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 #311 reviews
Bear in Heaven
Beast Rest Forth Mouth
Imagine Peter Gabriel playing June of 44 songs. Except that the melodies are both prettier and much, much more twisted. Bear in Heaven has a yearning for pop, but the band takes a most torturous path to get there.
Which can be maddening for literal-minded folks, I know. But even a moment's worth of patience will bring huge rewards. These pieces pulse with energy, and the range and scope of the music is breathtaking. Not many bands have the imagination to even consider music this ambitious.
The sound is just muddy enough to keep an organic sound on these intricate songs. The preponderance of synthesizer could easily drag the sound into techno or old school new wave territory (which wouldn't be all bad, I suppose), but there's enough raggedy rumpus to keep this stuff in the key of rock.
Most bands who attempt this much either fail spectacularly or end up sounding dreadfully pretentious. Bear in Heaven retains an intimacy that makes this album one of the best of the year. Prepare to be astonished.
Three extensive meditations on the possibilities of bass-driven music. Not jazz, not improvised and not rock and roll--though there is plenty of roll. Indeed, these songs rise and fall like waves on the sea, telling stories as they go.
Bass is particularly suited to this sort of languidly bounding sound. There's a natural bounce that's inherent in the playing of the instrument, and movement on the low end of sound always seems to bring to mind large-scale events, such as the motion of the ocean.
The pieces clock in at 15, 9 and 20 minutes. The slowest and most introspective is the shortest one, which works out well. The longer pieces are more involved, though none drag. Boyd has a fine ear for editing as well as playing, and he never stays in a track too long.
The sound may be miles from the mainstream, but I think it has a wide appeal nonetheless. Boyd is an outstanding craftsman, and he infuses his playing with more than enough passion to make these songs something wonderful to behold. This one will haunt for years to come.
Dead Voices on Air
Fast Falls the Eventide 2xCD
Mark Spybey has been making extremely experimental electronic music for more than 15 years. I reviewed a couple of his discs back in 1995, and now here's another set (the second disc is a re-issue of a G.R.O.S.S., a tape he put out in 1994).
Even within the decidedly eclectic world of electronic experimentalists, Spybey is way out there. I saw him live back in the mid 90s, and I was underwhelmed. He can't do it all on stage, or, at least, he couldn't do it all back then. Put him in a studio, though, and the rules change.
These are aggressively indulgent pieces, full of dissonance and a general sense of instability. One of Spybey's strengths is to bring together disparate sounds and ideas and somehow craft them into a coherent piece. Judging by this set, he's gotten a whole lot better at that over the years.
This is some fine work, stuff that pushes up against (and might even occasionally cross) the frontiers of music. These ideas are not for the weak or simple minded, which is true for just about anything worth hearing. Exceptional.
Eva & the Heartmaker
Let's Keep this Up Forever
There's something about Scandinavia. The new Annie album is finally coming out, and then there's this disc from the Norwegian duo of Eva Weel Skram and Thomas Stenersen. Simple, basic, guitar-driven pop music that knows how to set a hook.
Reminds me a lot of the first Apollo Smile album, where her voice played off licks laid down by Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Eva has a strong, if generic, voice that has more than a little Debbie Harry to it. That's okay, if only because the music does its job as well.
Strong and playful, the songs bound around with an infectious energy. There's nothing particularly original about the sound, but Eva & the Heartmaker sell it well. The key is the songs, and they're better than alright.
If you're in need of a little offbeat pop break, listen up. This disc may not last forever, but it ought to do for right now.
This Town Is Starting to Make Me Angry EP
(Flop of the Century)
Five more songs from this pop impressionist. These pieces are more in the faux art rock vein of Supertramp or mid-range Genesis, with all the pomp and perhaps a bit more gravity.
The heavy reliance on piano also brings to mind early Elton John, but Fix has a light hand with his pompous impulses, so he tends bliss out rather than beat listeners over the head with his hooks. That sweet bit of subtlety is one of the things I like best about Fix.
Five stellar songs. There ought to be more. Fix is that rare artist: a polymath who is also able to write songs that appeal to the heart as well as the head. Much happiness for my ears.
C. Scott Blevins has written a minor rock opera that is almost as oblique and sublime as the Rollo Treadway's from earlier this year. The sound is a bit more Steely Dan than Beach Boys, but the exceptional attention to detail is most arresting.
The "story" itself is more impressionistic than linear, something along the lines of discovery of all types. The songs don't attack the ears; rather, they invite the listener in slowly with a series of intriguing lines and hooks.
The overall sound is restrained, in keeping with the lyrical content. Despite an almost movie-like roster of musicians, there's no screaming or even stepping on toes. In fact, much of this disc takes place at dynamics just above a whisper. That's okay. It makes the listeners voyeurs. And we're all too happy to listen in.
An intriguing set that raises more questions than it answers. I like that. Tickles the brain as well as the ears. Hyperstory is anything but hyper, and that makes all the difference.
The Lower 48
Everywhere to Go EP
Minimalist roots fare that rises and falls on the distinctive vocals of Sarah Parson. She's got a bit of the Linda Perry warble, and that works quite well with these understated songs.
Despite the rough sound (these tracks sound a lot like demos) and occasional raggedy playing, there are plenty moments of sweet melody. Indeed, those almost accidental drops of sugar are most intriguing.
I have to wonder if a bit more studio time (and more songs) would smooth over too many of the rough edges. Personally, I like the sound the way it is. It's far from perfect, which brings the Lower 48 that much closer to heaven.
Whatever connected Lymbyc Systym to the hip hop world has disappeared completely. That's not a positive or negative statement. It just is. Lymbyc Systym has morphed (ever so slightly) into a full-on electronic sonicspheric experience.
Which is pretty cool. Despite a definite emphasis on sound and mood, each of these songs is actually a song. There's a beginning, a middle and an end. There's even a story--told instrumentally, of course.
And damned if it ain't impressive. Well, everything these folks has done is impressive, but I do believe LS has turned a corner. This is music in full bloom, ideas put directly to tape (or, y'know, magnetic media of one type or another).
Gorgeous stuff, the kind of sounds and songs that refuse to leave the memory after only a short exposure. I had high expectations, but this album blows me away. Astonishing.
The Hidden Names
Another Vancouver collective that makes intricate, infectious, affected pop. Another Vancouver collective that does it really damned well.
Maybe it's the water. Maybe it's the impending Winter Olympics. Or maybe it's just a trick of geography. I'm not too worried. When the stuff is good, it's good. And in the case of Parlour Steps, it's great.
The sound is more acoustic and intimate than most bands who try this sound. I think that's an ambitious take; it certainly requires much more nuanced performances. You can hide a fair amount behind a solid electric guitar riff. Vibes don't shield nearly so much. But this restrained approach allows the songs to bloom superlatively.
Imagine the Wedding Present as a Canadian (mostly) acoustic pop band. Add a few twists and you're here. This second outing is a step forward from the first (which was hardly a slouch). Great things are in the offing.