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 #328 reviews
June 2011
  • The Backyard Committee The Backyard Committee (self-released)
  • Elemental Zazen Nothing to Lose But Change (Gnawledge)
  • LKN/Knife the Symphony Split EP (Phratry)
  • mala in se mala in se (Phratry)
  • Memory Map Holiday Band (Joyful Noise)
  • Mount Moriah Mount Moriah (Holidays for Quince)
  • Outasight Figure 8 (self-released)
  • Paper Arrows In the Morning (Quell)
  • Red Sammy A Cheaper Kind of Love Song (self-released)
  • Tic Tic Boom Reasons & Rhymes EP (self-released)
  • The Trews Hope & Ruin (self-released)
  • Various Artists Undercover Presents a Tribute to Pixies' Doolittle (Porto Franco)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Backyard Committee
    The Backyard Committee

    The Backyard Committee starts out sounding like any other solid, jangly americana outfit. And then it takes off. "We Can't Stay," the second track, is a bounding pop song that allows its roots to show. The next track, "Once in a Blue," takes the bluesy side of americana and drops in a decidedly modernist feel.

    The most interesting thing about these songs is that they're almost devoid of hooks. Rather, the Backyard Committee seems driven by the groove, the riffage that makes summer songs so much fun to blast on the car stereo.

    Maybe the grooves are the hooks, but I've always felt they represented different sides of the song. And while I've always felt that it is the hook that truly makes a song distinctive, these boys are rapidly making me change my mind.

    If you want to hear what I'm talking about, jet on over to the Bandcamp site, where this album is available for free. And while I was always taught that if you don't put a price on something then it isn't worth anything, this album proves that theory wrong as well. Thrilling.

    www: http://thebackyardcommittee.bandcamp.com/

    Elemental Zazen
    Nothing to Lose But Change

    The rhymes are utterly intoxicating, a vicious brew of political analysis and raw outrage. And then there's the music, which is among the most varied and exciting as I've heard on a hip-hop album in some time.

    Zazan collaborated with a large crew of MCs and producers, but the results here are fully integrated into a singular sound. The fertility of the music and the lyrics is breathtaking. There's simply no letup, either intellectually or viscerally.

    In other words, you can feel this, think about it or (if you're crazy like me) do both a once. It's a rush to feel all the senses excited at once, and few artists manage the trick. Zazen seems to do so effortlessly.

    A full-bore stunner. Track after track of blistering rhythms, rhymes and ideas. If nothing else, capitulate and let it wash over you.

    Gnawledge Records
    www: http://www.gnawledge.com

    LKN/Knife the Symphony
    Split EP

    LKN sounds like a direct descendent of the whole Slint/June of 44/Shipping News axis. The songs are shorter but just as complex. The band (which is, in fact, one Lauren K Newman) crams so many ideas in three-to-four minutes it's scary.

    Knife the Symphony is a bit more contemplative. Only a bit. And while its three pieces are quite distinct from LKN, the truth of the matter is that none of the three songs sounds a lot like any of the others. The best is a seven-minute Kepone-like thrasher called "Flat Time." There's also a fun sludgy cover of fIREHOSE's "On Your Knees."

    Two fine bands. Two quite different acts. Except, of course, that both would have been completely at home on Touch and Go Records fifteen years ago. No wonder I liked this so much.

    P.O. Box 14627
    Cleveland, OH 45250
    www: http://www.phratryrecords.com

    mala in se
    mala in se

    Wonderful, shouty stuff that packs just enough melody to be utterly catchy. Kinda like Knife the Symphony. Oh, wait, Andy Perkins plays guitar (etc.) for both.

    I don't know if that's the entire point of similarity, but Perkins's driving riffage (to repeat from the last review, pleasantly reminiscent of Kepone) keeps these songs from descending completely into the sludge.

    And boy, things do get heavy from time to time. Nonetheless, the tempo generally stays brisk. Don't know if the boys get bored easily, but these songs move along with aplomb.

    Also like KTS, this band does sound like it is a bit of a time warp. One that I wholeheartedly endorse, but then, I'm a certified geezer. In any case, this rocks. Hard. Very hard.

    P.O. Box 14627
    Cleveland, OH 45250
    www: http://www.phratryrecords.com

    Memory Map
    Holiday Band
    (Joyful Noise)

    So you like indie rock. Really, really, like it? Do you remember what you were doing when you heard that D. Boon was dead? Were you even alive?

    I'm pretty sure the members of Memory Map were alive, if barely. This album touches on many of the great ideas and sounds of indie rock, often reaching back to the early 80s. Everything from noise, math, no wave and what I like to call "midwestern noodly" are immediately evident. The quavering unison vocals are instantly annoying and addictive. The rock-solid song construction allows the band to follow almost every tangent under the sun. No matter where these folks go, they end up at home.

    Oh, and there are plenty of references to the likes of the Shins and Flaming Lips and Pinback. Or, at least, references to the influences of those bands. Memory Map is far too stylish to come close to ripping anyone off. In fact, the band's sound is one of the most distinctive I've heard in some time.

    Oh, and the songs do have that certain something. A knowing innocence. A deceitful truthfulness. A--you get the idea. Inherently contradictive and completely intuitive. The more I peel away, the more exciting things I find.

    Joyful Noise
    P.O. Box 20109
    Indianapolis, IN 46220
    www: http://www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com

    Mount Moriah
    Mount Moriah
    (Holidays for Quince)

    Pitch-perfect americana. Heather McEntire and Jenks Miller (who have been spinning with and around each other in the Chapel Hill/Durham scene for quite a while) simply do no wrong.

    The songs are utterly gorgeous. Full, rolling bass lines. Not-quite slinky lead guitar. Punchy percussion. And McEntire's mezzo-soprano (not quite alto). Wow. Sometimes things click. And sometimes bombs go off.

    Mount Moriah is one of those bombs. A few seconds of the first track really ought to do the trick. And if that doesn't work, there are seven more songs that ought to stop your heart.

    I needed the defibrillator more than once. I know, central NC americana is an old flame of mine, but still. I dare you to find a more satisfying album that has been released this year. I just don't think it can be done. Electrifying.

    Holidays for Quince
    P.O. Box 576
    Chapel Hill, NC 27514
    www: http://www.holidaysforquince.com

    Figure 8 EP

    Sometimes a release is so commercial and so good that I simply cannot resist. Outasight is nominally an MC from NYC, but this EP trends straight into processed pop territory. And boy, does he do it well.

    Ultracatchy and produced within an inch of its life, this EP packs more hooks into five songs than I've heard in quite a while. The man's rhymes (and rhymin') is mediocre, but the presentation here is impeccable.

    Oh, we're heavy into the Velveeta, to be sure. Still, if I heard this pumping from the souped-up Focus idling next to my '92 Civic, I'd give the driver a knowing nod. Even if that driver might come back with, "Geezer, what?" Indeed.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/iamoutasight

    Paper Arrows
    In the Morning

    Remember the 80s, back when pop bands played real instruments and flavored their sounds with keyboards? This Chicago quartet does, and it has cranked out ten gems that take me back to high school.

    More than that, though, Paper Arrows incorporate a few more recent tends into their mix. There are nods to americana, that whole 90s "modern rock" thing and a few of the better singer-songwriters of the past 20 years.

    Indeed, while the use of piano and organ put something of a date stamp on the overall sound, Paper Arrows exist in a timeless zone. One where good music is appreciated without labels.

    Oh, hell, why get sanctimonious. This album is anything but. Chock full of joy, reminiscence and muscular contemplation, there's plenty here to love. In the end, the songs are the stars. And they sure are.

    Quell Records
    www: http://www.quellrecords.com

    Red Sammy
    A Cheaper Kind of Love Song

    Baltimore boy Adam Trice indulges the whiskey-soaked side of his personality with his "graveyard country" band Red Sammy. These songs feature Trice's raspy growl, sloppy slide guitar and some of the more arresting songs I've heard in quite a while.

    These pieces don't so much prickle the ears as inhabit the brain. Trice uses his music to bring out the flavor of his vocals, and the rest of Red Sammy seems wired in to the intensely loose groove.

    This sort of music has to sound offhand, even if it isn't. Trice certainly put in his work on the writing side, but he and the band play like I imagine they would on stage. There are flubs galore, but they're like blue notes: They flavor the stew.

    And what a tasty dish! A lot of folks overthink their approach to americana and such. Red Sammy simply plays the songs. And damned if that isn't exactly the right way to go.

    www: http://redsammy.com

    Tic Tic Boom
    Reasons & Rhymes EP

    Five guitar-driven, electronically-finished pop songs that satisfy on every level. These pieces start hot and then go critical.

    I know, this stuff is radically overstuffed--but in that quirky, "we're not ever gonna blow up" style. Tic Tic Boom isn't a throwback to anything. It's a few steps into the future.

    And if the future sounds like this, then we're in for some good times. These five songs arrived in my mailbox just in time for summer. My cup runneth over.

    www: http://www.ticticboommusic.com

    The Trews
    Hope & Ruin

    Reminds me most of the early 90s bands Law & Order and Judge Nothing. Strangely, those two bands sound nothing alike. But the Trews bridge the gaps quite wonderfully.

    Law & Order was a bluesy, somewhat mystical hair metal band that was perhaps a bit too accomplished and serious to succeed in its assigned slot. Judge Nothing was a punchy midwestern pop act that aspired to be something akin to the indie rock version of Cheap Trick. That didn't work out, either. Both bands released a couple of fine albums and disappeared.

    This is the fourth full-length for the Trews, who hail from Nova Scotia. Perhaps this combination of tightly-crafted rock, distorted funk and acoustic flourishes is still popular up north. I'm not sure. The music is stellar--I'm completely knocked out--but fleshed-out AOR isn't exactly burning up any charts these days.

    In a perfect world, it would. And in any case, I'm always loathe to make commercial predictions. What I can say is that anyone who likes real rock and roll ought to find a lot of smiles with the Trews. The songs are great, and the playing is expressive. Solid, and often incendiary.

    www: http://www.thetrewsmusic.com

    Various Artists
    Undercover Presents a Tribute
    to Pixies' Doolittle

    (Porto Franco)

    A large (100+) collection of San Francisco-area musicians play the songs of Doolittle. A inspired idea, to be sure.

    Pixies fans can be divided many ways, but the most common axis is Surfer Rosa vs. Doolittle. I'm a Surfer Rosa man, myself (I'm sure that shocks exactly no one), but I sure do like the way this album comes together.

    The best tributes take radically different approaches from the originators of the source material. Among my favorite tributes were Where the Pyramid Meet the Eye (the ZZ Top-coordinated tribute to Roky Erickson) and an electronic tribute to Bon Jovi (weird and not entirely competent, but interesting). In this case, the musicians involved come from all sorts of musical backgrounds and play the songs as they see fit.

    So folks as diverse as Seth Augustus, Japonize Elephants, Conspiracy of Venus and Dina Maccabee take their shots. The results are uneven, but then, they should be. This tribute turns the original emotional highs and lows of the original all topsy-turvy. It's an entirely new way to hear the album, and, as all good tributes do, it confirms the greatness of the original. Startlingly good.

    Porto Franco
    www: http://www.portofrancorecords.com

    Also recommended:

    Antietam Tenth Life (Carrot Top)
    Antietam has been plying these vaguely rootsy, vaguely AOR indie rock roads for almost forever. There's nothing here that fans haven't heard before, but the writing is still stellar and the performances are anything but perfunctory. Another great album. Ho-hum (ahem).

    The Atomic Bitchwax The Local Fuzz (Tee Pee)
    At some point, you simply do what you do and then do it better than anyone else. This album consists of the band stitching together some 50-odd bits of riffage into a 42-minute prog/stoner epic. Really. If you think you're ready for that, then by all means take this on. Perfect for a three-day cross-country driving marathon.

    Base3 Live from Earth (1K Recordings)
    A live performance from this trio (and decidedly not a tribute to the Pat Benatar live album of the same name). Base3 plays on the jazzy side of prog, with plenty of side trips into space. Think the various jazz side projects of King Crimson--without vocals. A most engaging kinetic performance.

    By Surprise Mountain Smashers (Topshelf)
    A math-y take on the geek-pop of the Shins and others. By Surprise's lines are muscular, but the hooks are still somewhat sing-songy. An interesting combination of ideas and sounds.

    Dave Cloud and the Gospel of Power Practice in the Milky Way (Fire Records)
    Back when music was truly weird, it was a bit easier to overlook Dave Cloud's muscular experimentalism. He's stuck around long enough, though, to merit his own attention. The lo-fi production is an added bonus; it added yet another layer to the puzzles within Cloud's music. Just don't take these songs too seriously. Sometimes looking for a mademoiselle is exactly what it sounds like.

    Jim Connolly with the Gove County String Quartet & Anna Abbey It's Only Gravity that Makes Wearing a Crown Painful (pfMENTUM)
    While the act's name and album titles just keep getting longer, the music within retains the same sprightly intelligence. This is classical music of a sort, stuff that incorporates many modern ideas into its chamber structure. I like the way Connolly composes, and I like the deft handling of his material by the group. Fun and exciting.

    Dark Mean Dark Mean (self-released)
    Bright, punchy americana that's not afraid to rock and roll a time or two. There's more than a passing reference to Ryan Adams' more rocking' moments, though the occasional bluegrass interlude kinda undercuts that. This wide-ranging album is quite impressive.
    www: http://www.darkmean.com

    Eric Frederickson Underneath the Sky (self-released)
    Contemplative songs produced with a slightly heavy hand. I wish I heard a bit more song and less sound. Still, I think that Frederickson has a solid grasp on writing and playing (he did just about everything on this album). There's plenty to like.
    www: http://www.ericfrederickson.com

    The Ghost of Otis Hopes and Denials (Deep Elm)
    Most rock bands use saxophone to add a bit of fun or muscle tone to the sound. The Ghost of Otis uses a bari (!) sax to add atmosphere. The rest of the band refuses to stick to any one (or five) cohesive thoughts, and so the songs shift quickly from contemplation to mania to something resembling madness. I have not yet gotten my head around this, which is always a good thing.

    High Aura'd/Andre Foisy Split Tape (C30)
    Not so much soundscapes as simply well-told stories, the two lengthy (20+ minutes each) tracks here are electric from the start. Not kinetically, of course, but in terms of intensity and emotion. Blinding.

    Joan of Arc Life Like (Polyvinyl)
    Yep, it's another Joan of Arc album. Same sound, same ideas--but better execution. I've always enjoyed the occasionally random side trips Tim Kinsella and friends (including new member Victor Villareal) take, and this album is no different. It's just that the album (and song within) tend to come together better. I guess maturity isn't the worst thing in the world.

    Las Kellies Kellies (Fire Records)
    Buenos Aires' answer to Sleater-Kinney? Kind of, though these folks trend more toward the art punk of the Ex. In any case, this album is a real breath of fresh air. Quite invigorating.

    King Rhythm & Colin Johnco Thieves Versus Clues (Catalyst Act Records)
    King Rhythm teams up with French soundmeister Johnco to create a most exhilarating sound. Smooth, aggressive, slinky and insistent. It's been quite a while since I've heard a collaboration that brought out so much of the best of both artists.

    Jesse Manley Devil's Red (self-released)
    Manley has obviously been listening to the Go-Betweens for years, but his own take on quirky, introspective pop follows its own paths. Like, say, the use of slide guitar. And such. In any case, this album packs a heavy emotional wallop.
    www: http://www.jessemanley.com

    Memories of Machines Warm Winter (Music Theories Recordings)
    Tim Bowness and Giancarlo Erra enlisted a massive set of experimental prog luminaries for their guest list, and the results are grand. This expansive album makes a case for music without boundaries. The sound just keeps on rolling.

    The Mushuganas Lows in the Mid 90s (Beercan)
    A retrospective from one of the more enduring Chicago punk bands--enduring if you count only from the band's inception and not the interludes between its many breakups. Basic fuzz punk with a razor-sharp attitude. Only for those who remember the days when punk was still a dangerous enterprise.

    Oax This Distance EP (Bladen County)
    Pretty basic math-y emo. They even got Chris Simpson (Mineral, the Gloria Record) to sing the last song. Absolutely nothing wrong with any of this. I'd just like to hear a bit more personality.

    One Trick Pony Try Not to Worry So Much (self-released)
    Gentle, ruminative pieces that aren't quite folk, rock--and don't always fall in-between, either. One Trick Pony seems to specialize in keeping listeners slightly off-balance, which strikes me as a very good way to retain interest. Intriguing.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/onetrickpony

    Pendragon Passion (Madfish)
    Pendragon likes to call this "melodic rock," and that's true enough. But it's also safe to say that power outweighs melody most of the time. Think a less hyperkinetic version of the kinda stuff Yngwie Malmsteen's band used to play. Oh, and better songwriting, too. The pomp, grandiosity and excess are all out for display, but it's awfully fun to wallow every now and again.

    The Plurals Futurospective (GTG Records)
    Lo-fi indie punk pop musings. Perhaps "scrapings" is like it; these songs are raggedy as all get out. But therein lies the charm. I've always been partial to the rough hewn side of things, and it doesn't get much rougher than this. A crunchy pleasure.

    Rathkeltair Something Good for a Change (self-released)
    The press relese bills this band as one of the best bagpipe rock acts on the east coast. I'm thinking these boys can shoot for something higher. These well-constructed songs tend to need a boost here and there, and the bagpipes provide it often enough to work for me. A little more oomph and these guys might be on to something.
    www: http://www.rathkeltair.com

    Rent Romus' Lords of Outland with Vinny Golia Edge of Dark (Edgetone)
    Culled from two live performances, these pieces find Romus and the Lords in modestly more contemplative circumstances than usual. There are the usual flourishes and romps into the unknown, but this time around the center holds. The adventure continues.

    Jess Rowland The Endless Fall of the Infallible See & the Future Imagery Architecture (Edgetone)
    Unlike most Edgetone artists, Rowland writes songs in the rock idiom. A bit craftier than yer average rocker, I suppose, but still a fair sight from jazz. Truth is, Rowland's music tends to escape easy categorization, and this album is a fine example of his talent.

    Sing Sing 76 Raincoat Weather EP (self-released)
    Some lads from Spartanburg (S.C.) who deal out the power pop with plenty of verve. The production on this album is just punchy enough to bring out the bounding enthusiasm of the songs. This EP has a couple of the sweetest hooks I've heard this year, all wrapped in a slightly scratchy exterior. Potential galore.

    Slumgum Quardboard Flavored Fiber (Accretions)
    It's not everyday that a jazz quartet features someone who plays bass and clothespins, but then, these boys are on Accretions. So it all makes sense. As for the music, there's a lot of buzzing and a surprising amount of melody. More traditional than you might expect given the first bit of the review--but with more than enough subversive bite.

    Small Sur Tones (self-released)
    Bob Keal wrote these almost motionless songs. Then he and Small Sur got a few friends (including members of Wye Oak) to get everything on tape. For such an inert enterprise, there sure is a lot going on. Keal is one of the most minimalist songwriters that I've heard in ages, and after a while his notion of (lack of) motion began to appeal to me.
    www: http://www.smallsur.com

    Standing Shadows The Silent Revolution EP (self-released)
    Time was when indie rock bands patterned themselves after R.E.M. and U2. Standing Shadows sticks with U2 but trends towards Radiohead. Loud, epochal and generally satisfying. I'd like to hear the band work a bit more on its own sound. Maybe a full length will give them room enough to do so.
    www: http://www.standingshawdows.com

    Tecumseh Return to Everything (Beta-Iactam Ring)
    Three pieces, many sounds. Tecumseh doesn't get anywhere quickly, but it employs many means of locomotion. These largely experimental electronic pieces begin all doomy, but after a while all that oppression tends to dissipate into something much more profound.

    The Terminal Orchestra The Seasons by Jesse DeCaire (Phratry)
    Songs for each season, with interludes. DeCaire's sound is expansive, but his style is quite meditative. These pieces unfold quite slowly, though I'm happy to allow them to do so. The interludes are more helpful than I first imagined, as well. Much more unexpected than the first few snatches of sound portended.

    Witches Forever (Bakery Outlet)
    Combining that late-80s midwestern indie country feel with loping vocals an a general disregard for precision. These songs are immensely enjoyable, and a large part of that is the charming personality of the band. This is one of the friendliest albums I've heard in some time.

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