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 #309 reviews
August 2009
  • The Black Drumset The Black Drumset (self-released)
  • Coffinberry Coffinberry (Collectible Escalators)
  • The Color Turning Good Hands Bad Blood (New West)
  • Dark Room Notes We Love You Dark Matter (Gonzo)
  • Eat Sugar It's Not Our Responsibility EP (self-released)
  • The Ginger Envelope Imitation Air (One Percent Press)
  • Golden Bloom Fan the Flames (The Sleepy West)
  • The Honeydogs Sunshine Committee EP (Princess)
  • Inf The Go Round (Beats Broke)
  • Megafaun Gather, Form & Fly (Hometapes)
  • Portugal the Man The Satanic Satanist (Equal Vision)
  • Slaraffenland We're on Your Side (Hometapes)
  • Drew Smith's Lonely Choir Drew Smith's Lonely Choir (Fat Caddy)
  • Textile Orchestra For the Boss (Beta-Iactam Ring)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Black Drumset
    The Black Drumset

    Brian Willey and Carlos Orozco are the men behind the Black Drumset, but they have many friends. And a whole bunch of them dropped something or another onto this disc.

    The band name gives you the core of the sound, which is throbbing analog percussion filtered through any number of effects. Kinda like dub, and kinda like Neil Young. Then the guys add on synthesizers, guitars, and the occasional bit of vocal noise.

    Not necessarily lyrics, per se, but more often vocals used as instruments. The Black Drumset simply refuses to be cornered into any category. I suppose "experimental" would pretty much cover everything here, except that these pieces are quite accessible. Think the Fucking Am after extended frontal lobe exercises.

    Pretty cool. I've never heard anything quite like this, which is about the highest compliment I can give. Utterly original and exceptionally compelling.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/theblackdrumset

    (Collectible Escalators)

    Yer usual poppy, electronically-enhanced rootsy americana stuff. Or something like that. The songs tend to shamble along, kinda like Owen Wilson's hair when it's being really expressive. You don't know why, but you kinda like it. Come to think of it, you like it a lot.

    Right. These boys are off-kilter in a most enticing way. The songwriting is curious, though most of the time the songs adhere to some sort of traditional form. The performances, however, range from tight and precise to something resembling last call at a college bar. Someone's gonna get laid, and it might as well be you.

    I'm using the second person a lot, and I think that's because these songs have that sort of personal connection to them. Coffinberry isn't actually speaking to me, of course, but I relate so closely to the disheveled sounds that I feel a real connection.

    Throwing a bunch of stuff on a CD and hoping it works is generally a recipe for disaster. Coffinberry sounds disorganized and a bit hairy, but there's a plan at work here. These songs come together beautifully, and so does the album. You've just got to lie down and let the music whisper to your heart.

    Collectible Escalators
    297 East 151st St.
    Cleveland, OH 44110
    www: http://www.collectibleescalators.com

    The Color Turning
    Good Hands Bad Blood
    (Softdrive/New West)

    Patience is a virtue when listening to the Color Turning. These guys play big, bad rock and roll--in the vein of U2, Radiohead and the like. The ambition is staggering.

    Which is why the subtlety of this album is so impressive. There's a scary amount of synthesized orchestration, the sort of sound that just screams "pretentious crap ahead!" But the Color Turning undercuts that posture with songs that don't become anthems.

    There's more than a hint of Air in the sound, which might drive less forgiving listeners away. The Color Turning doesn't go for the easy punch. Rather, it worms its way through its songs, always ending up someplace I wasn't quite expecting.

    Perhaps I'm thinking too much about this. Or perhaps that's what the band wants me to do. Hard to say. But there's a rich vein of solid material here, stuff that actually does live up to the ambition expressed at the start.

    New West
    9215 Olympic Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90212
    www: http://www.softdriverecords.com
    www: http://www.newwestrecords.com

    Dark Room Notes
    We Love You Dark Matter
    (Gonzo Records)

    Take the patented New Order electronic sound and apply it to a more traditional indie rock construction. Dark Room Notes uses guitars, keyboards, a bounding bass and drum machines about as well as anyone, and the songs are bright and buoyant.

    The key to this type of songwriting is to keep things simple. Don't get tricky; simply focus on the groove and let everything flow from that. Dark Room Notes does wander into a bit of electronic experimentation from time to time, but by and large it keeps its collective ear on the prize.

    The sound is nothing new, and in truth, I wish the band had worked a bit harder to find its own niche. This sounds just like New Order, even if the songwriting is in a different style. There are a myriad of ways to make small changes and create a more unique sound. Perhaps Dark Room Notes will do that in the future.

    Of course, this is a tried-and-tested sound, and the band does it well. The songs are well-crafted, and the album romps by almost effortlessly. Solid and fun.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/gonzorecords

    Eat Sugar
    It's Not Our Responsibility EP

    Speaking of a band on the fringes of electronic music that has created its own sound...Eat Sugar gloms a bit of distortion and throbbing rhythm from the digital hardcore scene and drops it into a more poppy construction.

    Which does make these songs catchy and occasionally maddening as well. Eat Sugar isn't interested in making happy songs for pleasant foot tapping. This is intense music for those who want to discover the depths of sound. It's not all crashing and burning, but there's a whole lot going on here nonetheless.

    Quite the melange. The EP doesn't quite pull itself together--and neither do a couple of the songs. But I like the way these guys are pushing the envelope. I have a feeling they just might find a northwest passage through their influences one of these days.

    www: http://www.eatsugarmusic.com

    The Ginger Envelope
    Invitation Air
    (One Percent Press)

    Songs for a slightly breezy summer afternoon. The Ginger Envelope wafts its tunes over a bit of pedal steel and acoustic guitar. There's no rush at all.

    I imagine the live shows might be a bit tedious. These aren't dirges (like, say, the Cowboy Junkies), but the songs never break out of middle tempo and there's very little dynamic range. Steady-state americana, if you will.

    What saves it for me is the melodic work. These are incredibly pretty songs, and despite the band's mellow tendencies, the folks never lose focus. Oh, and there's a fair amount of cussing. I like that sort of incongruity.

    The Ginger Envelope won't take you anywhere, but it will put you in a good place. And that's just fine with me.

    www: http://www.onepercentpress.com

    Golden Bloom
    Fan the Flames
    (The Sleepy West)

    Golden Bloom (the project of one Shawn Fogel) has that classic indie pop feel. And then every once in a while these 70s guitar riffs blow by. Now, that's something I can get behind!

    Oh, the hooks are fantabulous. Blood-pumping little anthems that tumble one after another. There's not a lot of surprise in the song construction, but the execution is so good that I didn't worry too much about that.

    The sound is a bit more full and lush than the recent trends in indie power pop. More of a Dear 23 Posies feel, to be specific. It certainly suits these songs quite well.

    One of those albums that sounds great the first time through and then gets better with successive listens. Golden Bloom (er, Fogel) sure knows how to impress. Turn it up and bliss out.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/thesleepywest

    The Honeydogs
    Sunshine Committee EP

    Hipster americana with more than a bit of the ol' Nick Cavey doom rolling around. For all that, these songs are awfully damned bright.

    A study in contrasts, to be sure. There's plenty of jaunty guitar (both electric and acoustic) and singer Adam Levy does a fairly credible David Lowry imitation. Indeed, I wish that wasn't so pronounced. But the Honeydogs are a different beast than Cracker (or CVB, of course), and the music follows its own beat.

    I need to hear more. I think there's a lot here to like, but I wonder if the Honeydogs can sustain an entire album. I guess the future will tell.

    Princess Records
    www: http://www.princessrecords.com

    The Go Round
    (Beats Broke)

    Now this is more like it. Instrumental hip-hop beats that range the breadth of music today. I haven't heard stuff this good since the heyday of RJD2.

    And that's sayin' something. True enough, this is probably more of an electronic album than hip-hop, but then, if your idea of hip-hop includes the likes of PreFuse 73, etc., Inf will fit right in.

    The liners are cagey as to the identity of Inf, but the person(s) behind this disc seem(s) to be European. Makes sense, really, as these beats borrow too much from jazz and cock rock (sometimes in the same piece) to be American. We're just into other stuff these days.

    Secret identities don't bother me. Boring music bothers me. And there's nothing boring about Inf. This album is a blast from beginning to end. The variety is breathtaking, and the quality is unparalleled. Top notch.

    Beats Broke
    P.O. Box 29775
    Austin, TX 78755
    www: http://www.beatsbroke.com

    Gather, Form & Fly

    These guys arrived in Durham, N.C., just about the time I left, and this album is just one more reason I might shoulda ought stayed back in the New South.

    A long time ago, there was this vaguely campy gothic roots band called Trailer Bride. Megafaun appropriates that band's gloomy atmosphere, but it draws in a more haunting sound. Imagine Dirty Three with banjo and raggedy three-part harmonies.

    Yeah, kinda like what the Beach Boys might've sounded like if they spent their days paddling the Eno River rather than shooting the curl. Of course, Megafaun doesn't sound much like Brian Wilson and Co., but that's sorta my point.

    The sort of album that takes a while to coalesce in the front of the brain. Once it gets there, though, there's not a thing that can rip it out. This stuff is seriously insidious.

    P.O. Box 3843
    Portland, OR 97208
    www: http://www.home-tapes.com

    Portugal the Man
    The Satanic Satanist
    (Equal Vision)

    This album has one of the most complicated cases I've ever seen. It folds out into four pieces, with trippy artwork on all sides. The actual liners are similarly decorated. In my experience, bands that spend so much time on visual presentation also tend to exert great care over their music.

    True enough here. Portugal the Man is a rock and roll band, one that revels in echoes of the Doors, the Band and plenty of other late 60s/early 70s outfits. Those echoes a nicely translated into the 21st century, however, which makes this album quite a treat.

    Actually, it's simply nice to hear old-fashioned ambitious rock and roll. These songs are out to accomplish greatness, and often enough they do. The production is subtle, allowing the intriguing arrangements to tickle the ears. There's a lot going on, and it's very easy to hear most of it.

    Hardly a simple album, but a simple pleasure nonetheless. This puppy rolls out of the speakers like water through the Delaware Gap: thundering, crashing and unstoppable. Really good stuff.

    Equal Vision
    P.O. Box 38202
    Albany, NY 12203-8202
    www: http://www.equalvision.com

    We're on Your Side

    These guys are Danish, but that doesn't even begin to explain things. After all, conceptual pop is one of those styles that tends to weird people out. Seriously. Put some of this stuff on at a party and you'll clear the place.

    But that's not really true of this album. Slaraffenland still crafts its songs with exquisite care and isn't afraid of anything atonal, but there's a surprising amount of melody here. And, more importantly, the rhythm section keeps things moving along nicely.

    Pervious efforts have been interesting, but often herky-jerky. We're on Your Side is as smooth as Auchentoshan with a splash of branch water. There are plenty of intriguing notes and ideas, but the exteriors are immaculate.

    I suppose purists might argue that scraping off the veneer reduces Slaraffenland from art pop heroes to just another pretentious band. Hardly. This is an assured effort from guys who really know what they want their music to sound like. I've been waiting for this one for a long time.

    P.O. Box 3843
    Portland, OR 97208
    www: http://www.home-tapes.com

    Drew Smith's Lonely Choir
    Drew Smith's Lonely Choir
    (Fat Caddy)

    (An)Drew Smith has listened to a fair amount of rock and roll. He seems to like bouncy stuff that has a bit of an edge. Which means he cribs equally from the Beatles, the Stones, Cheap Trick, etc.

    All of that is rolled into a stripped down, rollicking sound that has a truly comfy feel. Smith isn't afraid to dip his toes into a little soul or blues, and he's equally comfortable with a bit of the down home. Like I said, he's listened to a lot of rock and roll.

    The songs here are outstanding, but the arrangements and production are simply stunning. They allow the music to burst forth with no impedance. It's almost like a straight conduit from Smith's pen to a listener's ears.

    Oh, and the members of the Lonely Choir are most able enablers. They plug in and magic issues forth. This may be a new album, but it already sounds like a classic. And that's by design.

    www: http://www.fatcaddyplus.com

    Textile Orchestra
    For the Boss
    (Beta-Iactam Ring)

    Four players, two songs, forty-five minutes. This is improvisational noise, and it's some of the best I've ever heard.

    Part of that is what the members "play": percussion, violin, "mixing board" and turntables. There's a lot of sound to explore there, and this quartet isn't afraid to go right for the jugular.

    As with any album like this, it helps to sit back and let the music wash over you. Thinking too much about any particular squawk isn't a good idea. The key is the totality of the sound. And these folks really know how to set a tone.

    This really gave my mind lots of room to roam. The long pieces allow for plenty of contemplation, and they also tend to bring thoughts into focus. I don't know how you use this sort of music, but I like to give my mind a tune up. This puppy helped flush the pipes as well.

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

    Also recommended:

    Anthem In The Cloudbusting EP (Quiet/Loud)
    "Cloudbusting" is, indeed, the Kate Bush song. Kinda fits, as Anthem In's version of electronic-tinged pop has a bit of an ethereal edge to it. Another solid effort from Allen Orr and friends. Let's hope another full-length is coming soon.

    Arms Exploding Ruminari (Phratry)
    Some things never get old. Screechy guitars, hyperkinetic drumming and an extreme sense of urgency have served many bands well, and Arms Exploding is no exception. The trick is to mold all that noise into something coherent, and these boys do so nicely. Takes me back to such bands as Earth Crisis and Snapcase. Bite the wire and hold on.

    The Arrest 01 (Princess)
    Remember when "alternative" became "modern rock"? So does the Arrest, and it plays that off-kilter melodic stuff with just a bit of punch. I'd kinda like to hear a little more passion out of these guys, but these are some pretty songs.

    Circle of One Tied to the Machine (City Boy)
    Melodic metal with something to say. In the same territory as Mars Volta and System of a Down, I suppose, though the harmonies are sweeter and the lyrical sentiments are much, much more pointed. Interesting stuff.

    Halaka Unabridged Discord (Pile)
    Um, yeah, the title pretty much says it all. These aren't songs, per se, but rather fleshed-out thoughts wedged into vaguely song-like forms. I'm having a hard time making much out of this, though I like a lot of the musical tangents. I guess I'll have to keep listening.

    Into It. Over It. 52 Weeks 2xCD (No Sleep)
    IIOI is Evan Weiss, and he decided to write 52 songs and make an album out of them. Was it one a week for a year? I dunno. Much like Sufjan Stevens and other folks into this type of extreme concept albums, the sound is all over the place. Literally. Weiss is something of a musical polymath, and that's cool. I think I'd edit this puppy down to about 20 songs, but that's the beauty of a monster album like this. Pick and choose and create your own masterpiece.

    Little Tybee I Wonder Which House the Fish Will Live In EP (self-released)
    An Atlanta band that formed earlier this year and has already released this EP and has an LP in the works. The off-balance pop songs here are consistently engaging and always just strange enough to bring a smile. If the full-length shows any progression, it ought to be impressive.

    Marmoset Tea Tornado (Joyful Noise)
    I haven't heard anything from Marmoset in ages, but this album is a most welcome reintroduction. Introspective indie rock that tends to sneak up on you. Just when you think the sound is trending toward ordinary, Marmoset takes you right back to Coolsville. Assured, confident and quite impressive.

    Michael McDermott Hey La Hey (Pauper Sky)
    It's safe to say that just about every singer/songwriter owes a great debt to Van Morrison--Astral Weeks in particular. Michael McDermott has found that groove and he does it nicely. I just wish he'd work a bit harder to find his own place in that sound. Well-executed, but in need of a bit of personality.

    Jeff Merchant City Makes No Sound (self-released)
    Gentle-hearted pop rock that runs through many sounds and shapes. Merchant could probably use a bit more of an edge, particularly in the lyric department. But this album is almost criminally listenable.
    www: http://www.jeffmerchantmusic.com

    Malcolm Middleton Waxing Gibbous (Fulltime Hobby)
    It's tempting to call this stuff raucous americana, but Middleton hails from across the pond. And, to tell the truth, Middleton's version of the sound is much more expansive than most. He's much more willing to experiment with different sounds and ideas within the whole roots backdrop. The more I listen, the more I like.

    Morglbl Jazz for the Deaf (The Laser's Edge)
    More like jazz for the prog set, really, but who's quibbling? This trio rips through more ideas in a single song than most bands do on an album. That they manage to maintain a sense of fun throughout the frenetic proceedings is also quite impressive. Not traditional by any standards, which is just fine by me.

    The National Rifle Man Full of Trouble EP (self-released)
    Greasy indie rock with plenty of motion. The National Rifle uses just about every sound it can get its hands on, and even so the album holds together nicely. A mess of ideas, perhaps, but a cool set.
    www: http://www.thenationalrifle.com

    Boris Salvodelli/Elliot Sharp Protoplasmic (Moonjune)
    Salvodelli takes care of the electronic noodling, and Sharp deals with the guitars and a little sax. What we have here is eclectic improvisation with a bit of a prog feel. Sharp's guitar work is virtuosic, despite being played in most unusual ways. The playfulness of the pieces is what sells them best.

    Ember Schrag A Cruel, Cruel Woman (self-released)
    Schrag's got fine taste in music; her rollicking takes on rootsy shuffles are blissfully entertaining, and her more introspective pieces never flag. Her voice is limited, but they work well enough with these songs. A fine rest stop.
    www: http://www.emberschrag.com

    The Strongest Proof Robot Eats a Steak EP (Phratry)
    There aren't a lot of bands out there who seem to want to emulate the Ex, but the Strongest Proof may well be one of them. The conceptual hardcore here often never even takes flight--ideas triumphing over reason, I suppose. I'm not sure the songs quite live up to the ambition, but the effort is most impressive.

    Sugarplum Fairies Chinese Leftovers (Starfish)
    Ooh, hey, they had a song on "Grey's Anatomy!" Listening to this album, I can figure out why. The songs are well-crafted and generally languid. In a nice way. Everything here is very nice. The sound is very nice. This is a nice place to be. Goodness, look at the time...

    Tin Star Bettie Lane EP (Fractured Discs)
    More conceptual pop. I mean that in a good way. Tin Star builds its songs well and then delivers a solid punch at the hook. I'd prefer a bit more slapdashery to the works, but this is a pretty set.

    Troum Eald-Ge-Streon (Beta-Iactam Ring)
    A number of old pieces that Troum is just now getting around to "finishing," if that's what you want to call it. Pulsating drony stuff that rises, falls and generally drowns out all opposition. Sweet release.

    WD-41 WD-41 (self-released)
    Willie Oteri takes care of the guitars, etc., and Dave Laczko does the trumpet. Reminds me a lot of Spaceheads without the driving percussion. I like the atmosphere created by these improvisations. This stuff simply sounds cool.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/wd41music

    Where the Land Meets the Sea Listen for the Gulls EP (self-released)
    A little bit of the new wave, a dollop of laptop pop, lots of effects and some serious power. I'm not sure how these songs got so anthemic, but that's where they end up. These folks sure have a unique sound. I'd like to hear more before passing full judgment.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/wherethelandmeetsthesea

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