Tantalizing cuisine and intoxicating beverages draw people with diverse backgrounds together. It doesn’t matter if the drink is rakija, a strong fruit brandy from the Balkans, or a Creole sampler from Frenchy’s — if it’s tasty we’ll enjoy it, no matter who we are or from where we hail. The same goes for music, as we learned on a recent European excursion. We happened upon some savory musical acts over there and they got us salivating for our homegrown favorites. Here’s a smorgasbord of all those international flavors combined. Bon appetite!
Colour Me Wednesday closes its excellent indie-pop track “Two-Fifty For You Girls” with the lines, “You got me figured out, you can write about it, your analysis is tired and old.” So it’s with some trepidation that I forge on. The most obvious thing about the group is probably also what spurred those lines – they’re an all-female band. They’re gonna draw comparisons. They can hear your thoughts rolling about your head and here’s what those thoughts are — you’ve got ‘us figured out, but your analysis is tired and old. So here’s a fresh take on the British band we caught on tour in Diest, Belgium. They killed live. The energy was positive though their songs often addressed subjects some people unnecessarily see as polarizing, like “Feminism, Veganism, Anti-Capitalism, beating S.A.D., Being Queer,” which are all listed as things the band likes on its Bandcamp page. Are they your new favorite band yet? If so, you’re ahead of the curve stateside and you’re going to look really smart once they begin to break here.
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Sure, we thought of Giant Kitty while watching them. They are arguably Houston's pre-eminent feminist band (Kathleen Hanna has shared the band's "This Stupid Stuff" video on her personal FB page, after all). But they also reminded us of Thrill. Not giving in to the expectations, as CMW would appreciate, we'll say we recalled Thrill because they too defy expectations. The band's members are young, as in 'worried about midterms and passing their driving exams' young. At a glance, it's too easy to expect them to launch into Sum 41's "Fat Lip" or maybe a Blink song at their live sets. But, they go back to the earliest days of punk and pay homage to those acts in their covers and original songs. It was rumored they were once going to back Cheetah Chrome at a local fest, until the Dead Boys holdover failed to show. Didn't matter; the fellas thrilled the crowd with their own raucous version of "Sonic Reducer."
Shireen’s voice is like a key — at times, it’s shiny, pretty and groovy, but it can also be a bit weathered, some its natural luster lost to the social injustice and heartbreak that surface in many of her songs. Her voice opens the door to poetic accounts of people, some fictional, some not. Whether it’s the ordinary “Heroes” she surrounds herself with or the extraordinary thieves who steal our hearts in their “Life of Crime,” the songs are universal because, as she sings in “Heroes,” “some are just like you and some are like me.” Shireen’s key moves something that’s been bolted – it might just be your feet, but it could also be your cynical or apathetic heart.
Stylistically, she and Charity Ann may seem dissimilar. Shireen’s voice has the diamonds and rust of Joan Baez; Charity Ann, a regular at our own Last Concert Cafe, is a Joplinesque pearl. What the two woman share is their people-centric storytelling. Whether it’s “Linda Jean,” about one of her own real-life ordinary heroes, or recalling the thief that stole the “Soul of a Mad Woman,” Charity Ann also pens paeans to human beings and our joys and pains. Her guitar-playing is nimble, dexterous and an absolute bonus to everything else she’s offering.
If sadcore had a queen and king, then Lana del Rey and Elvis Depressedly’s Mat Cochran would probably wear the crowns. But in every monarchy there are those in waiting, and England’s Crywank and the Gulf Coast’s own Kay Weathers might be the prince and princess in the wings.
Aside from having the best band name we encountered on the Continent — their Bandcamp page says they “have been told they are the worst-named band in the country” — Crywank writes the sort of moving and sad songs that would make John Irving's T.S. (‘Terribly Sad’) Garp ponder, ‘Damn, that’s a sad song.’ Those emotionally exhausting expressions are penned in poetic fashion by James Clayton, who delivers them with apropos gloominess. They’ve filled several albums with these tunes, albums with gloriously morose titles like Don’t Piss On Me, I’m Already Dead; Shameless Valentines Money Grab; and Tomorrow Is Nearly Yesterday and Everyday Is Stupid, which is arguably the best album of the bunch. If you like your disappointment and sorrow spelled out in carefully selected, clever words, give Crywank and listen.
If you prefer something more mood-driven, however, then Kay Weathers is the better choice. Like Clayton, the artist Jennifer O’Brien lurks behind a stage moniker the way rain hides in a cloud. Her guitar/synth-driven songs set off a shower of emotion in us, that's for sure. There are lyrics on her album Songs For Lucy that speak to hope and love, but they’re set against the kind of musical drawl that reminds us all that in every moment of glory, some pain was probably attached to it. This is how life works, in case you haven’t been paying attention, folks. Kay Weathers has not only paid attention, but has set that existential notion to some of the most captivating music to come from our area lately.
Remember when British punks wore leather jackets, Mohawks and safety pins? When it surfaced in Great Britain, punk was an aggressive and angry commentary on the country’s unemployment and social unrest. All these years later, the band Cistem Failure taps directly into that rage, replacing the leather with unwashed sleeveless tees. Acoustic instruments ensure the pressing lyrical content isn’t drowned by electric guitars, but the band’s seething indignation recalls the disgruntlement of punk at its roots. On its Bandcamp page, there’s a content warning – “in our songs we talk about sexual assault, misogyny, police abuse, animal exploitation, the prison system and state repression as consequences of living under capitalism and patriarchy.” The disclaimer is probably unnecessary given the band’s moniker, but it might prepare the un-woke for lines like “I’m not your sugar and I’m not your honey/ I ain’t that sweet and I don’t find It funny/ and I’ll show you how sweet I can be with my boot on your face.” This isn’t rhetoric, folks. We followed the band on some Holland dates and their sincerity moved the crowd, including one fan who knocked a camera from my hand because I was filming at a “safe place.” My apology, which was warranted, was mocked as just another useless social more from times better left behind. Cistem Failure and its fans might be the most punk-rock group of people on present-day Planet Earth.
There may not be a local band to match that vehemence, but the one that comes to mind here is Ese. Anyone who has been to a show knows the band’s punk/metal hybrid is designed to move nalgas first and antiquated social notions second; but, like Cistem Failure, its very name is an indicator that they have something to say about their place in the world. With Ese, it’s not the patriarchy, but things like building a border wall and why at least half of the current voting populace in this country believe that’s a good thing. Undaunted, Ese takes its music and subtle “we ain’t going nowhere, pendejo” message on the road like crazy. It’s just approaching the end of the Puro Pinche Riff Raff tour, which entailed 60-plus shows in 27 states over a quarter of the year. They share a tireless need to get their music to others with Cistem Failure. You can be one of those others by welcoming Ese home October 12 at Satellite Bar, where they’ll be joined by Hell’s Engine, The Nelsons and Mugrero.
Europe: No Chappi? Bourgeois!
Houston: Extra Regular
Some expressions don’t need to be decoded, no matter what part of the world you’re in or which dialect someone is speaking. You don’t need a translator to know an act is bringing insane energy and charisma to listeners. And, if it’s a rap group, you don’t need Google Translate to know if the flow is on point, whatever the words might be. So, though they were rapping in the native tongue of their Italian homeland, we knew exactly what No Chappi? Bourgeois! was putting down when they caused a two-man commotion at Under Castel Rebel Fest in Italy. It’s called that because bands perform in the evening glow of the towering Castle of Dolceacqua. They’re described as “electronic incoherent pseudo hip-hop” which sounds amazing but still sells them short. Bud Dante produces the beats and trades rhymes with Nut Asha. Catchy choruses like the one in “La Foto del Gruppo” had us head bobbing like we were back home. Dolceacqua has a castle and some rap royalty, and we’re down with the kings.
The band reminded us of Kyle Hubbard, Fullmetal and DJ Discipline. Individually, they’ve made names for themselves but the work they do together – whether formally as Extra Regular or informally at shows where they frequently guest on each other’s bills – is what connects them to the Genoan brothers they’ve never met. Hit one of their live shows and see how much damn fun these guys are having. Making it in the competitive hip hop game is daunting. It can be scary. Just ask anyone who’s been dangled by the ankles from a balcony by Suge Knight (allegedly). These artists understand you have to work hard and put your soul into it to get the cred that’s necessary to surge in this music genre. But Hubbard, Casey Colello (Fullmetal) and Jesse Burnam (DJ Discipline) all like each other and it’s highly evident and endearing when you’re watching them. One by one, they have the skills to do next-level shit, but keep an eye on Extra Regular because that project could be extra special. At the very least, it’s going to be extra fun.
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