Madness on Main 2017 Rundown, Pt. 2: The Phantom Royals + Handsomebeast + Flyger Woods + Kiko Villamizar + Ruiners + texture: Yellow + MOTHS + Black Pistol Fire

Alright, people — we’re back again with Round 2 of SCR‘s traditional rundowns on as many people playing this weekend’s Madness on Main Music Festival up at White Oak Music Hall as we can manage (and keep our sanity, anyway). In case you missed the first bunch, head on over here.

Before we get into it, though, I completely blanked on the non-musical side of Madness on Main when I posted about the festival previously. For one thing, there’s supposedly going to be something called a “Festival Fashion experience” from the folks at Kaleidoscope Houston; I don’t know what that means, but hey, if you’re into fashion-y, um, things, well, there you go. (Apparently there’ll be a clothing swap for kids, but I’m confused as to the logistics of that — are the kids wearing the clothes to the festival, and then they trade?)

Then there’ll be some neat-sounding artwork going on, courtesy of featured artist Donkeeboy (Alex Roman), who’s going to be unveiling a big mural to do with Tex-Mex influences in H-town music. And there’ll also be a whole market area for crafts and handmade items, out in the parking lot and featuring a bunch of booths where you can buy things and food trucks where you can buy food. And the whole thing is a measly $20, or free if you happen to be a child 12 years old and under. (Which, yes, most people reading this probably are not, but my daughter swears some of her classmates read SCR, so hey, you never know.)

With that out of the way, off we go:

The Phantom Royals
You know what I’ve been missing, and hadn’t even realized it ’til now? Surf-rock. Listening to The Phantom Royals, I’m suddenly hit by that particular revelation, bobbing my head along and foot-tapping like a crazy person as the band’s echoey, twangy, watery sound washes through my headphones. They’ve got those Ventures-style rhythms down perfectly, while the guitars are like a mellowed-out Dick Dale (and I’ve gotta say, I give these guys points for not doing an obligatory “Misirlou” cover here). There’s a little bit of an out-West feel to a few tracks (“Railvette,” in particular), which I’m cool with, and a whole lot of sunburned, boogie-around-the-campfire rocking out besides. (Oh, and the band all wears masks and capes, because of course they do.)

Now, Houston’s never really been a hub for surf-rock (or any other permutation of “surf-” music, for that matter), outside of a handful of bands like The Escatones and The Molly Maguires, and I’ve actually got no clue why, because I’ve met a crapload of people here who surf, even if they have to drive down to Surfside or Galveston to do it. There is a surf scene, albeit one that’s pretty unknown to anybody who’s not down at the coast regularly, and it feels almost criminal — to me, at least — that there’s not a whole pile of bands providing a soundtrack for it. Maybe The Phantom Royals can spark some kind of H-town surf-music renaissance? Here’s hoping; I’d say they’re the guys to do it.


 

Handsomebeast
First things first: any band that writes a song about ever-amazing movie icon Bill Murray is cool by me. Make it a fiery blast of ’70s-/’80s-tinged funk-rock, and holy shit, y’all can officially do no goddamn wrong. And that, friends, is exactly what Houston-bred funky rock-soul band Handsomebeast has done on their recent album, The Badass Future (released on Wonky Power Records back in December 2016). If there’s any true goodness in the world, there will someday soon be a video for “Bill Murray,” and in my own personal perfect world, it’ll star The Man Himself. Universe, could you make that happen for me? Cool, thanks.

And while my Bill Murray video dreams will have to wait, the band has provided a truly surreal, trippy (and yeah, somewhat terrifying) video for “Nevada”, where the soulful, surprisingly sweet tune serves as a romantic backdrop for two, um, monsters (I think?) in love. In the hands of a lesser band, the whole thing would come off as trite and cheeseball, but Handsomebeast makes it work, like some weirdo cousin of Justin Timberlake after doing a shitload of acid. And yeah, that’s better than it sounds.


 

Flyger Woods
There’s a whole crew of new, hungry rappers out there, lurking right under the surface of the Houston scene right now, and the more I hear, the more impressed I am by ’em. I mean, obviously, there’re always young guys wanting to make their name and break out of the underground, but most of the time when I actually hear what they’re doing, it’s pretty clear that underground is where they need to stay. For Flyger Woods and his crew, though, that definitely isn’t the case.

The beats are nice and low-key, dark and murky and soulful all at once, and Woods’ delivery is confident, fast, and fluid, pulling you in with lyrics that are personal and straightforward while successfully avoiding the overdone dope-and-guns tropes (and thank God for that, because that shit is beyond old at this point). Check this guy out, y’all, seriously.


 

Kiko Villamizar
I feel like I’d better say this up front, just to get it out of the way: I don’t speak Spanish. I took 8 years of French, from high school to college, and I can still barely speak that; my Spanish fluency is several lightyears worse, which means I can pick out occasional words that mostly have to do with bathrooms and Tex-Mex dishes. I say this because Kiko Villamizar hails from Colombia (by way of Austin) and sings exclusively in Spanish, so I’ve got no idea what he’s singing about, most of the time.

That said, sometimes comprehension isn’t crucial to listening to and enjoying something — hell, I love the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack, too, and the only words I understand on the whole album are “fuego” and “candela”. And so far, Villamizar’s music is hitting me the same way; it’s pretty great, despite the language barrier. To my ears, there’s a heavy Caribbean influence going on, with a lot of a cumbia sound in evidence, which makes sense, given the guy’s Colombian heritage. There’s also an excellent Andean flute on several tracks, and that’s something I’m always down with. Out of all of the acts on the lineup for this year’s Madness on Main, Villamizar stands out as something completely different, in the best way possible.


 

Ruiners
Okay, so this will probably sound like an exaggeration, but I swear it isn’t: I’ve loved this band from the first 30 seconds of the first song I ever heard from them. No, really. From the first distorted-yet-melodic chords and sung-yelled verse(?) of Ruiners“One” (off the band’s pre-breakup/-reunion self-titled EP back in 2013), I was sold, utterly and completely. It was noisy and messy and raw but full of energy and abandon and just this joy that make me sit up and say, “holy shit, what was that?,” when it finished.

Four years on, the band has broken up, half moved to London, then moved back, and then reformed with a new lineup, but that energy, that joy, it’s still there, at least if last year’s Wasted Years EP is any proof. Things are louder and a bit heavier this time around, but the buzzsaw distortion drenching the melody, Sonic Youth-style, is in full effect, the rhythms are furious and driving, and those sung-yelled-spoken vocals are as good as I remember. The band’s like the perfect combination of Silkworm (especially that bass on “Dhost,” damn…), Sonic Youth, and Japandroids, all wound up into a tight, bright ball of wire that’s then plugged into a light socket.


 

texture: Yellow
Sometimes doing these little rundown things gets frustrating, and this, sadly, is one of those times. See, I’ve heard of texture: Yellow for quite a while now, but I’ve never actually heard them, y’know what I mean? The band’s Soundcloud page is empty, which is a shame, and their Facebook page doesn’t have anything to watch or listen to, either.

But then, after some Googling and head-scratching, I accidentally stumbled across — lo and behold! — the band’s own YouTube channel, where they’ve got at least a handful of videos uploaded. The quality ain’t perfect, looking and sounding like it was all recorded at the practice space, but I’m glad to be able to see/hear the songs, even still. texture: Yellow are appealingly mellow, at least in this format, playing a laidback, bluesy kind of jazz-soul that I’m enjoying quite a bit. Frontwoman Alyssia Dieringer, in particular, has a beautifully husky, rough-edged voice, one that sounds like she’d be equally at home busking on a corner as she would rocking out electrified on a stage. I’m thinking I need to see these folks live, and soon.


 

MOTHS
Longtime noise-rockers MOTHS may tend to dwell in the darker, danker corners of the Houston scene, but don’t take that to mean they’re some crafter of unlistenable squall. Okay, there’s some of that, sure, but take that wall-of-bombast and marry it to ridiculously agile, prog-rock-on-speed guitar riffs and figures, and you’ll get a better picture of what these guys are about. It’s noisy as hell, definitely, but it’s also intricate, a spiraling, jazz-like sound that builds and builds until it damn near destroys itself with its own sheer weight. Think The Locust crossbred with Scale The Summit, and you’ll be close.

Now, I’ll grant that this isn’t for everybody; I know that MOTHS has been a grower for me, for sure, and I tend to like stuff like this to at least some degree. But if you can deal with the feedback and screaming, hear through it to the complex structures being created beneath, it’s seriously worth it.


 

Black Pistol Fire
And here we come to the actual headliners of this year’s Madness on Main, Austin band Black Pistol Fire. I’ve been hearing about these guys for a long damn time, it feels like, since back in 2012 when they put out Shut Up!, their EP tribute to Little Richard, but never got around to hearing ’em. I’m damn glad to’ve finally gotten the chance.

It’s really easy when you’re making music like this for it to be utterly derivative. I’d say fully two-thirds of the bands I hear like this, making retro-style rawk/Americana that points simultaneously to Led Zeppelin, the Stones, Blind Faith, and all the blues greats those guys drew their influences from. To their credit, Black Pistol Fire manage to make the sound their own, bringing together all of the aforementioned stuff and adding in a more backwoodsy vibe (on last year’s Don’t Wake the Riot, anyway) than most of their forebears. They’re like The White Stripes before they fell down the rabbit hole and Jack White went off to focus on other stuff.

The duo’s sound — which, I should note, sounds like it comes from a total of at least five dudes, not just two — is thick like fatback, with just the right level of fuzz around the edges, dark and down-low so it sounds exactly like it should. It’s heavy without being metal, raw without being noise, and rural without being country. And put together, all good.

Black Pistol Fire: Bad Blood – Live at Governors Ball 2016 from Black Pistol Fire on Vimeo.

 

That’s where I’m gonna call it for today, people; more will be on the way soon, though, honest. We’ll get through as many of these as we can…

(Photos: Ruiners photo by Keith Hatch; MOTHS photo by Andrew Dominguez.)


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