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.|
If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.
A&A #301 reviews
Deliberate, immaculately crafted pop tunes of doom and despair. Some of that is almost unavoidable considering the bass lead vocals. Most of it comes from the despair-drenched lyrics.
The music itself is peppy enough, and Absentee is smart enough to throw in just enough good times to keep hope alive. But by and large, this what passes for white boy blues these days.
I don't mean that pejoratively, either. The whole point of the blues is to provide catharsis, and if the subjects of these songs don't make you feel better about your own stupid life, then you've got some real problems.
The presentation is a bit warped, but the results are impressive. Absentee knows how to bring a house down--way down. I got really bummed...and feel great about it!
If you can't get enough of the particularly Parisian sound of Django Reinhardt, Duane Andrews is here to help. His guitar work wanders over a much greater range--and he's not nearly so distinctive--but the feel is right in there.
Another obvious reference would be the soundtracks for the films of Jacques Tati (or the more recent The Triplets of Belleville, an animated homage to Tati). The music just sounds French.
Of course, Andrews is Canadian. And not even Quebecois--he's from Newfoundland. He does include a Reinhardt piece, but he also throws in one from Mingus. Andrews is simply a fine jazz guitarist, and he's hooked into one of the classic sounds of his instrument.
His pieces are my favorites. He seems to be more inventive with his own work, and those are the songs that really swing. If you really believe that jazz is all work and no play (perish the thought!), give Andrews a listen. I'm thinking he'll change your mind.
One More Door
Cowdery writes songs that are obviously influenced by her life. The lyrics tend toward an excess of earnestness, and the music is basic country folk. All that is moderately interesting, at best. Then there's Cowdery's voice, which is what makes this album work.
Cowdery sounds more than a little like Nanci Griffith, and she's got a bit of Griffith's bell-like delivery as well. Whatever the qualities, her vocal performance is what makes this album a delight.
There's something to be said about competent songwriting and arranging. Cowdery's lyrics head off into the treacle a bit too much, but they always fit the music. The music is workmanlike, but it never gets lost, either. And so, with a solid platform, Cowdery's voice is able to take flight.
It's not a voice that fills a stadium. It may not even fill a small hall. But it's a voice of character and wisdom, and Cowdery knows exactly how to deliver these songs. It is amazing how one element can completely sell an album.
Dead Heart Bloom
Oh Mercy EP
The second of three Dead Heart Bloom EPs scheduled for release this year. This set finds the boys deep into Bauhaus/Black Sabbath/Cure territory. Not sure what territory that might be? Think lurching, oft-snarky pieces with stellar fuzzy riffage.
This is, of course, a somewhat different sound than Fall In, and I dig it just as much. Dead Heart Bloom is obviously all about power, and it seems to know a thousand ways to deal it.
Not many folks trust rock and roll enough to go all out like this. Fabulous. I await the final chapter with baited breath.
Mary O. Harrison
Factory of Days
Ten years ago (or so) I kept getting a raftload of minimalist rootsy singer-songwriter stuff. Edith Frost comes to mind. In the last five years, I've been getting a lot of stylishly-produced Bacharachian singer-songwriter stuff. Sarah Shannon is probably my favorite of that bunch.
Mary O. Harrison provides an almost seamless combination of these styles. Her voice and the songs's instrumentation are very much in the minimalist camp. But the arrangements and production are more late-60s lush.
And the result sounds like well-turned out indie pop. Harrison is a fine songwriter with an instinctive ear for the hook. Jason NeSmith produced, which shouldn't be surprising. He's been lurking around these sounds for more years than I can recall.
A quiet gem that isn't really so quiet after all. These songs will stick with you much longer than Thanksgiving turkey. And they won't put you to sleep, either. Great stuff.
Like a Fox
Where's My Golden Arm?
(Transit of Venus)
Wonderfully raucous indie rock that borrows just enough from the Flaming Lips (1988-present and all that entails) to throw a spacey spin into the grooves.
There are plenty of laptop, glam and new wave elements thrashing around with the raggedy guitars and sing-song choruses. The lyrics wander off and sometimes never come back. But somehow, someway, the songs manage to come together by the time they finish.
It's a close thing at times, but I kinda like that sort of dramatic tension. And the tangents are so pretty (not to mention loopy) that it's hard not to enjoy the sideshow.
Like a Fox runs along the edge of disaster for almost this entire album. And every time, the band stays on the side of good music. This has to be intentional. If these guys didn't know what they were doing, this album would be a complete mess. I like the way they think.
Year of Explorers
Kinda like a Flock of Seagulls with New Order bass lines, the Magnificents throttle the old school new wave sound with abandon. I haven't heard someone sound so dated while, in fact, creating something entirely new.
Maybe Echo and the Bunnymen is a better reference point than FoS, but that depends on the song. The driving bass lines and generally insistent beats give these songs an energy that often flagged in "classic" new wave songs.
Which is to say, these guys never let off the throttle. And we're talking about pop here. Seriously aggressive pop with a lot of synth in the mix. I'm almost out of breath just listening. And having blast, too.
This is the perfect album for back-to-school. I can imagine my compadres in college radio going nuts for this. Of course, that was 20 years ago. I have a feeling, though, that the kids are alright. They oughta dig this as well. Electrifying.
Matthew and the Arrogant Sea
Family Family Family Meets the Magic Christian
(Nova Posta Vinyl)
I'm not sure what "Family Family Family" refers to, but The Magic Christian is one of those weird 60s Peter Sellers movies--with Ringo Starr playing an important role. It's incoherent, but rather drolly so.
MATAS (as the band seems to be more popularly known) isn't particularly incoherent, but it sure does owe a debt to the 60s. Late Beatles, the Zombies and (as the press notes say) the Mamas and Papas are obvious influences.
But 40-odd years have passed, and these folks take note of a few later trends as well. In particular, there is a devotion to Big Star's anglophile constructions and some nods to the more recent power pop revival.
This is not power pop. Not by any stretch of the imagination. MATAS falls into the realm of the Stills and other purveyors of pretty pop--with a bite. Gorgeous, but with enough of a foothold on the real world to score an emotional response.