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 #341 reviews
October 2012
  • Almost Charlie Tomorrow's Yesterday (Words on Music)
  • The Ampersands This Is Your Adventure Too (Stringshot)
  • Daniel Bachman Seven Pines (Tomkins Square)
  • Marian Call Something Fierce 2xCD (self-released)
  • Eight Belles Girls Underground (self-released)
  • Fang Island Major (Sargent House)
  • Ronnie Fauss I Am Not the Man You Know I'm Not (Normaltown)
  • Grape Soda Form a Sign (Kindercore)
  • Joe 4 Njegov Sin (self-released)
  • Neil Nathan Inc. Sweep the Nation (self-released)
  • Rah Rah The Poet's Dead (Hidden Pony)
  • Thunders Beautiful Baby in the Bummer of Love (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Almost Charlie
    Tomorrow's Yesterday
    (Words on Music)

    A second (and most welcome) outing from Charlie Mason, Dirk Homuth and friends. If you don't know, Mason writes the lyrics and Homuth takes care of the music and recording. It's an unusual partnership, but the results are amazing.

    Homuth prefers orchestral jangly folk-pop, with plenty of bounce in the bass. Which is to say that he's old school when it comes to pop. Mason's lyrics are insightful and intriguing, and Homuth's settings make them pop.

    The ringing sound of this album is just lovely. Much like The Plural of Yes, this is one of those albums that impresses immediately and still manages to sneak up on you.

    Funny how that can happen. I was expecting something great, and I got something even better. This is one of the finest albums I've heard this year, and I plan to be spending quite a bit of time with it as the weather grows colder.

    Words on Music
    501 4th St. SE
    Minneapolis, MN 55414

    The Ampersands
    This Is Your Adventure Too

    The first track on this album is called "Exoskeleton." Both the musical structure and lyrics remind me a lot of Into Another's song "Anxious" (which I thought was called "Exoskeleton" until I looked it up)--though there is no connection at all, other than one of spirit.

    The Ampersands play exuberant, mannered power pop, a sound that touches on prog at the edges. These songs are about as shiny as can be, but the band's energetic performance keeps these songs from getting too plastic.

    The depth of sound is impressive. The full, thick production gives these songs plenty of oomph. And when the hooks finally kick in, they set immediately.

    Somewhat by the book, I suppose, but exceptionally executed. The Ampersands has plenty of energy to spare. Hard to put down.

    Daniel Bachman
    Seven Pines
    (Tomkins Square)

    I've been getting some killer instrumental acoustic guitar albums lately, and a number of them have been coming from Tomkins Square. Daniel Bachman keeps that string running strong.

    I suppose this might be called folk, as Bachman does a fair amount of fingerpicking in between his aggressive, thrashy drones. His term for this stuff is psychedelic Appalachia, which is alright. And he manages to get psychedelic without using much of reverb or distortion, which is quite impressive.

    What really knocks me out is the way Bachman sets his pieces. Each song comes alive almost immediately, and then the journey kicks into overdrive. There's no wasted motion in these kinetic works, many of which clock in at six minutes or more.

    I'm breathless. Bachman may be a guitar player, but he's really a storyteller. An epic work, all the more remarkable because the only sound to be heard is Bachman's guitar.

    Marian Call
    Something Fierce 2xCD

    A whole passel of songs in the key of folky pop. Marian Call has one of those voices that settles right into this vaguely showy and goofy world. Yes, these are stylings, but they're styled very nicely.

    Call veers a bit closer to the mannered folk than orchestrated pop, but that might simply be because of budgetary concerns. Or maybe not, as she deftly proves that banjo and trumpet blend quite nicely.

    Both the music and lyrics trend toward the clever, which does elicit the occasional groan. Such are the pitfalls of this sound. I can live with it. And with 19 songs to choose from, I found plenty to adore.

    Yeah, I think I might have edited this down to a single CD, but Call crowdsourced this, and she might have been beholden a bit to her benefactors. That's cool. On the whole, more is better. Quite the bowl of fun.


    Eight Belles
    Girls Underground

    Jessi Phillips is the voice and the songwriter, and she's abetted by a fine set of musicians. These deceptively delicate songs betray their power with repeated listening.

    Phillips moves from straight folk to more rollicking americana (and back again) as the album rolls on. I prefer the more uptempo fare, as Phillips voice takes on a harsher edge when she holds her notes for a while.

    Indeed, at times I thought Phillips was going to slip into a full-blown mannered style, but she always pulls back at the last moment. That little bit of tension is perhaps a bit nerdy, but it works for me.

    Fine songs played with precision and sung with tempered gusto. Eight Belles is hardly the band for your next celebration, but there's plenty here to celebrate.


    Fang Island
    (Sargent House)

    Another trip down trippy, proggy power pop-rock lane with Fang Island. Some of these songs rock out, and others simply bliss into near-irrelevance. The better ones manage both at once.

    The better songs are the ones with a solid guitar hook. That's always good for a solid center, which is important with bands that tend to be centrifugal in their motion.

    Largely, though, there's a lot of pleasurable noise going on. Perhaps this is better for wallowing than actually appreciating, but I wouldn't go that far. 'Cause when these songs do kick in, they really pack.

    A bit old school in its obtuse nature, Fang Island provides plenty of joy for those of us who don't mind a little confusion with our ear candy. A fine amusement.

    Sargent House

    Ronnie Fauss
    I Am Not the Man You Know I'm Not

    Something like a Texan version of Steve Earle, Fauss rasps out a passel of character-driven songs over a sprightly mix of americana roots rock.

    Fauss has been rambling around the edges of fame for quite some time, and this might be the album to bring him more than a little. The songs are expertly-crafted, and he sounds completely comfortable delivering them.

    More major-label than indie in terms of production, the solid, bright sound of this album suits Fauss's career trajectory. This is the album of a comer, and it sure sounds like it.

    Sometimes it's easy to pick winners. Well, Fauss is one. This album is an impressive announcement.


    Grape Soda
    Form a Sign

    I went 'round and 'round with this one. Grape Soda is definitely pushing the edges of something. I just never could figure out what. After a while, I realized that didn't matter at all.

    The loopy, elliptical pop songs crash and burn well before they soar. Deconstruction is the name of the game here. Sure, there are some hooks, but they tend to get buried or stripped before they set.

    Why would a band sabotage its own music? Maybe that's not what is happening here. Maybe Grape Soda just needs to hit "blend" a bit longer. Or just maybe that would totally wreck things.

    You can see why I couldn't figure out exactly what I felt about this album. I do know that it's weird and compelling and often thrilling. And I'll take that every time.


    Joe 4
    Njegov Sin

    Determined to get as close to the old-school Touch and Go ethos as possible, Joe 4 got Steve Albini to record their album. How'd that turn out? Here's what the band sez: "Steve Albini played Scrabble on Facebook almost the entire time we were recording. We don't know if he remembers what our album sounds like."

    Maybe. Maybe not. In the end, these Croatian boys do a fine Jesus Lizard impression. There's not a lot of progression from the EP I reviewed a couple months ago, but there are more songs. They're noisy, loud and they churn like hell. I adore these guys.

    Yes, I know. There's no new ground being broken here, this has all been done before--blah, blah, blah. There aren't many bands who sound like this these days, and I love this sound. Oh, and they absolutely kill these songs.

    Deadly, really. The insistent rhythms and generally abusive riffage warm my heart like nothing has in ages. I bet Albini did mostly play Scrabble on Facebook. Doesn't matter. This is a work of utterly no subtlety. Fucking brilliant, too.


    Neil Nathan Inc.
    Sweep the Nation

    So, y'know, if Joe Jackson had been remotely political he might've recorded this rather than I'm the Man. Neil Nathan incorporates plenty of Bowie, Bolan, Neil Young, Lou Reed and Stooges in his muscular homage to the current "times."

    There are plenty of references to the Occupy movement, the Arab Spring (which, of course, has morphed into the much less pleasant Arab Summer) and the general anti-Man rumblings everywhere.

    And while this is most definitely rooted in the 70s, it sounds modern. Nathan lets his influences flow without aping anyone. The thick, yet sharp, production is one sure modern touch.

    Pretty damned cool. Nathan may go a little overboard with his "Overlord" persona, but it's in the service of a good cause. One swell album.


    Rah Rah
    The Poet's Dead
    (Hidden Pony)

    Jangly, complex Canadian pop. I guess that's a genre--and if it's not, it should be. The criminally-layered, utterly infectious bounce of this sound is easy to pick out within a few notes.

    But unlike many bands who try out this sound, Rah Rah is distinctly midwestern. Like Sasketchewan. Regina, to be specific. The sound is a bit more expansive than many Canadian popsters, and perhaps the wide open spaces help to bring that out.

    Or maybe I'm just projecting my own (largely) Midwestern upbringing. Who knows? I do love the way these songs fan out and then snap together at the end. It's a fairly unique sort of songcraft, and it requires some serious respect for the audience.

    Lovely songs arranged in a most appealing style. The power of the ideas (musical and lyrical) is almost overpowering. Highest quality.

    Hidden Pony

    Beautiful Baby in the Bummer of Love

    Too clean to be retro proto punk, and a bit too straightforward to be purely garage, Thunders has staked out a nice little spot for itself. These songs develop in straight lines, and pretty much nothing is allowed to get in the way.

    The lead guitar work is quite impressive. Most songs begin with a defining lick, and then the sounds develop apace. There's not one complication anywhere on this disc, which is both a plus and a minus. Largely, though, that allows the band to properly ride the wire.

    The sound is pretty clean, though crunchy enough to add some bite. These songs sound very good at maximum volume.

    Further proof that pushing the envelope can be overrated. Thunders is miles away from terra incognita, but it delivers wonders aplenty.


    Also recommended:

    Again for the Win We've Been Here Forever (self-released)
    Resonant, anthemic rock that pays plenty of attention to melody. There's a proggy note to many of these songs, but the overwhelming feel is latter-day emo. Solid.
    Contact: againforthewin.com

    The Album Leaf Forward/Return EP (self-released)
    Call it post-rock or ambient (well, don't call it ambient, but still), the Album Leaf makes conceptual music. This is the band's 14th release, and from everything I can gather this is just as chilled and introspective as previous albums. Not particularly invigorating, but quite nice for a slow coming down.

    Beaten By Them Kinder Machines (Logicpole)
    Sort of a laptop approach to americana. Take minimalist electronic beats, add some mathy lead acoustic guitar, horns and the like and see what happens. There are some vocals on occasion, but the varied sounds are what carry the day. Most intriguing.

    Big Awesome Birdfeeder EP (self-released)
    Four clunky alt-rock songs that fly past with alacrity. The band takes its time with these pieces, and yet only one makes it to three minutes. I like the disjointed rhythms and tight guitars lines. That's a pretty cool combo.
    Contact: bigawesome.bandcamp.com

    Black Forest Fire Transit of Venus (Sedimental)
    Plushy fuzz shoegazey stuff. These songs don't really go anywhere, but the ride is absolutely great. Settle into the groove and you just might not want to leave.

    Black Pistol Fire Big Beat '59 (Rifle Bird)
    If you never heard the Flat Duo Jets, this guitar/drums duo might make you reminisce nonetheless. Fuzzed-out, minimalist rockabilly is something of an acquired taste, but the energy released by these songs is prodigious.

    The Bloody Angle The Bloody Angle (self-released)
    A Charlottesville quartet that sounds a bit like a tighter Neil Young or a screechier Drive-By Truckers. The name of the band is cleared up with the first track (the band prefers the reference to a battle near the UVA campus, though the same phrase was used for a part of Gettysburg and the first skirmish of the Revolutionary War), the rest of the album kinda whacks its way along similar terrain. I'd like to hear the boys try out a little more of their own ideas, but this album is quite well-executed.

    Jim Clements The Road to Anhedonia (self-released)
    Easy-rollin' songs of bitterness and despair. The dichotomy between the music and the lyrics is striking, and that conflict drives this album nicely. The journey is pretty harsh, but the accompaniment is swell.
    Contact: www.jimclementsmusic.com

    Mark Crozer & the Rels Mark Crozer & the Rels (Planting Seeds)
    Crozer was one of the sides in the reconstitution of JAMC, which probably explains why this sunny pop album is coming out on Planting Seeds. There's a hint of JAMC's minimalist rhythmic tendencies, but these songs are much more effervescent. Good for more than a few smiles.

    The Dandelion War We Were Always Loyal to Lost Causes (Deep Elm)
    Expansive, resonant songs that generally take a while to unfold. And even then, it can be hard to tell if they're done. I like that approach, myself, though I imagine that might be a bit more difficult for more linear listeners. Take your time, and this will do a (pleasant) number on you.

    Devereaux Cacti Pace EP (MMMMM)
    Loopily (literally) constructed electronic fare. Devereaux created most of the sounds here within the analog world and then sliced and diced them into these plinky dance anthems. Almost deconstructive in its approach, these songs are addictive in their inventiveness.

    The Fake Boys Pig Factory (Animal Style)
    Modestly melodic punk chock full of solid riffage. A bit grungy on the edges, which make me smile a bit. Just bite the wire and ride the arc. There's plenty of energy to burn.

    Fires Echo Sounds EP (self-released)
    Five solid-rocking pop-punk ravers. Fires takes a solid dose of melody and throws in some serious power. The boys came to my neck of the woods to record this with J. Robbins, and the results are as might be expected: Clean, tight and tasty. Very nice.
    Contact: www.firesmusic.com

    Helvetia Nothing in Rambling (Joyful Noise)
    Or everything in rambling. If you're Helvetia, the whole point is the ramble. These vaguely clunky prog-art-pop songs clink, clank and plunk their way to an uncertain end. Kinda cool that way.

    Jealov Nyche EP (Mush)
    The latest bit of electronic experimentalism from Jealov. These pieces don't meander much, but they do cover quite a bit of ground. Inspiration hardly seems to be an issue; there's plenty on display here.

    K-The-I??? Oxidised Matrix V1 EP (Mush)
    Crinkling and sprinkling its way along these songs, K-The-I??? proves most adept at cruising the edges of the electronic universe. There's plenty of beauty here, but the real joy is in the inventive melodies.

    Diana Krall Glad Rag Doll (Verve)
    I'm not entirely sure why this got sent my way--or I wasn't, until I heard it. Krall is best known for smooth renditions of jazz standards and the like. She's one hell of a singer. But this time around she hired T Bone Burnett to produce and has put out an album that references Tin Pan Alley, jazz, americana and more. She's costumed as a saloon entertainer, and this album has that feel. Krall's versatility is on full display, and Burnett's production of the crack studio band is spot on. Most impressive.

    Last American Buffalo Here She Comes EP (self-released)
    Back in the day, this would have been settled on the fringes of AOR. But Last American Buffalo takes that sound into the minor keys and subverts it further. These songs almost obstinately refuse to become anthems, which is admirable. I guess. Intriguing, to be sure.
    Contact: lastamericanbuffalo.bandcamp.com

    Mad Planet Ghost Notes (self-released)
    Okay, then. Take one dose of new wave electronica, and then throw in some heavy funk. Kinda like New Order trying its hand at acid house. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Either way, this album is always engaging.
    Contact: www.madplanetmusic.com

    Man the Change Faded EP (self-released)
    Three songs that fit the band's apparent motto of "Louder, Faster." Anthemic pop-punk with plenty of fuzzy power. These guys aren't the first to discover this sound, but they are pretty damned good at it.
    Contact: manthechange.bandcamp.com

    Quiet Arrows Continents Were Made to Sink (self-released)
    Gentle, intense songs. These pieces are generally pop songs in a folk setting, and they tend to get prettier as they go along. In other words, give this one a listen or two, and it'll get to you.
    Contact: quietarrows.bandcamp.com

    Red Collar Welcome Home (Tiny Engines)
    Wonderfully raucous rock and roll. Red Collar rolls straight ahead with plowdriver riffage and a lovely layer of distortion draped on top. Simple and effective. There's nothing wrong with basic when it's done this well.

    Self-Evident We Built a Fortress on Short Notice (Double+Good)
    Just a little heavy math for you. The lines are always in motion, and most of the time that works out quite nicely. Self-Evident does get a little carried away with the wigginess from time to time, but I'm always in favor of trying too hard. These boys work.

    A Shoreline Dream Three/3/III 3xEP (Latenight Weeknight)
    Three sets of three songs. It's kind of an interesting way to market an album, I think. The music itself doesn't stray much from the band's atmospheric chill-out sound, and I don't mind one bit. I prefer the III EP, because it reaches a bit further than the other two, but really, they're best appreciated as a set.

    State Faults Desolate Peaks (Tiny Engines)
    Yes, yes, the music is anthemic emo-ish stuff to the hilt. I do like the desperately-shrieked vocals, though, and the way that the production tends to stand off to one side now and again. Not yer usual usual, to be sure.

    Suburban Living Cooper's Dream EP (self-released)
    These folks fall somewhere between Flock of Seagulls and New Order musically. I know there's plenty of room there (ahem), but deal, okay? The lead vocals are somewhat more P.I.L., though not nearly so snotty. And the backing voices are simply gauze. In any case, these folks have a serious jones for the early 80s. And I'm not in the mood to dissuade them.
    Contact: suburbanliving.bandcamp.com

    Alex Vans DJ Booth (self-released)
    Vans has a diverse set of influences, and they inform his writing quite nicely. These songs have something of an unfinished quality to them; the sound, in particular, is often thin in places. But anyone who can segue from a 70s-style rocker into an ABBA-esque disco-y piece (and make sense doing it) is someone worth paying attention to. Let's see where he goes, shall we?

    Various Artists Blue Like Jazz soundtrack (Blue Like Jazz)
    The Menomena boys pretty much put this together, with Danny Seim contributing a number of "solo" tracks. This kinda works nicely as a Menomena mixtape, with a few friends sprinkled in. I have a feeling the soundtrack is probably more interesting than the movie, but that's never happened before. Right?

    Videotape This Is Disconnect (self-released)
    The band calls itself shoegaze, but this is far too jaunty to qualify. Fine by me. I like the way these songs roll and tumble over almost-martial beats. Lots of noise, too, which makes my ears tremble in the fuzz. Most endearing.
    Contact: videotapenoise.net

    Wax Fang Mirror, Mirror EP (Karate Body)
    Four new songs from this Louisville outfit. The pieces are Ween-ish in their devotion to taking an established sound (nerdy hard rock, Louisville-style alt-rock, etc.) and simply driving it over the edge. Absolutely fascinating and often mind-bending.

    Whispering Pines Whispering Pines (Stove Pony)
    When you name yourself after a song by the Band and you play rockin' boogie reminiscent of that time in history, well, yer just askin' for it. The Whispering Pines acquit themselves well, though some of these songs don't quite rise above the inspiration vs. imitation question.

    The Zolas Ancient Mars (Light Organ)
    Well-polished pop-rock songs that find their hooks more often than not. This is a major-label release (at least in Canada), and it does have that sheen. Still, it's good to hear that the big boys are trying to find something new in the world.

    Zucchini Drive No Food and Lots of Weapons (Marathon of Dope)
    A couple of Belgian boys who use electronics to make almost-organic sounding songs. I like the mellow way the guys drop their music into intriguing circumstances. I'm often a bit perplexed as to the general point, but that only drives me to listen more. And be most happy with that.

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