I'll Be Here Awake
I reviewed Arthur Yoria's self-titled debut EP in these pages a few years back, so I was happily surprised to find his first full-length release, I'll Be Here Awake, waiting for me in the mailbox one afternoon. It turns out that I somehow missed a second EP, Can You Still Look Adorable, so maybe that's where the stylistic step forward actually took place, but either way, Yoria's come a good ways from that first EP. The first effort was a "bedroom record" of sorts, with Yoria playing the smooth-talking-yet-sensitive seducer, but Awake (out on the label he co-owns with former Houston Rocket Matt Maloney) is rawer, almost scared, like the seducer woke up one morning with the awful realization that the endless string of one-night stands weren't really getting him anywhere.
Given that, of course, love's still Yoria's main topic -- it's just that the focus seems to've shifted a bit. Nearly every single song here deals with a relationship of one form or another, with the notable exception of "Here to Stay," a beautiful, deliberate, quietly frustrated song about sitting and just trying to figure out what the heck's going on. It sounds halfway like a mission statement, with Yoria wondering "what the hell am I fighting for?" but then flatly declaring "I'm here to stay." Going by this album, that's a good thing (although I think the song would've worked better as the album's closer). There are a lot of high points here, from the pleading, sympathy-seeking pop of "Permanent" (I like the little throat-clearing bit, despite my general dislike for vocal tricks; it helps the lyrics come off like a well-rehearsed speech left as a message on an answering machine) to the grooving, chugging rocker "At Least You've Been Told," which ably swipes the bassline from Sugar's "A Good Idea" (although, to be fair, Bob Mould swiped it from The Pixies in the first place).
The title track is a good one, too, with vocals that make me think of popsters The Push Kings, an insistent electronic drumbeat, and seesawing electric guitars. Then there's "Call Me," which melds a pretty piano melody and sweet, yearning chorus with roaring guitars, the soft, whispery, Elliott Smith-like "P.S.A.," and "I'll Pretend," which incorporates a bumping rhythm and a nice string section into a desperate-sounding, David Garza-ish pop-rock song. The David Garza comparison's an easy one -- Latino guy singing pretty, electronics-inflected songs about love, backed by dueling acoustic and electric guitars -- but it's honestly not as much in evidence as it was the last time 'round. This time Yoria feels more like his own man, and that the muse he's following is his own.
Now, I hate to say it, but I feel bad for Arthur Yoria. He's a damn good songwriter and musician, and I've loved just about everything I've heard from him so far (heck, the only two missteps here are "Sleep Is 0n the Way" and "Sevilla," and they'd be good for anybody else), but...well, I think he's in the wrong city. Historically speaking, Houston has not been real kind to local pop acts. Seriously -- in terms of nationally-known musicians, we've spawned plenty of country artists, a slew of soul/rap stars, and even a handful of indie-rock bands (most of whom are probably known better outside Houston than in), but pop bands? Maybe I'm blanking on a few names, but I honestly can't think of any. The last truly great pop band we had, Beatles worshippers The Jinkies, floundered magnificently in obscurity for something like a decade before shrugging and moving on to other things. I'd hate to see Yoria follow their example.
I don't mean to say, by the way, that nobody beyond country singers and Destiny's Child wannabees should even bother trying -- I'd love to be proven wrong, and there are some incredible bands in this town who seem to not even care that they won't be getting a major-label deal any time soon. I'm just saying that Arthur Yoria feels to me like somebody who should be on a major label, that he could make it there, and that he'd do well with a much larger audience than the one he's currently playing to at various coffeehouse gigs around H-town.
That's why I feel bad, because he is good, and not only that, but he'd probably fit in up there in The Big Leagues of Pop...and yet, if he sticks around here, record label reps aren't likely to come knocking any time soon. And that's a shame, because he's worth a heck of a lot more than the cost of a measly roundtrip ticket from Hollywood or NY. (JH)
(12 Records -- 12Records "at" excite.com; Arthur Yoria -- http://www.arthuryoria.com/)