Houston Calls is a band that's easy to fall in love with very, very quickly. With just a self-released EP and some demos, the band developed a startlingly supportive fanbase and booked themselves onto some exciting tours. There are a lot of different ways for a band to attain this sort of success while running on the independent scene--Houston Calls did it simply by being pretty damn fun to listen to. They're on a dance party rock-out level comparable even to the tambourine stylings of Zolof the Rock and Roll Destroyer.
         For all their achievements, it seemed for a while that Houston Calls was one of the more underappreciated groups when it came to important hubbabaloos like record label scouts. They were the type of band that were left unconnected to any record family even as much less deserving groups were getting swept up. This made the news of Houston Calls signing to Drive-Thru side label Rushmore Records a fresh breath of justice--a band that works like hell making music signed to a label known to work like hell producing it.
         Houston Calls signing to the still-infant label Rushmore instead of being a regular Drive-Thru family member makes some degree of sense, with HelloGoodbye (another dance favorite) threatening Houston Calls' effect on label diversity. All the same, with current Drive-Thru signings seeming to lean more on the neo-folk rock side (don't get me wrong, I love Bob Dylan), I'm starting to prefer the Rushmore scene anyway (see: my homies in Day At The Fair).
         With the small collection of Houston Calls songs highly covetted on my playlist, the idea of a label-produced full length was, to say the least, exciting to no end. The song "Exit, Emergency" had appeared on several comps--including our own Euphonia Online '04 compilation. All the songs on the EP were fantastic, but this was Houston Calls' real chance to make a lasting impression.
         So here we are. This album.
A Collection of Short Stories, hitting stores August 2nd. Several songs have been re-recorded for this album--"Exit, Emergency" has been redone along with "Amtrack Is For Lovers," "A Line In The Sand," and another of my favorites, "One More Won't Hurt." Comparing versions of these songs would be an easy way of studying the growth and change that's occured simply since the band last released.
         The band's choice for an opening track, "Sunrise Goodbyes," was an unusual one. The opening instrumentation is enjoyable to say the least, but it just doesn't sound like the powerful rock-out opener that a Houston Calls album should be capable of. Track 2, "Exit, Emergency," would be in my opinion a better starter, because the steady developement of instrumentation and energy is a great prediction of the band's dynamics. I recall even Tom himself suggesting I use the song for our comp opener, pointing out these very strengths.
         All the same, the album starts with no complaints. "Sunrise Goodbyes" is a brand new HC song that showcases how almost every element of the song can be catchy and fun. Houston Calls is a band who uses keyboards to enhance their danceworthy sound without relying on them to add catchiness or pop to the music. While a lot would be lost without the keyboards, the vocals, guitars, and drums hold their own.
         "Exit, Emergency" was the first revision to be heard from the new album. The drums in the intro sound a little less distanced, a little faster than the ones on the EP. The guitar sounds don't blast in quite as excitingly... in fact, I quickly decide that I desperately long for the EP version. Every time I have thoughts along these lines for this review, I remind myself that this condition of thinking "the old version was so much better" is wildly present whenever revisions are placed on albums and are most likely just the result of me being used to the demos, but while this may be true for some songs, I very objectively do prefer the original "Exit, Emergency."
         Houston Calls has gone through a lot of improvement, however. More complex layering between guitar riffs and basslines add a lot more depth to the power-chord styles of the EP. The drums are just as cleverly written, but are performed just a bit tighter. New instrumentation techniques create whole new worlds for the band to play notes in. As for the vocals... amazing improvement. I love Tom Chitty to the stars, but he's definitely come a long way. If you've heard his vocalwork in the ska band Face First--which I think I'm the only person in the world who has (check out "The Dukes" for classic 80's moviepop), and play that along with some Houston Calls demos, the comparison to Chitty's work on this new album shows that he's definitely been working his vocal abilities.
         All these songs contain classic Houston Calls elements. The band slows itself down for a track or two to show it isn't all about fast-paced rock, and "Amtrak Is For Lovers" is a song that I think really benefitted from reworking, producing a more consistent, emotional sound than its EP predecessor.
         Even though there is a degree of diversity in some areas of Houston Call's songs, they're still all marked with a very recognizable sound pattern. This actually proves to be a slight issue for me. I absolutely love rocking out to my favorite Houston Calls tracks, but I've discovered that the band isn't the type of music that I can just stick a record in and play all the way through. It's not that some of the songs aren't quality--this whole album is golden. It's just that Houston Calls' songs should be played deliberately and attentively.
         So to all the Houston Calls fans out there, this album should be just about everything that you wanted. And if you're not a fan, buy the record and become one. Unless you're afraid of dancing around your room in nothing but boxers and a pair of tube socks, singing off-key and rearranging your desk to the tune of keyboards.
         Yeah, Houston Calls will do that to you.
R.S. '05
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Rushmore Records
1) Sunrise Goodbyes
2) Exit, Emergency
3) Bob And Bonnie
4) Elephant And Castle
5) Amtrak Is For Lovers
6) High Rise
7) One More Won't Hurt
8) Bottle Of Red, Bottle Of Spite
9) A Line In The Sand
10) A Pen And A Piece Of Mind
11) The Better Part Of Valor
Buy This Album
Band Website