Blackmarket Syndicate, And the Peasants Rejoiced: It's hard for us to see the title of Blackmarket Syndicate's second album without thinking about that line in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, "and there was much rejoicing." But the Houston punk-rock quartet takes this stuff seriously, maybe a little too seriously. Like obvious influences Bad Religion and Rancid, BMS are not only willing to stand up for their beliefs but go to the wall if necessary ("Avalanche," "Great Leap Forward"), and the strength of their convictions boosts not only their credibility but their punchy, pogo-ready songwriting. Peasants is being pressed on vinyl only; they really are old-school.
SCEF, My Life of Rhyme: We have family in the area, one of the most remote areas of East Texas, so we're always amused to find someone else from Newton and Jasper. (Those two towns make Lufkin look like the big city.) SCEF, who is also from that part of the world, styles himself as a rapper, but he's as much a poet and storyteller. His voice is gruff and authoritative like Tupac's or Bun B's, but he's a lover, not a gangster. SCEF's topics are childhood memories ("Beat Boxin' in the Classroom") and superficiality ("Clothes"), while the music — assisted by female vocalist Gia and a six-piece live band — tends toward jazzy neo-soul more than club bangers. Still, "Somewhere Out in the World" will have your head nodding.
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The Eastern Sea, Plague (White Lab Black Lab): The Eastern Sea, recent ex-Houstonians who now live in Austin (of course), come described as combining the "hypnotic rhythm of post-rock, playful melodies of traditional American folk, and the dynamics of contemporary progressive indie-rock." One day publicists will learn it's not necessary to list each subgenre an album such as the Eastern Sea's Plague may touch on — that it's enough to say that people who enjoy listening to the Shins, Wilco and Death Cab for Cutie will probably like this, too. Built on a melodic pyramid of Matthew Hines's boyish vocals, organ and spidery guitar, Plague can run together in spots, but someone should definitely give the trumpet player a raise.
Zach Tate Band, End of Time (Foztark): One of the more pleasant aspects of summer in Houston is that bars and icehouses across the area throw open their doors to the kind of laid-back, country-tinged blues-rock that goes much better with a beer and a salty Gulf breeze. Zach Tate leads a textbook example of such a band, and his new album End of Time is laced with reggae and zydeco, but most of all headed straight for I-45 South: "Meet me on the beach in Galveston." Jimmy Buffett comes to town only every couple of years or so (like June 2 at the Woodlands Pavilion), but Zach Tate Band should satisfy your Parrothead needs the rest of the time.
Oz Knozz, True Believer: Quick, name a Houston rock band that started in 1969 and still exists. Okay, one not named ZZ Top. That would be Ozz Knozz, which came together around a core of Westbury High alumni — Duane Massey, his brother Bill and Marty Naul. The band has survived periods of inactivity, innumerable lineup changes (even the band doesn't know how many) and shows with up to 25 people onstage at once to arrive at new album True Believer. The members of Ozz Knozz call their music "progressive rock," but True Believer is so much more than that. "Far Away," for example, throws a Dizzy Gillespie-esque bebop trumpet break into the middle of some serious Iron Maiden power-metal riffage.
And that's just one song; others are heavy with piano and keyboards from every Yes album you've ever heard (maybe there is something to that "prog" thing). Overall, True Believer can seem a little arbitrary and rely more on jamming than true songwriting, but it's so far out of the realm of what any other recent band is doing these days, maybe anywhere, that...well, it's just awesome. It's a trip.