Welcome to A&A. There are 12 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 #291 reviews
November 2007
  • Audubon Park Teenage Horses (Pox World Empire)
  • Brazzaville East L.A. Breeze (Vendlus)
  • For Against In the Marshes (Words on Music)
  • The Ginger Envelope Edible Orchids (One Percent Press)
  • Jupiter One Jupiter One (Cordless Recordings)
  • The Kindness Kind A Novel (self-released)
  • Pedro You, Me & Everyone (Mush)
  • Post Harbor Praenumbra (self-released)
  • Gary Reynolds and the Brides of Obscurity Santiago's Vest (self-released)
  • The Shackeltons The Shackeltons (Loveless)
  • Wayward Sway On a Broken Machine (self-released)
  • The Yarrows Plum (Empyrean)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Audubon Park
    Teenage Horses
    (Pox World Empire)

    Pox's seat of government sits just on the other side of downtown Durham from my old place. That said, I was unfamiliar with Audubon Park. Luckily for me, that situation has been rectified.

    These boys play all sorts of music. The only thing that really ties all the styles together is an obdurate looseness that always threatens to rips these songs apart. Wander through the CD, and it's easy to get the sense that there's nothing at the center.

    That would be wrong, though. The willful deconstruction is somewhat lessened by the kinetic power of the playing--there's lots of energy here, even when it sometimes feels like the pieces are being fed through a jet engine or something.

    I like that. Pop music (in just about every form you can imagine) fed through a jet engine. And then swept down a drain. Some of these songs do feel like remnants, but that's cool. Sometimes sloppy has nothing to do with seconds.

    Pox World Empire
    1512 James St.
    Durham, NC 27707
    www: http://www.poxworldempire.com

    East L.A. Breeze
    (South China Sea/Vendlus)

    Pretty much the opposite of Audubon Park. Brazzaville trafficks in ultra-crafted smooth pop. Sometimes with laptop beats, sometimes not. In any case, these songs are as tight as this year's F1 championship points race.

    But, y'know, much quieter. Brazzaville sets up a groove and then spins little gems within it. The sorta sound that is immediately arresting. What makes these folks so good is that they keep these songs fun.

    Even when the songs are serious, I hear jokes. Or, at least, self-deprecating asides. Very dry, of course, but there is levity. For all the hard work that is (almost too) apparent here, these guys still know how to have fun with their music.

    I do wish the band would unwind just a bit. But when you've cut the diamond this nicely, it's really hard to tone it down.

    c/o Joseph Cortese
    2701 Williamsburg St. Apt 201
    Alexandria, VA 22314
    www: http://www.vendlus.com

    For Against
    In the Marshes
    (Words on Music)

    Some loverly, almost new wave-y beatwork on these pieces. Both "live" and electronic, mind you. And the other two guys play off the rhythms with some quality atmospherics of their own. But these songs key off the percussion.

    The sound is vaguely goth, though filtered through mid-80s U2 and that sort of dramatic rock. Ringing guitars, inobtrusive bass (which is why I didn't compare For Against to New Order) and moderately soaring vocals.

    It's an exceptionally uncomplicated formula, but most folks try to do too much with it. This trio keeps things simple, and so the pleasures of the songs are what strikes the listener first. The sound is cool (especially for someone who was in high school in the middle of the 80s), and it works.

    I suppose there's an element of retread here, but For Against brings these "old fashioned" ideas up to date nicely. A most solid disc.

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

    The Ginger Envelope
    Edible Orchids
    (One Percent Press)

    One of those "hey, we should be in a band together" sort of things (there are members of Dark Meat, Venice Is Sinking and South San Gabriel within), the Ginger Envelope roams around the subdued rock universe with laconic grace.

    I kept waiting to get bored. This sort of midtempo-at-best feel is not my sort of thing. I usually tune out after a minute or so. My theory is that anything you can say quietly sounds a lot more convincing when you scream it at the top of your lungs. The Ginger Envelope begs to differ, and I think I can hear the point.

    Those who do like getting mellow more than me might be surprised at the amount of texture within these songs. There's a lot going on, especially when the band seems to be standing still. And I'm not talking about background stuff. The Ginger Envelope is so hypnotic that it's possible to miss sounds that are right on top.

    Something of a sonic sucker punch, I suppose, though these folks seem far too mild-mannered for that sort of thing. Or maybe not. There's more here than meets the ears--at first listen, anyway. Well done.

    One Percent Press
    c/o JP Coovert
    P.O. Box 315
    Wilder, VT 05088
    www: http://www.onepercentpress.com

    Jupiter One
    Jupiter One
    (Cordless Recordings)

    If you're wondering, Cordless is something of a boutique label within Warner Brothers. One of those experiments the majors are conducting to try and figure out how to stay relevant in the music business. Just so you know. Now, on to Jupiter One.

    Tight and bouncy pop, with just enough reverb in the guitar to sound, well, cool. This is not just crafted, but conceptualized as well. I wasn't surprised in the least when I figured out where the Cordless offices sat. Nonetheless, I always tip my hat to a major when it actually releases interesting music.

    Jupiter One is most interesting--and it's certainly accessible, as well. It might help to think of a brighter and lighter Flaming Lips. I do wish there was a bit more depth to the songwriting--these pieces seem to be exactly what they are--but I can live with that.

    I'd like to hear these folks step out on a few more limbs. I think the band has the chops to do it. Nonetheless, this is a fine little disc. Summer may have passed, but the next wave has yet to break.

    Cordless Recordings
    www: http://www.cordless.com

    The Kindness Kind
    A Novel

    Take the vaguely nasal vocal style of a Hope Sandoval--but this time, throw it in the middle of a band that knows how to rock. Alessandra Rose (that's not her real name, is it?) kinda tosses off her vocals, and that offhand delivery is exactly what the music demands.

    These are songs, I suppose, but they sound more like canvasses to me. The pieces aren't always constructed in a straightforward fashion, but again, that's one reason why the energy of the band and the almost uninterested vocals work so well.

    The sound is very much assembled. There are all sorts of little bits and pieces (extraneous sound, etc.) sprinkled into the songs. That sort of thing can get tedious, but here it's done with subtlety and restraint.

    Perhaps that "band that knows how to rock" was a bit of an overstatement. The Kindness Kind can certainly kick out the jams when it wants to do so, but most of the time it is content to conduct intense explorations into the softer side of music. That's okay. There are no drones here, just good music.

    www: http://www.thekindnesskind.com

    You, Me & Everyone

    Pedro is James Rutledge. And James Rutledge likes to take criminally thrilling beats and infuse them with all sorts of flavor.

    There's the general electronic flavor, the trippy rock flavor, the big beat flavor, the prog and pals flavor and more. Best of all, Rutledge doesn't confine himself to just one flavor per song. These pieces explode with a full variety of forceful and subtle sounds.

    The overall sound is electronic. Rutledge leaves no doubt that these pieces are assembled. And I think that works. Some folks prefer a more organic feel, but Rutledge goes on so many extreme flights of fancy that he really can't hide where he's coming from.

    Where he's coming from, of course, is the realm of musical polymath. There are so many ideas burbling around on this disc that only an inspired writer and master craftsman could slot them together in any sort of coherent context. Rutledge does better than that. He makes these songs sing.

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

    Post Harbor

    Back when I started A&A more than 15 years ago, there was this sound beginning to burble that some critics called "post rock." This label tended to be slapped on any number of bands with connections to Chicago or Louisville or (often enough) both. Slint and Rodan helped start the cruise, I suppose, and folks like June of '44 and the Shipping News kept it going.

    And then "post rock" kinda melted back into the whole indie scene. The really technical side of the sound became known as math, and the noisy stuff...well, that sorta went away. Mostly. Now, I'm happy to say that Post Harbor has resurrected noisy, technical rock and roll. Post, or not.

    One addition to the sound is a strong keyboard presence. There are synth washes in the background and a firm hand on some nicely distorted keyboards when that sort of thing is necessary. Post Harbor seems to have a fine handle on how to build songs with dramatic intensity and urgency--and most importantly, knowing when to properly release the pressure.

    I haven't heard anything this good within the sound in ages. Post Harbor doesn't retread the old styles, but rather brings them into today. There are notes of emo and other sounds as well; these guys are anything but wedded to any particular sound. Except, of course, that of good music.

    www: www.postharbormusic.com

    Gary Reynolds and the Brides of Obscurity
    Santiago's Vest

    Another cool band that tends to build its songs around piano (or electric piano) and guitar. Reynolds and the Brides get plenty heavy, too, which is a welcome addition to this increasingly popular sound.

    Dramatic songs played and sung with dramatic flair. Almost a little too heavy in the histrionics, but almost every time the band pulls back just enough to reveal a delicate point or two.

    I get the sense that these folks could throttle just about anyone who stood in their way, but that they have the sense to avoid such confrontations. Rather, they spin their ideas in loud, but intricate, mixes. There's a combination that always warms my heart.

    This one starts good and keeps getting better. I was on the fence after a couple songs, but by the middle of the disc I couldn't wait to get to the next song. Good sequencing is always appreciated in these quarters. Just another sign that these folks know exactly what they're doing. And doing it well.

    www: www.bridesofobscurity.com

    The Shackeltons
    The Shackeltons

    One-two, one-two. Up and down punky screamers that are pleasantly loud and just tuneful enough to keep the ears from bleeding.

    Oh, and the Led Zeppelin references. Very odd, but rather appealing. Every once in a while a Jimmy Page-like lick materializes and then disappears. Kinda like fog, except much more enticing.

    Meanwhile, the rhythm section keeps pumping out these insistent rhythms that pretty much demand strict obedience. I mean, they tie you right into the songs and don't let you go. Struggling against the restraints is most pleasurable, but futile nonetheless.

    These central Pennsylvania boys have something. They know what they want to play, and then they do. Then dorks like me fall in love and the chase begins. Who knows where the sordid tale will end, but this is one fine beginning.

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

    Wayward Sway
    On a Broken Machine

    Not many rock bands have full-time banjo, mandolin and violin players. Not many rock bands can play credible bluegrass licks. Wayward Sway is one of the few.

    And this is a rock band. These songs are set in regular rock and roll constructions, even when the arrangements ape bluegrass or other roots sounds. The feel is almost punk, given the manic playing and occasional inattention to small details. Consistency in key or tuning isn't a must. Energy and intensity is.

    The technical lapses are small, however. The spirit of these songs and performances are what drive this album to greatness. The loose studio sound--not sparse or minimalist, just loose--gives the songs and players room to breathe, which leaves everything sounding impeccably natural.

    Wayward Sway doesn't fit in any genre. It simply makes great music. I guess these folks will just have to live with that.

    1849 6th Ave. #3
    Oakland, CA 94606
    www: http://www.waywardsway.com

    The Yarrows

    These boys owe a huge debt to Neil Young, but in the end, the Yarrows ably establishes its own sound. Taking the forceful folk ballads of Young's early days and adding modern indie pop conventions (a certain ringing guitar sound, for starters), these boys have truly found something special.

    The song construction is assured, but not strict. There's plenty of room to color outside of the lines, as long as such flights better illustrate the song. I like that willingness to digress, as well as the discipline to keep a song together. Young does the same thing (most of the time, anyway), and I think it's that attitude that made me think of that influence.

    The Yarrows snag bits and pieces from plenty of other artists, of course. There's a heavy 70s vibe to many of these songs, though I don't hear any organ or piano--just when I think I do, I realize that it's just a guitar in the background. Now that's a cool sound.

    Well met. This fine collection of songs is worth plenty of exploration. And I have a feeling it will only get better with age. As the best always do.

    Empyrean Records
    P.O. Box 197
    Warren, RI 02885-0197
    www: http://www.empyreanrecords.com

    Also recommended:

    Carrie Akre ...Last the Evening (Loveless)
    The ex-Hammerbox chanteuse returns with her latest "mature" album, and I think she's really starting to get into the swing of things. On her earlier solo works, she sometimes sounded stilted or confused. Her singing here is confident and focused, and the songs are equally impressive.

    Bad Liquor Pond The Year of the Clam (MT6)
    Noisy, conniving rumbles that tend to make my ears smile. There's something oddly disconcerting about how easy it is to slip into this sound and wear it like a cheap suit. Methinks there is more going on than initially meets the ear.

    Black Tie Goodbye, Farewell (Socyermom)
    Albuquerque collective that plays some wonderfully expressive (mostly) instrumental fare. Roger Apodaca is the point man, but all his friends help out most exquisitely. Not sure how this would be done live, but it sounds great here.

    Brian Buta False Colors (self-released)
    Electronically-assembled pop-rock excursions. Buta doesn't really stick to any particular sound. Rather, he skips around and finds ideas that fit his fancy. A bit more focus (especially in the fine points of songwriting) might define his sound better, but he shows some fine chops here.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/brianbuta

    Far-Less A Toast to Bad Taste (Tooth & Nail)
    Exceptionally pretentious proggy punk pop, kinda like My Chemical Romance without all the doomy bits. That reference cuts both ways, though, as Far-Less mostly backs up its bravado. If anything, the boys needed to go just that much more over the top to make this album really sing.

    Ghost in the House Ghost in the House (Edgetone)
    A quartet (including Tom Nunn and his homemade instruments) that improvises so well that the stuff sounds composed. Off-kilter, to be sure (anything that includes something called a crustacean or t-rodimba would have to be), but almost always beautiful and alluring.

    Grayceon Grayceon (Vendulus)
    Technically-gifted rock. Not exactly prog (at least, not all the time) and not exactly anything else, either. I couldn't quite make out what the band was trying to do much of the time, which means I'll have to spin it some more. That generally bodes well.

    Paul Handyside Future's Dream (Malady Music)
    Handyside and his trio slowly reveal some truly beautiful rootsy music. It's not exactly americana, but rather introspective rock with folk overtones. Perhaps a bit too quiet at times--I wanted Handyside to break out more than he does--but quite engaging nonetheless.

    Hundred Air Makeout City (Fractured Dics)
    For some reason, I expected to hear some punky pop or the like. Nopers. Rather, Hundred Air plays jangly, midtempo stuff with some real catchy melodies. In the verses, anyway. I'd like the hooks to bite more. But they reeled me in, in any case.

    I, Synthesist Art of Survival (self-released)
    Chris Ianuzzi peels out on techno tires and doesn't stop until the last chilly synth wash drains away. A real blast from the past, but done with style and verve. Time to hit the clubs.
    www: http://www.isynthesist.net

    Ron LaSalle Nobody Rides for Free (Ph-Q)
    Ron LaSalle has a classic blues rasp, and he's got a knack for writing songs in all colors of the blues. He's better with the manic, more rhythm and blues (in the classic sense of the term) styles. The sound is modern (as modern as you can get with this sorta stuff, anyway), but the soul is old. That's a good way to go.

    Miss Fairchild Ooh La La Sha Sha (self-released)
    Since Prince refuses to sound like Prince on his recent records, we need a new Prince. And if this new Prince combined his classic pop, rock and soul formula with the granola grooves of Sly and the Family Stone, well, so much the better. Three white guys that know how to bring the nasty funk.
    www: http://www.missfairchild.com

    Movie Star Kiss Sunset Junction EP (self-released)
    Throbbing rock and roll with just enough of a punk edge to give the set some attitude. Don't let that fool you, though: This is straight-up L.A. rock and roll. And when it's played with this kind of breezy confidence, it's very hard to ignore. Loads more fun than you might imagine.
    www: http://www.moviestarkiss.com

    The New Percussion Group of Amsterdam Go Between (Summerfold)
    This venerable collective brings in two guests, Bill Bruford (him you probably know) and Keiko Abe (marimba player extraordinaire). Perhaps it helps to have an interest in the more extreme applications of percussion to dig this, but I think not. The pieces here are often lengthy and involved, but they're most exciting. My two-year-old was enraptured from the start. And yes, that is an exceedingly high endorsement.

    NYCSmoke Musique Noir (self-released)
    They've got the skinny ties and suits...could this be the second coming of the Godfathers? Um, not quite, but NYCSmoke is still awfully enticing. These cool, blistering rockers ooze their setting (not unlike Movie Star Kiss). This is tres New York, and it goes down smoothly. Sometimes craft is a good thing--especially when the playing is this passionate.
    www: http://www.nycsmoke.com

    Overkill Immortalis (Bodog Music)
    I must admit to something of a soft spot for Overkill. And you know? The years haven't changed much. Solid thrashy metal with just enough melody to encourage singing along. These guys haven't evolved (or mellowed) a bit, which allowed me to slip back into my college days for a while. Nostalgia, perhaps, but exceptional execution in any case. Fine stuff.

    The Torch Marauder Triceratops/Can I Get a Lift? (Pox World Empire)
    Exceedingly silly music emanating from my once (and possibly future) home in Durham, N.C. The Torch Marauder probably relies a bit much on local references (such as "Cherie K. Berry," a completely twisted tribute--of sorts--to the N.C. Commissioner of Labor), but even if you don't quite understand the background, these songs are loopy enough to make most anyone smile. Or hurl. Whichever.

    Frank Turner Campfire Punkrock EP (Welcome Home)
    The title says it all. Turner sings folky songs imbued with a certain attitude. More acoustic Elvis Costello (in style) than Billy Bragg, Turner is a fairly accomplished songwriter who always has something interesting to say. Seven songs weren't enough for me.

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