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 #302 reviews
November 2008
  • Kyle Andrews Real Blasty (Elephant Lady)
  • Condo Best of Luck (Rock Park)
  • Everything, Now! One More Door (MFT)
  • Head Resonance Company 19 Tracks for Unknown People (Beta-Iactam Ring)
  • Leopold and His Fiction Ain't No Surprise (self-released)
  • Mackintosh Braun The Sound (self-released)
  • Man at Arms A Waste of Time and Space (Joyful Noise)
  • Mostly Other People Do the Killing This Is Our Moosic (Hot Cup)
  • Paper the Operator Solemn Boyz EP (Viper Bite)
  • The Rollo Treadway The Rollo Treadway (self-released)
  • 20 Minute Loop Famous People Marry Famous People (self-released)
  • Jonathan Vassar The Hours and the Days (Triple Stamp)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Kyle Andrews
    Real Blasty
    (Elephant Lady)

    Another one of those perfectly-titled albums. Andrews plies the laptop pop waters with new wave sails and a big beat keel. These songs have an astonishing amount of heft to them.

    These songs are lushly appointed, but the construction is strikingly sprightly. Andrews likes to populate his pieces with all sorts of ornaments, but he makes sure that the center can support the weight. These songs simply bound out of the speakers.

    The production is unusually full for a laptop offering. Andrews has big ambitions, and perhaps someone with a bit more a budget will help him create one of those albums for the ages.

    For now, though, this will more than do. Because in the end, production and sound are secondary to the songs themselves. Andrews writes with confidence and economy, and that gives his work the energy that drives this album. First rate.

    www: http://myspace.com/kyleandrews

    Best of Luck
    (Rock Park)

    There aren't many anarchic pop bands around anymore. I can't recall the last Fall album, and old soldiers like the Flaming Lips have cleaned up their act. Those two bands were listed in the press notes, I must admit, but along with Pulp (also noted), the reference points for Condo become increasingly obscure and defunct.

    I'm not sure why this sound disappeared. Perhaps the endemic non-commercial aspect has something to do with that. I happen to like this sound a lot, though. Condo rolls out its songs with very little pretense and simply lets the pieces fall as played. Sometimes the listener has to pick them up, a certain form of respect that I've always appreciated.

    Indeed, Condo has no intention of talking down to its audience. Rather, it challenges. Which is not say these songs are particularly difficult. The rhythms are almost always engaging and the thoughts (musical and lyrical) are clear, if somewhat disjointed.

    Ah, such fun. I don't know if this sound will prove any more popular for Condo, but good music usually attracts a fair crowd. In this case, such attention would be more than deserved.

    Rock Park Records
    124 Beach 91st St., #2
    Rockaway Beach, NY 11693
    www: http://www.rockparkrecords.com

    Everything, Now!
    Spatially Severed

    Kinda like Royal Trux playing early-70s Rolling Stones (or even early Springsteen), Everything, Now! blasts out rambling, rollicking rock and roll. There's just enough mannered craft to provide a bit of a wink toward the listener, but that's simply part of the fun.

    What I like is the use of horns and piano and other unabashed old-school sounds. These songs are rendered impeccably modern (and possibly even cynical) by plenty of silliness on the edges--off-key shouting, sing-song choruses, etc. But again, that's the Royal Trux side of the equation.

    What seems apparent is the respect these folks have for the basics of rock and roll. A good beat, slinky lead guitar and chunky work from the rhythm section. All the extra stuff gets a little goofy at times, but it doesn't detract from the whole.

    Rather, it lends a bit of a party atmosphere to the disc. Sometimes I think these folks are trying a bit too hard, but on the whole they hit these songs right on the head.

    MFT Records
    6332 Guilford Ave.
    Suite 208
    Indianapolis, IN 46220
    www: http://www.mftrecords.com

    Head Resonance Company
    19 Tracks for Unknown People
    (Beta-Iactam Ring)

    Truly old school, as these songs were recorded between 1980 and 1984. Funny thing is, they don't sound old. In fact, my first impression upon hearing them is how forward-sounding they are. Then again, what's old is new again.

    This is the sort of album that leads me to talk in circles. The electronic rumblings are, indeed, decidedly Teutonic in nature, but there's a playfulness to them that is generally missing from such stuff, especially when talking about music from this time.

    Perhaps most importantly, this isn't strictly electronic. There are "real" instruments included along with the samples and surfeit of keyboards. The bass work in particular keeps these songs from simply freezing into nothingness.

    A whole lot more fun than the bio might suggest. This isn't just for fans of the sound. Anyone who likes to give their brain a whirl ought to find a few smiles here.

    Beta-Iactam Ring Records
    P.O. Box 6715
    Portland, OR 97228-6715
    www: http://www.blrrecords.com

    Leopold and His Fiction
    Ain't No Surprise

    Kinda like the Kings of Leon before that band got dull, Leopold and His Fiction plays meta-rock with all sorts of rootsy trappings.

    The thing is, this stuff is anything but simple and unrefined. The entire "rough" sound is carefully constructed. Even the raucous moments sound a wee bit crafted. Which does make it hard to get lost in the sound.

    Funny thing is, I managed anyway. Part of it is the pure intellectual appeal of the songs. I like trying to figure out what subtle references the band throws in with its distortion and reverb. I even like trying to puzzle out the meanings behind the lyrics.

    Best of all, this stuff is played with style and energy. Yes, it's crafted, but it's hardly stilted. These boys may be merely playing at the rough and tumble, but they might actually have a line on deeper things.

    www: http://www.leopoldandhisfiction.com

    Mackintosh Braun
    The Sound

    This Portland duo recalls some of the chilliest German engineering from the 70s and 80s. Imagine Air playing Kraftwerk. There's almost no there there sometimes...and those moments happen to be merely transcendent.

    It is difficult to grasp much of anything often enough. This duo has listened to a lot of William Orbit as well, as the burbling electronics prove. Quite the sound this sound is, I'd say.

    Frozen back to the depths of the last ice age, this album almost becomes inviting in the lush choruses. The discordance of musical ideas is positively invigorating.

    Not exactly fun, I guess, but quite fulfilling. Fans of current acts like Ming and Ping ought to groove on this as well; the sound isn't identical, but there are plenty of reference points. I can feel myself floating away.

    www: http://www.mackintoshbraun.com

    Man at Arms
    A Waste of Time and Space
    (Joyful Noise)

    If you can imagine the Minutemen playing math rock, you might get an idea of the mania here. This is music for mutants, pure and simple. Humans need not apply.

    Luckily, this web site is for mutants, so Man at Arms is more than welcome. If my first reference is confusing, perhaps the notion of Ween playing Voivod might help you out. No? Hmm. The Jesus Lizard under the boot of a minimalist dominatrix? I have a feeling none of these are making any sense.

    So I'll just say that Man at Arms plays highly-technical, highly-crafted songs that sometimes sport an actual melody. The vocals trip over the music as often as not, but they're kinda effective that way. The result is a disjointed mish-mash that sounds positively wonderful.

    To mutant ears, of course. Humans will wonder what the fuck is going on. That's okay. Leave them to their Mantovani. Oh wait, another now-obscure reference. Sorry about that.

    www: http://www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com

    Mostly Other People Do the Killing
    This Is Our Moosic
    (Hot Cup)

    Four guys from Moosic who really like playing jazz. The liners say this explicitly, but it's even easier to hear. They don't stick to any particular style, they don't seem to hold to any particular theory...they just like playing jazz.

    And having fun with it. So one song might steep itself in New Orleans, while another jumps straight into deconstruction. There are plenty of hard bop moments interspersed with some gorgeous melodies and smooth rhythms. There's also a version of "Allentown." The Billy Joel song.

    Most jazz musicians take music far too seriously. Most of them play good stuff, but the best are willing to let go a bit. Branford Marsalis in the 80s and 90s comes to mind, I suppose. MOPDTK pays copious homage in the liners to Ornette Coleman, another artist who has defied all labels. The quartet's skill and writing isn't quite up to those standards, but its sense of adventure certainly is.

    The reason this album works so well, though, is that the guys had so much fun making it. That feeling is infectious. It makes listening to this album a real blast. Don't worry. It's okay to smile when listening to jazz. In fact, it ought to be required.

    www: http://www.hotcuprecords.com

    Paper the Operator
    Solemn Boyz EP
    (Viper Bite)

    Six doses of that power pop stuff that's passed for emo the past few years. I know, that sounds positively dull, but there's a bite to this that I haven't heard in ages. Think Ruth Ruth's The Little Death EP, which turned out to be the only great thing that band ever did.

    There's not a concept here, but the songs are nicely dark and mean, and the hooks are sharp and barbed. The time passes quickly, and I hit repeat. More times than I'd like to admit.

    An instant stunner. I wonder if the boys can keep this up for a full length. There were a couple spots that threatened to lag here, though the band stamped those out quickly enough. Whatever. If this is the best thing this band ever does, well, it's done good.

    www: http://www.viperbiterecords.com

    The Rollo Treadway
    The Rollo Treadway

    It's one thing to appropriate psychedelic 60s pop. That's kinda trendy these days. But the Rollo Treadway does it one better by marrying layers of reverb and harmony to a story. Kinda like a Zombies's version of Operation: Mindcrime, if you will.

    The tale here is more personal, giving a first-person account of the kidnapping of two kids. That, actually, makes this that much more creepy. And thus, that much more intriguing.

    The sound is almost slavish to the old school, complete with organ, skiffle beats and breathy lead vocals. The songs have a bit more of a sharp edge, but that's mostly the result of better recording technology. The thing is, this album would work without the retro feel or the back story.

    It would work, but it wouldn't be nearly so involving. The hooks set quickly and don't release until the last chord has rolled off into the mist. Pretty damned cool.

    20 Minute Loop
    Famous People Marry Famous People

    Intricately crafted, occasionally proggy power pop. I've liked these guys for ages, largely because of the dual vocals. There's something awfully appealing about a guy and a gal singing lead at the same time. Some bands can't make that work, I suppose, but 20 Minute Loop has had plenty of practice and does the concept proud.

    And while the little asides might encourage other bands to get lost, these folks always remember to wrap up their pieces with harmonies and bouncy guitar riffs.

    I do hear where the New Pornographers have influenced these folks just a bit--these songs are wrapped up tighter than the ones on their earlier albums. This isn't a bad thing, and there can be no question of ripping anyone off (I first reviewed these folks nine years ago), but it's an interesting evolution.

    Solid, just like everything else I've heard from this band. Few do this sound this well, and no one does it better. I'm still riding the rush.

    www: http://www.20minuteloop.com

    Jonathan Vassar
    The Hours and the Days
    (Triple Stamp)

    There's americana, and then there's americana. More specifically, there's vaguely rockified country music and then there's the use of folk and roots influences to create something entirely new. Jonathan Vassar belongs to the second camp.

    Don't get me wrong; I like a lot of vaguely rockified country music. But I'm more impressed when someone can write good songs while inventing something unique. Vassar travels down many well-worn roads, but he always seems to add a little something to each piece.

    Right now he seems content with folk orchestration--a little mandolin, plenty of accordion and some fiddle in addition to the usual acoustic combo--but sometimes it sounds like he's tempted to go all Tom Waits on us. Thing is, I think he'd do that well, too.

    Songwriting is king on an album like this, and Vassar has a sure hand. Whether quiet or rollicking, he knows how to cut to the emotional center of a story. Most impressive.

    Triple Stamp Records
    P.O. Box 5753
    Richmond, VA 23220
    www: http://www.triplestamp.com

    Also recommended:

    The Age of Rockets Hannah (self-released)
    Eclectic ambient pop with vocals. Andrew Futral and friends put this all together on a laptop, but the ideas are anything but abstract. Not all the pieces come together, but I don't think they're supposed to. Let this one rattle around for a while.
    www: http://www.theageofrockets.com

    Andreas Brandal Insects (Twilight Luggage)
    This one comes in a frame. Literally. A 4x6 wooden frame. The music itself is largely abstract electronic disturbances that do, in fact often resemble swarms of insects. I couldn't quite get me head around everything here, but I sure liked the effort.

    Christian Brown When It's Perfect (self-released)
    Aggressively poppy pop. Fast-paced, tuneful and full of hooks. So appealing that I questioned my immediate attraction. I'll admit, I didn't find a whole lot lurking under the surface, but there are some great songs here.

    The Buttless Chaps Cartography (Mint)
    Another fine outing from these Canadians. The sound is of the northern plains--think a more orchestral Dirty Three. Songs of desolation and occasional hope. Godawful gorgeous, of course.

    Croatan Ensemble Without (Eh?)
    Experimental noise from the heart of space. Croatan Ensemble makes very little attempt to reach mission control, and that seems to work well. This one is out there, but it will reward the adventurous traveler.

    Dancer vs. Politician A City Half-Lost (self-released)
    Ethereal pop babe Sami Baumgartner returns with more subtle songs. These pieces come on like a lamb, and I don't know any German, but there's a certain appeal nonetheless. In particular, I like the way these songs move. Slinky and seductive.

    Eddie the Rat Out Behind the 8-Ball (Edgetone)
    The most straightforward release I've heard from Pete Martin and friends. There's actually some rock and roll in this avant groove, and the songs here are more songs than pieces, if you know what I mean. Less inventive than usual, but good as always.

    Gamma Goat Beard of Sound, Beard of Sand (Eh?)
    Heavy beard. Lots of noise, rambling guitar riffs, distorted vocals and pounding percussion. All of it sounds like it was played way behind the beard. This is all about the visceral experience. And it made me want to take a big ol' dump. That's a great feeling, man.

    The Great Depression Forever Altered (Fire)
    Another set of ringing, rootsy, ethereal anthems from these folks. The disparate influences can be unsettling, but that's the point. You don't name your band the Great Depression if you want something simple and easy. I remain a big fan.

    Nick Grey & the Random Orchestra Spin Vows Under Arch (Beta-Iactam Ring)
    Deliberative and constantly dramatic, Nick Grey and friends have created quite the lush doomy atmosphere. These songs do take their time, but that only adds to the intensity. Patience is an absolute must, but those who give this album the time will be fully rewarded.

    Hay Perro Summer of Destruction (Belgian Style)
    One part 70s hard rock, one part 80s noise rock and a dash of bitters. For those who wondered what it might sound like if the Jesus Lizard did a Blue Oyster Cult tribute show. I'll give you a hint: It's pretty cool.

    Edward Ka-Spel Dream Logik Part Two (Beta-Iactam Ring)
    If these be dreams, well, they're awfully specific. Ka-Spel populates this solo effort with stream-of-consciousness lyrics and exacting electronic fare. Every squeak and crackle is in its place, but Ka-Spel's languid delivery gives the songs a properly mellow wash. Another intriguing waltz through the frontal lobes.

    La Dispute Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair (No Sleep)
    The name of this album seems deliberately inscrutable, a bit too much even considering the almost martial eclecticism of the music. Every song is played as if the world is about to end, and Jordan Dreyer's anxiety-laden vocals amplify the effect. Imagine Between the Buried and Me playing The Black Parade. Really. It's pretty cool.

    Lakeherst Euan Aura (self-released)
    Another modern take on new wave, this time infusing the sound with "real" piano, acoustic instruments and the like. The song construction is straight out of 1981 (as are some of the keyboards), but the attitude is so 21st century. Quite an interesting set.

    The Organ Thieves EP (Mint)
    I loved the Organ's first album. It's always refreshing to hear a band nail the dour pop sound the first time out. Then the band broke up. And then, a year later, the kind folks decided to record the remaining Organ songs. And so we have this. Even more melancholy than Grab that Gun, these six tunes serve as a reminder that you've gotta appreciate what you have when you have it. Sadness reigns.

    Rent Romus' Jazz on the Line with Chico Freeman Thundershine (Edgetone)
    A re-issue of the album In the Moment, which consists of performances from two shows in 1992. The interplay between Romus and Chico Freeman (one of his idols) is impressive. They may not have played together for long, but this disc shows how in tune they were with each other.

    Two Cow Garage Speaking in Cursive (Suburban Home)
    Another fine outfit from this country/punk/rock/etc. outfit. There isn't a genre that can contain these boys, and few folks write better songs. Goes down like a $2 bourbon with Beast chaser--always best when repeated a few times.

    Waristerror Terroriswar TheBrutalRealityofModernBrutality (Edgetone)
    Thollem Sickofwar (or, you know, McDonas) revs up his beatup piano and throws down on war. The results are edgy, uneven and sometimes disquieting. All in all, a rollicking success.

  • return to A&A home page