Raves and wave-offs... Producer, baby sitter and budding indie-rock entrepreneur Jamie Sralla is cultivating quite the buzzing rec-room cottage industry in Wayward Sound. The tiny label's accomplishments thus far include a local compilation CD (Full Frequency Package) and a music video/documentary of sorts (Houmidity). Then there are the countless demos recorded for area bands (many of which I'm fairly certain you've never heard of), all done at Sralla's Static House studio in the Heights. Most impressive, Sralla has managed to do all of it on budget, funded, for the most part, by a shitty day-job's pittance.

Meanwhile, the Wayward Sound's marketing machine is also starting to lurch into its own. The press releases are looking more and more official, the CD packaging less riddled with misspellings; even Sralla's attempts at humor are evolving into something just this side of witty (one new act is cunningly referred to in its bio as the unfortunate "victim of rugby team piss parties and other intramural night life in Nacogdoches").

Yep, Wayward Sound has come a ways in a few short years. And judging from its latest trio of releases, so has its talent pool. Aside from their lack of cash and largely unproven profiles locally, Wayward acts The Lost Episodes, The Dissociation and Rooster Cockburn (the core members in the last two outfits are one and the same and allegedly are the aforementioned rugby casualties) are united by their clueless outsider status. If anything, they're out to dismantle any presumption of Inner-Loop hipness. Frankly, that may irk anyone looking for music that's more caught up in prevailing local trends -- whatever those are.

While obvious care went into the making of The Lost Episodes' Texas Balloons and Novelty CD, that doesn't make it any easier to fathom a group nutty enough to go on record referencing both Pink Floyd and Fugazi in an attempt to nail down their sound. (Then again, maybe that's just Sralla's twisted brand of humor at work again.) It's somewhat surprising, then, that the Episodes release is the least intriguing of the three, its mind-expanding premise largely derailed by cliched gimmicks and serio-psychedelic pretense. Still, the horror-movie organ fills are a nice touch.

Unlike Texas Balloons, The Disassociated's It's a Mad, Mad World and sister band Rooster Cockburn's White Trash Fantasy sound as if they were composed and executed on the fly. Almost frightening in its lack of focus, It's a Mad, Mad World addresses everything from punk and ska to low-budget lounge and lo-fi pop with flitty abandon, apologizing for its compressed production and all-over-the-place feel with snide absurdism and plain old brevity. But by far the most amusing -- and, arguably, most relevant -- of the latest Wayward releases is Rooster Cockburn's White Trash Fantasy. The album's 12 irreverent tracks take a weed-whacker to the outgrown potential of the alternative country movement. To ram home their point, they sing the tunes in an over-the-top hick drawl, capping the album with the inexplicably silly finale, "Nervous as a Whore in Church."

Like high school hoods defacing some classroom genius's award-winning science project, the Dissociation/Cockburn guys aren't particularly interested in honoring achievement -- nor are they out to make a graceful first impression. "Driving down the road in a pickup truck / Don't want to stop so I'll pee in a cup" goes a verse in Cockburn's sorry-assed, low-life shuffle "Redneck Roadtrip." Indeed, subtlety is pointless when you're drunk and cruising on a full bladder.

Semi-shifty... Look at it as an ill-considered gesture of good faith. How else can you explain Semisonic's decision to cancel its original Sunday date at Numbers for a last-minute radio gig the same night at Waterworld? Granted, you could argue that the Minneapolis power-pop trio is, on some level, indebted to the show's sponsor, The Buzz (KTBZ/107.5 FM), which has been spinning its single, "Closing Time," with a vengeance. Still, it's questionable whether making a sweaty spectacle of themselves at a chlorinated fun park for an audience of call-in contest winners is even payment -- for Semisonic or for its fans. The move is especially questionable considering that it's not only possible but likely that the band could sell a few hundred tickets on its own elsewhere in town.

The folks at The Buzz are either really good negotiators or highly persuasive bullies. It's hard to say. Whatever the case, Semisonic's label, MCA, promises the band will be back around for a more legit gig.

Etc.... For the second year in a row, local bands are making an unsanctioned contribution to the Press Music Awards Showcase. Sunday, Live Bait will again host the Houston OpPressed Showcase, which features acts that didn't make this year's ballot. The lineup includes The Wash, Two Second Stare, Breth, Linoleum Experiment, Ethan Klein, the Jeepneys, Dune, TX and Neural Nectar. Music at Live Bait will continue beyond Press showcase hours, in an effort, no doubt, to snare stragglers leaving the official proceedings nearby. For a preview of the bands performing at the official showcase, tune in to a special Music Awards edition of Lone Star Juke Box Saturday morning on KPFT/90.1 FM, hosted by Rick Heysquierdo and yours truly.

-- Hobart Rowland

E-mail Hobart Rowland at [email protected].

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Hobart Rowland