Welcome to A&A. There are 22 full reviews in this issue. Click on an artist
to jump to the review, or simply scroll through the list. If you want
information on any particular release, check out the Label info page. All reviews are written by Jon Worley unless otherwise
If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.
A&A #238 reviews
Like a Feather in a Hurricane
So the first four songs remind me of Happy Mondays (I just watched 24 Hour Party People, so that's on my mind), Greg Garing, no one that comes to mind and the Replacements, respectively. In other words, Aaron has written some solid songs and then used technology to highlight what he's really good at doing.
Like crafting soulful, rootsy hooks. Even when the drum machine is pulsing, an earthy feel permeates everything. Another way to put it is that no matter how slick and refined these songs may sound, the center remains grounded in the real.
Some folks might think that he stole from Beck. Well, inspiration certainly flowed from that direction, but Aaron is really very much a rock and roller, even though he's been wandering the wasteland for a while. These songs easily fit into conventional slots, but they're still really damned appealing.
It's a tough trick to make good music that is simple and processed enough to gain wide acceptance. Donn Aaron has the writing skills, and he's hit upon a production style that just screams major label--in a good way. Really. I mean it. This is one of those "oughta be huge" albums that you'll want to hear many times over.
Bastards of Melody
Speaking of the Replacements (or, more accurately, Paul Westerberg), here come the Bastards of Melody. They have that Sire-era 'Mats style down (slightly sloppy, but still tuneful and generally recognizable as "normal" music), and they write nice three-minute pop songs.
With titles like "Fuck Wakin' Up." Though, to be honest, most of the songs are relatively clever. Take "Cheat," a song which details the quintessential high school experiences of cribbing for a test and trying to impress a girl. They write it better than I explain it. Trust me.
I'd like to hear just a bit more clutter in the sound. These songs aren't clean, but there just isn't much messing about, either. And with the garage guitar-slinging style, well, a bit more distortion and reverb would add a bit of "authenticity" (yes, folks, the quotes denote irony) to the proceedings.
But hell, these songs are too fun to pick on excessively. Just ragged enough to play at top blast on the car stereo, and with tight enough hooks to sing along--just out of tune so as to sound really cool. A bright blast in the middle of winter.
Count the Stars
Never Be Taken Alive
From what I can tell, the mainstream definition of emo is pop-punk played with verve and produced so as to make the guitars fat as hell. Ergo, Count the Stars is an emo band.
A damned good band, no matter what you really want to call the music. These boys have written some deceptively deep pop ravers and cranked up the energy level. There's no let up, even during the mid-tempo pieces.
The sound, as I noted, is full and seemingly ever-expanding. The guitars are as thick as George W. Bush's skull. The hooks are tight, sweet and yet just the slightest bit messy. I like that. After all, art lies in the little incongruities.
Um, yeah, this is the sort of album that I eat like candy. The quickest way to my soul is to play pop music with style (well, that or play truly weird shit). I'm a sucker for this kinda stuff. But hell, I only fall for the good bands. At least, that's what I want to believe. So don't tell me any different, okay?
From the Attic
Every once in a while a major label sends me a disc. Every once in a great while I actually like what they send me. Damone is one of those bands.
Rather than stick to the under-produced sound of the current garage trend, Damone plays the style but goes for the over-the-top sound (mixed by Tom Lord-Alge, which is really all you need to know there). Full of reverb, with lots of extras on the edges. And then there's the vocals of a certain Noelle, who is apparently still in high school. Even though the guys in the band appear to be well toward 30, if they aren't there already.
I don't say this to be mean. It worked for Garbage, right? And anyway, I really like this stuff. It's simple, it's loud (almost glam metallic at times, which is perfectly cool with me) and there's serious amperage in the playing. A fine rush.
Okay, maybe I wouldn't have gone for the tenth vocal overdub on a couple of these songs. If you want me to be picky, that's about what I have to work with. I'm not in love, but I'd sleep with this band in a minute. Cheap and slutty is a fine way to go.
(Pink & Black)
What the Go-Go's might have sounded like if they were a pack of butch lesbians produced by Alex Newport. Okay, so I'm just guessing as to the sexual identities of the band members (which are irrelevant in any case), and Fat Mike also twisted the knobs, but I think you get the point.
Beautifully simple melodies played at an almost-breakneck pace. Hooks with grit and just a little grace. And guitars that sound just right (thank you, Mr. Newport).
As for the style of the band members, well, that comes across more in the attitude than the music itself. Sure, this stuff has balls, but it's not pure buzzsaw. There's a sweet side to Fabulous Disaster, and it comes out at all the right moments.
These songs wouldn't have worked if they weren't written so well. All the attitude and great production and all doesn't matter if the songs themselves suck. Fabulous Disaster is anything but. Quite the happy pill for my aching head.
Your Trendy Dump
Strangely crafty pop stylings. Glasstown plays astonishingly crafted stuff, but it comes across as fresh and exciting rather than dull and stilted. And a damned good thing that is, too.
The writing is what's crafted. Which is not to say that the playing sucks, but it's looser than the songs themselves. And that serves to make everything sound much more energetic and lively. The lyrics are occasionally long-winded, but they're always pleasantly sly, which is good enough for me
I have the feeling that I'm making no sense whatsoever. Let's see if I can rectify that. Glasstown worked its ass off in the studio to come up with this disc (there are plenty of little touches here and there), but I'd say these songs would work just as well live and somewhat less prettified. Though they're dreadfully wonderful as they are here.
That didn't work at all. Maybe I'm simply overcome. Anything's possible. Whatever the case, I'm really knocked out by what Glasstown does. This is some really fine work. And if I don't get anything else across, perhaps that message with suffice.
Want a Divorce!
Straight-ahead two-minute pop-punk with a side order of goofiness. Perhaps the band name tipped you off there.
The jokes are simplistic and, more often than not, juvenile as well. The music is basic, but nonetheless executed with energetic style. There's a point where the vocal whine kinda gets to me, but I never stopped listening.
Hey, it's produced by Jack Endino (yes, you idiots, he's still alive). And any band that names its publishing company FuckLars Music (think about it for a minute) can't be all bad. Even if the jokes are, you know, a wee bit puerile from time to time.
Of course, the Gloryholes are the sort of band to take a critic who uses the word "puerile" in a review and strings him up by the balls. Which is pretty much all that needs to be said.
(Freedom of Speech)
Loopy little pop ditties that always play by the rules. Perhaps this sounds dull to you, but Tom Hedrick manages to infuse each song with a wacky (and decidedly nerdy) sense of humor.
For example, the first line of the title track is "If I were a Vulcan..." "Little Saturn" could be that Beach Boys-flavored jingle that GM has been dying to hear. And then there's a song about our greatest president, James K. Polk.
In the liners, Hedrick admits to being a control freak, and he's certainly dotted all his I's and crossed all his T's. The sound is tight and very, very studio. Hedrick crafted the graphic on the cover, and that same sort of sunny un-reality pervades his music.
You might think I'm complaining, but the strange thing is that Hedrick's wonky, obsessive sound works simply because the guy is so damned earnest. He makes music this plastic-sounding because he likes it that way. And his enthusiasm rubbed off on me in a big way.
The title says it all. Thomas Helton wails on his double bass for an hour. Three pieces, each of which is rather distinct from the other.
What I like about Helton is that he actually plays the instrument. He's not picking or whacking or trying to make noises that the thing was never meant to play. He's simply composed some songs and he plays them.
I'll amend the "noises" statement. He does come up with a few cool screeches and whines, but only while he's also playing another line. Mostly, though, he's wandering through bass territory I've not heard before. He doesn't push the envelope all that much (this statement doesn't exactly contradict what I just said), but he sure does know how to get the most out of his instrument.
Fans of the truly avant garde won't really dig this, and certainly those with a toe in the mainstream will run screaming. But those who like to hear a nice workout on the double bass (which, after the baritone sax, is perhaps the coolest instrument around), Helton provides plenty of fine listening. I had a fine time, myself.
...Died in the Woods
A long time ago, bands like Slint and Rodan crawled out of the slime. Or Louisville. Whatever you want to call it. I have a feeling that if you asked anyone in 1980 where two of the most influential bands of the final two decades of the 20th century might arise, Louisville would have been way down on the list.
I don't know where Florence is, but it's in Kentucky. And these folks certainly have learned at the knee of the Slint/Rodan axis. Three guys, two of whom are named Joe, Hilltop Distillery does a nice turn on that whole noise rock fusion thing (I understand that some folks are calling this stuff "post rock." That seems a bit simplistic to me. But I digress...). Not a lot of distortion (though there is some, from time to time), and very little singing. To the point of there being no singing, actually. The three clean lines played by each of the band members meander about, but they always come together at the right moments. Put another way, some folks know how to fuck off brilliantly, and the boys of Hilltop Distillery are among them.
Think June of 44 in a noodly mode. That's how good these guys are. They don't really change the canon much, but this stuff is so well done that I can hardly complain. Just a fine set of songs for the end of the universe.
Changes 'Comin EP
Lisa Thornton wrote all five songs here (she had help on "Working Woman" from Mia Noble). She sings on three of them. But she didn't sing on the standout track, "Walk All Over You," which is one of the best country/blues tunes I've heard in ages. Bonnie Raitt (pre-mega fame) would have been proud.
The rest of the songs are pretty good--"Working Woman" is a nice modern country version of "She Works Hard for the Money," and "Knife Across Your Back" has a solid groove, though it does try a bit too hard at times.
Thornton proves herself to be a versatile songwriter, but she ought to let someone else handle the singing. And boy, she oughta get down to Nashville and sell "Walk All Over You." It's just the sort of boot in the ass today's country music needs.