Killer or Filler?
For a while back in the mid-aughts, Collin Herring was one of the biggest deals around, packing shows all over North Texas and doing his friends and neighbors proud at sanctioned South By Southwest showcases. Since relocating to Austin, he’s been sort of quiet. His new album, his first studio work in five years, arrives around the same time as new studio recordings from two other veterans, Fungi Girls and Romio No E. Enjoy. –– Anthony Mariani
Collin Herring’s Some Knives
It’s been five years since Fort Worth/Austin singer-songwriter Collin Herring released a studio effort. He’s been working on his new long-player, Some Knives, in fits and starts over the years with producer and Centro-matic drummer Matt Pence. Herring the songwriter has always had a knack for creating poetic images steeped in a weird American gothic sensibility, and Some Knives showcases that gift very well. The big surprise from the new album is how much Herring has come to sound like the love child of Neil Young and Michael Stipe, without any self-conscious mimicry of either distinctive vocalist. His new album, his fifth studio recording, makes him sound more confident than ever in mixing themes of hope and despair and making them sound inseparable.
Other than some evocative, icy synth touches from his keyboardist/pedal steel player dad Ben Roi Herring, Herring’s new release is as much straight-ahead Texas rock ’n’ roll as neo-folk or Americana. Opener “Psychopaths” sets the instrumental template for the whole record –– the rhythm section is low in the mix, undergirding a spiky bed of electric guitars from which Ben Roi’s spooky pedal steel occasionally broadcasts lilting half-melodies. “Psychopaths like me don’t shiver,” Herring sings with nasally matter-of-factness. “Even when it’s cold in winter.”
“Higher Ground” bounces along atop a tight, paranoid little drum shuffle but offers real hope to self-proclaimed crazy man Herring as he sings, “I know there’s a path / A light to guide me out of this.” The jumpy, cheerful “Kicked Around” is equally hopeful in a low-key way. “Come Home” also has an affecting trot of a rhythm fixed to some hard-earned wisdom, as Herring thanks someone –– presumably his dad –– for helping him sell a beloved Ford so he could learn “how to let go of things I can’t afford.” “Lights at the End” is an ambivalent little reverie in which the musician finally sees an exit strategy that’s very painful but that doesn’t involve total darkness. To illustrate his point, he describes a cow dying from a felled telephone pole in an electrical storm. The scene makes total sense in Herring’s off-kilter but lyrical worldview. Some Knives demonstrates that we didn’t miss this unique artist nearly enough during his recording hiatus. –– Jimmy Fowler
Romio No E’s Incredi/Dope
Romio No E is a one-man hip-hop assembly line stuck in high gear. The Fort Worth rapper released 12 albums in 2012 alone, so when such a prolific wordsmith takes two years to crank out one record, it’s newsworthy.
His latest, Incredi/Dope, is his 17th album since hitting the local scene in earnest in 2003. Produced by Keller’s Erotic D (Dr. Dre, Insane Clown Posse, Pussycat Dolls), these 15 tracks make for an ambitious attempt at plumbing the catacombs of pop culture, politics, and philosophy for meaning. The enduring strength of the album rests on the word-slinger’s booming baritone and dizzyingly intricate yet staccato flow. His lyrics, though sometimes venomous, are smart, with just enough levity to temper the mix.
Opener “Immaculate” is a made-for-radio West Coast-style anthem. As a bassline that sounds like a tuba being played through a wah-wah pedal grumbles and bounces, Romio ping-pongs lyrically from caustic wit to message board snark, pop-culture references abounding: “I am the Toxic Avenger / If you talk shit, I’ll avenge it / My flow is so Futurama, you’ll get robotic like Bender.”
Most of Romio’s barbs are directed at the music industry. On “Life Check,” a dramatic, moody song about trying to make it, his normally mellow pitch crescendos, rising above the track’s tense string music and melodic piano: “Rappin’ don’t make much money, so you get a damn job / But they ain’t got enough work, so you getting laid off / So you go back to the drawing board with some damn chalk.”
He’s also more than a little frustrated with his hometown. On “WTF FTW,” he vents about not getting enough recognition in a city whose hip-hop scene he helped nurture: “What the fuck, Fort Worth? / I thought that you loved me / Why you got to be so ugly?”
The track turns resentful and downright catty when he lets loose on the growing commercialization of local rap: “I know I would have blown up like Snow [Tha Product] if I was a bitch with some tits.”
There’s nothing cliché or contrived about Incredi/Dope. It’s a sincere portrait of a supremely talented, sometimes bitter rapper who knows he’s better than 99 percent of his more heralded peers. Even in angst, Romio No E delivers clever wordplay and lots of food for thought. –– Eric Griffey
Fungi Girls’ Old Foamy
Out on the Portland-based extra low-budget cassette label Gnar Tapes, the Fungi Girls’ newest, Old Foamy, is an interesting progression from their last release, 2011’s critically lauded full-length, Some Easy Magic, in that the three tunes here make it look easy. This is not to say that “Old Foamy,” “Dark Times,” and “Party for Zeb” are at all tossed off. It’s just that they sound like the band could write 10 more in an afternoon. On Some Easy, frontman Jacob Bruce, bassist Deryck Barrera, and drummer Skyler Salinas sounded fully formed, as if they had emerged from the ether having completely mastered indie rock via the best pieces of its DNA. These three songs sound like, well, a fully formed band that’s creating new shades with its old colors. Bruce’s vocals are washier than ever, growing ever more indistinct until the “whoas” are your only lyrical markers — over the jangle of his guitar and the driving attack of Barrera’s bass and Salinas’ drums, it makes you think of a plane flying toward the stratosphere with nowhere to go but up. If that makes it sound like doing a whippet, it kind of sounds like that too. If you haven’t bought a cassette player yet, this is the tape that should send you to the thrift store. –– Steve Steward