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Local releases: Quiet Company, Carolyn Wonderland, Dale Watson, Sleep8Over

Peter Mongillo

Quiet Company

'We Are All Where We Belong'

(self-released)

Forget mood and abstract feeling. Austin rock band Quiet Company subscribes to a noncryptic, straightforward lyrical style on its recent release, "We Are All Where We Belong." Take a verse from "Fear and Fallacy Sitting in a Tree," "the problem with me and the problem with you, is that we're all just so scared to die."

The line is direct, and it touches on a theme that lead singer-songwriter Taylor Muse hits on repeatedly through the album, so much so that it might qualify as a concept album — a sensitive, upbeat rock album about atheism, or, as Muse puts it, becoming a nonbeliever (don't call it piano rock; Muse says that's a mischaracterization).

"It definitely kind of is a concept album," Muse says. "I've always been unclear on the exact definition of a concept album, but there are definitely themes."

To say there are themes is an understatement. At 15 tracks and just more than an hour long (an eon in an age of single MP3s and EPs), the music crests and crashes with thumping drums, big guitar (and less piano) and horns blaring in the background. Coupled with some heavy subject matter, it's an album that takes energy to listen to.

One of those themes is the idea of the boatman, the cloaked figure that guides you down the River Styx (or whatever river you choose to take to the underworld). He's present on the cover art for the album and in the song, as you might guess, "You, Me and the Boatman."

"He served as a really useful piece of imagery when you're writing songs about love and death, because death will separate all of us, and that scares the (expletive) out of me," Muse says. "It's kind of tragic but it's kind of strangely beautiful."

Muse wrote most of the songs two years ago when his daughter was born and he walked away from religion, which had been a big part of his life. He grew up in the Baptist church in East Texas, playing in praise bands, but his devotion had waned. At points on the album, Muse speaks directly to his daughter, including "Set Your Monster Free," in which he sings, "you don't have to hold onto beautiful lies," as the songs unfolds in a sleepy, sprawling catharsis of sound.

"For a long time I'd just been content to let everyone assume I was just the same as I'd always been, but when my daughter was born I decided I can't lie to her about how I think reality works, so therefore I can't lie to anyone else anymore," he says.

Coming out as a nonbeliever, Muse says, was a big deal to a lot of his friends and family. In that sense it's a breakup album, one where Muse doesn't leave much guessing about what he went through.

Quiet Company plays Friday as part of the Bob Schneider and Friends benefit for the Texas Wildfire Fund at the Backyard in Bee Cave. Details and tickets: thebackyard.net.

Sleep∞Over

'Forever'

(Hippos in Tanks)

"Forever," the debut from Austin electro-fuzz band Sleep∞Over, which used to have three members but now is a solo effort from Stefanie Franciotti, begins like a film with "Behind Closed Doors," a mood-setting fog of sound that hovers around, never quite making its own statement but implying that something is coming. What does follow is variously pleasing, hypnotic and abrasive. Each song is like a meandering thought, with different ideas coming and going, often with the feel of an improvisational session. At its best, the ideas flow in a weird symphony of vintage sci-fi sounds.

At times the music is almost too successful in its mission to induce a transcendent state. While "Romantic Streams" is a fairly straightforward dialogue between Franciotti's surreal voice and an '80s style bleep-bloop synth line, "Porcelain Hands" floats away on a cloud of strung-out organs and is closer to the norm on the album. Franciotti's vocal style — sometimes hard to distinguish from the other instruments — separates "Forever" from similar synth-inclined projects. On "The Heavens Turn By Themselves," her voice whirls around a fleeting drum machine. On "Flying Saucers are Real" (where Franciotti leaves in blurry moments of worn-out tape) it is the alien, wavering and pulsing in an otherworldly manner.

Carolyn Wonderland

'Peace Meal'

(Bismeaux)

Carolyn Wonderland's voice is unmistakable. It's a little bit raspy, but not too much; it has range. It's also versatile, something which is on display on her album, "Peace Meal," where Wonderland wails through different iterations of rock, soul and, of course, the blues. "Victory of Flying" has an Allmans-style electric blues opener, finding Wonderland in a more aggressive mode; "Only God Knows When" is more Dixieland via Little Feat; "St. Marks" creeps along in the slow blues of "Ode to Billie Joe."

Also contributing to the variety of "Peace Meal" are three different producers. Like the Gourds, Wonderland recorded three of the tracks, "What Good Can Drinkin' Do" (a Janis Joplin tune), "St. Marks" and "Golden Stairs" at Levon Helm's studio in Woodstock, N.Y., with producer Larry Campbell. The rest of the record was produced by Ray Benson (who was also at the helm for her previous album, "Miss Understood") and former Monkee Michael Nesmith. Despite the almost hip-hop level of producer-jumping, the album maintains a warmth and consistency throughout Wonderland's many shifts in mood.

Finally, there are covers, including Janis Joplin, former Grateful Dead keyboardist Vince Welnick's "Golden Stairs" (with lyrics by Dead lyricist Robert Hunter) and Bob Dylan's "Meet Me in the Morning," which Wonderland transforms from lazy acoustic blues to something dark and sultry.

Dale Watson and the Texas Two

'The Sun Sessions'

(Red House)

"The Sun Sessions" begins like a locomotive, with a quick chug-a-chug-a-chug from a guitar. You don't have to read the liner notes to know that this is an album that is partly meant to pay homage to the icons — from the moment Dale Watson jumps in with his deep Johnny Cash-esque voice, it's clear that the ghosts of Cash, the King, Carl Perkins and others are in the room, the just-as-iconic Memphis studio of the title. Not that Watson's affinity for those artists is new; this time around it's more direct.

It's a tribute in both the sound and lyrics, with opener "Down Down Down Down" recalling "Ring of Fire," and "Drive Drive Drive" conjuring up "Big River." Watson has the gospel style down, too, on "The Hand of Jesus." Watson's band, bassist Chris Crepps and drummer Mike Bernal, play in the style of Cash's Tennessee Two, a sparse, bouncy sound that moves like nothing else.

The funny thing is the record almost didn't happen. Watson had traveled to Memphis for a gig that never happened, and instead wound up at Sun Studio, writing six songs on the way — a fitting burst of on-location inspiration.

pmongillo@statesman.com