Some bands practice for years, writing and arranging and mastering their instruments, affecting images, subjecting themselves to the harness of management and the rigors of the sign-a-deal dance, only to discover that their product is still, somehow, considered inappropriate for commercial consumption. Then there are other bands that take a far-fetched musical idea (like mayhem, for instance), aggressively fart around with it for a few months, play about two live gigs, break up, disappear and then a year later, when individual band members may already have tenure in hell for all anyone knows, hawk up a gob of indispensable racket such as Plenum -- which, besides being a band-described "mannerist exercise in manic self-deprecation," is also the greatest example of unaffected sonic artiness to see daylight in Houston since I can't remember when.

I looked it up so you wouldn't have to: a plenum, in the definitions most apropos to the CD, is "a space or all space every part of which is full of matter" or "a condition in which the pressure of air in an enclosed space is greater than that of the outside atmosphere." Those definitions explain something about the explosion of noise on display here. Though the band existed, in its brief life, on the periphery of the local rock underground, Lozenge was not a rock band so much as a noise improv ensemble. The guy identified as Kurt yells and plays fretless and double bass and kazoo. Kyle yells, too, and plays electric accordion, oboe, English horn and an array of obscure electronics. Philip yells and beats on metal with sticks. The result is deserving of a title rarely earned in a day and age sorely lacking in the genuine article: Weird Shit. It's percussive noise, carnival juxtapositions and unpredictable rhythms. And it's based on a notion of absolute anti-humability.

There are no singles to draw your attention, just 22 digital tracks of background noise that refuse to stay in the background, something that disqualifies Lozenge as any stripe of ambient band. You wouldn't want to listen to this at home (actually, I've been doing just that with increasing frequency this past month, but I've got too much time on my hands), and I suspect it to be unsafe driving music. Matter of fact, I can think of only one thing this disc, as strangely beautiful as it is, might be good for: the soundtrack to your next seizure. It's serving just fine as the soundtrack to mine.

-- Brad Tyer

Blind James Campbell
Blind James Campbell and His Nashville Street Band

Arhoolie, the quirky little archival label that's turned historic field recordings made in the '60s by Chris Strachwitz into commercially viable items, has released on CD what may be the quirkiest and most entertaining of Strachwitz's recordings. The subject is Blind James Campbell and His Nashville Street Band (a.k.a. the Friendly Five), who were performing on the streets of Nashville long after the street-troubadour tradition had been outlawed in most of the South. They were your basic guitar/two-fiddle/trumpet/tuba street band, with cymbal notes provided as needed by whacking the bell of Ralph Robinson's tuba with Bell Ray's fiddle bow, and they were every bit as much fun as that combination sounds like. This reissue of a 1963 LP, with eight previously unreleased tracks, offers some of the most wonderful and at the same time strangest versions of traditional blues, country and gospel numbers ever put down for posterity. Given the Street Band treatment are "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "John Henry," "This Little Light of Mine" and "The Moon May Rise in Blood." Campbell's guitar, although predominately used for rhythm, sometimes steps into the lead with surprising complexity, and his deep, gravelly voice is strong enough to carry over Ray and Beauford Clay's twin-fiddle duels. Robinson shows that under the right circumstances the best bass guitar of all may be a tuba, while George Bell's trumpet suggests a background ranging from circus processions to jazz bands.

Blind James Campbell and His Nashville Street Band is an absolute delight for any folk music fan who thinks Southern black people are folks, too, and proof positive that when we classified street musicians as panhandlers we outlawed a big part of our soul.

-- Jim Sherman

Sex & Violins

Leave it to the Swedes to feed us back only the best of American kitsch. The gimmick: techno as made by country bumpkins. Bluegrass house music. Utterly dumb, but thoroughly enjoyable. Even a little subversive, perhaps, given the international smash hit "Cotton-Eyed Joe," a helplessly catchy disco reworking of an age-old traditional folk tune, slyly coded, and implying -- what? "Had it not been for Cotton-Eyed Joe / I'd been married long time ago." Maybe Cotton-Eyed Joe is a botched abortion, maybe it's venereal disease; either way, what might have seemed old-fashioned is made into a hot button for today.

But don't be mistaken: any political sentiment is almost certainly unintentional. Rednex is all joke, from the banjos and fiddles to the sequencers and drum loops. On a level with the Village People (anyone say subversive?), the Rednex were concocted by producer Pat Reiniz, recorded with a cast of studio musicians and fronted by five hillbilly role players.

Though Rednex fails when it deviates from its formula, as with the schlock ballad "Wish You Were Here" (mixed by Ace of Base producer Denniz Pop), it more often works on the knowledge that bluegrass and techno share a fast and steady beat, and can thus stand fusion. It also succeeds simply because it's never been done before (unless you count Malcolm McLaren or Big Audio Dynamite). But above all, it comes off because -- unlike the vast majority of beat-heavy club music -- songs such as "Riding Alone," "Old Pop in an Oak" and "Mary Lou" (all of which could be hits if they reach radio before the Rednex's 15 minutes of fame expires) don't deprive dancers of the melody they secretly desire. Besides, wasn't it obvious that square dance and rave were on a cultural collision course from the start?

-- Roni Sarig

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Roni Sarig
Jim Sherman
Brad Tyer