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 #330 reviews
September 2011
  • Bear Lake If You Were Me (self-released)
  • Cain Marko At Sea EP (self-released)
  • The Dustbowl Revival Holy Ghost Revival (self-released)
  • Echorev Find North EP (Monkey Rock)
  • Hi Fashion Sprechen Sie Hi Fashion? EP (self-released)
  • The Ladybirds Shimmy Shimmy Dang (Departure)
  • Mild Mannered Believeland (self-released)
  • The Piney Gir Country Road Show Jesus Wept (Grey Day)
  • Silver Tongues Black Kite (Karate Body)
  • Sleeping in the Aviary You and Me, Ghost (Science of Sound)
  • Wiretree Makeup (self-released)
  • Young Circles Jungle Habits (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Bear Lake
    If You Were Me

    Most folks who try on techno-freakpop tend to either get too technical or too freaky. Even the Flaming Lips, venerable masters of this sound, lost it with Embryonic. Which is why it's so refreshing to hear Bear Lake.

    The songs are sophisticated and deftly layered. But they're all based on simple, easily-identifiable grooves. Most importantly, they're fun.

    Fun is utterly underrated in music. Bands trip all over themselves to create ponderous, overbearing albums. Forget that. Bear Lake shows that it is quite possible to show off some serious playing and compositional chops without succumbing to the dread "I'm too serious for my pants" disease.

    Freaky? Sure. Electronic-laden? Sometimes. But these songs sing, and they bound from the speakers with verve. Lovely stuff that brings a smile or two a minute. This one will burble its way to your heart in no time flat.

    www: http://www.bearlakemusic.com

    Cain Marko
    At Sea EP

    The latest short release from this Grand Rapids band. These boys must've grown up listening to the Bosstones, Pegboy and Shipping News--just for starters. While the songs tend to to take on modestly serious themes (not to mention the occasional math-y guitar line), I get the feeling that Cain Marko shows are awesome goodness.

    There's just that little bit of party hearty in the gang harmonies and anthemic choruses. The band sometimes sounds like it's going in three directions at once, but these songs always come together by the end.

    And yes, they're fun. The energy of this stuff is amazing. And if my review doesn't sell you, go to the web site. This release is $2, but all the old stuff is free. Check it out for yourself. I don't think you will be disappointed.

    www: http://cainmarko.bandcamp.com/

    The Dustbowl Revival
    Holy Ghost Station

    With fourteen listed members and an additional handful of "special guests," calling the Dustbowl Revival a collective is something of an understatement. Calling it anything other than startlingly remarkable would be a crime.

    These folks ply the waters of modern old-timey music, bringing in folk, rural and urban blues, western swing, bluegrass, N'awlins jazz, Tin Pan Alley and plenty more. Every song features gloriously ragged vocals (though often sweet harmonizin') and the sound of a party in full swing.

    The sound is round and full, leaving the ears dripping with excess. The entire package is a lush testament to the greatness of American music, even when the folks dabble in a bit of Francophilia. I suppose you could file this under "americana," but then it would close off the category forever. The Dustbowl Revival is almost unparalleled.

    You're welcome to find some flaws, but they've largely escaped my ears. This is the second incomparable album from these folks in as many years. I'm thunderstruck.

    www: http://www.dustbowlrevival.com

    Echo Rev
    Find North EP
    (Monkey Rock)

    Eight songs is generous for an EP, and likewise, Echorev is generous with its use of sound and ideas. These largely understated songs are chock full of interesting loops and rhythms, elements which coalesce into modestly dramatic pieces.

    A bit counterintuitive, I suppose, but the method works. And while the music is largely assembled, its mellow musings sound quite organic. Echorev has created a striking reality.

    This one won't hit you upside the head, but after a few songs you just might feel that way. The quiet power of this disc is undeniable. Quietly impressive.

    www: http://www.echorev.com

    Hi Fashion
    Sprechen Sie Hi Fashion? EP

    Thunderous techno bass lines, outrageously flamboyant vocals and blistering electro rhythms. Oh, and some of the funniest songs of the year. How's this for a line: "I don't give a hurl if you say you like girls, because I know that you're gay-zing." Ka-chow!

    Um, yes, this is tres-gay (in all the right ways). But when camp is taken to the level of Camp Mohawk (c'mon folks, Meatballs!), it's all good. This stuff is full of slamming smirks and ultra-tight hooks.

    So over-the-top that it demands to be taken seriously. But really, why think about such infectiously addictive songs. Hoo boy, this is one big rush.

    www: http://www.worldofhifashion.com

    The Ladybirds
    Shimmy Shimmy Dang

    I guess if you're from Louisville, then dropping your sound pretty much dead between the Cramps, and Southern Culture on the Skids, early Neko Case and 60s girl groups is about right, geographically-speaking. The Ladybirds play a most raucous form of traditional rock and roll. Not that tradition is hardly the first thing that comes mind upon first (or tenth) listen.

    For starters, there's a goofiness factor that might put a few people off. These folks see trailer trash as a gold mine, and that's just how these songs are presented. Perhaps there's a bit too much mugging, but the band never lets off the throttle, so any annoyances flit away harmlessly.

    The sound is a bit bright, but that's part of the modest sleaziness factor that these folks cultivate. While there may be a modestly earnest point here and there, the Ladybirds are out for a good time first and foremost.

    They certainly deliver on that. These songs are a blast, and the band's cavalier approach is refreshing and energizing. Big, big smiles.

    Departure Records
    www: http://www.departurerecords.com

    Mild Mannered

    The evolution of a duo better known as Starberry, Mild Mannered is a husband and wife from Cleveland who recruited Tim Parnin (Cobra Verde guitarist, among other things) to fill things out.

    I can't speak to who is filling what, but these jangle-rock songs are solid and filling. Jennifer Casa's vocals are strong and expressive, selling these off-the-rack songs with aplomb.

    What I'm saying is that Mild Mannered does not travel far out to sea. These are basic songs, but they're performed with such style and energy that they're transformed from merely engaging to truly infectious.

    There must be a million bands like this out there. Mild Mannered doesn't do anything special, but it does nothing special really, really well. The perfect top-down album for summer, even if those months are largely past.

    www: http://www.mildmanneredhq.com

    The Piney Gir Country Roadshow
    Jesus Wept
    (Grey Day)

    Going completely the other way from the Dustbowl Revival (reviewed earlier), Piney Gir is a Brit country act that trends more toward Ennio Morricone or Carolyn Mark than more traditional rootsy folks. I don't really get the references to Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton, but then, maybe the Brit press is still a little kerfluffled after the phone tapping scandal.

    And after hearing "Master/Mistress," I think most folks will agree. This is post-modern country music, and wittily so. These songs don't set up jokes, but they're generally wry as hell. The music is pretty much straight up, but it's so citified that most folks in these here parts wouldn't call it especially rootsy.

    That's cool. Piney Gir (the alter ego of Brit electro artist Angela Penhaligon) is blazing her own path. And in that way, the heavy hand on the production knobs probably helps more than hurts. What's most important is to keep the many post-modern elements from overwhelming the centers of the songs. Most often, these pieces swing quite nicely.

    And so we're left to enjoy songs with titles like "I'm Better Off Without a Piece of a Shell of a Man." Hard to disagree with that sentiment, and it's hard to take this album out of the discer. When it comes to a close, I just keep hitting "repeat."

    www: http://www.greydayrecords.com

    Silver Tongues
    Black Kite
    (Karate Body)

    Some bands play music in a certain style. Some set a mood. And some just play. Silver Tongues is a band that just plays. The only thing that really ties the songs in this collection together is their obvious quality.

    Yes, Silver Tongues play good music. It is rock and roll, in the loosest sense, but at times that description fades to the edges. On the whole, these songs pile on the drama, but I think I prefer the term "intense" instead.

    There are some songs centered on guitar, but a lot of these pieces revolve around keyboards or drums or some other element. On the whole, this stuff trends toward the unapproachably beautiful, even as it burbles along on the bubbles of the universe.

    An astounding album. Silver Tongues is one of those rare bands that can skip around and still create a more impressive album. Put it all together, and the greatness becomes even more apparent.

    www: http://www.karatebodyrecords.com

    Sleeping in the Aviary
    You and Me, Ghost
    (Science of Sound)

    Ah, Sleeping in the Aviary! Last year's album, Great Vacation!, was a real blast a fresh air. And this one keeps the pedal mashed all the way through.

    These jumpy, herky-jerky pieces sound like they're eternally on the verge of collapse. But, kinda like a satellite in orbit, they are simply falling just fast enough to keep forward motion going. In other words, the "mess" you hear is completely intentional. And it's highly addictive.

    The open sound makes these songs explode. There's more than enough room for all of the crashing and wailing elements to blister through, while the core is more than tight enough to keep everything spinning quite nicely.

    Less layered than bands like the Wrens, I suppose, but just as manic and dense. There's a lot more going on here than simple rawk and noise, which is why these songs hold up so well on the fiftieth listen. Well done!

    www: http://www.scienceofsoundrecords.com

    Make Up

    Kevin Peroni may hail from Austin, but his heart is in the north of England. A bit of Liverpool, a bit of Manchester and the slightest smidge of Birmingham. All in the service of good music.

    These peppy, poppy songs make an immediate impression. Their insistent rhythms and rollicking hooks are impossible to ignore. This may be formula fare, but it's at the highest level.

    The production leaves more round sounds than most popsters look for today. I like that. It gives the bass more bounce and the harmonies just that much more achey ring.

    Alright, Peroni could skip the half-assed cockney accent. It's a little annoying. But his songs are wonderful, and the band pounds them out impressively. Try to get these songs out of your head. Bet you can't.

    www: http://www.wiretreemusic.com

    Young Circles
    Jungle Habits

    Easily the most unexpected album I've heard all year. Young Circles channels so many ideas and sounds that I can't even begin to catalog them. There's plenty of noise (feedback, reverb and electronic), jangle rock and most everything in-between.

    The songs run in length from a 1:27 to 7:44. There's very little connection between these songs--often enough, there's very little to connect the sections of individual songs. Somehow, someway, Young Circles gives this roiling stew form and direction.

    Despite the disparate ideas and sounds, this album works best when played in order. The songs themselves are more than impressive enough to stand up to randomizing, but the band has sequenced this set for maximum impact.

    Not many folks make such an effort any more. But that's one of the reasons Young Circles impressed the hell out of me. Absolutely wonderful.

    www: http://youngcircles.bandcamp.com

    Also recommended:

    Abstract Artimus Rite of Passage (self-released)
    Those who look back on the Circus of Power with fondness will smile. Abstract Artimus is a bit more restrained, but his use of heavy blues and thick funk within a rock and roll framework is solid.
    www: http://www.abstractartimus.com

    Astronautalis This Is Our Science (Fake Four Inc.)
    Plenty of electronics, a dash of hip-hop, the occasional skoche of riffage and solid beatwork throughout. Lyrics that trend toward the goofy. Oh, and a sense of drama unmatched by any soap opera. Over-the-top, sure, but fun that way.

    Cultus Sabbati Descent into the Maelstrom (self-released)
    More mindscape than soundscape, these pieces are one serious trip into the dark passages of the brain. Utterly spooky (play this as kids come to your door on Halloween, and you'd better be prepared to mop the piss off your stoop) and impressively adventurous. The title says it all.
    www: http://www.cultussabbati.org

    The Devil Whale Teeth (self-released)
    Modestly rollicking indie rock. The Devil Whale doesn't seem to take itself or its music seriously, and that loose feel makes these songs that much more cuddly. The perfect album for hanging out.
    www: http://www.thedevilwhale.com

    Early & Often Present no Fiction, Fear no Tense (self-released)
    Big fans of throwing just about everything into the pot, Early & Often veers from emo punk to electronic experimentalism to moody ballads (not of the emo variety) and then some. Often in the same song. This is a complete mess, though a compelling one. I think the boys have a more than a few kinks to work out, but I applaud the adventurous spirit.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/earlyando

    Empty Space Orchestra Dark Matters EP (self-released)
    First things first. Go to the link below and download this EP for free. That will eliminate the need for this review, but that's cool. When someone blasts out spacey, horn-driven, stoner-esque prog this well, they deserve to be heard and not simply read about. Cheers!
    www: http://emptyspaceorchestra.bandcamp.com/album/dark-matters

    Extra Arms In Parallel (self-released)
    I'm thinking that layered, oft-moody rock and roll has become the theme for this issue. Extra Arms is plenty kicky, but it stays in a blue groove for much of the album. More ruminating than moping, which is just how I like things.
    www: http://extraarmsmusic.com

    Fat Shadow Foot of Love (Houseplant)
    This puppy is one of those vinyl/digital-only releases, and that's fine by me. There's a midwestern sensibility to these hard-rocking, mildly-rootsy songs, that sort of lyrical matter-of-factness and clunky riffage that takes me way back. And Daun Fields's voice is powerful in an utterly normal and straightforward way. Boy, did I enjoy this one.

    Dodd Ferrelle Hide the World (Two Sheds)
    Stylish, raucous and just about everything you might want in some rockin' americana. Ferrelle has improved on his excellent Lonely Parades. Easily one of the best albums in this batch; the only reason it ends up in this section is that I've raved plenty about him in the past. Not fair, but then, music like this will find its audience. Sooner, rather than later.

    Ghost Robot Ninja Bear Ghost Robot Ninja Bear (self-released)
    Oscar Albis Rodriguez (ex-Nakatomi Plaza, among many others) fronts this collection of New York survivors. They meander through a wide selection of vaguely melodic (and strongly rhythmic) punk sounds. There's a bit of weariness in these hooks. I like that. If you think you might, the music is free. Just press download.
    www: http://www.ghostrobotninjabear.bandcamp.com

    This Glass Embrace The Whispered East/Brother, We Are Devils! (Nodding Dog)
    Lilting, moody alt-pop. The music is extremely understated, and the vocals sit just on the good side of precious. There's so much here that tends to annoy me, but I ended up liking the thing. I'm thinking this one is pretty good.

    The Glitter End Diva (Critical Heights)
    Tweaky electronics enmeshed with any number of eclectic sounds. The Glitter End sometimes forgets to make actual songs--and given that this isn't extensively experimental, that's surprising--but I do like the sounds. An espresso shot for the ears.

    Daniel Goodman Cold Wind (self-released)
    Produced by Anton Fier, which ought to give you a good sense of the music here: Dramatic, loud, rootsy stuff. Goodman has a solid feel for this melange of blues, folk and 60s alt-pop. His blue-collar approach informs the sound. Workmanlike is a high compliment here.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/danielgoodmanmusic

    D. Gookin Spiral Style (Moodgadget)
    Exceedingly joyous beatwork from one Mike Birnbaum. If you've been looking around for a transcendent DJ album, this just might make it. D. Gookin pops out just a bit too much for my taste, but this stuff is so effervescent that I kinda have to forgive. Another spoon of sugar, please.

    Half Hearted Hero Running Water (self-released)
    If you don't know what these boys play after seeing the name of the band, you're probably not gonna dig this. Half Hearted Hero plays melodic emo that is relatively free of mascara. Nothing earthshattering; just solid riffage, a few math-y lead licks and churning rhythms. All very pleasant to my ears.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/halfheartedheroband

    Jealov Translations EP (Mush)
    Sure, any hip-hop on Mush has to be seriously tripped out, usually out on the electronic edge. Jealov works the hip-beats but skips the rhymes for the most part. On the whole, this EP leaves me off balance, and I'm so glad about that.

    Judge Nothing 2011 Sessions (self-released)
    Way back in the 90s, Judge Nothing released two of the greatest power pop albums of all time. Seriously. A few people noticed, but not enough. Then the boys got together this year and recorded two new songs. You can pick up those two and a couple from the excellent Riveter (including an astonishingly muscular and irony-free cover of "No Matter What") for free at the site below. Enjoy!
    www: http://soundcloud.com/judge-nothing

    Kites with Lights Cosmonauts (24 Hour Service Station)
    These folks contributed to a New Order tribute, and while that influence is apparent, there's a bouncy joy to the synths here that remind me more of early Human League. In any case, if you don't like wave after wave of keyboards, this is not your bag. If, however, you like melodies presented in astonishingly artificial surroundings (like I do, from time to time), Kites with Lights are singing your song.

    Last American Buffalo Musique Shangri-La 2-track (self-released)
    Back in the old days, this would have been a 7". But now it's a 2-track digital release--and at $1, it's a bargain! Two rollicking, dramatic rockers that tell part of an ongoing story (somewhat related to two other EPs released by the band earlier this year). Reminds me a bit of Ruth Ruth, both in the crunchy riffage and almost desperate nature of the lyrics. This one should pull in its fair share of cynics.
    www: http://lastamericanbuffalo.com

    Little Horn Twelve EP (Whale Heart)
    If you like yer rootsy stuff just a bit spooky and psychedelic, Little Horn delivers. These understated songs occasionally take off in unexpected directions. Let it shine.

    Luther Siblings and Sevens (Black Numbers)
    A little too straightforward to be emo, Luther rocks out some punkish ballads and sharpens the guitar sound just a hair. I don't know exactly where these boys want to be, but I do like where they sit. Reminds me a lot of Treepeople or Archers of Loaf. Goddamn it, I'm old. But stuff like this still moves me.

    Myrick/Peacock Myrick/Peacock (self-released)
    Polished, sharply-produced country music. And I use that term advisedly. Danny Myrick and Alice Peacock seem to be throwing everything at the Nashville wall. The songs are impressive, and they don't annoy me. For stuff this "big," that's sayin' something. If I heard this stuff on country radio, I might actually listen for more than 30 seconds.
    www: http://www.myrickpeacock.com

    Gabriel Miller Phillips One for the Crow (self-released)
    Delicate pop that never quite crosses over to the ethereal. Which is best, given Miller Phillips's somewhat traumatic life story. This music is introspective and contemplative, but always grounded. I like the way the songs move slowly into position.
    www: http://www.gabrielmillerphillips.com

    Pregnant Life Hard: I Try (Mush)
    Hey, if you want to use your predilection for trippy, plinky electronic experimentation as a background for musings on becoming a father, be my guest. Just make sure to be as adventurous and generally appealing as Daniel Trudeau (who is Pregnant, though not pregnant, if you get my drift) and you won't go wrong. This voyage into the loopy side of electronic beat work is invigorating throughout. One side note: If you thought you were crazy before, a kid will seal the deal.

    Red Eye Fugu Watchers (self-released)
    Punchy, rambling songs that fuse modern beat work with the softer sensibilities of soulful trip-hop. It's a pleasant combination, one that won't blow any minds but ought to bring out a smile or two.
    www: http://www.redeyefugu.tumblr.com

    The Regime 2011 (self-released)
    How blue-collar is the Regime? The band names its albums after the year that they are released. I'm good with that. These boys know how to sustain a hardcore buzzsaw even while throwing in a spot of melody here than there. You've heard it a thousand times, but you can't resist when it's done well. The Regime does very well.
    www: http://theregime.bandcamp.com

    Restorations Restorations (self-released)
    Restorations specializes in layered, ambitious music. Every song has multiple themes and multiple climaxes. I think the folks try too hard at times, but one the whole this album is deeply satisfying. There's a good portion in me that thinks I'll listening to more and more of this in the coming months. A real comer.
    www: http://restorations.bandcamp.com

    Revel 9 The Razorblade Diaries EP (self-released)
    Sounds a bit like post-Joey Anthrax. There's fine riffage and a really kicky rhythm section. Just a hint of that post-grunge crunchiness, too. Haven't heard anything like this in a while, which reminds me that I should.
    www: http://www.revel9.com

    The Reveling Tributaries (Black Numbers)
    Well-paced anthems, with a few ravers thrown in. The Reveling doesn't really distinguish its sound from the many pop-punk-emo bands out there, but it does have some truly good songs. Well worth a listen.

    Rosler's Recording Booth Rosler's Recording Booth (self-released)
    Don Rosler is a bit too married to his own concept, which is getting friends like Spottiswoode, Terry Radigan and others to sing his songs. The few songs Rosler performs prove that he's a much better writer than performer. That ensures that there are plenty of performances on this album worth hearing.
    www: http://www.roslersrecordingbooth.com

    The Sister Ruby Band In Cold Blood (self-released)
    Johnny Ruby pulled together a few of his L.A. friends and cranked out an album chock full of 60s attitude and era-spanning pop and roll. Depending on the context, this album might inspire introspection or rash action. I like it when an album hits me in different ways at different times. There's definitely some substance here.
    www: http://www.thesisterrubyband.com

    Sleeping Bag Sleeping Bag (Joyful Noise)
    Slightly clunky pop songs that shake and rattle as much as they roll. There is something of a monotone feel to the sound, but the songs are distinctive enough to roll through that. This one's a little off the beat.

    Tin Armor Life of Abundance (self-released)
    Central Ohio boys who know their way around a wistful roots rocker or two. Imagine Morrissey fronting the Heartbreakers, or something like that. It's an interesting combination, and one that suits these gently strong songs well.
    www: http://www.tinarmor.com

    Undecisive God RPMs 3-4 (Shame File)
    If for nothing else than the wry liner notes ("The nail is put to good use at the end of the recording as it grinds into the metal on the edge of the turntable with the assistance of a screwdriver."), this disc is more than worth hearing. Clinton Green has been a stalwart in (and a chronicler of) the Australian electronic avant garde for decades now, and this album shows that he's got plenty of good ideas left.

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