Welcome to A&A. There are 14 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 #324 reviews
Goodbye Cruel Worldview
Running a variety of pop sounds through a Loveless filter, Admiral Byrd fuzzes out quite nicely.
Unlike MBV and many of its imitators, however, a lot of these sounds are electronic even before the processing. This Danish foursome has found a sound that works, and more importantly, it keeps refining that sound as the album goes along.
The songs may have the sounds of pop, but they're constructed in a much more free-flowing rock manner. Verse-chorus rules the day, but plenty of these pieces have extended intros, bridges or codas. Also, each song contains more than one sonic idea, and the band seems to like to jam up contradictory thoughts as often as possible.
And why not? The result is a otherworldly hash of distortion, electronics and complex vocals. It's hard to hear where this came from, but the better question would be "Where is this going?" I'll be listening for the answer.
Music Belongs in the Background
Sometimes, an album is simply good. Also doesn't do anything showy. Its songs aren't immediately arresting. There aren't a lot of hooks, and the songs trend toward the midtempo. Yet, after listening, I kept saying, "That's pretty damned good."
A column in the Washington Post recently asked, "When is indie rock going to quit being boring?" This is, in fact, a question I've asked myself for a few years now. Interpol? Animal Collective? If they're the best of the "mainstream" indie crowd, indie rock is a tame bunch, indeed.
Also may be muted in its sounds, but its ideas loom large. Lyrics are important--but not self-important. The songs come together effortlessly, without any obvious efforts at strain. The songs are uncomplicated. And generally great.
There is a vague anthemic strain to some of these songs, but not in that jack-your-fist kinda way. More of a stirring climax than a punctuated boom. Also takes its time. If you give this album an hour, it will repay you tenfold.
The Golden Hour
Marisa Anderson calls this album "12 improvisations for guitar and lap steel." Which is true, I suppose. It sounds like she recorded a guitar track, and then added lap steel--though that might be reversed on a couple of songs.
The recording methods are far from perfect. There's a bit of hum and other lo-fi disturbances. These only serve to dress up the sound that much more. Like the Ava Mendoza album I reviewed last year, the rawness only intensifies the beauty of the music.
Many folks misunderstand the term "improvisation." The basic idea is not to simply go free-form crazy, though that is one possible path. One of the longest-recorded formal improvisational methods is variations on a theme. Bach and Beethoven (and almost every other composer the world has known) used this often. Anderson's pieces generally fall into this category, which makes them sound more composed than improvised.
The quality of the music, not the manner of composition, is what matters. And Anderson has crafted a fine album full of introspection and beauty. This album has the general feel of those desultory moments following a movie gunfight. The right thing might have been done, but it was bad goodness. Anderson finds humanity in some gloriously dark places.
Drawn from Bees
Cautionary Tales for the Lionhearted EP
Ephochal, yet seemingly spartan production laid over gripping, yet understated, anthems. If those dichotomies make sense to you, then Drawn from Bees are your band.
The vocals are lush with plenty of layered harmonies. The construction of the songs is simple, and each builds up to an almost unimaginable climax. And though I knew what would be happening each time, I was always surprised.
So if the early 80s Cure met up with the late 90s Flaming Lips...yeah, something like that. Five songs are hardly enough. This habit will be hard to break.
I suppose this could be something of a remix album, as many of the titles reference "Cannonicus." It could also be taken as a grand extension of the whole variations on a theme idea. I dunno. Either way, the music is utterly inspiring.
Seemingly drawing from almost the entirety of the electronic canon, Eye has created a set of exceedingly accessible and danceable tracks. There's plenty of aggression as well. So if you happen to be like me and prefer a little contact on the dance floor, we're covered.
Not many folks can experiment as much as Eye does and keep their sound right in the sweet spot. These songs travel far afield and do some crazy things, and yet they always end up utterly satisfying.
If nothing else, this trip through electronic, noise and industrial sounds is a most entertaining history lesson. The whole is even more compelling than each extraordinary part, which is one reason I'm so impressed. Thrilling.
Songs from a Toxic Apartment
You know those songs that start small and slow, building into something astounding? Ethan Gold does, and he plays the game exceedingly well. The title of the album comes from where the songs were recorded--asbestos, mold and the like surrounded him as he put this together. I don't know if that atmosphere flavored the songs here, but it certainly made for a colorful title.
And the title does describe the mood of these songs, something of a "waiting for the next personal apocalypse" feeling. Not so much downbeat as defiant in the face of imminent failure, a sort of pop-inflected blues.
Gold uses all of the current laptop tools to create the music, but with the exception of the beats he has created an organic feel for his sound. Piano (or keyboard, or whatever) is the driving force, but the punchy electronic beats keep these pieces from getting depressing.
Rather, the overall effect is cathartic. Life is bad, and sometimes you can't avoid the shit that seems to be eternally falling from the sky. But if you can survive the worst, then maybe you can start building again. And somewhere in there is the kernel of an idea as to why we persevere.
The Last Royals
The Last Royals EP
(Ooh La La Recordings)
Deliberately clunky electronic pop. With "real" drums. Each song is almost exquisitely calculated, but all that craft creates an unusually compelling atmosphere. Sure, it's artificial, but beauty is beauty.
The Last Royals largely stick to pop form on these five songs, but they borrow plenty of rock and americana elements. All spun into an almost-cotton candy architecture. Gossamer and sweet, not to mention sticky. And when it's gone, you've gotta have more.
I'd like to hear the full monty. Five songs is barely enough for a taste. Eric James and Mason Ingram have a way, and I'd like to hear more. Much more.
Hail, the Conquering Fool
(Hit Records International)
One of the good things about living off the musical map (say, in Albuquerque), is that you get a new perspective on popular sounds. The Brits revolutionized rock and roll 50 years ago because they didn't have the Jim Crow baggage. Lousy Robot digs into the current trends of mopey indie rock and finds real gems.
Occasionally punchy, but more often downbeat, these songs always home in on the beauty within the ordinary. The skill with which these folks pull extraordinary melodies out of mundane surroundings is astonishing.
The sound is bright, which helps to emphasize the "Eureka!" moments within each song. Even with the mopiest intro, there's always hope that the song will blossom. And, indeed, they all do.
Sneaky good. This is one of those albums that sounds pretty good on the first listen, damned good on the second and monstrously brilliant on the fifth. Just hit repeat.