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 #323 reviews
December 2010
  • The Asteroid No. 4 Hail to the Clear Figurines (The Committee to Keep Music Evil)
  • Josephine Foster & the Victor Herrero Band Anda Jaleo (Fire)
  • HoneyChild Nearer the Earth (self-released)
  • Lonnie Walker These Times Old Times (self-released)
  • Jason Masi Balance & Pull (self-released)
  • Mikey Jukebox Mikey Jukebox (self-released)
  • Modern Skirts Gramahawk (self-released)
  • New Mexico Have You Met My Friend? EP (self-released)
  • North Atlantic Oscillation Grappling Hooks (Kscope)
  • Paper Aeroplanes The Day We Ran Into the Sea (OK! Good)
  • D.B. Rielly Love Potions & Snake Oil (self-released)
  • Various Artists Artefacts of Australian Experimental Music: Volume II, 1974-1983 (Shame File)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Asteroid No. 4
    Hail to the Clear Figurines
    (The Committee to Keep Music Evil)

    If you're gonna hang out on the Brian Jonestown Massacre's current label, you might as well dig 60s psychedelia. But as the Asteroid No. 4 has shown for more than a decade, it's even more important to find new ideas within the sound.

    For starters, these boys are a lot more into Love and the Zombies than BJM. But they also embrace modern production methods and burnish a bit of sheen on the surface. No need to tie yourself to the technological anchors of the past.

    The songs generally ring out through echoland until they find a harmonious core. Then a transformation from within transforms that vaguely empty sound into a chamber of wonders.

    Yeah, that's pretty cool. Though, of course, if you aren't that into modestly psychedelic trips through pop music, this will not be your cup of tea. Your loss. There's plenty here for those of us who truly believe.

    www: http://www.thecommitteetokeepmusicevil.com

    Josephine Foster & the Victor Herrero Band
    Anda Jaleo
    (Fire Records)

    Back in 1931 Federico Garcia Lorca recorded a set of Spanish folk songs and released them as Las Canciones Populares Espanolas. Not surprisingly, Franco banned it. A few years later (ahem), Foster and Herrero decided to make live recordings of the songs. This is the result.

    Those unfamiliar with Foster might be put off by her affected singing style, which sounds a bit like a frustrated opera singer trying her hand at popular song. Foster did study opera, and she might be a bit too studied in her style, but that whiff of high culture colors these songs nicely.

    Herrero's arrangements are simple and arresting. I love the settings of these songs. They immediately capture what I imagine would be the time and place of the original recordings, and they are impressive standing by themselves. Well-paced and quite assured.

    For those unable to parse Spanish, the liners provide adequate translations. But I'm not fluent by any means and I still managed to pick up the emotions in the songs. It's hard not to get swept away. Beautiful.

    www: http://www.firerecords.com

    Nearer the Earth

    Solid rockin' americana stuff, close to the rock than the roots. That's cool by me. That makes everything roll down the road that much smoother.

    Reminds me a bit of the Meadows, what with the ringing harmonies and lush arrangements. There's a bit more instrumentation with HoneyChild, but maybe that's just the mix. I've done some comparing, and I'm just not sure.

    Either way, I like the way this moves. There's more to these songs than appears on the surface, but that smooth running feel is hard to beat. Smooth running like Gram Parsons, not the Eagles. Just so we're clear about that.

    And yes, there are a few rough edges. Some deftly-placed feedback, a bit of the ol' raggedy vocal and such. Just enough to keep these songs in check. Good by me.

    www: http://www.hellohoneychild.com

    Lonnie Walker
    These Times Old Times

    So, you know, some thirty years ago the Meat Puppets crawled out of the Arizona desert and sounded like...crap. Well, the music was interesting, but the singing was awful. Lonnie Walker (which is a band with no member by that name) sounds like a mutant cross of ancient MP and very early Uncle Tupelo, with a fair dose of "Slack Motherfucker"-era Superchunk thrown in for good measure.

    Right. So what to make of this glorious mess? I dunno. It sure as hell is a lot of fun, especially when the chaos overwhelms just about everything else. I'm a fan of noise, even when it is just for noise's sake--although I think Lonnie Walker is a fair bit more sophisticated than that.

    The varying sounds and ideas wandering through these songs are evidence of that, as is the solid production. There's nothing normal here, and I like that.

    Yep, just good ol' rock and roll with plenty of oats and hay rolled into the mix. Play it loud. Play it proud. And don't worry about the crashing about. It's all good.

    www: http://www.lonniewalkermusic.com

    Jason Masi
    Balance & Pull

    By-the-book americana. Plenty of jangly guitar, banjo, mandolin, organ and time-worn vocals. Could be dull. But Masi knows how to write songs. Even better, he knows how to perform them.

    There's more than a touch of soul (think Mike Younger, especially the references to the Band), and everything is delivered with style. Masi doesn't oversell anything, leaving these songs with just enough of a laid-back feel to pull everything together.

    A cast of thousands contributes, and the plethora of sounds frames these songs well. There isn't a hint of strain anywhere, which is impressive and unusual.

    Basic, perhaps. Basically good. Masi doesn't do anything revolutionary with the sound. He just cranks out good song after good song. And that's more than enough for the likes of me.

    www: http://www.jasonmasi.com

    Mikey Jukebox
    Mikey Jukebox

    Mikey Jukebox would be Mikey James, a Rochester, N.Y., musician who rips his way through more pop sounds than the last ten years of Brit pop.

    There are plenty of overdubs, but this sounds more like some sort of complex pop act than the usual idiosyncratic one-man effort. And despite a large number of performers, this is most definitely the work of one Mikey James.

    You do have to like jaunty, snotty pop music. More Joe Jackson than New Pornographers (though it's not hard to hear both--often in the same song). If he had a band, I figure James might eventually trend along Elvis Costello lines. Or maybe not. He's got a pure pop heart. And those are hard to find.

    Brilliant. A bit brittle, perhaps, but brilliant nonetheless. If this doesn't get you off your ass, call an ambulance.

    www: http://www.mikeyjukebox.com

    Modern Skirts

    Deliberate laptop-style rock. The beats are synthetic, for the most part, but everything else trends toward the organic. The songs themselves are plotted down in detail, with nothing left to chance. The only way to make this work is to somehow infuse a sense of spontaneity.

    The Modern Skirts succeed. Mostly. After a while, there can be some beatbox fatigue. But the lyrics and melodies are quite clever, and the band takes care not to repeat itself.

    I'm not sure this is the best setting for these songs. I imagine the band is pretty wild live, and some of that energy would help color these songs. Cleverness takes you only so far--although it goes a long, long ways here.

    I'm honestly surprised how much I like this. There are so many red flags, and yet Modern Skirts burns through them effortlessly. That's gotta count for a lot. I guess I'd better get on the bandwagon.

    www: http://www.modernskirts.com

    New Mexico
    Have You Met My Friend? EP

    Having a few roots in the Land of Enchantment, I'm a little chagrined that a trio from San Diego has claimed the name. Of course, Nantucket was from North Carolina, so there's some precedent for this sort of theft.

    Enough silliness. These boys uphold the San Diego garage scene tradition well. There isn't the craziness of the early 90s, but then, this is a new millennium. These guys play fast, tight and occasionally loud. Mostly, they play off of each other in interesting ways. Not quite math-y, but you can hear it from here.

    Indie rock for the new decade. Or something like that. I dunno. It's just music that goes down well at any time of the evening. Do be sure to play it loud. You can thank me later.

    www: http://newmexicoband.bandcamp.com/

    North Atlantic Oscillation
    Grappling Hooks

    Ben Martin and Sam Healy comprise this two-man prog-psychedelic-laptop-pop-rock onslaught. And while the songs tend to stick to the same noodling-quick-build-rockout-fullbliss construction, there are more than enough ideas and sounds to keep a listener interested.

    My eight-year-old (a full-blown Lips fan, so he knows of what he speaks) declared his affection for the more blasty, rock and roll sections. I have to share his feelings there. NAO probably dicks around a bit too much, but when the songs some together, they really kick.

    The sound is full of synths and the like, but it feels more organic. That's probably due to the use of live drums. The more laptop sections are a bit jarring at first, but take them as a tonic. There will be more brain pounding later.

    Solid stuff. A bit of editing might have made this album otherwordly, but it's awfully good as it is. And with this type of fare, a heavy editing hand is often the death knell. So I'll take this as it comes, and hope there's plenty more where it came from.

    www: www.kscopemusic.com

    Paper Aeroplanes
    The Day We Ran Into the Sea
    (OK! Good)

    Well-constructed pop songs featuring the striking vocals of Sarah Howell. The music is a fairly standard mix of lilting acoustic and electric sensibilities. Nothing spectacular, but a good, solid underpinning.

    The songs themselves are similarly unassuming. They don't really ever soar, but after a while there are quite a few melodies that seem be unshakable. Kinda sneaks up on you that way.

    That's one good thing about sticking to a simple, uncomplicated plan: The end is never in doubt. Predictability can be a hazard, but Paper Aeroplanes have managed to avoid that pitfall. The sounds move around just enough to stave off ennui.

    Another one of those albums whose style doesn't usually appeal to me. But Paper Aeroplanes have done this sound exceptionally well, so there's no room for complaints. Stylish and sweet.

    www: http://www.okgoodrecords.com

    D.B. Rielly
    Love Potions and Snake Oil

    As near as I can tell, D.B. Rielly (note the spelling) is the stage name of one Daniel Alvaro of New York City. I've never quite figured out what it is about Gotham that inspires folks to get down and dirty in the roots, but that's exactly what this is.

    And whether he's hitching a ride on a zydeco shuffle, thumping along on a Delta blues stomp or simply singing a lovelorn wail, Rielly knows his stuff. I suppose you could lump all this into a generic "blues" category, but the simple truth is that there's a lot going on here.

    These songs seem to be sung in character, which makes for an interesting layer on top of an already simmering stew. All performances are just that, of course, but it is very hard to figure out what's at the core of Rielly (or Alvaro).

    That mystery serves quite well on this disc. In the end, of course, the music is what counts. And whoever Rielly might be, he knows his stuff and plays with conviction. This album is most impressive. You'll be reaching for a drink before the first song is done.

    www: http://www.thesunshinefactorymusic.com

    Various Artists
    Artefacts of Australian Experimental Music
    Volume II: 1974-1983
    (Shame File)

    The second in this series of compilations documenting experimental music in Australia is even more impressive than the first. One reason, as series editor Clinton Green explains in the liners, is that this music had finally found a foothold by the mid 70s.

    But the other part is that many of the artists on this set are still alive and contributing to the current scene. That helps to make the set as complete and diverse as possible.

    There are a total of 28 tracks here, many of them (by necessity) excerpts of longer pieces. The diversity of sound and thought is completely mind-boggling. I don't think you have to be a fan of this kind of music to appreciate the historic nature of this set, though I suppose you have to be a little crazed (like me) to really go nuts about it.

    That's cool. The most interesting thing about experimental music is how much of it actually enters the mainstream. It's not hard to hear how bits and pieces of the ideas in these works have wormed their way to a wide number of ears. Looking back, it's much easier to look forward. This is easily one of the most important releases of the year.

    Shame File
    Clinton Green
    15 Neil St.
    West Footscray 3012
    www: http://www.shamefilemusic.com

    Also recommended:

    Antillectual Start from Scratch! (self-released)
    A Dutch punk trio that sounds just like all those great power pop punk bands that Epitaph had going back in the mid-90s. Just enough crunch and aggression to keep the blood flowing, and enough ideas and melody to please the discriminating connoisseur. This latest effort goes down nicely.
    www: http://www.antillectual.com

    Bipolaroid Illusion Fields (self-released)
    Ever wonder what psychedelic music might sound like without much in the way of quality controls? Bipolaroid simply rolls the songs out there and lets them lie. This album is probably most notable for its extreme sloppiness, but I like the lack of attention. Maybe it's calculated. Maybe it's not. But this unnerving set is anything but boring. Prepare to get seasick.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/bipolaroidmusic

    Chromatic Black Chromatic Black (OK! Good)
    Imagine Klaus Meine fronting a chunky punk band. Or maybe any German guy singing in English sounds like that. Anyway, the music is accomplished and almost too slick. The songs are a bit jokey, but that just lightens the tone a bit more. An interesting set.

    Collapse Under the Empire The Sirens Sound (self-released)
    A couple guys from Hamburg who create some long and involved tracks. Not exactly electronic or rock, but something of an instrumental hybrid. The boys prefer the term "post-rock," but I'm too much of a dinosaur to remember what that meant 20 years ago. Cool stuff. The songs move slowly, but they often go out with a bang.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/collapseempire

    The Emergency String (X)tet Meet Rent Romus Emergency Rental (Edgetone)
    The artist name should say it all. String and sax improvisation to the max. The group may be large, but the different elements play off each other nicely. Almost entrancing at times.

    Enjoy Your Pumas Commonality (self-released)
    If the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Sleater-Kinney and Blondie spliced up, this might be the recessive gene. Enjoy Your Pumas is decidedly lo-fi and low-key, but its snotty-yet-expansive take on dirty pop is quite ingratiating. I haven't found much depth yet, but maybe I'm not listening hard enough. Something here tickles me ears.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/enjoyyourpumas

    Freebass It's a Beautiful Life 2xCD (Hacienda-24 Hour Service Station)
    The collected works, if you will, of the Peter Hook/Gary Moundfield/Phil Murphy/Andy Rourke/Gary Briggs collaboration. The first disc is the album, and the second includes everything else created by Freebass except the recent EP, Between Two Worlds (reviewed last month). You can read all about the implosion of this not-quite "supergroup" somewhere else, but I prefer listening to the music. It's nothing spectacular, but quite pleasing to the ears of a 40-something guy who remembers when.

    Trey Gunn I'll Tell What I Saw 2xCD (7D Media)
    On the off chance you are unfamiliar with the work of guitarist (etc.) Trey Gunn, this two disc set is the perfect place to start off. Thirty-eight tracks from the last 15 years or so of Gunn projects.

    Impossible Hair Toast a Dozen on the Outside (self-released)
    Something of a horse-racing concept album (without much in the way of concept). That's kinda the story of Impossible Hair, a DC-area band know for catchy tunes, outrageous costumes and general silliness. This album is one big load of fun, even if I never quite figured out where the horses fit in.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/impossiblehair

    Jane Lui Goodnight Company CD/DVD (self-released)
    Almost indescribably delicately-produced pop. Every little pop and blip is audible and thrown behind a modest layer of sonic scrim. Lui's voice is in the Kate Bush range, but her music (and singing) is less affected. Not many folks can carry off a rendition of "Edelweiss" with a straight face and keep listeners interested, but Lui does it with ease. Quite fine.
    www: http://www.janelui.com

    Thollem McDonas Gone Beyond Reason to Find One (Edgetone)
    Three tracks (26', 16.5' and 4') performed live. McDonas isn't much for conventionality, but he can play. And he can tell stories that most folks won't even attempt. Not classical and certainly not improvs (in the strict sense, anyway). Just frighteningly original piano playing performed with all necessary aggression.

    Mofodishu Rhythm Is for Gals (self-released)
    Three guys from New Jersey who make their own brand of noise. Mike Noordzy handles the reeds, Bradley Karl handles the guitar and other refinements, and Mike Ross deals with the electronic side of things. Sometimes the ideals coalesce, and sometimes they simply burble alongside each other. Music for schizophrenics, to be sure, but I'm always in favor of being in two (or three) minds at once.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/mofodishu

    Noertker's Moxie Some Circus (Edgetone)
    The usual combination of jaunty jazz compositions (with occasional improvisation) from Bill Noertker and friends. This collection of live recordings from the last decade is peppier than most, thus (I'm just guessing here) the "Circus" in the title. Engaging as always.

    North Elementary It Comes to Everyone (307 Knox)
    The label for this band is an address that sits a few blocks from my old homestead in Durham, N.C. That's cool. The music is modestly psychedelic pop americana--kinda like the ghost of Chris Bell hooking up with mid-70s Pink Floyd. That's pretty cool, too..

    The Open Feel The Open Feel EP (Fluid Music)
    Midtempo, ringing rock and roll. Katie Harris and Tom Brayton have their hands around the throat of this sound. Each of the songs exudes a certain cool factor. A stylish set.

    The Rum Diary Retrospective 2000-2007 (Parks and Records)
    Seventeen tracks spanning four albums and a variety of 7"s and compilations. The Rum Diary covered more territory than most bands, and this set hardly begins to illustrate the band's range. But it is a fine introduction to a good band.

    Sand Snowman Nostalgia Ever After (Beta-Iactam Ring)
    Densely-crafted prog-folk. Or something like that. Sand Snowman sounds a bit like the Mamas and the Papas with Syd Barrett as musical director. Not every song works, but all are compelling in one way or another.

    Joey Sellers What The...? (Circumvention)
    I've always felt that trombone is one of the most underrated and expressive of instruments. Joey Sellers seems to feel this way as well, and this set of solo pieces is more than enough to cement my belief. I could do without the occasional spoken interludes, but I'm willing to deal as long as his horn starts blowing again.

    Silian Rail Parhelion (Parks and Records)
    Bright jaunts through the math punk landscape. These instrumentals roll and wander quite nicely, doing a fine job of illustrating ideas. A fine setting for some internal housecleaning.

    The Sky Life Roots and Wings (Deep Elm)
    Highly polished emo anthems. Imagine the Rocket Summer with lots of bells and whistles. Personally, I think the stuff would be better unadorned, but the Sky Life has some good songs going.

    Sunol Ohlone EP (self-released)
    Six songs sung in the key of lilt. These songs don't walk, run or skip. Rather, they bound lazily. Never in a hurry, but with more energy than a saunter. The harmonies are gorgeous, and the overall effect is rather amazing. This one gets better with time.
    www: http://www.sunolmusic.com

    Surf City Kudos (Fire Records)
    More muscular than Chills, but in that ballpark. Surf City hides behind walls of reverb and distortion (there is a difference, y'all), but the songs ring through clearly. An intriguing modern take on a classic sound.

    Tangerine Nightmare Synthicide (Shame File)
    The name of the band tells the tale. Rather than using electronics to create lush soundscapes (a la Tangerine Dream), this Australian experimental group creates harsh visions with its tools. The ideas that emerge from this most unforgiving landscape are frightening, indeed. Enter, if you dare.

    Various Artists Drinking the Goat's Blood (Record Label Records)
    I generally don't do much with compilations, but this one is pretty wild. Lots of experimental artists (Yoshihide Nakajima, Nommo Ogo, Fluorescent Grey and many more) at their quirkiest and (to my ear) most accessible. If you never thought you liked the truly weird side of music, give this set a spin and think again.

    Way Yes Herringbone EP (self-released)
    These Ohio popsters are astonishingly sunny. I like the way the guys bound around different influences without losing their bright countenances. Like a flower in the snow.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/wayyeswayyes

    Wishpenny Bound To (self-released)
    This husband-and-wife Nashville duo kicks out sophisticated songs that bridge the whole blues-americana-country-rock arc. The chords come from the blues, the construction from rock and the sensibility is somewhere out in the meadow. Well written and performed even better. I'm thinking I'll be liking this a lot more as the days roll by.
    www: http://www.wishpenny.com

    Nathan Xander John Wayne/Darkness 7" (Deep Elm)
    Two tracks from this Chicago singer-songwriter. A bit darker than his most recent album, but with the same slightly-sideways viewpoint. Worth a listen or few.

    Young Circles Bones EP (Mush)
    Florida guys who have decided that music ought to be fun. So they throw a little experimentation into pop songs and see what sticks. Mostly, everything does. There's no adequate way to describe the general sound of the band, though "kinda familiar, if a little weird" might suffice. I'd like to hear what these folks do for a full-length.

    Inna Zhelannaya featuring Trey Gunn Cocoon (7d Media)
    A long-time star in the Russian world music scene, Zhelannaya teams up here with Gunn and some Russian musicians to create an album that pretty much has no genre. There are elements of folk, trance and plenty more. To put it bluntly, this album sounds extraterrestrial. I can promise you will not hear anything like it any time soon.

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