Monday, June 3, 2013

P.L.X.T.X. Rising

During their time together, Female Demand rode high on a wave of growing appreciation for power-duo bands like Lightning Bolt (who have seemingly reached the apex of their mainstream popularity with their inclusion on the star-studded Flaming Lips’ album Heady Fwends). Bradley Muñoz and Jonathan Perez took the drum and bass thrasher concept to its limits, beyond its minimalist noise roots, to an acid-drenched, space-rock climax, on their only full-length album, “Outside the Universe.” They turned heads with their intensity, in life, but broke up rather quietly, with Bradley’s Facebook status about selling his bass as the only public indication.

Given the spastic movements of Bradley’s body, and John’s machine gun nest of percussive contributions, there are few bands in Houston, which matched the pure violence of Female Demand, when playing live. So it should not be all that surprising that Bradley’s departure only led to something more chaotic, more frenzied and more unrestrained. He calls it P.L.X.T.X., but pronounces it Pluto, (like the planet).

The music itself contains the energy of punk, but without the usual instruments or trappings. Muñoz’s vocals are shouted over a variety of ear-wrenching, electro-gunfire-volleys, that make his admirers want to headbang, but cause some, inevitably, to run and hide. In a fusion of the guerilla-gig, floor-circle tradition of Female Demand, and the simple boombox-cabinet stage of B L A C K I E, Muñoz’ setup includes the stark setup of speakers, a mic and himself, on the floor. The result has all the intensity of a dozen Suicide performances, an air-raid and an inescapable, never-ending fire drill all rolled into one. While fascinating to watch, it’s a bit like enduring a heart attack.

The rebirth of Muñoz as a new artist, one distinct from his bass-hero persona, was immediately visible, in an uncanny way. He bleached his hair a blinding white (like the blanching of the reborn Gandalf) and, when on stage, inserted a pair of macabre black contacts which made him look like either like a soulless wraith or some unfriendly alien species. If you haven’t gotten to witness the contacts though, don’t count on seeing them for a while. Apparently they don’t feel as awesome as they look. Muñoz said he stopped using those in April. “These contacts are very uncomfortable and irritating, plus the process of inserting them into your eyes is a challenge,” Munõz complained, “I may bring them back later, but for right now I’m leaving them at home.”

Unfortunately, according to Bradley, the now one man band has bled popularity, when compared to audiences of Female Demand. “It’s not rock and roll. It’s not a ‘band’ performing. It’s one guy and a couple of gadgets working together,” said Muñoz, “But I haven’t tapped into that market, or group of people, who enjoy aggressive electronic music. I’m [P.L.X.T.X.] only a year old.”

But the lack of commercial appeal doesn’t seem to worry Muñoz at this point, given that the project’s debut album “Selective Mutism” includes a blank CD-R, with instructions urging listeners to make free copies. It’s an extreme measure for someone who fronted a band that enjoyed massive local popularity and was possibly on track to join the ranks of Lightning Bolt or Japandroids, with time. “This path I’m taking is expensive. My paycheck goes to this and I don’t see a dime in return — but for the love of creating and challenging listeners, it’s worth it,” Muñoz said.

P.L.X.T.X. is a timely rebuttal to the overly-populist uses of electronic sounds, by so many new and mainstream artists. Carefully marketed dub$tep and electro-pop acts have hi-jacked the instrumentation of innovative artists like Aphex Twin and Squarepusher and made them tame: Almost too approachable. With the waning but for now still-formidable influence of the Night Culture crowd, there is a huge gap in the market of glitchy, experimental, electronic music, and Muñoz is a good contender. As technology continues to push all live performances toward the less-live (more electronic) side of the spectrum, there’s a desperate need for live electronic acts that bend and break rules, rather than just twist and turn knobs.

This summer has afforded P.L.X.T.X. a unique opportunity to make a footprint outside of Houston, in a place few local bands ever get to tour. Muñoz will take his one-man show on the road, to Japan, touring alongside Houston math-rock wizards, Giant Battle Monster. For Bradley, and Giant Battle Monster as well, the tour seems more than appropriate. Given the distance (and the expense) the average person might ask, “Why the hell Japan?!” but, musically, when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. From Merzbow to Melt Banana, the Japanese have a taste for the musical extreme that, is unmatched in the U.S., on a large scale. The tour so far includes multiple dates in Osaka and Tokyo.

In the music industry, there’s a phenomenon known as “big in a Japan.” It describes a western band or musician whose music does poorly or marginally in their home country, but somehow, for some reason, resonates particularly well in Japan. And apparently, there are more examples of this than you might think, including one-hit wonder Mr. Big: writers of acoustic rock cheese-fest “Be with You.” Of course, historically, these acts have been on the campier side, but maybe with enough elbow grease and gumption, P.L.X.T.X. can achieve this distinction while abroad.

Fans of noise, glitch and just generally extreme live performances, can see these two bands off at their June 29th tour kickoff at Notsuoh.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

SHOmework - Peter Murphy 4/26

Houston has been very lucky, over the past few years, to be a frequent tour stop for ex-Bauhaus front-man, Peter Murphy. He played Numbers in 2011, HoB in 2012 and will be returning to Numbers again on the 26th.  This is a special tour though, for a couple reasons, not the least of which is that fact that it almost did not happen.

Murphy vs. Smokey

In late March, Murphy got hauled in by the LAPD for allegedly driving under the influence and having a baggy of meth in his possession. No – let me be more specific – the LAPD said they found the bag in the back of a cruiser used to transport Murphy. If that doesn’t sound fishy enough, Murphy’s legal counsel claims that his client blew .01 on his breath test, which is the lowest amount of blood alcohol the test can even register. The legal limit in most states, including California, is .08.

But fishy or not, the timing was also tragic for fans, given that Murphy’s North American leg starts April 20th. Then there was also the added annoyance that a judge set Murphy’s bail at some ridiculous sum, over concerns that Murphy would try to flee the country. Somehow, and it probably has something to do with the fact that the charges were shaky to begin with, Murphy has been given the go-ahead to tour as planned. He’ll still have to attend a hearing in May, but given the evidence, Murphy seems pretty safe.

Mr. Moonlight

The second most exciting aspect of this tour, besides the fact that Murphy is still actually performing instead of sitting in jail, is the set list. In the past, Murphy’s setlists have relied heavily on solo material, some of which succeeds and some of which is painful to behold. The point being that set lists that give preference to solo material fly in the face of why most people attend shows. Yes, “Cuts You Up” is a decent solo song and I wouldn’t mind seeing it live, but that’s absolutely not the reason people come. People come mostly for the 2-3 Bauhaus songs he might perform (last tour Murphy did “Silent Hedges”, “Stigmata Martyr” and “Too Much 21st Century”).

The Mr. Moonlight tour will be a celebration of 35 years of Bauhaus. The set list will be all Bauhaus, all night. If there is a time to see Murphy, it is now. Even though a full Bauhaus reunion would be the best scenario, it ain’t gonna happen. When they reunited in 2006 to record “Go Away White,” they couldn’t even stay together long enough to do a full supporting tour. For the rest of eternity, it’s going to be Peter Murphy one night and Love and Rockets another night.

For those of you who have Spotify, click here for what is, in my estimation, a likely set list for Murphy next Friday.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

SHOW REVIEW: Jandek, Houston, 3/10

Sunday night's show should have just been billed as "Maze of the Phantom, class of 2012 reunion". If you haven't listened to the 2012 Jandek studio album of the same name, this will mean very little to you. However, if you, like me, purchased a copy of "Maze. . .", you will be able to recollect the very specific type of music played. For those of you who need to play some catchup (or think you know Jandek), click on the link above for a chunk of the Maze.

Sterling gathered all of the musians that patricipated in this album, under one beautiful roof (St. Paul's Methodist Church, in downtown Houston), and led a series of ad hoc pieces that could all have easily been alternate takes for Maze, albiet with the added treat of the church's cavernous reverberation. It was not a recital of Maze, but rather another stab at spontaneous collaboration, using all the mostly the same intstruments and all the same musicians. The only true difference between the original album and this live reinterpretation, was the fact that the representative from Corwood was propped up by a grand piano, rather than synth keyboard. 

The music of each player was a visual and sonic treat. Percussion was provided by James Metcalf, who was stationed behind an unconventional drum kit composed of various bells, woodblocks and more. Isabelle Ganz provided heavenly operatic vocalizations mixed with some entertainingly unusual, not-so-operatic vocalizations. Eric Avinger played flute and an electric guitar filtered, through, among many other effects, a volume pedal (think of some delicate Steve Howe work here) and some modulation pedals. The billing listed Eric's slot as "space guitar", which sounds odd, but, while it's hard to explain, if you listened Sunday night, it would not seem appropriate to list his contributions as merely "guitar." May Deyer played cello and sporadic harp accompaniment was supplied by an unnamed woman, who was not announced on the bill.

It was a magical collaboration that, while, to the vanilla ear, probably bordered on bizarre at times, was surprisingly melodic and majestic. Sterling did not leap to the fore too often but he had his moments. His work on the piano was far more subdued and melodic than what most people are probably used to hearing when guitar-hero Jandek (as I like to describe this persona) shows up.

Even though I love to hear Sterling sing, chant, -do spoken word stuff- and wish he had chipped in a few pieces of wisdom, this show was mindblowing and will sound great once pressed by Corwood. Judging by the normal rate of Jandek's live album output, it will be available for purchase in about 2018.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Jandek quitely announces 6 pm Sunday gig

I only found out about this two days ago via an unceremonious email from Sugar Hill studios' Andy Bradely. But, really, finding out this way, as opposed to the usual Facebook notification or listing on Space City Rock, seems more appropriate, given the cryptic nature of the enigma that is Jandek.

Mr. Bradley kindly gave me the following information:


Erich Avinger-Space guitar and bansuri flutes
Max Dyer-cello
Isabelle Ganz-vocals
Mary Radspinner-harp
James Metcalfe-percussion" 

When I asked how much it would be to attend, he wrote me, "ten bucks." I hope to see some of you there.

PS If anyone has any idea what a "space guitar" is, would you be so kind to send me an answer by email? It sounds intriguing.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

New Bibio more rocky than I remember

I've missed Bibio almost as much as I've missed Caribou, for my fix of lo-fi, looped psychedelia. But this track definitely tides me over a bit. In fact, it's satisfying my Beta Band cravings too. 

The new track is surprising in that it features prominent vocals and less of a patched-together sound. The song is less of Bibio's usual experimentation with textures and spaciness and more of a cohesive rock/songwriting experience. 

Maybe Bibio's upcoming album (projected for May) will consist of more tracks like this: rock songs as assembled by a very non-rock artist. I guess we will know in May.

Listen here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

SHOW REVIEW: Tame Impala, Houston, 2/25

Tame Impala played for a sold-out room at Fitzgerald's last night and certainly met my high expectations. They were psychedelic and professional, at the same time. From what I witnessed, they definitely had any tendencies toward silly excesses or uncomfortable, 10+ minute, meandering, jam breakdowns beaten out of them, by heavy touring and their recent success. I say this because those problems are always a consideration when watching psych bands (new or old), live. Leave the 20 minute drum solos and flaming teeth riffs to people who are already dead. You are not breaking any new ground- thanks. ANYWAY- their playing was tight but breezy, accurately capturing the dreaminess of their music, in-studio.

I only caught a little bit of openers, The Growl, but I liked what I heard. They sounded to me like what Led Zeppelin might have become if, in addition to all the old Delta greats, they had somehow been influenced by modern music, like Jack White or punk rock.The front-man played better harmonica than anyone I've ever seen live (except for maybe Stevie Wonder) and absolutely crushed Son House's "John the Revelator".

Enter Tame Impala. A lot of the material played came off of "Lonerism", which delighted me because it was the album I was familiar with. Being the shallow music snob I am, it took seeing the 9.0 score in Pitchfork (which only happened in October) for me to take them more seriously than I had, in the past. So I was not all that familiar with anything off their first LP.

Luckily, the sound was incredible, last night. Given that we were at Fitzgerald's, I wasn't surprised, but all the levels were such that I could hear everything, from the impressively articulate bass playing to Kevin Parker's angelic, heavily phased vocals. This is key, given that on their albums, Parker's sunny, John Lennon, Brian Wilson-y cantation has just as much to do with how psychedelic the music feels as the space-rock guitars or warm, mock-analog synthesizers. Lighting was also phenomenal.

Some of the music I heard seemed to be piped-in, at least during the less integral parts (like the perpetual drum loop on "Be Above It). However, there were times when it seemed back-tracking or triggered sounds were used when the keyboard player could have probably done it live. And yeah, it did disappoint me just a little bit that that the aforementioned drum loop was not live. Yet, my complaints here aren't directed at any of the musicians' abilities. It was plain to see that they all knew what they were doing up there.

"Be Above It" and "Apocalypse Dreams" were the show's highlights. And even though the somewhat cheesy and ill-fitting hard-rock tune "Elephant" got repetitive really quickly, the bridge of the song, framed by possibly live, possibly back-tracked organ, was one of the nights coolest moments. It was neat to see one of the most dramatic parts of "Lonerism" acted out, in front of me, by some very promising young musicians. Seeing that this show sold out weeks ago, it is very possible that Tame Impala may never play another venue this size, again, for future Houston dates. I'm happy I was there.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Maria Minerva - "Bless" EP

It's a rare treat when a dance artist actually puts out more than one track at a time. The most compelling, club-ready dance music seems to only come out in trickles of singles (or EPs that are, themselves, nothing more than one track and 3 or 4 remixes). But Estonian electronic artist Maria Minerva has bucked that trend, with this EP. It contains 4 original tracks and they are all solidly listenable.

"Black Magick" is easily the EP's standout track. Its forward machine-gun snare and steadily pumping synth line make it obvious dance floor fodder. Minerva's vocals are hypnotic. Ladytron fans (like me) will drool. A dark, magical theme pervades her lyrics as she quips, "you cut me in half and you put me together again".
"Space 4 U" would be just as robust as dance material, if it weren't as down-tempo and experimental. But that being said, it's still a pleasure to listen to. I don't know what she's saying, but it's very sexy, mysterious and maybe even profound. But I can't say for sure because all I can get other than "make a wish, boy" is something about "super trooper". Hopefully not this kind.

"Symbol Of My Pleasure" is pleasantly old-school, with its Liquid Liquid cowbells. Minerva's lyrics are hard to make out as they are shrouded behind a curtain of delay.

"Soul Searchin' "'s chrous of "too much, is never enough", when combined with bongos, is pleasantly reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem, albeit, with her sleepy vocals, it's more like LCD Soundsystem on Quaaludes, after a week of staying awake. Once again, Minerva's vocals are hypnotizing (but they also sound like they're being uttered while under the influence hypnotic trance). The vocals are intercut with a slowed-down rendition George Carlin's now-famous "Modern Man" monologue. 

Entertaining stuff.