Night songs

Uh Huh Her grows with ‘Nocturnes’ but still loses its way in the dark

Music-1

DOUBLE TROUBLE | Camila Grey, left, and Leisha Hailey of Uh Huh Her fall short in their second full-length CD ‘Nocturnes,’ but make a nice recovery toward the end.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

 

When Uh Huh Her debuted in 2008 with Common Reaction, the critics noticed. Perhaps one of the more underrated albums of the year, the duo of Leisha Hailey and Camila Grey created a sophisticated track list fusing indie rock and electro-pop into catchy tunes.

It’s a shame they missed the mark on Nocturnes, their second full release, which displays a lot of growth, just all in the same key.

Perhaps if Nocturnes had been a concept album, the 11 tracks would work better — assuming “monotony” was the concept. The first six songs comprise a suite of similar tunes that are rendered forgettably. Where Reaction opened with a distinct attitude, UHH get washed out here, overcome with a blurred production overseen by Grey and Wendy Melvoin of Wendy and Lisa fame.

“Marstorm” appropriately opens the album with a strong set of guitars and racing drums. The ladies have gone a lot harder than before, but the jagged edge of the song rubs the wrong way and Grey’s soft vocals are swallowed by the music going on around her.

Even without a maelstrom of music, Grey’s voice is underwhelming in the intro of “Another Case.” Drummer Josh Kane seems to have been given carte blanche with his beat. He goes full throttle setting the pace of the album, but it’s one that barely relaxes. “Case” and its twin song “Disdain” push deep into the ears but without much substance.

When UHH delve into softer territory, as on “Human Nature,” they fare better. Although “Nature” isn’t that moving, it’s a reprieve from the unappealing sonic onslaught of previous songs.

UHH calm down by their eighth track, “Criminal,” and we finally begin to hear their familiar charm with a new display of complexities in their song structure. Grey’s sounds clearer (not much) and the intended moodiness of the album is in perfect pitch. The album clocks in at 40 minutes, but it takes forever to get to the final stretch which is the best part of Nocturnes. The final four tracks, starting with “Criminal,” immediately elevate the album to a higher plane.

With “Same High,” the texture of the music has subtle but sensuous layers and the minimalist lyrics balance the track exquisitely. The song grows with quietly and is perhaps the most satisfying track.

That said, “Darkness Is” may be the most challenging in all the right ways. The drive of the earlier songs is at the right speed here, forceful but not overpowering, leaving room for the ladies to deliver engaging lyrics like And say hell to the ones who sit on their thrones / And tell everybody to gather their guns and fear what? / Do you really want to let them control you?

Even with a cliché title, final track, “Time Stands Still,” succeeds with its gentleness. The song drifts with an ethereality that recalls, of all bands, Icehouse. “Time” doesn’t play as much as it melts over your ears with sumptuous delivery. Everything that’s right about UHH is marked in this song.

Nocturnes suffers from being top heavy with “Look Ma, I’m writing music” tracks that never provide a memorable experience. Instead, they ultimately drag the album down. Ironically, the final songs display Uh Huh Her at their finest and show a distinct maturity from Reaction, an already smart album.  Sophomore slump or not, when the band finds its balance, it should be remarkable.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 21, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Weekly Best Bets: 07.08.11

Friday 07.08

What the Del?
Del Shores returns to Dallas with More Sordid Confessions, his one-man show that’s part comedy, part biography and we’re figuring, a whole lotta funny. His partner Jason Dottley performs later that night at BJ’s NXS! the same night. We’re sure that one won’t miss the other’s show. And you shouldn’t miss either of them.

DEETS: The Rose Room, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. 8 p.m. $15–$20. PartyAtTheBlock.com.

………………….

Friday 07.08

Who can blow out a 100 candles?
The legendary venue Sons of Hermann Hall celebrates a century this weekend and as part of the vast music lineup, LGBT faves Patrice Pike and Kathy & Bell join in on the celebration. Two days of Texas music in this Dallas gem is pretty much the equivalent to heaven.

DEETS: SOHH, 3414 Elm St. Through Saturday. $25­–$45. SonsOfHermann.org.

…………………

Thursday 07.14

Fake news the way you like it
When the real news gets to be too much, The Onion is a nice reprieve. But how will the writers and editors pull it off live? The staff comes to talk about its satire and place in today’s media.

DEETS: Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora St. . $25­–$45. ATTPAC.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

FREE STUFF: 4 pairs of tickets to Semi Precious Weapons’ show this Thursday at the Loft


If you didn’t get enough of garage glam rockers Semi Precious Weapons when they opened for Lady Gaga this summer, here’s your chance to see them up close and personal. Taking a reprieve from the Monster Ball, they’ve hit the road on their own before getting back to their Gaga gig (we think – we keep hearing they are on, they are off, back on again – oy).

But we know this for sure: Semi Precious Weapons will return to town with openers Breedlove to play The Loft this Thursday. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. And we got tickets. Thanks to The Loft, we have four pairs to give away. All you have to do is e-mail us to snag a pair. E-mail notices@dallasvoice.com with their song title “Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Looked So Beautiful” in the subject line. Please include your first and last name and phone number. Winners will be picked at random.

Good luck! And I should see you there.

—  Rich Lopez

Author, author!

Mark Lee Kirchmeier and Alvin Granowsky add their gay voices to the Dallas literary community

RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY | Granowsky, left, and Kirchmeier peek at each other’s tragic tales. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

It seems unlikely that Mark Lee Kirchmeier and Alvin Granowsky had never met before this week, since both are in the niche market of gay writers in Dallas. But perhaps they represent a budding scene of out local authors. Dallas gays are claiming a presence.

When the authors finally met, a literary camaraderie took over. Kirchmeier had heard good things about Granowsky’s book, which delighted Granowsky. Several mutual acquaintances and writing comparisons later, the two seemed like old pals.

Kirchmeier published his first book, The Promise of Hope, four years ago; the story of his hero, Johnny, continues 10 years later in his second novel, The Open Pill Box.

“I intended it to be a sequel but it took on a life of its own,” Kirchmeier says. “It’s so much larger than the first. He’s psychotic as a young man in Promise, but now he keeps himself under control with meds but no safety net.”

He calls his first book more romantic, but in Pill Box, Kirchmeier fully knows the story is not pretty or romantic. Johnny is a gay bipolar man seeking the help of anyone who can get him meds. Without insurance, he’s close to being thrown away by society until he finds a reprieve from his ex and the Catholic Church. Pill Box is also Kirchmeier’s exploration and criticism of America’s healthcare system.

Granowsky explores social topics as well, though from a different perspective. In his 2009 book Teacher Accused, he addresses what happens “when homophobia explodes in a Texas town.” But he has added romance into the picture giving the reader a beacon of hope amid a tragic story.

“I see this story as a journey to pride,” he says. “I think people sometimes feel kind of defective because they are gay. I really want this to have a positive depiction so younger people can see there is a great life to be had — even if it’s in a homophobic society.”

That both books have dour, dire plots begs a curious question: Is gay tragedy an obvious outlet for an out writer? With the usual backgrounds of LGBT people growing up being bullied or shunned, the need to rehash such unpleasant environments for the authors was a catharsis, whether it was experienced first hand or observed.

“I’m bipolar,” Kirchmeier candidly admits. “This is an advocate book for the mentally ill who don’t have insurance and who are gay. I’ve felt thrown away and not wanted. This isn’t my story, but I am in there. Johnny and I are alike in many ways because of the things I’ve seen and life experiences.”

Granowsky, by contrast, writes from observation. As a former educator, he noticed the students who might be gay and the way they were treated by everyone else. He was pained by this memory that years later, and needed to get it out of his system.

“There is a catharsis talking about this,” he says. “It’s like cleansing one’s own sense of self. I needed to let it come out. My value system suffered. The funny thing is, I had no intention of getting published. I just wanted to write it down. It was a labor of love.”

That venting of ill emotions has its rewards. Each author sees his novel making an impact in the community, whether from an appreciative fan or an actually life changing moment. Both express compassion in their books that speaks to readers.

“I looked around and wanted to make a change, a statement,” Kirchmeier says. “I’m angry about the lack of universal healthcare. The way hospitals treat people without insurance. I wanted to speak out in anger and take a look at the social injustice that’s even based here in Dallas.”

He took a year and a half to write The Open Pill Box, and its darkness took a lot out of him physically and emotionally. It affected his hygiene, his health and even his teeth: He became so rapt he eventually had to have a root canal for ignoring his teeth.

That should change with book three.

“I’m currently writing My Best Pledge, which is a lighthearted romp through fraternity hood. And then after that, I’m writing The Paleta Man — a sequel to The Open Pill Box.”

Meanwhile, Granowsky is still reveling in having his book published. With people coming out earlier, he sees a shift in a new generation of pride. Something he didn’t have.

“Younger people are coming out earlier,” he says. “Sometimes they aren’t as prepared but now there are more solid role models for that. Plus, I think this book could inspire people to be proud of who they are and that life can be happy. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”

Once the photo was done the authors exchanged books, spreading their message a little further. And each seems to know that they could be part of a homegrown trend of giving a voice to the gay community.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas