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 #282 reviews
February 2007
  • Antimc It's Free, But It's Not Cheap (Mush)
  • Victor Bermon Arriving at Night (Hefty)
  • Paul Brill Harpooner (Scarlet Shame)
  • Tom Brosseau Grand Forks (Loveless)
  • Clair de Lune Assisted Living (Deep Elm)
  • Rob Crow Living Well (Temporary Residence)
  • Explosions in the Sky All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone (Temporary Residence)
  • Lee Hazlewood Cake or Death (Ever)
  • Lost in the Trees Time Taunts Me (Trekky)
  • Lymbyc Systym Love Your Abuser (Mush)
  • My Teenage Stride Ears Like Golden Bats (Becalmed)
  • Sarah Shannon City Morning Song (Minty Fresh)
  • Frankie Lee Sims Walking with Frankie (AIM)
  • Unlucky Atlas Unlucky Atlas (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    It's Free, But It's Not Cheap

    Also known as Matthew Alsberg, Antimc (as in not an MC, of course) dishes out some fun and occasionally crunchy electronic beats--leaving just enough space for a few MC friends to drop by and spin some rhymes.

    I have to admit that I like the straight instrumentals better, though. The guest shots are decent, but the vocals don't add anything. They're kinda like heavy window dressing. These treatments work just fine on their own.

    Alsberg does spin in William Orbit's, um, orbit, but he likes to range far afield. There's even some acoustic guitar now and again.

    And, finally, Alsberg isn't afraid to get silly. When the sounds get really incongruous, you known you're being set up for a joke. Fine by me. Color me amused.

    Mush Records
    1742 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90036
    www: http://www.dirtyloop.com

    Victor Bermon
    Arriving at Night

    The sort of vaguely-jazzy minimalist electronic fare that I seem to recall emanating from Hefty. Not that this label can be pigeonholed, of course. I'm just saying this sounds like the classy sort of stuff Hefty has brought forth in the past.

    Howzat for sucking up? Anyway, Bermon is a college student in Perth (Australia), and on the side he writes these contemplative compositions. The sound lies somewhere between laptop pop and somewhat ethereal electronic stuff, but the songs themselves are intensely grounded. There is a strong sense of structure within them, so much that even the slightest shift in rhythm or tempo tends to cause something of a tectonic shift in mood.

    All that means is that Bermon is a master of putting together systems of patterns, and he knows well what happens when you shift. A lit professor of mine called it "dramatic tension." You know, the sort of thing that makes you want to pay attention to what's going on.

    I swear, this is one of the lamest reviews I've ever written. But hell, take my word for it: This is one sweet album. Bermon sets a mood and then revels in occasionally ripping the carpet out from under your feet. That, friends, is something wondrous.

    Hefty Records
    1658 N. Milwaukee
    Suite 287
    Chicago, IL 60647
    e-mail: hefty@heftyrecords.com
    www: http://www.heftyrecords.com

    Paul Brill
    (Scarlet Shame)

    Sublimely disjointed songs. Paul Brill may write these songs straight, but somewhere between concept and final product he strips everything down. And his rebuilds are nothing short of miraculous.

    Some might consider his approach a bit too meddlesome. At times Brill does seem to take a perfectly beautiful thought or melody and just bash it all to bits. The remnants survive, but in an almost unrecognizable form.

    Still and all, this is music that hits on a gut level. In other words, Brill's evocative arranging is designed to affect the soul, not the mind. I can appreciate what he's doing, but I have no control over my visceral reaction to these songs.

    It's a strong reaction, too. Without even thinking about it, I somehow gave myself up completely. Looking back, I can kinda explain why--Brill's deft ear and intuitive collage technique create some of the most arresting sounds I've heard in ages. Still and all, the heart leaps first. And that's always a good sign.

    Scarlet Shame
    P.O. Box 20680
    Park West Station
    New York, NY 10025
    www: http://www.scarletshamerecords.com

    Tom Brosseau
    Tom Brosseau

    That old-fashioned low-lonesome sound, if you will. Tom Brosseau takes a seriously minimalist approach to country-folk ballads and in so doing manages to make everything sound larger than life.

    There are hints of pedal steel and the occasional backup vocals. But most of this is guitar, voice, bass and drums--and that rhythm section stays out of the way as much as possible. This sound makes tough demands on the songwriting, but Brosseau is up to the task.

    Indeed, these songs are so intimate that dressing them up further might well diminish their raw beauty. Not to mention that Brosseau would have to sing louder, and I don't think he's got the voice for that. At this volume, he has one of those vaguely quirky, endearing voices. You push that, and he might end up sounding like a strangled squirrel.

    But he doesn't. Brosseau stays in pocket, these songs shimmer and the album rolls most pleasantly toward its conclusion. Exceptionally solid.

    Loveless Records
    1122 East Pike St. #1361
    Seattle, WA 98122
    www: http://www.lovelessrecords.com

    Clair de Lune
    Assisted Living
    (Deep Elm)

    When this package from Deep Elm arrived last month, I said (out loud, I swear), "I sure hope this is a new Clair de Lune album." And damned if that wasn't one of the things in there. Sometimes things work out as well as you hope.

    The easiest touchstone for these guys is the Mars Volta, except that Clair de Lune stays solidly in the punk. The guitars can get proggy or mathy, but the sound has been sanded down a bit. That lends just enough softness (or a ragged edge, if you prefer) to the sound, so that whatever tangents these boys may follow, you always want to return to base.

    Clair de Lune seems to specialize in writing songs that almost break down before they resolve in some of the most mind-blowing ways imaginable. As if I could imagine where these guys would go.

    Okay, I've heard two Clair de Lune albums and I must admit to having a feel for what might transpire. Nonetheless, these guys are some of the most creative and yet accessible songwriters around. There's a lot going on, but there's always a road map lying around. You'll never get lost--unless you really want to, of course.

    Deep Elm Records
    P.O. Box 5260
    Clover, SC 29710
    e-mail: info@deepelm.com
    www: www.deepelm.com

    Rob Crow
    Living Well
    (Temporary Residence)

    I haven't heard from Rob Crow in ages. I did hear that Pinback has achieved some sort of fame, but Touch and Go quit sending me records years ago (they rightly believe that notice in these here pages doesn't do a goddamned thing for record sales).

    Ah well, but that's the past. This is the new Rob Crow project, a solo record which brings together a few old friends to put new Crow songs to disc. And y'know, it still sounds like Rob Crow.

    Which is to say these pieces have a unique and utterly infectious sense of melody. Crow's greatest gift, I believe, is his ability to cram as many notes as possible into a hook and still make it drip honey. By and large, these pieces are somewhat more restrained than Heavy Vegetable, Thingy and some of his earlier solo work. I suppose this might be called maturity or something.

    Maturity is overrated, but if that's what's working on Crow these days, it hasn't hurt him a bit. These songs are a bit safer than some of those old speed-pop thrashes, but the level of complexity remains high. In fact, since it's easier to hear what's going on, it is possible that the slightly slower pace gives his work that much more shading. I dunno. It's the new Rob Crow album. I think he's a fucking genius. So, duh, I love it.

    Temporary Residence
    P.O. Box 60097
    Brooklyn, NY 11206
    www: http://www.temporaryresidence.com

    Explosions in the Sky
    All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone
    (Temporary Residence)

    Nicely wiggy instrumental noise explorations that, in point of fact, often bloom like explosions in the sky. The general song structure reminds me of Dirty Three; there's a muted beginning, some extravagant exposition and then a final flurry of sonic violence.

    And if you think following that sort of template makes these pieces sound alike in any way, well, you haven't heard these folks. When I said "noise" up top, I meant it. These folks wring every last bit of strangeness out of their equipment. In the service of the song in question, of course.

    That's the key with any sort of music, I think. Keep your eye (or ear) focused on what's most important. For these guys, that's the song. Each of these pieces ventures forth into some rugged territory. Easy to get lost. But that doesn't happen.

    One of those albums that's great for an afternoon zone session. Let the music wash over you. Get taken away. Then, when it's done, see if you can claw your way back. Or simply hit repeat. Me, I hit repeat.

    Temporary Residence
    P.O. Box 60097
    Brooklyn, NY 11206
    www: http://www.temporaryresidence.com

    Lee Hazlewood
    Cake or Death

    Perhaps best known in the popular culture as the writer of "These Boots Are Made for Walking," Lee Hazlewood has written some of the strangest and most compelling pop songs of our (and, to be more accurate, our parents's) times.

    So there's some new, some old and a lot of amusement. Take, for example, the vocals on "Some Velvet Morning" by his granddaughter Phaedra. The treatment here is impressive, but it's almost overshadowed by the meta implications therein. Almost.

    Hazlewood's strength has always been his lyrics, though the lost-in-the-60s sound of his music has a certain appeal these days. There's a reason Firewater did more than one Hazlewood song on its album of covers, Songs We Should Have Written. And rather than drench these songs in the excess of the time, Hazlewood restrains his hand. These are tasteful, if sometimes surprising, arrangements.

    He says this is his last album, and I figure he ought to be believed. I mean, it's not like he can make millions by staging a series of "final curtain" tours. If nothing else, this taste of his career (including some really nice new tunes) might well inspire younger listeners who first encountered his songs through the likes of Sonic Youth and Beck to scratch through record stores to find some other Hazlewood nuggets. And hey, if it is his last, Hazlewood has done good. Nice to know that some old men don't go softly.

    Lost in the Trees
    Time Taunts Me

    Intricate, almost delicate pieces that rely on listener patience. Which isn't any sort of backhanded complement. Rather, I'm just saying this is somewhat challenging music.

    Wrapped up in very pretty paper, of course. Ari Picker (better known for work with the Never, if you're conversant with the current Chapel Hill scene) grafts vaguely baroque strings and "this is our moment" beats onto what is otherwise a piano rock sound. Real strings, mind you, and beats that aren't quite as cloying as they seem at first.

    See, that's where the patience comes in. This stuff comes off as cheesy and pretentious, but that's just the top layer. Let the rest soak in and the depth of Picker's vision becomes somewhat clearer. And is quite impressive.

    The sort of album that can annoy before it enthralls. But don't worry. Listen all the way through and you'll be thrilled, too.

    Trekky Records
    104 Carolina Forest Rd.
    Chapel Hill, NC 27516

    Lymbyc Systym
    Love your Abuser

    The sort of adventurous electronic music that takes a while to develop. Lymbyc Systym is more interested in telling stories than repeating the same point over and over again. And these aren't exactly short stories, either.

    Ambitious and grandiose, as most instrumental music should be. After all, if the average listener doesn't hear words, you've kinda got to pound the point into the dust. Except that, as I noted, these guys don't do that. Rather, Michael and Jared Bell remain subtle.

    In their ideas, I mean. The sound is anything but. These guys aren't afraid to raise a bit of a ruckus, though it's nothing pointed. The sound here is very precise, and I like that.

    A fine album for ponder. Pretty enough to entice, and complex enough to engage. Good stuff.

    Mush Records
    1742 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90036
    www: http://www.dirtyloop.com

    My Teenage Stride
    Ears Like Golden Bats

    There's an awful lot of the Go-Betweens, Straitjacket Fits and the Cure here. Oh, and why not throw in the Smiths, too? Yeah, why not. I mean, as long as you're trafficking in cliches and all...

    These folks take the concept of the electro-pop song and knock it just that much askew. Kinda like all the other bands mentioned. In fact, My Teenage Stride doesn't break much new ground and at times it seems to be aping particular songs.

    And yet I don't think these folks are ripping anyone off. The stuff is so steeped in its roots that the obvious connections just seem to keep reappearing. I do wish there was some sort of update or modern translation, but hey, there really isn't. This is stripped-down keyboard pop, laden with spartan melodies and herky-jerky hooks.

    But, y'know, I graduated from high school in 1987. So this is, in a very real way, the music of my youth. And it still sounds good. These boys aren't the second coming or anything, but they make fun music. I'll buy that any day.

    Becalmed Records
    www: http://www.becalmedrecords.com

    Sarah Shannon
    City Morning Song
    (Minty Fresh)

    Further falling into a Bacharachian haze, Sarah Shannon (once of Velocity Girl) exhales dry wit and lush melodies. Piano pop all the way, with some sweet horn arrangements to set the mood.

    As with Lee Hazlewood (reviewed above), the key to this kinda stuff lies not only in the pretty music (and boy, is this stuff gorgeous) but the lyrics. A fine tune is one thing, but if the lyrics hanging on it are stiff, the entire enterprise will fall flat. Shannon is a deft writer, and she never sacrifices music for lyrics (or vice versa).

    That balance is impressive, really. Very few folks can carry it off, and given the time between the last album and this one, it seems Shannon has worked quite hard to make sure these pieces are stellar. You can't hear that work in the songs, though. These pieces are breezier than spring on the Chesapeake.

    Ever smooth even on the more contemplative pieces. Kinda like a souffle that never falls flat, Sarah Shannon simply provides pleasure for what seems like an eternity. Impressive doesn't begin to describe this disc.

    Minty Fresh
    P.O. Box 577400
    Chicago, IL 60657
    www: http://www.mintyfresh.com

    Frankie Lee Sims
    Walking with Frankie

    AIM's re-issues tend toward classic rock or 60s r&b types (I've liked the latter much better, in general), but this one goes much deeper into the roots of rock and roll.

    Frankie Lee Sims was a one-time sideman of Lightning Hopkins who recorded for a variety of labels in the 1950s. This album was recorded for Bobby Robinson, who ran a group of labels. The songs encompass much of Sims's career, and as such comprise something of a final document. After these sessions, Sims went back to Texas and faded out, dying in 1970.

    The liners here say these sessions have never been released, and if that's true it's a real shame. Sims has a rugged feel for his songs (the notes say these renditions are significantly more rough-hewn than most of his 1950s recordings), and he sings and plays with the grit and fire of the great bluesmen.

    Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Albert Collins and many others popularized the Texas blues, and I'd say Sims deserves a spot on the list as well. Quite a nice set.

    Unlucky Atlas
    Unlucky Atlas

    There is no music scene in America like the one in Chicago. Probably nowhere else in the world could you find so many people doing so many different things. which leads to bands like Unlucky Atlas.

    This quartet (made up of cello, guitar, autoharp and Andre Foisy, who plays mandolin, guitar and fiddle) wanders around so much musical territory I began to fear whether or not I could figure it out.

    I'm not sure I did. There's the whole post-modern string quartet thing going on (complete with vocals), with the fiddle and autoharp putting a fine American (and to be more specific, Appalachian) spin on the sound, but these folks don't stop there. Many of the songs have that vaguely obtuse post-rock construction, which really adds to my confusion but also sends these songs into orbit.

    It helps to be in the same world as Unlucky Atlas, but just about anyone can appreciate the delicate writing and muscular ideas spinning around here. I didn't quite get it the first (or second or third) time, but hey, I'll keep trying.

    c/o Terence and Erica
    P.O. Box 220651
    Chicago, IL 60622
    www: http://www.unluckyatlas.com

    Also recommended:

    Drake Bell It's Only Time (UniversalMotown)
    Loopy, exceedingly-produced pop songs. Drake Bell bleeds late-era Beatles, but he's equally well-versed in just about every power-pop movement since. Completely over the top, but I kinda like it for that. Surprisingly naive for a major label release.

    Broken Land Audio Postcard (self-released)
    A postcard from a minimalist indie-rock destination, that is. These songs often sound like they're going nowhere...and then there you are anyway. I like the rhythmic tension in particular. Oddly engaging.
    www: www.brokenlandmusic.com

    Eddie the Rat Once Around the Butterfly Bush (Edgetone)
    Pete Martin (Eddie's composer) has been sending me his stuff for a while. I'm glad to see he's hooked up with Edgetone--that's a nice fit for his meticulous work. These songs are somewhat abstract, but there's not a lot of improvisation going on. This set is a bit more stripped-down and restrained than some of the earlier albums, and that seems to suit the songs well. Another solid set.

    Eluvium Copia (Temporary Residence)
    Ah yes, abstract electronic music that truly evokes a mood. Confusion in some, I suppose, and dread in others. I go more for wonder. There's an all-encompassing feel to these pieces that seems to peel away my brain layer by layer.

    Fulton Lights Fulton Lights (Android Eats Records)
    Quiet songs produced with the sound of the impending apocalypse. I like the contrast evoked there, even though it does seem to be something of a coming sound. Kinda like blues for the indie rock set, I guess. It's pretty doomy, but you leave feeling better.

    The Head Set Way Past Used (self-released)
    A fine melange of rock styles blast their way through this album. The Head Set starts with Achtung-era U2 and then proceeds to borrow from garage, punk and whatever else comes to hand. Sounds a little cheap and easy, I suppose, but when it works, it works.

    Hollydrift Tochter (self-released)
    Noise that tells a story. Hollydrift is one of the most impressive bands of its ilk that I've heard, and this album is just as good as their earlier efforts. The audience may be small, but the quality is high.
    www: www.hollydrift.com

    Ideal Free Distrubution Ideal Free Distribution (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
    The usual HHBTM release--eclectic pop music played with verve. Not necessarily in tune or in time, but with lots of verve. These folks sound a hell of a lot like the Shins back when they still lived in Albuquerque, which ought to work for a few people out there.

    Mardo The New Gun (House of Restitution)
    Cheap and nasty stuff...just like the other Mardo releases I've reviewed. If you like your riffage served up hot, thick and with a smarmy leer, these boys do it as well as anyone these days. It gets better the louder you play it.

    Jason Morphew Sunday Afternoon (Max Recordings)
    An interesting collection of tunes. Some recorded for a movie (Runaway--not the one with Gene Simmons) some recorded live and some just recorded, I guess. Morphew likes to fake a bit of the down home and then kick into a seedy rock groove. I like that, myself. Easy going, with a big bite at the back of the throat.

    Paper Airplanes Boyhood (54-40 or Fight!)
    I'm not sure what it is about central Kansas and Oklahoma that produces all these bands with outrageous pop pretensions, but Paper Airplanes takes an analog approach to the sort of art rock Flaming Lips (and lots of other bands from the general area) has been propagating forever. I used to live out there, and I have my guesses as to the reasons why, but whatever. Yet another cool disc that sounds almost too familiar to me.

    Quit Your Dayjob Open Up, Coconut (Bad Taste)
    A collection of songs from three albums from this Swedish trio. Kinda like Kraftwerk meets Atari Teenage Riot and, um, Deadbolt or the B-52s or something. Goofy, loud and incredibly bouncy. Not sure I'd spring for all three albums, but this set is fine in small doses. Definitely something else.

    John Reuben Word of Mouth (Gotee)
    One of the least-annoying snotnosed hip-pop (that's not a typo) albums I've heard in a while. It does get grating after a while, but it's funny enough to keep my interest. And then the banjo picking kicks in...

    Sounds Like Violence With Blood on My Hands (Deep Elm)
    Another Swedish outfit playing loud music. A bit more traditional raucous melodic punk rock, to be sure, but still Swedish. And does that matter? I dunno. This one seemed to pick up steam as it kept going. I'll have to listen a few more times and get back to you.

    The Spares Beautiful and Treacherous Thing (Tweed)
    Bright Americana played by a duo. Sounds a lot like what Mary Chapin Carpenter or Rosanne Cash would have been happy to sing fifteen years ago, if only more acoustic. I like that stuff, and I like this. Pretty (and quite involving) stuff.

    Various Artists Twin Cities Electropunk Volume 3 (self-released)
    The Avenpitch folks tossed this one my way, and I have to say I'm impressed. There's a lot of cool post-industrial stuff bring forged up on the frozen tundra. If there's anything about the title that sounds interesting, this disc is more than worth a spin.
    www: www.tcelectropunk.com

    We Landed on the Moon! We Landed on the Moon! (self-released)
    Ringing, anthemic rock. Fine hooks, nice guitar work and, um, synthesizers. Mixing all the indie sounds of the 80s into one, I guess. Works, for the most part, especially when the band comes together at the chorus. Intriguing and possibly brilliant.
    www: www.welandedonthemoon.com

    Michael Wolff Love and Destruction (Wrong)
    Wolff is one of those piano-based singer-songwriters, and this does have a lot of that going on. What saves him is the impeccable production and tight arrangements. Not exactly my bag, but obviously quite good.

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