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 #312 reviews
November 2009
  • Curtains for You What a Lovely Surprise to Wake Up Here (Spark and Shine)
  • deVries Death to God (Noise on Noise)
  • The Dimes The King Can Drink the Harbour Dry (Pet Marmoset)
  • Globes on Remote The Woo-Hoo-Hoo (self-released)
  • Hellsongs Hymns in the Key of 666 (Minty Fresh)
  • Cosmo Jarvis Cosmo Jarvis (Wall of Sound)
  • Leigh Marble Twister EP (self-released)
  • Morningbell Sincerely, Severely (Orange Records)
  • The Perfects Future Automatic EP (FU Records)
  • Joel Plaskett Three 3xCD (Maple Music/Universal Canada)
  • Sleep Whale Houseboat (Western Vinyl)
  • Systems Office Underslept (Temporary Residence)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Curtains for You
    What a Lovely Surprise to Wake Up Here
    (Spark and Shine)

    Exceedingly crafted pop. Layered harmonies, jangly guitars and all that mess. Oh, and lead guitar work that occasionally reminds me of George Harrison.

    So you know where these folks are aiming--somewhere between Nilsson, the Beach Boys and All Things Must Pass. There are worse targets out there. Even better (depending on your point of view), this is an increasingly well-traveled road.

    More to the point, Curtains for You generally hits the mark without aping any particular song or artist. There are echoes of modern popsters like the New Pornographers or the Shins, but these folks walk their own trail. There's plenty of craft but little artifice to these songs. Everything is upfront and earnest, and the production makes sure that comes across quite clearly.

    The sort of pop album that makes discriminating listeners smile. Just a bit. Pleasant, but with enough bite to satisfy. A fine set.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.sparkandshine.com


    deVries
    Death to God
    (Noise on Noise)

    Travis DeVries (once of the Turn Ons) moved from Seattle to New York and started anew. This newest incarnation in full of intimate and shimmery pieces.

    Somewhere between the Brian Jonestown Massacre and mid-70s Bowie, I suppose. There's also an interesting T.Rex splinter in the sound, though these songs rarely bound.

    Most of the time the pieces move by at a modest pace, inviting introspection and engendering a certain languid mood. The sound is fairly muddy, lending even more of a hang-out feel to the disc.

    Indeed, you've really got to sit still for this one. By and large, Travis DeVries doesn't write songs that are immediately arresting (though "Boys are Bores" is an obvious exception), and his band seems intent on moving at his pace. Hey, it works, so no complaints from my end. Something to chew on.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.noiseonnoise.com


    The Dimes
    The King Can Drink the Harbour Dry
    (Pet Marmoset)

    Taking a late 60s/early 70s hippie vibe and sliding it into an americana album cover, the Dimes end up sounding decidedly timeless. That's probably the most impressive thing about this album--and to be honest, it's about as impressive as anything I've heard all year.

    Yes, you have to appreciate the component parts, but the Dimes spin these sounds into something much greater than their influences. This is music that sounds great and has great things to say. All without hitting the listener over the head.

    The production is quite clean, leaving the songs to speak for themselves. There's just enough smudging to fill in the empty spaces, but each element comes through loud and clear.

    An album that impresses more and more with each listen. Give this one an inch, and it just might steal your soul. The hooks are damned tenacious.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.thedimes.com


    Globes on Remote
    The Woo-Hoo-Hoo
    (self-released)

    Laptop meets indie meets cheese pop. With more than a bit of German engineering lying in wait. Globes on Remote aren't shy about spinning eclectic sounds. Even better, the songs come together most of the time.

    Sometimes they don't, though I think that might well be intentional. After all, many of these pieces sound like some sort of inside joke that I (for one) don't get.

    I'm not going to worry about it too much, though. The gentle throb and whimsical bleeps are more than enough to keep my head bobbing. I suppose Globes on Remote might be annoying if its songs were more insistent, but these gentle-hearted ramblers are utterly charming.

    Something of a mess, but a pleasant mess. I'm not sure more coherence would help, as much of the whimsy comes from the random thoughts tossed around. Settle in and see how the water suits you.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.globesonremote.com


    Hellsongs
    Hymns in the Key of 666
    (Minty Fresh)

    More than a decade ago, my brothers wrote a stoner play (never performed, of course) that featured a fantasy of Metallica playing Vegas. The band opened with "Blackened." In a lounge style. Somewhere, somehow, the members of Hellsongs came across that play, even if their versionof the song tends more toward Donovan.

    Or maybe not. But the notion of recasting hard rock anthems as Nick Drake-y folk or jaunty hippie pop is so arresting as to verge on parody. I'm not suggesting that's the case, of course. But still...

    These songs have been drifting around the web for a while, and this album has been available as an import since the first of the year. But Minty Fresh, purveyor of the finest tastes in alterna-pop, is doing up the official U.S. release. So, y'know, maybe it's not all a joke.

    All I'm saying is that anyone who can turn "Seasons in the Abyss" into a chamber pop piece or extend "We're Not Gonna Take It" into five minutes of introspective folk has a talent. Any one of these songs will stop you in your tracks. Soiled garments are strictly your concern.

    Contact:
    Minty Fresh
    P.O. Box 577400
    Chicago, IL 60657
    www: http://www.mintyfresh.com


    Cosmo Jarvis
    Cosmo Jarvis
    (Wall of Sound)

    Cosmo Jarvis is British. So is his record label. And, yeah, this is pretty much throw-shit-on-the-wall Britpop. The influences rush by faster than prostate cancer survivors at a Sarah Palin rally, but unlike most politicians, Jarvis knows how to pull everything together into a coherent package.

    I suppose keyboards are at the center of the songs, but that's a guess. There's a busking ballad and a brain-throttling hooky monster. And a lot of stuff from all sides of the pop universe, all wrapped up in stellar harmonies. I guess Brits have a shorter attention span than Yanks.

    The sound is shiny, though there are some moments of startling intimacy. Imagine the Streets as a pop singer/songwriter. Oh, and perhaps slightly less jaded.

    A wild ride, one that I'm loathe to get off. I don't have any idea how the masses will react, but I'm sold.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.cosmojarvis.com


    Leigh Marble
    Twister EP
    (self-released)

    Leigh Marble's Red Tornado was a fairly typical singer-songwriter album. Twister is a much more intriguing creature.

    Marble has a background in producing, so it shouldn't be particularly surprising that he would be able to find some serious talent to remix a number of songs from Red Tornado. He does a couple of the twistings himself.

    What results is something fresh and exciting. Those young enough to remember the remix of Suzanne Vega's "Tom's Diner" might begin to understand the radical departure of these pieces even as they generally retain the spirit of the originals. Not to take anything away from Red Tornado, but this effort is superlative. It's much more interesting to play in a sandbox full of toys, and Marble seems to be enjoying every minute. Most invigorating.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.leighmarble.com


    Morningbell
    Sincerely, Severely
    (Orange Records)

    Mid-60s pop that flies straight through a new millennium art rock filter. The pieces are then reassembled into something that resembles greatness.

    The easiest reference point is the Flaming Lips, but Morningbell is much more minimalist (Flaming Lips circa 1988, let's say) and a bit less crafted. Just as crafty, though, and the asides (musical as well as lyrical) are gratifying.

    The ambition of this album is stunning, and Morningbell pulls it off better than anyone might have imagined. The melange of sound that rolls through the speakers is simply overwhelming.

    One of those albums that provides an immediate rush and then continues to bring pleasure for years to come. One of the year's best, to be sure.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.orangerecordsgainesville.com


    The Perfects
    Future Automatic EP
    (FU Records)

    Club-ready new wave retreads. Of course, bringing a new wave sensibility to late 80s dance music is, in itself, an innovation. Some acts came close to this ideal, but New Order was always a bit on the chilly side, and dance floor masters like Clivilles and Cole were always more about bombast than cleverness.

    And so the Perfects may well be, indeed, perfect. Pretty damned close if you like to shake your ass and have a certain predilection for understated, ironic pop. This is more a band than a studio creation, though there are plenty of bells and whistles. After all, we are talking about dance music.

    A fine pick-me-up for these mid-autumn days. And if you like guitars with your drum machines (or throbbing bass with your new wave), the Perfects will fit the bill. Perfectly.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.theperfects.com


    Joel Plaskett
    Three 3xCD
    (Maple Music/Universal Canada)

    Most of the time, triple albums are bloated affairs that could easily have been edited down to two or even one disc. Now, this is a triple album in the vinyl sense, as the 27 songs here could easily have fit on two discs. Maybe Plaskett was feeling old school when he put this together.

    There isn't any filler among the 27 songs here. Plaskett shifts gears a bit from disc to disc (1: peppy americana-pop; 2: intimate, more slowly-paced acoustic numbers; 3: the usual mishmash), but his observational style informs some truly fine songs.

    The sound is understated, just like Plaskett's singing style. There's not much showing off, but rather a quietly-radiating confidence. This is one of the more assured albums I've heard in quite a while.

    It just keeps rolling on and on. The quantity is impressive, but the quality is what shines through in the end. This album is being released by Universal in Canada; I'm not entirely sure how that translates in the States. But work this good will find its way. I'm sure of it.


    Sleep Whale
    Houseboat
    (Western Vinyl)

    Sleep Whale is a couple guys from Texas who play spacey (and occasionally bombastic) western rock. Think Calexico filtered through Sigur Ros, though somewhat more restrained.

    The decidedly ethereal songwriting can be difficult to parse, but in the end I just let my mind wander where it would. And I got around to a number of fine places.

    This is hardly music for the impatient. Sleep Whale doesn't do vocals much (one track here), and the songs take quite a while to resolve. But resolve they do, and those resolutions are often stunning in their revelations.

    A journey, to be sure, but one well worth the effort. Sleep Whale challenges listeners to both hear and think. If you can do both at the same time, you'll find yourself well rewarded.

    Contact:
    Western Vinyl
    4409 Merle Dr.
    Austin, TX 78745
    www: http://www.westernvinyl.com


    Systems Officer
    Underslept
    (Temporary Residence)

    Reminds me a lot of Three Mile Pilot. Which makes sense, as Armistead Burwell Smith IV (the entirety of Systems Officer) was the bassist and sang for that outfit. Oh, and he's currently in something called Pinback right now (ahem).

    As befitting a one-man project, Smith adds quite a bit of keyboard and other "filler" sorts of instrumentation. But this doesn't distract; rather, it simply finishes the songs.

    Smith has a distinctive songwriting style, and I think it's safe to say that he breaks no new ground here. But when you are as adventurous as he's been and you play with folks as creative as his current and former bandmates, well, it's possible to do great things without doing anything new.

    So it goes here. This may be a minor highlight of Smith's already stellar career, but it's a worthy venture. Plenty of crannies to explore.

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


    Also recommended:

    Balance and Composure Only Boundaries (No Sleep)
    Aahhh...settling back in that 90s post rock groove. I've been hearing more and more of this messy version of the math sound, and I like it as much as I did a decade or more ago. Balance and Composure has both the chops and the intensity to make a memorable album.

    Crepuscule Trio Unveil (Circumvention)
    Teetering on the edge between composition and improvisation, the Crepuscule Trio spins some fascinating tales. Not traditional jazz and not exactly avant garde. Just really damned good.

    Jim Duffy Mood Lit (Three Dots)
    Duffy composes utterly charming pieces for the piano and organ. Duffy's pieces are instantly attractive, but the writing is sophisticated enough to attract exacting ears. Another fine album from a guy who knows how to make good music.

    The Empty Mirror Abstracted Catholic (Op. 2) (Landowner)
    Dark and involved power trio tunes. These three guys make plenty of noise and aren't shy about going to the scary places. I like the sense of adventure and I like the aggressive brooding.

    Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) What It Takes to Move Forward (Count Your Lucky Stars)
    The band's name (and album title) are verbose, but these simply stated songs are anything but. Whether introspective or bruising, the pieces on this album are about as direct as things come. Even better, what they say is most enlightening. Who says poetry has to be elliptical?

    Esprit de Corps Under Constant Influence EP (self-released)
    Punchy, raggedy emo with a surprising AC/DC chaser. Old AC/DC, the bluesy riffage type. This stuff could abrade graffiti from a brick wall. It's good that way. Short, sweet and most pleasing.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/theedc

    Face Value Rode Hard, Put Away Wet: Clevo HC '89-'93 CD/DVD (Smog Veil)
    A cool set that compiles the two EPs and two LPs that Face Value put out in the late 80s and early 90s. The DVD contains concert footage from the same period. Anyone wanting a breath of fresh air from the last days of real DIY will do well to plug into this.

    Ryan Malott & Kelly Thomas Ryan Malott & Kelly Thomas EP (Deep Elm)
    I'm not entirely sure if this is a one-off for the singers of 500 Miles to Memphis and the Fabulous Pickups, but even if it is, it sure works nicely. Malott & Thomas have real chemistry, and the songs are great. Awfully damned good. I know I could go for a full-length.

    Moraine Manifest Density (Moonjune)
    If you wondered where the intersection of jazz, classical and prog might be, Moraine provides a stellar example. These pieces draw freely from those influences before falling into a universe of their own. Many directions, most arresting.

    Nebula Heavy Psych (Tee Pee)
    Spacey psychedelic stoner rock. Three guys who seem to know how to cut to the heart of the fuzz. A perfect fit for Tee Pee, these guys rock with a swell 70s swagger. I suppose you have to be into that sort of thing, but if you're not, I'm thinking you might be just a bit lame.

    Nommo Ogo Across Time and Space (Record Label Records)
    The title says it all. Nommo Ogo is an Alaskan experimental electronic collective. Apparently, the "band" puts a lot of work into the shows, but this disc (which contains work from 2003 up to the present) is pretty impressive in its own right. Lots of time (long songs) and lots of space (in terms of style) and plenty of room for rumination.

    The Pineapple Thief 3000 Days 2xCD (Kscope)
    A retrospective of the first eight years (or about 3000 days) of the Pineapple Thief. Or, as new fans might look at it, the stuff before Tightly Unwound. Absorbing, well-crafted songs that ooze melancholy--but kind of the opposite of the Cure. There's a minimalism at work here that lends an essential elegiac quality. If you haven't heard this band yet, this set might set you straight.

    Practically Einstein Troubles with Modern Convenience EP (self-released)
    Basic American rock and roll. A touch of garage, a touch of roots and some mildly raggedy harmonies. You know, the sort of band that always seems to steal the girls at the shows. Nothing complicated or particularly untoward. Just a few nice Virginia boys having a little fun.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.practicallyeinstein.com

    Pronto The Cheetah (Contraphonic)
    Pronto rolls through many styles and then adds some geeky electronic bells and whistles. The solo project of Mikael Jorgensen (Wilco keyboardist), this second Pronto outing turns the first album on its head. Perhaps a bit too processed for its own good, nonetheless I like the way Jorgensen plays with ideas. He's not too serious, which gives this album a leavening touch.

    Sleep Bellum Sonno Judge Us By How We Lived Our Lives Not By How We Made Our Living (self-released)
    Methinks these boys take themselves a bit too seriously. There's lots of dramatic shouting, dramatic riffs and general thunder. That and a serious prog bent leads me to the aforementioned conclusion. But that's cool. I'd much rather a band go all out than sit in comfort. Sleep Bellum Sonno leaves no bush unscorched. This one might well eat you alive.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.sleepbellumsonno.com

    Teleseen Fear of the Forest (Percepts)
    Cohesive beatwork that blends in plenty of electronic experimentalism. Oh, and some actual singing from time to time. The beats wander all over the map, but they all find a groove and drive it into the ground. Hypnotic and unshakable.

    Tom Thumb We Never Die (self-released)
    Minimalist in structure but not in execution, Tom Thumb revels in folk sounds but drapes on so many layers that the result is something else again. This one takes a while for the brain to sift, but the second and third listens are much more entrancing. This one will age with the best of them.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.tomthumbmusic.com

    Track a Tiger I Felt the Bullet Hit My Heart (Deep Elm)
    Groovy rootsy pop with plenty of added brighteners. The electronic window dressing enhances rather than distracts, and the cores of the songs are wonderful. I don't know if these folks would rather head down the americana or laptop roads. I like the merge, myself.

    The Very Foundation This Restless Enterprise (self-released)
    Pop rock that has some great horns and keyboard work. I like the glossy bits (y'know, kicky with horns) and am not so sure about the more introspective stuff. Maybe that's just the H1N1 fatigue talking. Hard to say. There is an awful lot here to dig into, which bodes well for the future.

    Nathan Xander The Fear (Deep Elm)
    Some fine backroads music that tends to come in the front door. There's not a lot of subtlety here, especially in the lyrics, but I think that comes across more as earnestness than a sledgehammer. Xander has a fine, personable voice and he sells his wares well. He could use just a bit more guile.

    Yellowhammers Yellowhammers (Up)
    Produced by Jon Langford, this album sounds great. And Yellowhammers are the sort of crafty, more-than-meets-the-eye roots rockin' outfit that is a nice fit for Langford. Everything sounds so simple, and yet the iceberg lurks just beneath the surface. This sounds like an easy rollin' evening, but there are storms on the horizon. Boy, I like their style.


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