The Suffers Make Houston Proud on New Full Length
The Suffers, Photo: Daniel Jackson
I’m not the kind of guy who puts how a song makes me feel into an album review. However every once in awhile, when I hear an album the way it makes me feel outweighs what I’m hearing technically. On the debut full length from Houston’s The Suffers, I experienced more emotions than technical details when I listened to the ten tracks. Maybe it’s hometown pride, maybe it’s that many of the songs remind me of my youth when my mom would play Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye, or maybe it’s just that these songs represent more than the music itself. Last year when the band released the “Make Some Room” EP, I told people that The Suffers’ sound represents what Houston is itself, a melting pot a varying things. On their self-titled full length, “The Suffers,” that statement rings more true than I ever realized. While the ten piece takes the listener on a journey that’s as rich as our city is itself, they also introduce the world to life down here in Houston, where even a band whose sound you can’t define can exist in a city known for so many other things.
The band takes the right route in kicking the album off with the popular sound of “Make Some Room.” The song, found on last year’s EP has always been a fan favorite, and it’s a nice foot forward in starting an album off. However, for me, the bread and butter of a band has almost always been found on the second song. So much of what a band is, who they truly are, and how diverse they can get is on the second song, which is certainly the case here. On “Dutch,” The Suffers stretch their legs with a song that’s closer to a ballad than their usual one two punch. The way in which the band lays down a funky groove while singer Kam Franklin softly sings before belting out in her usual manner on the chorus, is something else. But, the true magic of the song comes when the band speeds things up and turns the track into a mixture of seventies funk and soul. They follow this with an even funkier track, “Midtown,” where Franklin’s smoky voice makes you feel like you’re the only one she’s singing to. Like making out under the table during a bar fight, the band comes in with a sultry rhythm and horn section, but it’s that funky undertone that holds the true magic. The way the organ lays on top of the track with a thunderous bass and drum section, it’s like you’re slamming tequila and dancing the night away in a discoteche forty years ago. I kept wondering when I’d hear George Clinton chime in while the song took me back to the days when funk wasn’t something that white kids from the suburbs tried to emulate.
The band follows this up with two songs you’ve more than likely heard before with “Slow It Down,” and “Gwan.” The first single from the album, last year’s “Better” comes in after where Franklin breathes atop an organ while the band lurks in on the track like prowlers in the night. While the song could easily go the way of many tracks that the band performs, the use of the organ gives you a sense of church on Sundays before the band rolls back onto the track. That church feeling really rings true when Franklin and a group vocal come in and they lead the song into a sound that feels closer to the South than anything else on the whole release. This gets followed by the first single from this year, “Peanuts” where that funky groove dances all over the song alongside a popping drum beat. When the guitar finds it’s way on to the song, the band’s use of backing vocals and hand claps provides the kind of playful Sunday soundtrack that every romantic comedy wants you to believe in. The playful nature of the song complete with that grandiose sound that the band has become known for makes the song one of the many standouts of the ten.
In conjunction with the band’s diverse lineup, the band adds a track, “Good Day” that stirs up the island vibes of artists like Joe Higgs and Sugar Minott, while still keeping hints of the gulf coast in tact. The song even adds a nice brass section that feels closer to Herb Alpert than something from Kingston. The percussive stabs that couple the horns and backing vocals add a nice touch while showcasing a whole new flavor of the band. The full force weight of “Stay,” also taken from last year’s EP follows, but still sounds as fresh as it did the first time you heard it. The band closes the album off with the heavy handed track, “Giver.” Though this song too was on last year’s EP, the weight of Kam’s vocals, a murky bassline, and a tight kit still hit hard, and are the perfect way to end things. Franklin’s strongsuit has always been on the slower tracks where her voice feels like she’s gonna’ burst your subs all on their own. That breathy and smoke filled vocal comes off like the perfect torch song to finish things off, or to make love to, or to stare out the window when it rains. The band finds a way to crisscross eras of soul, R&B, and funk all over the track, while keeping things from coming off the rails while each member independently shines on separate moments of the song.
When it’s all over, your ears want more, your heart wants more, and you’re left with a feeling that’s almost like the sultry nature of the album demands an after listen cigarette. You can experience all of this and more when “The Suffers” gets released to the public next Friday, February 12th. Hopefully after others hear what The Suffers have cooking down here in Houston, they’ll see our city as more than just another city in the South, but a place that’s as diverse and multi-layered as the music of The Suffers. You can catch The Suffers live on February 13th at Cactus Records, and February 13th and 14th at Houston’s Continental Club.