Houston’s best music reflects the city’s diversity
What defines the Houston sound?
Country and rap are the easy answers. But that isn’t quite right. Or, at least, it’s not the complete picture. The city has a fierce underground metal scene, a flourishing electro-pop movement, and a bevy of world-class R&B voices.
Houston, then, is all of those things. And so much more. Like the city’s food scene, you discover more as you explore.
Here, then, a look at the albums that soundtracked the past year. And much of it is thanks to John Allen Stephens, who crafted his own solo album and worked on projects from Rose Ette, The Suffers and Space Kiddettes. He’s the real MVP.
1. “Look Together,” Wild Moccasins
Heartbreak is at the center of the band’s first album in four years, which chronicles the breakup of core members Zahira Gutierrez and Cody Swann. It’s an emotive back and forth between them, layered with pop, disco and new wave. If only all breakups were this fruitful.
2. “radioclub.lp,” John Allen Stephens
Stephen, known for his production work and stint with pop act New York City Queens, takes a solo turn on this terrific debut. It’s a moody, evocative listen that’s framed by an elegant electronic landscape. He dresses it up with R&B flourishes, inspired by the likes of Frank Ocean and Solange.
3. “The Beans Breakup,” The Beans
The title is no gimmick. The longtime Houston band is really broken up, sealing it with a release show on the day the album dropped. It’s a shame, really. This is their strongest work to date, fueled by sweaty instrumentation and Sam Griffin’s wailing vocals. Here’s hoping for a quick reunion.
4. “10,000 Hours,” Fat Tony
Tony left Houston for Los Angeles in 2016. But this album, like so many of his previous works, is H-town through and through. The album, which moves from hip-hop to new wave to country, is rife with local references. Standout track “Texas” shouts out Selena and Solange, Pimp C and ZZ Top.
5. “Ignore the Feeling,” Rose Ette
You won’t hear much lovelier vocals than on this dreamy collection, which evokes everything from ’60s girl groups to ’80s teen movies. Vocalists and guitarists Teresa Vicinanza and Daniela Hernandez ably navigate this album from indie-rock into something much more interesting and complex.
6. “Letters to a Lover,” No Rehearsal
There’s a scrappy quality to the young rock trio’s music. It’s the sound of a band finding its way. But it’s also slickly produced and possessed of the self-assurance that comes with youth. Members Christian Mireles (drums), Matt Cobb (vocals and guitar) and David Shorey (drums) know their way around a hook.
7. “Everything Here, “The Suffers
New music from The Suffers is always cause for celebration. On this diverse collection, singer Kam Franklin further embraces her unique star power, backed by the band’s signature blaze of horns. Every song — “I Think I Love You,” “Mammas,” the Hurricane Harvey-inspired “After the Storm —is a valentine to someone.
8. “Domestic Adventures,” Space Kiddettes
Space Kiddettes are part of a growing community of experimental LGBTQ artists in Houston. The duo also founded Drag Queen Storytime at the Houston Public Library. “Domestic Adventures,” like much of the band’s material, is equal parts synth-pop and “Saturday Night Live.” But musically, it’s also a huge step forward.
9. “Id,” Lyta
Lyta has the look and sound of a star. The Asian-American singer’s EP is a swirl of electro-pop and R&B that deserves a big audience. It’s the perfect preview of her sound, alternately icy and warm. And it’s even more astonishing to realize this is her debut. Expect big things.
10. “Talk Nice,” Camera Cult
It would be easy to label Camera Cult a synth-pop act. But such a simple description does the duo a disservice. Members David Gonzalez and Ricky J. Vasquez know their way around music, and they veer effortlessly through multiple genres on this engaging EP.