Welcome to A&A. There are 14 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 #265 reviews
(June 2005)
  • Aidan Baker/ Thomas Baker/Alan Bloor Terza Rima (Public Eyesore)
  • Bridge and Tunnel Club Next Best Letdown (self-released)
  • The Bright and Hollow Sky Gem State (Pop Faction)
  • Cloud Cult Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus (Earthology)
  • C-Rayz Walz Year of the Beast (Definitive Jux)
  • Cubik & Origami EP I (Wide Hive)
  • DJ Methodikal Alarmingly Lo-Fi (Wordclock)
  • Linda Draper One Two Three Four (Planting Seeds)
  • Jim Duffy Side One (self-released)
  • Monkey Paw Honkey Kong (4 Alarm Music)
  • One Umbrella Solve (Tell-All)
  • Orange Park Songs from the Unknown (Young American Recordings)
  • Pornographic Priestess Tatterdemalions (self-released)
  • Versailles Believe EP (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Aidan Baker/Thomas Baker/Alan Bloor
    Terza Rima
    (Public Eyesore)

    Three lengthy live pieces recorded from the sound board. That's about as pure as it gets. Aidan Baker plays guitar, Thomas Baker plays piano and Alan Bloor manipulates "amplified metal." Oh yeah, it's one of those.

    The label ought to have tipped you off, of course. Public Eyesore traffics in all sorts of music, but all of it is significantly off the beaten path. I think that's why I like their stuff so much. In any case, these guys create an astonishing atmosphere. It's hard to believe that three people are creating this stuff in real time.

    Contemplative, yes, but in an intense way. These guys set up recurring rhythms and ideas and then play with them. Not loops (this is live and supposedly not automated), but rather variations on a theme. Lots of variations and many, many themes.

    I'll be honest; I can't stand listening to this stuff in a live setting. Puts me to sleep. But slap a recording like this on my home stereo and my senses jump. Everything becomes more real. I can see things I've been missing. Orgasms get better. I guess it's like crack for dorks or something. Anyway, I like it this way, and I like what these guys do. And that's more than good enough for me.

    Public Eyesore
    c/o Bryan Day
    2464 Harney #15
    Omaha, NE 68131
    e-mail: sistrum1@hotmail.com
    www: http://www.publiceyesore.com

    Bridge and Tunnel Club
    Next Best Letdown

    If you have a few hours, poke around the Bridge and Tunnel Club website. You'll see this explanation of the band: "The Bridge and Tunnel Club exists not as a band in the typical band kind of way more than it is there for the amusement of whoever gets involved with it. Which is to say, it is like a hobby, and like any good hobby no one really expects to make any money off of it." Doesn't get much more cool than that.

    The website contains loads of information about the New York area, but it never really gets around to explaining who's in the band, past discussing previous projects by members. If we're talking about members and not simply one deranged fool.

    The music? Well, it's drum-machine driven. Some songs have more "real" instruments than others. Some songs are kinda poppy, some are more straight-up rock and roll. And the rest are mutant versions of the same. Highly idiosyncratic approaches to rhythm and melody are the highlights here, though it must be noted that these songs somehow manage to come together in a highly endearing fashion.

    Much more accomplished than, say, Half Japanese or Daniel Johnston, but these folks (?) certainly share a similarly warped view of the world. I can sympathize. This is one of those truly strange albums that is hopelessly charming. Simply lovely.

    c/o Scott Sendrow
    2-01 50th Ave., #15D
    Long Island City, NY 11101
    www: http://www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com

    The Bright and Hollow Sky
    (Pop Faction)

    Four guys from Austin (former members of Silver Scooter) who bring a nice post-rock feel to pretty pop songs. That's pretty much the story here, but damn, is it a nice one.

    There's a cool math-y feel to the rhythms, and a semi-abstract approach to the guitar work. Past that, though, we're talking about understated stuff. Some nice harmonies, a few solid hooks and an overall warm feeling.

    Yes, these folks are old pros at this stuff, and they put that experience to work here. It would be easy for any of the influences to take over the sound, but the Bright and Hollow Sky keeps everything in balance. Which does, indeed, make all the difference.

    At first, this disc sounds innocuous and even innocent. But careful listening finds plenty of bite. This one might skate by on first listen. So be sure to give it plenty of spins.

    Pop Faction
    2228 Rosewood Ave.
    Richmond, VA 23220
    www: www.popfaction.com

    Cloud Cult
    Advice from the Happy Hippopotamus

    Cloud Cult is one weird band. It donates 100 percent of its profits after expenses to environmental causes. It has performed on VH1 (on the show "Totally Obsessed") and made a significant dent on the national radio charts. And all this with a sound that can only be described as obsessive (there's that word again) proggy pop. Kind alike the Shins, I suppose, but much, much more idiosyncratic.

    Craig Minowa is the main force behind Cloud Cult. He's an environmental activist (thus the Earthology label and the donations), but these songs tend to tackle the personal rather than the political.

    The sound is unique and approachable, which may explain why so many folks in so many different places like the band. The loosey-goosey production sound keeps the adherence to craft toned down, and the overall sound sounds like the perfectly organic blending of a number of minds.

    The web site and the press notes are a bit over the top. Cloud Cult cannot save the Earth from destruction, much less give my wife and I a fuller sex life. Still, the music is inventive and fun, and the insights trip out the speakers with regularity. Solid.

    Earthology Records
    46970 Tenquist Lane
    Hinckley, MN 55037
    www: http://www.cloudcult.com

    C-Rayz Walz
    Year of the Beast
    (Definitive Jux)

    I've always been a sucker for politically-conscious hip hop, which is one reason why I've always been a fan of Def Jux. I'm also a big fan of collage-style production, especially when it sounds organic. RJD2, for instance. C-Rayz Walz comes hard with both on this, his first album since 2003's Ravipops (The Substance).

    The songs are all over the map. Some are serious explorations, and others are obviously bits of fun. C-Rayz Walz trips all through it, his voice at once impressive and yet containing element of everyman as well. Approachable greatness. Gotta love that.

    The sound is full and round. This is music that exists outside of the rhymes. Music that has a mind of its own. Music that complements the lyrical flow. That's the sort of thing that really impresses me.

    Fall into this world and you might not want to leave. The lush beats and thick rhymes are quickly addictive. Yep, just another winner for Def Jux. Like you thought it would be a dud.

    Definitive Jux
    451 Greenwich St. #507
    New York, NY 10013
    e-mail: info@definitivejux.net
    www: http://www.definitivejux.net

    Cubik & Origami
    EP I
    (Wide Hive)

    If there was such a thing as a hip hop jam band, Cubik & Origami might be it. These folks have a few turntables backing up real instruments. The songs themselves evolve over time without regard for convention. Something tells me the live shows ought to be even better than this CD.

    Which isn't to say this is unimpressive. Hardly. The feel and flow established in the beats and bass work give the songs their worldly feel--these folks simply refuse to tie themselves down to any set of ideas. And the songs are the ultimate beneficiaries.

    I'd say this is a worthy successor to acid jazz, except that it's miles more sophisticated and impressive than any acid jazz I've every heard. Imagine a crack jazz band in thrall to hip hop grooves. That's pretty cool, wouldn't you say?

    I would, anyway. And Cubik & Origami sure know how to lay down this style and then play with it almost incessantly. A wonder of an album. Something new and amazing is always around the corner.

    Wide Hive
    P.O. Box 460067
    San Francisco, CA 94146
    Phone (415) 282-9433
    Fax [415] 282-6432
    www: http://www.widehive.com

    DJ Methodikal
    Alarmingly Lo-Fi

    One of those albums where the title really does tell it like it is. This isn't a collection of hip hop grooves. It's a warped assortment of distorted electronic melodies and old-school digital hardcore beats.

    Yes, yes, it's all been done before. And probably with a bit more manic intensity. Still, I haven't heard anything this engaging on this front in quite a while. DJ Methodikal (another appropriate moniker) knows how to make the speakers throb in a most engaging manner.

    Lo-fi? Actually, no. Just a lot of distortion. The sound is shiny and not entirely without character. There are shades in this world, even if they are fairly stark. Think of it as a well-appointed digital hardcore flat.

    I have always been attracted to manic beatsmithing combined with often-incomprehensible noise. DJ Methodikal actually keeps most of his melodies within the realms of the physical world, but there's plenty of noise and power to make me happy. Very happy, in fact.

    Wordclock Records
    P.O. Box 3266
    Merrifield, VA 22116
    www: http://www.wordclock.com

    Linda Draper
    One Two Three Four
    (Planting Seeds)

    There's a sticker on the jewel box that proclaims that this CD was produced by Kramer. Likewise, the press notes hype that point. Most of the time, whenever a label has to use a producer to promote an album, it means the album doesn't have the legs to support itself. That's why I listen to the albums, I guess.

    What's really sorta odd is that Linda Draper plays a fairly spartan version of folk music, which sorta negates the importance of a producer. This stripped-down approach means the songs have to survive on their own, without a whole lot of studio help. Draper's lyrics are straightforward, but she manages to throw in a few curves, often undercutting the initial premise of a song.

    And, well, Kramer did have work to do after all. He throws in occasional accompaniment (flute, guitar, etc.), but always keeps Draper's voice and acoustic guitar in the forefront. He provides atmosphere without taking all the air out of the sound.

    I generally don't like this sort of album. But good is good, and great is even better. Draper may sing softly, but her ideas come across loud and clear.

    Planting Seeds
    P.O. Box 64665
    Virginia Beach, VA 23467-4665
    e-mail: mailbag@plantingseedsrecords.com
    www: http://www.plantingseedsrecords.com

    Jim Duffy
    Side One

    Jim Duffy on piano and electric piano, backed up by a basic guitar-bass-drums band and all sorts of friends. Duffy does paint his songs differently depending on the extras (horns, strings, etc.)--or maybe he calls in his pals to flesh out his songs the way he wants them to sound.

    Either way, Duffy is essentially an r&b piano player, with touches of boogie-woogie and other styles seamlessly tossed in. His songs simply roll out with consummate ease, immediately charming the ear and inducing the mind to relax. Take a load off. Enjoy yourself.

    And as these songs stroll through classic soul, the blues, rock, jazz and more, the one connecting factor is Duffy's stylish feel for the keyboard. He plays the electric piano on most of these songs, and he manages to exude real emotion and feeling on an instrument which can make that quite difficult.

    Just a lovely feel to this album. It cycles through plenty of moods, but the prevailing wind is that of a warm spring breeze. Effervescent, with the promise of better days to come. And the ideas to back up that optimism. Truly a joy.

    P.O. Box 220524
    Brooklyn, NY 11222-0524
    www: http://www.3dotsmusic.com

    Monkey Paw
    Honkey Kong
    (4 Alarm)

    There's something about these boys that reminds me of the Jesus Lizard. Maybe it's the fact that a few tracks here are produced by Steve Albini. Or maybe it's the often chaotic yelping of the vocals. Or maybe it's just that this trio hails from Chicago.

    Because it's not the music. Not exactly. These churning tunes are a bit too, well, tuneful. Monkey Paw isn't going to bowl anyone over with its hooks, but they're not bad. Kinda window dressing, really, given the power of the music.

    Oh yeah, the music is that good. It's not over the top or anything. Just so, really. Loud but not particularly distorted. Disjointed yet rhythmic. Lots of fun. You know, what this sounds like is Neil Young (loud phase) meets Jesus Lizard.

    Nah, that's still a cheap and easy way to describe the often loony sounds of Monkey Paw. Just when I think I've got the boys pegged, the do something like throw in a raggedy blues piece, complete with harp. Ah, yes, the true connection to the Lizard: These boys generally do the unexpected, and they make it sound like the most natural thing in the world.

    4 Alarm Records
    660 W. Lake St.
    Chicago, IL 60661
    www: http://www.fouralarmrecords.com

    One Umbrella

    From San Francisco, home of the weirdest music in the world, comes One Umbrella. This duo makes electronic music of the most unusual kind: Abstract, yet utterly coherent.

    The coherence comes from a judicious use of rhythm. Each piece is grounded in certain rhythms, which allows the extraneous noise ("melody" and otherwise) to retain shape, even if the ideas themselves aren't exactly rectilinear.

    When I say electronic, I mean in that in a production sort of way. An awful lot of the sounds on this disc are made by regular instruments, instruments that are either played or recorded in unusual ways. The assembly is what makes these pieces so exciting. They rise and fall as they tell their stories--and despite the surface cacophony, very little translation is necessary.

    Electric and exciting. I will admit, as I always do, that I'm a stone cold sucker for this kind of excursion, but One Umbrella impresses me as few do. This is the sort of experimental abstract album that could well attract a number of converts. Most invigorating.

    Tell-All Records
    P.O. Box 40298
    San Francisco, CA 94110
    www: http://www.tellallrecords.com

    Orange Park
    Songs from the Unknown
    (Young American Recordings)

    The requisite sunny pop album for this set of reviews. These songs are almost too perky to believe, but they're stocked with a solid set of 80s-style riffage and group singing. .38 Special meets Green Day, or something like that.

    No, no, once again, I get it wrong. The .38 Special part is right, but the modern reference must be multiple. Part power punk pop, part glossy alt country, part emo (duh). And it all explodes at the hooks.

    Really, that's the way this kind of music has to be judged. The melodies are strong and strikingly catchy, and the hooks simply blast the songs into orbit. I know half of my attraction (more than half, really) comes from the fact that I graduated from high school in 1987. "Almost Paradise" was the theme song for our prom. Heart and Loverboy (the singers, anyway). I've still got a soft spot for all that kinda silliness.

    And so does Orange Park. There's a certain feel to those 80s AOR anthems that hasn't really been replicated. Guns N' Roses tore them down, and then Nirvana obliterated them. Hey, wait, I've got it: The Cars meet Alkaline Trio. Yeah, I think I really like that. But not nearly as much as I like this album.

    Young American Recordings
    630 9th Ave.
    Suite 1200
    New York, NY 10036
    www: http://www.yamrecordings.com

    Pornographic Priestess

    Imagine Jon Spencer playing Trailer Bride songs...loud, messy and utterly twisted swamp blues, man. But with strange prog and even new wave edges. In truth, there's just no single explanation for these boys that can be believed.

    Well, a couple of people out there might remember a band called Creaming Jesus. Ragged cyberpunk that somehow made more sense when played at high volume. Pornographic Priestess reminds me of them boys without sounding much like them. If that makes sense.

    Actually, the touchpoint for the two bands is an obvious affection for early Bowie. Even if the songs don't reference that very often, the connection seems clear to me. These pieces are (most often) guitar-driven, even if they spin out into electronic or industrial madness before they finish.

    The album itself is a royal mess, and the sequencing doesn't help. The set does not hold together in any real sense. But each song is so strong, so bracing, that I can't help but love the entire collection. Most unusual, but in an endearing sort of way. Of this earth, but only barely.

    Southern Palpitations
    P.O. Box 330001
    Ft. Worth, TX 76163-0001
    www: http://priestess.eightyx.net

    Believe EP

    Versailles is Diana St. Hilaire. And it is also a band which features the aforementioned St. Hilaire as singer and songwriter. This is the sort of thing that makes people snort when they talk about goth music.

    But is this really goth, or is it simply keyboard and piano-drenched orchestral rock? I dunno. Labels don't interest me. Versailles (the woman) real talent is playing piano, but she's a capable songwriter and a strong (if not particularly subtle) singer. The three songs here (with one remix) are intriguing. I have a feeling I could go either way with a full set.

    This is what I have to work with, though. This L.A. band is plying waters I haven't experienced in a while. Folks to watch, methinks.

    www: http://www.versailles.ro

    Also recommended:

    Accursed Dawn Manifest Damnation (The Creation Effect) (Pop Faction)
    Apocalyptic death metal, with plenty of nods both to the grind and to more melodic Eurometal. The boys don't necessarily reconcile these disparate influences, but they do perform both with aplomb. Grand, sweeping, brutish and nasty--it's all here. I'd like to hear some better transitions between the Iron Maiden and Cannibal Corpse moments, but I must admit I do like this a lot.

    Chris Beard Live Wire (NorthernBlues)
    Despite unmistakably brilliant studio albums by the likes of Otis Taylor, the only way to really hear the blues is live. This live album is rough, almost bootleg in quality. It sounds like it was recorded in a living room. And that intimacy makes this set exciting. Beard spins all around the blues, incorporating rock, r&b, funk and even a little country into his sound, and these live tracks give him plenty of room to fully flesh out his ideas. Very nice.

    Cetacea Cetacea EP (self-released)
    Dreamy prog, sweeping melodies and intricate rhythms stirred up into a stew of swirling ideas. The song structures are loose, but recognizable. This is a lighter version of prog than many will like--light in terms of adherence to the form. Cetacea's approach is somewhat revisionist, and I think that works pretty well. Lots of cool ideas here.
    c/o Zoe Greenberg
    260 Moore St. #209
    Brooklyn, NY 11206
    www: http://www.cetaceamusic.com

    Grubstake Dynamite & Other Inventions (Nine Mile)
    Grubstake is more than willing to try on lots of hats. I just wish the boys would pick, say, five. These songs all gravitate around a minimalist roots core, but the influences keep coming hot and heavy. I struggled and failed to find much consistency. That said, the disparate ideas are all written and played quite well. I'm still not sure what Grubstake is really trying to do, but it does well on this album.

    Homler/Leibig Duo Kelpland Serenades (pfMENTUM)
    Anna Homler takes care of the vocals (sometimes singing, sometimes decidedly not) and accouterments, while Steuart Leibig concentrates on contrabass guitars, loops and electronics. The results sound just like that: Two people making up some truly strange noise as they go. The improvisations here are all over the map, and not quite consistent in terms of ideas or execution. An intriguing listen for those willing to spend some time with the album.

    Lanky Odd Hour Work Week (Imposter)
    Lanky is Frank Stabile, but this hardly sounds like an eccentric one-man effort. Rather, this is pop-inflected roots stuff, perfect for AAA radio. Stabile does have a tendency to turn to the handbook when he gets stuck with a song--there are a few too many predictable moments here for me to get overly excited. But then, maybe that's what it takes to get mainstream attention. This is good, if not great, and more than listenable.

    Fergus McCormick Jumping the Gun (self-released)
    The problem with the whole singer/songwriter genre is that so many singers sound like so many others. It's the songs that count. McCormick's voice is, well, average, but his songs have something too say. The solid, yet understated, production enhances his writing, making this an album that does, indeed, rise above the ever-increasing pack.
    www: http://www.fergusmccormick.org

    The Ratchets Heart of Town EP (Hellbent)
    Shiny, tight proto-punk. If Rancid channels the early aggression of the Clash, the Ratchets edge a bit more toward Combat Rock. The playing is top notch, the production ultra-precise. Some nice songs, though drained of much emotion. These boys need to let go just a bit, and they might be quite impressive.

    S.E.V.A. S.E.V.A. (Mush)
    You know trip-hop? How about truly trippy hip-hop? S.E.V.A. uses eastern grooves, highly mystical concepts and some really inventive production to create a sound I've never heard before. I'm not sure it all comes together in the end (these folks try so many things, I think they get lost from time to time), but the effort is breathtaking.

    soe'za Why Do You Do? (Gringo)
    A British take on Chicago-style post rock. The result is much messier, with a lot more thrown into the music, but all in all it's a cool reimagining of the form. I never thought Britpop and math had much in common, but these folks have proven my assumptions to be sadly mistaken. Intriguing.

    Sonic Adventure Project Exergonic (Starmill-Discomania)
    The Austrian duo of Thomas Viehboeck and Peter Koellerer put together ambient music from a different age. While this music would have been at home back in the early 90s, the almost new age-y mellow approach to electronic music hasn't really been in fashion for some time. Maybe that's why I like it. These guys do know how to make a seductive album.
    Peter Koellerer
    Weisskirchnerstrasse 20
    4614 Marchtrenk
    www: http://www.starmill.at

    Sotto Voce Sotto Voce (Public Eyesore)
    Just yer typical piano, guitar, sax and drums improvisational quartet. I guess. Sotto voce is much more subtle than most who wander through these waters, but the ideas are just as vital. Kinda on the edge even for folks like me who truly dig this stuff, this album does have a few truly sublime moments.

    Turn Around Turn Around EP (self-released)
    Four rollicking acoustic guitar rock songs. The inclusion of keyboards gives these pieces a real early-70s feel...one that is welcome to my ears. I'd like to hear these folks flesh out their ideas a bit more, but I suppose that's what albums are for. These folks really might have something.
    www: http://www.turnaroundmusic.com

    Unisex Salon Unisex Salon EP (self-released)
    A cool little new wave punk garage combo. I know, those concepts don't necessarily fit together, and so it goes with the three songs here. Unisex Salon hasn't quite defined its sound yet, but I can hear hints of greatness. A developing thing.

    Valient Thorr Total Universe Man (Volcom)
    Think Eddie Van Halen, only really, really weird. Valient Thorr is a nice guitar player, but what makes this album fun is the utterly bizarre worldview of the songs. I don't think I share the same universe with this boy, but then, he probably would say the same thing about me. Surprisingly compelling.

    TK Webb KCK (The Social Registry)
    Webb plays a fine rural blues guitar, but his songs are a bit more complicated than that. The blues runs through these pieces, but there are so many other little bits dropped in (gospel, folk, etc.), but rendered in as minimalist a fashion as possible. A bit out there, but in the best way possible.

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