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
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.
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.
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.
The Lions Rampant
It's Fun to Do Bad Things
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.
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.
Night Driving in Small Towns
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.
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
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.