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 #316 reviews
April 2010
  • The Graze Give/Sell (J-Shirt)
  • It's a King Thing Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo. (self-released)
  • King Rhythm Hardships & Head Trips (self-released)
  • The Lions Rampant It's Fun to Do Bad Things (Deep Elm)
  • Mr Russia Training for the Gameshow Host (Lens)
  • Night Driving in Small Towns Serial Killer (Lower 40)
  • Panda Riot Far & Near EP (Mirror/Mirror)
  • Prizzy Prizzy Please Chroma Cannon (Joyful Noise)
  • Shark Speed Education EP (self-released)
  • Snowglobe Little More Lived In (Makeshift)
  • Summer People Good Problems (Red Leader)
  • Dan Wallace Den of Maniacs (Torito Bravo)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Graze

    The second solo record from Louis O'Callaghan, who prefers to be known as the Graze when doing his own thing. He's wandered through such Seattle acts as Rosyvelt, An Invitation to Love and Brent Amaker and the Rodeo during the six years he spent assembling this album.

    Assembling is the right word. O'Callaghan has a stellar grasp of the (moderately) lo-fi pop sound, but his arrangements are starkly ambitious. The sound might be rounded, but he throws all sorts of ideas into his songs.

    To the point that some listeners might get exhausted. The sparse sound means that almost all of the elements are easy to hear, and the mix is almost two-dimensional, which leads to a fair amount of cacophony.

    I'm a big fan of such an approach, especially when the songs are as thoughtful and intriguing as these. Often enough, these pieces are much more beautiful than it seems they deserve to be. The production may have used a sledgehammer on the sound, but O'Callaghan has an almost delicate songwriting touch. Unworldly.

    P.O. Box 85133
    Seattle, WA 98145
    www: http://www.j-shirt.com

    It's a King Thing
    Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

    A few guys from the suburbs of Philly who know their way around power pop. The easiest reference for me is the Mayflies, the old Chapel Hill band. But if that doesn't do it for you, then try this: If you happen to have that first Fountains of Wayne album, you'll know exactly what's on this disc. I love that first FoW album (and the Mayflies), and I'm kinda falling for this one pretty quickly.

    The sound is just muddy enough to add a bit of abrasion to the glorious hooks. Pop should never be perfectly clean. It should also delve into the darker parts of the human brain. It's a King Thing obliges almost effortlessly.

    Most of these songs are in the midtempo range, which can get tedious. Luckily, the band subtly shifts its approach from song to song, so that even when the tempo stays the same, the songs are distinctive. That's one of those small things that separates good writing from average writing.

    Ah, but this album is fully above average. It might even approach great, but I always hesitate to anoint pop albums until I've had time to burn out on them. The goods remain stellar, and the average ones get old. I think I'll be listening to this one for a few years, but time will be the judge of that. Delicious. Oh, and if you don't believe me just go to the site. The album is free.

    www: http://www.itsakingthing.com/

    King Rhythm
    Hardships & Head Trips

    Neck-snapping electronic collage work. King Rhythm does, indeed, work the rhythm pretty hard. What I like is the way that the pieces establish melody as well.

    Yeah, yeah, yeah. Melody-schmelody. These pieces pulsate and throb, and the music refuses to take a back seat even when an MC stops by to guest. The interplay between the musical and verbal ideas is impressive.

    Indeed, the interplay between everything on this album (and it is an album, although my copy did include a home-burnt CD as well) is astonishing. These songs tell stories, and they do so in a most compelling way.

    And you don't stop. Music this ambitious often drifts into pretentious territory. But King Rhythm makes sure that even the most conceptual pieces retain an almost animalistic appeal. There's power in these here grooves.

    www: http://www.kingrhythm.com

    The Lions Rampant
    It's Fun to Do Bad Things
    (Deep Elm)

    Um, let's rock and roll. Really loud and really fast. And really good, too.

    It takes a lot of work to make an album sound as alive and unrestrained as this one does. The producer needs to have a handle on what the band does, and the mix has to be spot on. The Lions Rampant have done everything well.

    Oh, and the songs are wonderful small explosions. Sure, this fits in nicely with all the garage stuff of the past decade, but few bands can rip like this and still use nuance effectively. Underneath the rough and tough exterior lies a band that knows exactly how to craft a song.

    When you can craft to perfection and then record the song as if it was just tossed off onto tape, then you're doing things right. These boys have the know how, and they've done it right. My scalp is still tingling.

    Deep Elm Records
    210 N. Church St. #2502
    Charlotte, NC 28202
    e-mail: info@deepelm.com
    www: www.deepelm.com

    Mr Russia
    Training for the Gameshow Host EP
    Boys Keep Swinging 7"

    An EP from these folks, and this one is at least as catchy as last year's album. Damn, it's nice to hear someone having fun with rock and roll these days.

    That's right. Nothing messy. Just clean rhythms, tight hooks and plenty of power. Dip some garage in a new wave pool and then filter through early 90s indie swagger rock (GvsB, etc.). And play it fucking loud, man.

    Six songs on the EP. Every one is distinctive--and distinctively great. By and large, this stuff is a bit looser than Teething. The 7" (the A side is on a tribute album, I believe) is two versions of the Bowie song. Both takes are stunning, and they have very little to do with each other. Most bands can't get away with such a conceit, but it seems a natural for Mr Russia.

    If you want to download the EP for free, just stop by http://www.mrrussia.net. You won't be disappointed. And you can say you heard them when.

    Lens Records
    2020 N. California Ave.
    Suite 7-119
    Chicago, IL 60647-3923
    www: http://www.lensrecords.com

    Night Driving in Small Towns
    Serial Killer
    (Lower 40)

    Colby Wright and Andrea Rodgers wind their way through what can only be described as (largely) acoustic renditions of laptop pop songs. I like the idea, and the execution is even better than the concept.

    The songs flow freely and sound almost effortless. Rodgers and Wright have a rapport that is astonishing. Every song here is immediately arresting--and immediately reassuring. These two have a real feel for pretty songs that take a nip now and again.

    It's one thing to try to create the "simple" sound found here. Most producers try too hard, and going too minimalist would strip most of the pop fun out of these songs. I'm knocked out. This sounds great.

    No, there's nothing complicated here. But everything works, and there's plenty going on. I have a feeling I'll be smiling along for a long time to come.

    www: http://www.lower40records.com

    Panda Riot
    Far and Near EP

    Laptop pop gone meta. Panda Riot keeps the drum machine, but it gets all self-referential quite quickly. I can go for that.

    What I really like is the dissonance in the hooks. Most folks try to sweeten that part of the song, but Panda Riot is content to keep just its verses pretty. Sometimes the effect is much like that on Loveless (I have been saying that a lot in the last couple years, haven't I?), and sometimes it's the vocals themselves that don't quite match up. I really like that.

    About half of these songs have other deconstructive elements as well. Panda Riot is thinking an awful lot about the music. Sometimes too much, perhaps, but I'd rather hear people trying too hard than not at all. A wee bit of restraint might make these songs more palatable for the masses, but I'm always going to come down on the side of good music. That's just the snobbish music critic in me. Keep pushing the envelope, folks.

    Prizzy Prizzy Please
    Chroma Cannon
    (Joyful Noise)

    It's somewhat amazing what you can do with saxophone, keyboards, bass and drums. Rather, it's really amazing what Prizzy Prizzy Please does. These songs don't really correspond to any genre, except that they sure do sound great loud. There is a ton of noise and keyboard processing, but the rhythm section is as impressive as any you'll hear.

    Most of all, there's energy. A huge load of it. I dug their album of a couple years ago, and this new one takes the band even further. Imagine the Who or Cheap Trick without their guitarists actually playing guitar. Oh, and the songs go about twice as fast.

    And they sound great going fast, which is quite an accomplishment. I can only imagine the workout that a live show might be. I'd have to recommend an extra gallon of water. At least.

    Rock and roll got weird a long time ago, but Prizzy Prizzy Please has pinned the needle. Lose yourself in the throb, and you just might get saved. Just don't ask who's doing the saving--or what exactly is being saved, for that matter.

    Joyful Noise
    P.O. Box 20109
    Indianapolis, IN 46220
    www: http://www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com

    Shark Speed
    Education EP

    Four songs with the lilting hooks of latter-day new wave and the punch of the Blasting Room. Okay, so the album was only mastered in Ft. Collins. It still has that certain something.

    A certain complexity, to be sure. Shark Speed wastes no time in staking out its territory, but each song wanders in a different way. Once you've heard thirty second, you'll never mistake Shark Speed for anyone else. And yet there's plenty of room to roam.

    Four songs is not enough to stake a claim on much of anything. But these four songs are quite impressive. Bring on the full length!

    www: http://www.myspace.com/sharkspeedrawks

    Little More Lived In

    The latest from this near-mystical pop collective. Calling this stuff eclectic is like calling Alex Ovechkin good. Sure, it's true, but there's so much more to the story.

    In the case of Snowglobe, the songs borrow from so many traditions (Beatles, Beach Boys, Big Star, Bongwater--all the big Bs, to be sure) that it's impossible to pin down a particular "sound." Except that I always know when Snowglobe comes on the iTunes. Maybe its because these people make weird sound so damned awesome.

    There is something to that. Each song has a brilliant hook, be it sweet, shiny, fuzzy or incendiary. The arrangements and instrumentation can range from minimalist to hippie orchestra, but the hooks will burn themselves into your brain almost immediately. Nice trick.

    Snowglobe is not a "regular" band. It's a collective of folks who get together to make crazy music. Crazy music that is almost criminally accessible. Insanity never sounded so good. The liners also note that the band is making a movie. I'm not getting in line for that (anyone out there like Christmas on Mars?), but I'll devour any new music immediately.

    Makeshift Music
    P.O. Box 40043
    Memphis, TN 38174-0043
    www: http://www.makeshiftmusic.com

    Summer People
    Good Problems
    (Red Leader)

    I've gone around and around on this album. Summer People can sound like a vaguely raucous americana outfit that has less use for melody than other such bands. That's nice, but not particularly interesting.

    At other times, the songs are a caterwauling mess. I can appreciate how that might bother some folks, but I like those parts. Sometimes, when things really get going, the band pulls those two impulses together into something really cool.

    Most of the album, though, lies at the extremes. I like the louder, more manic extreme, but it's the combination that really intrigues me. This is hardly a great album, but there are a number of striking ideas warping around.

    Like I said, I went around and around on this one. I'm still not sold either way. But there's definitely the potential for something great. If Summer People can work a bit harder to merge its inspiration, the future is bright, indeed.

    www: http://www.redleaderrecords.com

    Dan Wallace
    Den of Maniacs
    (Torito Bravo)

    This album has quite possibly the worst cover in history. The thumbnail doesn't do it justice. Luckily, I know Dan Wallace and I know that what lies inside is so much better than any cover.

    Wallace tends to shift his musical focus from album to album. Everything connects to atmospheric rock at some point, but he's wandered off on roots trails and even gotten a little punky at times. This outing finds him settling into lush (or at least full) arrangements and tightly-crafted songs decorated by the occasional tangent.

    But, of course, eclecticism rules. Wallace never fails to surprise, and I've always liked the inventive nature of his music. He has a fascinating approach to melody (rarely straightforward), and he sometimes uses rhythm as an idea separate from the rest of the song. That's even cooler than you might think.

    Once I've reviewed an artist a few times, I often get a little bored. Even the best can settle into a rhythm and coast a bit. While Wallace might have coasted on the cover (sorry, I just had to say it), he still goes at his music full bore. Still amazing after all these years.

    www: http://www.danwallacemusic.com

    Also recommended:

    Berry Blue Sky, Raging Sun (Joyful Noise)
    Affected, intricately-crafted songs that will either enchant or annoy. Fans of Rob Crow will smile. Those who don't know what I'm talking about will want to pull out their hair. Berry isn't as inventive as Crow (who is?), and the songs often trade whimsy for a bludgeon, but I like the way these songs wander.

    Black Math Horseman Wyllt (Tee Pee)
    A bit spacier than the usual Tee Pee psychedelic fare, Black Math Horseman gets heavier and weirder than most stoner rock bands out there. That and the playing is quite impressive, without getting too showy. It's an solid album that both lilts and throttles. Sometimes both at once.

    Morgan Craft Morgenkraft (Klanggold)
    The album title is clever and revealing. Morgan Craft is a guy who has listened to a fair portion of 70s German engineering, but he likes his r&b as well. These impulses fuel his introspective adventures in electronic experimentalism quite nicely. A bit more involved than the average ambient project, but certainly worth laying on the frontal lobes for a spell.

    Daylight Sinking EP (Get This Right)
    Raggedy conceptual rock anthems. Daylight thinks about its songs a bit too much, but I like the energy and emotion. A bit less restraint and these boys just might really get the engine to turn over.

    The Epicureans A Riddle Within a Conundrum Within a Game (Eh?)
    A three-piece (sax, drums and bass) that prefers to use its instruments in unusual ways. These pieces sound like a series of clicks, grunts and moans. I'm extremely curious how these sounds were actually made, but the pieces themselves are often compelling as well. Well out there, and well done.

    Glimr Faith of Our Fathers (10 Gev)
    Ambitious songs that, often enough, come close. The final piece is often missing (either in the hook or the general rhythmic construction of the song), but things do come together completely in a couple songs. I have hopes that Glimr can get there. Don't lose the fire, boys. Keep at it, and you just might make a masterpiece or two.

    Adam Green Musik for a Play (Contraphonic)
    Green is best known for being half of Moldy Peaches, but this one-off "soundtrack" for a theatrical version of Paul Auster's novel Timbuktu is about as far away from that as possible. Either Green has been hiding his composing and instrumental chops, or this set is some sort of minor miracle. Yeah, this stuff does sound a little stagey, but the jazz and folk bits (verging on flamenco at times) work together nicely.

    Household Names Stories, No Names (self-released)
    Certainly, these guys would like to be household names. They play pop-rock softened just so. I'd like to hear a bit more bite in either the music or the lyrics, but the craft here is impossible to criticize. Well-made. Perhaps a bit too much to make me rave, but quite nice.
    www: http://www.householdnames.org

    Hulk Smash The Hulk Smash Album (self-released)
    This duo does, indeed, smash everything in its path. This album of original songs is long and brutal. I'm all for that sort of thing, but I imagine there are a few folks with somewhat more delicate sensibilites that don't want to hear Vanilla Fudge remade as a sludgecore duo. Too bad. Oh, there's an EP of (mostly) cover songs that is available as well. The rendering of "Owner of a Lonely Heart" is entrail-ripping.
    www: http://www.hulksmash.org

    Ludlow Lions No Stories (self-released)
    Basic pre-Nirvana indie rock. As this stuff predominated my youth, I kinda have a soft spot for basic three and four-chord songs that meander a bit. I don't know what the kids today might think, but this album brought a little sun into my mind for a time.
    www: http://www.ludlowlionstheband.com

    Midas Fall Eleven Return and Revert (Monotreme)
    When you've got a singer who likes to get a little ethereal, you can go with the flow or play counterpoint. Midas Fall takes the plunge. These songs don't go very far, but they do set a nice table. It's easy to get a little lost.

    Miss Li Dancing the Whole Way Home (National)
    Miss Li is best known for "Bourgeois Shangri-La," which has been featured prominently on iPod ads. The rest of the album is more adventurous (particularly into the jazzier realms) and not quite so effervescent. This Swedish singer has a number of albums, and here's to hoping they get an American release soon. She just might be the next big thing.

    My Glorious Home Is Where the Heart Breaks (Intergroove)
    All the aggression of those old Touch and Go bands with a touch of the electronic throb. I like it when these guys let go and fly off the handle. More of that, and I'd have been blown away. As it is, I'm most intrigued.

    Open Eagle Mike Unapologetic Art Rap (Mush)
    The title is hilarious, and that self-deprecating sense of humor pervades this album. Yes, the topics are serious and the beats even more so, but Open Eagle Mike keeps things light with his disarming delivery. A fine package.

    Philippe Petit Henry: The Iron Man (Beta-Iactam Ring)
    Three very lengthy pieces that explore the limits of the whole turntable/electronic sound. I like the use of turntables as a sampling device, and I like the wild sounds that Petit gets. Just understand that minds have been blown by less.

    Qua Q&A (Mush)
    Much more electronic than the average Mush release, Qua is almost pure bubbly excess. The beats percolate far behind the bumpy bass and blissful melodies. Almost too saccharine for my taste, but a nice chaser after a heavy meal. It's time to get happy.

    Shelf Life Protection (The Counter Submarine)
    The latest collection of thought from Shelf Life, the project of Public Eyesore (etc.) honcho Bryan Day. This is a seriously paranoid album, allowing distortion and other electronic disturbances to function as the main source of melody. As usual, I'm impressed. Play this loud on Halloween and the kids will run screaming from your house.

    The Sights Most of What Follows Is True (delVerano)
    Detroit rock and roll, played loud and proud. The Sights sound a lot like the great pop rockers of the 70s and early 80s, and they've got some good songs. Summer is coming, and that's when I like to hear this kind of stuff. Good to know someone is still flying the flag.
    www: http://www.sightsarmy.com

    Slow Six Tomorrow Becomes You (Western Vinyl)
    It's not rock, it's not classical and it's not electronic. Slow Six kinda borrows from all three and then proceeds to create its own sound. These meditative pieces take quite a while to unfold, but the composing is quite solid. Take the time and get a full dose.

    Ian Tordella Magnolia (Circumvention)
    Tordella plays a solid tenor sax, and he's got a fine sense of composition. I liked these songs well enough, but I kept waiting for that last little bit to really hook me. Very classy, though I'd like to hear a bit more of Tordella's personality in the arrangements and playing.

    Transient Songs Cave Syndrome (Indian Casino)
    John Frum has done time with a number of notable bands (Hagfish and Hasslehorse among them), but his incarnation as Transient Songs is much more shimmery and introspective. At times, the proceedings slow down a bit much for my taste, but the soft hooks are quite impressive.

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