Houston Music

Sounds of the City: The Unstoppable Soul of The Suffers

Note: Sounds of the City highlights the best Houston music not attached to its strong but overdiscussed rap scene.

In my spare time, I've probably written more fan fiction about The Suffers impending rise to world domination than anything else. They're a band but they're almost like the galloping Four Horses of the Apocalypse. They arrive to play a show, stick to the groove and the rhythm and dictate every single nerve in your body. If Kam Franklin tells your body to droop, shake and shiver, it does so. If the horn section from Jon Durbin & Michael Razo demand that you sway, scrunch your face and play along as if you're part of the band, you do so. This is the mystic powers brought on by The Suffers, and the world is taking notice.  

In less than two weeks, the band has put two new things into the ecosystem and both look like Superman's ship when it crash-landed on Earth. They're familiar yet new, beckoning a ton of discussion and joyous parades down message boards, Twitter feeds and the like. Twenty years from now, we'll glance back at Kam Franklin and crew's Tiny Desk Concert as a "Where Were You?" moment. It makes a fitting B-side to their rousing "David Letterman gave me a kiss" tour de force moment earlier this year.

Their sound is made for stadiums. The fact they can even fit it into small venues and your office is a treasure in itself. I mean, look at how people respond when they're playing at a small desk for NPR. Look at the immediate response people give them when Kam contorts her voice into a more gospel-like plea on "Better." I said it sounded like Sam Cooke upon initial listen, mainly because everything can feel like gospel and every sound can feel like a form of church.  

The Tiny Desk Concert and "Better" are the first non-festival "big" things The Suffers have done since Letterman. "Better" discusses improving as a person with the reverb of heartbreak, setbacks and healed scars. Franklin utilizes the mindset she had as a young girl singing in church and the band plays along, doing everything short of involving a massive choir. "We both grew up singing in gospel groups, we are both extremely emotional singers," she told NOISEY recently about the Cooke comparisons. "I must say, this song isn't about religion, it's simply about making the decision to be a better person."  

As far as knockouts are concerned, the Suffers are the quintessential Houston band, blazing a path of funk and soul. Every performance is a revival, and Franklin's charm and personality disarm any skeptics. You're better off for enjoying The Suffers; I'm willing to put money on that.  

The Subtle Emergence of LOE
Earlier in the spring, The Hive Society presented LOE, a 21-year-old Missouri City-based singer who channels Björk and other alternative muses for her sound. The structure of her work, loose at times and constricting in others makes for an emotional ride. The clutter in determining R&B lies within far too many people attacking one sound, that snare-heavy, “don’t really care but I kind of do” style that fixes itself up as moody trap. LOE isn’t that, thankfully.  

“Dark Hour” came about last year on her Soundcloud page and is more of a drum-peppered letter to the end. She calls for the death of abusive relationships, regardless if its physical or emotional. The Ozieren-directed video tries to explain this but in even more morose terms. The skinny is this: LOE is spectator to a couple in a pool hall littered with purplish hues and double cups. The male in said couple strikes his girlfriend and LOE intervenes, hoping to whisk her away to safety but all for naught. It sucks, but it's reality and that’s the sort of subject matter few singers want to tackle. Then again, they aren’t LOE and they aren’t that expressive in regards to their art.  

The Breeze of Lita Styles
From what I’ve long gathered about the shuffling sound of R&B, the earliest start happened during Homer’s Iliad. The Sirens, three creatures who lay on a rock and probably looked like your standard ‘90s busty-blonde Playboy model, wooed sailors who ventured by, leading them to their untimely deaths. Even though R&B isn’t supposed to lead you to a confusing death via Greek tragedy, it is supposed to pull you somewhere, even if you don’t have to do a whole lot of heavy lifting to get there.  

When you see Lita Styles, you see a spritely Filipino with short hair (her choice), personal tattoos (again, her choice) and a personality that screams, “you’re interesting and could probably snatch a soul or two.” Thing is, she’s also the sister of Bobby Earth, the young prodigy who along with Milky Wayv gave us one of the best projects of the year. Styles released From a Flower Pot late this past summer and the mantra of chill, sensual and esoteric vibes carry on. She climbs into space-like themes of love and acceptance on “Come Down” and “Angel On Mars” and floats on a late-night groove through Houston on the EP’s opener, “Space City." It’s a mini-adventure through plenty of colors and bright moments, all of which play like mood music for the far more carnal scenes of your life. She may keep a rather low profile, but there’s a glee in Styles voice every time she performs.  

Like a siren, only needing to press your senses with just the right amount of pressure.
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Brandon Caldwell has been writing about music and news for the Houston Press since 2011. His work has also appeared in Complex, Noisey, the Village Voice & more.
Contact: Brandon Caldwell