes more) first three albums, La Luna Lounge, Zazu and Blame It on the Moon, leaning heavily on gentle, acoustic flamenco folk. New album Who R U, meanwhile, adds enough trip-hoppy electronica and Middle Eastern overtones to resemble Dead Can Dance. Both inadvertently show how important surroundings can be to music appreciation: In a sterile downtown office, the music tends to lose the plot, which would never happen in a dusky hookah tent on the outskirts of Marrakesh.
Small Sounds, Small Sounds: Small Sounds mines the same downcast, minimalist Americana vein as solo practitioners Bill Callahan and Iron & Wine, only with a lot more personnel. While this makes a healthy portion of the band's self-titled debut feel somewhat inert (not to mention depressing), Craig Feazel and James Thompson's pedal and lap steel, respectively, and guest Katie Stuckey's backing vocals help soothe some of the ache, while "Area 51" and "Biloxi Grand" pick up the tempo...a little.
Woozyhelmet, Get Down: Woozyhelmet's brash, unruly noise only occasionally coheres into anything approaching actual songs — more than half of Get Down's 14 tracks are less than two minutes long — but so what? It's more like the Houston/Austin trio threw a spontaneous party in the studio where one member played whatever hacksaw-punk riff sprang to mind and the other two tried their best to keep up. The Pavement-esque "If Not for Pants," Tortoise-like "Strawberry" and country goof "Hopeless" are the exceptions that prove the rule.
Big Moe, Unfinished Business: Although his passion for purple drank no doubt contributed to his death in October 2007 at age 33, Big Moe (born Kenneth Moore) proudly billed himself as the "Barre Baby" right up to the very end. Released posthumously, Unfinished Business finds Moe and his posse of Wreckshop compadres (Tyle Eyez, A-3, Dirty $, Tigga Man, Lil O) celebrating familiar H-town rap tropes in easygoing, upbeat songs that suggest that while the outcome may have been tragic, nobody can say Moe didn't have a good time. Even his mom gets into the act, shopping for rims in one amusing skit.
Hank Woji, American Dreams: With folks like Hank Woji lining up at the polls, small wonder Barack Obama carried Harris County. Titles like "The Pigs at the Trough" or "Patriot Games" ought to give you an idea where Woji is coming from, and though his forthright vocals — more Jakob Dylan than Dylan père — can lapse into cliché, the first-rate folk-rock arrangements generally overcome American Dreams' inevitable heavy-handedness.
Vicarious Me, Sucks!: Maybe it's just Noise, but titling your album Sucks! may not be the best strategy — yes, guys, even if you're being ironic. Pairing the spazzy hard rock of the Butthole Surfers and Faith No More — though perhaps Mr. Bungle is a more apt Mike Patton-related comparison — with the twisted sensibilities of Ween (songs include "My Pussy," "Rope Burn" and "No Chinga the Perro"), Sucks! is scattershot and overlong at 21 songs, but it doesn't suck.
Gnarls Nelson Reilly, A Month with Gnarls: Part of a growing wave of self-contained local performing units (Room 101, the Wiggins), the mysterious Mr. Reilly obviously knows his way around GarageBand, and manages to recall both Ministry ("Dope Sick") and Prince ("Trust Me I'm Funky"). But given its stream-of-consciousness lyrics and Reilly's facility with a drum machine, mostly A Month with Gnarls positions its creator as a successor to early-'90s Dallas oddball King Missile; considering "Fuck Art Let's Dance," he may also want to be Girl Talk.
Katie Armiger, Believe: Winner of 93Q's "Best Country Singer in Houston" a couple years back, Sugar Land native Armiger, 17, immediately stands out from Nashville's current ingenue crop of Carrie, Taylor, Kellie, etc.: She's brunette. Believe doesn't quite do the same, particularly on its Martina McBride-like ballads, but Armiger shows real sass on "Jealousy" and "Break Yours First."
Mitch Jacobs, Jukebox Music: Mitch Jacobs's hard-bitten Americana contains none of the British trappings of his producer and label boss Freddy "Steady" Krc (see above). However, Dwight Yoakam, Joe Ely (the Spanish-tinged "Pretty Is") and Roy Orbison (a cover of "Sweet Dream Baby") are all present as Jacobs sometimes struggles to transcend his pedestrian beer-joint surroundings. However, he does strike country-jukebox gold with "For a While" and "Lady on the Barstool."
Runaway Sun, Runaway Sun EP: Fronted by singer-songwriter Andrew Carnavas, Runaway Sun answers the question "What if Pearl Jam unplugged and doubled the amount of blues in its music?" True, the world may not have been waiting with bated breath for that answer, but Carnavas's knack for female characterization ("Lily") makes this four-song EP a promising, if workmanlike, debut.
Sharks and Sailors: www.sharksandsailors.com
Freddy Steady's Wild Country:www.steadyboyrecords.com
Big Moe: www.myspace.com/wreckshoprecords
Hank Woji: www.hankwoji.com
Vicarious Me: www.vicariousme.com
Gnarls Nelson Reilly: www.myspace.com/gnarlsnelsonreilly
Katie Armiger: www.katiearmiger.com
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Runaway Sun: www.myspace.com/runawaysunmusic