Welcome to A&A. There are 12 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 #284 reviews
April 2007
  • The Atari Star Aniseed (Johann's Face)
  • Chuckanut Drive The Crooked Mile Home (self-released)
  • Je Suis France Afrikan Majik (Antenna Farm)
  • George Korein Too Many Days (self-released)
  • Loden Valeen Hope (Mush)
  • Magic Bullets A Child But in Life Yet a Doctor in Love (Words on Music)
  • Qua Forgetabout/Painting Monsters on Clouds (Mush)
  • Rope, Inc. Songs of Love and War (Second Shimmy)
  • The Shake Kick It (self-released)
  • Tin Cup Prophette Liar and the Thief (self-released)
  • Two Cow Garage Three (Suburban Home)
  • Utah Carol Rodeo Queen (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Atari Star
    (Johann's Face)

    Yet another line in the proof that shows Chicago is, without question, the center of the musical universe. The Wind City has more musicians playing just about every sort of music under the sun. I'd move there in a second except that my wife thinks that DC's winters are too cold--that and Bell's just pulled out because of some beer distributor dispute.

    And while I'm not sure that the Atari Star is yet a member of the estimable Chicago pantheon, it boasts a single songwriter and a cast of eight...lots of different sounds blending into raucously catchy tunes. One of the members specializes in handclaps, which ought to tell you all you need to know.

    All the disparate elements flow together almost seamlessly, borne along by the nearly ecstatic energy flow. These songs don't rush, but they never flag, either. Even the more contemplative of the bunch have an insistent internal clock.

    There's a lot going on here, and that lends a welcome complexity to these songs. It took me a few minutes to really get into what I was hearing, but once there I didn't want to leave.

    Johann's Face Records
    P.O. Box 479164
    Chicago, IL 60647
    www: http://www.johannsface.com

    Chuckanut Drive
    The Crooked Mile Home

    A few guys from Washington state who play nicely punchy country songs. More country than Americana--if you're familiar with Blue Earth-era Jayhawks, these guys are in the same ballpark. Well, kinda, anyway.

    I'm not trying to qualify that, really, except to say that these boys have a real nice feel for what they're doing, and there's no reason to tar them with a "sounds like" tag. They are themselves. These songs are more than strong enough to stand alone.

    Good singing and stellar guitar work. The rest is very nice, but those two elements really sell the stuff for me. There's a fine back porch feel to the arrangements and production, though the sound is sharp enough to shift focus when necessary. That's a sweet combination.

    And the writing is top notch. These songs tell a raft of great stories through the eyes of some compelling characters. This disc will stay in my car all summer, and probably for a good deal longer after that.

    www: http://www.chuckanutdrive.net

    Je Suis France
    Afrikan Majik
    (Antenna Farm)

    Prog jam rockers who (sometimes barely) refine their excessive tendencies into something resembling songs. I'm not sure I'd want to see a show, as I have very little patience with the whole jam concept (in my twisted world, recorded improvisations are great, but live ones are tedious), but this disc is interesting.

    As a case in point, take the second song on the album, "Virtual Heck." It opens with a grandiose Krautrock feel, vamps through some even more pompous riffage and then fistfucks into something that sounds like an early Uncle Tupelo song (the closest song I can put it to is "If That's Alright," though that's by no means a perfect match).

    This sort of adventurous songwriting is interesting, though I suppose it ceases to be refreshing when you realize that almost anything might be coming down the pike. What saves these folks is that, by and large, the genre bending and reducto ad absurdum approach to structure serve a greater master. In short, the pieces work.

    It helps to have an appreciation for good old fashioned space music, of course, in addition to familiarity with most of the sounds of the last 30 years (or so). Patience is a virtue. And if you let this album do its work, you just might leave smiling.

    Antenna Farm
    P.O. Box 29855
    Oakland, CA 94604
    www: http://www.antennafarmrecords.com

    George Korein
    Too Many Days

    Speaking of acquired tastes...Jesus Cristo! Imagine a technologically-advanced Daniel Johnston, with a regular voice. The music and ideas, though, they're out in that same insane part of the universe.

    Korein seems to write songs he hopes will annoy people. How else to explain titles like "Writhe Sally Writhe" (which is, in fact, something of a fractured homage to "Long Tall Sally"), "Love Is for Pansies" and "Vagina Dentata Assembly Kit"?

    The songs themselves are wild mishmashes of sound and ideas, many of which don't exactly match up. Korein likes to throw lots of noise elements into the palette of his assembled sounds, and most of the time those work quite well with his incisive, if minimalist, guitar work.

    I dunno. I thought it was fun. I'm not sure I came across any deep meaning, but the noise (and I use that term advisedly) made my ears happy. Ear candy for deconstructionists, I suppose.

    Galvatraz Records
    c/o Brian Falls
    515 1st
    Unit 335
    Galveston, TX 77550
    www: http://www.myspace.com/georgekorein

    Valeen Hope

    The usual sort of cut-and-paste electronic stuff I hear from Mush. The usual high quality, as well. Loden actually focuses on fairly conventional song construction, and the result is something like Air on steroids.

    Air with serious beatwork, too, I suppose. But Loden does traffic in that sound of the ether on its melodic side. There's an awful lot going on in the rhythm section (whether "real" or assembled), though, and that takes these songs to a different corner of the universe.

    I kept hearing distinct stories in these songs, which is what you might expect from folks who adhere fairly closely to regular songwriting conventions. Don't expect lyrics, of course (though there are voices here and there), but let the music, um, do the talking.

    Insistent and elegiac at the same time. That's a bitch of a combination, but it works quite well here. An album that works for both the amygdala and the frontal lobes.

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

    Magic Bullets
    A Child But in Life Yet a Doctor in Love
    (Words on Music)

    I'm not even going to try and figure out what the title of the album means. But it is somewhat indicative of the music within. Magic Bullets play very involved pop music, stuff that throws layer upon layer (even while sounding exceedingly simple) in an apparent desire to mask any and all core meaning.

    Well, maybe not quite all that, but this stuff is awfully pretty and equally confusing. I've never been a lyrics guy (I think I mention them every third or fourth review at most), but with this style lyrics are key. And I don't get these.

    But the music is so pretty. And even with all of its complexity, I can hear the meaning in it. The problem for me is that lyrics don't seem to match up with the story told by the song itself. The question is how much of a problem that really is.

    Not a killer. For starters, people who value lyrics may be able to figure out what's going on here. And people who like well-constructed pop music will simply bliss out. There's no reason those two groups of people ever need meet. And maybe after another hundred listens or so (a very attractive prospect to my ears) I'll figure this out. That's cool with me.

    Words on Music
    715 University Ave. SE #201
    Minneapolis, MN 55414
    e-mail: tidings@words-on-music.com
    www: http://www.words-on-music.com

    Painting Monsters on Clouds

    Known to his friends as Cornel Wilczek, Qua released Forgetabout in 2001 and Painting Monsters on Clouds in 2004--in Australia. Mush is doing the right thing and bringing these fine works to the rest of the world.

    Minimalist, loopy (in every sense of the word) electronic stuff that marries melody, noise and an interesting sort of bonhomie. Not goofy, but somewhat sprightly and well-intentioned. That makes these songs, which might otherwise be described as chilly, rather warm and inviting.

    Forgetabout is the sparer of the two. There's a lot of space between the different elements, and oftentimes there's even a sense of dead air. Painting Monsters utilizes much more beatwork and rhythm in general. The tracks on the later album are much more songlike...there's even a fair amount of guitar work involved.

    What doesn't change between the albums is the quality within. Both are solid and inventive, inviting the listener to stop and have a think. They may be late in coming, but I'm just happy these albums are finally here.

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

    Rope, Inc.
    Songs of Love and War
    (Second Shimmy)

    There really is a Kramer sound. It's not so much a particular way of twisting the knobs as it is marrying a feel to the songs involved. Kramer has always managed to mutate his style to fit his subjects, and the results become even more interesting when he joins up with the outfit in question.

    And so Matt Menovcik writes the songs, plays the keyboards and sings, while Kramer produces, plays guitar and whatever else is necessary. Though often enough these songs do pretty well with just voice, keyboard implement, beats and guitar.

    The sound is vaguely dreary, I suppose, but nonetheless possessing a sort of untouchable beauty. There's a real ache to the sound on this album. It really brings out the quiet desperation of Menovcik's songs.

    The more I hear from Rope, Inc., the more I like what I hear. There's just not enough room here for me to give all the reasons why.

    Second Shimmy
    www: www.secondshimmy.com

    The Shake
    Kick It

    Located somewhere between 70s party rock, 80s indie rock and 90s nugarage rock (or, perhaps more accurately, amongst said sounds), the Shake cranks out midtempo rockers that, um, rock.

    There's not much more to say about these guys. This is three chords and a wink kinda stuff, basic riffola bashed out with almost as much power as attitude.

    The Shake never gets too heavy, but this stuff is pleasantly loud. In fact, despite the somewhat forced angst of the lyrics, this is one hell of a pleasant album. Sunny stuff for the impending summer. Even the breakup songs (such as they are) are pretty damned bright.

    I dunno. Sometimes it's nice to simply listen to music and not worry so much about it. And if yer gonna do that, the Shake will do nicely. Not much past the surface, I suppose, but we're talking perfect skin here.

    www: www.myspace.com/theshakeband

    Tin Cup Prophette
    Liar and the Thief

    Being, for the most part, Amanda Kapousouz, with help from Daniel Rickard and a host of friends on drums and cello, Tincup Prophette lurches through a surprisingly vast array of sounds and ideas.

    Surprising because most of these songs plod along at a funereal pace (thus the "dirge" reference in the press notes). You'd think this stuff would be dreary. Some of it is, of course, but many of these songs have fun little pieces that pop out of the speakers to shake listeners out of their black coats.

    Kapousouz is an obvious fan of Brian Eno and early Peter Gabriel--and if she's not, she fakes it very well. These songs are meticulously arranged and produced with an often ethereal sparseness. Often, they seem to belong to another world.

    And, who knows, they might. Doesn't much matter to me, as long as I can hear them. Quite solid and creative work in an area that could get repetitive and dull in a heartbeat. Well done.

    www: www.tincupprophette.com

    Two Cow Garage
    (Suburban Home)

    So what might happen if you melded some seriously rockin' roots music with seriously whiskey-soaked vocals? Like as if Faces-era Rod Stewart were to hook up with Armchair Martian? Something like this. Or something, anyway.

    The tunes themselves are, well, quite tuneful. As tuneful as the vocals are raspy and often nearly atonal. But this sort of dichotomy has often worked well, and it does so here. The music provides the hook and the vocals the soul.

    And it's produced with just enough insouciance and recklessness to keep these songs infectious as hell. It sounds like the band was throwing a party as it was recording this album...come to think of it, that's not a bad idea at all.

    The sort of album that sets its hooks early and never lets up. Good, old-fashioned bootkickin' tunes. Stock up on the beer, and don't let it get too cold.

    Suburban Home Records
    P.O. Box 40757
    Denver, CO 80204
    www: http://www.suburbanhomerecords.com

    Utah Carol
    Rodeo Queen
    (Stomping Ground)

    What I said about Chicago in the first review of the month goes double for here. It's hard to tell exactly what Grant Birkenbeuel and JinJa Davis are going for, exactly, but I can say that it works astonishingly well.

    There's a definite nod to 70s soft rock, but always tied to rootsy underpinnings. But this isn't Poco by any stretch of the imagination. Think more Bacharachian pop with a bit more oopmh. Very mannered stuff, though with a looseness and hint of twang--especially in the guitar.

    The production is almost jazzy, very smooth and lush. Which is why I can't say exactly where I think these folks are headed. Not that I'm particularly worried, of course. These songs sound great.

    Wonderful stuff, the sort of vaguely genre-bending fare that tends to land lightly on my ears. Let the joy infuse your soul.

    Stomping Ground
    P.O. Box 220279
    Chicago, IL 60622
    www: http://www.utahcarol.com

    Also recommended:

    Atomic Brother See Me Comin' (self-released)
    Cycling through a bevy of loud rock sounds from the last 15 years, Atomic Brother does a great job of ramblin' and anthemizin.' Songs that sound like All, Rollins Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alice in Chains (sometimes all at once)...wish I could identify a coherent band sound. Still, these boys do rock.
    225 Park St.
    Montclair, NJ 07042
    www: www.atomicbrother.com

    Bixler Bixler EP (self-released)
    Four bits of three-chord prettiness. Bixler has the sweet hooks, if not much of an undertow. Kinda would like a bit more heft, but damn, this stuff is shiny.

    Coma Ornamental Urban Shrubbery (Edgetone)
    A trio of multi-instrumentalists (which means that at times all three are wailing away on some sort of percussive device), Coma fairly throbs with life. These pieces are improvisational, but the three tend to find the center of the song quickly and then build on that. Not as out there as many, but better than most.

    Linda Draper Keepsake (Planting Seeds)
    I really liked the last Linda Draper album I heard. She's got a light touch with her songs, but she always finds the steel when she needs it. Exceptionally accomplished modern folk. Same thing here. Which, I suppose, is a bit of a disappointment. I wanted to hear more, rather than more of the same. I think I would have liked this better if I hadn't heard her before. Still, it is awfully good.

    Fisk Industries EPs and Rarities 2xCD (Mush)
    Two real EPs, four "digital EPs," a compilation track and a few previously unheard pieces. All within the slightly silly electronic world of Fisk Industries. There's a real big brother sheen to the sound, but it's constantly undercut by a wicked sense of humor (musical humor, which is even more subversive than lyrical humor). A lot to get through, but the wading is lots of fun.

    Gudrun Gut I Put a Record On (Monika Enterprise)
    Lots of digital cabaret from Berlin. At least, that's what Gudrun Gut sounds like to me. Smoky vocals, slinky beats, sly keyboards and a really nasty state of mind. All processed...really processed. The slicing and dicing and deconstructing is more liberating than annoying, however. These songs have a way of worming into the brain and never coming out.

    Emily Hay Brad Dutz Wayne Peet Emily Hay Brad Dutz Wayne Peet (pfMENTUM)
    Another Brad Dutz offering makes these pages, and for good reason. He and his compatriots don't stint on the creativity. Wiggy, but within reason. And this trio of flute, piano/keyboards and percussion has the right set of disparate sounds to really let all three players take flight without stepping on any toes. Best of all, they know when to return to the nest and bring it all home.

    Hotpipes Hotpipes (self-released)
    There's always room for another histrionic rock band. At least, there should be. Hotpipes specializes in manic workouts and stylized vocals, and mostly it works. The cacophony is generally inspiring. And there's no way to mistake these boys for anyone else.
    www: www.hotpipesmusic.com

    The (International) Noise Conspiracy featuring Jonas Kullhammar & Sven-Eric Dahlberg Live at Oslo Jazz Festival (Alternative Tentacles)
    Europeans are a bit more open in their definition of jazz. This is basically the Conspiracy rocking out with a sax and a Fender Rhodes. Kullhammar and Dahlberg are front and center in the sound, and their additions are impressive. Makes me wonder if there isn't a studio effort in the works with these folks. Pretty damned cool

    Lacona President's Day CD5/ 35/Half of 70 CD5 (self-released)
    Each disc has two songs (the "a" and "b" sides). I guess the 7" has faded back to ebb tide. As for what's on these discs, the band is aptly named. Laconic is the word that comes to mind, even though there are plenty of lyrics. The sound is sparse and the melodies are spare and lean. I like the tight feel. There's something good going on here.
    www: www.laconamusic.com

    Louis Freak Show Revenge EP (Superphonic)
    Don't know if Louis Schefano dropped the last name because he didn't like it or if people simply couldn't spell it. Doesn't much matter when you can play solid mood pop like this. Catchy and dreamy, even when the tempo picks up. Most intriguing.

    Billy Martin/John Medeski Mago (Amulet)
    Hammond B3 on one end, and drums on the other. This could be some sort of excessive improv project, but rather, what we have here are some tightly crafted tunes that meander all over the lounge universe. But that's not right. I suppose I think of lounge fare because of the abundant organ, but really, these guys draw from all sorts of keyboard-heavy music, from prog to soul to whatever else catches their ears. Smooth as hell.

    Tom Nunn Identity (Edgetone)
    Tom Nunn makes instruments and then writes songs for them. That does lend a vague sort of professorial feel to some of this stuff, I suppose, but there is a constant sense of surprise and discovery that very few others can match. Weird? Yeah, but dreadfully exciting as well.

    Shiner Making Love EP re-issue (Anodyne)
    Four live songs and the title track (yes, the Bad Company song). This EP was recorded back in 1999 and kinda disappeared...sorta the way Shiner did, sadly. This set is a nice addition for fans, and probably not a whole lot more than that. Still, it was nice to go back and remember, even if only for a moment.

    David Shultz and the Skyline Sinner's Gold (Triple Stamp)
    Jangly roots fare with the appropriate twang, thick bass and rough hooks. Good for foot-stompin' and hootin and hollerin' and whatever else you do to drive away the blues, with a mellow side to soothe even the most jaded. Of a type, I guess, but a very good type indeed.

    Slaraffenland Private Cinema (Hometapes)
    Danish, anyone? Danish Shins, anyone? I know, that's not really fair and a bad joke to boot, but that's what popped into my head. These guys are actually much further out on the limb than the Shins, and they don't seem to want to climb back any time soon. Fine by me. The sound of imminent collapse is always invigorating.

    Matt Weston Rashaya CD3/Resistance Cruisers CD3 (7272 Music)
    Noise, pure and simple. There are nine tracks between these two short (and small) discs, and they're all populated by what must be rattling around in Weston's brain. A lot of it sounds kinda like bottles being thrown down an alley, but there are other bits of clutter as well. I'm fascinated. All of the sounds here are calculated, and the sounds are made by instruments, not samples. And yet, it still sounds like a back alleyway or maybe the end of a hallway where kids are taking apart the closet. It takes a lot of work to make these sounds. I don't know why Reston did it, but it's cool.

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