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 #334 reviews
February 2012
  • Atwood-Childs Trading Pains (self-released)
  • Cardinal Hymns (Fire)
  • Jon DeRosa Anchored EP (self-released)
  • Elika Always the Light (Saint Marie)
  • Kossak You Forgot to Kick It (Record Label Records)
  • Mark Mandeville & Old Constitution Mark Mandeville & Old Constitution (Nobody's Favorite Records)
  • Oy Vey Recession Girls (self-released)
  • San Cisco Awkward EP (Island City)
  • Signals Midwest Latitudes and Longitudes (Tiny Engines)
  • Thee American Revolution Buddha Electrostorm (Fire Records)
  • Kurt Von Stetten Cyclops (Static Motor)
  • Water Tower Bucket Boys Where the Crow Don't Fly EP (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Atwood-Childs
    Trading Pains
    (self-released)

    That would be Mark Allan Atwood and Heath Childs, a couple of Texan singer-songwriters who decided to do a duet album as a one-off.

    Maybe they should think about a second. Childs and Atwood have distinctive styles, and they compliment each other well. The ultra-stripped down sound on this album (often just the two singers and a guitar) shows off the songs quite well. The songs range all over the map, from raucous rockers to anthemic ballads to more ruminative fare. This album travels a bumpy road, and the view is swell.

    Nothing fancy (well, other than Atwood's guitar, which goes by the name of "Fancy") and nothing grandiose. Just two guys singing fifteen songs. Hey, boys, if you wrote that many for this one, you can put together another album. Right?

    One can always hope. This is an inspired partnership, and it should be encouraged to grow. Fine stuff. Contact:
    www: http://www.markallanatwood.com


    Cardinal
    Hymns
    (Fire Records)

    Eighteen years ago, Cardinal released its debut. Critic types loved it. I never heard it, but I have heard of it. That's the way it is with Cardinal. So anyway, folks kept talking about that first album and twelve years later (six years ago), it was re-issued. And still not many people noticed.

    So now Cardinal has put together a second album (eighteen years is certainly not the longest time period between first and second albums, but it's up there). And my guess is that no one will notice, even though there's plenty here to recommend.

    This sort of chamber pop has been done to death, but the subtle songs on this album are intriguing. Perhaps I put too much stock in perplexity, but I like having to think about my music.

    I can't believe how backhanded I'm getting here, and I like the album. There are some interesting side trips in these songs, and I liked the journey. Just don't expect to be overwhelmed. That's not these boys's bag at all.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.firerecords.com


    Jon DeRosa
    Anchored EP
    (self-released)

    Pop from the classical chamber. Jon DeRosa prefers vibraphone to organ, and he's not above substituting cello for guitar. Oh, and he throws in as much brass as is possible. These songs use a pop construction, but implement more of a classical instrumentation.

    The songs themselves are introspective musings on the nature of love. Then there's the cover of "Submarine Bells," which is utterly charming. That last doesn't quite fit in lyrically, but musically it's just about perfect.

    A completely understated EP. Intense, especially in the lyrics, but not the sort of stuff to set the feet a-tapping. Rather, this sets the brain afire. I'm all for that.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.jonderosa.com


    Elika
    Always the Light
    (Saint Marie)

    Evagelia Maravelias and Brian Wenckebach drive this electronic pop machine. Maravelias's vocals are just lush enough to take the chill off the highly artificial sounds on this album.

    Mind you, I'm not against programmed pop. And Elika doesn't actually stick to a program. These songs venture far and wide, touching on any number of sounds on the ambient side of the universe.

    The vocals are what makes sense of the noodling, though, and they give these pieces their personality. Maravelias isn't a wailer or a shouter, but her cool aplomb is just the ticket for these adventures.

    The ideas just keep burbling along. There aren't a lot of high or low points, but Elika keeps things varied all the same. I like the way this album explores the edges.

    Contact:
    Saint Marie Records
    www: http://www.saintmarierecords.com


    Kossak
    You Forgot to Kick It
    (Record Label Records)

    Kicky electronic fare that, indeed, fails to kick it. These grooves blurble and splurt into every hidden recess until there is no air left. If you remember the Wordsound posse of days gone by, this will bring a smile.

    If that reference escapes you, just think of the greasiest, funkiest electronic stuff around. Goopy beats, sticky bass lines and everything else that, indeed, does not kick.

    Enticing as hell, though, and almost oppressively extreme in its aspirations. This is music for world conquest--as long as fornication is part of the global domination agenda.

    An absolutely stunning affair. Nasty as you want it to be, and there aren't any lyrics to speak of. Just thick beats and thicker grooves. Settle in, slide around and just try not to be seduced.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.recordlabelrecords.org


    Mark Mandeville & Old Constitution
    Mark Mandeville & Old Constitution
    (Nobody's Favorite Records)

    He's been around since almost forever, or at least it seems that way. And so when another great Mark Mandeville album rolls along, all I can do is ask "What took you so long?"

    Raianne Richards plays Emmylou to Mark's Gram. They have an easy musical partnership, always seeming to know exactly where to come in and where to leave. Once you've heard them sing together, you'll wonder why they would ever sing apart.

    The songs are as evocative and charming as ever. Nothing on this album feels rushed or forced. The arrangements are intricate but completely uncluttered. Listening is like sipping bourbon that has slowly melted all the ice in the glass.

    Plan to devote plenty of time to this one. If you ever feel the need to lead a harried life, a dozen listens or so should get you right back where you belong. A tonic for those of us who try to do far too much.

    Contact:
    Nobody's Favorite Records
    34 West Main St.
    Dudley, MA 01571
    www: www.nobodysfavoriterecords.com


    Oy Vey
    Recession Girls
    (self-released)

    Once more, with feeling. Oy Vey is back, launching thirteen more ambitious songs that lie somewhere between new wave, techno and indie rock. Most folks don't try so hard. Almost no one makes it sound so simple.

    Taking the lean lines of new wave and indie rock and infusing them with electronic power, Oy Vey creates a pulsating sound that moves incessantly. Yes, Virginia, you can dance (quite happily) to this.

    Old school, I suppose, the thought of dancing to rock and roll, but that's just how it is. Oy Vey is a band, no matter how much it gussies up its guts.

    At least as good as Botanical Curiosity, and probably a hair better. Oy Vey isn't trying to change the world. It's just trying to get you to dance. So dance, dammit, and don't worry so much. End transmission.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.oyveyband.com


    San Cisco
    Awkward EP
    (Island City)

    A short blast of loveliness from these Aussie popsters. These songs crackle with even more bliss than Golden Revolver. Seriously, if you can resist the title track, then nothing is going get your blood flowing.

    What I really like about the band is its restrained sound. There is no mess, just lean lines that simply explode out. San Cisco sees no need to obscure the core of these songs, and I concur. Let the writing shine forth.

    And just for fun, the folks do Arctic Monkey's "505." That's easily the weakest song on this set, which should tell you how good the four originals are. Keep your ears open for these folks. They're comers for sure.


    Signals Midwest
    Latitudes and Longitudes
    (Tiny Engines)

    Back in the day, indie rock was actually rock and roll. Members played instruments and albums were recorded live-to-tape because the bands had $500 and that was it. Some of those albums remain utterly essential.

    Signals Midwest continues in that tradition. This album was largely recorded live-to-tape, and these boys sure know their way around rock and roll. These songs have the electric, near-bludgeon feel of some of the finest Touch and Go bands of the mid 90s. There's a ton of power here, but the boys are careful to wield it with great care.

    It's difficult to balance the need to craft with the impulse to throttle. Signals Midwest rides that edge with more skill than most. The results are occasionally more math-y than inspired, but I've never been turned off by the occasional blistering noodle.

    Realized ambition is a beautiful thing. This album trends toward the grandiose at times, and that feeling is well-deserved. Exceedingly well done. I'm knocked out.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.tinyengines.net


    Thee American Revolution
    Buddha Electrostorm
    (Fire Records)

    A couple of years ago, the duo of Robert Schneider (of Apples in Stereo) and Craig Morris put out this album. Fire has decided to give it a further push, including some added brighteners (extra tracks and such). I'm just glad it reached my ears.

    Fans of the Brian Jonestown Massacre will immediately recognize the chaotic references to 60s psychedelia--though these boys take the game much futher. How far? "Grit Magazine" opens up with a stoner rendition of the lead riff from "Smoke on the Water." Yes, it's funny, but there's an even slyer purpose for the rip: The music actually informs the lyrics.

    Indeed, the music sometimes takes a holiday in the land of the absurd, but it is always saying something that words cannot. There's an energy and fire in the fuzzy throb, and I find much more meaning in the music, no matter how far it crawls along the limb.

    One part Zombies, one part 13th Floor Elevators and one part Cheap Trick (not that hard to imagine, is it?), this set is a blistering set of music at its most basically complex. Everything sounds so simple, and yet it's not. Tune in, turn on and turn it up. Dude.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.firerecords.com


    Kurt von Stetten
    Cyclops
    (Static Motor)

    Something of a Capstan Shafts of the laptop pop set, Kurt von Stetten assembles utterly minimalist avant-pop with short, often distorted songs full of asides and wonderment.

    The framing of the pieces is quite tight, which allows von Stetten to really crash around on all sorts of tangents. The lyrics also hold the manic music together at times. Each song has a touchstone, and nothing escapes that central gravity.

    Still, the feel is that of a glorious mess. Almost degenerate in a way, these songs have a way of sounding like they've just been written. Apparently, some were put together just that way.

    Not lovely, and certainly not pretty, but awfully enchanting nonetheless. Von Stetten knows how to write songs that mean something, even if that meaning isn't easily discernible. Sometimes, that's where the best stuff resides.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.staticmotor.com


    Water Tower Bucket Boys
    Where the Crow Don't Fly EP
    (self-released)

    This Oregon trio has been playing a western/bluegrass/jazz/etc. version of americana for a while now. Each release seems to expands the band's range. And this five-song EP is no different.

    These songs touch on the blues, indie rock, prog rock, bluegrass, western swing and plenty more. The scope of influences is astounding, but the songs themselves are even more impressive.

    Bluegrass at its best is a combination of energetic performance and almosrt ungodly technique. These guys are astounding musicians, but they expend most of their energy selling these exquisite songs. Fast or slow, loud or soft, personal or wide-ranging in scope, each piece here finds its own spot to fall. And what a comfy bed it is.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.watertowerbucketboys.com


    Also recommended:

    Thavius Beck Amber Embers Volume 2 EP (Mush)
    This second installment of Amber Embers continues the playful experimentation. Four tracks chock full of cyber grooves and blistering beats. Can't wait for Volume 3.

    The Bombpops Stole the TV EP (Red Scare)
    Peppy, muscular pop punk with lovely and snide female vocals. The songs never want for energy, and the hooks are rock solid. I'd prefer to hear something a bit more distinctive, but as long as you're playing to type you might as well do that type well. The Bombpops have a firm grip on this formula.

    Build Us Airplanes At the End of the Day (Sell the Heart)
    Merging the punkier crunch of early emo acts (Jawbox, etc.) with the melodic tendencies of later acts (Alkaline Trio, in particular), Build Us Airplanes has crafted a sound that sounds classic. True, these songs also have that "Haven't I heard this before?" feel, which means there still might be some tweaking of the sound yet to come. Still, I do like the power and melodic intentions of these guys.

    Buildings Melt Cry Sleep (Doubleplusgood Records)
    Ah, some good old bash 'n' throb. Buildings was reared at the Jesus Lizard teat, and the only real change in style is to make everything just a bit more manic and heavy. Gets the blood rolling, fer shur.

    Nicholas Burgess Wizard Planet (Claw Solutions)
    Burgess takes a modernist approach to the ol' 70s one-man band thing. He's got the same fuzzy rockin' pop tendencies as Marc Bolan, but from a laptop perspective. This does undercut the power of the songs a bit, but it also has the advantage of making them more whimsical. Catchy, in any case.

    Candle Labra Live @ Zool (Record Label Records)
    Crinkles, crackles, blips, beeps and bleeps. Candle Labra gets a whole lot of mileage out of what is essentially rhythmic experimental electronic face. These pieces are generally cut from the same cloth, but there's enough variety over the 29 (!) tracks to keep ears fresh.

    Guy Capecelatro III North for the Winter (Dromedary)
    While the feel and sound is that of a one-man effort, Capecelatro got 27 of his closest friends to join in the fun. He's got a wonderfully idiosyncratic approach to the singer-songwriter concept, and these songs tend to wind their way around the heart.

    Charnel House Contagion (Sygil)
    Deconstructing doom metal and grindcore with alacrity (and don't those terms date me terribly?), Charnel House throttles its merry way through these songs. There's a lot of noise, and the mix leaves a bit of space between the songs and the listener. It helps to have an appreciation of the sounds that spawned this, but any fan of painful noise will be satisfied.

    The City and Horses We Will Never Be Discovered (Paper Garden)
    Something of a highbrow version of King Kong, the City and Horses lopes goofily through math-y lines, tight grooves and plenty of horns, wind and string instruments. Perhaps a bit too clever at times, there's no denying the loose charm of this album.

    Drowner Drowner (Saint Marie)
    Elika labelmates Drowner are much more shoegazey and generally downbeat. Some of the these songs are absolutely gorgeous, but occasionally I wanted the folks to get to the point just a bit sooner.

    Eloine & Sabrina Siegel Nature's Recomposition 33 (Eh?)
    Or, if you prefer, Brian Day and Sabrina Siegel. Day provides plenty of homemade instruments, and Siegel chimes in with (somewhat) more traditional sounds on guitar and bass. Day and Siegel seem well paired, and this improvisational get together never fails to keep ears peeled.

    Bill Fox One Thought Revealed (Jar Note)
    Fox adds a vaguely ethereal sheen to a traditional, whimsical take on americana. Fox obviously admires Bob Dylan, and perhaps he hews a bit too closely to that ideal. Still, these songs are performed with a cheerful lilt, and I can't help but smile.

    Hugh Gaskins and the G String Daddies Working at the Booby Trap (self-released)
    The band name (and album title) are far too cheesy, but Gaskins has a fine feel for rockin' blooze 'n' boogie. This is about as old school as it gets, and I have a feeling that's just fine for Gaskins. This puppy rolls on through the night.

    Philip Gayle Babanco Total (Public Eyesore)
    The album lists Gayle's performance as "improvised bodily functions," and that's a fine description. Gayle pops, gargles, spits and horks his way through these pieces. For once, I'm truly not sure if something is actually music, but it sure sounds cool. A must for your child's next birthday party.

    Larry Gus 24 Beats (Waaga)
    Just about what you might expect: Twenty-four beats, ready-made for all of you who are home-schooling the next great MC. Or something. In any case, the disparate beats here are almost mind-blowing in their range. If you appreciate the throb behind the rhymes, this one's for you.

    Hag Moist Areas (Eh?)
    One of the quietest albums I've ever heard that features trumpet, bass and snare. The restraint in these improvisations is impressive. Not sure if anyone could positively identify the instruments used without a guide, but the result is arresting in its quiet intensity.

    Hidden Amongst Us The Machine (self-released)
    There was a time when metal was a dynamic genre, mixing thrashing guitars, electronic programmings and a variety of vocal styles. Hidden Amongst Us uses programming almost as much as Pantera did on Cowboys from Hell and packs both power and a sly rhythmic sensibility to the guitars. The result is exciting, though I think the boys have a bit more growing to do. Nonetheless, HAU has learned one important lesson: When in doubt, kick ass.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.hiddenamongstus.com

    Himanshu Nehru Jackets (self-released)
    The side project of Das Racist's Heems, this track mixes stellar beat work with some of the most perceptive (and funny) rhymes I've heard in a long time. Don't believe me? Just download:
    www: http://www.mediafire.com/?1ecm1lpdltg9c99

    Homespun Remedies Great Depression (self-released)
    Experimental country-ish music produced with an extremely polished sheen. These songs all have their roots in modern Nashville, but the perspective is just a little off. Each song opens a slightly different window on the band, and by the end I was wondering just what Homespun Remedies really wants to do. An album worth spending a bit of time with.

    Santiago Latorre Ecliptica (Foehn)
    You know the artist is really avant garde when most of the pieces have no name (and the named pieces are in multiple languages). Latorre is a minimalist composer, and these songs say a lot with very little expressed. While most of the songs start somewhat slowly, they tend to get nicely dramatic by the end.

    Liftoff Sunday Morning Airplay (Fort Knox)
    Assembled in the extreme, this album trips along with surprising grace. After three or four songs, my brain was reorganized and I was in even better position to receive the bounty. Sunshine never felt so good.

    The Lucy Show Remembrances (Words on Music)
    This completists guide follows the recent reissue of the Lucy Show catalog. Most of the stuff here isn't as good as what was found on those once "lost" new wave gems, but if you got turned on, then you'll want to dig in here.

    Madeline B Sides (This Will Be Our Summer)
    A few early/demo versions of songs from earlier releases, and a few songs that haven't been heard (as recordings, anyway). This set is a bit more restrained and stripped down than her earlier albums, but it simply rounds out her picture in the photo album.

    The Migrant Amerika (self-released)
    It's becoming more and more obvious to me that experimental and avant garde artists are gravitating to the increasingly vague americana sound. The Migrant doesn't shy away from pretty, but the structures of many of these songs are kinda obtuse. I dig it, but this is definitely an advanced course.

    Museum Mouth Sexy But Not Happy (self-released)
    Solid rhythmic pop punk that sounds like it was recorded in a fishbowl. The muddle in the middle works pretty well, though. There's nothing complicated here, just solid riffs and the odd hook or two. Hey, it's a free download. Go for it!
    Contact:
    www: http://museummouth.bandcamp.com

    Sara Radle Same Sun Shines (Jeez Louise)
    Ever wonder what the Beach Boys might have sounded like with women in the band? Sara Radle is here to help. She embraces the shimmery summer sound of that band and marries it to a more modern indie pop feel. Hard not to fall in love.

    Said the Whale Little Mountain (Hidden Pony)
    Said the Whale has always reminded me of the Mountain Goats, despite the fact that StW is most definitely a pop band with only the slightest rootsy inclinations. There's plenty of grandiose ideas, excessive tangents and, most remarkably, wild success with both. These dramatic pieces are much more affecting than I think they ought to be. Once again, I'm quite impressed.

    Scout Pi EP (Invisible Brigades)
    Ashen Keilyn has picked back up with Scout, and this EP contains a taste of All Those Relays (the upcoming album) and a GBV cover. Whaddya know? Keilyn and Scout still know how to pop.

    Secret Colours EP3 (self-released)
    This new EP from these Chicago boys finds the raucous party still raging. The sound still lies somewhere between Manchester and Liverpool (in different decades, of course), and the playing is just as infectious as ever. There's even a Kinks song thrown in just for fun. What's not to like?
    Contact:
    www: http://www.secretcolours.com

    Various Artists Aimer et Perdre: To Love & Lose Songs 1917-1934 2xCD (Tomkins Square)
    A collection of rural American, Cajun, Ukrainian and Polish recordings that meditate on the timeless themes of the title. Almost none of the songs are in English, and the stylistic differences are large. And yet everything fits together almost perfectly. A wonderful example of the universality of the human condition. Oh, and some great recordings--many of which haven't been heard on these shores in decades.

    Michael Vlatkovich Ensemblio An Autobiography of a Pronoun (pfMENTUM)
    The feel is improvisational, but I think most of that lies in the spontaneous nature of the compositions. The ensemble samples all the sounds of the orchestra, channeling them through Vlatkovich's decidedly modern ideas. A lot more classical than one might expect--and impressively so. Fine pieces and inspirational playing.


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