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
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Poet's Dead
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.
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.