Sneaky Like A Villain, Photo: Courtesy of Artist
There have been some killer acts in Houston that have either stopped performing and faded away or perform so rarely that it feels like they just disappeared. In some cases, these were bands that everyone should know of because what they did was so very intriguing, so engaging, and so Houston in that they were either too far ahead of the curve or in a loop that was far from everything else here. The latter is kind of where you would place Houston’s Spain Colored Orange. Full of psych influence, and sounding like a wet dream from the mind of Brian Wilson, the six-piece band didn’t really dissolve, but they really just started becoming more and more focused on when they would play rather than the Houston norm of playing regularly. It’s been eight years since their second album, 2009’s Sneaky Like A Villain, was released, but it’s still one of the strongest records you’ll hear to come from this city in the past ten years. While I’m not a fan of looking back in time, the band’s upcoming show at Rockefeller’s on Aug. 19 had me wondering if anyone remembered the band or this amazing album that was ahead of a lot of what we’re hearing today.
The album begins with the catchy and very Sgt. Pepper’s-influenced sounds of “The Radio’s On Again.” With soft keys that seem to dance in the background, covered with the saturated vocals of the track’s title, it’s a good lead up to the following track, “Who Am I,” that sounds like that of a song you’d hear at a Vegas wedding coming from a lounge act. That’s not to knock the song, as the saccharine-soaked lyrics that emanate from singer Gilbert Alfaro’s voice are greeted with hooks that seem to go on for days. Brass and guitars meet the keys with such psych-heavy precision that the song feels like it could easily have dropped in the late ’60s from a band set to open for Herb Alpert. The electro-pop opening to the third track, “Hide,” is about as robotic as the song will get. The softly sung and endearing melodies that pace the song out are like a lullaby you’d use to sing a child to sleep. The hooks are so heavy here that the slower stride of the song just feels like a slow Summer jam more than the syrupy pop jam that it is. Alfaro is definitely channeling his inner Van Dyke Parks here in how the organs are utilized like any other band would have simply used guitar. The track sticks with you long after the first listen and adds to the charm that the band creates.
The fourth song,“Cheap Trills,” possibly the catchiest of the album, is like if Big Star and Wings got together to cover the music of John Cale. Full of brass in the vein of a New Orleans street parade, and with key use that feels like something that Ben Folds wishes he’d released, the song takes plenty of turns without losing your attention, with the band cohesively performing one of the sweetest songs you might hear. There’s a build that happens that almost feels like it could go on forever, though capping it off at under three and a half minutes really just makes you wish for more of it. The dissonant opening of “Music Box,” complete with plucky synths, wandering and twangy guitar, effect-laced vocals, and meandering horns, is a great example of a band hitting their stride on a track that feels almost like a free-form jam. The blown-out sound of the drums is a nice touch before the strings come in and create a whole new element that you feel like would make the perfect track for a rapper to utilize on a mixtape. The R&B and hip hop elements of the song are on a level that doesn’t really seem to exist much from bands on this level today. The same sentiment could be said of the ninth track, “One Million Reasons,” where the band seems to take on a level of instrumentation that seems to be missing from music in many circles today. The song follows an offbeat pace, and the stirring horns and key use seem to dance around the song while Alfaro belts out the vocals, which almost seem buried in the mix on purpose. It’s a tricky gamble that pays off, as the song has a very terse and stark sound that would make any current psych band take notice enough to attempt to copy it for themselves.
The following song, “You Think You Know,” is the closest to a mix of ’70s electro pop and arena rock. There’s a disco influence here that you can’t place your finger on, but it’s definitely familiar. In this track, the band seems to offer up another catchy jam that you want to hear more of. Closing things out with another memorable tune on “Birds And The Bees,” the band sounds closest to a mix of Polyphonic Spree and Calexico, and the child chorus on the song makes you love it that much more. If the rumors of this album being written in two weeks are true, it only makes you wonder what the band could have done if they’d taken longer to write it. The breakdown at the end, complete with Pete Townshend guitar riffs, should seal the deal on behalf of anyone wanting something a little more fierce from the pop-heavy sextet.
The album is a nice reminder of what Houston sounded like nearly a decade ago, while still offering a fresh and revitalized sound that mixes the old with the new. While it would be great to see a follow-up album from these guys, they certainly don’t seem to be in any hurry to do so. You can stream Sneaky Like A Villain at all of the familiar places, or you can see the band live and in person when they return to perform at Rockefeller’s on Aug. 19. The all-ages show has yet to name any support or openers, but that may change. The doors are at 8 pm and the tickets are $10.
In Case You Missed It: Spain Colored Orange This was reposted for my personal reading use