Welcome to A&A. There are 13 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 #273 reviews
(April 2006)
  • Cities Cities (Yep Roc)
  • Dave Doobinin One Station Away (self-released)
  • The Foundry Field Recordings Prompts/Miscues (Emergency Umbrella)
  • Human Host Exploding Demon (MT6)
  • Jeremiah Lockwood American Primitive (Vee-Ron)
  • The Love Letter Band Fear Not My Brothers, Fear Not My Sisters, For I Have Seen the Future... (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
  • Melvins A Live History of Gluttony and Lust (Ipecac)
  • One Left Songs from the Wound (self-released)
  • The Payola Reserve One Long Apology (self-released)
  • The Roy Owens Jr. Good Times (International Hits)
  • Sleepy River The Funeral Birth of a Tree (Swingset)
  • Victory at Sea All Your Things Are Gone (Gern Blandstern)
  • Wrinkle Neck Mules Pull the Brake (Shut Eye)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    (Yep Roc)

    Back in the day, goth meant slightly off-kilter music sung with something akin to a falsetto. Cities has that mid-80s, ringing goth feel, but it adds a math-y consistency to the rhythm section and just enough other tics to take this sound to someplace completely new.

    Kinda like Trailer Bride. Southern gothic americana makes perfect sense now, but all those years ago no one could believe it. The same applies here. Rock and roll has been due for this sort of makeover, but I can't say I've heard anyone do it quite like this.

    The sound really helps. The songs sound like they were recorded 20 years ago, except that the sound is so much more precise. And those beveled edges help to highlight the interesting things Cities does with its songs.

    The best analogy I can come up with is an Alan Parsons Project cover band made up of 20 year olds--and that doesn't play APP tunes. Really pretty and often spooky. Quite the disc.

    Yep Roc
    P.O. Box 4821
    Chapel Hill, NC 27515
    www: http://www.yeproc.com

    Dave Doobinin
    One Station Away

    Laptop roots stuff, kinda like a stripped-down version of what Greg Garing did years ago. The songs roll along, sometimes with acoustic guitar and sometimes with electric. Doobinin doesn't much like to stick to the same sound, though he doesn't wander far from the up-and-down drum machine that backs just about every song here.

    The contrasts are quite interesting. At their core, these are simple folk or pop songs. And they're not particularly gussied up. It's just that the presentation is often decidedly unusual. That's what I like best, I think.

    And the studio tricks help, as Doobinin is merely a good songwriter. His melodies don't soar and his lyrics can get bogged down in the mundane. Nonetheless, he manages to make every song here worth hearing. Not many folks can say as much.

    A fun diversion from the everyday, even if the underpinnings are exactly that. Just trip along the easy beats and let the tunes wash over you. No better way to get in the mood.

    477 Clinton St.
    Brooklyn, NY 11231
    www: http://www.davedoobinin.com

    The Foundry Field Recordings
    (Emergency Umbrella)

    Always good to hear something new from Columbia, Mo., where I spent five fun years back in the late 80s and early 90s. Strangely, back then I knew a couple of bands that sounded vaguely like the Foundry Field Recordings, seeing as the whole psychedelic, over-produced rock thing was kinda breaking out at the time.

    These folks do have a modern sense of restraint (which can be a good thing--back when I was in school, the Flaming Lips set off more fireworks in small theaters than Great White), and more importantly, every note seems to be preordained. Not predictable, mind you, just played as if there was no other place to be.

    The other, more important distinction is that this album is well-produced, which could not be said about any Columbia outfit from back in the day. Modern technology can be stultifying, but it seems to be quite helpful for creative people doing creative things. This album sounds so, so pretty.

    Doesn't so much take me back to my college days as it does remind me of how nice life is after college. You grow up. You drink better beer. More good music comes along. You drink more better beer. Yes, indeed, life is good. And the Foundry Field Recordings are too.

    Emergency Umbrella
    P.O. Box 3024
    Columbia, MO 65201-3024
    www: http://www.emergencyumbrella.com

    Human Host
    Exploding Demon

    At times loopy, at times sneeringly pretentious, Human Host is one big ball of attitude. And ain't that rock and roll?

    Basically, these songs wander all over the noise/no wave/elektro bop spectrum. The main connecting factor is a devotion to finding the most grating way to make a point. I'm not criticizing, mind you--I'm complimenting. Human Host has no apparent desire to please, and that's not just refreshing. It's brilliant.

    There are no points of reference and very little continuity between songs. About the only thing that holds this album together is the obvious desire of the band to fuck with as many heads as possible.

    Again, I'm complimenting here. These folks have a real handle on something special. Not the sort of thing average people care to deal with, but then, who needs average people? Take the world by the balls and squeeze.

    MT6 Records
    3024 Fifth Ave.
    Baltimore, MD 21234
    www: http://www.mt6records.com

    Jeremiah Lockwood
    American Primitive

    Having recently watched Junebug, I must admit to a greater appreciation of the staggeringly crude artwork that graces the liners for this disc. The music, likewise, is best described as one hack's attempt to whack his way through roots music--music with roots in the 19th century, that is.

    I'm not sure how much Lockwood actually reveres old (old) music, as he seems most happy when blazing out massive blues chords on his electric. But he does keep his playing and singing (if not his writing) on the, well, primitive side of things. And that's endearing.

    The production is anything but rough. Lockwood knows what he wants this album to sound like, and so this sounds like a modern recording. Modern renditions of ancient tales, I suppose, but clean and efficient nonetheless.

    Even if he is somewhat less than sincere in his approach, the effect is stunning nonetheless. Lockwood has performed a most difficult trick: Updating music without making it sound like it belongs in a museum. A most solid effort.

    Vee-Ron Records
    256 Grand St.
    Brooklyn, NY 11211
    www: http://www.vee-ronrecords.com

    The Love Letter Band
    Fear Not My Brothers, Fear Not My Sisters, For I Have Seen the Future...
    (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)

    Mix ragged, minimalist americana with Ennio Morricone's scores for spaghetti westerns, and you might begin to understand what's going on here. The Love Letter Band has completely stolen the guitar sound from those great flicks and then built some really whacked songs around them.

    This ought to be a bigger mess than it is. I mean, those scores were anything but subtle, and yet the quiet moments here are some of the most satisfying. There are a few vistas of great beauty, and plenty of punchy good times as well.

    The production sound is strangely rough. Ten years ago, though, I would have thought the sound was exceptionally tight. Interesting how things (and ears) change. In any case, the loose hands on the knobs help the songs prove their greatness.

    And there is greatness here. It lies beneath a couple layers of eccentricity, but that's only to be expected. Look at the title of this album. These folks aren't trying to sell a kajillion copies. They're trying to make a point. And you know, I think they do.

    Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records
    P.O. Box 742
    Athens, GA 30603
    www: http://www.hhbtm.com

    A Live History of Gluttony and Lust

    Most bands cycle through drummers from year to year. Melvins isn't a normal band. And so the member-in-the-turnstiles is the bassist. When asked to go across the pond and replicate Houdini (the band's first major label release) on stage in London and Dublin, King Buzzo and Dale Crover did the only sensible thing: They got Trevor Dunn to play bass.

    Of course, they didn't record those shows. So this disc is a compilation of the best performances of two shows in L.A. Though "shows" is probably a bit of an exaggeration. There's no crowd noise to speak of here, though it is apparent that the songs are recorded live on stage.

    You can hear it mostly in the energy of the work. I think it's safe to say Buzzo and Crover are better players now than they were then, and Dunn is easily the best bass player the band has ever had. The low end here is most impressive. Indeed, I'd say the sound on this recording is more "authentic" than the kinda metallic one Atlantic foisted upon the boys back in 1993.

    If I had to pick one Melvins album to do live, I probably wouldn't pick this one--even with the "special additions" to the set list. But then, for me, Melvins is more a state of mind than anything else. I'll take a dose now and again for what ails me and be done with it. So I guess Houdini is as good a choice as any. And this album is an interesting portrait of a band looking back and liking what it hears.

    P.O. Box 1778
    Orinda, CA 94563
    www: http://www.ipecac.com

    One Left
    Songs from the Wound

    Every so often I get a disc from One Left. In the six years since I last heard the boys, there's been something of a shift in sound. what had simply been nods to roots rock have blossomed into full-blown americana.

    Tinged with a bit of the ol' VU/Big Star brooding, of course. No matter how much you evolve, there's no use to ditching your old personality entirely. One Left may feature fiddle and some lap steel, but the heart of these songs is still a bittersweet swipe at life and the things it does for you.

    Which is why the gulf between the Zombies and Buck Owens isn't quite so wide as you might think. Take away the window dressing and you've got folks simply trying to make sense of life. One Left songs are wittier than most, and the garage country sound of this album is most attractive.

    One of those discs that ought to become more impressive with each successive listen. There's an awful lot of heart in these songs, and you just can't fake that. Solid all the way around.

    www: www.oneleft.com

    The Payola Reserve
    One Long Apology

    Have I ever mentioned how much I like Baltimore? It's right up there with Detroit. Really. I love those places. In any case, the Payola Reserve hails from the city that reads, and the folks have a heady mix of garage sensibilities and crafted songs that is almost criminal.

    To play such delicate pieces with the raucous abandon I hear here is astounding. I know, a lot of that has to do with the production...but what counts is what I hear on the disc. And I hear something I haven't heard before.

    The songs themselves are dense pockets of thought, but the enthusiastic readings (particularly on the slower songs) keep the top layer simple. Further listens will allow more of the sound to make itself known. But on all levels, these songs are impressive.

    Some bands sound like they've been making good music forever. I hope the Payola Reserve lasts at least that long.

    315 Abell Ave.
    Baltimore, MD 21218
    www: http://www.thepayolareserve.com

    The Roy Owens Jr.
    Good Times
    (International Hits)

    I'm not entirely sure whether to file this under "R" or "O." Because Roy Owens is the singer and (I am led to believe) the songwriter as well. But then there's that article at the beginning, and I'm all confused. So for now, I'll plop this under "R."

    On the web site, there's this line: "Influences are fun, and I like them too!" And then there's a list of artists that just about anyone with any sense likes. Suffice it to say that Owens prefers to play good music. There's a certain roots base to many of the songs, but that's generally overshadowed by whatever idea possessed Owens at the time.

    So there are gorgeous pop songs, balls-out rockers, prog-country excursions and the occasional punk slash-n-burn. And more. The sound is antique modern (something of a sharp digital recreation of some of those late 60s alt pop sounds loved by music critics and other crazy people), though the mood is thoroughly today. And tomorrow.

    I didn't even get to mention how much I like the muscular grace of these songs. There's so much power wound up in every piece. I kept waiting for it to be released, but Owens prefers to keep the tension coiled up. Builds one hell of a sense of anticipation. Withholding climax may seem cruel, but in this context it's pure genius.

    International Hits
    www: http://www.internationalhits.com

    Sleepy River
    The Funeral Birth of a Tree

    The sort of half-trippy, half-hippie jangle guitar pop that often sends me into spasms of incoherence. Really. Generally I can't stand the stuff. But Sleepy River does a little something with the sound, coming off more as acoustic Posies wannabes than, well, crap.

    I suppose the obvious Posies reference is the reliance on harmonies (and not necessarily tight ones at that). And there's the flair for the dramatic as well, though that nicely undercuts my initial description. Indeed, Sleepy River may be vaguely mellow, but it does follow the map.

    In other words, these songs make sense. And they are pretty, in a fuzzy and kinda non-descript way. If it weren't for the songwriting craft, though, I wouldn't give this a second look. These folks have some serious chops.

    It's always something like this that makes me wonder if I'm writing off an entire sound. And then I remember that I am listening to this album, and I like it, and that means I'm not completely closed-minded. I like getting turned around like that. Makes me like these folks that much more.

    Swingset Records
    5508 Skipjack Ct.
    Waldorf, MD 20603
    www: http://www.swingsetrecords.com

    Victory at Sea
    All Your Things Are Gone
    (Gern Blandstern)

    If Three Mile Pilot was the least bit perky, it might have sounded like this. Victory at Sea is a piano-driven rock act that is plenty moody. But those sounds are tempered by an almost maddening need to push the tempo at times. Maddening and exciting at the same time.

    There's always something happening, and indeed, almost more than three things happening at any given time. The piano can help create that illusion, but Victory at Sea likes to drop subtle hints from all corners. Nice work, that.

    The piano is recorded with plenty of reverb, so it has this great ringing tone. The other instruments are recorded in different ways (or so it sounds), which lends that much more personality to the songs. Almost like a conversation that way.

    In the end, this album turned out to be much more dramatic than I thought at first. It's hard to underestimate an album if there's so much piano, but I did anyway. Victory at Sea just keeps building and building (in intensity, not necessarily volume) until the wall gives way at the end. Nicely done.

    Gern Blandstern
    P.O. Box 365
    River Edge, NJ 07661
    www: http://www.gernblandstern.com

    Wrinkle Neck Mules
    Pull the Brake
    (Shut Eye)

    Pitch perfect americana, folks. A little newgrass, a little folk, a little blues and a healthy dollop of rock and roll. Just the sort of thing for sitting out on the deck and downing a bourbon or three.

    Almost too perfect, perhaps. These boys have instincts that so mirror mine that I wonder if I'm being swayed by personal affection rather that rational, impassionate critcism.

    Yeah, and the Prez knows what he's doing in Iraq. Who cares if this is right up my alley? It does sound great (just enough edge in the sound to keep it on this side of commercial) and the writing is impeccable. Yeah, the craft is ultratight, but the playing is loose enough to sand off the burrs.

    Got to go find that bourbon. It's not gonna wait another minute. Remember: Two fingers is the perfect pour. Just like this album.

    Shut Eye
    1526 Dekalb Ave.
    Suite 21
    Atlanta, GA 30307
    e-mail: hello@shuteyerecords.com
    www: http://www.shuteyerecords.com

    Also recommended:

    Ellen Burr Duos (pfMENTUM)
    Burr moves through seven improvisational pieces, five of which pair her flute with another player on another instrument (bassoon, clarinet, bass or percussion). The two "non-duo" pieces are solid, but the interplay on the others is much more inspiring. For me, improv (even when a song is technically "written") works best when people are playing off each other. This disc has plenty of that.

    The Capstan Shafts The Sun Don't Get Things Done (Without a Little Help from Everyone) EP (self-released/Asaurus)
    Dean Wells is one prolific guy. I think I've said that before. He crafts scads of these lo-fi gems, and while I still must protest that even a modicum of studio expertise would make all the difference, I can't complain about the writing or the performances. I wonder when he'll run out of gas.

    The Choir Boys With Strings (pfMENTUM)
    Jeff Kaiser, Andrew Pask, G.E. Stinson and Steuart Liebig. If you've read A&A at all over the past few years, these names are known to you as some of the better purveyors of improv and avant garde music I've heard. This "supergroup" (if you will) takes a decidedly subtle approach to Kaiser's compositions, and the end result is a lot more haunting than even I expected. This one will transport you.

    Jason Darling Settling Dust (Surprise Truck)
    Solid mid-tempo rock with plenty of piano and melody. There's a Floyd cover ("Fearless") that slips right into the groove, even though the sound is more grounded than that selection might intimate. There's always a little more going on than it seems.

    Day/Boardman One to Seven (Public Eyesore)
    All five people who wondered what sort of music Public Eyesore honcho Bryan Day might make will find the answer on this disc. In short, it's another standard PE release: subdued, almost inaudible guitar improvisations (Day plays guitar, Alex Boardman plays guitar, taisho-goto--I don't know, either--and "radio"). Like I said. Typical. And typically great. Those who like to burrow deep into the recesses of their minds while listening to some seriously unusual music will find solace here.

    Earthworks Underground Orchestra Earthworks Underground Orchestra (Summerfold)
    Bill Bruford and Tim Garland head up this prog-jazz mini big band experience. There are nods to 30s classics (particularly Ellington and Strayhorn), though the percussion is as likely to drop into a Latin or African groove as stick to more traditional jazz feels. Though perhaps a tad too mannered at times, this album is still sprightly enough to get me up and dancing.

    Hillstomp The Woman that Ended the World (self-released)
    Reminds me a lot of the Chickasaw Mud Puppies (two guys playing backwoods blues with more attitude than skill), though certainly better produced. The sound is pristine, and maybe that exposes a few more flaws than might be otherwise apparent. Still, the energy of this album is undeniable. Infectious as hell.

    Home and Garden History and Geography (Exit Stencil)
    What if a new wave band locked itself away, listening only to the Fall for some 20-odd years? Might sound a bit like Home and Garden. Laptop rock (with real instruments, natch) played in astonishingly idiosyncratic fashion. Weird. And very cool.

    Ichinchilla Record-Player CD5 (Coney Island Discs)
    A stellar pinch of Devonic pop, played four ways here. Perhaps that's a bit excessive, but I think that might well be the point. Way too fun to let sit on the shelf.

    Love Is Chemicals Love Is Chemicals (Near Earth Objects)
    The beginning of the first track has all the hallmarks of a mathy instrumental band. And then the singing comes in. The sound is strikingly different (a bit more understated, I guess), but not unpleasant. Indeed, there's a lot here to like, and that initial tendency does reassert itself from time to time throughout the album. Quite a nice little trip.

    Henning Ohlenbusch Looks Like I'm Tall (Dren)
    Probably the quintessential form of one-man band: The eccentric musical genius who inadvisedly sings his own material as well. Ohlenbusch isn't a good singer, though his shaky voice does inform many of the lyrical twists of this album. The music, also performed exclusively by Ohlenbusch, is outstanding, a stunning distillation of the mellow side of pop over the last 30 years. The music is good enough, in fact, to make his singing almost endearing. A most intriguing effort.

    The Selmanaires Here Come the Selmanaires (International Hits)
    Three guys who take some classically-crafted rock styles and give them a garage feel. So there's plenty of British Invasion bashers, some surf jangle and harmony and some sweet Ramones-y anti-harmonies. I'm not sure it adds up to something great, but there's lots of fun to be had here nonetheless.

    Sool Sooltime (self-released)
    More guys who love the raucous side of the sixties. Sool either completely overheats or kinda floats through its songs--an interesting dichotomy, one that keeps the album moving--and it has included some 52 pieces for your perusal. Some editing would have made this a better album, but hey, why not get all the weirdness out at once, right?
    P.O. Box 1790
    Brookline, MA 02446
    www: http://www.soolmusic.com

    A Triggering Myth The Remedy of Abstraction (The Laser's Edge)
    Tim Drumheller and Rick Eddy managed to get Vic Stevens, Scott McGill, Michael Manring and Akihisa Tsuboy to play on their album. I'm sure that had a lot to do with the fine prog to be found here, but Eddy and Drumheller's writing is quite solid as well. Technical as all get out (of course), but with a solid heart that infuses the necessary soul.

    World Drummers Ensemble A Coat of Many Colors (Summerfold)
    Luis Conte, Doudou N'Diaye Rose, Bill Bruford and Chad Wackerman combine their various styles, expertises and, well, drums. This is a combination CD/DVD (with the result that the DVD has two additional tracks), so you can hear and see how these percussionists synthesize their often strikingly different instincts into something greater than the four of them.

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