Organ Failure is the musical arm of Super Happy Fun Land owner Brian Arthur. In the early part of the millennium, their work was as bizarre as anyone would expect from the venue known for hosting Houston’s weirdest acts. Over and Under
is the first album they’ve released in 16 years, and it is a mixture of upbeat folk melodies played over a litany of environmental doomcrying. Think of it like Peter, Paul, and Mary doing a Nick Cave cover album.
It’s hardly surprising. Arthur is something of a political fireball, a firm leftist with a penchant for scorched earth positions. Perennial protest presidential candidate Verminus Supreme, he of the boot on his head and a promise of a pony for every American, has been Arthur’s guest at SHFL. Much of Over and Under
reflects the fractured state of the country and Arthur’s anger toward it, especially following his drug conviction.
“I spent 15 months at a ‘cushy white collar’ Federal Prison Camp in Pensacola for an alleged violation of the Federal Analog Act,” says Arthur. “My lawyer and chemist disagreed with the government’s chemist on the legality of a product I was selling and I was forced to take a plea deal under threat of a much longer sentence. It really sucked, of course, taking me away from my six-year-old daughter and my businesses right before Harvey hit.”
Arthur, along with five others, was the target of a DEA investigation in 2013 aimed at shutting down sources of synthetic marijuana and bath salts
. He used the time in lock up to work on himself.
“I tried to make the best of it,” he says. “I lost 40 pounds and did a hundred pushups a day, became a yoga instructor, took Spanish classes, put on puppet shows for the inmates with puppets made out of cracker boxes, rode around on a golf cart, and since I had a background in chemistry they put me in charge of the prison chemical room. I played a lot of chess and scrabble, I worked on my artwork, cartooning and writing, and used the music room a lot. I wrote a lot of songs, two of which made it on this album. The second song I wrote while mopping the prison bathroom floors as a joke fantasy about getting revenge on a fellow inmate who got me placed on toilet cleaning duty, and I wrote the last song on the album while walking the exercise track in the hot Florida sun.”
Songs like “We Are Out of Water” and “The Sea” have catchy tunes and upbeat presentations, but underneath is the punk rock nihilism appropriate for a band called Organ Failure. The former has the marvelous morbid refrain of “we are out of water and now it’s time to drink your blood.” There’s even an oddly hopeless rendition of Katy Perry’s “Roar” near the end of the album. It’s “Attack of the Sun” that hits home the hardest, though, especially for Houstonians suffering through this climate change apocalypse.
“The sun doesn’t hate us, we have brought the sun’s wrath down upon us with our foolishness,” says Arthur. “It is distressing living in Houston and seeing the record temperatures rise year after year, such a slow moving but unevadable apocalypse. All you can do is stay inside and write songs about it. And urge people to vote. Please vote!”
For all the pessimistic lyrics, Over and Under
is a fun album. Arthur, Christopher Daniello, and Olivia Dvorak (Poopy Lungstuffing) keep the melodies upbeat and engaging. It sometimes comes across like whistling past the boneyard arranged for a full band, but any collection of songs that can get a carload of middle schoolers singing along by the end clearly has some hooks. Arthur has watched an entire generation of Houston musicians grow up around him, and Over and Under
feels almost like a lullaby for the pre-COVID world of local music. It’s a relic, but a relic that still has teeth. In a way, the album lays to rest the old world to embrace the new.
“The kids who used to play in bands at our first location are now bringing their kids in to see shows, so that is pretty wild,” says Arthur. “There seemed to be a waning in interest in live music in the late aughts, which I would attribute to the massive increase in home entertainment options that happened around that time. I think there has been a massive resurgence in enthusiasm for live entertainment in all forms in the last several years and especially since the pandemic restrictions lifted, kind of a pushback against omnipresent technology and artificial social interaction. Livestreaming can be neat, but it is just not the same as a live show. As far as creating and performing music, I think it is easier than it ever has been, and much easier to connect with people who might want to hear your music.”
Over and Under is available now on Bandcamp and all streaming services. Release show at Super Happy Fun Land, 3801 Polk, on Friday, November 18 at 8 p.m. For more information, call 713-837-8725 or visit SuperHappyFunLand.com