Children of Pop and the Fine Art of the Remix

Pre Madonna REMIXES

"Ah, so happily we live,
Without misery among those in misery.
Among people in misery,
We live without misery."
From the Dhammapada

The Children of Pop write music for people who live among those in misery. Bringing joy to people during shattered moments in their lives is a gift. Many musicians plead with us to share their desolation, too willing to sell songs of sadness with the hope of us understanding them. Underneath the layers of voices on songs like "Jealous Lover" and "Taking Over" are reminders that at the end of the day, everything is going to be just fine.

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NYGE's Debut Album, 12, Has the Hooks

Categories: Listen Up!

Nigel Bologna, better known by his handle NYGE, is dropping into the Houston music scene this week with a debut album appropriately titled 12 for the 12 tracks that make up its run time. For a first attempt, it's definitely worth a listen, with a few strokes here and there of real genius.

NYGE is a little hard to pigeonhole. Nominally this is a rap album and 80 percent of what you hear on it will be rapping. That said, it's not any sort of rap as Houston would normally define it. It's certainly not scene rap, if you get my drift. Instead, it tends to draw from other places a bit more esoteric.

Strings and electronica ambience play a large part in the production of 12 and in many ways are its main strength. It's not BLSHS or anything like that, but it's still a phenomenally pretty record that could have served as something of a branch between the harsher industrial wave in Houston at the turn of the century and the more ethereal sounds that are current now.

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Believe It or Not, It's Okay If You've Never Heard of Paul McCartney

Photo by Deepti Hari/Flickr Commons
Not fade away? One day, even McCartney will

Oh, music 2015, you cheeky little baby new year. If this whole Kanye West-Paul McCartney thing is a sign of what we can expect from you as you grow older, I've gotta say, I like your style, kid.

"Only One," was delivered by proud parents Yeezus and Macca on New Year's morning. Slapped on the ass and thrown into an unsuspecting world, the collaboration between two music icons of seemingly clashing backgrounds and followings has been some of the biggest news - music-related or otherwise - of the fresh year.

Even with its incantation to "Tell Nori about me" - the nickname for West's daughter, North - the song's no "Hey Jude." But it is poignant and quiet in a way that respects the Beatles legend, which is probably more than can be said for Ray Charles' "Kan-tribution" to our modern musical canon.

So, the real news has been the visceral reaction of those who succumbed to Internet trolling that followed the song's release.

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Could Beyoncé Pull Off a Toyota Center "Residency"?

Categories: Listen Up!

Photo by Graphics/Flickr Commons
One goal too lofty for even the Queen Bey
Up in New York City, one of modern music's most popular artists, Billy Joel, sold out a show at Madison Square Garden every month of the year just passed. The Piano Man's standing "artist in residence" gig has been so successful that tickets are commanding more than $500 apiece on the resale market. Joel recently announced he'd be extending his residency into at least the first couple months of the new year.

The feat is remarkable when one considers the Garden (been there once; it really does smell like old beer and fresh urine) seats 18,000. That means more than 200,000 fans saw him perform there last year.

What artist wouldn't want to play to nearly a quarter-million people over just 12 nights? For about a half-minute, I wondered which Houston-based artist would have the best chance to sell out Toyota Center once a month for a solid year. Without question, it's Beyoncé. She's a bona fide superstar, a cultural icon with local roots.

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Too Tough to Die: The Freakouts Forge Ahead

Photo by Barry Dolton/Courtesy of The Freakouts
L-R: Ash Kay and Porter Smith
Even in the music industry's bold new world, where major labels mean less and less to success, the odds for widespread renown remain against bands. They grow longer with changes that alter the face or sound of the act.

Losing half the group, for instance, might be a difficult challenge to overcome. Unless you're Ash Kay, lead singer, co-founder and resident badass of Houston glam-punks, The Freakouts.

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Spectral Manifest's Wraith-Metal Will Haunt Your Dreams

We're a little terrified right now.
I have a soft spot in my heart for wraith-metal, because it always feels like I'm listening to someone else having a nightmare in a language I don't understand. It has a kind of throbbing madness that makes it a bit bloodier than other metal forms, and Houston's own Spectral Manifest has produced a pretty awesome collection of tunes on their new self-titled LP.

Spectral Manifest has been a long time coming. I remember discussing the song "Fate of the Disgraced" with drummer Cryptos Granamyr Grimm two years ago. At that time I was looking to answers about why someone would bother writing lyrics no sane person could readily understand amid animal growls, and there's no doubt vocalist Depravis Nocturna is a king bear when it comes to primal roars.

I sort of get it now. You're not really supposed to latch onto these lyrics; that's like riding a seat belt on a motorcycle -- a safety measure that completely misses the point. Instead, the voice become an instrument of brutality, leaving you forced to interpret the meaning the way people used to do with classical music. Something like Stravinsky's Rite of Spring doesn't need to say anything to unnerve people, and neither does Spectral Manifest.

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Human Behavior's Soul-Searching Via TV Screens

Photos courtesy of Human Behavior
L-R: Human Behavior's Parada, Pattowitz, Strange and Anderson
Tucson's Human Behavior asks you to peer deep into your soul and examine its makeup through the one conduit they're certain you're comfortable looking through: the TV screen.

That's just part of the premise behind the band's captivating video for "Chapter 1" from its forthcoming album, Bethphage. The video is enthralling for a few reasons. It supports an excellent song, built from intriguing lyrics and a deep musical groove. It's ten minutes long, including an extended musical break, the sort of stuff omitted from modern music videos. There's a quality to the production that is frequently absent from the low-budget efforts of most folk-punk bands.

And there are the TVs, as present in the video as they are on Human Behavior's tour stops.

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Season's Greetings: Come Write for Us

Categories: Listen Up!

Joanna Penn via Flickr
We recommend using a computer, but hey...whatever works.
Here at Rocks Off, we love our writers dearly, but there's always room for more; frankly, right now we could use a few more hands on deck. The best part of it is, lots of companies may be looking to expand this time of year, but this job doesn't end when all those Christmas trees are off fighting erosion at Crystal Beach. We'll send you off to review concerts, talk to the folks who make those shows happen, and perhaps tally up the best Houston songs ever made about sneakers (or something like that) every so often.

Here's what we're looking for: Bright, opinionated souls who are passionate about music and not shy about telling other people about it. It helps greatly to live in Houston, or at least nearby. Professional writing or other journalistic experience is certainly a plus, but not a requirement; so is time served in a band or as a DJ, sound engineer, bartender or anyone else who can speak with authority about the local scene and music/nightlife in general.

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American Fangs Take It Personally on Dirty Leg EP

Categories: Listen Up!

Photo by Brandon Holley/Rocksound Magazine/Wikimedia Commons
American Fangs' latest EP approaches full-on mortal combat in places.
I know that American Fangs finally put out an LP last year, and there's nothing wrong with that at all. For me, though, the band was made for their famous string of hard, fast EPs that feel like a combination short story and psychotic's manifesto. They've got another album coming out next year (date TBD), but Houstonians have a chance to pick up a the latest offering, Dirty Legs, this weekend as a limited-edition pressing. Is it worth it?

Few bands in Houston that can match the Fangs for pure, driven energy. They approach the rage of metal without ever once stepping over the line, which is important to avoid if you're going to hold onto a certain musical heritage.

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Four Controversial Songs by Current Houston Acts

Photo by Vox Efx/Flickr Commons
Controversy abounds, as it always has. But we're reminded more frequently than ever just how confusing our modern-day existence is, what with these phones-turned-newspapers and social-media feeds and such.

In Denmark, Santa Claus is apparently a heinous slave owner who dictates his nefarious Christmas plans to someone called Black Pete. Fat Albert may or may not be a rapist. Some publishing company believed yet another photo of Kim Kardashian's bare ass -- a thing that had already been seen more than Punxsutawney Phil over a century of Februaries -- could "break the Internet." We can land an unmanned probe on a comet hurtling through space at 84,000 miles per hour, but we still don't know why dropped toast always falls buttered side down.

Musicians have always been there to address many of these issues. It's a tradition that dates back at least as far as "Ring Around the Rosie" and its social commentary on the Great Plague. In more recent times, it's been carried on by songs like "Strange Fruit" and "Masters of War," and "Fuck Tha Police." Houston of course enjoys its fair share of artists with the nerve to take on the day's provocative issues, such as the ones responsible for these four recent songs.

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