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Houston duo Bling St. finds inspiration in the ’80s

October 25, 2017

One of the best Houston albums of the year was recorded on an iPhone.

The EP is called “Costume.” The duo, singer Stoo Gogo and musician/producer Luis Cerda, is Bling St. And the sound is lush, ’80s-inspired pop that feels both wholly unique and instantly accessible. It plays like a companion piece to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Emotion” album and “Solange’s “True” EP.

And Bling St. performs some of it Thursday at Leon’s Lounge. Costumes, of course, are encouraged.

The five songs on “Costume” were recorded in Gogo’s apartment with an Ableton music sequencer. The pair traded beatbox recordings, notes, mood boards and sticky notes between day jobs and other commitments. Cerda would work on the project while he was on the road with progressive rock band Vox Vocis.

“We were scared. We were breaking all these rules,” Gogo says. “I would love to pay all this money and get into a studio. I would love to be a rock star right now. But we’re part-time rock stars at this moment. You gotta make do with what you have.”

Gogo graduated in 2015 from Sam Houston State University with a musical theater degree but wasn’t satisfied with the roles he was getting as a gender-nonconforming femme. He eventually found his calling in music.

“Music has always been a part of my life,” Gogo says. “My parents hate me because I used to always sing at the top of my lungs in the house. That poor ‘B’Day’ (by Beyoncé) album got worn out.”

The “Costume” project is the culmination of a yearlong creative journey that began when the pair met at Starbucks. Gogo was working behind the counter, and Cerda ordered a green tea.

“I saw Stoo, and I was like, ‘Who is this?’ Cerda recalls. “I left with this sort of energy that I got from him that was really interesting.”

Cerda later heard Gogo singing Amy Winehouse at an audition and introduced himself. They clicked almost immediately.

“Each of these songs represents different pieces of what I go through in my life,” Gogo says. Vocally, he’s a ringer for R&B icon Natalie Cole. Once you hear it, it’s uncanny.

Every track here is strong. “Pose” channels ’80s New Wave and recalls the soft sensuality of “Heart Attack” and “Magic”-era Olivia Newton-John. “Electrify My Soul” has flutters of Michael and Janet Jackson. There’s also “Neon Heart,” a sultry duet with local singer Christian Alexxander.

“Last Jam” is a quiet-storm throwback that closes out the project. It’s a velvety standout that could have been cut by the likes of Patti LaBelle, Luther Vandross or Vanessa Williams.

Gogo and Cerda point to two songs - Madonna’s “Papa Don’t Preach” and Real Life’s “Send Me An Angel” - that helped set the tone for much of the music. They say they weren’t focused so much on being original as they were on being students of past greats, including Depeche Mode, Whitney Houston and synthpop duo Yazoo.

Gogo compares the EP to a “research paper” and a “mosaic” of their inspirations, including a surprise, post-Starbucks conversation.

“I met a guy at the bus stop when I got off work. He overheard me singing. He was like, ‘You remind me of the ’80s, the way you’re singing. You should really do ’80s music,’ ” Gogo says.

“It was like a fairy tale - you help out someone on the street, and all of a sudden, they’re like this glowing, fairy godmother. It was low-key, like a Cinderella story.”

Bling St. debuted their songs live last month at Leon’s Lounge during a Hurricane Harvey fundraiser. The songs were vibrant and urgent onstage, filling the small bar with waves of joy. The reaction still seems to surprise them when they think about it. But Gogo and Cerda should get used to the love.