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.|
If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.
A&A #321 reviews
The Agony Family
Some bands play a certain style or stick to a certain genre. Other bands use all of the tools at their disposal to create awesome music. The Agony Family falls into the latter category.
The basic sound is pop, I suppose, though there's plenty of rock and even a bit of electronic experimentalism wandering through. Most of the time there's a dominant melody and some harmonizin' in the hooks. All backed up by not-quite-sterile electronic-ish instrumentation.
Which is to say that the songwriting is great and the arrangements are quite arresting. The Agony Family doesn't sound like anyone in particular, though the sounds here are quite familiar.
I guess the easiest reference point would be a poppier (and yet kickier) New Order. With plenty of departure points. This is one well-appointed album. Fine stuff.
Yet another of those one-man bands with a name that is not the name of the artist. As is common with this species, the music is intricate, eccentric and often breathtaking. I don't know what it is about folks who refuse to record under their own names, but that extra level of detachment does seem to add a layer or few of quality.
Or maybe it's just that "Cashes Rivers" sounds cooler than Matthew Garcia. I dunno. In any case, Garcia plays an epochal style of jangle pop. He dumps all sorts of sounds on top of this simple core, but more extra instruments than noise or samples or such. A kick-ass riff at an unexpected moment, for example. Or simply an extra guitar when an extra bit of ringing would be nice.
I love the sound Garcia gets here. It's full, but rounded enough to provide a lush backing to his songs. The sharp edges are in the lyrics. These songs sound as fresh and tossed off as Matthew Sweet's stuff, though Garcia's songs do have a bit more polish.
Quite a remarkable album. I haven't heard anything this self-possessed in a while. Matthew Garcia can call himself anything he likes as long as he makes albums like this.
Cowboy Indian Bear
Each Other All the Time
(The Record Machine)
A trio from the wilds of Lawrence, Kan. These folks play a well-crafted sort of affected pop. The songs generally trip along, often sounding more like puzzles. By the end of each, however, the glory of the whole has been revealed.
Not for the timid or impatient. Cowboy Indian Bear takes its time in building these sonic structures, and real listening is required. I'm not trying to scare anyone off, but if you're looking for some mindless music for the car, this is not that.
On the other hand, if you're looking for music that will worm its way into your consciousness and create something completely unexpected, then come on in. The sound is almost as cryptic as the songs themselves, shifting gears from song to song. Suffice it to say that the "band sound" is fully contained within the way these songs are structured. Many pieces have electronic components, and there are plenty of math and post-rock elements, but there's not a genre that contains what these boys do.
Other than "damned good music," of course. This stuff rocks, rolls, blips, trips and scrapes its way to greatness. Astounding.
Betsy Franck and the Bareknuckle Band
Some folks get the blues, and some don't. Betsy Franck not only gets the blues, she knows how to make the blues sound utterly compelling.
Purists probably would throw this into the "americana" pile, but Franck merely throws a few rootsy elements into her blues stew. Her voice is strong, mid-range and true. When she sings, you believe her.
At least, I do. These songs just sound right. The production gives her voice plenty of room, but there's some fine guitar, piano and pedal steel work here as well. Every element has enough space to come into it own without sacrificing the feel of the band.
As I said, this one just sounds right. Franck and her band have great songs, and they deliver on every one. Pain rarely sounds this good. Despite playing for many years, Franck is still young. I'd keep an eye on her. Something's about to give.
Her Strange Dreams
A couple of Japanese guys who adore electronics and avant garde composition. Sounds like a recipe for extreme annoyance, right? Not quite.
There are plenty of geek-out moments, but much of this album is dedicated to somewhat more introspective fare. Many of the pieces here layer variations on a theme in a most engaging way. I suppose it's helpful to have an intellectual approach, but I think many of these pieces are just as exciting in a visceral way.
There's plenty of motion, in any case. Harmonious bec (that lower-case "bec" is the way the folks like it) riffs through the ambient and then takes off. There are so many ideas flying around that it can be hard to keep track. I like that sort of approach, but I know that can wear on some. Oh well.
Hardly mainstream, but much more approachable than many might think. Every once in a while, this album pricked something in the upper-right-hard part of my brain--an area I rarely notice. I don't know what that was all about, but it sure was cool. Kinda like this album.
Pop with an americana accent. The Lovetones are pretty straightforward in their approach; there's nothing behind the curtain. On the other hand, the show on the stage is utterly compelling.
The hooks are understated, but the verses are so well-wound that it's hard to complain. Indeed, the music sells these songs as well as the singing. I've always been a fan of songs that don't simply fade away when the vocals drop in. At times, the music intensifies as the singing starts. Excellent.
The sound is full and ringing, though the vocals are the only element that could be described as lush. It's that whole "basic basic" approach, I suppose. The songs are on the table, and we get to partake as we like.
I suggest digging in whole-heartedly. The first few bars should sell you. If not, you're probably in the wrong shop. A lovely set of songs.
No, they're not French. And if they're fans of Billy Idol, they hide it well. This Pittsburgh five-piece rocks through some heavy-duty 60s pop grooves and comes out shiny.
With just enough bite to add contrast, these songs fit the sound perfectly. Almost a musical doppelganger of the Rollo Treadway, but with lyrics that are a bit more appropriate for the sound.
I have to say that I like the shadows when they fall. Mariage Blanc is almost too perfect for its own good. These tightly-crafted songs are just loose enough to give a little air. Craft is a wonderful thing, but it can be stifling. These boys might want to keep that in mind.
Still, all's well that ends well. And Mariage Blanc has recorded an impressive album. Ride the thermals and soar on some serious sun.
Live Like a Millionaire
Peppy, bright pop that doesn't fit a particular style. I suppose there's a bit of the new wave in the perky rhythms, but this stuff is almost timeless in its construction and sound.
Much more textured and layered than most outfits, Masonic takes care to shift gears in its sounds. Some songs feature a ringing keyboard, others are more guitar-driven. The focal point is Eryn Gettys's vocals, which couch their steel with a thin layer of velvet.
The songs, too, are often barely-concealed paeans to minor doom. The failures of everyday life make for fertile fodder, and Masonic dives right in. This is a classic application of the pop sound, and it's done well here.
Despite the downer themes in many of these songs, though, Masonic manages to find provide plenty of uplift. Sometimes dark clouds can provide the most pleasure. I'm impressed.