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 #342 reviews
Under waves of drone, Bear Colony serves up some serious music. First, though, you have to adjust your ears.
Some folks don't appreciate the need to do so much work. I get it. But the lovely sounds that lie underneath simply wouldn't be so wondrous without their setting. And so.
Past the vaguely oppressive sound, Bear Colony is one of those mellowcore alternative bands that seems to be ubiquitous these days. These lyrics are often modestly intriguing, but the guitar lines that blip, burble and flow are what really catch my ears. These songs come alive when all the elements play off each other.
This is so 2012, and I suppose it will sound dated in a few years. That's fine. I dig it now, and that's the only way to really judge stuff like this. Solid and engaging.
Northern Lights & Southern Skies
Dreamy, burble-driven electro-pop. Julie Shields applies the vocals with a fine ethereal gauze, and the music slips nicely into its grooves.
Pretty much standard issue, but of the highest quality. There's no shame in completely defining a sound. The Capsules don't find anything new in these mines, but their finish is first rate.
And lovely, too. Pretty is as pretty does, and these songs weave their enchantments with ease. The sound is just sharp enough to leave a mark.
Simply enjoyable. I don't have a whole lot more to offer than that, but it's more than enough for me.
Want to Give
This whole guitar-drum duo thing is taking off. Personally, I flash back to the Flat Duo Jets, but the younguns probably are thinking of some Detroit-ish outfit. In any case, this is about the twentieth such act I've heard in the last few months. One of the best, too.
The key, as with any of these groups, is in the rhythm. Moselle Spiller keeps these songs moving at a manic pace, and it's all Frank Hoier can do to keep up with his guitar. The ethos is very much a surf punk meets rockabilly, with just a bit of earthy soul thrown in for good measure.
And while the instrumentation is minimalist, the sound is anything but. Hoier wrangles all sorts of noise from his guitar, and these songs ring out with an aggressive, solid middle.
Just a big wad of fun. If the shows are anything other than kinetic workouts, I'd be shocked. Hold on for your life.
The latest from these Cincinnati folks is as slyly brilliant as the album I reivewed eight years ago. At first, this sounds like pastiche-driven pop that will fade quickly. And then the songs bite.
The music sharpens its focus even as it winds its way through more and more tangents. And the lyrics are as pungent as I remember. The combination is toxic--or, perhaps more accurate, intoxicating.
The production is bright and almost overexposed. Perhaps this comes from the filmmaking bent of many of the band members. Or maybe I'm abusing a metaphor, something these folks would never do. Of course.
Wonderful ear candy. These songs are delightfully crafted and played with sublime faux earnestness. If you like your cleverness squashed with a meat tenderizer, this album is for you.
Holy Ghost Tent Revival
Sweat Like the Old Days
Throw in some Dixieland horns, a fair dash of southern rock and some countrified soul, and you might be getting there. The ingredients never quite mix completely, leaving some jarring intersections. After a while, I figured out that's exactly what these folks intended.
The whole point of a revival is to throw a bunch of people on a stage, tell them to get in the spirit and see what happens. At least, that's how they did things when I was a kid.
So one moment HGTR sounds like the Band trying to play a Sly Stone song, and sometimes these folks ooze into full-blown prog americana. There's no telling where each song will lead, which leaves the overall album something of a mess.
But that mess is exactly the point. This is music at a most basic level, just a group of folks getting together and seeing what happens. What happened, of course, is something most arresting. Roll out the barrel and cue the horns. It's time to stumble again.
Civil Disobedience for Losers
An entirely different take on the whole guitar-drum duo thing. These Canadian boys crank out some of the most compelling stoner rock I've heard in years. The power within these songs is simply stunning.
The riffage is just brutal. Almost painful in its effectiveness, when Daniel Allen gets rolling he creates a guitar sound that could sterilze cockroaches at 100 yards. Not just brutal; the fuzz and reverb are calibrated at an almost perfect friction point.
Most impressive, though, are the vocals. Both boys sing, and they sing well. More to the point, they sing loud, expressively and with glee. The riffage is overwhelming, but the vocals put a fine cherry on top.
Yes, the guitars are overdubbed at times, which helps to multiply the power. Who cares? Anyone who can create a song like "Red Action," which is one of the most perfect Black Sabbath/Kiss mashups (in spirit, of course) that I've ever heard, goes straight to the top of my charts. Blissfully blistering.
(24 Hour Service Station)
Dan Dixon sounds like an old pro, but this is his first release. He uses electronics to augment and deconstruct conventional rock and roll.
Real rock and roll, with awesome guitars, slinky beats and disaffected vocals. Dixon takes all that, does some deft slicing and dicing and then trots out five winners.
An EP like this is what makes people think that making music is easy. These songs sound like they simply appeared fully-formed. Dixon's writing is astounding, but his studio work is positively brilliant. Unstoppable.
Red Clover Ghost
Red Clover Ghost
(Good Soil Records)
Gibb and Clint Cockrum hail from western Maryland, but their sound is more western United States. This heavily folk-inflected, mega-harmonized americana sounds more Oregon than Hagerstown. But, you know, we live in a connected world.
I'm just having a little fun with that. What really strikes me here is the almost omnipresence of the harmonies. They're everywhere, and yet they never get cloying. After a song or two, they cease to be unusual, though they certainly remain remarkable.
These rollicking songs are driven by guitars and banjo, with the occasional bass and drums. Largely, though, it's easy to imagine the brothers simply sitting around and setting these songs to tape. Kinda cool.
Back porch musings at their finest. These brothers have a knack for writing and performance, and this album highlights both quite well. A fine debut.
The Trashed Romeos
Where Dreamers Never Go
The Trashed Romeos are old school garage. Lots of psychedelia, heavy reverb in the sound--with the result being something akin to a "pillow of sound." Everything mixes up in the middle and sounds pretty mushy.
So did you ever listen to Nuggets? I'm not entirely sure why you would want to emulate this sound, but these boys do and they did a fine job. There's enough separation to find most of the lines, but the scrim is decidedly heavy.
The songs, on the other hand, are pure 60s jangle. Again, this is old school. No lip service for these boys; this is the real deal. A sound that is definitely not for everyone, but those of us with older ears might find ourselves smiling involuntarily.
Perhaps a bit too much of a concept album (the sound could be a bit cleaner without destroying the ethos), but the fun overwhelms any craft. Find a lava lamp and turn up the volume.
Very Be Careful
Remember Me from the Party?
Longtime U.S. purveyors of the Colombian Vallenato style, Very Be Careful mixes classic songs with their own compositions. Cumbia may be better-known as a Columbian folk music form, but Vallenato and its heavy reliance on accordion has plenty of followers in El Norte as well.
My high school Spanish is nowhere near good enough to make any sort of judgment on the lyrics, but the music is incessantly vibrant and alive. The accordion is one reason, but the liquid bass also keeps the dance alive even on the most minimalist of passages.
The sound is a bit rough, but it pops nicely. Why be authentic if your sound is plastic? The boys in VBC don't know, either. This has the sound of a house show, electric and slightly ragged.
Which fits just right. Very Be Careful has been perfecting its interpretation of this sound for some 15 years, and that dedication and easy handling of the style is apparent. The comfort of the musicians is impressive. The songs are dreadfully fun. A fine set.
The Winter Sounds
Taking the jaunty keyboards of new wave, the sonic disruption of career-end MBV and the simple melodies of punk and folk, the Winter Sounds have put together one enticing album.
There's also a proggy feel to some of this stuff, which simply adds another intriguing layer to the sound. Think early Cure with a lot more punch, or perhaps a fuzzed-out Echo and the Bunnymen as a modernish alt-rock anthemic outfit.
Excess is the key. There is so much going on every second that the mind cannot process it all. Everything feeds into the same groove, however, so those layers simply complement the whole. I'm not sure I want to try to unspool everything that's going on here, and I don't think the band does either. The final result is a glorious burst of joyous energy.
No one else sounds like this. The Winter Sounds are alone in their almost limitless ambition, and yet these songs are easily accessible from the first beat. There's no letup until the final note fades. I can't think of a band that has expressed most of the finer points of the last 30 years of music as well as this. Probably the best album of this year. Certainly one of the finest of the past few years. An absolute stunner.
Not of this world. Or mine, anyway. Xisix is straight electronics, meandering through virtual worlds as yet undiscovered. Most of these pieces have a trance beat, but they often veer into unexpected territory.
Unlike most experimental electronic types, Xisix keeps the beat flowing no matter what. Any and all tangents (there are almost too many to mention) keep one lead tied to that beat and whip around on the loose end.
The pieces really take off when four, five or more lines start flapping around the beats at the center. It almost gets too frenzied at times, but the songs are always reined in just enough. There is order at the core, after all.
And the beat goes on. Such lovely beat, too. I hoped this album would lope on forever. Oh well. That's what repeat is all about.