Various Artists, I Hate It Here, I Never Want To Leave

Various Artists, I Hate It Here, I Never Want To Leave

Damn, I feel old. I can remember a time when I’d scour the “Local” CD racks at Cactus and Soundwaves for H-town bands and comps, happily go see whoever was playing at Rudyard’s, Mary Jane’s, or The Oven on any given night, and shake my head in amazement at the wealth of unknown, unrecognized, don’t-give-a-damn bands making their musical way through this city. These days, Cactus and Soundwaves are a long drive from the house, as are Rudz and the other Montrose/Washington hangouts, and having a little girl to take care of generally means I don’t get out all that often after dark. The amazement, though, is still fully intact — and it hit me again, full in the face, when I put on this comp of local noisemakers, Mustache Records’ I Hate It Here, I Never Want To Leave. Which, incidentally, is a pretty perfect title for a comp of Houston bands; ask anybody who lives here, and they’ll tell you they hate the noise, the pollution, the stupidity, and all the rest, but they somehow can’t escape. We Houstonians live in the urban equivalent of a black hole, unable to break past the event horizon and get out to other, more hospitable locales.

The nice thing about being trapped in this tar pit of a city, though, is that it tends to breed camaraderie. We’re all in the same sinking ship, right, so why fight? One of my favorite aspects of the Houston music scene has always been the community — in general, there’s not a whole lot of infighting or competition, and a whole heck of a lot more cooperation and friendship. The best part of playing in a band here, for me, had nothing to do with actually playing, I’ll admit it — that was cool and all, but it was also stressful as hell — but just with watching other friends play and hanging out. Bands are friends, or at least acquaintances, and not rivals for bookings or major-label love — ’cause really, what big-time label in their right mind ever looks to Houston as the home of the Next Big Thing, anyway?

Of course, it’d be more than a bit disingenuous for me to claim that any of the bands on I Hate It Here are really aiming for NBT status to begin with. Houston’s gone through several “waves” of bands over the years — there was the funk wave, the indie-pop wave, the ska wave, the emo wave, the garage-rock mini-wave, and probably a dozen others besides, all in the last decade or so. Each one comes and goes, with a flood of talented, dedicated bands doing their thing ’til they run out of steam and dissipate back into the humid Houston air, only to be recycled around and become the next flood of music-makers. While many of the folks represented on I Hate It Here have been around a while, it’s true, the disc almost seems to represent a relatively recent “wave” of sorts — the noise-rock wave, the experimenters, the more avant-garde bands of the bunch. There ain’t no sweet, sappy singer-songwriters or cheery pop-punk bands here, kids.

Within that “noise-rock” framework, naturally, the music runs the gamut. First up are Estrus Records’ own Fatal Flying Guilloteens, whose “Cobra Pills” is a nice slice of raw, ragged-edged rawk, although I should note that it’s less “dirty” and more polished than what I’m used to from these guys (hell, it’s probably the cleanest-sounding track on here). At the same time, though, it really shows how much more of an honest-to-Jeebus band they’ve become, and that’s got to be a good thing. Then there’s The Slurpees (now known as The Squishees, thanks to a 7-Eleven lawsuit; see the review of their CD elsewhere on this site) with “I, Evil Knievel,” which really makes me wonder whether or not to take these guys seriously — they’re a bunch of pranksters, yeah, but they also do a good job of melding garage-y rock with smooth pop-song timing and even a little funk.

As for Bring Back The Guns, who contribute “The Family Name” to the mess, well, no matter how many songs he writes, BBTG ringleader Matt Brownlie just gets stranger and stranger, and thank God for that, ’cause it’s always entertaining. You can never be sure what the heck they’re going to do next, but it’s generally off-kilter while still remaining pretty much pop at its core; this track’s no exception, and it’s damn fine. The Kants go a bit darker with “Scissors,” a bit of noisy, urgent rock that brings to mind both the pre-Tortoise Chicago contingent of post-rockers like June Of 44 and old-school NYC noisemakers Cop Shoot Cop, and Sjolander turn in what’s got to be the most out-and-out beautiful track here, “Divide & Conquer,” a turbulent yet still somehow delicate instrumental that just kind of burns the house down slowly while you sleep.

I’d been meaning to catch UME for a while now, especially given the recent acclaim they’ve received elsewhere, so I was particularly curious to hear their contribution, “Hurricane” — and luckily, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s quiet, creepy rock, with edge-of-a-knife female vocals from guitarist/singer Lauren Larson, and it reminds me somewhat of the A Frames or (yeah, I hate to say it, but here it comes) the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and damn, I need to go see this band live — sadly, it appears that two-thirds of the band relocated to the Northeast earlier this year, but hopefully they’ll be back to do some shows. After that, The Jonx throw in “These Days,” a spastic, disjointed, kind of muscular-sounding piece of geek-rock (I dunno why, but the guys in the band always sound to me like they’re wrestling with their instruments) that lapses occasionally into little bits of pretty melodicism. (I should also note here, by the way, that the comp was assembled by the ever-hardworking Daniel Mee, who drums for The Jonx, as well as DJing at KTRU and moonlighting for us here at SCR as a damn talented writer. He deserves his props for this one, yo.)

Unfortunately, “These Days” leads into the comp’s two low points (relatively, at least): Satin Hooks’ “Electric Room,” which is messy and a little overblown, hard to get a handle on; and Dead Roses’ “I Death You to Death,” which is pretty much just an inside joke gone horribly awry. Sorry, guys, but while I like musical silliness as much as anybody, it doesn’t work as well on CD as it does live, at least not for me…. Both tracks serve a purpose, though, in that they let the Swarm of Angels’ “Hereafter” step in and show how it’s done — unlike “Electric Room,” in particular, “Hereafter” manages to be dissonant and noisy and yet still hold tightly together, partly thanks to Nikki Texas’s scratched, David Ouimet-sounding vocals. Torches of Fury then gallop in with “Medieval Jam,” a rockin’ mëtäl instrumental — woo-hoo! (fists in the air) — that’s all dueling Judas Priest guitars, and I Hate It Here trudges slowly to a close with God’s Temple of Family Deliverance doing “You Are the Shining Star of His Existence,” a thick, grindingly slow, doom-laden sludge-rock almost-instrumental track where thundering drums and bassy guitars trade hits back and forth for nearly 16 minutes of Melvins-/Isis-style bliss. Hoo-ah.

Now, if you think that sounds like quite a mess, it is. And it’s not always easy to listen to, that’s for damn sure — melodies and hooks are few and far between, and you’d be well-advised to keep the Advil handy for repeated listenings. As a musical representation of H-town, though, it’s spot-on. Houston’s one hell of a schizophrenic city — part country-cowboy, part urban hippie; part Hummer, part Art Car; part River Oaks, part Montrose — so it’s logical that the music made here reflect that collision of ideas, lifestyles, and cultures. This sprawling metropolis is a big, sloppy, noisy, dirty mess, and so, on final analysis, is I Hate It Here, I Never Want To Leave…and it’s an incredible document, for that. My one complaint? I want more. I want more bands like this on the disc, I want a bigger snapshot of the murky undercurrent that’s flowing these days beneath the Houston streets. I want more compilations like this, so aging homebodies like my lame self can hear what we’ve been missing.

(Mustache Records -- 322 Aurora Street, Houston, TX. 77008; N/A)

Review by . Review posted Saturday, October 1st, 2005. Filed under Reviews.

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