The Pastry Heros
Horn Rim Fury E.P.
Pure, unabashed pop bands are a rare commodity locally; the few bands that place themselves in the pop category are generally either pretentious or too talentless to appreciate the measured aesthetics of truly beautiful pop music.
When Alison's Halo broke up, the Valley lost its best shoe-gazer band (not that there are really any others). Luckily, husband/wife duo Adam and Catherine didn't drop their instruments; they just directed their talent toward a different channel (albeit still a Brit-influenced one). Their latest project, the three-piece Pastry Heros, approaches shimmery pop more directly and with less ostentation.
Horn Rim Fury brims with glistening, soothing gems reminiscent of Britain's Heavenly and Tabulah Gosh. Catherine's delicately lilting, breathy voice floats over jangling guitars and subdued drumming throughout the five-song collection. This is ear candy like Phoenix rarely experiences. The songs are constructed with gentle brush strokes of strums, serene bass lines and a quiet Farfisa in the background over themes of yearning hearts and scooter rides.
The Pastry Heros sound as far removed from our little desert scene as one could imagine, and maybe that explains why they've thus far earned more attention outside of the Valley than within (e.g., their March SXSW showcase). This disc belongs on a label like TeenBeat or SpinArt. Those who savor the tender aspects of pop music should rank this alongside their Crabs, Unrest and Softies CDs.
It only takes local quartet Honeybucket a few seconds on its sophomore CD, Quite Tasty, to declare its intent. After a thumping, Studio-54 disco kick-drum beat makes its presence felt, bass and organ lock into a wicked up-for-the-downstroke riff that's relentlessly danceable and smoothly jazzy at the same time. It's a fitting introduction for a band of horny, hedonistic white boys who want the funk and like to hang their hats in the house of Parliament.
Like most modern funksters, Honeybucket cranks it up to 11 from time to time, if only to show that it can bring a bit of weight to its supple grooves without losing its way. "Puckered Starfish (Rockin' Like Dokken)," in spite of its self-deprecating title, actually rocks quite a bit like local funk heavyweight Fred Green, layering sophisticated vocal harmonies over a sledgehammer, metallic guitar riff. The connection shouldn't be surprising, since, like Fred, Honeybucket records at Minds Eye with producer/engineer Larry Elyea, himself a purveyor of heavy grooves with Bionic Jive. In a punkier vein, the aptly titled "Fuck Off" delivers a hard-core pastiche long on attitude, if somewhat shy of originality.
As impressive as such in-your-face digressions are, Honeybucket is most likable when its members slip into their polyester pimp suits and deliver the kind of smooth, stylish funk that no other local band can match. Though everyone in this group can tear it up, Honeybucket's real ace in the hole is keyboardist Strat, who pumps dense, complex chords out of his vintage organ and piano settings. His wild keyboard work carries the exciting "Man Chowder" to dance-floor nirvana, while the spacy "Giovanni Prostate (Xanadu)" also benefits greatly from the '70s-porn-movie gurgles of his synth. On the relatively mellow "Hippy Crack," Strat's piano drives the proceedings with a flair that would make Allen Toussaint envious.
Honeybucket could probably crank out one killer jam like this after another, but it's too musically restless for that. As proven by the unexpected pleasures of such curios as "Send In the Clowns"--a Felliniesque hoe-down nightmare that owes nothing to Stephen Sondheim--the band's eclecticism is ultimately worth the extra effort.
Hillbilly Devilspeak likes to play loud. This compact disc demands to be played loud. The foursome, which won the much coveted Best Punk Band award at the New Times Music Awards Showcase, has been paying its dues around the Valley since 1993, but has gone mostly unnoticed by local scenesters. This can be attributed to some simple reasons--Hillbilly Devilspeak is not stylish; its brand of punk rock is not arty, it's not "emo," there's no pop element, and there are certainly no pretty songs.
Colorized is a monument to all things loud and manic; the songs are messy, reverberating walls of aggression that occasionally reach metallic proportions the way that old-schoolers like Suicidal Tendencies used to (check out "Glad" for the most obvious example).
It's a basic formula--pummeling rhythm section, spasmodic guitar riffs, vocals chanted rather than sung. Lyrical subject matter also harkens back to punk's early days, from antiestablishment rants like the opener, "Casa Bravo," to social-outcast bird-flipping like "Glad" to straight-up shock tactics such as the "you wanna finger my pussy" line on "Koresh Song." While the subject matter seems sophomoric at first glance, Hillbilly Devilspeak injects it with enough cleverness to thrust it beyond junior-high antics.
In short, Hillbilly Devilspeak is nothing especially new, lyrically or sonically, but the sarcasm, virility and aggression that underlie the band catapult it on Colorized to levels that a lesser band with comparable talents couldn't reach.
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