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 #325 reviews
All Tiny Creatures
The first All Tiny Creatures album with vocals, but fear not: The vocals are treated much more like instruments than purveyors of lyrics. And that's just fine with me.
The songs themselves are crafted out of loops and whorls, ideas that go forth and then turn in upon themselves. Tie enough of those together and things start to happen. Patience is required, but the songs are gorgeous from the start.
Taking equal measure from 60s pop, 70s prog, 80s indie rock and a dash of more modern sensibilities, ATC has crafted an engaging sound that generally leaves the songs with more than the sum of their parts. Sometimes craft can lead to ecstasy.
Fun? Sometimes. But the overall effect of this album is one of wonder. The possibilities of sound increased when this album came into the world. A real stunner.
Just what is Bardo Pond? Hell, the band has been around longer than A&A, and that's sayin' something. So what is Bardo Pond? One of the finest purveyors of eccentric heavy noise to ever hit the planet.
This isn't grunge, and it isn't sludge. It's a few steps down the evolutionary ladder from mid-80s Sonic Youth, but certainly more sophisticated than Mudhoney. I will say this: If you don't recognize those references, this album just might strip away all your skin.
Remarkably nimble for a band that isn't afraid of using a sonic sledgehammer, this Bardo Pond album (the first one I've reviewed in 16 years), does sound a bit more introspective than earlier works. A bit. There are some unconscionably gorgeous segments. There are some very weird moments. And then there are the requisite "end of civilization" brain-splitters.
I kinda like a band that can roam around the edges of reality and then drive its point home with a bludgeon. I've loved Bardo Pond for ages (even when its previous labels didn't send me the latest album), and this album continues that trend. Geezer rock, I suppose. Or, at least, freaky geezer rock. And damned good stuff, too.
The Big Eyes Family Players
First there was Big Eyes, which was mostly James Green. Then some people more people joined. And then, when it became clear that there would never be a stable band line-up, the Big Eyes Family Players were born. This compilation set pulls together songs from this British band's albums and gives them a proper American airing.
What would be really nice is a full airing of all the Big Eyes (etc.) albums. At the moment, they are available electronically through various British labels. But a proper U.S. outlet would be nice. I'm just sayin'.
Few bands provide such a clear deconstruction of the folk form. Dirty Three, in its better moments, could do that. And there are songs here that do remind me of such travails. More often, though, Big Eyes rearranges folk traditions into its own particular groove. Pretty, yet unsettling.
I like both, especially when they come at the same time. Whatever the name and whatever the origin, Big Eyes has put together some stunning music during the last ten years. This album barely begins to do justice, but I'll take it. Absolutely amazing.
Dennis Coffey is legend. A member of the Funk Brothers, the backing band featured in the movie Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Coffey has played almost everything with more bands and artists than you can imagine.
This album rips through chunks of that history, presenting new versions of Funkadelic, Parliament, Wilson Pickett and 100 Proof Aged in Soul songs. He doesn't sing, but he recruits great vocalists you may or may not know. The results are impressive.
Even better, though, are his original instrumentals. Coffey's range and skill are both impressive. This album sounds like an old-school soul album--back when soul meant R&B, rock and more all wrapped up in a bow. Folks don't make records like this anymore, and that's a damned shame.
Yeah, it's something of a nostalgia trip. But I much prefer the songs (and singers) on this album than I did with Standing in the Shadows, which seemed stilted to me. There's nothing stiff or restrained about this album. Just good music played with style and energy.
(Punk Rock Payroll)
Raucous, messy and often scintillating indie pop. Dangerous Ponies fail to adhere to any particular song construction style, but the almost omnipresent walking bass keeps everyone in line.
Jaunty is another fine word for many of these songs. It's difficult to avoid smiling when this album trips across the ears. The general disorder of the proceedings tends to charm rather than annoy.
And the sound? All over the place. Sometimes sharp, and sometimes much more muted. Dangerous Ponies connect almost none of the dots and seem to be eternally reaching for more material. Somehow, that all works.
I suspect the astounding energy levels of the band has a lot to do with that. This stuff is crazy crazy, but mostly crazy good.
David Wax Museum
Everything Is Saved
David Wax is half this duo, but Suz Slezak more than holds up her half of the partnership. Together, they make some of the most joyous, unselfconscious americana I've heard in ages.
The folk is real folk from Mexico and the U.S., not some ersatz coffee house sorta stuff. These songs were written to be played. Played with an almost unimaginable amount of verve.
The album sounds like it was recorded live in a hall of some sort. There's a bit of echo in the drums and vocals. I don't know exactly how this came together, but I sure like the result. It's easy to see how the band's live shows have already become the stuff of legend.
Live, the Museum is a much fuller outfit. More raucous. More fun, even if that's hard to imagine. The first track starts somewhat conventionally, but it morphs into the bounding wonder that this album becomes. Even when introspective, it is hard to contain the wonder. Fabulous stuff.
Guitars like Neil Young, voice like Nick Drake and production like that of Daniel Lanois. Clunky, noisy and somewhat otherworldly. I'm not sure if this is folk, blues or something entirely new.
I am leaning a bit toward the latter. Few folks are as willing to deal volume in such intimate settings as Garwood is here. These introspective songs are pretty damned heavy, even when they have room to breathe.
Maybe I am simply blown away by the production, but this is awesome. Garwood has an extraordinarily off-kilter take on these sounds--maybe it's the Brit in him. I dunno. But I can guarantee that you haven't heard anything quite like this.
A full-blown stunner. I'm not familiar with Garwood's previous efforts, but this album has me scrambling for the credit card. Wow. And wow again.
The Jigsaw Seen
More than ten years ago, the Jigsaw Seen released Zenith, which garnered a best-packaging Grammy nomination. Utterly appropriate for a band that plays such crafted (though hardly mannered) pop.
Some bands that traffic in this sort of thing seem to have never gotten over the 60s. I really like some of those bands, but the Jigsaw Seen isn't one of them. Rather, these songs use the layering, horns and strings (or horn and string sounds, at least) of that pop heyday and then create utterly modern songs.
The sound is impressive, largely because it doesn't overshadow the ideas in the music. Really fun stuff, with plenty of asides. You know I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.
A fun album with a big chunk of substance holding up the middle. A fine return to the world for a band that always had more going on than just about anyone else.