A few years ago a headline in The Onion said something like, “Mid-90s Punk Fan Criticizes Punks of Today.” Tongue in cheek, yes, but also telling -punk has undergone so many permutations since the halcyon days of CBGB’s that it’s often hard to remember what it was like in the first place.
Houston Calls are some of those “punks of today,” and though their recent release, A Collection of Short Stories, is tightly packed with spot-on harmonies, sophisticated lyrics and catchy choruses, the whole effort comes off a little forced.
The crux of the original punk aesthetic was that anyone could pick up a guitar or some drumsticks and start a band, a lack of a record deal or even rudimentary musical skills non-prohibitive. The new aesthetic is more concerned with a crisp, studio-polished sound and a slick video on MTV2. The punks of old still have their acolytes-the University of Miami’s Dead Hookers Bridge Club, for instance-but Houston Calls falls squarely in the latter category.
Punk derives excitement from its volatile unexpectedness. The Dead Hookers ending a show chanting “dink drink drink drink die die die die” as they inadvertently pull their own power supply out of the socket is pure chaotic exhilaration. A Collection of Short Stories offers no such surprises.
I once saw a documentary on the early days of punk in New York City, and a 20-year-old female interviewee said, “When I listen to punk it kind of makes me want to kill my mother.” Houston Calls is more melody than matricide. Good for mothers, bad for punk.
Matt Gajewski can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.