Houston Music

The Hulley Gulleys

Though the cover art and the band's retro-kitsch image elicit thoughts of surfing, cruising and the frugalicious dancing of the early 1960s, much of the spirit of this record lies in the 1980s. (More specifically, with the Waitresses, the new wave band of "I Know What Boys Like" fame.) This dichotic approach results in a far-reaching effort whose highs are frothy pop-punk perfections but whose lows tamper too much with something good and probably need another trip to the ol' woodshed.

When the record is at its best, the songs are as appealing as one of those beach-blanket cookouts that Frankie and Annette used to host, albeit one with an edge. Here we finally find out what happened after the cameras stopped rolling. "Fantasy" and "Doorknob" are bouncy tunes about two sides of being a dirty girl delivered with a cool sexuality by singer Yvette Eden, with former Satellite Lounge manager (and current Hulley Gulleys producer) Dickie Malone's surf-twang guitar spread throughout. Eden also delivers "Sleep," "Hey!" and "Too Far" with an energetic punkiness that's a mesh of the Waitresses' insouciant Patty Donahue and the B-52's Kate Pierson, with a dash of Belinda Carlisle. It's on this material that the Hulley Gulleys' fun retro-cool really cooks.

Unfortunately, there's also plenty that simply doesn't ignite, often because of Eden's simplistic and less-than-skillful lyrics and occasional vocal limitations. Her singing often unfolds in a straight-read, staccato voice that, while effective in many cases, does tend to become one-note. Lyrically, she falters with the overused metaphor of woman-as-addictive-substance in "Addiction," the preachy "Time," the saccharine "Sweet Kiss" and the high school poetry of "Confusion" and "What I Need." "Del Rio," a south-of-the-border road trip song with an infectious beat and great storytelling potential, runs out of gas when nothing much -- other than getting really drunk -- happens to the narrator. Musically, little flourishes of horns, electric piano and the instant-time-machine sound of the Farfisa organ work to great effect but aren't used nearly enough.

When the band does break out with something more ambitious -- like the slower-paced "The Wasteland," with its shifting time signatures and Malone's ghostly echo and country licks guitar -- it stands in bold relief next to the weaker material. Underneath that whipped cream topping there's something more satisfying.

The Hulley Gulleys are attempting something interesting here: a mix-'n'-match approach of several different genres and eras with enough modern sensibility to avoid novelty-act territory. On about half of the record, the formula works wonders, but by taking a stab in too many directions, Living in a Big Pink Edsel becomes not as exciting an existence as the title implies. Perhaps some musical mechanic can get under the hood and fix the next model.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero