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 #310 reviews
September 2009
  • Ah Holly Fam'ly Reservoir (Lucky Madison)
  • Glad Hearts The Oak and the Acorn (Collectible Escalators)
  • Gnawledge Granada Doaba (self-released)
  • Gray Young Firmament (self-released)
  • The Inner Banks Songs from Disko Bay (DAG!)
  • Simon Joyner Out into the Snow (Team Love)
  • Maserati Passages (Temporary Residence)
  • Mellowdrone Angry Bear (self-released)
  • Ming & Ping Ming & Ping (self-released)
  • Petracovich Crepusculo (self-released)
  • The 757s Freeway Surrender (self-released)
  • Wiretree Luck (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Ah Holly Faml'y
    Reservoir
    (Lucky Madison)

    Lying sprawln between Wil Oldham, Lambchop and the Handsome Family (with a Burt Bacharach chaser), Ah Holly Faml'y is, in a word, unworldly.

    These aren't exactly songs, and they don't fit neatly (or otherwise) into any particular category. The rootsy influences are obvious mostly in the arrangements, not the writing. There's a level of craft that belies the ostensibly minimalist sound.

    Oh, and what a sound it is. Every voice and instrument has carved its own space in the void, and even when pieces get busy (as they often do), it's a snap to pick out each and every one. To call this idiosyncratic would be the understatement of the year.

    And then there's the band name, which I'm not even going to try and figure out. It doesn't matter. Ah Holly Faml'y is utterly unique, and utterly brilliant to boot. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

    Contact:
    Lucky Madison Records
    P.O. Box 15245
    Portland, OR 97293
    www: http://www.luckymadison.com


    Glad Hearts
    The Oak and the Acorn
    (self-released)

    A much more traditional jangle/americana outfit. Glad Hearts is pleasantly raucous, with the requisite tremulous vocals. I think I've heard this sort of thing a thousand times. It's just that these guys do it better than just about anyone.

    These are simple songs of joy, sadness and, well, life. There is some interesting instrumentation (organ, synthesizer, harmonica, accordion...wait a minute. Synthesizer?) and arrangements that sometimes trend more poppy than rootsy. I can dig it.

    Indeed, Glad Hearts does two things very well. It plays simple songs, and it messes around with expectations. That's a fine formula for any band playing any sound, but it's almost priceless here.

    As the disc spins on, the talent and grace of this band becomes more and more evident. An exceptionally stylish album.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.glad-hearts.com


    Gnawledge
    Granada Doaba
    (self-released)

    The motto printed on the back of the digipak is "immigrant hiphop flamenco arabe since 1954." Yes. The "since 1954" is cute, but the description of the music is dead on. Flamenco guitar interlaced with hip-hop beats or northern African rhythms and melodies--and often enough both at once.

    The term "world music" was dated even before it came into vogue, and albums like this are the perfect arguments for retiring the term. These days, just about anyone can access music from anywhere and then make their own. Canyon Cody (the man behind Gnawledge) was a Fulbright scholar in Granada last year. He recorded a number of local artists and then recruited Gnotes (Sean Dwyer) to throw down some beats.

    I'm not entirely sure about that chronology (or, for that matter, the exact distribution of duties), but the bouillabaisse of sound on this album is impressive. There are all sorts of familiar sounds, but something new within each as well.

    This is what music is supposed to be, a joyful voyage of discovery. Often enough, this sort of collage can sound disjointed or perhaps a bit over scholarly. Not so with Gnawledge. These songs will burn the eyebrows off just about anyone who hears them.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.gnawledge.com


    Gray Young
    Firmament
    (self-released)

    A trio that plays mostly instrumental stuff. Strident, mathy rhythms within songs that are largely devoid of overt melody. Whaddya know, they're from my old stomping grounds in the Durham-Chapel Hill-Raleigh area, to boot. What're the odds?

    Well, the odds are pretty good I'd like the stuff. Reminds me a lot of latter-day Don Caballero, what with all the exceptional craftsmanship and adherence to a rhythmic ideal. And hey, this stuff is hardly atonal. It just doesn't delve into melody all that much.

    The sound is bright, with a little reverb and almost no feedback. This clean approach to such potentially noisy fare is refreshing. The different lines (which often include piano) are always easy to pick out.

    Takes me back about fifteen years, when Touch and Go was putting out some of the best music on the planet. Those days (and T&G, by and large) are gone. But good music always seems to find a way to worm its way back into the human consciousness.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/grayyoung


    The Inner Banks
    Songs from Disko Bay
    (DAG!)

    Caroline Schutz and David Gould are the couple behind this album and DAG! Records in general. Schutz has one of those steel-girded ethereal voices. You know, comfortable and comforting but almost impossibly strong. The music is a wide-ranging survey of folk, pop and rock sounds.

    Plenty of the 70s, though. The songs take their time but, like Schutz's vocals, have plenty of heft behind them. It's almost impossible to find any weakness.

    The album took a while to record (Schutz had twins during the process), and there is a meditative feel that burbles through the album. This is a thoughtful disc, but not in any unfocussed way. Rather, these songs force the listener to think.

    I like that. I like these songs, and I like the album. Schutz and Gould make a great musical team. They seem to know exactly how to compliment each other's strengths. Very nice.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.dagrecords.com


    Simon Joyner
    Out Into the Snow
    (Team Love)

    It's been exactly ten years since I last received a Simon Joyner album. This one is his twelfth, and it's only slightly more accomplished than The Lousy Dance. There are two ways to look at this. The first is that Joyner has been recording the same thing over and over again. The second is that Joyner knows exactly where he wants to be, and he simply stays in pocket.

    I like #2, myself. Joyner's brand of minimalist roots music will never be mistaken for its more sophisticated cousin, americana. Joyner comes out of an older indie tradition, and he simply isn't taken in by all manner of bells and whistles. That and his voice is limited to an octave, max.

    But that spare expression serves these songs well. The band is expanded--a bit--but the arrangements are as tasteful as ever. Joyner's songs have always cut to the quick, and that's most effective when the sound is unfettered by clutter.

    It's been ten years, and that's ten years too long. There aren't many people out there doing what Joyner does, and there aren't any who do it better. Quite the reunion for me.

    Contact:
    Team Love
    151 1st Ave. #115
    New York, NY 10003
    www: http://www.team-love.com


    Maserati
    Passages
    (Temporary Residence)

    A compilation of tracks previously only available on vinyl. For the uninitiated, Maserati plays rock and roll. Period.

    Throbbing, intricate, reaching, soaring rock and roll. The emphasis is on the rhythms, but there are plenty of melodic ideas bounding around, from the bottom of the bass lines to the higher ranges of the guitars and keyboards.

    Oh yeah, this stuff is exceptionally groovy. As in lots of grooves. You can rock out or shake your ass. Or, if you're like me, you can do both.

    This set is intended to tide folks over until the next Maserati album. Thing is, when stuff is this good, it simply whets the appetite for more.

    Contact:
    Temporary Residence
    P.O. Box 60097
    Brooklyn, NY 11206
    www: http://www.temporaryresidence.com


    Mellowdrone
    Angry Bear
    (self-released)

    Staggering, lurching and basically stupendous, the new album from Mellowdrone is just about everything you could hope for from a band dropped from the big time.

    The songs crackle with energy and wit, with plenty of power in the grooves. The offhanded feel is a bit forced--these songs are crafted within an inch of their lives--but I like that the boys try to keep things loose.

    Really, though, songs with this much passion and ambition just aren't going to draw comparisons to the Replacements. The production leaves things a bit muddled in the middle, but that Jello-like wobble is just the thing for these deconstructions of life in the age of disillusionment.

    And if that's not how you see things, please don't tell Mellowdrone. These songs are blissfully unaware of the notion that life might actually be good. I can dig it.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.mellowdrone.com


    Ming & Ping
    Ming & Ping
    (self-released)

    The fourth album from these Hong Kong-born twins, who recently moved from San Francisco to L.A. The change of residence may be a questionable choice, but their music has always been above reproach.

    Tying together as many electronic sounds as possible and wrapping them up in a bow of pure-spun fun, Ming and Ping have progressed from ambitious and adventurous spirits to musicians of the highest order. The songwriting, in particular, is much more focused. The sound has changed somewhat as well, evolving into the aural electronic joyride that is this album.

    In particular, the sound is a bit more organic. There's a strong resemblance to that of New Order's Get Ready, which remains for me one of the great electronic albums--period. M&P use some "real" drums here and there, but everything has been streamlined. There is much less between the musicians and the listener, and that lets these songs really shine on their own.

    Yeah, the pieces are much poppier. But hey, it's damned good pop. And if you can't use a dose of that these days, you're taking far better drugs than me. Bliss out and call me in the morning.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.mingping.com


    Petracovich
    Crepusculo
    (self-released)

    Another outing from Petracovich, and the third one is even better than the first two. Jessica Peters Malmberg writes songs in something approximating a folk style, and then she paints around the edges with the latest electronic sounds.

    It's a formula that has worked for years, but I'm really knocked out this time. The songs are more complex even as they've become more approachable. The electronics have been scaled back , and there's a bit more of an emphasis on acoustic instruments, but that's not the whole story.

    In short, some folks do get better with age. I still love the first two Petracovich albums, but this one is stronger in every way. In particular, the sequencing is impressive. This album rises and falls and then builds to a climax. It's not a concept album, but it is an album as opposed to a collection of songs.

    Simply wonderful. I've been a fan for a while, but the overwhelming quality here overwhelmed me. Quite a disc.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.petracovich.com


    The 757s
    Freeway Surrender
    (self-released)

    The second song on this disc is "Shirley MacLaine," as in, "She's got visions just like Shirley MacLaine." And I began to think that these guys just might be older than me. The more I listened to the up-and-down beats and raggedy harmonies, the more I got into an 80s-era Minneapolis state of mind.

    So there's a guitarist named Seth Zimmerman (yes, nephew of that Minnesota Zimmerman) and a bassist named Paul Pirner (and yes, brother of that Pirner) and, well, everything is good. These guys play raucous rock and roll with an attitude that has been earned. One look at the pix and you'll see the mileage. Every wrinkle comes through in these energetic and wise songs.

    The songs are well-crafted before the band hacks them to pieces, which puts the band closer to the 'Mats than Soul Asylum, though probably most similar to Chris Mars's solo work. The production makes the sound well-rounded, but leaves enough frayed edges to stay comfy.

    And that just what this album is, comfort food for geezers like me who grew up thinking that Minneapolis was the center of the musical universe. Know what? We were probably right.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.the757s.com


    Wiretree
    Luck
    (self-released)

    There are the usual pop references on the press sticker of this disc: Elliot Smith, the La's, George Harrison. Okay, so you don't see that last one so much. But they all miss the point. Wiretree is channeling 70s Nick Lowe.

    That's not bad, when consider all the pots Lowe had his hand in back then. The simple fact that Lowe produced Elvis Costello's first five albums should be enough to illustrate my point. A closer look at the liners shows that Wiretree is, by and large, the solo project of one Kevin Peroni. Peroni's voice isn't a dead ringer for Lowe's, but it's in the ballpark.

    The six Peroni-produced tracks remind me of 70s Lowe. The three tracks produced by Lars Goransson are a bit more modern in feel, reaching forward into the late 80s. They provide a fine counterpoint to the punchiness of the other material.

    And on the whole, both sides of Wiretree come together to make a fine album. Peroni is a fine songwriter. And although it sounds counterintuitive, if he is willing to trust other folks to do the producing, he might well find a sound that is pure Wiretree. I like the way this rolls.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.wiretreemusic.com


    Also recommended:

    Anekdoten Chapters 2xCD (Kscope)
    A greatest hits and rarities collection from a band that formed almost 20 years ago as a King Crimson cover band. This Swedish outfit quickly moved past any such aping and created some impressive and intriguing prog songs. There's plenty of wizardry, but what really stands out is the solid (and mostly accessible) songwriting.

    Buckfast Superbee Turn of the Radio Age (Walking Records)
    Accessible enough to be part of the (rapidly aging) emo nation and interesting enough to play with such bands as Rise Against and the Wedding Present, BFSB blows out song after song. Catchy and mind-throttling, a combination I can get behind.

    Circulatory System Signal Morning (Cloud Recordings)
    Raggedy electronic assemblies that are far too enchanting for words. There are a few songs, but a lot of this is simply cool sounds pasted together and whipped nicely into a groove. I'm thinking I'll be liking this one a lot better in a couple of months.

    The DaVincis See You Tonight (Olympic)
    A high school trio that has far too much sophistication for the prom. Perhaps a bit too mannered, this modern skiffle group (with a jazzy chaser) is nonetheless perfectly charming. I'd like to hear a bit more coloring outside the lines, but this is most impressive.

    Gala Tough Love (self-released)
    Gala's band churns out the Blondie-esque riffs, and Gala herself growls with authenticity. There's nothing complicated about these songs, but they work. Some of them work themselves into a frenzy. Kitschy, but cool.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.galasound.com

    Ben Cooley Hall Owning Up to a Life (Caunounicus)
    Idiosyncratic pop from a one-man band. The songs are built around either piano or guitar, and most of them are relatively low key. Hall isn't a great singer, and his playing isn't anything special. But his songs are well-crafted and awfully sincere, and that works.

    Hunters, Run! EP 2 7" (Battle Standard)
    Two tracks, both of them tightly-wound pop rockers with plenty of steam and emotion. Influences run the gamut of rock and roll itself, and a lot of them can be heard on both of these songs. Imagine Husker Du playing a Peter Gabriel song or, conversely, Semisonic playing Joe Jackson. Or, you know, lots cooler than that. Both songs kill.

    Jessie Murphy in the Woods Jessie Murphy in the Woods EP (Rex)
    Five very strange songs that sound a lot like a Bongwater playing songs by the Mamas and the Papas. That doesn't really begin to get into the strange English folk influences or the offbeat pop construction, but it's a start.

    Kaiser Cartel Rock Island EP (self-released)
    Five songs, all of them vaguely wistful indie rock sorta things. There's a bit of an odds and ends quality as well ("Shira" was released in quite different form). A solid short set that scores nicely and keeps me impessed with this duo.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.kaisercartel.com

    Katastrophe The Worst Amazing (307 Knox)
    Hardcore collage with some seriously goofy hip-hop laid over the top. I think I like the beats much more than the rhymes, but off-kilter rapping does provide a nice antidote for the general seriousness of the music. Katastrophe won't kill you. It's just a social disease.

    Over the Hill Looking for a Spark (Monofonus)
    If you ever wondered what bluegrass would sound like if played over a grungy bass line, Over the Hill has the answer. Ditto if you were wondering what americana would sound like if completely deconstructed by electronic trippage. This is no ordinary album. It's certifiable and proud of it.

    Pride Parade Dose (self-released)
    Sounds reminiscent of the Touch and Go heyday. Don't know if these boys are closer to Shellac or the Jesus Lizard, but they're heavy, lean and mean. This is noise designed to damage the mind. A real fucking jackhammer.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.prideparademusic.com

    The Riverwinds The Riverwinds (LP/EP)
    Rock and roll with just enough roots to wind down a pleasant evening. Think early Tom Petty with slightly rounded edges. Fine guitar, nice organ and a fiery bourbon chaser. Let it unwind slowly.

    The States We Are the Erasers EP (Genious Collective)
    Five songs from yet another band with "states" in its name. Strangely, most of those bands are pretty damned good, and these boys are no different. This is basic indie rock with a pop sheen, and the band has done its homework. There's a slight Smiths keen to the sound, and I dig that. Cool stuff.

    Billy Wallace The Road Spit Me Out (self-released)
    Stellar CD casing (the art is stupendous) and equally fine music within. Wallace does the old-timey bit with pitch-perfect arrangements and instrumentation. His decidedly offbeat vocals (think a raspier Shel Silverstein) make these songs transcendent.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/billywallaceva

    T.D. White Company Book (Sky Council)
    Eclectic electronic fare that sounds anything but. Electronic, I mean. White throws so many organic sounds into his collages that the songs often rock out with righteous attitude. That said, there's no denying the electronic roots of the stuff. Ride the throb and don't let go.

    The Woods The EP Logue (self-released)
    Something of an epilogue to the collective's self-titled album. These songs (with their exceptionally vague titles) do bring closure to some of the stories on that album. Scads of people played on these songs, but you'd never guess from the intimate and sparse sound. These tightly-wound folk gems gain lustre with every spin.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/the woodsmusic

    The Yes Pleases From Whence It Came (Elitist Low Brow)
    These guys love the Stones. The "Emotional Rescue" era Stones. They kinda take that rockin' disco attitude and throw in a bit of the ol' indie rock. These songs don't always come together, but when they do, they're something wild indeed.


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