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
Ah Holly Faml'y
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.
The Oak and the Acorn
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.
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.
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.
The Inner Banks
Songs from Disko Bay
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.
Out Into the Snow
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.
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.
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.
Ming & Ping
Ming & Ping
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.