Welcome to A&A. There are 16 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 noted.|
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A&A #253 reviews (May 2004)
Make Yr Life
It's pretty rare that I get to review a local act. Once or twice a year--at most. Look at it this way: I've reviewed more albums from bands in Vilnius than I have local folks (whatever local might have meant over the 12+ years I've been doing A&A). So it's nice to get this disc from one of the true stars of the area scene.
The easiest way to describe the Butchies is that they're Sleater-Kinney--if Sleater -Kinney was a pop band. There's the strident riffage and strained lead vocals, but that's all tied together by tight hooks and sweet harmonies. Another way to think of it: The Butchies are what the Go-Go's would have sounded like if Jane Weidlin was the most "normal" member of the band.
The sound is sharp, which tends to emphasize the tough sides of the songs. But when rounder tones are needed, they're found. No one would mistake this for a major-label outing; the songs themselves are the power element here. And the last track, a muted rendition of the Outfield's "Your Love," is simply electrifying.
I'm not going to make any judgment against the overall Butchies canon (I just haven't heard enough of the band's earlier, much-praised albums), but Make Yr Life is simply outstanding. Edgy and occasionally terrifying, but always, always tuneful. This tightrope isn't razor-thin; the width is more atomic in size. And the Butchies dance across in perfect time.
Someone for Everyone
At first, I thought the name of this album was Something for Everyone. Which wouldn't be right. The Capsules play a repetitive form of pop music that is a delight to my ears but just might piss off someone with less, shall we say, eclectic taste.
Remember My Bloody Valentine before Loveless? Something like that. The production sticks to the background, allowing Julie Shields's astonishingly voice to ring out and carry the show. I suppose there's a Galaxie 500 feel to this puppy as well, but the Capsules are a bit more varied in their approach.
Still, the slow to mid-tempo songs move along with a light grace, and there is something of a minimalist approach to the arrangements. This is a trio, and it sounds like one. The Capsules make very little effort to disguise their numbers, but that's cool. Let the songs speak for themselves.
Let them sing, I should say. Let Shields sing and sing and sing. These pieces play to her strengths, and she's got a few. Quite an entrancing album.
Country Club & the Porn Horns
The Station Wagon Revolution
I'm always in favor of people trying to do cool things with horns in rock music. Everything from Chicago (some of those early jams are truly incredible) to Blue Meanies to the multitude in-between. Country Club & the Porn Horns utilize some of the dissonant styles of Blue Meanies, but there's not much in the way of ska to be found here.
Rather, the pieces whipsaw between the poles of fusion jazz (the good side, of course) and rockabilly, with often obscene spoken interludes from a guy (or character) named Wexler. Don't ask me to make sense of it.
There's just no need. This is a band with singular requirement of its music: The stuff has to be good. It might swing, it might wail, it might screech, but it's always interesting.
I'd imagine that these songs are completely reworked in a live setting. As incendiary as this album gets, my guess is that the show is ten times more impressive. And that's a truly frightening prospect.
Music at 1/2 Speed
Matt Davignon was just sitting around, bored off his ass (I'm extrapolating ehre, of course), when he decided to pop a 4-track into a regular cassette player. Whoa! The mind boggled. He reached back, found these recordings from the mid-90s and mastered them to half speed.
Instead of the Chipmunks, we have the Narwhals. Or something like that. Some of these pieces were experimental to begin with. It relatively easy to pick those out. They make no sense at all. But there are a few former pop songs in there, and those turn out so damned cool. You can imagine what these things might sound like at speed (making them an octave or two higher in pitch).
I dunno. Maybe I'm just a jaded music critic who latches on to anything that doesn't sound "normal." But I think Davignon is really on to something here. Slow down songs, and you start to really delve into their inner secrets. That or, as I noted, I'm simply trying to justify the preferences of my burned-out brain.
Nah, this stuff is great. Once you get a load of the blown-out harmonica in track two, you'll agree. This album is an experience that never fails to excite.
Cool to Be You
(Fat Wreck Chords)
Before the recent "reunion" disc on Epitaph, I'd never really thought about how much Chad Price--the current ALL singer--sounds like Milo Aukerman. Much more so than Scott Reynolds or Dave Smalley. But the rest of the band is the same, so I guess it shouldn't matter who's singing. The songs themselves are fairly similar in style--though the boys in the bands swear they have a "sixth sense" when it comes to picking material for one or the other. Enough bullshit analysis. Is this album just a tired retread or does it kick ass? I think it's fair to say that many of ALL's more recent outings have been somewhat disappointing--a lot of strident anger and not nearly enough fun--but this puppy sounds good for the long haul. Even an earnest protest song like "'Merican" keeps things peppy.
And, yes, the production is vintage Blasting Room. These boys didn't get slapped with the "caffeine punk" label for nothing. These songs percolate along at a fast clip, keeping the thick riffage churning.
So, no, this isn't a tired retread. It's another solid latter-day Descendents album that stands up quite nicely next to the classics. The boys may have mellowed just a tad, but the occasional bit of introspection simply adds a bit more depth. Lots and lots of fun.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Funeral For a Friend
It's not like my reviewing a Dirty Dozen Brass Band album would help their sales one iota. This collection of New Orleans musicians has been legendary for as long as I can recall. I've heard plenty of their albums, own a few, and I can say for a fact that none of them suck. In fact, none of them are less than good, and most are brilliant.
As with most DDBB albums, there's a theme here. The songs are hymns, spirituals or old-time gospel favorites, and they're played in the finest New Orleans fashion--often elegiac, but never downbeat.
What's interesting is the use of slide and acoustic blues guitar and other "roots" elements. These touches "age" the sound here, taking me back to the "O Brother" days. If, in the worst case, this was a conscious effort to cash in on a fad, well, it still worked wonders. If there was ever a band loose enough to blend jazz, gospel and old-time roots music, it was this one.
What was that word I used? Brilliant. Much like the second soundtrack to Kansas City (the one where the "K.C. Band" assembled to record the music for Robert Altman's movie gets high and low, low down), this album has a spontaneous feel that is invigorating and life-affirming. Precisely the sort of music you'd want to play at a funeral for a friend.
King Khan & His Shrines
Absolutely incendiary R&B from a Canadian who is now wandering somewhere around Europe. The label is French, and it says King Khan lives in Germany, but I'm not exactly sure how up-to-date it is. Screw all that. Listen to the music.
When I say R&B, I'm talking about the real thing, the whole Screamin' Jay Hawkins meets James Brown kinda thing. This is rock and roll, of course, the purest distillation of the sound. The Rolling Stones approached this level a couple times, of course, but they couldn't sustain it. Very few other folks have even tried.
But man, they should have. The energy and grooves here are enough to bring JFK back from the dead. Khan is lucky to have the Shrines backing him up; the ensemble is one of the tightest I've heard in years. I can only imagine how intense a live show might be. Khan might well be one of the few modern performers who can approach the pure sexual thrill of James Brown in his prime.
I guess Europeans appreciate this sort of music much more than Americans. That's too damned bad. I'd love to experience the wonder of King Khan & His Shrines live. Something tells me it's precisely the sort of danger than music has been missing for decades.
Josh Lederman y Los Diablos
The Town's Old Fair
(Coffeestain Music-Nine Mile Records)
Not unlike Firewater, which originally billed itself as "the world's worst Bar Mitzvah band," Josh Lederman y Los Diablos started life playing Irish weddings. Which might explain the occasional reference to a reel that seems to crop up now and a again.
Mostly, though, this is old-fashioned country music--some folk, some rural blues, a healthy dose of western swing and a healthy helping of plain ol' poor white trash wailin'--the kinda stuff that folks like to call "Americana." I suppose that's as good a moniker as anything, though it sure does create a wide-ranging category. If it has room for folks like Lederman and friends, who can combine early-60s Tom Waits with Marty Robbins, the Pogues (see, I told you there was a vague Irish feel), the Jayhawks and Whiskeytown, well, I guess there should be no complaints.
The sound here is, well, non-existent. The producer (who also mixed) did a smashing job of staying out of the way, mixing up the elements that needed a slight boost and making sure that nothing overpowered anything else. It's awfully hard to create such a transparent sound, and Darren Burke deserves full marks.
I remember when I first heard Strangers Almanac. I still haven't recovered. This album has the same sort of powerful presence. I kept waiting for some sort of emotional letdown, a song that couldn't quite stand up with the others. It never came. By the end, I was a total wreck. And that's a very good thing, indeed.
That Much Further West
So what if Jay Farrar had fronted the Replacements? I know, it still would have sounded like Uncle Tupelo, but indulge my fantasy. Lucero plays a snazzy, modern version of indie roots rock, complete with dressed-up production and busy song arrangements.
But Ben Nichols really does remind me of Farrar trying to channel Paul Westerburg (not unheard of, of course), which probably also accounts for my hearing some of these pieces as a bit more snotty than they ought to be.
And there's this odd post-grunge bass feel as well, but I'll chalk that up to Lucero working its ass off trying to create an original sound. I'm not sure the boys completely succeed--there's more pastiche than coherent thought in the arrangements--but I do like what I hear.
There's a bonus disc here that sounds like demo versions of the songs on the album. Less production, simpler arrangements--that sort of thing. I like these rough versions better. They show off the songs better. And they prove that sometimes it's possible to overdo a good thing. Nonetheless, Lucero proves that it has the chops for the long haul.
Sings Insults to an Ex-Girlfriend
The full title of this album is Sings Insults to an Ex-Girlfriend and an Unrelated Song About Television, Because How Much Can You Really Say About One Not Very Complex, Dishonest Person. Which is just about perfect.
Rob McColley used to go by the names Laurie McColley and A Boy Named Laurie (the latter alias is still used on the CD cover for this album). I have no idea what sort of identity issues the guy has in real life, but his music is similarly obsessive.
Witty as hell, too. Not necessarily in a Wildean context, but just in an easygoing, laid back way. These songs are about what must have been a pretty brutal break-up (except, of course, for "Teevee"), but they have a droll, loose feel to them. It's always good to be able to laugh at yourself even as you break out the angst stick.
More fun than funny, I guess, which is still pretty impressive given the material. McColley knows his way around a sweet pop hook, and he also knows enough not to oversell what he's got. The golden moments on this album are true surprises--even on repeat listens. Once you accept the rules in McColley's universe, then everything makes sense. Which is exactly what art is all about.
I got this CD a few months ago, and I've been listening to it about once a month since. This is rare for me; usually my reviews are based on my first exposure. But I hadn't noticed the release date when I first popped this album in, and so I've had a lot more time to appreciate what David Mead does.
While I was initially impressed, I've found that this album improves significantly on repeat listens. That's somewhat surprising for a modern folk set like this, given that the songs are quite straightforward and the sound is similarly open. Most of the time, this is the sort of album I like initially before getting bored.
Maybe it took me that long to really hook into Mead's songwriting style. He lies somewhere between Nick Drake and Sound of Lies, that most moody and paranoid of Jayhawks albums--which, again, means I should dig this immediately.
Okay, so it took some time. That's cool. The fault is all mine. Mead has created an album of deceptive power. Let it flow, and you'll hear what I mean.