Locals Weigh In on Kendrick Lamar's Modern Classic

The audacity of dope: Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly
The weekend before last, Stevie Wonder touched down in Houston to perform Songs In the Key of Life in its entirety. About the same time, many of us were hearing Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly for the first time. It doesn't feel like a stretch to imagine a day in the distant future where an elder Lamar returns to perform this album in a similar celebratory fashion.

Everything about Butterfly feels classic, beginning with the very first of thousands of sounds on the album, the scratchiness of a worn vinyl record. Its themes; the way it's stitched together via interludes and spoken-word bridges that begs for it to be heard from start to finish for a full appreciation; the samples that are heavy on the soul and jazz of a long-ago era -- all of it has the feel of something that can be comfortably nestled between Wonder's Innervisions and Prince'sSign O' the Times on the record shelf.

The album has been universally acclaimed. But recognizing I might be hearing the hype instead of the music, I reached out to a couple of folks whose opinions I value for some perspective.

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Runaway Sun Showcase "Bad Bad Man" With Short Film

Photo courtesy of Runaway Sun
Nearly a decade removed from the release of their debut album, Houston's own Delta-rock blues group Runaway Sun is still enjoy performing their earlier cuts. So much so, in fact, that the band recorded a music video for "Bad Bad Man," one of the tracks from their eponymous release, which they will be premiering this weekend at Buffalo Bayou Brewery.

"There are a lot of people out there who have never heard our music before," says vocalist Andrew Karnavas of choosing to make a music video for what could be considered one of the band's classics. "So if 'Bad Bad Man' came out five years ago or five minutes ago, it doesn't seem to matter."

For the video, which was shot at Dean's Downtown and Bird House Productions Studio, the Bayou City-born four-piece teamed up with Rivet Production and Lynn Birdwell, who directed, produced and assisted in the creative direction of the short film.

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Gang of Four's Blistering Message Scalds Tiny Crowd

Photos by Violeta Alvarez
Gang of Four
Warehouse Live
March 17, 2015

"They sound like the Killers, except less whiny," was one of the many comments overheard during Gang of Four's first stop in Houston since 2006. Irony reared its ugly head as the band who could claim parentage to the many illegitimate post-punk homage acts behaved appropriately Wednesday night to a sparse crowd at Warehouse Live's smaller Studio room, which holds up to 150 people.

Collecting 150 people with even a slight pulse to see one of rock's most influential acts -- and one Kurt Cobain claimed to have ripped off -- shouldn't be this difficult in the nation's fourth-largest city. Those true fans who bothered to show up, however, did not go unrewarded.

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Super-Helpful Spring Break Listening Advice

Photos by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
JVS Reel
That golden orb hovering over Houston this past weekend was the sun. Like an absent friend who returns just in time for the spring break fun, it was a welcomed guest at the ninth installment of For the Community.

The brighter the sun shone, the more we thought of spring break and the music associated with it. What was your spring-break music, we asked some of the festival's artists: that single song or artist that made a day on the beach or in the park with others a perfect reminder of how perfect life could be?

With more than 40 acts from a broad swath of genres performing at Last Concert Café and Eastdown Warehouse, we knew we'd get a variety of responses from the festival's participants. Here's what they offered:

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-Us Creates Dance Music For Difficult Breakups

Photo by Mark C. Austin
Jackson Pollack once said that "Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is."

The Houston artist known as -Us is in pursuit of making music that reflects who he truly is. Certainly, what multi-instrumentaist Avery Davis has done is to distill the finer points of great -80s synthpop bands like New Order, Xymox, Soft Cell and Pet Shop Boys into something emotionally raw and relevant. His first EP as -Us, V.XXVII.IX., is a promising first step in the process of earnest artistic self-discovery.

Older listeners wax nostalgic for magical moments music once held when they were young. Here, I remember hearing "Plainsong" by the Cure when Disintegration was released in 1989. I can remember riding in my friend's Datsun 280z during an overcast day when he slid the tape into the deck, a perfect setting for a band well-known for its melancholy mopery.

What happened next was nothing short of otherworldly.

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Two Star Symphony vs. the Seven Deadly Sins

Categories: Listen Up!

Photos by Sarah Prikryl
Houston's own neo-classical darlings in Two Star Symphony are back with their first full-length album in three years. Seven Deadly Sins lives up to its name, exploring each of the classical transgressions in seven individual songs.

Normally I don't go through an album song by song, but that's Two Star Symphony for you; they don't do anything normal. The question is, how does each composition explore the core concept of the sin that it represents?

Let's find out.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Kanye

Screengrab/NBC's #SNL40
Kanye's prone...to unfair criticism.
Not to go full Giuliani here, but I too must admit something I feel horrible for saying. I've possibly been judging Kanye West's recent art by one of the worst criteria of all, namely the company he keeps.

Specifically, Kim and the Kardashian fold. As hard as West has worked to float to the top, I've somehow deemed his in-laws a dense weight that threatens to pull him down to not-very-deep depths.

This is a terrible confession to have to make, primarily because any artist deserves better but also because if one is able to regularly share thoughts about music, it's best to focus on the music. This task becomes trickier if the musicians we follow are also celebrities whose exploits are documented and can be polarizing; see Kanye as Jesus on a magazine cover or his "Bush doesn't care about black people" comments.

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Josiah Gabriel's Infinity Machines Astonish Fitz Crowd

Photos by Susan Wyatt
The sound of Houston today: Josiah Gabriel, infinity machines
This is what it must have felt like to live during the time when the gift of tongues was dispensed upon Jesus' apostles.

A pentecostal spirit swept through Fitzgerald's downstairs during Josiah Gabriel's set Thursday, reducing the history of modern music into 25 minutes. The few people present during his set witnessed the art of the remix, the convergence of house yesterday and today, and a minimalist ethos coupled with rap's present trap craze. Imagine Steve Reich sitting down with Chief Keef to make a one-take recording and dropping like Drake's surprise mixtape.

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Drake Drops May 17 Arena Theatre Date

Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Drake, the last time he was in the Houston area.
Let us, for a moment, put our dreams of a Drake and Kanye album away for a moment; here in Houston we have bigger Drake news to deal with.

Out of nowhere, much like his new mixtape, comes news that Drake is hitting the circular stage at the Arena Theatre, and tickets are onsale...now?

Happy Friday, Houston!

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Drake's Surprise Album Raises His Game Further Still

Photo by Marco Torres
Shown during last year's Houston Appreciation Weekend, Drake inserts plenty of Bayou City tags into new surprise album If You're Reading This...
Last Thursday night was Drake night. Again.

A year after the Toronto rapper not only stamped his name as hip-hop's current king with a tour of his Nothing Was the Same album and a virtual parade in his honor in Houston last June, the rapper decided the time was right to release a surprise mix-album upon fans.

The record is entitled If You're Reading This It's Too Late It's cryptic, almost the most Drake-ish title since his "Would You Like a Tour?" set of shows two years ago. It's also not free, like any traditional mixtape, whereas about six years ago Drake had the most significant changing-of-the-guard free release with So Far Gone. He's about maximization in the age of the millennial, always to be seen, heard and thought of. If he knows he can drop a random tape on iTunes and it'll go gold in a matter of four days, he'll do so. He's that confident these days.

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