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 #313 reviews
December 2009
  • Blind Pilot 3 Rounds and a Sound (self-released)
  • Engineers Three Fact Fader (Kscope)
  • For Against Never Been (Words on Music)
  • Collin Herring Ocho (self-released)
  • The Humbugs On the Up Side (Oddvious)
  • The Lonely H Concrete Class (The Control Group)
  • The Lucy Show ...Undone re-issue (Words on Music)
  • Audra Mae Haunt EP (SideOneDummy)
  • Makajodama Makajodama (The Laser's Edge)
  • Tom McBride & the Whig Party Like a Lion (self-released)
  • Quest for Fire Quest for Fire (Tee Pee)
  • The Seedy Seeds Count the Days (Eurodorable)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Blind Pilot
    3 Rounds and a Sound

    Originally a duo that toured the west coast on bicycles (that's commitment!), Blind Pilot has fleshed out its kicky folk sound by expanding to a six-piece. Finding some range is just fine, as long as the basics don't get lost.

    And they haven't. There are a few moments that bring faint echoes of follow Portlandsters the Shins (especially in the harmonies), but by and large Blind Pilot sticks to its nuevo Nick Drake sound.

    This isn't americana, at least as most people define it. Blind Pilot sticks to folk construction and restrained, syncopated rhythms. There's no country and little western going on here. These are still the songs of bicycling troubadours. And that's pretty cool.

    A most enjoyable album. I like the deeper focus, but mostly I love the songs. Israel Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski are fine writers, and their band brings those pieces to life quite well. Good stuff.

    www: http://www.blindpilotmusic.com

    Three Fact Fader

    Four Brits mildly wigging out. Kinda like Radiohead meets Spiritualized, except much less pretentious. Indeed, the burbling feel to the songs is almost infectious.

    So, y'know, these songs are almost poppy. They're not at all, of course. First, they rely on decidedly complicated song constructions. Second, there's just a bit too much going on past that. Nonetheless, there are some fine hooks in the fuzz.

    There are a number of ways to use a prog influence. Engineers has decided to go with the technical brilliance and shy away from the overly-involved melodies. This simple complexity (or is it complex simplicity?) makes these songs oh-so-accessible.

    Easy to love, really. These folks don't get particularly aggressive, but there's a lot going on behind the curtain. A few listens only make this one sound better.

    www: http://www.kscopemusic.com

    For Against
    Never Been
    (Words on Music)

    Another For Against album, another set of intricately-crafted, deeply introspective tunes. The sort of stuff that sticks with you for a few years.

    I have the feeling this is the best For Against album I've heard, but I can't be sure. Even listening to the older ones (always a pleasure), I'm not positive. But that doesn't matter. These songs are a bit more confident; the playing is somewhat more assured. There are no holes.

    Nothing is missing in the writing or the execution or anything. These midtempo excursions into the recesses of human existence are revelatory. Despite the relatively steady tempos, there is no tedium here, which is an impressive feat. For Against takes its time, but the intensity never fades.

    Damned fine. I've written about these folks a few times before, and I'm all out of fresh praise. Just check it out, okay?

    Words on Music
    501 4th St. SE
    Minneapolis, MN 55414
    www: http://www.words-on-music.com

    Collin Herring

    I've always preferred Herring's electric songs to his acoustic ones. Sometimes the boy can wallow a bit. Of course, he's got a great voice for wallowing, but still...

    On this album, Herring balances the scales as well as I've heard. There are plenty of somewhat mopey, introspective pieces. But he also kicks up the sound more than usual. I kind of like it when his voice gets a bit excited. He's got some of the best scratchy pipes around, and they sound better when they're allowed to roam free a bit.

    And, you know, it's always good to change things up. Like I noted up top, this is easily Herring's most complete album. I've liked a number of his songs ("Back of Your Mind", from The Other Side of Kindness, remains one of my all-time faves), but this is the first album that really works for me on the whole.

    He's been working at it for a long time, but I think Herring might well be coming into his own with this album. He's defined himself nicely, and now he's stepping out confidently. Fine work.

    www: http://www.collinherring.com

    The Humbugs
    On the Up Side

    Up side, indeed. The Humbugs play straight-up pop rock with just the slightest of lilts. Think early Posies without quite so much lyrical bite. Which leaves plenty of room for a nibble or two.

    Pretty stuff, with lyrics that make this worth more than a couple listens. The Humbugs stick to day-in-the-life material, but the perspective is slightly askew.

    The sound is restrained. This stuff won't overpower; rather, there's plenty of space to let the songs breathe, which helps to give this album a bit of a different spin. And when you play pop, that's always a good thing.

    Not the second coming or anything, but solid and enjoyable. I'm thinking the Humbugs just might have a few more roads to wander before they're done.

    www: http://www.thehumbugs.com

    The Lonely H
    Concrete Class
    (The Control Group)

    The Control Group is best known for releasing albums by the likes of the Killers and the Kings of Leon. With this third album, the Lonely H is rapidly joining that company--in quality, if not in rabid popularity.

    The songs center around chunky guitar riffs. The production sounds much like that ringing Gulf Coast feel favored by the Band. Lots of organ, fuzzy guitar and emotive singing. Is it soulful, or is it just overwrought?

    Well, a bit of both, I suppose. You've gotta take this stuff as it comes, and at some point sensitive cock rock does cause the eyes to roll once or twice. Then the stuff heads straight into rootsy ramblers, as if that might leaven things.

    It does, kinda. I think the Lonely H goes a bit overboard at times, but I do like the way the band goes full tilt at everything it does. If I had to choose, I'd take the latter. This is some crazy stuff, but it simply sparkles with energy.

    www: http://www.controlgroupco.com

    The Lucy Show
    ...Undone re-issue
    (Words on Music)

    The Lucy Show is one of those gothic new wave acts that never quite made it. If you read your Trouser Press (1989 edition or earlier), you wil be told that the reason is that the band never quite pulled all if its influences together.

    That's fair enough. None of these songs quite matches the majesty of the first track, "Ephemeral (This Is No Heaven)." The band vacillates between uptempo (almost coke-fueled at times) ravers and mid-tempo gothic pop songs--though no one would have called them that back in 1984, which is when this album first appeared.

    Looking back, this is a distinctive cultural artifact. The Lucy Show sounds a lot like the Cure, but not what the Cure was doing back in the early 80s. I wouldn't call this album prescient, exactly, but its intentions (often not quite realized) were fulfilled by later, more popular acts.

    This re-issue is just a remastering of the original album. I don't know what archival material might be available, but it's not here. All you've got is an album that didn't catch fire 25 years ago...but somehow it's still around. An interesting set.

    Words on Music
    501 4th St. SE
    Minneapolis, MN 55414
    www: http://www.words-on-music.com

    Audra Mae
    Haunt EP

    SideOneDummy used to be the home of punk bands--often ska and Irish-tinged. Good stuff. Audra Mae is a rootsy singer-songwriter. And she's got good stuff, too.

    For starters, she's got an arresting voice. Like Neko Case, Audra Mae's voice betrays little training. It's a wild beast roaming through these torch tunes. Great pieces, songs that touch on just about every side of human existence.

    Well, the downer side of human existence, anyway. You won't get me complaining. Audra Mae's voice along is enough to recommend this, but her songwriting is top-notch as well. We'll be hearing much more from her, I'm sure.

    Side One Dummy
    P.O. Box 2350
    Hollywood, CA 90078
    www: http://www.sideonedummy.com

    (The Laser's Edge)

    So, you were wondering what it might sound like if Dirty Three and Led Zeppelin threw together some instrumental jams? Kinda like eight different (awesome) versions of "Kashmir" or something?

    Yeah, something like that. By and large, these pieces are long. They center around guitar and violin, and they can be heavy. They can also be drop-dead gorgeous when they feel like it.

    The sound is organic. There's none of the tinny sound that sometimes infects prog projects. And while this is most definitely prog, the lush and open sound lends it a much more classic feel. These songs sound like they've been around forever.

    And maybe they will be. I'm not sure who can resist such lovely and powerful work. Certainly, I was not up to the task. Play it loud and melt your mind.

    The Laser's Edge
    P.O. Box 388
    Voorhees, NJ 08043-0388
    www: http://www.lasersedgegroup.com"

    Tom McBride & the Whig Party
    Like a Lion

    Tom McBride likes old school rock and roll. Horns, organ, a bit of harmonica now and again. He takes from the likes of the Beatles, the Who, even the Dirty Dozen Brass band. It's an interesting mix.

    Not unlike the Lonely H, Tom McBride and company have a definite New Orleans feel. It's a completely different take, as these guys seem to be writing from a southern state of mind as well as cultivating that certain sound.

    But yeah, there seems to be a conscious effort to sound "old." Or, perhaps more accurately, "classic." Timeless? Not quite.

    Good, though. I rolled through this with ease, and I was up for seconds as well. Well-constructed and played with enthusiasm. Perhaps the guys might find a bit more of their own groove next time out, but this is a solid effort.

    www: http://www.tcmcbride.com"

    Quest for Fire
    Quest for Fire
    (Tee Pee)

    Yet another fine stoner/psychedelic find for Tee Pee, Quest for Fire is made up of four Toronto scene veterans. The sound is fuzzy, but the songs are all over the map. There are some speedsters, some contemplative works and at least one song that sounds vaguely Neil Young-ish.

    Well, Neil Young interpreted, anyway. These guys don't stray too far from the stoner formula (lots of fuzz, lots of noise and long songs), but they do draw from many more sides of hard rock than most stoner acts. In particular, the tendency to speed things up from time to time is one I like.

    But the best part is the power. These guys know how to lay the pipe. In every song, there's a moment where you've just got to start throwing your hair around (if you've got any left, that is). It does help to have a Y chromosome, I suppose.

    What the hell. This is a pleasure, and not even a guilty one. Quest for Fire can pound my brain whenever it likes. Heavy, dudes.

    Tee Pee
    365 Bowery
    Second Floor
    New York, NY 10012
    www: http://www.teepeerecords.com

    The Seedy Seeds
    Count the Days

    A swell duo that sounds like a peppy Magnetic Fields. The intricate melodies and almost mechanical music (even if mostly played on "real" instruments) are dead ringers. It's just that these pieces are impossibly perky and hardly dour.

    Wry, to be sure. But never dour. This is feel-good music, even if the lyrics do get a bit introspective. I think it's impossible not to simply bound with joy while listening to this stuff. It's like ABBA doing americana--except really damned good.

    The more I try to explain this stuff, the worse it reads. Okay. So look at the label name. Say it out loud. Now do you get it?

    If you don't, I can't help you. I haven't heard a more infectious album all year. My fingers are tingling as I type this. I'm overflowing with joy even though the Chargers spanked the Chiefs yesterday. Hell, George W. Bush could reclaim the White House in some sort of twisted coup and I'd still be able to wrestle a smile out of my face. This stuff is that good. Listen and fall in love.

    www: http://www.eurodorable.com

    Also recommended:

    Aperiodic Air Below Mountains 7" (Generate)
    If a big city were a living thing, it might well sound like this. Gurgles, grunts, shrieks and all sorts of throbbing bass and percussion. Not necessarily a place I'd want to live, but quite an interesting spot for travel.

    Norman Baker The Art of Not Knowing (Ancient Vessel)
    Norman Baker sets his sound somewhere between a madrigal and a carnival. If you can handle such flights of sonic fancy, there's a lot of intrigue here. Drop into the mood, and it might stick with you for quite a while.

    Gordon Beeferman Music for an Imaginary Band 7" (Generate)
    Jazz, if you like it frenzied and not entirely sane. I have to say, though, that the real band playing these two songs is most impressive. A lot of ideas are crammed into a small space, yet Beeferman and company make it work well.

    Black Blondie Do You Remember Who You Wanted to Be (self-released)
    Agitated songs that are too complicated by half. Black Blondie can't really decide if it wants to be neo-soul, trip-hop or just plain singer-songwriter-y. Nonetheless, there's something about the overwrought nature of these songs that appeals to me. It's a mess, but one with a few pearls in the mix.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/blackblondiemusic

    Boy Genius Staggering (self-released)
    This Brooklyn foursome got Mitch Easter to produce, and the results are predictable. Slightly messy, eclectic pop songs that sparkle though the occasional sputtering moments. Boy Genius tries a bit too hard, as these songs don't need to be this intricate. But the energy is solid, and there are more than enough pretties to fill my pockets.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/boygeniuses

    Ernesto Diaz-Infante & Jeff Arnal Brooklyn Mantra 7" (Generate)
    The mantra covers both sides of the vinyl, good for almost twelve minutes. I haven't heard from Diaz-Infante in quite a while, and I'm glad to hear he has lost none of his adventurous spirit. This piece takes quite a while to unwind, but the totality is most impressive. I'm not entirely sure what this guitar/percussion piece has to do with Brooklyn, but it certainly provokes plenty of thought. Let it ramble and rumble and see where you are at the end.

    Earthless Live at Roadburn (Tee Pee)
    A live set from this San Diego trio. Four songs, eighty minutes. Just about what it sounds like, too. Plenty of noodling and fair amount of power. A departure from the (relatively) more focused studio album (Rhythms from a Cosmic Sky), and I'm not sure which I prefer. The boys take their time here, which seems to suit them quite well.

    Gogol Bordello Live from Axis Mundi CD/DVD (SideOneDummy)
    Ah, something more like SideOneDummy. The CD contains studio tracks (mostly done at the BBC), while the DVD is actually live. This is supposedly Gypsy punk, which sounds a lot like Irish punk with a slightly different accent. But maybe that's just my jaded American ears. Eugene Hutz and Co. are extremely exuberant (even on the studio tracks), which is always a good thing. Fun, and more fun.

    Guitar Bomb Happy Hour at the Silverado (Crafty/Rock Park)
    Shockabilly with a bit more of a country chaser. Reminds me a bit of the Flat Duo Jets as well, though not quite so raw. The edgy guitar sound is great, as are the bluesy licks. Nothing complicated, but awfully impressive when played loudly.

    The Headlocks Cuckoo Bird (self-released)
    A somewhat more acoustic version of the ol' Dixie Dregs sound. A lot of roots and a fair amount of prog whipped up into a froth. There's a lot going on for an album so quiet.
    www: http://www.theheadlocks.com

    His & Her Vanities The Mighty Lunge (Record Label Records)
    Eight throbbing pop songs (EP or LP? You decide). The songs have simple underpinnings and rather quickly vault over the top. I can dig it. I particularly like the uptempo grooves. Why play slow when you can play fast? Quite a live wire.

    I Love Rich Season of the Rich EP (self-released)
    A better name might be "I Love Kiss," although these boys do borrow heavily from any number of aging cock rockers. These songs are funny ("Your Sister Said No," etc.) and well-played. Eminently silly and well worth turning up to 11.
    www: http://www.iloverich.net

    Ada Jane Again...Again (P.A.W.)
    Just yer basic country rawk. Enough attitude to draw a look, enough melody to bring a smile. Best, though, when the horns wail. They usually come out in the manic moments, which are the high points of the album for me.

    The King of Rock Springs The Milkman vs. The Postman Problem (self-released)
    Scott Sosebee did most of this, with some help from friends. It has that disjointed one-man sound, along with the usual semi-crazy vibe. Sosebee creates mini pop symphonies that don't quite fall together. Curiously, those flaws are what attract me the most.
    www: http://www.thekingofrocksprings.com

    Latin for Truth We Are Sick of Not Having the Courage to Be Absolute Nobodies EP (self-released)
    Three pop hardcore songs that take me back to the late 80s or early 90s...you know, when people weren't at all self conscious about playing loud and fast and including a fine melody. A fine little treat.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/latinfortruth

    Lullwater Forest for the Trees EP (self-released)
    Scratchy vocals, vaguely rootsy rockers and a laid-back mood that never abates. Lullwater sets a fine table and then serves up a solid meal. Nothing earthshattering, but awfully good.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/lullwatermusic

    The New Regime COUP (NIN)
    The New Regime is the solo project of Nine Inch Nails drummer Ilan Rubin. The songs are pleasantly excessive, and the sound is nuevo classic rock. Some cool organ, bombastic drumming (natch) and proggy (processed?) vocals. Not up to the standards of the Mars Volta, but good. If yer interested, download it for free at nin.com.

    Ton Nunn and David Michalak T.D. Skatchit & Company (Edgetone)
    Yet another invented instrument from Nunn set down on disc. The cool thing about the skatchit (which is a percussion device played by combs) is the almost infinite variety of sounds possible. This is only for the devoted, of course, but it sounds really, really wild.

    The Scruffs Conquest (Scruffsville)
    Aging popsters return to Ardent Studios (where they recorded their debut 32 years ago) and kick out another set of raucous harmony-heavy tunes. A tad too glossy, perhaps, but plenty of fun.

    Slivovitz Hubris (Moonjune)
    European jazz has always been much less rigid than American jazz. Books have been written about this phenomenon, but in any case Slivovitz is very much a European jazz band. Fretless bass, scatted vocals, and a general sense of freedom. Slivovitz ranges over African, Caribbean, European folk, Middle Eastern and Asian rhythms and ideas. Some songs come together better than others, but this is a melange well worth wading into.

    Tonight We Ride Of the West (self-released)
    Some Montana boys who play hard rockin' and even harder wailin' country songs. The first song is "It's Cocktail Time You Pussy Motherfuckers." I think that pretty much sums up everything quite nicely.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/twrmt

    Vandaveer Divide and Conquer (Supply and Demand)
    Mark Charles Heidinger has a thing for the late Lee Hazelwood. Or if he doesn't, he's been invested by the man's shade. These trippy, folky songs are oh-so-60s with their dramatic swoops and understated harmonies. Let it roll.
    www: http://www.vandaveer.com

    Various Artists Twin Cities Electropunk Volume 5 (self-released)
    The fine folks from Avenpitch send me these compilations every so often, and I'm always rightly gratified. "Electropunk" means many different things to many different people, which lends these collections a bit more breadth than you might imagine. This one's no different. If you really want to take a dip in the underground, check this out.
    www: http://www.tcelectropunk.com

    Wilderness Pangs The Indivisible Squalor of... (self-released)
    A wide range of electronic and organic squawking, Wilderness Pangs isn't afraid to be pretty or utterly depraved. This album veers wildly from one extreme to another, making it hard to get any sort of handle on things. I have a feeling that's exactly what's intended.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/wildernesspangs

    Zweng Silent Scream of Gulls (self-released)
    Ryan Zweng and collaborator Jonathan Hakakian delve deep into the rock bag and come up with some fine stuff. Exceptionally polished (perhaps a bit too much for my taste) and stylishly presented. If this is the mainstream, I'm fine with that.
    www: http://www.zwengmusic.com

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