Houston Music

Various Artists

If the Top Ten paybacks on mp3.com are any indication, electronic dance, in all its various forms, is a phenomenon whose popularity seemingly can't be stopped. Houston is not immune to the charms of dance. Judging from the massive numbers attending raves, Space City has its fair share of superior techno acts. WE Records, originally founded by ex-local Jason Whitmire to promote Houston bands, is now strictly an electronic label, and since November 1998 it has regularly brought attention to the work of underground artists through the Please Rewind and Play Again series. While PRAPA includes indie acts from all over the United States, the bulk of the compilations clearly is devoted to Texans.

Unlike its predecessors, Volume IV covers only breakneck beats-per-minute, leaving the ambient and downbeat tracks for a new WE compilation series, Chill Room. Techno styles on Volume IV shift from house to breakbeat to drum 'n' bass. Each track furthers the progression of obsessive drum hits. Vocals are mostly redundant, but spoken-word samples do drift in during the lulls between the rapid, driving beats. After all, this is primarily dance music and, as such, isn't really meant to be scrutinized closely.

The first three tracks, Kalpana's "Mean Too," Void Failure's "Subversion" and Magic Firesheep's "Iceberg," are tweaker candy, with fast hard-core house beats and lots of repetition. Of particular note, Magic Firesheep (a.k.a. Joey Jaime), along with Population Zero (a.k.a. Jason Walsh) and Colin Travis, are the original members of the Houston electronic collective Firing Squad. Travis, depending on his style, also works under the moniker djmmj?, whose mellow "Where Did I Go??" is part of this set. Population Zero offers the drum 'n' bass "Nightlight," but it seems like it would be better off as straight trance. "Iceberg," meanwhile, purports to be trance, but is far too bouncy for such a designation.

Initialization String, which consists of Aaron Anthony and Josh Meredith of Fort Worth, lays down nice breaks adorned by dulcimer filigrees on "Watchful Eyes." "Roll the Drums," a clunker from Austin's SE Stalker & Bishop, dulls the senses and gets overly cheesy with the bass. Locals DR:OP:FR:AM+E (Tim Thomson and Mike Schneider) present a selection from their debut album, The Rule of Capture. Their "Free Four What," one of the more interesting tracks on the compilation, features vocals by Bliss Blood of the Pain Teens in a whirring cyber-environment.

Other Houston artists include wES wALLACE, resident DJ at Numbers, and Vertigo Blue, whose contributions here are rather laid-back. Arthur Loves Plastic follows suit with the acid jazz "Carry You Away." The Rev. Kathy Russell of Austin and Population Zero end the compilation with frenzied bouts of drum 'n' bass.

The PRAPA series provides a useful outlet to artists who generally would not see the light of a record store. It's a chance to listen in to the latest from the underground electronic scene. At the same time, it serves as a good tour of techno, trance, breakbeat, drum 'n' bass and the various cross-genre forms.

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Sande Chen