Welcome to the A&A archives. There are currently 384 reviews in this section. Click on an artist to jump to those reviews, or simply scroll through the list. All reviews written by Jon Worley unless otherwise noted.

If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.


  • A
  • A Is Jump
  • A-Plus
  • A.Armada
  • Aalacho (2)
  • Donn Aaron
  • A.C. (6)
  • a.c. acoustics (2)
  • a.m. vibe
  • Abdallah
  • Abdullah
  • Travis Abercrombie
  • Abscess (2)
  • Absentee
  • Absinthe Blind
  • Absinthe Junk
  • Absolute Zeros
  • The Abstractions (3)
  • Abuse Ment Park
  • Abyss (2)
  • Accents (2)
  • Accept
  • Acceptance
  • Accidental Suicide
  • Accused (2)
  • Accuser
  • Aces Wild
  • Aceyalone
  • Acid Bath
  • Acrimony (2)
  • The Action Time (2)
  • Acts Magdalena
  • The Actual Tigers
  • Acumen
  • Acumen (different band)
  • Keith John Adams
  • Peter Adams (2)
  • Adicts
  • Admiral Byrd
  • Adventures of Jet
  • Aeraby
  • Aerial M
  • Aesop Rock (4)
  • Affected
  • Afflicted
  • Afrobeta
  • Afterlife
  • Aftertax (2)
  • Against Me!
  • Agent 99
  • Agents of Good Roots
  • Agnes Gooch
  • Jai Agnish
  • Agnostic Front
  • The Agony Family (2)
  • Agressor (2)
  • Gustavo Aguilar
  • Ah Holly Fam'ly
  • Daniel Ahearn
  • Ahleuchatistas
  • Aiden
  • Aina Haina
  • Air Review
  • Airstrip
  • Carrie Akre (2)
  • Alabama Thunderpussy
  • Alameda
  • Breck Alan
  • Alastor
  • Alcian Blue (2)
  • Alcohol Funnycar (4)
  • Eric Alexandrakis (4)
  • Luis Alfaro
  • Travis John Alford Band
  • Ali Baba's Tahini
  • Alice Donut (6)
  • Alice Donut & Killdozer
  • Alien Canopy
  • Alien Crime Syndicate (2)
  • Alien Harvest
  • Alien Sex Fiend (4)
  • Align
  • Alison Ranger
  • Alkaline Trio (4)
  • Alkaloid (formerly Poobah) (3)
  • ALL (8)
  • All Natural (2)
  • All Out War
  • All Systems Go!
  • All the Apparatus
  • All Time Present
  • All Tiny Creatures
  • All-Night Newsboys
  • Dave Allen & the Elastic Purejoy
  • J. Allen
  • Ben Allison
  • Jon Allmett
  • Alloy
  • Alluring Strange
  • Almighty Ultrasound
  • Almost Charlie (2)
  • Aloha
  • Alphaville
  • Also
  • Altar of the King
  • Altura
  • The Aluminum Group (3)
  • ALX
  • Alyssa
  • AM Exchange
  • The Amazing Royal Crowns
  • Amelia's Dream
  • Amen (2)
  • John Amen
  • American Analog Set
  • American Heartbreak
  • American Mosquito
  • American Plague (2)
  • American Power
  • American Slang
  • American Standard (2)
  • Amerikan Made
  • Amnesia
  • Among Giants
  • Jorge Amorim
  • Amorphis (5)
  • The Ampersands
  • Amps for Christ
  • Anacrusis (2)
  • Anal Cunt (6)
  • Anarchy Club
  • Anathema (3)
  • Ancestors
  • Anchors
  • Robin Adnan Anders
  • Bruce Anderson
  • Kasey Anderson (3)
  • Marisa Anderson
  • Andrew (3)
  • David Andrews
  • Debbie Andrews
  • Duane Andrews
  • Jake Andrews
  • Kyle Andrews
  • Android Lust
  • Anesthesy
  • Angelic Upstarts
  • Angelique
  • Angels
  • Animal Planet
  • The Animals
  • The Animators
  • Annie
  • Annihilator
  • Greg Annussek
  • The Anomoanon (2)
  • Another Society (2)
  • Anthem In (2)
  • Anthemic Pop Wonder
  • Anthrax
  • Anthropile
  • Anthrophobia (2)
  • Anti-Flag (3)
  • The Anti-Heros
  • The Anti-Nowhere League
  • Anti-Social Music (4)
  • Antimc
  • Antimony
  • Antipop Consortium (2)
  • Antiseen
  • Anubian Lights (2)
  • Anubis Spire
  • Aphex Twin
  • Appalchian Death Ride
  • Apparatus
  • Applesaucer
  • Appleseed Cast (6)
  • Appleseed Collective
  • The Applicators
  • James Apollo
  • aqPop
  • Arab Strap (2)
  • Arcana (3)
  • Arcanum
  • Archers of Loaf
  • Architects
  • Arcwelder (6)
  • Argo
  • Argyle Park
  • Arkaina
  • Arise from Thorms
  • Armand & Bluesology
  • Armchair Martian (4)
  • Armored Saint
  • Jennie Arnau
  • Arsinal
  • Art in Manila
  • Art of Noise
  • Artension (2)
  • The Arts and Sciences
  • As Friends Rust
  • As We Draw
  • Nate Ashley (2)
  • Asphyx (3)
  • Ass Ponys
  • The Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound (2)
  • The Asteroid No. 4 (2)
  • The Asteroid Shop
  • Astoria
  • Astral
  • Astro Chicken (2)
  • Astroblast
  • At the Gates (3)
  • At War With Self
  • Ataraxia (3)
  • The Atari Star
  • Atari Teenage Riot
  • The Ataris
  • Athiest (2)
  • Ativin (3)
  • Natacha Atlas
  • Atmosphere
  • Atombombpocketknife (2)
  • Atomic Mint
  • The Atomic 7 (2)
  • Atomic Soul Experiences (2)
  • Atomine Elektrine
  • Atomsmasher
  • Atrax Morgue
  • Atreyu
  • Atrocity
  • Attrition
  • Atwood-Childs
  • Auberon
  • Audubon Park
  • Seth Augustus
  • Auntie Christ (2)
  • Aurora
  • Aurora Plasitcs Company
  • Aurore Rien
  • Autechre
  • Autodidact
  • Automatic 7
  • Autopsy (3)
  • Autumn
  • Avail (3)
  • The Avalon (2)
  • Avandguard
  • Avenpitch (4)
  • Aversion
  • El Aviador Dro
  • Avoid One Thing
  • Fred Avril
  • The Awkward Romance
  • AWOL One & Daddy Kev
  • Azeem (2)
  • Thomas Azier

  • A
    A Day in Erie 7"
    (Squishee)
    reviewed in issue #126, 1/13/97

    The focus here is on the strange interplay between the lyrics and the music. The sound is sparse and simplistic, with very little focus anywhere.

    The a-side is "Brecks Shoes", though after listening through the thing twice I'm still not sure what shoes have to do with the song.

    Now, "The Star Wars Trilogy", a set of three pieces that inhabit the b-side, makes a little more sense. Consisting mostly of the most obvious Star Wars quotes and the same rambling music, I can't say it gets me off in any expansive way.

    Still, A has a cool style, one that even my craving for something (well, anything, really) couldn't pierce. Plenty of dry humor abound as well, which is fine if you're in the mood. This is oddly compelling. I like it for no good reason at all.


    A Is Jump
    My Ice-Fingered Ghost
    (Future Appletree)
    reviewed in issue #257, September 2004

    At least the album title makes some sense. "A Is Jump?" I have no idea. Whatever. Aerosmith is a pretty weird name, and those boys seem to have prospered reasonably.

    Of course, A Is Jump sounds nothing like Aerosmith. This is mannered, eccentric (in a decidedly linear fashion) pop music. Kinda like a nice fusion between the romper room infectiousness of emo and the icy, conceptual world of math. What's important is that these folks pick the best of both worlds.

    That's good, because combining sterile, stilted melodies with insipid lyrics would be a recipe for disaster. It's also good that this album has a slightly warm feel. Nothing overdone, but inviting enough. Takes a bit of the edge off the band's more adventurous turns of phrase.

    Fun and involving music. Always a good combination. I still have no idea what the band's name means, but now I know that it stands for good music.


    A-Plus
    Think Tank
    (Heiroglyphics Imperium)
    reviewed 12/9/14

    A-Plus (or Adam Carter, as his family probably knows him) has been creating and producing since forever. And this album seems like it's been out forever--I've been listening to it for almost a year. I still can't get my mind around, but it's time to jettison a review nonetheless.

    As a member of Souls of Mischief and the Hieroglyphics, A-Plus solidified his hip-hop cred. And while those collectives received major distribution, the sounds they propagated have faded to the underground. Somehow hop-hop became something other than fun.

    This largely instrumental album is a blast. The beats are light, yet insistent. The sounds are tuneful and buoyant. These aren't unknown ideas, but they're definitely underground today. Which is too bad.

    Combined with Molly's Dirty Water, a more electronic-influenced effort that came out about a year ago, A-Plus has laid down two great albums that still sound fresh and exciting after a year's worth of listening.

    This is probably not the future of hip-hop or anything like that, but if albums like this are merely the future of A-Plus, I will be a happy man.


    A. Armada
    Anam Cara EP
    (Hello Sir!)
    reviewed in issue #303, December 2008

    I'm of the age that many of my all-time favorite bands are certain Louisville (and post-Louisville) outfits: Rodan, Slint, June of 44, the Shipping News, etc. A. Armada fits right in, though it takes that abstract rock sound to an entirely new orchestral level.

    And I mean that figuratively. The production is lush, not strident, and the guitars have plenty of reverb in addition to disortion. There's a ringing tone that really fleshes out the sound nicely. All in all, these songs set a mood and then run with it.

    The requisite idiosyncratic melodies and herky-jerky rhythms are present, as is an almost ravenous need to express new ideas. These songs generally come together by the end, but the number of tangents per piece is staggering. I hadn't heard this sorta stuff in a while. A. Armada is a fine band at the top of its game.


    Aalacho
    Sugar
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #237, January 2003

    When it comes to electronic music, everyone's got a theory. Some folks like to use the precision of digital music to more completely reflect real life. Others prefer to use the freedom of a blank canvas to create a entirely new reality.

    Aalacho simply prefers to make cool pop music. Yeah, there are a few atmospherics here and there, but mostly this is about how to execute fine (if unconventional) melodies and bouncy beats.

    Reminds me a bit of Die Warzau, circa "Funkopolis." Very playful--but also plenty adventurous. A nice balance between the two extremes, if you will. There is a bit of that German chilliness and some industrial-style fuzz, but don't let that throw you. This stuff is fun.

    Walking this line is a seriously difficult feat. Aalacho (I'm hoping the name means something and just isn't a ploy to get shelved at the very beginning) trips through a wide variety of ideas, but it never forgets to bring a smile. Monster fun.


    Electro
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #255, July 2004

    Aalacho is Nathan Scott. He's recruited a number of friends to stop by and contribute vocals or guitar or whathaveyou, but he's the one to blame for this fine collection of electronic noodling.

    Scott can't really decide if he's a fan of New Order, Die Warzau, faceless 70s German techno or any number of industrial acts. Industrial in an early Einsturzende Neubauten way, of course. Most of the time he borrows freely from all sorts of influences and then assembles the sounds into a vaguely sterile setting.

    That cool feel is what really sells this set for me. There's just no excess. Plenty of experimentation ("Ticket to Ride"--yes, the Beatles song--is utterly unrecognizable) but everything sounds so damned swell.

    A fun run-through of electronic trends of the last 30 years or so. Scott has a real handle on his sound, and he knows how to put songs together. Not exactly an album with ample commercial prospects, of course, but that simply makes it more pleasing to my ears.


    Donn Aaron
    Like a Feather in a Hurricane
    (Black Cottage)
    reviewed in issue #238, February 2003

    So the first four songs remind me of Happy Mondays (I just watched 24 Hour Party People, so that's on my mind), Greg Garing, no one that comes to mind and the Replacements, respectively. In other words, Aaron has written some solid songs and then used technology to highlight what he's really good at doing.

    Like crafting soulful, rootsy hooks. Even when the drum machine is pulsing, an earthy feel permeates everything. Another way to put it is that no matter how slick and refined these songs may sound, the center remains grounded in the real.

    Some folks might think that he stole from Beck. Well, inspiration certainly flowed from that direction, but Aaron is really very much a rock and roller, even though he's been wandering the wasteland for a while. These songs easily fit into conventional slots, but they're still really damned appealing.

    It's a tough trick to make good music that is simple and processed enough to gain wide acceptance. Donn Aaron has the writing skills, and he's hit upon a production style that just screams major label--in a good way. Really. I mean it. This is one of those "oughta be huge" albums that you'll want to hear many times over.


    A.C.-see Anal Cunt


    a.c. acoustics
    Able Treasury
    (Elemental-Trance Syndicate)
    reviewed in issue #68, 1/15/95

    The first chords are heavier than anything on the EP (recorded later, but released in the U.S. earlier). This band is unplugged in name only.

    And, well, "acoustics" is a reference to sound, not unamplified guitars, anyway. a.c. acoustics wraps its simple pop ideas up in a pastry of feedback and wailing guitar lines. Like countrymen TFC, only not derivative as all hell like the Fanclub.

    As an insight on how Big Star-influenced pop is being interpreted across the Atlantic (I don't think anyone bought the last-excellent-Posies album over here), these folk show there is still room to expand and create in an area many critics called spent in 1975.

    While each song is quite impressive in its own right, Able Treasury is really best enjoyed as one piece. Any skeptic should be converted by the time "Sweatlodge" rolls around.


    Hand Passes Plenty EP
    (Elemental-Trance Syndicate)
    reviewed in issue #68, 1/15/95

    Just to be clear: this is the EP. It was recorded after the LP also reviewed in this issue, but it got its U.S. release before the LP. Sure, this is a little confusing, but you should know these things.

    a.c. acoustics plays an odd mixture of ethereal pop, with some psychedelic reverb wandering around. Not unlike Bedhead, who is also a Trance band. But where Bedhead goes to the noise extreme occasionally, a.c. acoustics moves to the soft extreme.

    This is not necessarily mellow. The music is softly intense. While the LP gives you a fuller taste, this EP shows the band in good experimental pop form.


    a.m. vibe
    a.m. vibe
    (Silver Girl)
    reviewed in issue #241, May 2003

    There's something about the way dusky female vocals color light alt. pop that simply sounds right.

    I'm not talking about a venture into Lisa Loeb territory, but if you recall a band by the name of the Moon Seven Times, well, a.m. vibe fits right into that territory.

    The reason this works is that the music and lyrics have a hidden depth. At first listen this stuff sounds almost ephemeral. It's just that there's a certain something underneath that lends itself to repeat listens. There's a there there, after all.

    Jesus, did I just write that? Well, it does make sense. And I think it conveys the unusual charm of a.m. vibe quite well. This stuff shouldn't work, but it does. Hard to argue with that.


    Abdallah
    Sudden Enchantment
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98

    New age music had been maligned by many folks who are much more schooled than me. For good reasons, most of the time. The stuff is too simplistic, way too dramatic in a cheesy way, too this, too that. Just like what they say about Danny Elfman's film scores.

    Agreed. Abdullah writes some nice, simple piano work. Stuff that would work just fine on its own. But he also feels the need to wash over the good stuff with loads of synthesized strings and other keyboard effects. Way over the top.

    And he cribs, which is annoying. That he rips off Andrew Lloyd Webber (listen to "Searching" and tell me that's not a song from Phantom) is worse. I mean, if you're gonna steal, show some taste, right?

    On the other hand, that just might be what new age fans want to hear. I can't say. I'm not in that ballpark.


    Abdullah
    Abdullah
    (demo)
    reviewed in issue #180, 4/12/99

    It's been a while since I've heard such straight-ahead Sab. There is something of a grunge feel to this, but I'm guessing that has as much to do with the demo-quality recording as much as anything.

    Back when this style was the rage, I probably would have railed against such a sound on general principle. But, like I said, it's been a while, and I'm happy to slip back into the groove. Some extreme touches (occasional death-metal screeches), but mostly, this is straight outta Birmingham, circa 1969.

    Yes, I could ask for some more creativity. Less slavish devotion to the sound. Okay, sure. But still, Abdullah does this really well. I wish the sound wasn't so muffled, but even so, this hits me in my comfortable cheese spot.


    Travis Abercrombie
    Tied
    (Moon Shot)
    reviewed in issue #271, December 2005

    Well-crafted, tightly-produced nuggets. A bit moody for power pop, I suppose--and probably a bit too shiny for indie rock, for that matter--Abercrombie has a knack for nailing a hook that should make him the envy of just about anyone.

    These songs are deceptively simple. The music is uncluttered and generally straightforward, which is one reason I like it so much. Even when he occasionally trails into major label cliches (the echo-y back beat in a song intro, for example), he manages to turn them around by the time he hits the honey.

    And yeah, these anthems have the hooks necessary to land listeners. This is the sort of thing that just might make it in the mainstream, but I'd guess Abercrombie is still a bit too serious and introspective for the amphitheaters. I've been wrong about that before, though, and I'd like to be now.

    This is a stab at major stardom, make no mistake. Abercrombie knows how to write songs and make them just ordinary enough to attract a wide audience. Whether he gets it or not is a matter of public whim. Gotta love the music biz.


    Abscess
    Urine Junkies
    (Relapse Underground)
    reviewed in issue #89, 10/9/95

    Featuring members of Autopsy. Well, that certainly gets my panties in a bunch.

    From the load I dropped in them, that is. Much less produced than Autopsy albums (and that's saying something), Urine Junkies keeps up the musical and lyrical retardation Autopsy favors. There is a kind of fun streak running through this, but not enough to get me hard or anything.

    Some people really like out-of-control (and stupid to boot) grindcore. I do, sometimes, but not now. Abscess is simply not even up to those standards.


    Seminal Vampires and Maggot Men
    (Relapse)
    reviewed in issue #120, 10/7/96

    I listened to the first few songs while taking a dump. Perhaps the perfect way to appraise the new Abscess. And you know, I found a whole new appreciation for the band.

    The production is still dreadful, but here the mushiness almost helps. For once, the guys are trying to play semi-coherent songs. And for once, I almost like the album.

    Yeah, when song titles include "The Scent of Shit", "Burn, Die and Fucking Fry" and "Freak Fuck Fest", you know you're not in for an evening of subtleties. And this descendent of Autopsy keeps treading the same road it always has. Trying to be the Gwar of the death metal set. Without all the silly costumes, of course.

    Which leaves the music, which is certainly a joke. Enjoyable enough, and much better than I expected. That still doesn't pull Abscess much above sea level. Still, as music to shit by goes, this ain't bad.

    See also Autopsy.


    Absentee
    Victory Shorts
    (Memphis Industries)
    reviewed in issue #301, October 2008

    Deliberate, immaculately crafted pop tunes of doom and despair. Some of that is almost unavoidable considering the bass lead vocals. Most of it comes from the despair-drenched lyrics.

    The music itself is peppy enough, and Absentee is smart enough to throw in just enough good times to keep hope alive. But by and large, this what passes for white boy blues these days.

    I don't mean that pejoratively, either. The whole point of the blues is to provide catharsis, and if the subjects of these songs don't make you feel better about your own stupid life, then you've got some real problems.

    The presentation is a bit warped, but the results are impressive. Absentee knows how to bring a house down--way down. I got really bummed...and feel great about it!


    Absinthe Blind
    When Our Flashes Sway
    (Hammerhead)
    reviewed in issue #147, 11/10/97

    If you were to make an equilateral triangle comprising U2, the Chills and Pavement and trisect it, Absinthe Blind might be sitting there at the union point. Unless I've completely forgotten my geometry terminology and I just created some sort of vector black hole thingy.

    Anyway, this is alt-pop stuff with a minimalist approach to melody and an affection for sweeping, atmospheric settings. Fans of Seam would probably dismiss this as a primitive attempt at ultimate flattery, but I'm quite a bit more charitable. Absinthe Blind is able to undercut its epic excess with some nice sleight-of-hand in the booth, and the lyrics certainly aren't afraid of expressing emotions.

    Indeed, for all the musical mess, the sparsely-worded lyrics slash through any grandiose visions of pompous arrogance. This disc represents a band tackling basic philosophical problems (both intellectual and musical), with varying success. A worthy ride, nonetheless.

    I get a little tired of the relentless use of the ironic morose backbeat (think about it, and maybe listen to any R.E.M. album), but there are enough fresh ideas here to keep me coming back around time and again.


    Absinthe Junk
    Death in the Afternoon
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #347, 4/7/13

    Sharp tekno rock that would have fit in nicely with the digicore scene in the 90s. Gothic hard rock with plenty of synth and anthemic melodies. Nothing revolutionary, but done with flair.


    The Absolute Zeros
    Dreams Gone Sour
    (Big Deal)
    reviewed in issue #155, 3/23/98

    Chunky riffs and tight hooks, pop music that lurches pleasantly from tune to tune. Approaching the ideal of white guys with guitars, with all the baggage that implies.

    Sweet stuff, undoubtedly, though not quite as achingly gorgeous as, say, the Cardinal Woolsey album of a couple years back. The Absolute Zeros get bogged down occasionally in craft problems (the transition between song sections can be agonizing), but the basics are good.

    Good sound, bouncy and appealing. Just the right amount of kick in the guitars, and a slightly ragged quality to the vocals. Dead on.

    In all, pleasing. Not perfect, but a decent disc for a lazy afternoon. Enough punch to convince you to actually get off yer ass, but with a tasty filling that justifies the lackadaisical impulse.


    The Abstractions
    Sonic Conspiracy
    (Edgetone)
    reviewed in issue #232, August 2002

    The Abstractions are Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Scott R. Looney, Bob Marsh, Jesse Quattro and Rent Romus. If those names mean anything to you, then you've probably got a pretty good idea what's going on here.

    Improvisations of the manic kind. With a few more introspective ideas tossed in for good measure. These folks have worked together previously in other combinations, so they know how to play off each other. How to make a true improvisation sing.

    Which is not to say that much of this sounds anything like traditional music. Hell, a couple pieces here make regular "free jazz" sound like a minuet. Still, within the chaos there is reason. A plan. Design.

    Maybe that's why this sort of sonic exploration appeals to me. Jazz purists abhor the idea of improvisation as brainstorming, but these are talented people spinning ideas. Not every concept works; not every path is followed as long as it should be. That's cool. Kinda like life that way.


    Ars Vivende
    (Pax-Edgetone)
    reviewed in issue #246, October 2003

    The Abstractions are Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Rent Romus, Bob Marsh and a host of friends. If you know anything about the folks listed above, then you know what you're getting into here.

    Or maybe not. These songs do have a highly improvisational feel, but there's a strange sort of avant-groove riffing through many of them. Sort of a lurching, menacing feeling that the noise is, indeed, coalescing into something deeper and infinitely more terrifying.

    The folks also utterly deconstruct "But Not for Me," a delightful Gershwin tune that is rendered into burnt offal. It's not supposed to be funny; I'm really not sure of the intent, period. Which goes for the whole album. I don't have a firm grasp on what these folks are doing most of the time, and that's probably what makes this album so attractive to my ears.

    Ominous rumblings from an alternate dimension. This is music for those inhabiting the outer realms of reality. If you think you're normal, be afraid. Be very afraid. And run away. Now.


    Novo Navigatio
    (Pax-Edgetone)
    reviewed in issue #260, December 2004

    The latest musings from Rent Romus and Ernesto Diaz-Infante (and a revolving cast of pals). Are these improvisations? Performance art? A whacked-out attempt at art songs? Probably all of the above. The only thing I know is that each songs pushes a different part of the envelope.

    And so you can flit from a silly political discussion to something that sounds like Leonard Cohen deconstructed to some really nice abstract noise--with a cool vocal track, to boot. A fine mix of fare.

    A sonic bouillabaisse, if you will. Romus and Diaz-Infante throw just about everything into the pot, and somehow it comes out as a nice, cohesive stew. Not for the faint of heart (or mind), but just the sort of musical adventure I like to take.

    But then, I had a feeling I'd like this as soon as I opened the package. So maybe you can't take my word for it. For fans, though, this album just keeps on keepin' on. And that's a very good thing.


    Abuse Ment Park
    Electric Spanking Session
    (Surf)
    reviewed in issue #177, 2/22/99

    What might have been metal a few years back is now given the generic term "industrial" these days. Abuse Ment Park kicks out thick grooves made of swirling riffage, with lots of rants against God and other authority figures.

    Pretty cool, as far as all that goes. The songs themselves don't progress much from one to the other, so there is a sensation of having heard it all before by the end of the disc. A mild case, though, nothing too serious.

    The thing that really catches my ear here is the sound, particularly guitars. This has that Skid Row/Winger guitar feel (and as much as you may not like those bands, the guitars were done well), and the gravelly vocals (somewhere between James Hetfield and hardcore) fit on top quite nicely.

    Entertaining, as long as you don't go too far with it. A fun disc worth a few spins.


    The Abyss
    The Other Side
    (Nuclear Blast)
    reviewed in issue #73, 3/31/95

    "No keyboards was (sic) used on this recording." A pretty impressive statement for a black metal disc.

    Speed and hollering are the two trademarks here; also, the production is about the best I've heard on a black metal album. Well, when you get a little money behind you...

    The Abyss also has taken a little time to craft the songs, which makes them listenable (somewhat). This is the most commercial (and to my ear, best) black metal disc I've heard. That doesn't say much, but you should check this out. I don't know where black metal is heading, but some evolution is a good thing.


    Summon the Beast
    (Nuclear Blast America)
    reviewed in issue #127, 1/27/97

    Also known as the black metal side of Hypocrisy. The guys switch instrument and singing assignments and plow ahead as if nothing unusual is happening.

    But, of course, The Abyss is that unusual black metal band that actually sounds great. The guys can play, and the songs sound like they've actually been written and not merely tossed off a wanky Casio.

    Sure, other bands like Emperor can make the same claim, but my main problem with a lot of black metal is that there is little musical creativity. Not to mention the weak production that tends to turn a lot of bands' albums to mush. The Abyss had the money and the know-how to create a lush black metal atmosphere, one that is worthy of the title.

    As this and the last Abyss release prove, no musical movement is completely bereft of talent and innovation. The Abyss is certainly at the head of the class in black metal, even if the band is merely the more extreme version of one of the more venerable death metal acts around. Set your weapons to "kill"!


    The Accents
    Growth and Squalor
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #338, June 2012

    Folk-influenced rock 'n' pop, more of an amalgam of many styles. Kind of like americana run through a mathy emo filter. And at this point, I have officially made a mess of this review.

    Which is a shame, because my first thought upon hearing the Accents was "Wow, these guys have an awesome streamlined sound." Indeed. It's just that the sounds that go into that sound are wonderfully diverse, and the resulting songs are softly-tumbled gems.

    The sound is gorgeous, sharp enough to emphasize the frames and loose enough to lend an easy-going feel to the whole. This sounds like the simplest thing in the world, but in truth, it's hard work sounding effortless.

    Absolutely beautiful songs that ring like bells. The Accents have distilled their ideas into a brilliant album. Wonderful.


    Tall Tales
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed 11/9/14

    Calling Accents an indie-folk band is kinda like calling Cannibal Corpse a speed metal band. The statement is true enough, except that each band obliterates any subtlety that might have existed in the genre. And yes, plenty of speed metal bands employ (employed?) subtlety. Subtly.

    Thing is, I like the overkill approach. Accents writes songs that demand to be blown out at full volume. Some folks write confessional ditties, and some folks write anthems. Accents writes GODDAMNED BACKBREAKING ANTHEMS. And occasionally Pretty Freakin' Overbaked Not-Exactly-Introspective Mood Pieces.

    Which is cool. You know the formula: start with a simple lick and a single-tracked vocal line and then build. Accents doesn't build. It explodes. Even better, there are two vocalists. I love bands that have a guy and a girl singing. That alone goes a long way.

    What really works here is the seamless nature of these songs. They boom out of nowhere and fade away into the black almost as fast. One supernova after another. If you want to hear sensitive songs about pain, loss, resentment and the like, this is not your album. But if you want to feel your heart race again and again (so much so that you don't stop to think about exactly what you're hearing), this should do you right.

    Even on the somewhat less bombastic tunes, Accents comes on full bore. This reminds me a lot of the Mowgli's, who got a major-label deal a few months after their indie release (and not coincidentally, a band I love to death). There's a market for this kinda stuff. Which is cool.

    Again, don't go a lookin' for subtlety, cause there's none to be found here. For a while I was really fighting my enthusiasm, but after a couple of listens I gave up. I mean, who has time for petty whining?

    Okay, I do. That's my job. But I don't feel like engaging in that stuff here. Tall Tales is far too much fun to trouble with petty details. Just crank it up and smile like hell. There are far worse things in life.


    Accept
    Predator
    (Mayhem-Futurist)
    reviewed in issue #132, 4/14/97

    Accept, and more specifically once and current lead singer Udo Dirkschneider, is one of the reasons why I prefer not to use the term "hair rock" when referring to the passel of metal bands that made the 80s a fun time to grow up. I mean, you really think Nelson and Iron Maiden belong anywhere near each other?

    As 80s metal bands went, Accept never quite broke into the mainstream. No album hit the Top 40, and they played places like Greyhound Arena in Portales, NM (along with Krokus; I missed the show because my friends were too drunk to remember when I lived). I'd like to say that I was a devoted fan, but I wasn't. When I heard Accept I liked it (and I do know most of Metal Heart pretty well, and how can you not like a song like "London Leatherboys"), I'm not what you'd call a devoted fan.

    This puppy is produced by Michael Wagener (who else?), and original members Udo, Wolf Hoffman and Peter Baltes are still cranking out much the same stuff they did 15 years ago. Good riffage, nice hooks and the trademark Dirkschneider growl.

    Even with the Kiss comeback and whatever it is that Motley Crue is doing, this is not 1982, and Accept has very little chance of really breaking out this late in the band's career. A good album, though, is always appreciated in these quarters.


    Acceptance
    Black Lines to Battlefields EP
    (The Militia Group)
    reviewed in issue #243, July 2003

    Coming in on the power pop side of emo, Acceptance creates wonderfully tight hooks that don't overdo the sugar. I kinda like that, myself.

    This is highly-crafted stuff, the sort of work that doesn't bear much resemblance to the band's punk roots. Nonetheless, it's easy to hear that energy in the performance, where the manic energy is channeled into an almost pristine intensity.

    The sort of EP that makes me wish for a full-length. Acceptance fits into the current scene, but it has carved out a fine niche for itself. That's rather tough to do in this area of the music universe, but these boys do seem to have a knack for getting things right.


    Accidental Suicide
    Deceased
    (Deaf-Grind Core)
    reviewed in issue #27, 1/31/93

    Obvious fans of the Cannibal Corpse "Splatter" school of death metal, Accidental Suicide brings a sharper musical ability to this circle.

    Yes, the vocals are rather unintelligible, and at times everything seems to just be falling apart (just as it should be, many folks say). But the tempos shift, real chord progressions can be recognized and even a true song construction or two.

    As I work into the album, the more I am liking it. It's not so much splashy as completely crazy. Almost a doom effect wandering through occasionally. Rather nice work for five Midwestern (I assume, as this was recorded in Milwaukee) boys.


    Aceyalone
    Love & Hate
    (Project Blowed)
    reviewed in issue #241, May 2003

    All right. Aceyalone drops some seriously funky electronic beats and then lays some truly smooth rhymes on top. Just the sorta thing I like to hang with now and again.

    And when you've got pals like Sayyid and Priest of Anti-Pop Consortium and El-P who are more than willing to stop by and lend a little help, well, maybe you've got something.

    Indeed. Aceyalone isn't afraid of trying out any number of innovative beat ideas and then introduce some polyrhythms with his rhymes. All while kicking some interesting ideas.

    Quite impressive. If this is just the beginning, then Aceyalone may well have a great future.


    The Actual Tigers
    Gravelled and Green
    (Nettwerk America)
    reviewed in issue #218, 6/25/01

    It's not often I hear stuff from folks who want to sound like Paul Simon. Maybe that's passe. Maybe twenty or thirty years ago lots of folks worked the witty jange folk pop angle. I was kinda young back then and didn't notice.

    Though, thinking about it, I can't think of many folks who really went back long the same path quite like this. Maybe they just didn't have the chops. Because while the Actual Tigers really remind me of Simon, these folks sure do know how to make a pop song sing.

    And, well, there's meat in them thar hills. The lyrics are cleverly crafted, and they fit in nicely with the tightly-played tunes. The sound, too, has that slightly less polished feel of the early 70s. There are a few modern hints here and there, but they simply add to the charm.

    That's really what this disc has: An immutable, unmistakable charm. The quality of the songs kinda snuck up on me, mostly because I've been enjoying myself too much. Yeah, the Actual Tigers might want to distance themselves a bit further from Paul Simon, but only if they don't lose what's good here. A big ol' wad of fun.


    Accused
    Straight Razor EP
    (Nastymix)
    reviewed in issue #2, 11/15/91

    Although this is not a terribly new release, I have no problem telling you folk about the Accused. They call their sound splatter rock. I say it sounds like a healthy mix of hard-core and death metal, with enunciation intact.

    The new tracks are great, especially "No Hope for Relief/Close Insight." Their rendition of "Saturday Night Special" went over very well with my listeners also. Aw, hell, play the whole damn thing, even the two tracks from their last album, Grinning Like an Undertaker.

    The Accused are perhaps the heaviest band in the Seattle scene, and that's saying something. In this case, that's saying something very good.


    Splatter Rock
    (Nastymix)
    reviewed in issue #12, 4/30/92

    For better or for worse, the Accused have a definite sound. They are unique. Hailing from a town known for really only one sound (at the moment), they have persevered with their own vision through the years.

    To clear up any past misinformation, the Accused are still around and have a 38-city world tour scheduled for the summer. Tommy has left to join Gruntruck full-time, and he has been replaced by Andy Massey. Catch the show; a friend of mine saw them in New Orleans a couple of years back and still raves.

    On a critical note, I preferred their last album, Grinning Like and Undertaker, by a hair, but I absolutely loved that thing, so don't take that statement as a slam. This is a fine piece of work, as many of you have already noticed. A real rage-releaser.

    See also Gruntruck.


    Accuser
    Accuser
    (Century Media)
    reviewed in issue #65, 10/31/94

    Obviously someone in the Century Media A&R dept. decided to make a play for a ton of death metal-core bands. And where Graveyard Rodeo works, Accuser simply wallows in cliches.

    Oh, there are a few good riffs. And they keep getting repeated. Every song, over and over. And if a new riff finds its way in, its usually stolen. Compare the vocal line and riffs in "Misery" to Pantera's "Mouth Full of War". Um, this is actionable, folks.

    There's a fine line between swine and sublime. Accuser, as I noted earlier, wallows, and thus (at least for this effort) falls into the swine category.


    Aces Wild
    Royal Flush
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #142, 9/1/97

    Sounds a lot like the one type of metal that never quite made it even in the mid-80s. Excessively technical anthems, where ever little nuance is overloaded with bombast. Aces Wild does have an interesting take something akin to 38 Special meets Rising Force (minus Yngwie), but the formula is still stale.

    The music is earnestly played, and extremely well-produced (major-label quality there). While these guys can sing and play as well as anyone, there isn't a great songwriter in the bunch. At best the lyrics are hackneyed, and the music follows the same lead.

    I've always said that a great band can make any genre sound good. Aces Wild isn't good enough to lift its music out of this moribund morass of retread grooves. By any technical estimation, the guys are quite good, but it takes more than that to make good music.


    Acid Bath
    When the Kite String Pops
    (Rotten)
    reviewed in issue #61, 8/31/94

    Traditional metal riffs and Sabbath stylings flying together with funky rhythms and slightly processed vocals.

    A lot of this has a late-eighties feel. You know, when bands like Mordred and Faith No More actually released records. When it works, it cooks. "Tranquilized" starts off as a really great song.

    Of course, Acid Bath has this silly tendency to drop a Sabbath reference at the worst possible time. Like when "Tranquilized" is really grooving, the band cuts off the funk and goes into a free-form Sabbath tribute for a few minutes. Um, guys?

    I just don't understand why bands feel compelled to destroy a perfectly good groove. Perhaps they don't want to be sissies or something dumb like that? Come on. There is a lot of potential wandering around here. The members of Acid Bath should be forced, however, to burn all of their Sab records. Get on with your own career.


    Acrimony
    Hymns to the Stone
    (Godhead-Flying)
    reviewed in issue #75, 4/30/95

    I guess I never figured that hippies were big Black Sabbath fans, but bands like Sleep, Count Raven and now Acrimony are making me change my mind.

    Like the aforementioned, Acrimony's riffs have a definite Iommi/Butler-esque quality, though Dorian Walters doesn't have Ozzy's pipes and he doesn't try to sound much like Osbourne at all.

    The playing is good, and the production astonishingly close to the original fuzzy Sabbath sound. That took some real work.

    A mildly amusing disc, but Acrimony wallows a little close to the bone for my comfort. If I wanted to listen to something like this, I'll just whip out Master of Reality or something.


    The Acid Elephant EP
    (Godhead-Flying)
    reviewed in issue #90, 10/23/95

    Before I really tear this apart, I must say that Acrimony has replicated Tony Iommi's late 60's guitar sound better than any band I have ever heard.

    And that's the only thing going for the boys. They rip Black Sabbath off so shamelessly even Cathedral would be impressed. One track reshuffled from the last album, a live track and two new piece make up this EP. The cover is cute, but the insides are only for those who truly covet every Sabbath ripoff there has been.

    Admittedly, they really sound like Paranoid-era Black Sabbath. But then, where is the art?


    The Action Time
    Rock and Roll 7"
    (Southern)
    reviewed in issue #209, 12/11/00

    Kinda what the title sez. The Action Time plays rock and roll, the unprettified, skanky sort purveyed by the Ramones or Replacements. There are a few refinements (a shaky keyboard lays in some new wave progressions), but nothing that can get rid of the grit.

    I'm pretty sure the Action Time has no real intention of cleaning up its act. The attitude here is almost over-the-top, like it had to be manufactured or artificially stimulated or something. But all that does is add some more crunch to the music.

    There may be all sorts of philosophical reasons for the Action Time's sound (a vague, rambling manifesto printed on the back side of the sleeve serves as liner notes), but luckily what survived the recording process is, quite simply, rock and roll.


    Versus the World
    (Southern)
    reviewed in issue #211, 1/29/01

    Thirty minutes of the same sort of whiplash rock that I heard on the "Rock and Roll" 7". Lots of haphazardly-played chords, a generally incoherent rhythm section and chaos everywhere.

    In other words, the purest distillation of a certain breed of rock and roll. I get the sense that the Action Time actually spent more time working on this than the sound would indicate, but the spontaneous feel was worth the effort.

    The songs don't always come together. Every chance the band takes isn't rewarded. Sometimes, that's how it goes. What can't be criticized is the electric sound these folks have created. It's simply impossible to quit listening.

    And in the end, that's my final judgment. I couldn't stop the disc from spinning, even as the songs themselves careened off the cliff. Plug in and don't let go. There's a ride to be had here.


    Acts Magdalena
    Acts Magdalena
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #78, 6/15/95

    Mellow, atmospheric pop that reminds me of a more rock-oriented Moon Seven Times. Obviously, parallels can be drawn to quite a few other acts as well.

    Which is the main problem here. The songs flow from one to another, with little change. Many have that echo-guitar stuff intro used by RHCP, Live and countless others. I've heard it before, and I didn't really like it then.

    Christian Merry growls her way through the vocals. I wish she'd sing a little. It might provide some distinctive touch for the band, something that is sorely lacking.

    Another band that needs to find a sound outside of what major-label bands are currently doing.


    Acumen
    Territory=Universe
    (Fifth Colvmn)
    reviewed in issue #114, 7/15/96

    Mining the same musical ground as Chemlab (metal guitars, hard techno beats and distorted industrial vocals), Acumen doesn't quite manage to live up to rep of its labelmates.

    Sure, this is a perfectly enjoyable disc, particularly on tracks like "You Can Deal with This" and "Queener", which keep the beats moving and the guitars slashing. Real club potential in both of those tracks. But much of the rest sits a bit too close to mundane territory for my comfort.

    After all, there are only so many Megadeth riffs you can set to dance beats. The lyrics are angst-ridden vitriol, like most other acts that populate the techno-industrial (or is that cybercore?) universe. Despite the odd catchy track, Acumen finally fails to create its own reality in this virtual musical world.

    Enough talent to keep me hanging on, but just barely. I'd like to hear a little more experimentation and original thought. Stuff that really makes my head spin.


    Acumen
    Diversity
    (Holographic)
    reviewed in issue #210, 1/8/01

    Not the old industrial band, but rather a collective of folks who would very much like to have been recording in the early 70s. Well, maybe.

    If you can imagine a 90s jam groove driving Bowie, Led Zeppelin or even some early glam, well, that might get closer to the point. Acumen takes chances, which I never beef about.

    Even when the chances rather blow up. After all, do you really want to hear a Dead-like jam in the middle of what might have been a really great glam rock song?Sorta like if Yes decided to record the works of Big Star. Interesting? Um, yeah. But probably annoying as hell.

    Acumen usually avoids being annoying. And its wide range of influences keep the band from sounding like another Phish rip-off. No, Acumen is more than able to stand on its own merits, for better and worse. Mostly for better, IÕd say.


    Keith John Adams
    PIP
    (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
    reviewed in issue #271, December 2005

    Keith John Adams has a certain affection for toy piano and other "unusual" instruments (accordion, etc.), but rather than play on some sort of gimmick, he simply plays. And while the effect can be a bit unnerving, his sincere delivery is always convincing.

    And anyway, when you're a one-man band playing off-kilter pop (kind of the bastard step-child of the singer-songwriter genre) it doesn't hurt to do a couple of things to help your music stand out.

    Adams's writing does that, however, so the finishing touches are merely wonderful little presents. He's really got a fine feel for the slightly lurching, slightly deranged pop song. Reminds me a bit of an unrefined David Singer, which is certainly high praise from me.

    Well done. One of those albums that pricks up the ears and quickly invades the soul. Disquietingly good.


    Peter Adams
    The Spiral Eyes
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #272, March 2006

    One of those one-man recordings that sounds a whole lot more than that. Peter Adams knows how to record an album, and even if he is filling in some of the holes with synthesizers and keyboards, his brand of laconic, bright pop is the perfect match for that technique.

    Laconic in terms of how busy the music is, of course. Adams has plenty to say. His restrained touch on the arrangements (full, but just) lends a slightly off-kilter feel to the songs. Kinda like early Magnetic Fields, but with more feeling.

    Not overly earnest, however. Adams is jaded enough to know that life isn't about to deal him a full house, and his songs reflect that outlook. But far from being maudlin, these tunes tend to provoke a smile at the finish.

    Still, I wouldn't call this stuff wry. Amazing, isn't it, how many times I can turn a review into a semantic war. Screw all that. Peter Adams has made some fine music. That's the bottom line here, and that's all that needs to be said.


    I Woke with Planets in My Face
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #303, December 2008

    Peter Adams's The Spiral Arms is one of the greatest albums I've ever heard. I still listen to it weekly. A large part of its appeal for me is the unexpected grandeur of waves of orchestration laid over a strumming acoustic guitar. Adams is a master song craftsman, and he's also got one of those unforgettable voices--flawed, and all the more wonderful for it.

    Any new album had to be a letdown. I simply adore Arms, and if Adams shifted even a bit from that I knew I'd be bummed. Well, there are a few obvious differences. For starters, the orchestration sounds a bit more electronic. It was largely electronic before, of course, but here he drops the curtain a bit. This adds a different texture to the songs, which makes me uneasy.

    Good. An artist who simply repeats himself is doomed to obscurity. Adams's incisive songwriting and willingness to wander out into space (there's more than a little prog up his sleeve) are still present, but he's loosened up the reins on his craft just a bit. That vaguely sloppy feel combined with the more obvious electronics brings the sound of this album back to earth, if only slightly.

    I think the only reason I didn't fall in love with this album immediately is because of my undying devotion to Arms. Adams proves here that he's anything but a one-hit wonder. His sense of the wonder of it all is what ties his work together, and he's made another intimate masterpiece. Stunning.


    The Adicts
    Ultimate Adiction--the Best Of
    (Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #139, 7/21/97

    The Adicts have been around for more than 20 years, and this compilation helps me understand why the band has never quite hit the big time over here. The guys simply played the punk of the times, without ever really trying to do their own thing.

    All sorts of trends waft through, from Buzzcocks pop (there's a lot of that, though it doesn't measure up) to ska and even a couple oi tunes. More than a couple songs borrow from the Ramones rather heavily. I honestly can't find much original here.

    On the plus side, the stuff is competently played and the lyrics are often somewhat amusing. Not terribly insightful in a life-changing way, but at least good enough to leave a goofy grin.

    Fans of pop punk will jump on this, and it's not bad as far as that goes. But to make "legend" claims is going a bit far.


    Admiral Byrd
    Goodbye Cruel Worldview
    (Princess)
    reviewed in issue #324, February 2011

    Running a variety of pop sounds through a Loveless filter, Admiral Byrd fuzzes out quite nicely.

    Unlike MBV and many of its imitators, however, a lot of these sounds are electronic even before the processing. This Danish foursome has found a sound that works, and more importantly, it keeps refining that sound as the album goes along.

    The songs may have the sounds of pop, but they're constructed in a much more free-flowing rock manner. Verse-chorus rules the day, but plenty of these pieces have extended intros, bridges or codas. Also, each song contains more than one sonic idea, and the band seems to like to jam up contradictory thoughts as often as possible.

    And why not? The result is a otherworldly hash of distortion, electronics and complex vocals. It's hard to hear where this came from, but the better question would be "Where is this going?" I'll be listening for the answer.


    Adventures of Jet
    Part 3: Coping with Insignificance
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #194, 1/24/00

    Extremely mannered, hook-heavy pop stuff. These songs are meticulously written and played, down to the fuzzy keyboards which generally dance around the vocal melodic lines. That element lends a superficial 80s feel to the music. If there had been a new wave guitar pop movement, well, Adventures of Jet would have fit right in.

    And the closest thing I can come up with is Squeeze, but AOJ is much more guitar-oriented. Those keyboards, though, they have a definite Difford-Tillbrook lilt. What this really reminds me of is the Gravel Pit, that excellent band from Boston. AOJ leans on the keys a bit more, but the quality is just as high.

    What really sets this band apart is the care with which this album was made. I've already mentioned the writing and the playing, but the production puts every piece in the right place. It also allows those cool keys to spring forth at the appropriate times. The hooks pop out of the speakers in resplendent glory.

    Really. I'm not getting overly excited over nothing. AOJ is so far ahead of most bands with major deals that I'm simply astonished no one has taken a flyer on the boys as yet. Yeah, there are a lot of hooky pop bands around, but this stuff is really, really fine. Certainly worth scoping out.


    Aeraby
    Aeraby EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    Aeraby sounds like it's playing rollicking groove stuff through a prog filter. Actually, there's a lot of late 80s and early 90s alt. rock in here, a grand slinging of chords and somewhat affected female vocals which tends toward the pretentious.

    It has to, see, because there's no reason to play like this if you don't have something to say. I do get hints of early 80s Rush as well (and I like that), which certainly fits into the pattern. Really, Aeraby might be best described as a mix between Eleventh Dream Day and that Canadian trio.

    But that would be simplifying things, which is never fair. Aeraby has worked real hard to craft this sound, and it's a good one. Certainly, I've never heard anyone go after anything quite like this. The songs are sharp and performed energetically. Quite the listen.


    Aerial M
    Aerial M
    (Drag City)
    reviewed in issue #145, 10/13/97

    You ever been on a road that you knew was going somewhere, but with all of the pretty scenery about you weren't so concerned about the destination as the trip itself? I guess you can figure out what I'm going to say next...

    Aerial M is David Pajo and a few of his very good friends (just imagine who else has released records on Drag City, and you have a good start). The songs are instrumental, all focusing on meandering, but never quite lost, guitar work. Pajo likes to give his melodies a solid workout before he consigns them to the "finished" bin.

    And that leads to the somewhat lackadaisical feel to this disc. But don't be fooled: This puppy was intricately crafted. Listen to what's behind the guitar. Figure out how Pajo and company use the absence of sound to create a wonderful effect. I know, I've harped on this before, but when you're recording it's almost as important how you manage the silence as to how you manage the sound itself. Aerial M does everything right.

    Aerial M may sound simple at first, but once you start to really ponder the music, the hook is set and you can't get away. Fine work.


    Aesop Rock
    Float
    (Mush-Dirty Loop)
    reviewed in issue #204, 8/28/00

    So what happens when you get a combination of distinctive rhyme structure and a knack for creative beatwork? Well, something like Aesop Rock. Something that is rarely uninspiring.

    Aesop Rock's approach might be best described as a highly technical dancehall style. He'll scat on a beat, but always with letter-perfect enunciation. The ideas fly past faster than the speed of sound. I'm wondering how he gets his mouth to comply.

    The songs are free-form in style, probably the best way to present the complicated and intricate thoughts of the lyrics. This is an album that requires a listener to think. Both the rhymes and the music defy convention or simplistic references. There's no way to avoid the intellectual assault.

    Which, of course, limits the mainstream appeal. On the other hand, anyone who is dumb enough to think that rap music is for idiots would be quickly turned around by this disc. Poetry rarely sounded so good.


    Labor Days
    (Definitive Jux)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    A certain PR guy has been screaming wonderful thing about this disc. His only description (other than things like "the most important hip-hop album of the year," etc.) was "y'know, somewhere on the Wu-Tang tip." Indeed. I've always felt Wu-Tang was always a bit too sloppy, creating a lot of good songs but few great ones. Aesop Rock does a great job with the backing tracks, both the keyboard melodies and the herky-jerky beats. As for the rhyming, well, it comes and goes.

    The sloppiness factor is high. And yet, I feel myself leaning toward the opinion of my friend the PR slinger. It's impossible to deny the power of the music. Indeed, even if some of the individual pieces don't quite measure up, the whole is still a colossus of unimaginable strength.

    Aesop Rock is one of the few hip hop artists that manages to create innovative beats and top-notch rhymes. The creativity exhibited here is most impressive. Definitely going on.


    Coma/Maintenance 12"
    (Definitive Jux)
    reviewed in issue #221, 9/3/01

    One of the better tracks from Aesop Rock's new album, Labor Days, and a fresh b-side. Each comes in dirty (original), clean and instrumental versions. And that's pretty much the tale.

    "Maintenance" is the track that should interest the casual fan, although the bare-bones beats and pieces in the instrumentals should excite DJs and folks who like spinning. Aesop Rock is most creative in that area.

    Two great songs. If Aesop Rock gets you going, then the flip here is more than worth digging up. A nice little package.


    Daylight EP
    (Definitive Jux)
    reviewed in issue #225, January 2002

    Another short set of thought from one of the more prolific and interesting artists in hip-hop today. Aesop Rock manages to combine the latest in beat theory and sound construction with modified old school rhymin'. The result is generally mindbending.

    Verbal dexterity is the name of the game. There's no slurring or stumbling around the syllables here. Razor-sharp rhymes and striking ideas populate this post-911 set. But rather than dwelling on inhuman tragedy, Aesop Rock focuses people.

    Not nearly enough music here to satisfy my needs. But I feel that way when I get a full set as well. So much talent. Such fine execution. Few can claim the total package like this man.

    Contact:
    Definitive Jux
    Phone (212) 965-1901 x5
    www: http://www.defjux.net


    Affected
    A Fate Worse than a Fate Worse than Death
    (Frontier)
    reviewed in issue #52, 4/15/94

    No-bones cheap-and-easy punk-lite. The folks have a way with pop melodies, and the songs aren't stupid.

    This is less an album than a sort of compilation of a few recordings from the past couple of years. The production does vary noticeably at points, but that doesn't detract from the fun.

    Some would say no self-respecting punk band would cover "Jenny/867-5309". They might be right. But it seems to fit right in with the general feel of the other tunes, so I'm not going to bitch.

    Nothing important, really, but a buttload of fun.


    Afflicted
    Prodigal Sun
    (Nuclear Blast)
    reviewed in issue #25, 11/30/92

    Reminiscent of Hexx or Sadus, Afflicted mixes thrash with quite a few other sounds and come up with some cool aural sculptures. In other words, if you want boring music, go somewhere else.

    Sure, it's a challenge, but listening to this album does provide real rewards. No waste of time here.

    Once again, I am faced with making my last review of the issue match up to the quality of the release and I find myself unable to perform. Trust me: this is a fine piece of work.


    Afrobeta
    Wig Party
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #337, May 2012

    One part Miami pop, one part disco, one part electronic experimentalism and a dash of funk. The duo that makes up Afrobeta prefers to not use their real names (Cuci does the singing and Tony Smurphio takes care of the music), but they should reconsider. There's no need to hide when you make such infectious music.

    Slinkier and funkier than yer average dance pop act, Afrobeta also throws in some intriguing electronic song construction. One track, for example, is a slice-and-dice of the "Family Man" theme. There's also a fairly routine run-through of "Whip It" alongside remixes from the band's first album and a handful of originals.

    So I'm guessing this is some sort of placemarker EP, but even so the engaging spirit of Afrobeta shines through. The best pieces here are the originals. Can't wait for the official second edition.


    Afterlife
    Surreality
    (Grind Core)
    reviewed in issue #36, 6/30/93

    Muffled production really costs them here. Everything seems to be trying to escape from a fog. And it's too bad, because I think there's some interesting things going on here.

    The keys on the doom pieces are pretty cool (and I'm certainly not a keyboard fan), lending a My Dying Bride tinge to those sections. But usually Afterlife forgets about that stuff and wanders into death metal retread territory.

    The guys need to find themselves. Ah, well, they're still young.


    Aftertax
    Showtune
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #151, 1/19/98

    Punk pop from the Chapel Hill area, and, sure, you can hear a Superchunk influence. But more than that, I hear a mid-80s kinda vibe, like, say, Naked Raygun. Where Superchunk has the tendency to clamp down on the proceedings when the band wants to get a little introspective, Aftertax simple tightens up the gears and roars ahead at a faster pace.

    Tight riffs and wonderfully discordant harmonies. Intentional sloppiness? I dunno, but it works. The songs keep bashing their way out of my stereo, impressing more with each foray.

    Way back in high school, I learned that many great poets (say, Shakespeare) liked the constraints of formal poetry because you didn't have to worry structure, just what you wanted to say. In the same way, Aftertax follows pop form perfectly, but it's what's contained within that's the real revelation. The only innovation here is the inspiration revealed. That's enough for me.

    Talk about a grabber out of the gate. I've come to expect fairly good things from Chapel Hill bands (particularly the lesser-known ones), and Aftertax exceeds my anticipation. An impressive and articulate set.


    Return of the Wizard
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #156, 4/6/98

    The album I reviewed a few weeks back is more than a year old. This puppy is the newer one. Same eclectic, yet simple, approach to pop music. Same great results.

    I loved the first disc, and this one works just as well. Special guests Chris Stamey and Mike Kenlan (who just happened to be hanging about, ahem), folks who know something about great music, chip in. Stamey even did the knob work. This album finds the band in the middle of a guitarist switch. So the current guitarist didn't really do much here.

    Enough geneaology. This set is as diverse and appealing as the first, drawing from all sorts of outside influences. A few rootsy songs, some punky ravers, sweet, winsome tunes and even a couple contemplative instrumentals.

    I got exactly what I expected. Highest quality. How these guys stay unsigned is beyond me. Fine, fine stuff.


    Against Me!
    As the Eternal Cowboy
    (Fat Wreck Chords)
    reviewed in issue #248, December 2003

    The thing about the Clash is that the boys made it cool to play all sorts of music through a punk filter. To make a more distinct reference to this disc, Against Me! reminds me of the Clash, but only in the way the folks kinda lope their way through all sorts of punkish fare.

    There are the recognized punk subgroups (a little oi here, a little ska there) and then some country and a whole mess of other stuff besides. What ties all these disparate sounds together is the loosey-goosey playing style. These guys just let it all hang out.

    The stuff is quite well-produced, but it's not sharp or clean. There's a nice, dull edge to the sound (reminds me of the Wedding Present at times, particularly on the song "A Brief Yet Triumphant Intermission," which could easily be from the Weddoes lost files) that keeps this disc a low-key affair.

    Nothing spectacular. Simply good music played with punk style. Good music for good times. Or does that sound too much like a beer commercial?


    Agent 99
    Little Pieces 1993 - 1995
    (Shanachie)
    reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98

    It's every broken up band's dream to get a record contract even if it's a couple years too late. I'm still hanging on the belief that Lies Magazine will someday be edited into a massive and amazing book form. Maybe that's why this CD grew on me so quickly. Or maybe I just like ska bands. Or maybe I like that the singer is a female. Or maybe it's a combination of all three.

    The group switches between slow sweetly sung hazy ska ballads and angry, up tempo, up beat, frustrated ska bops. They even have a couple flute solos every now and then. All the songs are simple and basic, but since when was ska supposed to be complicated?

    If you want a little underground New York ska from a few years ago, dig around for this one. Just because a band doesn't make it past the underground scene doesn't mean you should ignore them.

    -- Aaron Worley


    Agents of Good Roots
    One by One
    (RCA/BMG)
    reviewed in issue #154, 3/9/98

    That would be the same roots as the Spin Doctors, with similar results. When the kicker is a catchy verse teamed up with a nice hook in the chorus, like, say, the title track, all is well. When the songs degenerate into syncopated symphonies of wanky excess (the more usual occurrence), it's like getting whacked on the head by Aerosmith playing the Grateful Dead.

    I mean it. This stuff is way overblown, and only outstanding songwriting can save such a thing. Unfortunately, there's not much past "One by One". Even a nice, sorta bluesy ballad like "Miss Missbelieving" comes off as hackneyed and overplayed. Way, way too much. This stuff is heavy for the hell of it, or, more likely, because some guy in a suit heard that guitars were back.

    I dunno. It's been a while since I heard an album that had one great song and then 11 that didn't come close. Takes me back to high school when I put out good, hard cash for cheesy albums after watching one cool video. After a while, I learned my lesson. Sounds like the merchandisers are at it again.


    Agnes Gooch
    Blind
    (Revolution/WB)
    reviewed in issue #138, 7/7/97

    Extremely calculated pop music. Every little discordant bit has been pasted into its proper place, decorating fairly catchy little songs.

    Posies lite? Yeah, I can say that. Like if Alex Chilton had made that third Big Star album while on coffee instead whatever he could get his hands on. And its exactly that preconceived feel that punches Agnes Gooch the wrong way.

    Great pop music is found, not made. I know, I promised I would quit foisting my faux-eastern philosophy on the masses, but I'm pretty sure about this idea. It's real easy to write a three-chord song. My old dog wrote three or four. The trick is making it sound natural. Agnes Gooch has no idea how to do that.

    As the album wears on, the more annoyed I get. Oh, there's some potential. These guys understand more music theory than I'll even be able to even glance at. But there's no there here. No soul. Nothing holding the stuff together. In the end, it's just a few chords and the odd shout.


    Jai Agnish
    Automata
    (Blue Bunny)
    reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00

    Not the name of a band, but a person. Jai Agnish plays his one-man fare the electronic way, with lots of loops and samples and overdubs. He layers his pieces with techno and analog sounds, but more in a Palace way than Beck.

    Am I making any sense? Agnish has a rather idiosyncratic way of expressing himself, and he really likes crafting these complex songs that sound astonishingly simple.

    Which is, of course, the goal in the first place. Don't let 'em see you sweat. Agnish obviously has worked extremely hard on this album, but it comes off as a breeze. I really like the way his guitar work is in a constant interplay with the electronic elements. An impressive feat.

    As is this whole album. Agnish has both talent and the perseverance to follow through. I really am having problems expressing how wonderful this album truly is. You'll just have to trust me.


    Agnostic Front
    Riot Riot Upstart
    (Epitaph)
    reviewed in issue #189, 10/11/99

    Well, it's another Agnostic Front album. That's what this is. Lars Frederickson did the knob work, but really, this sounds like most any AF album. Rough hardcore with just enough melody to slightly sand off the corners.

    Ther are a few changes, but I'm not talking about an evolution or anything. Some of the guitar solos have a bit more reverb than usual. That's all. The songs are as angry and political as ever, and the riffs flow from the classic hardcore fakebook.

    Why evolve when you can spit out such great hocks of venom? Geez. It's like asking John Grisham to write a romance novel or something. Well, maybe that's a really stupid simile. Particularly since I don't like Grisham.

    Anyway, I think I made my point. Fans know what they're gonna get, and AF delivers. Analysis is futile.


    The Agony Family
    Yourself United
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #321, October 2010

    Some bands play a certain style or stick to a certain genre. Other bands use all of the tools at their disposal to create awesome music. The Agony Family falls into the latter category.

    The basic sound is pop, I suppose, though there's plenty of rock and even a bit of electronic experimentalism wandering through. Most of the time there's a dominant melody and some harmonizin' in the hooks. All backed up by not-quite-sterile electronic-ish instrumentation.

    Which is to say that the songwriting is great and the arrangements are quite arresting. The Agony Family doesn't sound like anyone in particular, though the sounds here are quite familiar.

    I guess the easiest reference point would be a poppier (and yet kickier) New Order. With plenty of departure points. This is one well-appointed album. Fine stuff.


    Earth! 2xLP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #343, December 2012

    If you ever wondered what laptop prog might sound like, wonder no more. The Agony Column not only fuses indie rock, modern electronics and a certain very 70s sound almost seamlessly, the band goes one better: This is a classic rock-style double album.

    Virtuosic runs, poppy hooks and a vaguely snotty attitude permeate. If you aren't in the mood for a band that takes just about everything to eleven, well, go somewhere else. I'll wait.

    Okay, then. The sound is where the indie sensibilities come through the strongest. There's almost no bombast at all in the production--the band saves that for the songs and their arrangements. Oh, and the 28 (!!!) songs that make up this release.

    There isn't another band out there like Agony Family. No one is crazy enough. And few have the chops, either. When the hooks clip in, these songs are tight little gems. And when the guitar and keyboards roam a bit, well, the album begins to take on an epochal feel. Wonderful.


    Gustavo Aguilar
    Looking for Aztlan
    (Acoustic Levitation)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    Gustavo Aguilar is credited with percussion, guitar and voice. That's exactly what can be heard on this disc. Just not exactly in the way folks might expect.

    First, percussion means just about anything that can be whacked, from drums and xylophone-related instruments to, say, burbled water. Aguilar is inventive in his use of sound and in the way he puts those sounds together. He's always telling a story, but not in a linear fashion.

    He's also great at creating sonic travelogues. Depending on the instruments used, Aguilar evokes thoughts of various locales throughout Latin America and Africa. This just adds more texture and more subtext.

    Certainly riding the avant garde, but not in such a way as to be irrelevant. Aguilar's noises are generally coherent and well thought out. Just because he doesn't adhere to a rigid sound structure doesn't mean he can't connect. He does, in some truly surprising ways.


    Ah Holly Faml'y
    Reservoir
    (Lucky Madison)
    reviewed in issue #310, September 2009

    Lying sprawln between Wil Oldham, Lambchop and the Handsome Family (with a Burt Bacharach chaser), Ah Holly Faml'y is, in a word, unworldly.

    These aren't exactly songs, and they don't fit neatly (or otherwise) into any particular category. The rootsy influences are obvious mostly in the arrangements, not the writing. There's a level of craft that belies the ostensibly minimalist sound.

    Oh, and what a sound it is. Every voice and instrument has carved its own space in the void, and even when pieces get busy (as they often do), it's a snap to pick out each and every one. To call this idiosyncratic would be the understatement of the year.

    And then there's the band name, which I'm not even going to try and figure out. It doesn't matter. Ah Holly Faml'y is utterly unique, and utterly brilliant to boot. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.


    Daniel Ahearn
    Pray for Me By Name EP
    (Riparian)
    reviewed in issue #296, May 2008

    Five songs that sound to me like a modern rendition of the electric piano-driven songs penned by Alan Price (remember the Animals?) for the Malcolm McDowell film O Lucky Man!. For those of you not tied to my Netflix queue, that translates into kinda soft-rockin', rootsy stuff that sounds utterly sophisticated when played out through the keyboards or guitars.

    Gorgeous pop songs, the kind of things that would be soaring anthems if Ahearn trended that way. He doesn't, though, and the result is immeasurably more enjoyable gems, subtly crafted and sublimely played.

    Unrushed, intricate pieces that instantly dance upon the ears. Perhaps Ahearn will take a bit more time off from Ill Lit and do us a full length. Sure would be nice.


    Agressor
    Towards Beyond
    (Black Mark-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #26, 1/15/93

    The first French death metal I've received other than Gorguts, I think.

    Wandering around the different areas Euro-death has been in the past couple of years, there is nothing new here. But I hear snippets of Morgoth, Tiamat, Edge of Sanity and others. Meaning, of course, this stuff can be technical at times, not to mention outright strange in choice of influences, but the whole is a very satisfying listen. You will not believe this one album was created by a single group. But you will like it.


    Symposium of Rebirth
    (Black Mark-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #70, 2/14/95

    Well, before I really wank on this album, I must say I really like the guitar sound. It is really great.

    But, much like their last record, the boys in Agressor don't stick to one idea for more than ten seconds or so. The overdubbing is blatant and annoying. I know albums are created in the studio, but it takes real work to make a disc sound like it was done in one take. Not here.

    I suppose if the guys had more original ideas, some of this could be acceptable. They can all certainly play, but there is no experimentation at all. Everything is a rehash, and in the odd moment when Agressor finds a nice little groove, it's always gone within seconds.


    Ahleuchatistas
    On the Culture Industry
    (Angura Sound)
    reviewed in issue #251, March 2004

    This Asheville (N.C.) trio plays close to my heart. The label web page lists Don Caballero and Colossamite as obvious influences--damn, these boys are too good to be true!

    And, yeah, they play a funky, proggy, jazzy sort of post-rock kinda thing. I understand some folks are calling this type of technical rock "math." That's cool. Beats "post-rock," I guess. Hell, I'm always five years behind genre names, anyway...

    What's important is the music. And what Ahleuchatistas (I don't know what the name means, either) does is lay down some basic themes and then riff on a few variations. You know, like all those dreary compositions your piano teacher tried to get you to play. Except, of course, these pieces are hardly dreary. They're bright and exciting, brimming with all sorts of ideas.

    That's the best thing about this sort of abstract music. It's whatever you happen to make of it. Let your mind wander a bit and see where the lines take you. Chances are you'll end up in most interesting environs.


    Aiden
    Nightmare Anatomy
    (Victory)
    reviewed in issue #269, October 2005

    The Aiden boys have a full-on goth look. They have a full-on Maiden-meets-Alkaline Trio sound. I can only imagine the live show, but the songs on this disc are astonishing in scope and intensity.

    I suppose it's only natural for pop punksters to have a Eurometal jones, but this is the most pronounced I've ever heard. Kinda interesting to hear the prog excesses blurred with crunchy harmonic excesses.

    Aiden has a few other influences that burble up from song to song. There are a few extreme hardcore moments (which are surprisingly unjarring, considering the general content of the album), and every once in a while there's the fleeting goth keyboard wash and glam metal reference. I'm partial to these kinda asides, obviously.

    Truly invigorating. Aiden brings a few strange mates to the table, but hell, who says one emo band has to sound like all the others. Oh, yeah, the major labels. Good thing these boys are on Victory, a label that knows a thing or two about distinctive music. Play it loud and smile lots.


    Aina Haina
    Aina Haina
    (Badman Recording Co.)
    reviewed in issue #345, 2/10/13

    Um, another one of those blooze/stoner rock duo thingys. Aina Haina is a bit more minimalist (they stick with that duo sound pretty religiously), but these songs churn along with serious purpose. Just enough fiber to keep things going at a pleasant pace.


    Air Review
    Low Wishes
    (Velvet Blue)
    reviewed in issue #345, 2/17/13

    Perhaps a bit too close to Air, even if these songs are much perkier and more strictly indie pop. There's still a strong hint of modulated electronics and a general diffuse feel. That said, I like the way these folks work their way around a melody. There's always a bit more than the initial impression would have one believe.


    Airstrip
    Willing
    (Holidays for Quince)
    reviewed in issue #345, 2/10/13

    Midtempo, occasionally experimental garagey stuff. The rhythm section is tight and insistent. The vocals and lead guitar meander a bit. This combination can be a bit annoying at first, but after a while it gets easy to fall into the groove. I think the boys could tighten up the construction without sacrificing charm. Coherence is not always the enemy of the good.


    Carrie Akre
    Home
    (Good Ink)
    reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00

    Sometimes people find you after, well, almost forever. I was a really big Hammerbox fan (in fact, preferring the major label album over the C/Z release, something that rarely happens with me), and I sorta lost track of Carrie Akre after A&M ditched the band.

    So I never heard Goodness (the next band), and I can't compare this to that. What I will say is that Hammerbox fans will recognize the voice. And probably not much more. These songs are much more intimate, and the sound is much more subdued.

    Lots of loops and synth work, though those elements don't dominate. It's just that this is a personal project on Akre's own album, and some of these things may have been used due to budget constraints. It's also possible that she really wanted to sound like more-human version of early Eurythmics.

    The songs are warm, not chilly, but Akre's voice is astonishingly strong and she sings in about the same range as Annie Lennox. The pieces are spartan in arrangement, allowing for the voice to dominate as much as possible. Basically, it all works. This is light years from Hammerbox, but Carrie Akre still has the fire.


    ...Last the Evening
    (Loveless)
    reviewed in issue #291, November 2007

    The ex-Hammerbox chanteuse returns with her latest "mature" album, and I think she's really starting to get into the swing of things. On her earlier solo works, she sometimes sounded stilted or confused. Her singing here is confident and focused, and the songs are equally impressive.


    Alabama Thunderpussy
    Staring at the Divine
    (Relapse)
    reviewed in issue #229, May 2002

    Thick stoner rock riffage combined with the groove instincts of an Agony Column. Pile-driving beats, thick guitars and driving bass work. Kinda outstanding, when you think about it.

    There's nothing complicated to the formula, of course. Lots of bands attempt to play music this well, but most fail. I 'm not sure why, but I think it has something to do with attitude. As the name of the band implies, there's no shortage of that here.

    What's most interesting is that there is a complex character that can only be appreciated (or even heard) at high volume. Played at a regular level, you might think the sound is a bit generic. Crank it up, and you'll hear entire worlds you missed before.

    It's that sort of attention to detail that puts Alabama Thunderpussy right out at the front of the pack. Crude? Undoubtedly. Simple? Never. And that's why this puppy smokes.


    Alameda
    Procession
    (False Migration)
    reviewed in issue #340, September 2012

    Dishing out heavy dose of what has come to be known as chamber folk, Alameda fleshes out its acoustic guitar-driven pieces with clarinet, cello, banjo, piano and some special guests. The result is an emphasis on delicate lines and tight songwriting.

    Indeed, my only complaint is that Alameda might be just a bit too tightly-wound. Maybe. The songs are gorgeous, and the minimalist sound (though extensive arrangements) brings out the best qualities of the music. Nothing gets in the way of intricately-constructed simple joys.

    Alameda has a lot more in common with the prog-folk of the late 60s and early 70s than today's americana movement. The sound may be restrained, but these really aren't rootsy songs. Even when the banjo comes to the fore. Rather, they're compositions. Pieces that have been carefully (and lovingly) honed.

    Completely brilliant. Alameda plays a style of music that isn't heard much these days. More importantly, the band does it quite well. A little more emotion would put this into legendary territory. As it is, I'm very impressed.


    Breck Alan
    Kissing Rock Stars EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #213, 3/12/01

    Breck Alan is hard into the latter-day folk-rock sound. He's got that heavily syncopated rhythm section going and a bass player that sounds like he might prefer to get a little more into the groove sound. Alan sings in a way that says he thinks these songs are important statements.

    He's not too far off. Alan does have a fine way of building his songs to appropriate conclusions. So that when he arrives at his sometimes overly grandiose finales, at least it's easy to see where he's coming from.

    In the final analysis, these songs aren't quite as grand as Alan seems to believe they are. His pretentious delivery is almost justified, though, and it doesn't grate on me that much. Alan is one of those artists who might benefit from a little less craft and a little more emotion. If he lets just a little more of himself into the songs, he might give them that final spark they need.


    Alastor
    Nothing for Anyone
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #186, 8/16/99

    Elizabeth Elkins writes the songs and sings most of the time. She also plays guitar as part of this tight, fuzzy trio. The songs are moody pop (the liners read: "Apologies to Morrissey, the Mutton Birds, the Pixies and Social Distortion"), and the somewhat excessive distortion makes for a nice sound.

    Elkins more sings around the melodies than hits any particular notes. She's got a great alto voice, but she just doesn't strike a given pitch much of the time. That's okay. Indeed, the rambling vocal lines make for a nice counterplay with the schooled music.

    The songs explore a wide range of emotions, and the music accompanies appropriately. Indeed, while the sound is vaguely loose, I think great care was taken to achieve this fine result. This album hits all the notes that it should.

    Consummately professional without sounding calculated or excessively crafted. Just what an edgy pop album should sound like. These folks are all ready to get going.


    Alcian Blue
    Slow Colorless Stare
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #230, June 2002

    The stare part of the title is pretty accurate. Alcian Blue filters current trends in noise pop through the mechanical psychedelia that marked the end of My Bloody Valentine. Think Seam with lots and lots of distortion (and the like).

    The songs are pretty. I swear. It's just that sometimes you can't quite make out the beauty for all the mud on top. That's not a problem for me; I've come around to liking this sort of messy music. In fact, I rather like stripping away the layers to hear what lies beneath.

    While few bands utilize this much reverb and distortion and such, this sort of studio manipulation does seem to be making a comeback. Alcian Blue has a lead on most of its competitors, though, as its songs would sound great straight. The playing is exemplary, and all the effects merely enhance the themes evoked by the band.

    The sorta disc that takes a while to warm to, I guess, but that's awfully rewarding when you finally break through. The pop apocalypse may be approaching once again (I think that's an oxymoron; whatever), and I can't think of a better band to be the standard bearer.


    Translucent EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #250, February 2004

    I'm sure the guys are tired of hearing it, but boy, does this stuff remind me of Loveless. I've noticed how the distortion-drenched sound has been coming back lately, and I'm always amazed at how few people actually got the point: If you're gonna virtually destroy your songs, they'd better be pretty damned good in the first place. Trickery will not make a bad song good.

    Alcian Blue writes good songs. And then it takes the pieces, runs them through a barrage of blenders and emerges with squalls of noise punctuated by the occasional moment of clarity. Precisely on point, of course.

    I do wish the folks would work a little harder to define their own sound--the final product could be called derivative, though I wouldn't say that--but the four tunes here are exhilarating rides through the turbulent ether. Quite fine.


    Alcohol Funnycar
    All About It 7"
    (New Rage)
    reviewed in issue #31, 3/31/93

    Barbara at C/Z has been raving about these guys ever since that label scored the band for its upcoming full-length. Phrases like "incredible live" and "I can't explain them" and "you'll just have to hear them" kept wandering over Sprint, and so I was rather excited to ply this slab on the table.

    Well, side one is an original, and remember how excited I got about the Arcwelder tune "Raleigh"? Well, this doesn't quite approach that, but it's the best single I've heard this year. Straight-ahead punk with rough, melodic vocals. A little more punch and they could stand along side early-eighties punk greats.

    Side two is a Killing Joke cover, and a creditable one at that. It's an almost trendy thing to do these days, but it seems to flow along with the band's sound.

    A full-length from C/Z in a month? I don't think I can hold the saliva in my mouth that long.


    Burn EP
    (C/Z)
    reviewed in issue #34, 5/15/93

    Their New Rage 7" of a month ago was but the tip of the iceberg here. Thunderous punk that smashes you in the face and then picks you up for more. And the thick production leaves a great fog through which the songs present themselves.

    This is the type of release that makes a band legendary. Five songs, all great. Intensity overload. You simply submit when you're listening. If this isn't about the best thing I've heard all year (and I've only said that one other time in 1993), I can't think of it. The Fear Factory remixes are incredible, but they are remixes, so they don't quite count.

    If anyone you know is questioning what rock and roll is all about, just slide them this disc. Tell them to turn it to eleven.

    Don't forget to scrape that bloody slime off the wall when they're finished. If you let it set, you'll never get it out.


    Time to Make the Donuts
    (C/Z)
    reviewed in issue #42, 10/31/93

    Seattle's latest contribution to the burgeoning post-punk scene is dead on.

    I loved the ep earlier, and this ten-track slab-o-joy almost causes my blood to boil with happines. Oh, I'm so tired of writing these pompous rock critic "say something cool so you'll be put in the press" load of shit. So back to the real.

    This is a great album. It's technically not metal, but it's real loud, especially if you turn up your stereo. I can sense this will be in the discer for some time.

    Important note: this is more mature than the EP. Things slow up a little at points, and there is some acknowledgment of traditional song forms. I think it helps. They've moved from the prodigy stage to real heroes.


    Weasels
    (C/Z)
    reviewed in issue #89, 10/9/95

    A friend of mine says the C/Z web page is using one of my reviews to promote Alcohol Funnycar. I can't check it out, because of my current situation, but I said cool and wondered if I'd be seeing anything from C/Z anytime soon.

    It's been two long years since any contact, and then this disc shows up in the mail. And it's Alcohol Funnycar, one of my favorite C/Z bands. With a great album.

    More mature, more mellow and more anthemic than Time to Make the Donuts, the Funnycar has deemed it proper to record a real fucking punk rawk social statement, as it were. The sound is somewhat pretentious, but the quality of the songwriting, playing and production makes those aspirations acceptable.

    A disc I simply cannot press "stop" on. Blown away was light years ago. This fulfills my high expectations and raises them a notch for the next album.


    Eric Alexandrakis
    I.V. Catatonia
    (Y&T Music)
    reviewed in issue #201, 6/26/00

    I don't know whether or not the label has anything to do with the band Y&T, but judging by Alexandrakis' music, I'd say probably not.

    The pieces themselves are meditations on the year that Alexandrakis spent battling Hodgkins disease. It was a successful battle, as the last few songs tend to indicate. The music is hardly straightforward. And it's not whiny or full of "woe is me" moments.

    Rather, the pieces are composed in a collage style and threaded together. This reminds me a lot of Chevy Heston's later work, the stuff that really got out there (or, more specifically, in there). Exceedingly well put together.

    Adventurous in all the good ways. Alexandrakis has an ear for dissonance; he manages to splice discordant moments into transcendent glory. Like I said, there isn't a straight line running through this album. Instead, there is a life. A soul, even. An achingly fragile and beautiful album.


    EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #209, 12/11/00

    This short, untitled EP was intended as a kind of thank you. I don't think I was necessarily supposed to review it. But if you can get a hold of this, then do. Eric Alexandrakis has turned his aim toward Christmas, and not much survives the assault.

    From the almost top-40 sound of "All I Want for Christmas Is You" to the shyly pretty "Christmas on the Moon" to the warped "Santa Claus Is Dead" to the experimental collage "Christmas Shopping Can Be Stressful," Alexandrakis exhibits a stunning range of sounds and thoughts.

    Joy and sorrow, exultation and frustration, love and hate, life and death. They're all here on four songs. Pretty damned amazing, if you ask me.


    Open Heart Surgery EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #213, 3/12/01

    One new song (the title track), one song from I.V. Catatonia and covers of songs by Pascal Obispo, the Hollowbodies and Hefner, all packaged up in a red hart box. A 3 oz. heart-shaped box of chocolates is also enclosed. A Valentine's gift for someone you love (provided they have an appropriately expansive notion of romance and donÕt mind cheap chocolate).

    The packaging was so cool I hated to break in. Then I heard the tunes. The title track alone is worth the cost, even if you hate chocolate. The covers are solid and all of the songs fit together sonically (somewhat unusual for the often frenetically eccentric Alexandrakis). He made the disc fit his theme without sacrificing anything artistically.

    I'm always impressed by artists who are able to create the total package, from music to graphic design. Alexandrakis' musical sense is impeccable and eclectic. He knows how to write a song, and then when he performs, he knows how to sell it. If the one you love can't get into this, maybe you picked the wrong one in the first place.


    Here Comes the Snow! CD3
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #225, January 2002

    Part 7 of a 12-CD (we're talking 3-inch CDs at that) set, this tiny disc contains three tunes. The title track and a couple of instrumentals. To be quite honest, the sheer absurdity of the overall enterprise appeals greatly to me.

    Of course, I have one of those CD jukeboxes (which makes playing CD3s very difficult), so I had to play this on my computer. Which didn't do the music justice. I can tell you that Alexandrakis's talent for creating nervy pop is intact.

    And if you don't feel like shelling out the bucks for the pre-printed set, Alexandrakis is making most of the songs available for download (though legal difficulties have tied up "Have a William Shatner Christmas"). Some people are just too nice.


    Luis Alfaro
    Down Town
    (New Alliance)
    reviewed in issue #48, 2/14/94

    Alfaro paints pictures of L.A. life, sometimes happy, sometimes sad. But even when his words get angry, his voice seems to quiver. Not on the verge of yelling, but on the edge of falling away completely.

    Sort of an antithesis to the Eric Bogosian style of beating his audience to death, you have to pay attention to what Alfaro says. It takes a little work to really absorb this stuff, and it makes the appreciation that much more intense.

    Nothing otherworldly, just a view on life. Sometimes that's a good thing to observe.


    Travis John Alford Band
    Lucky Pierre
    (World Domination)
    reviewed in issue #119, 9/23/96

    Cool, understated pop with sly and vicious lyrics. Not unlike what Morrissey would sound like if he wouldn't whine so much and could play guitar like Johnny Marr.

    And Alford does seem to take himself rather seriously, even while whipping out caustic gems like "Devil Kings of Sodom". Yeah, he's obviously a bit obsessed with his homosexuality, but without resorting to that annoying hand-wringing nonsense or the overtly aggressive machinations of a Pansy Division.

    Which does leave Alford clinging perilously close to the "dull" mark at times, but always his smart music and smarter lyrics come to rescue. The production sound is perfect for the songs, doesn't get in the way in the slightest. All very pleasing.

    Sure, I wish he would take more chances from time to time. The music is missing a few things to reach the transcendent stage, but what the hell. Lucky Pierre is quite fun as it stands. And as a postscript, I should note that Alford died from AIDS last year. The music is beyond that mere fact, but you should know.


    Ali Baba's Tahini
    Limbo Boots
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00

    The enclosed note said this was the future of music. It actually sounds a bit more like the past, but the spirit of adventure is alive and well.

    Ali Baba's Tahini plays a sort of prog-jazz-etc. fusion, focusing on tight groove structures and extended solos and other explorations. Most of the songs themselves aren't too terribly long, but the ideas are fully fleshed out.

    And you shouldn't get the idea that the band sticks to one particular sound. Rather, each song creates its own little universe, existing only within that space. Yeah, the pieces do have similar characteristics, but the band doesn't repeat itself.

    Indeed, it's not unusual for a loungey piece to seg into a song dominated by a Satriani-esque guitar riff. Some of the songs have vocals; some don't. All just part of the plan. If there is one. In any case, the safari is boarding now.


    Alice Donut
    Magdalene 7"
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #18, 8/15/92

    I'm still kicking myself for missing AD at the Empire Roller Rink (could it be?) four years ago. What makes it worse is the outstanding quality of what they have released since then. "Magdalene" kicks your ass from the start with a bass line that refuses to die. It evolves into one of the best pop songs I've heard all year.

    The B-side is a typically spooky Donut take on a Billy Joel song. No Garth Brooks-ish thoughts here. If you even recognize the original, you're way past me. But I love it just the same.


    The Untidy Suicides of Your Degenerate Children
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #23, 10/31/92

    Look in the dictionary under "alternative loud music." You'll find the definition to be Alice Donut. And you are still wondering why? Then take a listen to this album.

    While most of you haven't spent a lot of time around me, I can be rather talkative, to the point of excruciating annoyance. So you should understand the rare occurrence of speechlessness. I can't imagine what I can say about this album that will make you play it, except to tell you to listen and then somehow not crank it for weeks on end.

    I like most of the albums I review for A & A. A few I listen to pretty often. Then come the classics: My Dying Bride. Young Fresh Fellows. Dead World. Jesus Lizard. Bad Religion. And this one. There really isn't a better expression of why independent labels exist but to release albums like this. I'm sorry I couldn't give the album the review it deserved, but I just don't know how.


    Medication CD5
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #32, 4/15/93

    One of the more hypnotic tracks from last fall's Suicides…, "Medication" is but the beginning here. The other two songs do nothing to hurt A.D.'s rep as musical pioneers, either.

    A lot of critics have tried to pigeonhole these folk as "transcendental psychedelic college metal" (really, though it wasn't printed; the guy was trying to impress me with his vocabulary) or even dumber catch phrases.

    Just good music. And if it is currently mellow, you can be sure the action will pick up soon. Plus, what's the volume on your stereo for? (If you want a great song for a metal show, just plug into "The Yellow Brick." It'll peel the latex off your listeners body parts.)

    As usual: great songs, presented impeccably. Strangeness can be so rewarding sometimes.


    Dry-Humping the Cash Cow Live at CBGB
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #52, 4/15/94

    Well, they'd already used Donut Comes Alive!, so why not use a line from a song they just wrote (or so they say)?

    I've been preaching the Donut gospel pretty much since I've been in business here, and I've had a convert here and there. Most people don't seem to get it.

    For example, those Ed Sullivan-esque screams of ecstasy between the songs. Did no one show up for the show, or did it simply seem funnier? I don't know, but it sure is amusing. And whenever you can take advantage of the amazingly cheap CBGB live recording rates (last I saw, a ready-to-CD-master DAT ran $125), you should go for it.

    Fourteen great Donut tunes, and an almost appropriate rendition of "Helter Skelter" (though that did cross the bad cliche line). If you have yet to understand how the apocalypse has fallen upon us, have a couple beers and situate your brain between two massive speakers with this on. Things probably will not clear up, but at least you can say you've heard one of the coolest bands in the world.


    Nadine CD5
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #67, 11/30/94

    With Martin Bisi at the knobs, I figured on a more spacey and eclectic sound from the Donut. Instead, "Nadine" rips with more intensity than I've heard from this crew in some time. An amazingly blistering track.

    And while the other two tracks are closer to Donut standard fare, they too eventually degenerate into masses of caterwauling instruments and flame-out vocals. Sure, this path is familiar to AD fans. But the sheer intensity and aggressiveness on this single really surprised me.

    If next year's album can come even close, I'll be more than satisfied.


    Pure Acid Park
    (Alternative Tentacles)
    reviewed in issue #80, 7/15/95

    There are a couple of ways to approach this. The first (more serious) one would be to call Alice Donut the finest post-apocalyptic punk pop band in existence. The second would be to exclaim ALICE DONUT, MAN!!! FUCKIN' ALICE DONUT!!!

    Either would be appropriate.

    I would put this disc a slight notch below AD's last studio release, The Untidy Suicides of Your Degenerate Children, mostly just for the lack of a song titled "The son of a disgruntled x-postal worker reflects on his life while getting stoned in the parking lot of a Winn-Dixie listening to Metallica". But that might seem like nitpicking, and it probably is.

    Martin Bisi takes the helm (as he did on the Donut's recent single) and guides the crew (with original guitarist David Giffin re-joining the gang) through various moods and psychotic episodes. The amazing thing about the Donut is that these songs, while mordantly bizarre, are stunningly catchy. A tribute to serial killing, a Roky Erickson cover, a paean to homosexual pedophilic lust in the U.S. Senate and most of the rest of pertinent human experience is included herein.

    ALICE DONUT, MAN!!!

    FUCKIN' ALICE DONUT!!!


    Alice Donut & Killdozer
    Michael Gerald's Party Machine Presents... CD5
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #104, 3/25/96

    The Donut does the early Bee Gees tune "Every Christian Lionhearted Man Will Show You", Killdozer does Procul Harum's "Conquistador" and the combined unit called Kill Donut takes on the 5th Dimension's medley of the first and last tunes from Hair, "Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In (The Flesh Failures)".

    Oddly, the take on the Bee Gees is pretty damned straight, which is unusual for an Alice Donut cover. The Procul Harum tune is torqued out in the usual excessive Killdozer style. Killdozer does have a way with stupid pop anthems.

    The combined effort is the most satisfying. A complete breakdown in the wall between slavish devotion and parody. Is it a joke or the ultimate tribute? I don't know.

    The press on this passes on the word that Alice Donut has called it quits. I've heard it spoken in other quarters, but it still bums me out. This isn't a worthy end note, but perhaps it is an appropriate one. For a band that never paid much attention to propriety or current trends, Alice Donut bows with a stab at the current wave (70s music).

    Gotta say, though, that the Frank Kozik art work is brilliant. Make of all this what you will.


    Alien Canopy
    Pipe Dreams
    (Photon)
    reviewed in issue #221, 9/3/01

    Some cool jangle prog. The rhythm section is solidly in the roots/groove kinda area, but the lead guitar and sound are much more technical. The more I hear of this kind of mixture, the more I like it. Certainly, it makes sense.

    A kind of fusion, really, the merging of two decidedly distinct branches of rock and roll. These boys can play, and even though all the songs clock in at less than four minutes long, they often take their time getting to the point. A very cool form of construction.

    Easy-going and yet rigorous at the same time. With some solid hooks. Plenty of ways to latch on to the sound without alienating a lot of folks. That's much harder to accomplish than it sounds.

    Basically, Alien Canopy presents a fresh sound that challenges without annoying. I'm impressed. I think I'll burrow back into the music for a while.


    Alien Crime Syndicate
    Supernatural 7"
    (American Pop Project)
    reviewed in issue #163, 7/20/98

    Ultra-sparse electronic pop. Some looping, but mostly very lean guitar and bass lines and almost skeletal beat work. A very new wavey feel, you know, like if OMD had been able to electronically goof with its vocals.

    Amazing, really. Alien Crime Syndicate's "Just the facts" approach to songwriting (and production, particularly) is highly evocative of the pop of my childhood. I still have a comfortable cheese spot for stuff like this.

    Just a couple of cool songs, really. Takes me back to 1982, with a new shine. After all, you have to get back to basics eventually.


    Dust to Dirt
    (Collective Fruit)
    reviewed in issue #196, 3/6/00

    This has that "real important pop" sound all over it. The hooks are insistently anthemic, and there's some serious craftsmanship in the writing. Mannered would be an understatement.

    But that doesn't mean that Alien Crime Syndicate is overdone. Not quite. I kept waiting for that moment where the band crossed the line, losing its sense of passion and joy. Didn't happen.

    And when you walk the line like that, some really nice things can happen. The sound is precisely tailored to the style of the songs, and it allows the clever little bits of craft to shine through.

    Alien Crime Syndicate isn't bash'n'pop (though there is something of a Replacements influence bounding about). These are guys who know exactly what they're doing. They've written and performed these pieces extremely tightly. Sometimes calculation is a wonderful thing.


    Alien Harvest
    Voodoo Love Mint

    split 7"
    (Erosion Records)
    reviewed in issue #135, 5/26/97

    I'm a big fan of Voodoo Love Mint, and I figured any split they're on must be good.

    No disappointment. Alien Harvest has a Soul Asylum (vintage 1985) feel, with hooks hidden amongst the dirt. Scratchy, error-filled and utterly fun. This is what garage bands want to sound like. A joyous romp into the summer sun.

    VLM provides two songs, both showcasing the growth of the band. The songs are a little more calculated, though the loosey-goosey feel is still lying about somewhere. VLM manages to whip out the most serious lyrics with a non-chalant style, smiling through the angst. Of course, a song like "GB" is nothing but loopy fun. Ain't nothing wrong with that.


    Alien Sex Fiend
    Drive My Rocket
    (Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #62, 9/15/94

    If your only exposure to Alien Sex Fiend has been Beavis and Butthead, then you should check out this collection. Well, it's not a bad idea even if you have a clue.

    The most amazing thing about ASF has been the consistency of work. It's all middling-level new wave stuff that is just catchy enough to make you hit repeat "just one more time".

    There is no conspiracy of talent or anything here. Just mindless pablum (albeit of the rather alternative type) that turns your mind to jelly and makes you start screaming "Spin this wheel, Pat!" at perfectly nice senior citizens. We should all be highly grateful.


    I'm Her Frankenstein
    (Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #69, 1/31/95

    The second installment of singles, etc. from the Fiend. And while some folk like to pigeonhole this music as one type or another, I think the real genius of Alien Sex Fiend is the diversity of sound.

    Well, diverse after you accept that almost everything sounds quite odd. Even the dance mixes convey the unusual nature of Nik Fiend's vision.
    This collection is even more disjointed than the last; while the songs do move from one to another, there is little flow. The change of sound from piece to piece can be jarring at times. I like that.

    So whether you're looking for a nice goth pop tune, or an early interpretation of industrial madness, or just something to take to the dance floor, you'll find the Fiend has something that fits anywhere. Now if there would only be a real new album someday.


    Inferno soundtrack
    (Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #70, 2/14/95

    Not a movie, mind you, but a CD-ROM game.
    The music takes elements of your average video game music (the martial qualities, the cheesy synthesizers, etc.) and merges that with your average Alien Sex Fiend music.

    And that's not average at all. Yeah, since you need music for both the good and the bad guys, some cliches are necessary. And at times ASF relies a little too heavily on the generic video game drone.

    But I'd also like to get a copy of the game (not to mention a CD-ROM) to hear just how all of this is put together. Much like what Chemical People did for the Dark Brothers, ASF has taken video game music to a new level. And the mixes show what can be done with this music outside of the CD-ROM. Tame, but interesting.


    Fiend at the Controls 2xCD
    (Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #188, 9/20/99

    A bunch of b-sides and other odds and ends, all combined together with some new mixes. The vast majority of the stuff comes from the 80s (and most of that the early and mid-80s), which has to be expected, as that is the most fertile period in the history of Alien Sex Fiend.

    Strangely, this set paints a more conventional portrait of ASF than the devoted fan might guess. Not that the material is generic or not adventurous, but as often happens with material that sounded so "out there" at some point in the past, the rest of the world has caught up. In this case, with something of a vengeance.

    The whole techno-industrial complex, which seemed awfully bizarre 15 years ago, is in full swing now. This set does quite a good job of exclaiming "Hey! I was here first!" And if not first, certainly close to the beginning of this particular side note.

    A good set for those who want to hear what the "weird" Brits were doing in the retro years. And, of course, as ASF has continued to evolve since then (and still wielding great influence), it's also an interesting look at how the extreme gets drawn into the (somewhat) mainstream fold. Of course, it's a big wad of fun, too. Can't forget that part.


    Align
    Some Breaking News
    (Iguana Records)
    reviewed in issue #212, 2/19/01

    Kind of a throwback, at least these days. There aren't a lot of melodic hardcore bands trolling in these grungy, metalcore waters these days. Align does the sound proud, however, cranking out power anthem after power anthem.

    Without sounding, you know, inane or something. There's a deft touch to the songs which keeps them from getting overwrought (and headed into Creed territory). Really, I shouldnÕt have even brought that reference up, because these boys are not settled into any sort of metal camp. They just like loud guitars and the occasional soaring chorus.

    Nothing wrong with that. The production here is relatively light, allowing the vocals and guitars to exist in separate planes. That's one of the big reasons why Align doesn't come off as some sort of poser band. These guys have something to say.

    And they say it well. There is a commercial edge in the way these songs are written, but the sound just doesn't have that excessive ring to it. Rather, the songs themselves are the stars. As they should be.


    Alison Ranger
    Formula Imperative
    (Creep)
    reviewed in issue #257, September 2004

    Stripped-down, streamlined hardcore with a chaotic soul. Reminds me a lot of the recent Clair de Lune album, though these boys aren't sonic perfectionists in the slightest. Rather, they seem to revel in "blue" notes and other missteps.

    The playing (and singing) is more loose than sloppy, and that's what really does the trick for me. These songs sound like spontaneous statements of anger and remorse, a stream of consciousness diary that is being written just as I hear it.

    And, of course, it's loud, fast and gleefully eccentric. Piano and other unexpected sounds rise up amidst the sonic destruction. There's actual singing (sometimes in tune, sometimes not) in between the shouts and shrieks. Alison Ranger has the ambition and range to move into Mars Volta territory. That would be fine, but I kinda like where the boys are now. This no-man's-land between hardcore, extreme, prog and jazz is ground for some of the most fertile musical minds going these days, and there are plenty more furrows to plow. This album is ready for harvest.


    The Alkaline Trio
    Goddamnit
    (Asian Man)
    reviewed in issue #170, 10/26/98

    Yer basic pop punk, with plenty of outside influences coloring the songs. That's the best way to do this, of course.

    Some strident emo lines flavor the guitars, and the song structures aren't repetitive. Yeah, mostly pop, but not always three chords, a verse, a chorus and a bridge. I know, bands like this don't always think in such terms, but uncreative folks just migrate to dull structures. Not the Alkaline Trio.

    Joyous and exuberant (the music, that is; the lyrics are sometimes nicely introspective and thoughtful), bounding through the disc. Not a dull song in the bunch.

    A well-conceived and crafted album. Pop is pop, but this is good pop. The real thing. Stuff that stands up to listen after listen. Just hit repeat.


    I Lied My Face Off EP
    (Asian Man)
    reviewed in issue #193, 12/20/99

    The thing about power pop is that the songs are usually short. The compilation Three Minute Revolution got that name for a reason. Three of the four songs here clock in at longer than four minutes. And Alkaline Trio is good enough to carry that off.

    Just a bit of the emo stridency, but really no more than a hint. Nope, these are just shimmering pop pieces that take a little longer to evolve. Not moody by any stretch of the imagination, simply a bit more complex.

    And as usual, complexity doesn't ruin the stew. Alkaline Trio has impressed me once more. That certainly came as no surprise.


    Maybe I'll Catch Fire
    (Asian Man)
    reviewed in issue #195, 2/14/00

    I'm more impressed with every release I hear from these guys. The hooks get sharper, the riffs find more purchase and the songs just hang together better. This disc is no exception to the rule.

    It's like I almost forget how good Alkaline Trio is until I take a listen. Then I'm utterly smoked. A lot of bands are doing the punk power pop thing, but few can match the depth and exuberance found here.

    The depth is what really satisfies, too. Sure, the song construction is simplicity itself. But Alkaline Trio feeds so much emotion and thought into its songs, the tunes just about explode. A highly satisfying result, to be sure.

    These guys must be heard to be believed. The fare is utterly addictive, and you'd be surprised at how well it stands up to multiple listens. There's a meal and more here.


    From Here to Infirmary
    (Vagrant)
    reviewed in issue #217, 6/4/01

    I've been a fan for a while, listening to Alkaline Trio progress from merely a very good band with a decent ear for hooks to the pop juggernaut that is now tearing up the country. Seems a lot of folks have figured out that very few bands can come close to these guys.

    To put it simply, the songs give me an incredible rush. This isn't sugary pop, though the hooks are impossibly sticky. This isn't straight-up three-chord pop punk, but the strident emo riffage simplifies the formula and tightens up the songs another notch. No one plays pop quite like Alkaline Trio. Which is a compliment all in itself.

    I'm not sure anyone can play quite like these boys. There's an energy and ferment burbling through this album that is most addictive. The songs are simply gloriously brilliant. Even with its raucous punk-rock production sound (the one thing that Green Day lost when it went over to Atlantic), this album should sell millions.

    It probably won't, of course, but you never know. I'm seeing more and more press on these guys, and mega-success couldn't happen to a better bunch of guys. Brilliant. Astonishing. Breathtaking. None of those words can even come close. Listen and behold the masters.


    Alkaloid
    (then known as Poobah)
    Staplebelly 7"
    (Posing Toad)
    reviewed in issue #34, 5/15/93

    Affecting crunchy pop. This could be derivative college alternative if not for the rather high energy level present. Not remarkable, but certainly good.

    The two songs are well-written, and the production is rough and appropriate for the band's sound. While there is nothing distinctive here yet, I see potential. Give 'em a year.


    (then known as Poobah)
    Alkaloid
    (Posing Toad)
    reviewed in issue #49, 2/28/94

    Kinda a wall-o-noise, post-punk, yank-yer-crank, jam-jam-jam sorta thing.

    That means I liked it a lot, and I have no idea how to describe it accurately to you without overmodifying. Oh, I suppose you could relate it to the Poster Children or Superchunk or even Jawbox, but this is no ripoff. Nope, these folk are very much their own band with their own sound.

    The production is slightly sloppy, which accentuates the better parts of the band. I remember digging their single, but this completely transcends.

    If you didn't get this, then give these folks a call and get your hands on it. Absolutely stunning.


    (first release as Alkaloid)
    Songs for a Tough Skin
    (Springbox)
    reviewed in issue #69, 1/31/95

    I liked this band when it was known as Poobah, and I like it now. Alkaloid plays a form of noise-oriented pop-grunge that was probably first foisted by the Poster Children a few years back. Now that PC are bigger and cleaner, it is up to bands like Alkaloid to carry forth the banner.

    This album is much more aggressive and noisy than the Poobah disc. There is a little more of a punk feel on some songs, but not enough to cry "trendy". No, Alkaloid's too smart for that. These folk meander around various methods of sonic assault, pausing here and there to deliver a personal message.

    The most important thing a band can do is grow. I thought the Poobah disc was a big improvement over an earlier 7" I had heard, and this disc brings the band much closer to their own sound. You can still sometimes hear where the guys are coming from, but more often the sound has become Alkaloid's, and that alone. Dig in and enjoy.


    ALL
    Dot CD5
    (Cruz)
    reviewed in issue #11, 4/15/92

    Well, you may have noticed the advance review of the album last issue. This here is the first single, a weird concept for Cruz. But "Dot" is one of the stronger tracks on the album, and the two b-sides, a strange run-through of Johnny Cash's "Boy Named Sue" (let's see how many issues in a row I can mention the man in black in a review) and "Can't Say."

    By the way, the man in black is NOT Jerry Glanville. Get yer heds out of yer asses. Right. Well, as the full album is due in about a month, just relax and enjoy some new ALL.


    Percolator
    (Cruz)
    reviewed in issue #14, 5/31/92

    Don't believe the photo. Everyone had changed appearance from the glossy that accompanied this disc (except for drummer Bill Stevenson).

    But the music hasn't. Still harsh, catchy and astute, ALL manages to capture the ironies of life with a backbeat you can dance to.

    While new converts to (north) central Missouri, the guys manage to find the goofiness of life in a hick town right along with the intricacies of citified dwelling.

    This music has to set you to grooving. There is no choice. Succumb.

    Oh yeah, and they're incredible live. DO NOT MISS.


    Breaking Things
    (Cruz)
    reviewed in issue #41, 10/15/93

    Premature reports of their demise found their way down U.S. 63 to Columbia last fall, and many were bummed.

    But as it turned out, the only change was Chad Price replacing Scott Reynolds on vocals. His voice is much rougher, lending to an almost retro-ALL sound.

    Even as they returned to their roots, ALL also managed to make their most relentlessly heavy album. Some might even call at least a couple of these tunes "metal". Not a bad thing, but a little odd for one of the finest pop-punk outfits the earth has known.

    Never miss an ALL show in your neighborhood.


    Guilty CD5
    (Cruz)
    reviewed in issue #48, 2/14/94

    Combining one of the best tracks from Breaking Things and a couple of non-LP tracks. You know "Guilty", so I'll go on to the others.

    The guitar is not as heavy on these tracks, giving them a "She's My Ex" kinda feel. Both are not the tightest lyrically, but the music seems a little more in place than some of the songs on the album. Neither is a "Can't Say" (perhaps the best song from the Percolator sessions that ended up as a b-side), but they aren't bad, either.


    ALL
    Judge Nothing

    split 7"
    (Thick)
    reviewed in issue #142, 9/1/97

    The first ALL recording in quite a while, and quite possibly the last Judge Nothing release, period.

    This split is certainly fitting, as Bill and Steven produced the last JN album, and the bands do share a similar approach to crunchy punk pop.

    ALL does a fair rendition of Kenny Rodgers' tune "Ruby", but I sure hope the upcoming Epitaph album is a bit more interesting. As the guys haven't been together as ALL in some time (Chad has been working with Armchair Martian, and the rest have been doing their Descendents stuff), perhaps this should suffice as a warm-up.

    The Judge Nothing tune, "Score Uneven" was one of the best tunes off the last album, but then again, it's pretty old. There is a bit of a secret track that starts up at the end (runs a little more than a minute, is kinda amusing), but not enough to really excite me. There's some cool artwork on the vinyl (if you like voluptous succubi, I guess), but the music is anything but a revelation.


    Mass Nerder
    (Epitaph)
    reviewed in issue #161, 6/15/98

    There's only one band in the whole world that deserves to present its name in all-caps: ALL. Okay, so the band changes lead singers every five years or so. The core of the band kicks out punk power pop imitated by more than a thousand bands (many of which were produced by ALL's Stephen Edgerton and Bill Stephenson). And ALL is still the best.

    Okay, we can forget all about that Interscope album (what the hell was that, anyway?). Mass Nerder, like last year's Descendents album, brings the band back to its roots. And that almost-impossible rap of greatness.

    Instead of trying to outdo the past, ALL just does what comes naturally, cranking out thrashy pop gems one after another. Chad Price's voice has morphed even more into the Dave Smalley-Scott Reynolds mold, but then, I think this music simply drives singers to that sound.

    Ah, what the hell, it's a new ALL album, and this one is good. The boys have recovered from their major label debacle (as if you hadn't figured that out with the Descendents album). And now there is only the future to consider.


    ALL
    (Owned & Operated)
    reviewed in issue #180, 4/12/99

    If yer lookin' for an ALL greatest hits disc, this is as close as yer gonna git. Period. O&O is the boys little concern, run from the ALL militia enclave in Ft. Collins. Twenty-two songs, with a little piece from all of the incarnations of ALL.

    Okay, so my fave song, a little thing called "Can't Say", which can only be found on the "Dot" CD5 (a couple of my friends also swear by the tune) isn't here, but here's a sampling of what is: "She's My Ex", "Just Perfect", "Nothin", "Original Me" and "Just Like Them". Saliva building up yet?

    Oh, come on. Almost an hour of pure ALL fun and you can't taste it? Boolsheet, my friend. I can see the shine of spittle all the way from here. Wipe it up and git on down to the store.

    Really, now, is there anything else to do? Nope, unless you own all the discs already. In that case, well, I'm sure the boys won't mind you missing this little one. Otherwise...


    Problematic
    (Epitaph)
    reviewed in issue #200, 6/5/00

    When a band has been playing a particular style for almost 20 years, it's forgivable if it settles into a formula. Especially when that formula works as well as it does for the ALL/Descendents machine.

    Frenetic, crunchy pop music. Songs about love lost, personal politics, love lost, anything scatological, love lost and, well, love lost. For more than a decade critics have been calling this stuff caffeine-core or coffee-fueled punk or similar such things. I suppose that's reasonably accurate.

    But what has always struck me about ALL is the way the guys write sad song after sad song and still manage to make each one sound like an optimistic anthem. Unlike the blues, which exaggerates the pain in the songs with the music, ALL counteracts its angry and hurt lyrics with unstoppably peppy tuneage.

    It still works. I've got an entire shelf of my CD collection devoted to these guys, and I go to it often. This disc will fit in well. Is it the band's best? It's up there, though there is plenty of competition. Certainly worth a few hundred listens.


    All Natural
    Second Nature
    (Thrill Jockey)
    reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01

    You might recall the Family Tree disc I reviewed in the last issue. All Natural was the guiding force behind that album, and here the guys step up on each track.

    Dave Kelly's rhyming is smooth and complex, playing off the grooves laid down by Tone b. Nimble. These aren't simply tales of the city; All Natural has a few ideas to spin as well.

    In style and content, All Natural fits in well with the socially-conscious Native Tongue movement of about 10 years back. The beats are quite creative (never derivative), but the real star here is the mental acumen spun by the rhymes.

    Alright, I'll admit it. When it comes to hip hop, I'm old school all the way. A little P.E., N.W.A, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Paris or Ice T is what I like to spin. All Natural weaves its own web, but it wouldn't be out of place on that list. Top notch all the way.


    No Preservatives
    (All Natural)
    reviewed in issue #232, August 2002

    All Natural is a throwback. This hip-hop collective focuses its energy on ideas, both lyrical and musical. Great care is taken to make sure that one element doesn't overpower the other.

    This disc is actually All Natural's first album, with a couple of new tracks thrown in to make the re-issue a bit more attractive. There's no need for a gimmick, but more music of this caliber is always welcome.

    Everything is done simply. There are no beat pyrotechnics, no silly over-the-top rhymes. Just solid storytelling with plenty of ideas at the base. A basic concept, but one that few seem to be able to accomplish with such style.

    Substance backs up the style, to be sure. All Natural is one of the groups that is returning hip-hop to its rightful place as a vibrant sound full of vital thought. This is where the All Natural story started. The funny thing is, the stuff still sounds like it was created yesterday... and tomorrow.


    All Out War
    Condemned to Suffer
    (Victory)
    reviewed in issue #247, November 2003

    Back in the day (when All Out War first got going), folks might have argued about whether the boys fit into the death metal or grindcore camp. I think there's a pretty solid case for death metal--the riffs are melodic, and there's a sharp, metallic edge to the guitars. These days, though, most folks just call this sort of thing "extreme." Fine by me.

    The important question is one of quality. All Out War delivers a blistering, textured attack. There's plenty of pure aggression, but I like the way the boys integrate quieter moments into the mix. The arrangements sound great, nothing forced or contrived.

    The sound itself is full and round, providing a very nice canvas for the songs. Perhaps the most important aspect of loud music is the production sound. Too little, and even the greatest songs sound thin. Too much, and you lose that all-important visceral feel. All Out War has hit it just right.

    A tasty bit of adrenochrome. These boys have been doing their thing for quite some time, and I think they just might have put their best disc forward with this album.


    All Systems Go!
    All Systems Go!
    (Coldfront)
    reviewed in issue #188, 9/20/99

    A couple of guys from Big Drill Car, one from Doughboys and a drummer they picked up off the street (or something). Yeah, yeah, enough jokes. This does sound a lot like what you'd expect: Thick sound, taut riffage and somewhat understated hooks. All done with precision and care.

    Yep, just another pop punk album. Well, better than that. These guys have demonstrated ability in the past, and this new configuration hasn't changed a thing. Bouncy stuff, without that annoying cloying aftertaste. Goes down easy even as it revs up the senses.

    The sound here is proof that you can produce a punchy pop album without resorting to excess. Yes, the guitars (and even the vocals) are pretty thick. But there isn't that icky sheen that the major label sorts seem to think is necessary for selling mega-albums. Again, the dull edges undercut the tight hooks, precisely to avoid that unnecessary sweetness.

    Coolness upon coolness. This is the sorta disc that sneaks up on you and takes hold after a few songs. The kinda thing that does a slow burn on the mind, and then sticks around for a while. A disc with a future, methinks.


    All the Apparatus
    All the Apparatus
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #329, August 2011

    A decidedly large collective of Portland musicians who kinda refuse to abide by the rules of any four or five genres. These songs come at the listener from all angles. Dissociation disorder is definitely advised.

    Well, maybe this isn't quite that free-wheeling, but these songs do have that engaging "just thrown together" feel. The vocals tend to be sung in gang unison, and often enough the playing is just loose enough to be not quite in key.

    Much like Providence's What Cheer? Brigade, All the Apparatus has the feel of ex-drum corps membership, although these folks sing and have more of a traditional rock band core. The wildly cascading horns are exceedingly exciting, and the bounding bass lines make just about all of these songs smilefests.

    Some bands just make you happy to be alive, and All the Apparatus is definitely one of those. It's pretty much impossible to hear this album without breaking into a wide grin. If you manage that feat, you ought to get into therapy--though it might be argued that this album can cure almost all ills. Rapturous glory, my friends.


    All Time Present
    Good Vibrations/No Expectations
    (Evolving Ear)
    reviewed in issue #210, 1/8/01

    Three guitarists. Two percussionists. Eight songs without titles. Recorded in sessions with three, four and five members present. Dare I call this--avant garde? Well, okay, but first let me mention that one of the guitarists is Chris Forsythe (of whom I have written many nice things in the past) and a few friends. So right off you can probably guess that I'm gonna like this.

    You know what I like? There are moments where every instrument is in motion and playing in a different time signature (if they're even adhering to that much structure). I love shit like that! Chaos, but with something cohesive burning at the center.

    The real treat on this disc is hearing five talented players vaguely work together to build a sound. While these pieces may not have much in the way of traditional structure, they instead act as organic creatures, simply living in the sound waves.

    Alright, alright, so maybe I like this sort of thing a bit too much. I just happen to be a big fan of the abstract. And All Time Present does one hell of a job of presenting abstract musical ideas in a most engaging way. I'll be staying on that field trip to my frontal lobes for a while longer, thank you.


    All Tiny Creatures
    Harbors
    (Hometapes)
    reviewed in issue #325, March 2011

    The first All Tiny Creatures album with vocals, but fear not: The vocals are treated much more like instruments than purveyors of lyrics. And that's just fine with me.

    The songs themselves are crafted out of loops and whorls, ideas that go forth and then turn in upon themselves. Tie enough of those together and things start to happen. Patience is required, but the songs are gorgeous from the start.

    Taking equal measure from 60s pop, 70s prog, 80s indie rock and a dash of more modern sensibilities, ATC has crafted an engaging sound that generally leaves the songs with more than the sum of their parts. Sometimes craft can lead to ecstasy.

    Fun? Sometimes. But the overall effect of this album is one of wonder. The possibilities of sound increased when this album came into the world. A real stunner.


    All-Night Newsboys
    Playtime
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #37, 7/31/93

    This has that early-eighties American guitar pop. You know, REO, Cheap Trick, Night Ranger. That sort of thing.

    And they don't try to make it pretentious or anything. The music and lyrics are light. Bordering on cheesy at times, I suppose.

    On the other hand, this is the first kind of music I got into. It rings a bizarre chord with me. Night Ranger is playing a K.C. bar this weekend (really), and I considered going. They were, after all, the first concert I went to (after Petra). Boy, I hope I don't reveal too much of myself here.

    Nothing spectacular or even original, but reasonably fun.


    Dave Allen and the Elastic Purejoy
    The Clutter of Pop
    (World Domination)
    reviewed in issue #101, 3/4/96

    The same Dave Allen that was present at the birth of Gang of Four, Shriekback and King Swamp. And, not coincidentally, the same Dave Allen that runs World Domination.

    The liners contain a screed by Fred Mills that first excoriates the whole music industry, and then proceeds to give a typical "industry" review (with masturbatory accolades, etc.) to this album and the genius of said Dave Allen. Much more interesting is Allen's own commentary on the world, his work and the future of music. It's still a little pretentious, but at least it's not annoying.

    But both of these lengthy discourses miss the point of this album, which, to use part of the name, is pure joy. Yeah, it's what us yanks call "Brit Pop", but not nearly so idiosyncratic as Blur or the Fall. More like the best moments of Elvis Costello or (duh) Gang of Four. The lyrics are pointed and often cynical, but the happy nature of the music serves up the vitriol with a splash of sugar. Like I said, this is Brit pop.

    And a great example of such stuff. Highly enjoyable, with sing-along tunes and a beat made for putting the top down. Allen may be 40, but he still understands how to make a cool album: just do it.


    J. Allen
    Wonder City
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #340, September 2012

    J. Allen dabbles in folk and americana, but what he really likes to do is deconstruct the entire notion of the singer/songwriter genre. Yes, he sings the songs, and yes, he writes them, but these pieces rarely follow any particular form.

    Sometimes they're loud, and sometimes they're soft. They're generally not too fast, if they exhibit much of a tempo at all. Some songs are short and some are long, though I imagine you wouldn't notice the difference if you didn't have the information shoved in your face.

    The sound is kinda rootsy, with plenty of reverb. There's something of a western haunted house feel to these songs, which makes sense given Allen's general disregard for convention.

    My (possible) complaints here are compliments. Allen does a masterful job of creating music that has few peers. Most folks don't even attempt psychedelic americana, and even those people aren't crazy enough to further tear down the conventional structures that define such a sound. Allen not only does all that, he succeeds gloriously. Yes, it's a bit of a strange trip, but an utterly rewarding one as well.


    Ben Allison
    Medicine Wheel
    (Palmetto)
    reviewed in issue #157, 4/20/98

    Allison likes to use a wide variety of sounds to express his ideas and thoughts. That he traffics in jazz is almost an afterthought. And while Allison is a bassist, his compositions provide plenty of room for the rest of the players to spread their wings.

    The basic themes on this album revolve around city life. Whether exploring blind street noise, specific references to rude clubbers or the bat cave, Allison encourages his mates and the listener to suspend any concepts of "regular" jazz, preferring instead to create music.

    Not so free as to be incomprehensible, but adventurous enough to enable a sense of exploration. This is the guts of music, pretty and profane, the power to evoke a mood, a place and most importantly, an idea. Wild and free, restrained and refined, Allison sails between each of these shoals, crafting his own vision of music.

    Most of all, contemplative. A daring album which is still reasonably accessible. Toss this on and let the mind skip away. That's the only way to go.


    Jon Allmett
    Nowhere Is Too Far
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #247, November 2003

    Jon Allmett plays that catchy singer-songwriter stuff that's all over the place right now--the kinda stuff I usually can't stand. But Allmett has a couple of good things going for him. For starters, his lyrics are incisive and often poetic. And whenever I think he's about to totally cheese out the music, he kicks into a more interesting gear.

    I can't say that's a good idea if he wants to score the big check. You can bet that his song "Free?" ("I am free as long as I'm silent"--I really like the phrasing which contrasts the full words and the contraction for "I am") won't be making the rounds on ClearChannel or Cox stations any time soon. And those great little quirky musical shifts that I like are the sort of things that make commercial radio cringe.

    But the sound, oh, the sound is sooooo big time. Rich and vibrant and alive, but it doesn't overpower Allmett's voice or his songs. Indeed, the lush-but-punchy feel is just about perfect for Allmett's slightly off-kilter vision.

    Pretty damned fine. I'm of the opinion that singer-songwriter stuff is hit-or-miss for most people--what some like, others will hate just as much. Well, I like Allmett. He sure has a way of making his music come alive.


    Alloy
    Alloy
    (Engine)
    reviewed in issue #42, 10/31/93

    Roger Marbury, once of Dag Nasty. Petey Hines, once of Murphy's Law and Cro-Mags. A professorial lead singer (not to be confused with "that Bad Religion guy"). And a guy named Pat playing guitar.

    As you may guess, this falls in that post-punk scene, and with pedigree like above, it had to be great. No surprise there. Actually, it sounds great. You have to hear it to believe. They're not breaking any new ground or anything, but this is a nice variation on the theme.

    This is that one review of the issue I just can't say enough about or praise high enough. My words seem to have evaporated. Maybe you get the point now.


    Alluring Strange
    Hard on the Outside 7"
    (Feed Bag)
    reviewed in issue #44, 11/15/93

    Heavy pop with some real sixties feel. "Hard" is a real treat. The second tune on the a side is a weird rant against the government and crack. The usual conspiracy theory folks have put forth for years. It ends up sounding kinda stilted.

    Then, as if things weren't strange enough, there's a Zep cover on the flip. A lounge-lizard version of the Velveeta-heavy "D'yer Maker". I think I'm more confused than when I started.


    The Almighty Ultrasound
    Sonic Bloom
    (Countdown-Ultra)
    reviewed in issue #104, 3/25/96

    Some more of an ever-burgeoning sound, that industrial pop thing propagated by such varied artists as Whorgasm and God Lives Underwater.

    The Almighty Ultrasound keeps the hooks simple and sweet, while cranking the distortion and samples to near-excessive levels. A cool pushing of the envelope, as it were.

    The overall sound is constantly swirling, in a nice updating of that pop psychedelia movement of a few years back. Instead of silly production tricks, these folk simply pound out another level of distortion. Well, maybe that's a silly production trick, after all.

    And I still get the odd My Bloody Valentine feel, though there's a lot more pop here than where that group left off. The Almighty Ultrasound have a good feel for this musical movement, and even the lyrics are above average. Hell, the slow songs don't suck, either (which is a pretty good trick with a distortion-laden sound). Nice work.


    Almost Charlie
    The Plural of Yes
    (Words on Music)
    reviewed in issue #307, May 2009

    For all those people who say the Internet is destroying personal relationships and fostering the triumph of hype over talent, there is the entity that is Almost Charlie.

    Charlie Mason lives on these shores, and Dirk Homuth is a Berliner. Mason and Homuth write the songs--as they've been doing since 2003, without any actual face-to-face meetings--and Homuth gets a few friends to record them in Berlin.

    The sound is crafted pop, in that wistful Abbey Road sorta style. Almost Charlie doesn't really sound like the Beatles, though there are echoes of John (and Julian) Lennon in his off-handed delivery. What this sounds like is modern pop with a classic sheen. And the writing is, indeed, first rate.

    One of those albums that is immediately enjoyable and even more impressive on successive listens. Personally, I think these guys ought to get together for reals one of these days, but if keeping the ocean between them ushers forth songs like this, well, maybe they ought to stay put where they are.


    Tomorrow's Yesterday
    (Words on Music)
    reviewed in issue #341, October 2012

    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.


    Aloha
    split 7" with Lovesick
    (Makoto Recordings)
    reviewed in issue #221, 9/3/01

    I've got a Lovesick CD sitting on the shelf. I'll review that next issue. First, though, I figured I'd go after this small slab of vinyl. Lovesick's contribution is loud, short and sweet. Messy emo, I'd say, though it's hard to tell from the production. That's where the mess lies. I just can't quite get a handle on what's going on.

    No such problems for Aloha, who lays out a track of beautifully textured pop. There's some marimba going on, but don't think High Llamas or Tortoise. Rather, think of the marimbas as just part of an extended percussion section. One that dances rather than churns. Wow. I'm really knocked out.

    This is part of an extended split 7" series from Makoto. I'm happy to recommend this one on the basis of the Aloha alone, though the Lovesick is intriguing. I have a feeling the CD will be more enlightening.


    Alphaville
    Stark Naked and Absolutely Live
    (SPV)
    reviewed in issue #204, 8/28/00

    I've long wondered just why people would go see synth-pop acts live. I know, 15 years ago folks would trek across the country for a Depeche Mode or New Order show. I just didn't get it. I mean, there's a reason the Pet Shop Boys don't tour very much, right?

    Well, Alphaville proves me wrong. At least a little, anyway. The band is playing (over a drum machine most of the time, augmented by live electronic percussion) and there are a few variations in the live renditions.

    So anyway, I guess I can kinda understand attending a show. But then there's this live disc here. And that, well, cannot be explained so easily. The production is great, incorporating the atmospherics of a live show into the band's lush synth sound. But why not just a greatest hits?

    Contractual obligation and silly fans are the only answers I can find. These versions do not differ enough from the studio recordings to merit this set. Sure, the performances are great, but we've already heard them before. The quality is high; I'm just wondering about the point of this exercise.


    Also
    Music Belongs in the Background
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #324, February 2011

    Sometimes, an album is simply good. Also doesn't do anything showy. Its songs aren't immediately arresting. There aren't a lot of hooks, and the songs trend toward the midtempo. Yet, after listening, I kept saying, "That's pretty damned good."

    A column in the Washington Post recently asked, "When is indie rock going to quit being boring?" This is, in fact, a question I've asked myself for a few years now. Interpol? Animal Collective? If they're the best of the "mainstream" indie crowd, indie rock is a tame bunch, indeed.

    Also may be muted in its sounds, but its ideas loom large. Lyrics are important--but not self-important. The songs come together effortlessly, without any obvious efforts at strain. The songs are uncomplicated. And generally great.

    There is a vague anthemic strain to some of these songs, but not in that jack-your-fist kinda way. More of a stirring climax than a punctuated boom. Also takes its time. If you give this album an hour, it will repay you tenfold.


    Altar of the King
    Altar of the King (advance cassette)
    (RTN)
    reviewed in issue #73, 3/31/95

    Tres European; not surprising, since the label is in Luxembourg. Great driving songs with cool throaty vocals. Iron Maiden will never die with bands like Altar of the King cranking this music out.


    Altura
    Mercy
    (Magna Carta)
    reviewed in issue #115, 7/29/96

    Keyboard-heavy prog rock, which isn't quite the "well, duh" that description might seem. Altura works hard to keep its progressions moving (almost Yes-like at times) while also crafting a very smooth sound.

    Purists will bitch about the lack of jarring chords and arrhythmic percussion, but I don't think all that stuff is necessary to create a cool prog sound. Where much of the general public sees prog as overblown and excessive, by wrenching even more excesses out of the mix, Altura may have managed to create a sound more folks will dig.

    That made sense, right? Well, whatever. Anyway, Altura whips a nice mix of sounds into their mix, bringing pop and (some) jazz sensibilities into the fold. This makes the whole sound more coherent, and to my ear, better.

    I had a good time listening to this. It's been a while since I liked a prog rock album this much.


    The Aluminum Group
    Pedals
    (Minty Fresh)
    reviewed in issue #186, 8/16/99

    A couple weeks ago, I got a long, rambling phone message from Sally Timms at Biz 3 promo. I can't exactly really recall what she said about Frank and John Navin (and the rest of the Aluminum Group), but I got the sense this was a disc not to be missed.

    What I didn't know was that Timms (who is also known as a member of the Mekons) provides some vocals (there are a multitude of special guests, though producer Jim O'Rourke isn't one, at least according to the credits). So what's here? Seriously eclectic pop ramblings, not unlike the Magnetic Fields or Smog. That sorta thing.

    Gorgeous melodies and stringently-controlled performances (merely technically brilliant playing, with all attendant emotion left intact). Intellectually and viscerally stimulating. A tough sort of sound to accomplish, and yet the Aluminum Group seems to do it with ease.

    Pretty, not to mention pretty astonishing. Yes, this is most definitely an acquired taste in pop (there are plenty of idiosyncratic moments, the sorts of things which make such albums so endearing), but one that most folks would love to embrace. Turn the lights down, drop in the disc and wait for the magic to start.


    Pelo
    (Hefty)
    reviewed in issue #207, 10/30/00

    Start with the Navin Brothers (Frank and John) and then add plenty of friends. But never get away from the Navins and their unusual and inspired take on pop music.

    Very collage-y, each song is a collection of elements that creates more of a mixture than a solution. The final synthesis has to happen in your mind. You have to accept all of the extraneous information and let it coalesce somewhere within you.

    Active music in every sense of the word. Challenging, lyrically as well as musically. These aren't difficult tunes to like; the eccentricities aren't pronounced enough to turn a listener off. Just imagine some highly-skilled tinkerers nailing together beautiful new shells around the early 70s pop sound.

    The attention to detail is what sets the Aluminum Group apart. Every little snippet of sound is exactly where it should be. And instead of creating a stilted air, that precision provides clear openings into the heart of the songs. Let it burble into your soul.


    Morehappyness
    (Wishing Tree)
    reviewed in issue #252, April 2004

    Essentially the Navin Brothers (Frank and John), joined by pals like John Ridenhour, John McEntire, Doug McCombs, Bill Loman and others. For those uninitiated into the Aluminum world, the sound is electronic pop with an experimental edge. Things get kinky, but there's always a wonderfully warped hook to bring the pieces back to the center.

    And not peppy plinks of laptop pop. The Navin boys prefer to use "real" instruments as much as possible, which lends a cool 80s feel to the drum machine-driven beats. Comparisons to Magnetic Fields (and Stephin Merritt in general) are quite apt, both musically and lyrically.

    There's a deft economy to the songs. Nothing is overdone, and still the songs sound rich and complete. There's just enough noodling to please the more adventurous folks, and enough wit to sate even the sharpest wag.

    The Navin boys aren't mainstream. They don't want to be. They make music for people who actually like music. Most pleasing music, at that.


    ALX
    I Just Want to Be a Dinosaur
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #128, 2/17/97

    ALX is Alex Wilkinson and a few friends. Wilkinson has been writing and editing scores for films, videos and TV shows for more than 15 years. He's also been in the studio, engineering and whatnot, for quite a few folks. He co-produced Marty Friedman's latest solo album.

    That skill is evident. the production is sharp, and the musical ideas are expressed with precision and a sharp attention to detail. ALX borrows from the Beatles (later version) and merges those harmonic ideals with a more modern sound that might be best called "industrial lite". Pleasant, but not cheesy.

    Wilkinson's experience does have its drawbacks. Most notably, a lack of personal feel. For so long, Wilkinson has sublimated his own emotions and ideas, and now that he is free to fully express himself, he can't quite break out of the box. Better than rock-by-numbers any day, but not inspirational. Just good.

    Nothing wrong with that. And with a little more practice, Wilkinson might break free and really kick out something amazing. All the pieces are sitting there, waiting.


    Alyssa
    Alyssa EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #224, 11/5/01

    Among the influences Alyssa Cooper acknowledges in the liners are Bryan Ferry, Sarah Vaughn, PM Dawn and Paul Simon. Which is to say she likes to express herself in a wide variety of styles.

    That in itself isn't unusual. But Alyssa actually has a command of the music. She's no dilettante, dressing up in skin-deep decorations. Rather, she has incorporated her diverse palette all the way to the center of the songs.

    And what results is a pastiche of funky, worldly folk songs colored by jazz and hip-hop attitudes. The arrangements are complex, but the production is simple. All of the ideas and sounds blend together organically. It would have been easy to just punch up these pieces and turn them into anthems. But then we would have missed out on the magic. This is an assured set.


    AM Exchange
    Similar Tendencies
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #344, 1/21/13

    I've never quite understood folks whose biggest musical influence appears to be .38 Special. Or maybe I'm misstating the influence just because I spent about two years fixated on those boys. Anyway, AM Exchange (which is largely Daniel Jacobs) takes mid-80s AOR and doesn't go anywhere fast. There's an interesting nostalgia thing working here, but I'm afraid it isn't helping me much.


    The Amazing Royal Crowns
    The Amazing Royal Crowns
    (Velvel)
    reviewed in issue #156, 4/6/98

    Raucous rockabilly (is there any other kind worth contemplating, really?) that has plenty of attitude, carrying the band even as it navigates some uneven material.

    Is it just raw and untamed, or is it a mess? Both, though that sort of goofy discord works reasonably well. And the band simply flies, no matter what it's trying to play. The spirit is willing and able, even when the notes fail.

    A top-notch production job, working in plenty of reverb and empty space, lending a powerful, sparse sound to the songs. That is another reason this stuff works as well as it does.

    I've heard better, and certainly more consistent, rockabilly. But The Amazing Royal Crowns know how to wrench a frenzied rush out of the most mundane song. On the whole, much fun.


    Amelia's Dream
    Love Tattoo
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #204, 8/28/00

    There's this really big sound these days. It involves a woman singing in alternately wispy and earthy tones over pseudo-folk guitar and pop beats. A lot of folks doing this. Amelia's Dream is one such band.

    Unlike many similar-sounding acts, however, Amelia's Dream isn't afraid to venture far afield into unusual (for this form, anyway) musical sounds. In general, the tunes are strong, forceful and confident. In that way, these folks have already figured out the game.

    The pouty cover of "Evil Ways" is a bit silly, but it's still a nice piece of fluff. Using the Santana arrangement is probably a good commercial move, but I always prefer unusual remakes.

    That probably sums up this disc for me. It's extremely commercial, well-produced fare. With just enough of an artistic flourish to provide the proper character. The big boys just might have use for Amelia's Dream.


    Amen
    Amen
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #188, 9/20/99

    The more I listen to this, the more Amen reminds me of Bullet Lavolta. Part of that comes from the fact that singer Casey Chaos sounds a hell of a lot like Yukki Gipe, the Bullet Lavolta frontman. But even more similar is the driving riffage laid over bounding bass lines. Hardcore, but of a vaguely tuneful sort.

    And as I delve deeper into the album, the more I'm impressed. All the rancor and rage is dished out with the greatest care, and it fuses together into a roiling mass which never fails to be witty. There is always a reason to crank up the volume.

    Really, now, is there a better reason to blast out an album? Always a piece to latch on. Not a gimmick, but a solid guitar line, bass groove or drum lick. A proper handhold for the ears.

    This thing just wormed its way into my brain. I resisted, I'll admit, but in the end Amen won me over. Top quality riffola with the requisite brains behind the carnage. A quality piece of work.


    We Have Come for Your Parents
    (Virgin)
    reviewed in issue #205, 9/18/00

    Amen still reminds me of Bullet Lavolta. And I'm not complaining yet. Rhythmic, vaguely melodic sludge has quite an appeal. But like the band's first album, this disc is no rip-off. Amen takes the original notions and expands the theory.

    And takes us on a breathtaking thrill ride. The attack is relentless, the sound even fuller than before. You might have thought that the move to the big leagues would have caused the folks to throttle back a notch or two. Think again.

    See, metal is back in the big leagues. But unlike the late 80s, no one is trying to sell singles with the stuff. So ripsaw-edged tuneage like this is marketed for the kick ass sonic disruption that it is.

    Yeah, the formula is pretty simple. And Amen makes it work. This is one of the most invigorating albums I've heard this year. Absolutely impossible to shut down. Just try to stay in your seat.


    John Amen
    Ridiculous Empire
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #295, April 2008

    There's a type of music that seems almost endemic to the urban south. There's plenty of blues, a fair amount of folk and more than a smidge of country. It's not really americana--or if it is, it's decidedly unpolished. Back when I lived in Durham (N.C.), I heard this sort of thing all the time. Sometimes it was more bluesy, sometimes more folky and oftentimes simply more old school.

    John Amen hails from the Charlotte area, but he sounds like he grew up in New Orleans. Or maybe even Chicago. There is a great windy city blues sound to his guitar, especially when it gets rockin'. Kinda like the Band by way of Appalachia, with a Buddy Guy kicker.

    More Buddy in the guitar sound than the blues feel. A lot of this does sound a lot like New Orleans rock from the 70s, which is fine by me. There's a certain malevolent laid-back sensibility to that sorta stuff, and Amen seems to channel a fair amount of vague unease within the easy-going songs here.

    Most of all, though, this is music for the back porch. Two (or three) fingers of bourbon in the glass and nothing to do but sit for the rest of the day. Now that's the life.


    The American Analog Set
    Through the 90s: Singles and Unreleased
    (Emperor Jones)
    reviewed in issue #216, 5/14/01

    Bits and pieces from along the way. About half the songs here came from seven-inches and the rest simply didn't quite make the albums. I've always liked sets like this. They provide a somewhat more informal picture of a band than you get on most albums.

    Certainly, that holds here. The material is decidedly uneven--not so much in recording sound but rather in style--and so gets into more unseen corners than you might otherwise get to glimpse.

    These songs aren't presented in chronological order or anything. The disc is sequenced like an album, and sometimes it sounds like square pegs are being forced into circular holes. Now, don't get me wrong; the American Analog Set is astonishingly consistent in the way it plys its meditative fare. But even within that well-constructed sound there are anomalies.

    And that's what I like to hear. A band pushing its own envelope. A quick note for those unfamiliar with the band: This is hardly punchy stuff. But it is edgy, in its own, deliberate way. Few bands are willing to go as far as the American Analog Set in fully defining an elongated phrase.


    American Heartbreak
    Postcards from Hell
    (Coldfront)
    reviewed in issue #195, 2/14/00

    Nicely grimy power punk pop, with all the requisite sneering and cynical posturing. Unique? Nah. But really, really tasty. The hooks bite the back of the throat, and the criminally sarcastic lyrics bring easy smiles.

    In fact, that's my only real beef. American Heartbreak is exceptionally good at this form, but I do wish the boys would depart from the program just a bit. Give me a twist to the sound, a handhold for a special place in my mind.

    Really, though, that might not be such a great idea. I'm not sure this stuff goes well with concerted thought. Cynicism doesn't hold up well to scrutiny (stuff never sucks that bad), but man, it's so nice in a blur. And that roadside buzzsaw sound kicks it out ever so nice.

    The guys have a song called "Brain Vacation." Even if that's all this is, well, it's a full-tilt roadtrip. Don't stop for the lights. In fact, don't stop at all.


    American Mosquito
    Goddamn Cop 7" EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #93, 12/4/95

    Gloriously fuzzy industrial hackings, full of wild samples and bile. Eight songs; all really fucking mean.

    FYI: the speed is 33, and the a-side and b-side aren't clearly marked. You'll have to listen to figure it all out.

    The tunes are pretty short (and tunes is not a very good description of the music found) and sweet. The points are made bluntly, without much sophistication.

    Okay. Man, this gives me a real rush. I love feeding other people's anger, and there's enough here to jumpstart a major riot. The sound is decidedly lo-fi, but that just adds to the mystique. A real find.


    The American Plague
    God Bless the American Plague
    (Long Live Crime)
    reviewed in issue #281, December 2006

    Some boys from Knoxville who process much the same material as Urge Overkill did nearly 20 years ago...music chock full of riffs, attitude and, most importantly, loudness.

    Unlike UO, though, these guys really don't let up off the pedal. And the production has a nice cheesy sheen to it. Fits the material, so I like it.

    This is music for action, not thinking. Blood pumping, fist shaking, penetration kinda music. No missteps here. Just rock hard riff 'n' roll laid over a blistering rhythm section.

    Uncomplicated, in other words. Sometimes it's good to just sit back and let the music take control. The American Plague will seep into your veins in no time.


    Heart Attack
    (Feedback Symphony)
    reviewed in issue #295, April 2008

    Round two from the Knoxville trio, and the boys haven't lost anything off their punch. This southern-fried take on 70s hard rock (Kiss and AC/DC come to mind first, but the list is long) is highly addictive. And like anything with killer riffage and crackling drumwork, listening is always better when pinning the volume knob.


    American Power
    American Power
    (Nihilist)
    reviewed in issue #176, 2/8/99

    An interesting concept. Collages of stolen spoken word recordings (with some original material slipped in) with lots of electronic squalls and disturbances over the mess.

    Some of my old KCOU buds must be in on this somehow, as the first track is taken from a 7-inch that was released back in the late 60s called "Letter to My Teenage Son." I don't remember who the person speaking was, but I'll always remember the classic line "Your mother will always love you, because she is a woman." That thing got loads of airplay at the M.U. radio station in 1991 and 1992, and it's not too much to think that it might have migrated two hours away to St. Louis somehow. It's retitled "Draft Card" here. You gotta hear it. What a howler.

    The general production value is pretty low, and some of the pieces don't cohere very well. Some of that is intended, no doubt. There are plenty of bizarro moments from recent American history which don't stand up so well when replayed to modern ears. Though unless you're some sort of masochist, you probably won't want to play "Squawk Box" more than once.

    It ain't pretty, and it's not supposed to be. I like the concept, and even most of the execution. Unsophisticated and crude, which fits the subject matter just fine.


    American Slang
    American Slang EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #201, 6/26/00

    Fairly basic modern metal. Could be Pantera. Could be... (insert name here). American Slang does this very well; these songs are all more than competent. In fact, they're superior to a lot of what's running around these days.

    But what's missing is the face. I mean, this could be any number of bands. I don't hear anything here that distinguishes American Slang from the rest of the crowd (with the exception of the 12-sting ballad/anthem, which doesn't fit into today's metal scene).

    Even the power ballad/anthem is executed extremely well. All three of these songs are first rate. American Slang just has to find something to make it stand out from the rest of the bands out there. The talent is in place.


    American Standard
    Piss & Vinegar
    (Another Planet-Profile)
    reviewed in issue #74, 4/15/95

    Takes me back to the 80s, when slightly alternative rock bands were the rage at college stations.

    American Standard isn't terribly innovative or anything, but there is this knack for cranking out addictive licks and songs that make you want to find your own guitar.

    The formula is simple, and these boys have followed it. No one said making music was that difficult; it's coming up with something interesting that it. Particularly when you're mining a spent shaft.

    And while American Standard doesn't cover any new ground, they make this territory sound pretty good. Easy, fun and simple. Who says music has to be difficult all the time?


    The New American Standard Classics
    (Maggadee)
    reviewed in issue #215, 4/23/01

    It's been five years since I heard something from these guys, and the most amazing thing is that they haven't changed the sound a whole lot. This is punkish, vaguely "alternative" rawk, sorta (but not entirely) in the vein of late 80s Soul Asylum (which, for me, represents some of the finest rock ever).

    American Standard is more crafted, and the sound here is cranked up a notch or two. Dave Smalley is one of the producers of note, and whether he had anything to do with it or not, the guitars in particular have that Egerton-Stevenson ALL thing going. Tight, sharp and expressive.

    Here's the thing: The songs are written loosely and then played with precision. The final sound is clean, perhaps just a little too much so. Of course, I can't overlook that feeling of boundless joy that pervades, either.

    Wondering if that ALL thing was intentional? Listen to "Adoring" and tell me otherwise. American Standard has cobbled together some great ideas and mixed them into a simmering stew. I'm not sure if all the ingredient have been fully cooked, but what's here is tasty enough.


    Amerikan Made
    Amerikan Made EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #242, June 2003

    These boys cop to liking Bad Religion, and that's a good thing. They've got that whole slick oozin-ah sound down, and they make sure that their songs have something to say.

    I wasn't trying to rip these guys by saying they're slick. If you want to make sure that people can understand what you're saying, say it clearly. This is ultra-tight pop punk, chunky and melodic all at once--with quite a few unusual touches (keyboards, samples, etc.) as well.

    And Amerikan Made has managed to take a crack at an original sound. These boys are exceptionally dense songwriters (in the sense that they throw a lot of things into their work) with a fine ear for extravagant arrangement. Amerikan Made should have a fine future.


    Amnesia
    Lingus
    (Island)
    reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98

    This is drifty electro music. This was the real therapy during my three days of rest and phlegm. I played this three times (and it's really long, so three times is quite a while) and the phlegm settled down enough so when I talked I didn't get that gargle-ly vibratto to my speech.

    There is a picture of a man sleeping on the cover with the phrase "A useful posture to adopt" underneath on the cover. I think this says it all. No way this will in anyway motivate you to do anything other than lie down, stare at the ceiling (or stars if you have holes in the ceiling) and contemplate not moving for say, 80 minutes or so. Divine.

    -- Matt Worley


    Among Giants
    Back and Forth EP
    (Jetsam-Flotsam)
    reviewed 12/5/14

    Back in the 80s, there was this thing called "indie rock." Kids today think they know what that means, but usually they miss out on just how messy it was. The major-label versions of Husker Du, 'Mats and Soul Asylum are what a lot of people think of when they think of indie rock. Except that those albums were anything but indie.

    Toward the end of that cycle, a band from Durham/Chapel Hill (a designation I use advisedly) completely changed the rules. Its best work came in short, seven-inch bursts, and it never completely cleaned up its act. And when its label left Carrboro and headed to New York (and a major-label distribution deal), the band decided to start its own label and stay independent. More than twenty-five years later, Superchunk still rocks.

    Among Giants isn't quite as scratchy as the earliest 'chunk, but it's easily one of the messiest tuneful rock bands I've heard in quite a while. This sound is something of a sweet spot for me, especially the hoarsely-shouted choruses. I can't help but smile.

    I wish I could say that this sound is on the way back, but even in its heyday it wasn't actually popular. It's not metal, not really punk and has very little that might inspire trendiness. And maybe that's why I like this sort of ragged, crunchy stuff. It's basic, but basic turned up to 11.

    Four songs are hardly enough to tell me if Among Giants has a real future. But as an appetizer, this one satisfies like an entree. Eight minutes of bliss.


    Jorge Amorim
    Ritual of Music
    (Freedom Zone)
    reviewed in issue #203, 8/7/00

    At its base, this disc is firmly grounded in the rhythms and melodies of Brazil. There's a whole lot past that base, however.

    Jorge Amorim takes care of the rhythms himself, and he also produced this lush melange of sound. That's what these songs have in common: An unusually full sound for the music that's played. And the music ranges from orchestral soundscape to fusion to folk to a more basic "world" sound.

    Amorim doesn't seem to like sticking to any one idea for very long. Like I said, the songs do have a vague Brazilian feel, but generally it isn't particularly pronounced. This is inventive music, pieces that constantly reinvent the idea of what this album truly is.

    I'm struck by the breadth of sound that Amorim managed to capture on this disc. Very few missteps, even in the fusion areas (where the urge to cheese out is everpresent). One final note: As a Freedom Zone disc, this puppy costs just $1.75 (the shipping and handling cost). Go to the website (www.freedomzone.com) and see what the folks have to offer. I'm not shilling and I don't see any cash from this. I just think this is an interesting way to jumpstart a record label. We'll see how it works.


    Amorphis
    The Karelian Isthmus
    (Relapse)
    reviewed in issue #25, 11/30/92

    One question: do all these death metal bands misspell their names purposely? (i.e. Cianide, Cemetary, etc.) Are they illiterate? Or are they just unable to spell in English because it's their second (or third) language (which doesn't apply to all bands). I wish somebody would take the folks aside and clear this up. It's really starting to annoy me.

    Copy editor shitfit aside, these guys combine traditional death metal with a fine appreciation for doom and classic Euro-metal (see Helloween and Iced Earth). Pretty damn inventive and a lot of fun to listen to. And the riffs! I'd mention something about savoring them with a fine wine, but I don't want all of you out there guzzling Mad Dog or Cisco (shiver).

    If they could only spell...


    Tales from the Thousand Lakes
    (Relapse)
    reviewed in issue #60, 8/15/94

    Death metal you could play for your mom. Well, if your mom happened to be a big Iron Maiden fan or something, anyway.

    I've been waiting for this disc since the day I heard their last. No disappointment, either (despite my silly lead). Amorphis continue the trend set by other Scandinavian bands like Tiamat, merging lush keyboards and classic metal riffs with death and doom metal. Making it all very accessible and yet still credible.

    No one's going to be yelling sell-out here. The Amorphis folk have talent, and even if things are a bit more mellow and pleasant than the average death metal album, that doesn't mean they suck. In fact, Tales is positively great.

    Just simply hypnotic. Amorphis weaves the spell and I am rapt. I feel like digging up the Tiamat albums, maybe an Iced Earth or two and just blasting my brain out with great sound.

    A final side note: This is the first death metal album I've ever heard with a Manchester beat in one of the songs. To show how good these guys are, it works. 'nuff sed.


    Black Winter Day EP
    (Relapse)
    reviewed in issue #68, 1/15/95

    Only 13 minutes, and 4 of those I've already heard (the title track). But where some bands like to dump filler on these eps and gouge fans for cash, Amorphis has placed a fully-structured artistic thought.

    The sound is more like Karelian than 1000 Lakes (the new tracks don't have any of the "singing" voice), but the sound overall is progressing further. Few death metal bands can claim to be lyrically-based, but this revamping of the Finnish national pole book Kalevala (an old myth) combined with a musical extension of the song "Black Winter Day" is quite moving.

    People are starting to notice these guys. Tales from the 1000 Lakes placed in the top 10 in a recent Internet best of 1994 poll (#1 was Dream Theater, followed by Queensryche, so you can see they have picked up some mainstream fans). This EP should help place Amorphis in the upper echelon of rock bands, regardless of subgenre. The new album had better be showing up soon!


    Elegy
    (Relapse)
    reviewed in issue #107, 4/22/96

    Matching Edge of Sanity blow for blow, Amorphis crashed back onto the scene with a truly ripping piece of work.

    You know, five years ago the only band doing anything approaching atmospheric death metal (that I remember, anyway) was Tiamat. And those records don't even begin to match the stuff coming out today. On this disc Amorphis cribs not only from Iron Maiden, but Pink Floyd and Judas Priest as well. As usual, more feeling than actual riff theft, so file all that under influences.

    And mix all those bits with some trademark Amorphis songwriting (strong lead guitar work teamed with keys--you hear that and you know who it is!)... well, I can't imagine how the process could break down.

    And it doesn't. These are nicely crafted tunes, with all the trimmings. No, any old school death metal fan would turn his nose up at this, but, well, fuck that. Amorphis makes great music. Now, if the guys could see fit to do a tour with Edge of Sanity and Tiamat (dream on, asshole!), I'd drive all the way to New York. Another classic. What else do you need to know?


    My Kantele CD5
    (Relapse)
    reviewed in issue #136, 6/9/97

    A few scraps from the table of the kings. There's a version of "My Kantele" (with acoustic rather than electric guitars), the two-song "Brother-Slayer" saga and Hawkwind and Kingston Wall covers.

    The overall sound is steeped in that early 70s prog sound. Plenty of references are possible, but I think the organ sounds most like Uriah Heep (a band which perhaps most fully took advantage of that instrument). Just another step for Amorphis, which seems intent on eternally evolving its sound. Just as it should.

    While the "Brother-Slayer" set is awfully good, the covers aren't terribly different in style from the originals (perhaps a bit heavier, but come on), and while I like this version of "My Kantele" as much as the one on Elegy, I sure would hope for more goodies.

    Good enough for now. But I want more stuff! Soon!


    The Ampersands
    This Is Your Adventure Too
    (Stringshot)
    reviewed in issue #341, October 2012

    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.


    Amps for Christ
    The Secret of the Almost Straight Line 7"
    (Westside Audio Laboratories)
    reviewed in issue #152, 2/9/98

    Recordings of apparently homemade instruments, highly processed and warped. The liner notes are almost as obtuse, consisting of a couple of vaguely poetic essays. One that shares its title with the single itself could be a scathing repudiation of the Luddite movement (among may other things), though it's so elliptically written I can't really make sense of it.

    The music itself has the fascinating characteristic of working equally well at 33 and 45 (though it's supposed to be played at 45). Much of it sounds like really tinny bagpipe stuff, though there's a weird psuedo-country song (that lies in a bed massive static and distortion), a sitar raga and a couple J. Mascis-esque guitar pieces.

    Unusual and certainly appealing. For such a lo-fi result, it's easy to hear how much thought and preparation went into this recording. Quite possibly the future of pop music.


    Anacrusis
    Manic Impressions
    (Metal Blade)
    reviewed in issue #2, 11/15/91

    The fact these guys are from St. Louis made it even more difficult for their work to make a case with me. Not that I have a bias against Midwestern bands or anything like that; I just couldn't believe something cool could come out of St. Louis (sorry, Tim).

    Anacrusis certainly changed that. This, their latest, is so far ahead of Reason, the change is incredible. At first listen, their cover of New Model Army's "I Love the World" caught my ear. And then tracks like "Idle Hours," "Explained Away" and "Far Too Long" began to rise out of the woodwork.

    Not thrash, not exactly progressive, Anacrusis sounds like a band that will be around to make sure the future has a conscience (not to mention great music).


    Screams and Whispers
    (Metal Blade/WB)
    reviewed in issue #34, 5/15/93

    In the course of four albums Anacrusis have gone from mediocre midwestern thrash band to real decent post-thrash band, period (.)

    When I first heard them, I was real dubious of anything from St. Louis. And at the time I had good reason. There was potential, but not much execution. Manic Impressions was a huge step forward, and Screams and Whispers keeps moving in the awesome direction.

    While the sound is more honed, the aggression is still there. There is no mistaking this with latter-day Queensryche. Anacrusis are still an unapologetic metal band. And a damned fine one at that.

    It's been a long time since I've heard classic metal this good.


    Anal Cunt
    The Morbid Florist
    (Relapse Underground)
    reviewed in issue #40, 9/30/93

    Thoroughly messy grind-age (though Pauly Shore would not step near here in a million years) that brings to mind the glory days of Napalm Death and Carcass (ah, the memories). Oddly enough, they do delve into a little doom, but everything remains fairly short and tight.

    A lot of you have already jumped on the bandwagon, and I suppose you aren't exactly naming the band when you play it (who ever heard of a grindcore band called "Air Conditioning", anyway).

    If they don't cheez out, I see good times ahead for these boys, even if they live in that noted grindcore haven, Massachusetts.


    Everyone Should Be Killed
    (Earache)
    reviewed in issue #55, 5/31/94

    They have a great name and they do what Napalm Death was doing years ago. What more do you need for success?

    Um, perhaps a life. This is kinda funny as far as joke value goes, but as far as serious music... come on.

    The fact is, Napalm Death did this much better. This is the weirdest attempt to cash in, but I can't imagine what the other reasons could be. Morbid Florist was fairly entertaining at times. This is not.


    Stayin' Alive 7"
    (Earache)
    reviewed in issue #71, 2/28/95

    Why? you ask knowingly.
    It's a joke, folks. The grind-oi version of "Stayin" Alive" is pretty silly, and since the band didn't take it seriously, why should we?

    The flip has a couple songs from the forthcoming album, and one that isn't going to be there. If you know Anal Cunt (or simply "A.C." on the airwaves), then you can pretty much guess what they sound like.

    Personally, I think these songs show a little more range than the last album (that's still not saying much), so I have a little hope for Top 40 Hits. We'll see.


    Top 40 Hits
    (Earache)
    reviewed in issue #72, 3/15/95

    A.C. is Anal Cunt's radio name, of course.

    And as with any A.C. release, you have to pick out the real songs from the nameless filler. Obviously, anything with "Hits" in the title can get old quickly. But just go through the disc and listen for the songs with demo-quality production. You can skip those right off.

    But that leaves plenty of stuff to choose from, including weird (much shortened) grinding covers of "I'm Still Standing", "American Woman" and, of course, "Staying Alive". Oh yeah, and the "Theme from the A-Team" (songwriting credits to "some guy").

    By all merits: music, humor, whatever; this is far superior to Everyone Must Be Killed. Sure, A.C. is pretty much still a joke band. But you have to laugh sometimes.


    40 More Reasons to Hate Us
    (Earache)
    reviewed in issue #104, 3/25/96

    A big bunch less-than-a-minute-long rants against just about everyone, with a few full-length tunes (if you can call them that) thrown in for good measure. No covers, either, with the exception of the theme from Three's Company (written, oddly enough, by Alan Thicke).

    The titles are amusing, as always, though differentiating between many of the songs is impossible. Some choice names: "Johnny Violent Getting His Ass Kicked By Morrissey" (a personal statement about a labelmate?), "Face It, You're a Metal Band", "Everyone in Anal Cunt Is Dumb" and the inevitable "Everyone in the Underground Music Scene Is Stupid." Yeah, and lots of songs about "cunts", "gays" and other losers (including Tom Arnold). Enough to turn the staunchest free-speech advocate white, if you didn't realize this is all a big joke. As usual.

    I mean, come on. You just can't get pissed at this band. The guys are too damned silly. Sure, they sling around words that usually set off righteous outrage explosions best measured by the Richter Scale. But that's the point. Just bound along, enjoy the grindage and laugh along. Anything else, and you take life way too seriously.


    Picnic of Love
    (Off the Records)
    reviewed in #164, 8/3/98

    The, um, Anal Cunt shiny happy folk album. Just soft acoustic guitar and one of the worst falsettos I've ever heard in my life (courtesy of "Sensitive" Seth Putnam). Is it funny? About as funny as anything the guys have done before. I'm not sure that really answers the question, though...

    I'm amused, howzat? This is satire with a sledgehammer, and there are a few real howlers, though, in general Anal Cunt fashion, the titles are funnier than the songs themselves. You gotta admit, though, that "I Respect Your Feelings As a Woman and a Human" is pretty fucking funny.

    Not really sharp or perceptive, the songs simply disembowel a wide array of targets, from the Christian Right to James Taylor songs to women's studies programs to stupid people in general. Broad humor (no pun intended).

    Well, if you had never heard of the band, it's name might give you a hint. Oh, Putnam (and whoever he brings along with him) uses the radio-friendly "A.C." on the album cover, but we know what that means. Humor of the meanest kind.


    Anarchy Club
    A Single Drop of Red EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #294, March 2008

    Five new tracks (including a rendition of "No You Don't," the oft-covered Chinn/Chapman tune made popular by the Sweet, an older unreleased song called "Collide" and six remixes of "fan favorites." That's one loaded EP.

    I wasn't familiar with these guys, but I do like their chock-a-block style of industrial rock and roll. Kinda like a funkier Armored Saint, or maybe a groovier KMFDM. Somewhere in that neck of the woods. I like the way these songs aren't wall of sound, but instead feature a full range of dynamics and moods.

    And that Sweet cover? Weird. Not at all what I expected. The dramatic elements of the song are all twisted around. Hey, if you're gonna do a well-worn song, you might as well do it in a new way. Which is kinda what I'm hearing in general. Very nice.


    Anathema
    Serenades
    (Peaceville-Futurist)
    reviewed in issue #49, 2/28/94

    They toy with the doom-death thing, but instead of shallow satanic or just plain dumb lyrics, Anathema writes love songs. Death love songs. Love death songs. Something like that.

    To call this really, really weird would be an understatement, except that the music is rather tasty. Not quite My Dying Bride, but then, who is?

    This disc adds the Crestfallen EP, which was recorded after the album. I can hear a maturing process coming on. These guys are starting to sound a little like the late Tiamat. And that is not a bad thing at all. Be sure to check out the last four tracks. They really smoke!

    If Anathema keeps this up, the words god-like might be sprouting from my brain next time around. Wow.


    Pentecost III
    (Fierce-Futurist)
    reviewed in issue #98, 2/5/96

    This is the second American release for the band, and by an odd coincidence, their first release also corresponded with a My Dying Bride release.

    Of course, this is no coincidence. Anathema plays a cool gothic doom-death metal, just like My Dying Bride. Except that where MDB uses a number of electronic instruments and is very sterile and cold, Anathema just leaves all those spaces blank, content to stick with basic guitar work. The effect is spooky, yet oddly inviting.

    I loved that first disc, and this one is no different. The sound is great, the songs have been constructed into mini-symphonies of pain and everything clicks. Yes, there are only five songs comprising 41 minutes of music. Not radio friendly, to be sure. But trust me: Anathema makes long songs you can really get into. This isn't just masturbatory excess. Anathema creates true art.


    Eternity
    (Fierce-Futurist)
    reviewed in issue #127, 1/27/97

    Personally, I think the Futurist folks have done Anathema a disservice. Each of the bands three albums have been released at the same time as My Dying Bride's latest. The first time, I figured it might help an obviously talented band get along. But three times is no coincidence, and for better or worse, people will compare the two bands' albums.

    An no matter how good Anathema is, My Dying Bride isn't the sort of act to let its guard down. So Anathema gets slotted into the step-child slot. I mean, there aren't many gothic doom metal bands around, and there aren't any who have matched the two I've been talking about. And as much as I'd like to differentiate, you can read my words and see what a problem that's been.

    Eternity is miles beyond past Anathema experiences. The music is much more crafted and subtle, relying less on distortion and brute strength and instead gravitating toward a more ethereal sound. Not unlike what Tiamat has done. Yeah, there's a Pink Floyd cover (duh), but even so, Anathema has easily crafted its strongest album ever.

    A pure joy to hear. You can hear all the time and care the band and producer spent on this effort, and not a sou was wasted. Yeah, it might pale just a bit next to MDB, but hell, man, try to get past that unfortunate marketing ploy.


    Ancestors
    Invisible White
    (Tee Pee)
    reviewed in issue #327, May 2011

    From deep the heart of folk space, Ancestors create some of the least epic prog anthems of all time. And trust me, that's one hell of a complement.

    There are three songs on this album, which clocks in at 29 minutes total (so maybe we're talking EP here; you make the call). The technical skill is impressive, but I like the way these songs start from just about absolute zero and then slowly build to a quiet climax. Yes, there's power here, but it is understated and often merely understood. I mean, you know Ancestors could rip a hole in your ears, but that doesn't happen.

    Rather, this album is a subtle delight. I like overbearing prog as much as the next non-fanatic (I know that's a seriously qualified statement, but the stuff does have its place), but Ancestors show some welcome restraint and craft seriously moving songs.

    I'm not sure how all this plays out live, but it makes for one hell of an album. Turn down the lights and walk through the door. A world of wonder awaits.


    Anchors
    Lost at the Bottom of the World
    (Creator Destructor)
    reviewed in issue #344, 1/21/13

    Melodic hardcore from Australia. Though it could just as well be from Sweden or California or Arkansas or wherever. Very energetic, but not particularly distinctive.


    Robin Adnan Anders
    Omaiyo
    (Rykodisc)
    reviewed in issue #162, 6/29/98

    Straight up New Age calmness. As with most New Agey stuff, the music sways like tree branches blowing in the wind. Like droplets of water trickling gently down the window. Like any simile about butterfly or squirrel. La la la, la la la.

    As New Age Music, it works very well. It sets a mood subtly without forcing the listeners to actually listen. There's drums, strings, flutes, and occasional words I don't know the meaning of, but it's good for sitting on the big pillow and winding down the day. Nothing wrong with having a big pillow.

    --Aaron Worley


    Bruce Anderson
    Brutality 2: Balkana
    (Family Vineyard)
    reviewed in issue #198, 4/17/00

    Completely unsettling, Anderson's lengthy meditations manage to both inspire and repel. The nearly hour-long album is set into four sections, and while each utilizes the same source material, the variations lead in many directions.

    The sound is improvisational, though I think most of what happens here is somewhat scripted. There's just this horrible sense of foreboding. It's not just the title, which certainly gets the mind moving in that direction. No, it's the music itself, as it slowly careens into the abyss.

    Every note, every beat is deliberately fashioned. In that way, it isn't too hard to figure out where the pieces are going. But like a horror movie, knowing what's going to happen doesn't lessen the impact. You don't want to wander the path, and yet it's laid out for you. You must follow.

    The concept is mean enough. The execution is devastating. Anderson sure know how to warp my brain.


    Kasey Anderson
    Dead Roses
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #258, October 2004

    It seems like everyone is a singer-songwriter these days. Not unlike the pop punk phenomenon of a few years back (which I suppose, simply got renamed "emo," even if that's a sad bastardization of a once-proud sound), there are thousands of faceless "singer-songwriter" albums wandering around these days. Sometimes I hear twenty or more in a row while I am sorting through all the discs I get in my mail each month. And then I come across someone like Kasey Anderson.

    The key to standing out from the crowd is, well, standing out from the crowd. Have a personality. Give your music some distinctive touches. Sing in character. Just because this stuff is kinda mellow (I suppose) doesn't mean you can sit back. In fact, I'd say you have to increase the intensity level. Anderson does that from the start. "This Old Town" has a nice Steve Earle-meets-Springsteen feel. The sound is elegiac without being maudlin.

    And then the rest of the album follows suit. Some songs have a real musical kick, and others get you with their patient (but insistent) lyrical drive. Anderson holds nothing back--and this is why the album is so outstanding. It's simply a series of nerves rubbed raw in a most appealing way.

    Anderson has a lot to say, and he sure as hell knows how to sing it. This is an exceptional album, one of the best I've heard this year. If you're sure you never want to hear another singer-songwriter, this album will turn you around. Come back to the fold. Because even if the genre has a lame name and is filled with dreck, there are a few gems laying about. You can't miss Anderson--he's got a blinding shine.


    The Reckoning
    (Terra Soul)
    reviewed in issue #289, September 2007

    Kasey Anderson could write songs like Tom Petty or Steve Earle. In fact, he does. Almost. And then, right before the rousing (or bitterly melodic, depending on the song) hook kicks in, Anderson subverts the whole thing one way or another.

    Which is why he's Kasey Anderson and not a renowned singer-songwriter. Thing is, I like his shtick. I also like Petty and Earle, who are two of the great songwriters of the last 30 years. Anderson isn't quite in their league, but he says interesting things in interesting ways. And he writes songs that are almost anthems.

    What a nice grumble he has. Really. And he uses it singing as well as talking. There's an attitude to these songs that is pretty tough to beat.

    Just like Dead Roses, this album could be a kick-out-the-boots foot-stomper, if not for Anderson's idiosyncrasies. But the very instincts that subvert his commerical appeal make this multifaceted album something well worth hearing.


    Kasey Anderson and the Honkies
    Heart of a Dog
    (Red River)
    reviewed in issue #324, February 2011

    Anderson has taken on many different postures during his travails through the nastier alleyways of americana. On this one, he channels the love child of Steve Earle and Volume Dealer-era Neil Young. Loud, earthy and crude--and that's just the music. Another remarkable album from someone who already has a few to his credit.


    Marisa Anderson
    The Golden Hour
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #324, February 2011

    Marisa Anderson calls this album "12 improvisations for guitar and lap steel." Which is true, I suppose. It sounds like she recorded a guitar track, and then added lap steel--though that might be reversed on a couple of songs.

    The recording methods are far from perfect. There's a bit of hum and other lo-fi disturbances. These only serve to dress up the sound that much more. Like the Ava Mendoza album I reviewed last year, the rawness only intensifies the beauty of the music.

    Many folks misunderstand the term "improvisation." The basic idea is not to simply go free-form crazy, though that is one possible path. One of the longest-recorded formal improvisational methods is variations on a theme. Bach and Beethoven (and almost every other composer the world has known) used this often. Anderson's pieces generally fall into this category, which makes them sound more composed than improvised.

    The quality of the music, not the manner of composition, is what matters. And Anderson has crafted a fine album full of introspection and beauty. This album has the general feel of those desultory moments following a movie gunfight. The right thing might have been done, but it was bad goodness. Anderson finds humanity in some gloriously dark places.


    Andrew
    Happy to be Here
    (The Bus Stop Label)
    reviewed in issue #240, April 2003

    Andrew is Andrew Sandoval and a couple of buds. Sandoval writes the music, sings and plays guitar and other odd instruments. Ric Menck handles the drumming and David Nolte slaps a nicely rolling bass.

    As Bus Stop aficionados already should have guessed, Andrew sails the wide pop seas. Sweet, gorgeous melodies and pleasant harmonies. You know those scenes in movies where couples lie around in a meadow and watch the clouds float by? Andrew's music is perfect for just such an occasion.

    There are those who might find this stuff a bit too saccharine, I suppose, but since I'm one who is easily put off by sappy stuff I'd say Andrew puts enough vigor into this stuff to stave off such a reaction. Yeah, the tunes are impossibly light, but there is substance that keeps them grounded.

    Happy music. Stuff that manages to please without pandering or resorting to insipid cliches. Andrew simply makes music that will leave a smile on even the most dour of countenances. Purty purty purty, man.


    What's It All About?
    (Avebury)
    reviewed in issue #259, November 2004

    Andrew worships at the temple of American music, whether we're talking Buddy Holly or Big Star. Wink, wink. Anyway, the this study in the pop form is pretty, varied and always engaging. A little sugar for those who feel their spirits flag in autumn.


    33: The Best of Andrew
    (Hanky Panky)
    reviewed in issue #278, September 2006

    Twenty tracks from Andrew, including many from previous releases reviewed here. Andrew (Sandoval) creates some wonderful pop pictures. Sometimes he gets a little sweet, but somehow his attention to detail (and whimsy) wins me over again and again.


    David Andrews
    Get Me Out of This Place
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #212, 2/19/01

    There's this thing going around called alt. country or something like it. Symptoms include understated production (if there are production values at all), baleful songs about how life would be much better if we all just slowed down and a general adherence to traditional country song construction, but with a bit more kick.

    David Andrews has it, and he has it bad. His songs are dead center in the targets of the genre, and his writing has that workmanlike quality which some connoisseurs really dig. Me, of course, I prefer a more breezy approach. I don't want to hear you working.

    But for the most part, these songs are satisfying, even if I find them a bit too generic. Most of the time I was able to call chord changes 10-15 seconds before they happened, and every once in a while I even predicted lyrics. Andrews does this well, but he needs to shake things up a bit.

    Find a little piece of himself and let that flow through his tunes. These are fine, crafted songs with more than a little power. But anyone could have written and recorded them. Andrews needs to put his stamp on the music he loves. And by adding a few blue notes here and there, he can put that predictability to rest.


    Debbie Andrews
    Suburbs of Eden
    (self-released(
    reviewed in issue #203, 8/7/00

    Right dead center in the stereotypical "women's music" realm. Andrews writes slowly-developing songs, heavy with acoustic guitar and piano, which eventually build to a strong, but not raucous, finish.

    In fact, the craft involved is great. Andrews and Mike Blaxill (who co-wrote many of the songs here) have a good feel for how to write a solid song. Nothing terribly out of the ordinary, but simply well-constructed.

    And that lack of idiosyncratic ineptness is good here. This isn't music intended to whack people over the head. Subtlety is the key, and the best way to accomplish that is by presenting a carefully-crafted, complex song. That's what Andrews does.

    Is some of it a bit cheesy? Yeah. Hard to avoid, really. Still, Andrews isn't afraid to explore dark territory or take a few lyrical challenges. I do think the songs could use a bit more bite or something to more fully distinguish them from the pack. But this is a solid effort, one that deserves attention.


    Duane Andrews
    Raindrops
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #301, October 2008

    If you can't get enough of the particularly Parisian sound of Django Reinhardt, Duane Andrews is here to help. His guitar work wanders over a much greater range--and he's not nearly so distinctive--but the feel is right in there.

    Another obvious reference would be the soundtracks for the films of Jacques Tati (or the more recent The Triplets of Belleville, an animated homage to Tati). The music just sounds French.

    Of course, Andrews is Canadian. And not even Quebecois--he's from Newfoundland. He does include a Reinhardt piece, but he also throws in one from Mingus. Andrews is simply a fine jazz guitarist, and he's hooked into one of the classic sounds of his instrument.

    His pieces are my favorites. He seems to be more inventive with his own work, and those are the songs that really swing. If you really believe that jazz is all work and no play (perish the thought!), give Andrews a listen. I'm thinking he'll change your mind.


    Jake Andrews
    Time to Burn
    (Jericho/Sire)
    reviewed in issue #181, 5/3/99

    The liner notes are pretty cool. Bits and pieces of the mise-en-scene of a bar in Gonzales, Texas. I particularly liked the Falstaff bottle sitting on a shelf (amongst a ton of other debris). Unfortunately, just as much care was taken when recording this album.

    And the reason that's a problem is that Andrews plays the blues. In that ever-popular Texas white boy style. The sorta thing which works real well live, and often comes off lifeless on disc. Like here.

    The playing is great, and the songs are pretty good, but too often there is an extra overdub that just makes the music sound a bit stilted. Take "Just You and Me", a great little blooze-n-boogie tune. Which works real well until that one little extra lead guitar whine (added on top of the regular lead lick) which crops up about four bars before the chorus. What had been a real tight, live-sounding song all of a sudden whipsawed back into a studio creation. Ruined the whole effect.

    Andrews can play pretty well. He can write these songs better than most. But there's too much craft and not enough soul here. My usual complaint for Texas blues, I know, but there it is. Andrews did not break the mold.


    Kyle Andrews
    Real Blasty
    (Elephant Lady)
    reviewed in issue #302, November 2008

    Another one of those perfectly-titled albums. Andrews plies the laptop pop waters with new wave sails and a big beat keel. These songs have an astonishing amount of heft to them.

    These songs are lushly appointed, but the construction is strikingly sprightly. Andrews likes to populate his pieces with all sorts of ornaments, but he makes sure that the center can support the weight. These songs simply bound out of the speakers.

    The production is unusually full for a laptop offering. Andrews has big ambitions, and perhaps someone with a bit more a budget will help him create one of those albums for the ages.

    For now, though, this will more than do. Because in the end, production and sound are secondary to the songs themselves. Andrews writes with confidence and economy, and that gives his work the energy that drives this album. First rate.


    Android Lust
    The Dividing
    (Projekt)
    reviewed in issue #244, August 2003

    The interesting thing about Android Lust is what it's not. This act isn't darkwave or industrial dance or electronic or gothic. Rather, it's all of those and more.

    The idea seems to be to use every idea and method at the artist's disposal to create an alternative world, a place that lies just out of phase with our own. The keyboard washes aren't quite beautiful. The vocals aren't quite utterly distorted. The melodies aren't quite deconstructed.

    And yet, there's a lot of that going on. Shikhee, the woman who is Android Lust, takes great care to keep the listener just off balance. The effect is stunning; while it's impossible to settle into pocket with this album, there's no way to walk away, either.

    Completely arresting, in other words. And completely original. In a field that is populated by many who seem to be unable to break out of the ruts, Android Lust soars above, daring any and all to approach its greatness.


    Anesthesy
    Exaltation of the Eclipse
    (Black Mark-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #64, 10/15/94

    About as old school as European death metal bands get. Once the rhythms get rolling, Anesthesy has a positively metal-core feel to its music.

    But often enough, things bog down in a sort of doomy way, and there isn't enough going on musically to always keep my interest. Anesthesy seems more interested in keeping the songs long than really saving any flow. And the songs really suffer, because there are so many tempo changes and mood shifts (I know, I know, Euro old school). I just don't dig it, okay?

    I suppose the real kicker is the music. At many times the band seems to be tripping over its instruments. Things are awfully technical and not terribly interesting.


    Angelic Upstarts
    Live from the Justice League
    (TKO)
    reviewed in issue #224, 11/5/01

    Recorded at their first U.S. show in nearly 20 years, the Angelic Upstarts crank out a solid set of late 70s Brit punk. Most appropriate, as that's when these guys got their start.

    A quick glance at the liner photo. The guys look their age. But these songs are bashed out with enthusiasm, if not fury. We're not talking about one foot in the grave here.

    As for the material, well, Angelic Upstarts aren't anything spectacular. But I have heard a couple of their songs covered by bands in recent times, so I guess the original records did have some renown. The third edition of the Trouser Press gives a vaguely favorable review.

    Which is about where I sit. This set is a decent overview of the band, though I think the original recordings may have had a bit more spit in them. Certainly, the recording is of good quality and doesn't bother to clean up the requisite live mistakes. I like that. And I like the disc, even if it doesn't move me to tears.


    Angelique
    Present
    (Red Ant/Mercury)
    reviewed in issue #167, 9/14/98

    Riffing through much of today's popular sounds, Angelique trots out a set of tough-chick tunes enveloped in a cocoon of electronic excess. What emotional impact or thoughtful content that might have been gleaned from lyrics is washed away by a surfeit of noise.

    Unnecessary noise, really. The songs aren't great, but they're a lot better than the backbeat trip laid that is laid underneath them. I'm not sure when producers and artists will realize that when you use the same rhythm track as everyone else, eventually folks get bored. Even U2 is coming to grips with this notion.

    Angelique sounds like she wants to be an electronic Sarah McLachlan, or at least an electronic Liz Phair (I differentiate the two by level of polish, not material). But there is simply too much "other" here, and not enough Angelique. She's hidden behind the trickery, her thoughts lost in the waves of generic beats. Even on a catchy little track "Rose Colored Glasses", the music eventually peters out into a tsunami of tedium.

    I know, I'm the person who called Natalie Imbruglia unlistenable. Pop culture creatures will want to take my opinion with a pillar of salt. This disc is somewhat different than the Imbruglia one, though, as Angelique wrote the songs and played a big part in the orchestration. It's her own damned fault she can't be found on this disc. Simple as that.


    Angels
    Angels CD5
    (Public Eyesore)
    reviewed in issue #264, May 2005

    Perhaps most intriguing because of its age (this album was recorded in 1981 and 1982), this set of linear power trio musings is something close to sublime.

    Not for the sound, which is positively abysmal. The studio tracks sound like old school demos, and the live sound isn't much better than mediocre bootleg. Still, the ideas within these songs are exciting enough to overcome the extremely primitive production. Suffice it to say Hiromi Unakami's guitar spans the gap between Frank Zappa and Duane Denison, with a real post-rock kinda feel to it.

    The vocals are in Japanese (Angels are--or were--a Japanese outfit) and are gawdawful. alternately droning or simply moaning, they don't really do much for the music. But then, the sound is so bad that it's quite easy to simply tune them out as just more background noise.

    Pay attention to the music. Unakami's guitar is amazing, and the rest of the band is more than capable. One for the fetishists, I guess, but a real treat for me nonetheless.


    Animal Planet
    Special Care CD5
    (Lap Records)
    reviewed in issue #263, April 2005

    Three songs from this British foursome. While the sound isn't exactly trademark Britpop, the wide range of sounds and general whimsical nature of the pieces certainly gives a few hints.

    The tunesmithing is impeccable, which leaves the band plenty of leash to play with. Even when the folks completely cut loose (large portions of "Pamela Anne," for example), there is enough structure to keep the song moving along nicely.

    This is the sort of short introduction that leaves me wanting to hear much more. Can Animal Planet sustain this level of quality and whimsy over an entire album? Will the songs continue to surprise, or will they begin to sound the same? Only the future knows.


    The Animals
    Interesting Life
    (A2)
    reviewed in issue #213, 3/12/01

    A band re-recording its old hits is always a dubious proposition. Even if the new versions are better technically or artistically (which rarely happens), the old recordings are what fans know and love. And so, the only reason for such an enterprise is cash.

    This edition of the Animals features two original members (Hilton Valentine and John Steel) and one member who joined after the first album (Dave Rowberry). You'll notice the absence of the names Eric Burdon or Alan Price. That doesn't necessarily mean anything, but it might explain why there are only two new songs here.

    These are competent run-throughs of some of the Animals' big hits, including "House of the Rising Sun." The thing is, the originals are better. They're got more energy and they have a rawer sound. These songs require that sort of edge, and here the sound is smooth and easy. Not what's needed.

    This may raise some cash for the boys. That's okay. But it's not a worthy part of the band's legacy. Some things are better left the way they were.


    The Animators
    Home by Now
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #244, August 2003

    Some of you might recall my rave review of the Pasties album from last year. Well, the Pasties are no more, but Devon Copley is back with a new venture. He and musician/producer Alex Wong are the Animators. The sound is much more conceptual and crafted (Wong has a degree classical percussion), but the results are similarly excellent.

    It took two tries for this puppy to get to me (thank you, Mr. Mailman), but I'm glad it finally arrived. The songs are sweeping, epochal, tightly-constructed pop tunes, the sort of thing that only recently has become fashionable again.

    Wong has a fine hand in the studio, using all sorts of synthesized instruments and found bits to fill out the sound. Yeah, the style is a bit sterile, but it really fits the songs well. Despite the intensity of craft (which is probably a bit easier for me to hear than most folks), these songs have depth and soul to spare.

    What I'm saying is that it's impossibly easy to fall into this album and just lie there for a few hours. Those expecting a rave-up will certainly be disappointed, but anyone who cares about good music will be instantly transported to a very good place.


    Annie
    Anniemal
    (Big Beat/676/Atlantic)
    reviewed in issue #266, July 2005

    I can't wait to hear the jibes. Yes, Annie is just another Eurotrash girl (Finnish, actually) glomming onto Madonna's vapor trails. In fact, her one big hit up to this point (1999's "The Greatest Hit," which is included on this album) rips a loop from "Everybody." But if it works, it works.

    Take the lead single for this album, "Heartbeat." It sounds like a Pet Shop Boys tune that never was, though strangely enough it doesn't really resemble Tennant and Lowe's own "Heartbeat." Annie's voice isn't particularly strong, and when she tries to hit the higher registers it almost fuzzes out completely. And I happen to think that sounds almost unbearably cute.

    Annie's future will be tied inextricably to her ability to find producers who are able to create slick yet interesting songs. I wouldn't want to bet the farm on her future. But she is a DJ, so it's more than possible that she'll be able to replicate the sophisticated music on this astoundingly fun--if ephemeral--album.

    C'mon. It's summer. It's time to screw around and listen to cheesy pop music. I'm all for that--I might even plunk myself down in the grass when Earth, Wind and Fire and Chicago come to town. Annie makes cheesy pop music that sounds good to my ears, and that's all I require. Laugh all you want...I'll still be smiling.


    Annihilator
    Set the World on Fire (advance cassette)
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in #37, 7/31/93 (advance cassette review)

    Annihilator has been so long I figured the folks had been dropped. New singer (I think, he sure sounds different), but Jeff Waters is still in charge of the show. Decent traditional metal.


    Greg Annussek
    Little Palaces
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    Toe-tappingly tuneful alt. pop, infused with the throbbing bass power of alt. country (I know, few folks choose to steal that particular Uncle Tupelo innovation, but Annussek is smart enough to latch on dizzily). Basically, these songs are irresistible.

    And the reason is that Annussek is smart enough to make each one its own piece. He's got a great ear for the hook, but he has enough of a sense of craft to put together each honeyed chorus in a slightly different way. No two riffs are exactly alike, and so each song is a fresh discovery.

    Sometimes pretty and sometimes powerful (and often both), Annussek's songs are aided by some sharp playing and singing. His band has a great feel for these pieces, and while Annussek doesn't have the world's greatest voice, the pieces use his vocal flaws to color the songs even more.

    A first rate trip through modern pop. Annussek does bring to mind pop masters past and present, but he's got his own thoroughly current vision. That's pretty good, but the simple truth of the disc is that there isn't a bad song on it. Pure joy.


    The Anomoanon
    Summer Never Ends... EP
    (Palace)
    reviewed in issue #177, 2/22/99

    Another in the long and winding Oldham saga, this time with Ned at the helm. This EP came out last year (the Bonnie 'Prince' Billy album reviewed below is from this year), and it heralds something of a return to a full band sound, with more traditional songwriting as well.

    Traditional being a relative term. Oldham's country blues constructions are a personal trademark, and honestly, they work best when he performs them. The Anomoanon has a definite late-60s Dylan feel to it, with its self-conscious attention to lyrics (and the harmonica doesn't hurt, either). Elliptical, as ever, but a bit easier to access.

    Hardly commercial, though still much more palatable to the masses. The summer of the title seems to signify to Oldham a sort of restlessness and rootlessness. The songs are generally about searching. For what, well, he's not sure. Or not telling.

    Very few songwriters and performers can cut straight to the soul like Oldham. These seven songs wind a crooked trail, but they end up doing the damage. Heartfelt and haunting, as ever.


    Joji
    (Temporary Residence)
    reviewed in issue #259, November 2004

    Ned, the "other," older Oldham brother, trafficks in much the same music as Wil. He's a bit more enamored of electric guitar work and isn't afraid to embrace his inner rock star. Still, the true beauty of these songs is their delicate grace, no matter how much stuff gets piled on top of them.


    Another Society
    One Last Step
    (PC! Music)
    reviewed in issue #110, 5/27/96

    Plowing through recent metal conventions, from grunge to Pantallica to NYC metalcore and on through the night, Another Society mixes things up enough to stay interesting. By a hair.

    Not a whole lot of creativity cruising through the works or anything, but competent songwriting in the trendy (some past-dated) styles. The sort of thing that bands who desperately want to make it big will resort to from time to time.

    And you can hear that desire, which is what keeps this project from being truly dreadful. The playing is good, the production fairly sharp and the energy flow is pretty high. I can't find much to really recommend here, but finding obviously flaws is also difficult.

    Workmanlike. If these guys would put a little more effort into finding their own sound, well, something truly cool might happen.


    Blood Wrong
    (PC Music)
    reviewed in issue #142, 9/1/97

    Another set of truly heavy metal stylings. Another Society does a good job of mixing its influences up and finding a sound somewhere between Alice in Chains and Pantera.

    And just like the last time out, the production is excellent, the playing quite good and the songwriting leaves something to be desired. A notch above the stuff on One Last Step, but not quite good enough to break out.

    One big improvement is an added emphasis on the percussion (not just drums). Those little breaks combined with a greater focus on rhythm and grooves do make for serious improvement.

    Still not as good as it could be, but a good step up. As long as Another Society keeps working to expand its sound and writing, it can only get better.


    Anthem In
    Anthem In
    (Quiet/Loud)
    reviewed in issue #296, May 2008

    Stuff that might have been released ten years ago. Anthem In traffics in tight melodies and insistent rhythms--more often alternating the concepts rather than melding them together. I'm more of a synthesis guy myself, but I must admit a certain attraction to this sort of deconstruction.

    It's slightly schizophrenic, of course, but that's cool. As long as the engine keeps firing away, it doesn't much matter which gear the band finds itself in. The disjointed structure doesn't do much for song cohesion, but the craftsmanship is so high that most songs do, in fact, hold together.

    I'm not really tied in to what's popular these days, but the reference on the press sticker to Pinback makes sense. There is a Rob Crow influence in the off-kilter build of the melodies. I'm a sucker for that.

    An unsettling disc, but I think that's a good thing. Anthem In isn't out to make a bunch of kids hold up lighters. I think the band has more ambition than that.


    The Cloudbusting EP
    (Quiet/Loud)
    reviewed in issue #309, August 2009

    "Cloudbusting" is, indeed, the Kate Bush song. Kinda fits, as Anthem In's version of electronic-tinged pop has a bit of an ethereal edge to it. Another solid effort from Allen Orr and friends. Let's hope another full-length is coming soon.


    Anthemic Pop Wonder
    Wild Thrill-Hungry Gurls
    (Bombardier)
    reviewed in issue #188, 9/20/99

    Ah, the irony. Any self-respecting pop band (or, in this case, one-man pop band) wouldn't really call itself by this name. And so, while the sound here might be vaguely ramped into the "pop" realms, in all honesty these songs rarely approach anthemic status.

    Which only makes sense, as the most important element in pop these days is irony. After all, any idot can put three chords together and harmonize, right? Maybe. But Anthemic Pop Wonder (the pen name of a certain Dfactor, which is itself a pen name for a certain Dave Murrow--irony, see?) generally messes about with sounds and song structure, starting when he might otherwsie be stopping, playing tight, clean licks where some distortion might be expected, etc.

    And so the disc wanders on and about, never quite taking hold of anything for very long. I admire the iconolastic way in which Murrow creates his work, even if some of it is just a bit too obscure for me to find purchase. There are more than a few moments where the sounds just don't make sense. Not a bad thing, necessarily, but I don't hear any reason for the incoherence except for the sake of being incoherent.

    Perhaps this is just more irony. Who knows? This guy's mind is probably as inscrutable (and intriguing) as some of his songs. Challenging and odd, two prime characteristics for a good disc. I just can't hear how this all gets pulled together somehow. Maybe it's not supposed to be. I guess I just don't "get" it. Perhaps I should simply try a little harder.


    Anthrax
    Return of the Killer A's:
    Best of Anthrax

    (Beyond/BMG)
    reviewed in issue #193, 12/20/99

    In case you missed it, Anthrax released its eighth album last year. I sure didn't hear anything about it, and not so long ago I was a monster fan. Anyway, this collects bits and pieces from the band's history, like any greatest hits sorta thing.

    Anthrax is the kind of band that inspires its fans to own all of its records, making albms like this somewhat irrelevant. Even so, there are some don't miss tracks here for the general fan: The reworking of "Bring the Noise" with Chuck D. and Flavor Flav, "I'm the Man" (for better and worse the band's signature piece), "I Am the Law" and "Indians."

    There are a couple of hard-to-find songs here, the most notable a cover of "Ball of Confusion" with both John Bush and Joey Belladonna on vocals and Dan Lilker on bass. But only one song from Persistence of Time, and that one the cover of "Got the Time" ? See, this is why you have to own the albums.

    Anthrax is probably the greatest metal band from the 80s that never quite made it over the top. I'm pretty sure the guys have never sold a million copies of any single album (or if so, just barely). They're just hard-working boys who have left a fairly impressive legacy. Dig out those old albums. They're a lot better than you might think.


    Anthropile
    Take
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #197, 3/27/00

    Kind of a retro industrial sound. Bryan Tewell Hughes is the man behind Anthropile, and he's collected a large, um, pile of samples and assembled them over a crunchy pseudo-German engineered bunch of techno guitar riffage.

    It's a bit thin-sounding, but that is the style. I dunno. I really like this grand, almost operatic take on the industrial feel. Hughes has a lot to say, and he says it quite well.

    Plus, this is a gas to hear. Sure, you have to have your ears in the same space as me, but that's not a small group of folks. Hughes did a great job of splicing this project together. It sounds seamless.

    Alright, perhaps this isn't the most commercially-appealing sound. I don't think Hughes cares. He's put together a solid set of songs, stuff that really works. That's good enough for me.


    Anthrophobia
    Poppy
    split 7"
    reviewed in issue #58, 7/15/94
    (Coolidge)
    The Poppy track is more of the meandering pop I've heard from those folk in the past, though it seems to be a little more focused and heavy now. "Undoing" flows nicely from mellow to fortissimo and back. Sure, it's a trend, but Poppy has a fresh take on that motif.

    Anthrophobia is much heavier and active, barely sticking on the fringe of pop music. I know it sounds weird, but it reminds me of something like Van Halen (1980 model) meets Treepeople. Crunchy and tasty heavy pop. Very nice.


    Framework EP
    (Mausoleum/BMG)
    reviewed in issue #117, 8/26/96

    Very glossy pop metalcore. The guys write reasonably catchy songs in the classic Biohazard style. Unfortunately, the only song that breaks out of that rut is a really bad imitation of the Laughing Hyenas.

    Oh sure, there are amusing points. I've always wanted to hear a song with the chorus "Boom motherfucker, boom boom motherfucker!" Obviously we're dealing with wits of the highest order.

    While there isn't the slightest hint of originality in these six songs, at least the band pulls off the stuff well enough. The production is quite slick, which helps take the edge off the whole thing. I've heard much better from this band, but that was before any deal got signed.

    I'd like to hope for better from an album. I know Anthrophobia has it inside to crank out better tunes in a more original style.


    Anti-Flag
    A New Kind of Army
    (Go-Kart)
    reviewed in issue #184, 7/5/99

    Steeped in the essences of punk, adding an anthemic sheen to that modern-day Clash riffage that Rancid does so well, Anti-Flag kicks out some truly catchy stuff. Songs that anyone with a pulse will sing along with for years to come.

    And yet sloppy enough to be ragged about the edges. Always the best way to present your finest punk foot forward. Crunchy and fulfilling.

    The sound is very nice, sharp and solid. It's easy to hear every member of the band, and the group's ideas come through loud and clear.

    I'm sorry I'm not particularly vociferous about this one. It's a great album. There's not a whole lot else to say. Sure, lots of people try to do this sound. But these boys from Pittsburgh do it about as well as I've heard in a while. More than worth a few listens.


    Underground Network
    (Fat Wreck Chords)
    reviewed in issue #215, 4/23/01

    Like many a punk band, Anti-Flag has a political agenda. Unlike many of those acts, however, these boys also craft energetic tunes to go with their polemics. And, if you're confused by any of the lyrics, each song has a helpful exegesis to make every nuance clear.

    It is rare that a band so focused on getting its message across can also play such fun music. And I mean it. This stuff is great. Basic, three-chord fare, but punchy and full of life. The arrangements make the most of what's there.

    What might that be? For starters, Anti-Flag varies its attack. There's a few buzzsaw riffs, a few lean lead guitar lines, some real nice drum breaks and the odd oi shout-along chorus. Nothing unusual or out of the ordinary, of course. Just the usual punk themes dolled up nicely.

    Thoroughly enjoyable, and with a healthy dollop of political theory to boot. Yes, you can jam and think at the same time. Revolution rarely sounds this good.


    The Terror State
    (Fat Wreck Chords)
    reviewed in issue #247, November 2003

    Anti-Flag is more than willing to help Fat Mike and the Fat crew in its unrelenting attack on the Bush presidency. The cardboard slipcover for this disc contains a "one term president" design, with instructions for creating stencils, posters and flyers. I've already been down to the copy shop, myself.

    Of course, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Anti-Flag is willing to take a political stand. This band has been pure punk since its inception. And the songs here take on not only the Bushwa but also GATT, mindless media and other prime targets.

    These boys have always used slick production to showcase their ample and varied songwriting styles. Oh, to be sure, we're talking about melodic punk. And Anti-Flag doesn't buy completely into ska like, say, the Clash. Everything comes back to three chords and straight beats. But there's some texture, nonetheless.

    Another fine outing from the guys. The lyrics are as fiery as ever--without being excessively preachy. Play it loud. Piss off the president, and anyone else who is foolish enough to follow without thinking.


    Anti-Heros
    Underneath the Underground
    (GMM)
    reviewed in issue #188, 9/20/99

    You gotta like a band who kicks off an album with "More Stupid than Stupid" (which concerns "generation excrement"). Hard to really argue there. And if you needed any more encouragement, Lars Fredericksen produced, so chances are he likes the boys, too.

    The lyrics are political and angry. Nothing surprising there. But the level of wit is high, and even as the fairly generic riffage grinds on, there always a laugh to be had at the expense of society's haves. Again, this is never a bad thing.

    They even include a "radio edit" for "I'm True." The main reason, of course, is the expletive-riddled content. I myself am quite the vulgarian, so I don't mind. But I guess GMM is hoping for some serious airplay from folks with more delicate ears.

    I don't think that's going to happen. I don't think it should. The Anti-Heros are a punk band, you know the Underneath the Underground kinda punk band. There's no reason to foist them on an unsuspecting (and generally uncaring) public. Leave them where they are, doing some real good.


    The Anti-Nowhere League
    Live--So What?
    (Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #175, 1/25/99

    Almost all of these Cleopatra punk revival discs has been, um, kinda sad and pathetic. So it is a with a sense of irony, I suppose, that this album, by one of the lightest of the Brit punk lightweights, is actually one of the more energetic and enthusiastic of the bunch.

    Now, I have no idea when these songs were recorded. Neither the liners nor the enclosed press noodlings mention such irrelevancies. Whatever. The recordings are nice and sharp, and the band is fiercely sloppy. The guitars are a bit metallic, so I'd venture to say this is from the 90s sometime, but who knows?

    As long as you don't ask the Anti-Nowhere League to save the world, they fit the bill nicely. Peppy anthemic punk dispatched with delicious venom. I mean, you want more?


    Anti-Social Music
    The Best of the First Year
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #231, July 2002

    There's this stereotype of music in the big city. Kids leave home playing Mozart and Bach, go to music school in, say, New York, and come home playing some of the weirdest stuff around. Suffice it to say the folks who are collectively known as Anti-Social Music are never going home.

    Which isn't to say these pieces are truly off the map. There isn't the almost-blinding idiosyncrasy of a Philip Glass at his most maddening. Nor is there the "concept for concept's sake" form of experimentalism epitomized by John Cage. Rather, these always-engaging works push the envelope by melding together rather disparate styles.

    Imagine some of Ornette Coleman's mouthpiece squawks dropped into some Gershwin-style classical jazz. Or a little Vandermarkian riffing within a romantic (if a kinda atonal) atmosphere. In any case, this music is most definitely written and performed to the letter. Improvisation is not on the menu here. If you're surprised by something you hear, it first occurred to the composer.

    Which makes these pieces almost more impressive. Improv can bring out some wonderful ideas. But to conceive and then preserve such creativity is truly the mark of greatness. Anti-Social Music knows a few good composers, and the collective knows how to make these works sing.


    Sings the Great American Songbook
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #270, November 2005

    Um, no. Just in case you were wondering, the title is, indeed, a joke. Anti-Social Music is a collective of NYC-area musicians who like to play. Sometimes it's avant-garde classical kinda stuff, sometimes it's fairly abstract, improvisational-sounding (though rarely actually improvised) stuff and sometimes it's just stuff that doesn't fit into neat little label boxes.

    A lot of people wander through a given Anti-Social Music album. A total of 23 folks (if my counting is correct) contribute to the 18 tracks, but each piece has a decidedly different lineup. This might lead to radical shifts in feel--the pieces themselves are often quite distinct--but every time I came away thinking, "Yeah, that's an ASM bit."

    Perhaps it's the cheekiness. The band drops a number of mottos within the liners, but one is most telling: "New music with moxie."

    Moxie. That's it. A playful sense of adventure, or something like that. Without that sense of "Whoops, let's see what's around this corner," these pieces would simply be technical exercises in unusual music. But with the right touch, they become otherworldly. Get ready to be transported.


    Anti-Social Music + The Gena Rowlands Band
    The Nitrate Hymnal
    (Lujo)
    reviewed in issue #272, March 2006

    This is one of those projects that simply couldn't have happened without kind people giving money to artists and walking away. Not to get on a soapbox or anything, but anyone who thinks there shouldn't be public funding of the arts (including the "weird arts") just isn't getting out enough.

    On to the story. Bob Massey (of the Gena Rowlands Band) received a cache of 8mm movies documenting the life of his grandparents. He wrote an opera to accompany an edit of those films, and then he got his band and the Anti-Social Music collective to flesh out his ideas and then record the completed project.

    If this sounds pretentious and somewhat twisted, that's because it is. And even though opera was the popular music of the times 200 years ago, these days the form is considered by many folks to be the most unapproachable in the music pantheon. Not always true, but this is a difficult work. These people have an unusual approach to melody and song structure in general. There's more than a bit of the ol' Kurt Weill in here, and there's plenty more that really ranges far afield.

    For me, this is an exhilarating experience. The swoops and whorls of the melodies fit the melancholy (and occasionally melodramatic) lyrics perfectly. At its base, this is simply aggressively interesting music. The story takes it to another level. Ambitious as hell, and immensely successful as well.


    Is the Future of Everything
    (Peacock Recordings)
    reviewed in issue #327, May 2011

    An ever-changing collective whose sole mission is to keep new music alive, Anti-Social Music has been making some of the most vital albums of the last decade. This album features three suites and some assorted (and occasionally vaguely-related) songs.

    When I saw new music, I mean new music. This isn't rock. It isn't even avant garde (though one of the suites has the fabulous title "Grunt Work for the Avant Garde"). No, this stuff is completely new. The works borrow from almost every tradition imaginable, and each one charts new territory. Simply put, you've never heard stuff like this.

    There are those who are put off by such effrontery. I understand, but I cannot sympathize. Anti-Social Music doesn't play this stuff because it's weird. This music is on this album because of its essential power. I'm not much for labels, and neither are these folks. That might be why I like them so much. Or, just maybe, ASM is the future of everything.

    Nah, that's just a joke. Just close enough to the truth to make me think about it. This generous helping of 20 tracks (three suites and six separate songs) is more than a mealful. It'll take me months to piece it all together, and even then I'll be finding new ideas to explore. Yes, you will have to think. But you'll have a lot of fun while you do so.


    Antimc
    It's Free, But It's Not Cheap
    (Mush)
    reviewed in issue #282, February 2007

    Also known as Matthew Alsberg, Antimc (as in not an MC, of course) dishes out some fun and occasionally crunchy electronic beats--leaving just enough space for a few MC friends to drop by and spin some rhymes.

    I have to admit that I like the straight instrumentals better, though. The guest shots are decent, but the vocals don't add anything. They're kinda like heavy window dressing. These treatments work just fine on their own.

    Alsberg does spin in William Orbit's, um, orbit, but he likes to range far afield. There's even some acoustic guitar now and again.

    And, finally, Alsberg isn't afraid to get silly. When the sounds get really incongruous, you known you're being set up for a joke. Fine by me. Color me amused.


    Antimony
    Phantom Itch
    (Double Deuce)
    reviewed in issue #83, 8/21/95

    Comprising 3/4 of the final Circus Lupus line-up, Antimony managed to get this disc recorded before those tattered remnants also hit the breeze. In other words, Antimony is no longer a band in the operative sense.

    Girls Against Boys are the current national media darlings of the D.C. post-hardcore scene, but a few of us remember the fine albums that CL put out, and Antimony hasn't moved far from the formula.

    The demise of this band is really a shame, because Phantom Itch picks up where CL left off and cranks everything to a new level of rhythmic hardcore bliss. The guitar lines are strident and pure, the rhythm section tight and lean. Kinda like a meaner, more sterile Fugazi sound. And it's not like these bands don't know each other or anything.

    I would hope there will be some massive hype for this album. It is deserving, even if there won't be a tour. Great music deserves to be heard. And if you are among the heathen, go out and grab some Circus Lupus while you're at it. Thank me later.


    Antipop Consortium
    The Ends Against the Middle EP
    (Ozone-Warp)
    reviewed in issue #224, 11/5/01

    Nominally a hip-hop outfit, Antipop Consortium is all about the propagation of techno beats. With a little rhyming on the side.

    Both the beats and the rhyme slinging are creative and unusual. The feel is chilly and sterile, though strangely the overall effect is much warmer. Certainly, there's plenty for a mind to wrap around.

    It's pretty rare that an experimental set like this can feel so inviting. Antipop Consortium hasn't taken the edge off its creativity, but merely allowed that inventiveness to flow into as many cracks as possible.


    Arrhythmia
    (Warp)
    reviewed in issue #227, March 2002

    Inventive and playful hip-hop dropped over some wonderful beat work. That's about what would be expected from this crew. The real question is does Antipop Consortium take a step forward or not?

    Yeah, I think so. In particular, the rhythm construction underlying the rhymes is most impressive. These MCs rhyme on the beat, which is impressive considering the complexity of what lies at the base of the sound.

    A joy to hear, and a joy to ponder as well. The lyrics are thoughtful, though hardly pretentious. There's a sense of fun here, even when the ideas get serious. It's very easy to slip in pocket with the grooves.

    Very few hip-hop outfits use so much techno theory in their beat. Even fewer DJs are able to so completely master a wide variety of musical ideas and sounds and make them fit so well with the rhymes. A step forward, indeed.


    Antiseen
    The Boys from Brutalsville
    (TKO)
    reviewed in issue #217, 6/4/01

    Full-throated and brimming with attitude, Antiseen churns out meaty punk anthems like Motorhead did some 20 years ago.

    A throwback and yet, Antiseen might also be a vision of the future. After all, what goes around comes around. And anyway, these boys aren't retreads. They have their style of ripping off huge pieces of the riff.

    That is, by the way, what's going on here. The band settles into a solid, heavy guitar line and then Jeff Clayton starts howling. Even on the brilliant cover of "Six Days on the Road," which features piano on the opening verse, the guitars eventually kick in.

    Basic, very basic. But with a style and verve and simple crudeness that few can approach. Antiseen isn't trying to please anyone except the members of the band. Oftentimes, that's good enough to make a whole lot more people happy.


    Anubian Lights
    The Eternal Sky
    (Hypnotic-Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #81, 7/31/95

    Nik Turner and plenty of friends, many of whom are members of his touring band. Space music taken to the extreme, with lots of unusual noises included in the mix.

    Turner is a master at orchestrating this stuff. The stream-of consciousness short story contained in the liners makes for good reading while listening, too.

    On the whole, though, I preferred Turner's live discs, mostly for the seeming spontaneity. I liked the space music with the raw sound that only a live recording can really capture. Anubian Nights is a cool project, and galaxies ahead of any other space stuff that I've heard, but I think Turner needs to rediscover that live sound and import it into the studio.


    The Jackal and Nine EP
    (Hypnotic-Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #94, 1/8/96

    A few remixes (and a live track) of songs from the recent album The Eternal Sky. Nik Turner and friends have gotten a few trance and ambient types to redo their techno space concept vehicle, and the results are better than the album.

    Eternal was just so stilted, so sterile. This EP strips off most of the sharp corners and makes the whole a bit more palatable. This sort of music doesn't have to be dull, and the remixes prove it.

    Even the live rendition of "Soul Herder" is much more alive than the studio track. I thought Turner's live set of a year ago was full of an improvisational feel that most space artists never can achieve. And then the Anubian Lights album just really let me down. But this EP gives me hope. If the folks can just follow this path, and not the earlier one.

    See also Nik Turner.


    Anubis Spire
    Old Lions (in the World of Snarling Sheep)
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98

    Gently loping pieces, punctuated by lengthy guitar licks and a vaguely middle-eastern lilt. There are elements of prog rock construction, but mostly this is somewhat grainy classic rock riffage. When there are vocals (and that's not too often), the music sits back for a while. And that's too bad.

    Cause the best part is the way the mostly electronic percussion mixes with the winding lead guitar. The instrumentals are fairly good, if somewhat derivative (I can hear some serious LedZep cribbing from time to time). Enjoyable, in any case.

    Another knock on the vocals is that the production is a bit too thin. That light approach works fine with the instrumentals, where there's not much competition. But when the singing starts, it just completely overwhelms everything else. And honestly, it's not all that great.

    There are plenty of cool moments, and as long as the vocals don't come in, I like the shimmery, thin sound. I think the band might want to work a little harder at crafting its own sound, but the playing is just fine.


    Aphex Twin
    drukqs 2xCD
    (Warp-Sire)
    reviewed in issue #224, 11/5/01

    Back before electronica was electronica (back when it was more likely to be incorrectly dubbed "ambient" by some idiot like me--though, of course, the first Aphex Twin album was called Selected Ambient Works. Whatever.), there was Aphex Twin. More specifically, there was Richard D. James, who records as Aphex Twin and many other pseudonyms.

    After releasing a couple albums with something of a commercial feel to them, this set seems to be setting the record straight. A typical song title is "orban eq trx 4." That one almost makes sense. Try your hand at deciphering "btoum-roumada."

    The music is as scattershot as the spelling of the song titles. At times contemplative and other times as manic as a video game, it's really hard to pin down a true sound here. James not only changes feel constantly, he also incorporates "real" instruments into his electronic orchestra. Which, of course, is what he's been doing since forever.

    Few Aphex Twin fans desire a simple, straightforward album. They're not going to be disappointed here. The songs may be a bit less complex in their instrumentation (the sound is generally stark--not at all lush), but the ideas are as vibrant as ever.


    Appalachian Death Ride
    Hobo's Codebook
    (Anyway Records)
    reviewed in issue #240, April 2003

    Imagine a nice little punky roots country band, complete with fiddle and a strange affection for the 70s. Sorta like a down home Dixie Dregs without all the prog excesses.

    Rather, these songs ride home on strummed guitar riffs that remind me of Eleventh Dream Day and Uncle Tupelo. Great anthems, which would be more reminiscent of the former, but that guitar sound is straight outta Still Feel Gone.

    Ah, but the layers of distortion and blistering guitar solos are more along the Neil Youngish lines of EDD. Then comes the fiddle and banjo and all that, which makes these boys something original unto themselves.

    Which is what I mean to say, anyways. Appalachian Death Ride hails from Chicago, and it plays a fine amalgam of American music. These songs are insistently great. They hook almost immediately and don't let up. A few seconds is all it takes to fall under the spell.


    Apparatus
    Apparatus
    (Reconstriction-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #81, 7/31/95

    Some NC folks with a real affection for that German industrial sound with a NIN jones chaser. A wondrously live-sounding mechanized industrial sound.

    Catchy as fuck, with enough aggression to tempt even the most rigid of violence freaks. And beat variation the likes I haven't heard since the new Die Warzau.

    Apparatus prefers to cycle through influences, much like the most recent 16 Volt, though from a completely different perspective, of course. 16 Volt is an angry band, and Apparatus is much more dispassionate and angst-ridden.

    Plenty of ideas to sample here. Apparatus has put together a wild ride that massages both the club folks and metal freaks. A nice package all around.


    Applesaucer
    Applesaucer
    (Toadophile)
    reviewed in issue #190, 11/1/99

    Jaunty (and I mean that) pop music. The beats are midtempo, but with a bouncy attitude. The hooks are sweet, but not cloying. The sound is something akin to glorious.

    Goofy, too, with a somewhat silly sense of humor. Musical humor, I mean, with chord changes that manage to bring a smile. Manipulative that way, I suppose, but loads of fun nonetheless.

    Applesaucer never quite kicks into overdrive, but that doesn't seem to be an aim. The sound is full without being overpowering, and the songs retain their elemental wacky natures quite easily.

    Basically, it's all in the arrangement. Applesaucer keeps the ideas simple, so that even when layered, they don't clutter the mind. Simply a pleasurable album, no more, no less.


    Appleseed Cast
    The End of the Ring Wars
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98

    Keeping the emo banner held high, Deep Elm kicks out another great band. The songs are brooding and bruising, which basically fits the genre. Appleseed Cast's addition to the genre is a devotion to dirty grooves. This is not merely emotive noise. Moving the sound a notch closer to its genesis (Jawbox, Treepeople, this has been explained before), the band turns emo into a definite pop sound.

    Oh, some folks had threatened, but in the end the strident guitar lines and tone-deaf singing styles kept the songs from attaining any sort of pop bliss. Appleseed Cast, while refusing to bow to the tyranny of compatible chords, still manages to whack out a number of great pop songs.

    If you remember a band called Ff, you might get the idea. Ff wandered around a lot more, but the raucous and excessive noise painted over pop structures made for a glorious sound. Appleseed Cast is driving through the same neighborhood. It's emo, sure, but it's a lot more than that.

    Simply some really great stuff. Some bands just know how to make great music, regardless of what idiots like me will call it. This disc is proof.


    split EP with Planes Mistaken for Stars and Race Car Riot
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #185, 7/26/99

    I listed the bands alphabetically, but the actual order is Planes Mistaken for Stars (one song), Race Car Riot (three songs) and Appleseed Cast (two songs).So I'll go in that order here.

    "Staggerswallowswell" is the PMS song (an unfortunate abbreviation, I agree), and it pretty much follows the title. A rip-roaring emo piece, quite possibly the best of the set. Certainly one of the best songs I've heard this year.

    Race Car Riot uses two instrumentals to bracket "Raincheck", and to be honest I prefer the instrumentals. Generally more pedestrian fare, though with a nice subtle touch in the guitar licks. Maybe this band is a bit under the radar for me. In any case, these songs don't sound entirely finished, though not bad the way they are.

    Appleseed Cast is a fine band, meandering all about in the two songs here. These two songs sound just like the stuff on the full-length, proving that these guys have a flair for somewhat unconnected logic, both musically and lyrically. The disc as a whole is quite solid, two great bands and a good one coming together nicely.


    Mare Vitalis
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #193, 12/20/99

    When emo gets a bit languid, it can start to take on a grand quality. Pretentiousness can creep in at the strangest times. Appleseed Cast just kinda natually imbues its music with an urgent feel, as if this is, indeed, the most important stuff in the universe.

    That might be off-putting if it wasn't so good. The lead guitar lines ramble all over the place, often in counterpoint to the vocal melodies. Hell, even the vocals play off of each other, making the lines mesh even more.

    Is the music really as important as it sounds? I'd say so. Appleseed Cast certainly weaves some serious magic, throwing out lines and pulling them back full of fish. It is easy to get lost within the intricacies of the songs. And it's between the spaces where the music impresses most.

    Pretty damned good. Well, a load better than that, even. Not many can spin a web of music like this, and fewer still can do it so well. I've been snared, but I don't mind a bit.


    Low Level Owl: Volume I
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    The return of everyone's favorite conceptual emo band. If you still consider the Appleseed Cast a card-carrying emo band these days.

    I do. 'Cause there's just no way to define the outer limits of the sound, even if these boys sure do push whatever envelope might exist in the nether regions. It is telling that the liners spend more time discussing the hows of this album rather than the whys. Though any fool would tell me that all you have to do is listen for the whys.

    First, the songs shimmer. There's a reflective quality to the sound. And while these boys have always focused on the music end more than the lyrics, this album finds them using vocals more like an instrument than a method of idea conveyance.

    So, to sum up, the Appleseed Cast has put together another stunner. These guys are among the most creative and innovative folks around. Period. Emo or no emo. Very few folks could make an album half this good. Once again, I'm left speechless.


    Low Level Owl: Volume II
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #223, 10/15/01

    I don't know how other folks review albums, but I usually let them spin a while and then start collecting my thoughts. Usually my critical mind gets turned on one way or another and that kicks the review off in the proper direction. On this, the Appleseed Cast's second installment of Low Level Owl, I just sat and listened. Enjoyed myself. Didn't think about writing.

    But I had to eventually. After all, that's the least I can do for someone sending me a great album like this. Sure, we all knew it would be spectacular. It came from the same sessions as the first Low Level Owl. I didn't quite expect what I hear, however.

    There's this Flaming Lipsian use of noise as melody that's really fine, but what really impresses me is the way that the album fits together. There is a flow, a similarity of feel that all the songs share. The pieces just tumble in perfectly one after the other (I'm talking about song segments as well as the songs themselves). All I can do is sit here and smile.

    Sorry I'm not giving any great critical rhetoric this time out. I'm on my ass, smiling. The Appleseed Cast is nominally an emo band. But these guys are simply one of the great rock bands going right now. They create sounds that matter. Hard to do better than that.


    Lost Songs
    (Deep Elm)
    reviewed in issue #236, December 2002

    A set of recordings dating from the spring of 1999, between The End of the Ring Wars and Mare Vitalis. I loved that first album, but the second one really kicked my ass. I've often wondered how the growth occurred in the intervening year. This helps to fill in that gap.

    A little. A grand, sweeping song like "E to W" fits in perfectly with what the band does today. Some of that sweep may have been added when these songs were spiffed up for this release (all vocals and a few other things were re-recorded last May)

    Then there are a few more traditionally emo tracks. It's easy to hear where the band is going with its ideas, since I've heard all the greatness since. This set of songs is a wonderful example of a band just beginning to understand its potential. Not everything is great, but man, there are some achingly beautiful moments here.

    And this stuff stands up on its own, without taking into consideration anything else these boys have done. No, it doesn't really stand up to the wonderment that is Low Level Owl, but hell, very little does. This set is merely very good. And that's not bad at all.


    The Appleseed Collective
    Baby to Beast
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #338, June 2012

    Museum-shop americana, which is not an insult at all. The Appleseed Collective embraces all sorts of old-timey sounds within its clunky roots sound, and the resulting songs tend to be goody charmers.

    Oh, there are a few folkier bits, and a couple of songs that veer into bluegrass-ish territory, but most of the pieces here have the feel of broken-down reels and loping ballads. Craft isn't paramount, but the band makes up for that with a joyous, freewheeling attitude.

    The sound is just a bit too sharp for my taste, but perhaps that's more of a function of the emphasis on idiosyncratic rhythm than anything else. In any case, it's quite easy to hear everything going on. The lines don't always match, but they do make sense.

    Which is also the story of the album. Haphazard at times, but all the more fun for that. Skip on down along the road.


    The Applicators
    My Weapon
    (Hairball 8)
    reviewed in issue #279, October 2006

    Raucous, all-female band--they are the Applicators, fer cryin' out loud--playing basic rock and roll. Loudly. And, for the most part, playing it exceptionally well.

    Very tight sound, really, a lot like early L7. The production is full, but not terribly sharp (I did say "early"), and that suits these songs just fine. Too much precision would strip the band of most of its personality. And that's not a problem here.

    Lots of shouting, lots of catchy anthemic choruses and lots and lots of buzzsaw guitar riffs. Just the sort of thing to get the blood flowing and keep it going all night long.

    I think I liked this album too much to write a lot about it. Either you get it or you don't. The Applicators are anything but subtle. One listen to the first song will tell you everything you need to know.


    James Apollo
    Camilla EP
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #194, 1/24/00

    You know how the Flat Duo Jets took the raucous approach in fusing anarchic rockabilly and country music? Maybe you don't. Anyway, James Apollo tries to do the same thing from the more contemplative side.

    What is similar to FDJ is the loose writing and playing style. Apollo kinda staggers through his songs, not always enunciating clearly or quite reaching the right chord on his guitar. But this is a mostly acoustic affair, and while the drums are recorded with a heavy echo (or with just a couple mikes, more likely), they're laid way back in the mix.

    Apollo's singing and guitar-slinging is up front, and why not? These are his songs, and the sly stumble approach is pretty damned effective. This is certainly a unique sound.

    I'm not sure that anyone has tried quite this feel before. I'm knocked out, as much by the effect as by its audacity. Apollo has put together a great (if short) set here. I'm guessing the live shows are wonderful.


    AqPop
    Beautifully Smart
    (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
    reviewed in issue #263, April 2005

    Trippy, rocking pop music. You know, like the Aluminum Group on Prozac. And damn if that needs much explanation.

    AqPop blips through a wide array of keyboard- (or piano or organ or whatever) driven songs. When the organ takes the lead, there's a wonderful late 60s vibe. When the piano is more prevalent, the feel is more 70s. When the more synth-style keyboard sound drops in, the sound whips around from new wave to laptop and then back again.

    Which is to say these people play a lot of different styles, and they make them all sound good. The songs are mannered, but not at all stilted. Rather, the energy of the band ensures a vibrant feel to the album. No flagging during this one.

    It's never too early to get a summer album. This one is perfect for putting the top down (or ripping off the top with a cutting torch) and hitting the back roads. Don't forget to smile.


    Arab Strap
    Elephant Shoe
    (Jetset)
    reviewed in issue #199, 5/8/00

    Arab Strap has that clunky indie roots thing going on: Slowly turning bass, moody guitar (when there is guitar) and vaguely morose vocals. And then there's the drum machine.

    It works so well, too. The beats point out the internal cohesion in the pieces, enhancing those ties without turning them into cliches. While often punchy, the songs are still meditative and moody.

    Astonishingly well-executed. There are so many ways to take stuff like this over the edge. Too much reliance on the beats (or simply dull ones), longer songs, less focus in the songwriting... Arab Strap doesn't make any of these mistakes.

    Nope, and so this disc is utterly riveting. It commands attention immediately and doesn't let go. Not that you'd want to be leaving any time soon anyway.


    Mad for Sadness
    (Jetset)
    reviewed in issue #202, 7/17/00

    A live recording from 1998. More moody than "out there," I think this set probably does capture a good picture of the band.

    Moody doesn't mean dull or plodding. Rather, the songs are like little jewels being polished by skilled craftsmen. Astonishingly pretty at times, really. This doesn't sound much like a live album.

    Part of it is due to the extraordinary skill of the musicians, and part is also due to the wonderfully expressive way said instruments were handled. The recording itself also deserves kudos for the way it leaves these pieces sounding so warm and inviting.

    A great little mix tape. It's nice to hear the band get loose now and again, something that doesn't happen as much on the studio albums. It's the subtle differences that make live music exciting. And this collection is the perfect showcase for that.


    Arcana
    Cantar de Procella
    (Cold Meat industry)
    reviewed in issue #138, 7/7/97

    CMI specializes in hardcore Gothic stuff, and Arcana is no exception. Comparisons to early Dead Can Dance are certainly in order, although Arcana proves itself capable of shifting from sparse to atmospheric in a (relative) blink of an eye.

    This music doesn't move, it flows. Barely. The emphasis is on mood and emotion, and the deftness with which Arcana handles those is amazing. In a genre that some critics refer to as "painting a thousand shades of black", Arcana seems to understand that day is needed, if only in contrast to night.

    A wild diversity of voices, instruments and melodic ideas pervades this disc. And while the song construction is bast described as amorphous, Arcana has still managed to define a personal style.

    As good a representation of this sound as I've heard in quite a while. While certainly not something to throw in with a bunch of other discs and hit "random" (this is not a bad thing, necessarily), this album shows how good a "real" goth album can be.


    Isabel CD5
    (Cold Meat Industry)
    reviewed in issue #198, 4/17/00

    A short kiss from one of the great orchestral goth bands. Arcana sets a cold, gloomy mood and then pushes the terror and desire.

    This is a real short taste of Arcana's upcoming album, and it doesn't really stand along particularly well. The one track unique to this disc, "Eclipse of the Soul,' is pretty cool, but at less than three minutes, the full effect just can't be reached.

    I guess I'm just greedy for the full set. This simply makes me even more parched, awaiting final quenching.


    ...The Last Embrace
    (Cold Meat Industry)
    reviewed in issue #199, 5/8/00

    The full goods this time. And leaning a lot more toward a My Dying Bride line than I would have expected from the recent single. The songs are much more ... songlike, I guess. There is a heavy martial feel to many of them, and the cello mixed with keyboard also helps to send the sound that way.

    An evolution, to be sure. But still, this isn't a rock band. It's the real goth, exploring extreme emotions with beautiful music drenched in excess. Well, that's not entirely right. The overkill only arrives at the climax, where it is needed to push the whole carriage into the abyss. A common technique, done uncommonly well by Arcana.

    It's amazing how pretty a horror can be. These songs sing of fright as much as delight, but they all sound so otherworldly. That's what this band does to me; it transports me to strange reaches of my mind where I can run free for a while. Can't complain about that.

    Arcana is one of the finest bands around (using the word "band" loosely). In terms of what it does, few (if any) do it better. This disc is just another step in its evolution. Who knows where the road leads? I don't care. I'll simply follow.


    Arcanum
    The Spoken Scream
    (2Surreal Music)
    reviewed in issue #124, 12/2/96

    Obvious fans of such second British invasion acts as the Cure, Depeche Mode and Duran Duran, Arcanum is much more than the sum of those parts.

    Brett Schieber and Shazl (um, so there's a spot of pretentiousness here) take care of everything. The rhythms are sequenced, as is most of the music, but instead of using the lack of live band members as an excuse, the guys use the technology to it's fullest extent, creating a full and vibrant sound that never stoops to mediocrity.

    Sometimes the songs get a bit too sing-songy (I've never been a big fan of excessive melodramatics), but generally the fine construction and production make up for any lyric and melodic inconsistencies.

    While finding plenty of inspiration in that stuff I call "retro", Arcanum is definitely a 90s band. Technology has made it possible to record a great album for almost nothing, without hiring expensive sessionists and all that. Arcanum takes full advantage, and the result is a raw and inventive pop album that is truly unique.

    www: http://www.mindspring.com/~arcanum


    Archers of Loaf
    White Trash Heroes
    (Alias)
    reviewed in issue #165, 8/17/98

    Those who doubt Chapel Hill's place in the "great scenes in history" would do well to notice that in the 1990s, Superchunk, Polvo and Archers of Loaf all climbed up from the tarheel slime and established themselves as three of the greatest bands of all time.

    I'm not kidding, either. The first time I heard the Archers was on a split double 7" with Treepeople. Each band did an original song and then covered one of the other band's songs. Treepeople is one of my favorite bands of all time, but Archers of Loaf's take on "Funnelhead" simply blew me away. I've been a devotee even since.

    Simply put, Archers of Loaf continuously redefines what it mans to be a pop band. From song to song, mind you. The most amazing thing is that while few songs sound alike, an Archers of Loaf song is instantly recognizable. The connection is with the subconscious, a recognition of greatness and creative outgassing which is only attainable by the very best. And, well, that's exactly what I'm talking about here.

    So, Jon, is the new album any good? I guess I should address that. Yes. The band is as adventurous as ever, and whoever handled the booth did a great job in capturing the loose, somewhat ragged feel I have come to know and love. Alright, so these guys are big enough that even Spin and Rolling Stone feel the need to toss off a review. Did I mention that Archers of Loaf easily qualify as one of the 10 best bands of the decade? If you're not hooked up yet, find a needle fast.


    Architects
    Keys to the Building
    (Anodyne)
    reviewed in issue #261, February 2005

    If there's one thing I've learned in the 13+ years I've done A&A, it's that every city of 100,000 or greater has a music scene. And while Los Angeles may be the commercial music center of the world (and Chicago the spiritual center of music for the world), it's possible to find good music just about everywhere. And recently I've been reminded that one of my old haunts (Kansas City) is just as fertile as it ever has been.

    Architects play a heavy-handed, soul-drenched version of early 80s AOR--with a serious punk chaser. Buzzsaw guitars aping old (and most excellent) Van Halen and AC/DC riffs, electric piano and organ filling in the holes and a strident, insistent rhythm section, shouted (yet controlled) vocals. Another way to read this might be the Delta 72 meets the MC5--in Kansas City rather than Detroit, of course.

    What is rock and roll, anyway? It's a fuckin' mutt. A whole bunch of music that was once thrown away. Architects pieces together its sound from disparate sources, but it never forgets that a solid hook and an earnest soul can sell just about anything. These songs are hard-working and true. They bleed rock and roll.

    The second fabulous album I've heard from a young K.C. band in less than a year. Glad to hear it. I hope the clubs down in Westport are a bit more open to new talent than they were when I was around, because these folks need to be heard. Now.


    Arcwelder
    Raleigh 7"
    (Touch & Go)
    reviewed in issue #23, 10/31/92

    Minimalist pop with supremely distorted vocals. These folks had better have a full length on the schedule, because this is fine! The three tracks contained herein smoke in a most serious way. I've got that smiley-tingly feeling all over.


    Pull
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #30, 3/15/93

    Anyone thirsting for the days when a little outfit from Minneapolis lit up the world every year or so with a hot release can smile.

    No, Arcwelder doesn't rip off Husker Du or anything like that. But they do sound like the folks at times.

    I loved their single from last fall, "Raleigh". It may have been my favorite song of the year, and it is included here. While most of the album doesn't quite match that intensity, the songwriting is solid and playing something akin to wonderful.

    There's just something about a trio. It is simplicity, period. And the music that is forthcoming is pure and gives me a warm feeling all over.
    Okay, so it's not "Raleigh" all the way through. That may be for the better. This is wise, witty music that I can't bear to take off the turntable.


    Xerxes
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #51, 3/31/94

    Unlike Pull, where I had the tunes memorized after five spins or so, this one took a little more effort. Thankfully I have a daily commute of 45 minutes each way, so plenty of time.

    I got these ones after about 20 trips through the advance, and I have to say they pack much more than Pull.

    It's not that Xerxes is dull or difficult or anything. This is the same band, just a little more mature and focused on their sound. And it's a pretty good sound, full of distortion, unusual chords and a rather strange sense of melody.

    No excuse this time, folks. I have had Pull among the fifteen or so tapes in my car for over a year. Arcwelder deserves massive attention and airplay. They aren't your traditional metal band, but they certainly are loud and aggressive enough to be played alongside such things. THIS IS A MANDATORY PLAY.

    Thanks for hearing me out.


    Captain Allen 7"
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #89, 10/9/95

    Wow, a real mutation. The verse of "Captain Allen" is a complete departure for Arcwelder, as the trio taken on a more Pacific Northwestern pop approach. The chorus reverts to the more familiar Arcwelder version of the Minneapolis sound. A real cool piece of work.

    The flip, a cover of the Volcano Suns' "White Elephant", is a noisy rave-up anthem that sounds a lot more like what came out on Xerxes. And that is nothing to sneeze at, either.

    Just whets my appetite for an album.


    Entropy
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #105, 4/8/96

    Alright, call me a sucker for this band. Something about strident-yet-catchy, noise-yet-melodic stuff that appeals to me. And sure, that vague Husker Du undercurrent sure doesn't hurt.

    While I liked the last album, Xerxes, well enough, it did not bowl me over so much as Pull, Arcwelder's first Touch and Go offering. I thought I might just have been getting used to the sound and didn't have that fresh feeling of infatuation.

    Entropy tells me otherwise. This album gives me almost as big a rush as when I first heard the "Raleigh" single three years ago. Yeah, so it's never as good as the first time. Arcwelder has put together another great album.

    I think the most appealing side of this disc is that the lyrics are once again personal and brooding. Xerxes more often featured harsh philosophical rhetoric, which I did like. It's just that the way those ideas are couched here and on Pull speaks to me better. And the dissonance is toned down just a fraction, which allows the really cool Arcwelder sound to make its presence known. Little changes, but the result is a superior album. Maybe now folks will flock to the mighty sonic disturbances of Arcwelder.


    Everest
    (Touch and Go)
    reviewed in issue #187, 8/30/99

    Three years? It's been three years since the last Arcwelder album? Bloody hell. I shoulda been bitching about that situation a couple of years ago so that this missal of pleasure would have arrived sooner. Alright, all joking aside, I'm very happy to report that indeed there is a new Arcwelder album, and that the band has spent the last three years updating its sound. Just a bit.

    Oh, nothing to worry about, fair fans. The guitars are recorded a little cleaner than usual, and the vocals are also sharper. They are also sung a bit more (as opposed to sung-spoken) than before. And while this Minneapolis trio still hearkens back to the Husker Du days, this album is another step away from that rather pronounced influence.

    If anything, the boys seem to have found the groove. As in, the cleaner sound seems to have yielded a tighter rhythm section and greater emphasis on all things percussive. Combined with hookier-than-usual choruses, the only way to interpret this is a move toward the pop side of things.

    The dark side, of course. This is the band which proclaimed "Sing a little pop song and everybody loves you" in the song "Remember to Forget" some six-plus years ago. That love-hate relationship with the band's own existence is just one of the cool things about Arcwelder. Great albums don't hurt the reputation, either.


    Argo
    Attack of the Firebots
    (Fish the Cat)
    reviewed in issue #281, December 2006

    It's all math. Sometimes it's more electronic, sometimes more navel-gazing. Sometimes it's just out there. It's always (I guess) Argo.

    I like the more electronic songs. They're a lot more fun, and they point out a connection between new wave and indie rock that isn't always obvious. Plus, y'know, I'm a sucker for keyboards done well. Meaning used as an instrument and not a means to obfuscation.

    In addition, the songs with stronger keyboard parts simply sound better. They lend an edge to the sound that's missing on the more standard "rock" songs. They also infuse these often wayward pieces with a bit of personality.

    Fun and interesting. Argo likes to travel in many directions, and most of them are well worth the trip.


    Argyle Park
    Misguided
    (R.E.X.)
    reviewed in issue #73, 3/31/95

    Scattershot industrial with so many helpers you might wonder how the band worked them all in.

    Argyle Park doesn't worry too much about creating coherent visions; instead, the band merely tried to keep the songs from being pulled apart by the forces of varying samples and musical influences.

    Controlled chaos is best expressed in the industrial genre, and Argyle Park has the idea down to a science. While you may not understand how all of the guests (read the liners) got in, you can believe it after listening.

    A spasm of songs that leaves you breathless (and that's if you were sitting while listening; I can't imagine moving-too exhausting). Misguided is all over the place, and a big load of fun. It takes a while to get, but stick around. You never know what you might learn.


    Arise from Thorns
    Before an Audience of Stars
    (Dark Symphonies)
    reviewed in issue #213, 3/12/01

    If there was such a thing as a goth groove band, well, Arise from Thorns might be it. The songs are built around elaborate acoustic guitar lines, with strings, keyboards, an electric lead guitar and more layered on top. The female vocals soar above the maelstrom, topping off the sound.

    Arise from Thorns can get a little heavy (this is Dark Symphonies, of course), but for the most part, the sound is restrained. More prog than heavy, with an inclination to jam in a looser style.

    The production sound is precise and clear, which only emphasizes the prog elements more. This technically-exacting feel also shows off the complex arrangements the band spins with apparent ease.

    No easy listening here. Rather, a melding of styles and ideas that creates a sound solely inhabited by Arise from Thorns. Invade this world, and be seduced. One note: This is a re-issue. Arise from Thorns has changed its membership somewhat and is now known as Brave. Just so you donÕt get confused.


    Arkaina
    Symposium of a Troubled Mind
    (demo)
    reviewed in issue #42, 10/31/93

    Great production and playing; this is a bit dated. Sounds a lot like Warning-era Queensryche. Now, as I happen to basically revere that album, it's no big deal. At times it veers into early Fates Warning territory, but I think you see the point.

    I like this a lot, but it is awful derivative. At least they copy creative bands (or bands during their creative periods).


    Armand & Bluesology
    Too Much Is Just Enough
    (New Moon)
    reviewed in issue #224, 11/5/01

    Armand Lencheck sticks to the basics. He plays the laid-back guitar-driven rockin' blues. And he does know how to play a smooth smolder.

    No new ground is broken here. Lencheck is more than content to continue old traditions in his songwriting. An easy comparison is Stevie Ray Vaughn, at least in song construction. Lencheck doesn't really go for pyrotechnics.

    He's got the flat tone of B.B. King, but he relies on more than picking. He has to, because for the most part he recorded these songs with just bass and drums backing him up. Keeps the sound simple and lets Lencheck's songs shine.

    There's nothing complicated going on here. Lencheck doesn't strike out for a new blues frontier. He just puts a fine shine on what's lying around right now. Nothing wrong with that.


    Armchair Martian
    Armchair Martian
    (Headhunter-Futurist)
    reviewed in issue #128, 2/17/97

    The bio is utterly confusing, but the main point is that these guys live in Ft. Collins, Colo., and they play stuff that sounds a lot like the only famous band that lives in that same town.

    I would assume that Steven Edgerton and Bill Stephenson (of ALL and the Descendents, whichever name is current) produced this. That monster-thick guitar sound is a dead giveaway, so I feel pretty confident in my pronouncement.

    The guys have a strong pop sense, and the buzzsaw guitar attack is most pleasing. Sounds kinda like Fluf, and I won't complain about that. And despite the tight production, Armchair Martian has managed to rip out some moments of spontaneous joy.

    I've always been a sucker for this kinda stuff, but hell, why not go with the flow. Armchair Martian travels down a familiar path, but with this band, there's always something new to amaze. Can't help but make you smile.


    Hang on, Ted
    (Headhunter-Cargo)
    reviewed in issue #178, 3/15/99

    Another slight line-up change, but the same songwriter, so the chock-full-of-nuts riffs and straightforward hooks still flow freely. Heavier than yer average punk-pop band, and more involved in every way.

    In other words, how the shit was meant to be done in the first place. Jon Snodgrass may be using a formula of sorts (don't we all?), but he puts so much personal flair into his writing that the short bursts of energy flash forth with a radiant fury.

    But not terribly self-righteous or even serious. Just when the songs sound like they might be getting a bit too full of themselves, they veer into fits of self-deprecating amusement. Or even the odd Social D fuzz-anthem. Nothing wrong with that.

    Still one of the more impressive bands around, even among the glitterati of Ft. Collins, Colo. Dig it all, man.


    Armchair Martian vs. Bad Astronaut split EP with Bad Astronaut
    (Owned & Operated)
    reviewed in issue #221, 9/3/01

    Armchair Martian and Bad Astronaut played some of each other's songs (with one ringer), using the same drum kit and amp and such. The band members kinda switched off now and again as well, if I'm reading things right.

    In any case, this is a wonderfully loose and spirited set of tunes, seven in all. The liners don't mention who's playing what, and really, it doesn't matter. Just listen to the thing front to back and back to front and smile. Roots punk rarely sounds as good as it does coming from these guys.

    The sorta effort that simply leaves me sitting around with a silly grin on my face. While the stuff here would certainly stand up to heavy analysis, it's best appreciated in the spirit in which it was played: Just for fun.


    Who Wants to Play Bass
    (My Records)
    reviewed in issue #228, April 2002

    The title is an inside joke; as usual, a parade of people not necessarily known for playing bass take up the four-string in support of Jon and Paul. The rough and ready roots punk rock (think early Uncle Tupelo and then turn up the distortion) is as satisfying as ever.


    Armor for Sleep
    Dream to Make Believe
    (Equal Vision)
    reviewed in issue #242, June 2003

    The distillation of emo into a number of non-competing schools has created a niche for the noodly power pop band. The Appleseed Cast and Elliot are but two bands in the burgeoning ranks of this exceptionally fine movement. Armor for Sleep makes its case to join the few and the proud.

    It's a great case to make, too. These guys have a great ear for hooks, but the songs are so much more than three chords and a dream. There's a depth to the construction and plenty of fun little prog touches as well. These songs are utterly gorgeous, but they can be temperamental, too. I like that.

    Best of all, there are lots of impressionistic studio touches that nicely fill out the audio pictures presented. The sort of keyboard riffs and other little bits that keep a song turning nicely without attracting any attention to themselves. Subtlety is always welcome when it comes to post-production.

    Hard to be subtle about my enjoyment of this album, though. These guys hit the puppy right on the head. I think they've got a bit more in them--these songs, while excellent, aren't always quite fully-formed. That's okay. Give Armor for Sleep a couple of years on the road and plenty of off-time in the practice room and I'll bet the result will be mindblowing.


    Armored Saint
    Symbol of Salvation
    (Metal Blade)
    reviewed in issue #5, 1/15/92

    To their credit, MB is still working this fine recording. But I'm afraid it's time to close the book. Ah, but that is not my area. I'm just the reviewer.

    I liked this when it came out last summer, and not much has changed. There aren't that many bands doing to classic hard rock thing any more, and Armored Saint was and is one of the best at it. This has lots of great songs and stuff that would have been as at home in 1985 as it is now.

    A refreshing blast back to a time when life was a lot simpler (and when I got drunk a lot less often). Play it for old time's sake. Or something.


    Jennie Arnau
    Superman Won't Take the Call
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #245, September 2003

    Jennie Arnau is a folky singer with a full rock back-up band. She takes full advantage of both styles.

    Her songwriting style is simple, tending toward the anthemic. She plays a fine acoustic guitar and a decent harp in addition to her singing, but she's not afraid to let her band pound away if that's what the song requires.

    The result can sound a bit overproduced at times, but Arnau's astonishingly earnest voice overcomes that. When the songs swoop, soar or simply bash away, Arnau's voice is always in control. She seems to have a knack for singing in the moment.

    A fine, eclectic set of songs. This isn't a folk, rock, country or roots album. It's all that and more, often at the same time. Pretty durned impressive.


    Arsinal
    Fist in Your Face
    (Glad Dog)
    reviewed in issue #38, 8/31/93

    This has all the marking of a farm project: CEMA anti-piracy sticker, thanks to the folks at Capitol, etc. Oh well; Glad Dog is certainly indie.
    Fairly average cheesy metal. The lyrics are rather dumb. I was listening to stuff like this seven or eight years ago.

    But not now.

    If you want to hear something really weird, dig the Lord's Prayer rendition. They're serious about it, although it sounds rather mocking. Oh well, damned strange is better than dull any day.


    Art in Manila
    Set the Woods on Fire
    (Saddle Creek)
    reviewed in issue #287, July 2007

    The latest project from the Omaha half of Azure Ray, Orenda Fink. This is something of a follow-up to her solo effort Invisible Ones, as she has populated Art in Manila with folks who toured in support of that disc.

    The music isn't that different. Fink still travels in opalescent pop country, tripping through shimmery sounds and bounding through raucous thoughts. And she does it so damned well.

    The band is stellar, and it seems to have coalesced into something more than a backing unit. There's a sense of community in the arrangements and the verve of the playing. This may be Fink's project, but her mates have plenty to say, too.

    At its most mundane, this disc is merely brilliant. At its best, it is mind-bogglingly transcendent. This is the rare album that gets the excitement going early and then follows through with enough heft to last a lifetime.


    Art of Noise
    The Drum and Bass Collection
    (Discovery/Warner)
    reviewed in issue #128, 2/17/97

    This release marks the third Art of Noise remix album (after the ambient and fon sets of a few years back) and also is part of the re-issue of the Art of Noise catalog on Discovery.

    Not unlike what the Art of Noise did when it was a functioning unit, the remixers tear apart the originals and then reconstitute them into wholly new forms. The sounds on this set are more representative of current electronic music trends (yes, including that stuff that's starting to really break here in the U.S.).

    A balanced and diverse set of tracks, with enough creative energy to satisfy just about anyone. Yeah, these remixes show the genius behind the original band, but they also help illustrate the continuity of music. Old music becomes new again, and what seemed "far out" has become mainstream.

    All in a days work, I guess. This is a worthwhile set for the music connoisseur.


    Artension
    Into the Eye of the Storm
    (Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #122, 11/4/96

    Some of my common complaints about prog rock include too many keyboards (leading to a washed-out sound), playing that emphasizes technique over feel and a general holier-than-thou attitude.

    Well, the members of Artension are technically brilliant, and they aren't afraid to show off a little. There are more keyboards than even more prog rock bands allow, and I wouldn't call the songs unambitious. But instead of wanking to high heaven, Artension works.

    Sounds a bit like old Fates Warning (never a bad thing), but while Vitalij Kuprij's keys are rather prominent, the guitars take just as active a role. No one fears being overshadowed by another player, and the interplay is the thing. Just like the reason Frizzle Fry is the best Primus album: Les let his guitarist play with him.

    The lyrics are a bit silly, but the musical constructions are creative and innovative, breaking the normal "prog rock" oxymoron. This is an album that musicians and general music fans alike can enjoy. A lot of fun, and a great album to boot.


    Phoenix Rising
    (Shrapnel)
    reviewed in issue #146, 10/27/97

    The two songwriters for Artension recently released solo works. Keyboardist Vitalij Kuprij writes the music, and singer John West crafts the vocal lines and lyrics. I liked West's solo album better, mostly because it was looser.

    And Artension, as a band, sounds a lot like a loose prog rock outfit. While Kuprij may have been a little keys happy on his solo album, he gives plenty of meaty parts to the other members of the band, and West's soaring, anthemic vocals have a classic Euro-metal feel. The music is well textured, with fine performances by everyone.

    The production leaves a bit of a technical sheen, but there are enough muddy spots to keep the sound from sounding artificial. Once again, Artension has scored another good album.

    Yeah, it helps to have a jones for stuff like Uriah Heep, Mountain, Fates Warning and Iron Maiden (different eras, but still). Of course, I do, and I know lots of folks who share this affliction. Artension feeds the need well.


    The Arts and Sciences
    Hopeful Monsters
    (Daemon)
    reviewed in issue #262, March 2005

    Paul Melancon is the leader of the Arts and Sciences. He writes the lyrics, and the band does the music. I must admit that I never quite got into Melancon's solo work--though I could hear a solid devotion to craft and lots of other things I liked. Maybe he just needed some collaborators. Maybe I needed to mature. Take your pick.

    In any case, this album is exceptional. The songs are generally slow to mid-tempo, and the lyrics often have an introspective bent...even when they're supposedly about someone else. I like that sort of twist, myself.

    The overall sound is "basic rock quartet." Oh, Melancon drops in a little Wurlitzer organ every now and again, but in the main the sound here is rather unadorned. That focuses the ear upon the songs. And the songs shine.

    I'm sure there are people who will hear this album and immediately go nuts. It had to grow on me. But that growth makes all the difference. You love an album only when you've spent a lot of time with it. Infatuation passes; this affection is much more lasting.


    As Friends Rust
    Won
    (Doghouse)
    reviewed in issue #224, 11/5/01

    Stripped-down hardcore with plenty of aggro. I've been hearing more and more bands go for this sound (in a variety of ways), and I've got to say I like it a lot. Lets the mind create the power. Makes a stronger impression, if you ask me.

    As Friends Rust throws in some tight harmonies in the choruses and wherever else appropriate. There's also some nice extreme guitar riffage slashing in here and there. It all works together. That's the key.

    The songwriting is very tight and coherent. That's emphasized by the light hand in the studio. No one instrument takes control. This is a team effort, and every little piece has its place.

    You might say this is a poppier form of hardcore. I suppose it is, although the aggression and intensity are both at the highest level. Just a bit more thoughtful, if you will. Sure worked for me.


    As We Draw
    Mirages 2xLP
    (Throatruiner)
    reviewed 2/21/15

    Back in the late 80s, the relatively cohesive metal scene splintered. Hair metal, of course, was already a different species. But bands as disparate as Metallica, Iron Maiden and Slayer shared many fans. Maiden was the final holdover from the "New Wave of British Heavy Metal" that inspired Metallica, and Slayer was one of the first popular (in a mainstream sense) thrash bands.

    But right as the moment these three bands ruled the mainstream metal roost (1986, the year of Master of Puppets, Somewhere in Time and Reign in Blood), all hell broke loose. Queensryche went full-on prog with Mindcrime, American death metal was rising from its infancy (lots of tapes being traded, but not much in the way of actual recorded albums) and the Euro death metal movement wasn't much more developed.

    Enter the punks. Earache Records opened for business with the British release of the Accused's The Return of Martha Splatterhead in 1987. This was quickly followed by Napalm Death's Scum -- and the floodgates opened. I was curating the loud music show at my college radio station at the time, and I chose "loud music" as a description of what I played for a reason. No one could come up with anything else that explained a show that included Queensryche, Anthrax, Maiden, Metallica, Mercyful Fate (well, King Diamond by then), Fear, Flipper and all the other disparate stuff I played.

    The ferment increased. And Justice for All gave a blueprint for how to incorporate technology into loud music, and then Godflesh came along and blew that out of the water. Pantera's Cowboys from Hell was the first successful post-Justice American industrial metal album (though the band swerved back into more traditional metal sounds after that breathtaking debut). Bands like Tiamat started out as death metal and ended up somewhere in Pink Floydian territory. Dan Swano foisted a host of almost indefinable (but generally awesome) Swedish bands upon us. The early 90s were a heady time.

    And then it was all over. "Grunge" became the loud sound of the moment, and bands like Alice in Chains appropriated the "metal" moniker. Within a couple of years, anything out of the mainstream became known as "extreme." This applied to hardcore bands like Earth Crisis, metal bands like Fear Factory as well as anything else that wasn't Cannibal Corpse-style death metal (which was, of course, still death metal). Grunge faded, and "metal" defined stuff like System of a Down and the Mars Volta. The screamy stuff remained "extreme." I like "extreme." I like the fact that it is completely undescriptive, and it does have more cachet than my term, "loud music." Okay, then. Extreme (not the band) it is.

    But nobody really plays the proto-metallic screamy hardcore anymore. At least, I don't hear it. I've heard plenty of black metal (which has been around at least since MF, of course) and the odd attempts at modern death metal. But walls of sculpted sound hammered into sheets of throbbing pain, punctuated by shouts and screams? It's been a while.

    So when "The Window," the nearly 11-minute opening track from As We Draw's second album, Mirages brutalized my ears, I just knew. Holy shit. This is what I've been waiting for.

    Utilizing song structures that recall Streetcleaner's sledgehammer marches and adding curtains of guitar noise, As We Draw simply does not let up. This is pain of the highest order, dissonance wielded for maximum effect. Early Fudge Tunnel and Earth Crisis come to mind, though the production values here are much higher. Any distortion and muffling is intentional, not a by-product of engineering incompetence.

    Imagine the technical wizardry of TMV cycled through an "extreme" performance. That's really what As We Draw does. The playing is immaculate, and the production leaves no ear hair unsinged. This is an immersive experience, one that is best appreciated with the needles pinned.

    Just when I thought I was slowing down, As We Draw reminds me why I'm alive. The relentless energy of this album is addictive. There are few new ideas in music, but there are always new ways of interpreting old ideas. As We Draw uses all the modern conveniences to create its hurricane of pain. Agony rarely felt so good.


    Nate Ashley
    Darling I'm Your Devil
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #214, 4/2/01

    An eclectic and evocative set of songs. Nate Ashley builds his pieces bit by bit, focusing on particular element (rhythm, melody, a guitar line, whatever) and then gradually populating the song as necessary.

    He doesn't repeat himself, either. Because of the somewhat obsessive arrangements, his pieces do share a similar feel. But Ashley doesn't like to stay put for very long. He's always off in search of new ideas.

    Hot damn. That's exactly what I like to hear. A guy who relentlessly challenges his own sense of complacency. The songs blister by breathlessly. There simply isn't a chance to get tired of this album.

    These are not the musings of a poor schlub who wants to sell a million bucks. Rather, they're the expressions of a talented artist who knows exactly how he wants to express himself. Get lost in his world.


    (asNathaniel Chace Ashley)
    The Dead Lover's Benevolent Return soundtrack
    (Left-Handed Label)
    reviewed in issue #224, 11/5/01

    The only thing I'm quite sure about here is that the person behind this music is Nate Ashley, the same guy whose Darling, I'm Your Devil really knocked me out. Oh yeah, this music is wildly brilliant as well.

    Among the back stories behind this disc is that it was recorded in the 1970s for an Italian horror movie called Gli Amore Morti Benevolnza Ritormano, which may or may not translate as The Dead Lover's Benevolent Return (my Italian is on a par with my knowledge of golf). Now, Ashley isn't that old, so that's right out.

    My guess is there's no such movie, but rather that Ashley decided it would be cool to write an album of romantic horror music. In his hands, it was a good idea. The songs here are impassioned, excessive and eccentric. Think The Godfather and Bram Stoker's Dracula meets A Fistful of Dollars. As interpreted by Ashley, of course.

    It's precisely that cockeyed (though eminently assured) interpretation which holds these pieces together. I'm not entirely convinced that they perfectly illustrate a 70s Italian horror film, but they sure do evoke a time and place (say, Italy in the 70s). Did I just contradict myself? Maybe. Sometimes confusion is a good thing.


    Asphyx
    The Rack
    (Century Media)
    reviewed in issue #1, 10/31/91

    Very raw death metal from one of Century Media's first releases. As with most trios, Asphyx have a very strong rhythm section. The sound is also very full for only three members. This is a refreshing change: while some death metal outfits produce the humanity out of the album, Asphyx remain a little sloppy and yet more enjoyable as the result.

    Entry points: "Vermin," "Evocation," "The Sickening Dwell" and "Ode to a Nameless Grave."


    Last One on Earth
    (Century Media)
    reviewed in issue #24, 11/15/92

    These guys are prolific, and getting better with each (frequent) release. As usual, the riffage is of a very good vintage, and some real songwriting appears to be happening. Each song now seems somewhat plotted and arranged. It's amazing what that does (Cannibal Corpse could take a few notes).

    In the mood for a good old-fashioned ass whipping? This disc will do just that to you and your listeners. If they keep up this breakneck recording (and improvement) pace, Asphyx is in for a storied career.


    Asphyx
    (Century Media)
    reviewed in issue #54, 5/15/94

    Yes, another singer. But the music goes on. And on, as all but two tracks are five minutes or longer.

    I thought Last One on Earth was a great album, but this has all the hallmarks of one album too far. As the musical base becomes slimmer, Asphyx have started to repeat themselves. Long songs can be a sign of real egotism, and I think that can be applied here.

    Asphyx should have quit when ahead.


    Ass Ponys
    Grim
    (Safe House)
    reviewed in issue #38, 8/31/93

    With equal talent for distortion sculpting and pop melodies, Ass Ponys come across much like Yo La Tengo (who, of course, are thanked in the liners. It always happens that way...).

    While I am a fan of both, it takes a genius like Neil Young (who everyone is trying to replicate, anyway) to completely pull this sort of thing off.

    But this comes close. The producer keeps the noise to a dull roar and makes sure the "musical" side of things is never completely lost.
    These are happy popsters with a country tinge and a grungy underside. A nice little album.


    The Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound
    Ekranoplan
    (Tee Pee)
    reviewed in issue #283, March 2007

    By and large, when I get a package from Tee Pee, I know something interesting and unusual is inside. The Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound lives up to its name, spewing forth a loud and reverb-laden set of modern psychedelic trippage. A lot like the Brian Jonestown Massacre (whose recent compilation was released on Tee Pee), only much, much louder.

    Which is, in fact, saying something. And in saying that, these folks are about a lot more than sonic carnage. There's a fairly rigid devotion to melody and an almost fanatic desire to explore as many tangents as possible. Under less qualified hands, that would render this a bloody mess. As it is, I think I'm listening to a travelogue of the highest order.

    The sound is rich and full even within the rippling chords. Sometimes the heavy hand of the effects makes it difficult for me to discern the true melody. Then I figured out that it was a lot easier to not worry about such silly things.

    This is an album for relaxing, for leaning back and letting the music take control. If you give these boys an inch they'll steal your cerebellum...but they give it back at the end. You can decide if it's been improved or not.


    When Sweet Sleep Returned
    (Tee Pee)
    reviewed in issue #311, October 2009

    Another fine set of heavy, distortion-laden trips to the edge. This hearkens back to British early 70s hard rock, and AHSS does it with style. I'm just as impressed this time around. Play it loud, play it proud.


    The Asteroid No. 4
    Hail to the Clear Figurines
    (The Committee to Keep Music Evil)
    reviewed in issue #323, December 2010

    If you're gonna hang out on the Brian Jonestown Massacre's current label, you might as well dig 60s psychedelia. But as the Asteroid No. 4 has shown for more than a decade, it's even more important to find new ideas within the sound.

    For starters, these boys are a lot more into Love and the Zombies than BJM. But they also embrace modern production methods and burnish a bit of sheen on the surface. No need to tie yourself to the technological anchors of the past.

    The songs generally ring out through echoland until they find a harmonious core. Then a transformation from within transforms that vaguely empty sound into a chamber of wonders.

    Yeah, that's pretty cool. Though, of course, if you aren't that into modestly psychedelic trips through pop music, this will not be your cup of tea. Your loss. There's plenty here for those of us who truly believe.


    The Asteroid No. 4
    (Bad Vibrations)
    reviewed 1/29/15

    Most bands who dally in the psychedelic rock sound these days pick up on a couple of touchstones and then do their own thing. I like that approach; it allows bands to find their own corner of a (very) well-worn sound.

    The Asteroid No. 4 has gone the other way, mining the various edges of the psychedelic galaxy until it has pretty much subsumed the genre. Over its eight albums, the Asteroid No. 4 has been loud, fuzzy, trippy, vaguely country-ish, almost mindbendingly introspective and soul-crushingly expansive. In other words, the band sacrificed its own sound for the glories of the genre.

    Which might be one reason that past a devoted (and small) core of true believers, not many folks have come to know the pleasures of this band's music. This album hasn't changed that trend, but I think that it's fair to say this is the most compete musical statement the band has ever made.

    More shimmer than bash this time around, these songs ruminate and explore. Much of the time, the whole psychedelia thing is pushed into the background. The focus is on the songs and what they say (lyrically and musically) and not the sound that dresses them. A setback for the genre, I suppose, but a definite step forward for the band.

    Will the Asteroid No. 4 make this sound "its sound"? I sincerely doubt it. This is a band that has been restlessly adventurous for more than 15 years. So this time out it recorded an album that largely rests on the Gram Parsons side of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Who's to say next time won't be more Love (or Love and Rockets)? That uncertainty is one of the reasons it is always a treat to hear something new from these boys.


    The Asteroid Shop
    Distant Luxury EP
    (Spectroscopic)
    reviewed in issue #340, September 2012

    Fuzzy pop-rock. Sort of a moody, modern version of 80s indie rock. The Asteroid Shop definitely keeps up a dark facade, but these songs hardly inspire dread. Rather, they're pretty warm and sticky at the center.

    Just enough distortion provides a protective scrim, allowing the Asteroid Shop to indulge its inner rock god. This is a nice job of channeling GvB, albeit with a rubbery (rather than locked down) rhythm section.

    Indeed, there are plenty of modestly proggy moment here, and more tangents than yer average indie rock outfit might choose to follow. That's cool. These folks are on their own path, and it's a good one at that.


    Astoria
    When I Know You Will Too
    (Asaurus)
    reviewed in issue #242, June 2003

    There's a sector of the outer edge of music that I like to call "plausibly real." This refers to music that would sound normal if one or two things were changed. In the case of Astoria, it's the choice of instrument (and, more specifically, the sounds emanating from the synthesizer) that sets this stuff apart.

    A certain S. O'Neill is the creator of Astoria, and he (I'll use the male pronoun just because) has created electronic sounds of the ambient that would be most acceptable to the mainstream if only it weren't so obviously electronic.

    There are chimes, bells, gurgles and so forth. Some songs are languid and others a bit more jaunty--but, mind you, nothing that even approaches midtempo. It's the ethereal nature of the sounds and the arrangements that makes Astoria so otherworldly.

    The Asaurus web site describes this disc as "...perfect for sleeping, careful listening, or otherwise." Precisely. I prefer to take a field trip to my frontal lobes. You can do whatever you like.


    Astral
    Sleepwalker
    (Vibraphone)
    reviewed in issue #295, April 2008

    So your older sister listed to a lot of Cure and then got into My Bloody Valentine--right before the apocalypse. That sort of thing is bound to make an impression.

    It sure did on the members of Astral, who play music right in that alley. There's not a whole lot more going on, but it sure it some noise. Glorious noise, that is.

    Modestly gothic songs disfigured by curtains of distortion and reverb. The songs themselves are kinda lost behind the veil, but that certainly seems to be the point. We are talking about early Cure, the stripped-down stuff that often rocked your socks. To obscure such throb is an interesting idea, one that works more often than not.

    A pleasant trip into a yesteryear that never was. Astral has planted its flag in a most interesting sonic territory, and since I'm a geezer who was old when the music the band is appropriating was first around, I must admit a fair amount of affection for the stuff. Smiley smiles for me.


    Astro Chicken
    Sugarwater
    (Meaningful)
    reviewed in #164, 8/3/98

    Understated jangle pop from New York City. Three guys who bash out some nicely emotive songs. Quirky, humorous and ultimately rather affecting. It takes a while for the band's somewhat disjointed songwriting style to grow on you, but once there, well, whoa.

    The idiosyncrasies aren't that self-indulgent. In fact, they work to better define the band. It's just a matter of getting used to them. Most of the songs start off with odd little musical bits and pieces, and then by the end those seemingly unrelated ideas have been given proper hanging places on the wall.

    This is the sort of album that a heavy-handed producer could easily kill. A delicate touch is required, one that allows the songs themselves to do the talking. And that's what the band has achieved, a loosey-goosey feel which gives all the different ideas time to properly form.

    Sure, it's just another rest stop down the highway from Big Star. Astro Chicken does have its own style, though, and the songs are more than strong enough to compete in today's rather crowded pop market. There's a bagful of gems waiting here.


    Almost Anywhere
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #212, 2/19/01

    Bright yet contemplative pop music, with more than a few roots rumblings. Reminds me of the dBs, and not in a bad way. Astro Chicken has a way of shining these vaguely moody gems into real sparklers.

    The roots part comes in on the slowest numbers, where the rhythm section echoes the simple power of Uncle Tupelo's early slow numbers. That and some nods to the Byrds.

    Still, the feel is mostly in the soulful pop realm. Soulful in that these guys are really baring their feelings here. These songs pull no punches, and the lyric impact is ably assisted by wonderfully expressive music.

    Astro Chicken rarely gets out of second gear, but this meditative feel really works for the guys. Or, perhaps I should say that the band makes this most difficult of sounds work exceptionally well. Very few can muster the artistic honesty to fully illustrate such works of quiet power. Sometimes, I think Astro Chicken can do that in its sleep.


    Astroblast
    This Will Help You on Your Way
    (Planting Seeds)
    reviewed in issue #225, January 2002

    Sounds a lot like a treble-heavy My Bloody Valentine. Astroblast doesn't use quite so much post-production distortion, but the minimalist sense of melody is very similar. Doesn't hurt that Jenn Kellough has those wispy, ethereal vocals with steel underpinnings.

    Further differentiating itself from other new age-psychedelics acts, Astroblast insists on pushing the tempo. The band revs up the ante and takes fuzz almost into a power pop realm.

    And that's very good. Whenever a band is able to crank up such a dense, complex sound and whip it into a near-frenzy, musical chaos is bound to result. And inside the lines of that melange lies (dare I say it?) art.

    I shouldn't get so giddy, but this disc really blistered my ears. The songs come on with a deceptive simplicity and then worm their way in as succeeding layers become apparent. Nicely done.


    At the Gates
    The Red in the Sky Is Ours
    (Deaf-Grind Core)
    reviewed in issue #29, 2/28/93

    Rather scatterbrained death metal, with drums and guitars akimbo. The occasional violin is a nice touch, but it doesn't add a whole lot.

    If you like the whole Autopsy thing, this should dump your butt back into the blender.

    Faster than a speeding bullet, crazier than Ted Bundy ('member him?) and meaner than a veal farmer, At the Gates throw the tempo on cruise and head straight south.


    Terminal Spirit Disease
    (Peaceville-Futurist)
    reviewed in issue #68, 1/15/95

    Trying to do too much at one time, At the Gates' music often bogs down into an incomprehensible mess. When you're trying to merge death metal, doom, grind and traditional power metal into one solid piece of music, things are bound to get a little hairy.

    The main problem is song construction. There is none. While the band shifts gears seamlessly, I wonder why they bother at all. I mean, it's all well and good to start an album off with a great guitar/violin riff, but why not at least use that riff in the rest of the song? I'm just not sure why things have to be so fragmented.

    I guess if I could find a point to the mess, I would be happy. And I'll listen again and again until I'm satisfied. There are a lot of interesting things going on in here. I just wish I could figure out why it all had to be run though a butcher shop.


    Slaughter of the Soul
    (Earache)
    reviewed in issue #93, 12/4/95

    Well, that 45-second intro to "Blinded by Fear" is about the coolest thing At the Gates has ever done.

    And the second coolest thing is this album. I've always thought the boys never quite crafted their songs enough, leaving all sorts of loose ends and wasting so much potential. Not here.

    Faster. Leaner. Tighter. At the Gates has whipped all those old songwriting bugaboos (and perhaps actually decided to write songs this time) and cranked out a set of blazing prog-death metal.

    The Euro-metal lines have always been around, but now with the attack sped up just a touch, they make more sense. All of the diverse elements the band has always exhibited are now on display in full glory. Methinks the boys might have listened to some Edge of Sanity and been impressed.

    I was prepared for this album to really suck. But At the Gates discovered coherence, and this album really wows me. A lot like my experience with Death back in the spring. And, in fact, those two bands (which I have never liked) have undoubtedly put out a couple of the best metal (period) albums of this year. If you claim to like metal (or any sort of loud music), Slaughter of the Soul is a must.


    At War With Self
    Acts of God
    (Sluggo's Goon)
    reviewed in issue #287, July 2007

    This album is dedicated to the memory of Piggy (Denis D'Amour of Voivod). That got my attention right off the bat. And then the disc started.

    A lot more proggy (perhaps I really mean "wiggy;" hard to say) and somewhat less intense that Voivod (what isn't?), At War With Self plays largely instrumental pieces that blast through the edges of the hard rock universe. One piece might remind you of the Fucking Champs, the next one Hawkwind.

    Which leads to my main quibble: This is stellar music, but I really couldn't put my finger on anything resembling a band sound. That's never a dealbreaker with me, but when you're doing a lot of unconventional things, it's often best to leave a touchpoint. These guys are so confident that they don't.

    Like I said, that's fine with me. I'll take the good music every time. There's always room on my shelf for talented musicians tiptoeing a high wire--especially when they make it to the other side.


    Ataraxia
    Historiae
    (Cruel Moon-Cold Meat Industry)
    reviewed in issue #167, 9/14/98

    The more acoustic side of gothic music. You know, drawing more from European folk music than showers of gloom and doom. In fact, the songs often sound like they're constructed in round format (you know, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat"). Though without actually kicking into the rounds most of the time. I'm hoping that makes some sense.

    Pretty and haunting, which I figure is what the folks were going for here. There are electronic elements (particularly synth strings and a sort of synth choral accompaniment), but the sound is generally organic. contemplative and free-flowing.

    The first six tracks are studio recordings, and the last three are live tracks. The main difference is an emphasis on vocal work in the live set. And the voices are more than up to the challenge. In fact, I like that sound better than the studio.

    Music that would fit right in at a renaissance fair, but don't let that scare you off. This project is more than accessible enough for year-round listening.


    Lost Atlantis
    (Cruel Moon International-Cold Meat Industry)
    reviewed in issue #189, 10/11/99

    The intent here is to create a "pagan opera" which examines and celebrates Atlantis and some historically documented lost societies. Pretty lofty goal, if you ask me. Calls for some seriously overwrought music.

    Ataraxia is ready for the challenge, though. Gotta give the folks credit: These songs are way over the top. Not in terms of sound; indeed, many of the pieces are so delicate they sound as if a breath might shatter them. But the themes and musical complexities of the songs are so involved as to leave a sense of overload.

    At first, I was somewhat put off by the grandness of the vision. It seemed almost hokey, and I just couldn't get into the start of the disc. But by the time the middle flowed past, I was more receptive, having been once again entranced by the musical creativity of the band. The folks take old folk melodies and combine them with more modern notions, the way Dead Can Dance would do in its better work.

    Oh, there are some silly moments, particularly when it sounds like the band is really taking all of this Atlantis and gods and goddesses stuff seriously. But the music makes more than easy enough to get through such spots. Another fine disc from these folks.


    Seunos EP
    (Cold Meat Industry)
    reviewed in issue #213, 3/12/01

    Embracing the medieval and the martial, Ataraxia's strident rhythms and melodies demand immediate attention. Once gained, that attention is immediately impressed by the intense quality of the music.

    This is an album in three parts, each part containing four songs (movements? perhaps). I think the parts hold together thematically better than musically (the lyrics are in Italian, French and Spanish--I think--as well as English, so I can't quite be sure). As far as the music goes, the album holds together much better than any part.

    There are some songs of almost ungodly beauty (most of the album, really), as well as a couple that almost tore my head off. Ataraxia just about ignores such issues, preferring instead to simply make music that makes sense to the band. The restrained production gives the pretty songs a fragile quality that simply enhances them.

    Pretty? Yes. Challenging? Absolutely. Ataraxia doesn't cut any corners. This is music that requires active listening. Such an effort, though, will be rewarded immensely. Seek and ye shall find.


    The Atari Star
    Aniseed
    (Johann's Face)
    reviewed in issue #284, April 2007

    Yet another line in the proof that shows Chicago is, without question, the center of the musical universe. The Wind City has more musicians playing just about every sort of music under the sun. I'd move there in a second except that my wife thinks that DC's winters are too cold--that and Bell's just pulled out because of some beer distributor dispute.

    And while I'm not sure that the Atari Star is yet a member of the estimable Chicago pantheon, it boasts a single songwriter and a cast of eight...lots of different sounds blending into raucously catchy tunes. One of the members specializes in handclaps, which ought to tell you all you need to know.

    All the disparate elements flow together almost seamlessly, borne along by the nearly ecstatic energy flow. These songs don't rush, but they never flag, either. Even the more contemplative of the bunch have an insistent internal clock.

    There's a lot going on here, and that lends a welcome complexity to these songs. It took me a few minutes to really get into what I was hearing, but once there I didn't want to leave.


    Atari Teenage Riot
    60 Second Wipe Out
    (Digital Hardcore)
    reviewed in issue #172, 11/23/98

    The sound (and band) which gave Alec Empire the means to start the label. For the uninitiated, heavily-distorted everything, gang vocals and guitars laid over simple, blazing beats. Highly aggro, highly addictive.

    Pretty much taking off where the band left on Burn, Berlin, Burn, this disc is just a deeper exploration of the, well, digital hardcore sound. Good music for dancing, good music for blasting out of your car and scaring the locals.

    Where ATR separates itself from the crowd is in its refusal to get noisy for noise's sake. There is always an ear to leaving a door accessible. Usually in the beat, but even the shouted vocals have a melodic component as well. The lyrics also say something. Sometimes, anyway.

    Simply and truly, some of the most dangerous music around. Not just for what it says, but because it's so easily accessed by the mainstream. Once you get past the distortion sheen, there's an addictive sound which is impossible to get rid of, no matter how hard you try. Quite fine.


    The Ataris
    Look Forward to Failure EP
    (Fat Wreck)
    reviewed in issue #172, 11/23/98

    Sloppy riffage, shouted vocal harmonies and an irrepressible driving beat. Yeah, big NOFX influence. And so why not hook up with Fat Wreck and all the attendant connections.

    With songs like "San Dimas High School Football Rules" and "My So Called Life", the Ataris excoriate pop culture even as the references flow freely. Unlike most bands with a NOFX jones (and there are a lot of them lately, aren't there?), though, the Ataris has fine senses of irony and humor. Not stupid, but a little more sophisticated than the norm.

    And the off-hand lead vocal delivery is just right. The Ataris could certainly look a but further afield and find a their own sound, but this disc is certainly impressive nonetheless.

    The first NOFX retread I've heard which actually is in the same league. There's a big wad of talent burning here. Hope the guys expand their sound some next time around.


    Atheist
    Unquestionable Presence
    (Metal Blade)
    reviewed in issue #5, 1/15/92

    Remember a time ago when I was rhapsodizing about euro-death bands and saying Florida was a dead scene (but I had to hear the new Atheist before final judgement)?

    Well, if you haven't heard by now, the new Atheist proves that there is life after death in Florida. Some very strong riff work on this album, not to mention the "traditional" odd musical construction Atheist always sticks into its songs. Almost jazzy at times.

    This is really great. I have been jamming the album on my show since I got it. For the uninitiated: "The Formative Years," "Mother Man" and "And the Psychic Saw."


    Elements
    (Metal Blade/WB)
    reviewed in issue #42, 10/31/93

    So clean you could have a birth on this disc. Everything is in perfect place, the playing immaculate, the songwriting tight, finding innovative jazz directions in death metal.

    And oh so lacking in that important ingredient: emotion. Sure, they can play circles around their competitors. They express philosophy rather than slogans. But it's very cold. I crave not only an intellectual response to my music, but also a visceral one.

    I can't feel for this. Maybe that's the point, but something's missing.


    Ativin
    Modern Gang Reader 7"
    (Secretly Canadian)
    reviewed in issue #143, 9/15/97

    The one easy way to categorize Secretly Canadian is that no two releases sound alike. I likes that a lot. Ativin plays a very deliberate form of emo, not unlike what Engine Kid was noodling about five or so years ago, though with a bit more emphasis on melodic ideas, no matter how nonlinear.

    Instrumentals, too, which aren't a bad idea. The focus is on the music, which is wonderfully conceived. The sound is lo-tech, but still sharp enough to emphasize all of the empty spaces.

    Let your mind wander a bit, and you'll be surprised what you can come up with. Ativin has a stimulating effect on my brain cells, and I'm sure you'll find the same to be true. Not trippy, just contemplative. Understated in all the right ways. Quite well done.


    German Water
    (Secretly Canadian)
    reviewed in issue #163, 7/20/98

    Kinda like the 7" I reviewed last fall, cool instrumentals in a clunky emo style. Highly crafted; each note and chord progression has been fully thought out before presentation. Reminds me a bit of Pell Mell, though certainly more dissonant.

    And reminds me a bit of the most recent Don Caballero album as well. Ativin has mixed its styles and influences well, issuing a sound all its own. Impressive, indeed.

    The treats just keep on coming. Refusing to pound any single idea into the turf, Ativin modulates through a series of connected yet distinct songs. Wonderfully shaped and beautifully expressive, each piece is a work of art unto itself.

    Coming together into an even more impressive whole. Yeah, I think this falls into a trend that is making some serious noise right now, but that's just fine with me. Immaculately crafted experimental rock instrumentals will never go out of style.


    Summing the Approach EP
    (Secretly Canadian)
    reviewed in issue #184, 7/5/99

    There are points on the outer edges of noise pop where the music can get a bit too contemplative or fuzzy and simply turn into emo or plain noise. Ativin scrapes the lines of both, even while maintaining an even keel on the band sound itself. These boys are out for blood.

    Though the music is much more of a slowly unfolding musicscape than anything else. Two guitar lines which meander and cross at odd moments, with the drums somehow keeping the whole somewhat together. Expansive and yet astonishingly introspective.

    Only four songs, which is just enough to create quite a stir in my brain. Albini did the knob work, proving once again that few are better than he at putting innovative guitar musicks down on tape.

    Entrancing is the word I've been scraping my mind to find. Terribly arrogant and far-reaching, but hell, Ativin makes everything pay off at wonderful odds. No shirkers, these craftsmen.


    Natacha Atlas
    The Remix Collection
    (Mantra-Beggars Group)
    reviewed in issue #206, 10/9/00

    In days past, this album would only see a European release. But Beggars Banquet has decided (correctly, I hope) that there is at least a limited market for some of its more Euro-centric albums and is dumping small quantities on the market over here.

    As for Natacha Atlas (who is a person, a woman to be specific) proper, I'm not sure where the original songs end and the remixes take off. What I can say is that the songs here are a somewhat underground electronic take on Indian (as in the sub-continent) pop music. Not unlike Grotus in days gone by.

    The remixes incorporate the lilting wails and highly syncopated drum beats with ease, and the result (not surprisingly) is truly intoxicating. These pieces burble with vitality and energy, and not one segment sounds out of place. Quite well done on all fronts.

    I don't see how any self-respecting underground dance fan could pass something like this up. Yeah, kids have been creating sounds like this across the way for a while. But unless you do heavy trade in the import market, you've probably not heard this sound expressed quite in this way. Entrancing.


    Atmosphere
    The Lucy Ford EPs
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #217, 6/4/01

    The combination of two EPs (titled Lucy and Ford), this hip-hop set focuses more on the rhymes than on the beats (as might be evidenced by the "organization" name).

    In fact, the generic nature of the backing tracks helps to make the listener focus on the tight rhymes and dense raps. There's a whole lot of verbal bombast going on, and most of it is quite impressive.

    Atmosphere has a lot to say, and the MCs say it quite quickly. The tricky tongue work is poetic, artful and often funny--with some truly impressive cultural references ("Bigger than Jesus/Bigger than wrestling/Bigger than the Beatles/And bigger than breast implants"--from "Guns and Cigarettes" and a song titled "Party for the Fight to Write"). The style is laid back, despite the intense rapping, and that's also a great draw.

    Commercial enough to attract mainstream fans, and good enough to appeal to the denizens of the underground, Atmosphere sure knows how to put together some great hip-hop. If you need more than that, go somewhere else.


    Atombombpocketknife
    Fly Vultures Fly 7"
    (File 13)
    reviewed in issue #180, 4/12/99

    The first side is a swirl of guitars and a vaguely insistent beat. Atombombpocketknife merges the current noise pop sound with some of that late 80s/early 90s psychedelic revival. The guitars are either a mess or intricately picked, and everything else follows from there.

    So, in other words, somewhere in the universe of Don Cab, Gastr del Sol and Hurl. The flip completely trips out in a minimalist fashion, almost to the point of not existing (though, of course, that only heightens the effect).

    Some new thoughts on an increasingly popular sound. I like what Atombombpocketknife does, and I certainly hope to hear more in the future.


    God Save the ABPK
    (Southern)
    reviewed in issue #222, 9/24/01

    Not many bands can claim to be utterly original. But Atombombpocketknife comes close. Yeah, it's real easy to hear all sorts of influences, from Jawbox and the Jesus Lizard and the Treepeople to the current crop of noise rockers like Shipping News and Don Caballero. Except that these folks don't sound anything like those bands.

    Well, I overstate. But the synthesis of varied pieces is so complete, that while influences are fairly easy to pick out, they flit past at such a dizzying rate as to be almost indecipherable.

    Right. So the fact that this is a band at the peak of its game oughta impress you a little. These folks know how make great music, and they've been knocking ideas around long enough to create their own spectacular brio. I've heard bits and pieces from this band for what seems like ages. This album simply confirms what I've always assumed.

    That Atombombpocketknife is pretty damned good. And a little better than that, even. While each song is impressive on an individual basis, the pieces also spin together on the album in such a way as to create an even greater whole. Putting this on my list of the year's best is a no brainer. Even that doesn't do this justice. One listen and you'll know what I mean.


    Atomic Mint
    A Better Mouse Trap
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #220, 8/13/01

    Yer usual power trio lineup, except that Atomic Mint plays a folky groove kinda thing. And then there's Brianna Wanlass's powerhouse vocals, which can go from a sing-rap to a wail in no time flat.

    Yeah, there are a few too many groove wanks for my taste, but I do like the way the three players interact. This isn't by the book stuff; Atomic Mint works out its songs in full. No question about it.

    I'm guessing the live show has a lot of improvisation and the like. I don't know how that would play out, but I can hear hints of it here, and I think these folks have a good feel for each other. There are some nice short side trips here, the sorta thing that can be worked out a bit more live.

    If these folks could drop some of the more generic groove bits (such as a reliance on excessive syncopation), they might really come up with an original sound. There are hints of that on a song like the appropriately named "Track Five." The talent is here. It just needs to play out the line a bit longer.


    Atomic 7
    Gowns by Edith Head
    (Mint)
    reviewed in issue #236, December 2002

    Atomic 7 is actually a trio, consisting of ex-Shadowy Man Brian Connelly on guitar, Clinton Ryder on double bass and Mike Andreosso on drums. As the press notes, the sound isn't much different than yer average SMOASP album.

    Which is a most enticing sound, to be sure. While the majority of people may know the Shadowy Men best from their performance of the "Kids in the Hall" theme song, I always thought the boys put a sense of fun into surfin' rockabilly that most missed. Great chill out records.

    Atomic 7 is a bit more upbeat, but the stripped-down sound and loose feel are exactly what I was hoping to hear. You may find it hard to believe, but these instrumentals say a whole lot more than most songs with lyrics.

    Of course, any longtime fan probably guessed that. I'm happy to say that this lives up to my decidedly high expectations. Another one for the top shelf.


    ...En Hillbilly Caliente
    (Mint)
    reviewed in issue #257, September 2004 More Shadowy music from this Canadian outfit. Pleasantly swinging guitar-driven instrumentals that never fail to charm. Party music for those who prefer their martinis very, very dry.


    Atomic Soul Experiences
    Run Through the Night CD5
    (Syntax)
    reviewed in issue #190, 11/1/99

    The first of two single from this band reviewed here. The stuff is electronic, with breakbeat notions, but the construction is very much standard rock instrumental.

    In fact, the title track sounds a lot like an percussion-heavy college rock piece. Well, with added keyboards. "Ush.com," the second track, does utilize a few vocals, but the focus is still the music. I like that.

    Upbeat and fun. Not particularly experimental, but with a lot of nice touches which can't help but amuse. These are songs which burn themselves into the brain in short order.


    featuring B. and J. Hill Missiles and His Bankloan CD5
    (Syntax)
    reviewed in issue #190, 11/1/99

    This disc contains the single (with spoken work vocals) and an instrumental take). In both cases, the music takes precedence over the lyrical content, which only serves to further drive home the somewhat dreary message of the piece.

    Again, not particularly inventive or exceptional, but simply enjoyable. Atomic Soul Experiences has an apparent knack for creating tasty little bites of musical abandon.

    Oh, the message of the lyrics is also instructive, but not terribly deep. Nah, this is just good-time fare. And I'm happy to be along for the ride.


    Atomine Elektrine
    Archimetrical Universe
    (Yantra Atmospheres-Cold Meat Industry)
    reviewed in issue #180, 4/12/99

    The spacey, ambient side of Peter Andersson, who might be better known as the guy who is Raison d'Etre (see that review later in the issue).

    What is interesting is what Andersson does not do. He doesn't introduce trance beats at the drop of a hat (though they do arrive eventually). He doesn't keep the sound tethered to reality with generic bass lines. What he does, rather, is meld space rock riffage (some really distorted and manipulated guitar sounds) to the deepest, least accessible sides of ambient electronic music.

    In its purest moments, when Andersson stays true to that vision, the music is resplendent and, honestly, far out. Normality takes a rain check here. Such disassociative moments are to be treasured. And when the music cheeses out in the slightest way, it simply creates the need to get back to the purity.

    Somewhat inconsistent, but in the best of ways. When everything is spot on, this is music that will change the way you're seeing the world. Not a bad trick at all.


    Atomsmasher
    Up & Atom
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #187, 8/30/99

    Fairly confident and self-possessed pop stuff. Funny how a little piano dropped in here and there can add a layer of pretension to any project. Anyway, Atomsmasher wends its own little idiosyncratic way, sometimes wailing and sometimes whimpering.

    The boys have a nice range that way. In fact, the arrogance of the band (and the songwriting) is really what drives this project. The songs are written in such a way that if they aren't tossed off with selfish abandon, they wouldn't work. These bits need some posturing, and the band provides that nicely.

    I'm not sure Atomsmasher quite makes good on its initial promises, but it comes close. The writing is solid and the playing even more so. The somewhat understated production sound keeps everything from getting overly pretentious, and that's a lifesaver here.

    Quite the edge. This is a band with some serious goals, and with discs like this, well, I'm not gonna say it won't get there. Well done, guys.


    Atrax Morgue
    Sickness Report
    (Release-Relapse)
    reviewed in issue #113, 7/1/96

    You'll be seeing this notation quite a bit this week: This is extreme noise music, consisting mostly of sonic disruptions and waves of feedback. Now, if you can handle that, then read on.

    This is the work of Marco Corbelli, a guy from Italy who has some really interesting ways of conveying his thoughts via the noise medium. Of course, the uninitiated just call it annoying as hell. But I'm far too silly to buy into that theory.

    The entire half-hour (or so) disc was recorded in an hour. By Corbelli himself. Considering the cool texture of the whole recording, that's pretty amazing. Atrax Morgue focuses on rhythm and even uses squeals and sqounks to denote some sort of melodic concept. Corbelli's emotions are laid bare.

    Obviously the disturbing work of a disturbed mind. I'm quite pleased to play it quite loudly.


    Atreyu
    Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses
    (Victory)
    reviewed in issue #230, June 2002

    Imagine, if you will, early My Dying Bride, minus the violin. The anthemic goth overtones are present, but the aggression level is still high. Now take those long songs and chop them into three-minute bits. Add in a dose of melodic choruses, and you might be close to Atreyu.

    There are hints of all sorts of influences past MDB. As with almost any loud band these days, there is a debt to Fear Factory (the upper-register "sung" vocals are the most obvious element). The melodic lines of the guitar breaks (though not the main riffs) are straight out of Iron Maiden. Atreyu also harkens back to classic hardcore with its song structure and, occasionally, chord progressions.

    Most of the songs, though, are blistering goth hardcore. The guitars have those nice, dulled edges--no metallic sheen. I think what really makes all of this work so well is the simple song construction. Short, loud, fast. A formula that will make even average stuff sound pretty good. When the material is as solid as Atreyu's, well, the results are spectacular.

    Turn it up and let the adrenaline overtake you. Amalgams like this can often sound forced or incomplete. Atreyu has distilled its sound into a pure essence. There is power here.


    Atrocity
    Longing for Death
    (Roadrunner)
    reviewed in issue #23, 10/31/92

    The color scheme reminded me of the My Dying Bride cover art, and the music contained within is also rather inventive. Taking hints from Atheist, Edge of Sanity, Tiamat and others, Atrocity wends through all sorts of influences, from jazz beats to classical themes. Not to mention to occasional mellow passage.

    Roadrunner has a one-two punch this issue that no one can match. If Sorrow doesn't hit the spot for you (you're crazy), then this should. Damned creative and all over the death metal landscape, proving this doesn't have to be a bland and stagnant genre.

    Oh yeah, these guys are from Europe, which probably helps explain their different musical tacks. While American bands are starting to catch up, the freshest death metal and grindcore continues to be a Common Market product.


    Attrition
    Etude
    (Projekt)
    reviewed in issue #132, 4/14/97

    A simple set of sounds: voice, violin, viola and percussion. This is the sort of chamber music that goths love to die to (I'm sorry, I spent last night watching people in black--or wedding dresses--slouch around a dance floor). Not to disparage any such activity, of course; my dancing abilities are extremely limited and generally involve my knees falling apart in about half an hour.

    Awfully damned pretentious, which goes with the concept, of course. Attrition's main strength is the wonderful sparse recording sound achieved. An anti wall-of-sound, really, which leaves plenty of intriguing dead spots.

    The music is good enough, although this isn't quite classical music in construction or execution. The playing is good, but not terribly expressive. The singing is fine, and as I noted, everything sounds much better than it should due to the fine recording job.

    It doesn't knock me out, but as a whole, particularly, Etude is pretty good. Perhaps a better idea than was executed, but why nitpick?


    Atwood-Childs
    Trading Pains
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #334, February 2012

    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.


    Auberon
    The Tale of Black
    (Black Mark Production)
    reviewed in issue #153, 2/23/98

    In the finest tradition of European metal, Auberon combines classical musical lines with the power and agony of shredding chords and shrieking vocals. Black Mark, in particular, has specialized in bringing this sort of music to the forefront, and Auberon is a quality band.

    Reminds me a bit of Amorphis, though Auberon focuses more on the heavy side of things, perhaps somewhere near where At the Gates ended up. Either way, a fine place to be.

    Not near as gothic as Edge of Sanity, but the way Auberon shifts musical gears so effortlessly does remind me of that fine endeavor. Sure, there's an immense debt to be paid to Iron Maiden (I've been saying that a lot, and I'm gonna continue to say it when necessary), but hell, let's just put those bastards in the Hall of Fame and get it over with.

    The mix is a bit thin in the middle, resulting in a somewhat hollow sound. I was able to correct this to an extend by shifting my equalizer, so no big worry. On the whole this album is a prime example of why metal is still a vital genre.


    Audubon Park
    Teenage Horses
    (Pox World Empire)
    reviewed in issue #291, November 2007

    Pox's seat of government sits just on the other side of downtown Durham from my old place. That said, I was unfamiliar with Audubon Park. Luckily for me, that situation has been rectified.

    These boys play all sorts of music. The only thing that really ties all the styles together is an obdurate looseness that always threatens to rips these songs apart. Wander through the CD, and it's easy to get the sense that there's nothing at the center.

    That would be wrong, though. The willful deconstruction is somewhat lessened by the kinetic power of the playing--there's lots of energy here, even when it sometimes feels like the pieces are being fed through a jet engine or something.

    I like that. Pop music (in just about every form you can imagine) fed through a jet engine. And then swept down a drain. Some of these songs do feel like remnants, but that's cool. Sometimes sloppy has nothing to do with seconds.


    Seth Augustus
    To the Pouring Rain
    (Porto Franco)
    reviewed in issue #314, February 2010

    Combining the voice of Tom Waits and the minimalist approach of Wil Oldham, Seth Augustus is certainly an ambitious fellow.

    But the understated approach undercuts any latent pretentious tendencies, and so the songs rattle forth with confidence and style. The sound is raspy and dark, with almost an old-fashioned demo feel.

    That's just how he wants things, though. Augustus drops the minimalist scrim from time to time, most effectively on "Big Cocoon," a song that goes straight into the heart of Waits territory without losing Augustus's identity.

    Indeed, Augustus's ability to remain his own person despite the almost oppressive presence of his influences is impressive. I would still like to hear him slide a step one way or the other, but I'm not going to complain too loudly.


    Auntie Christ
    Bad Trip 7"
    (Lookout)
    reviewed in issue #129, 3/3/97

    Exene and D.J. from X and Matt Freeman, ex of Rancid. Nicely layered punk pop. I mean, precisely what were you expecting?

    On the political trip, which is again right where I figured this would run. Exene is in good form, ripping off riffs and hollering with abandon. Not the most sophisticated of showcases, Auntie Christ beings here back to the land of unrestrained music.

    And that alone makes it worth the effort for me. The songs themselves are merely middling, considering the folks in charge. But the sound is nice and ragged, and these folks sure sound like they enjoy playing with each other. One of those supergroup things that might actually put something good together.


    Life Could Be a Dream
    (Lookout)
    reviewed in issue #135, 5/26/97

    I found the seven-inch to be a bit dreary, and I wasn't too sure that a full-length was such a good idea. Considering the personnel, I figured the stuff should be better.

    It is. Given 10 songs (along with the ubiquitous bonus track), Auntie Christ more fully fleshes out its vision of socially conscious raver punk pop. That enough description for ya?

    Exene's voice is in as good form as ever, and D.J. and Matt provide a proper rhythm backing. Lots of hollering and big riffage, of course. Quite satisfying, really.

    It doesn't often happen that an album is more consistent than a seven-inch. Yeah, both songs are included on the album, but they make more sense now. I don't think I can explain things any better. This is more what I was expecting, though.


    Aurora
    The Dimension Gate
    (Cleopatra)
    reviewed in issue #66, 11/15/94

    Oddly dissonant goth. The flat singing and odd use of keys must be intentional, but it sure is unsettling, especially with the lush backgrounds provided.

    The songs cover mostly ethereal topics; the bonus tracks are odes to the elementals: fire, earth, water and air. So if you're looking for something a little more temporal, search elsewhere.

    Of course, if the odd psychic trip is on your agenda, then Aurora is an interesting place to start. The strange sounds created are worth studying in detail. This is not for the easily queasy. And if you go in expecting some silly new age stuff, then think again.


    Aurora Plastics Company
    Low Noise
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #197, 3/27/00

    Aurora Plastics Company operates in the realm of vibration. Well, hell, you say, so does every band. I mean, that's what sound waves are, right?

    Right.

    But anyway, this duo whips out some seriously wonderful improvisations. Mostly accomplished through the use of electronics or unusual electronic instruments (say, a theremin) or amplifiers. Etc. The pieces are long and rather unfocused. Just the sort of guide I prefer when traveling this direction.

    'Cause, see, when Anne Heller of APC talks about vibration in the liners, it's not really about the physical mechanics of sound. It's about the psychic mechanics of the mind. What makes your mind vibrate. What makes you think in unexpected directions. That sorta thing.

    And, well, this is exactly the sort of disc that facilitates that kinda journey. Lots of strange byways to explore, lots of ideas you've never encountered before. Lots and lots, with no repeats. Pretty damned cool that way.


    Aurore Rien
    Telesthesia
    (SunSeaSky)
    reviewed in issue #240, April 2003

    This trio has been listening to a lot of Dirty Three and June of 44, with plenty of Sonic Youth thrown in. No, there isn't a fiddle player, but the band's tendency toward grand statement is what I was thinking of with that first reference. Four songs here, and they manage to roll on for almost 35 minutes. I barely noticed.

    Languid is a nice word to use when describing the sound. There's a quiet intensity to the pieces, a sharp focus that hides a bit behind some of the most entrancing waves of sound I've heard in a while.

    Aurore Rien doesn't make me marvel at the complexity of the sound. There are three members of the band, and that's quite apparent. The lack of studio accouterments, however, allows the precise thought processes behind the songs to bloom more fully.

    You know I love to talk about musical lines and the wonderment of points of intersection. I enjoy the lines themselves here so much that Aurore Rein almost makes me forget to listen for the moments of tension. Quite a fine little disc.


    Autechre
    Confield
    (Warp)
    reviewed in issue #218, 6/25/01

    While recycling the press stuff for the last issue, I noticed this note from Matt at Sub:Marine about the excellent Miles Tilmann EP. He mentioned that those familiar with the early work of Autechre might dig the Tilmann. I'm not familiar with Autechre at all, but by coincidence this album appeared in my mailbox the next week. Convergence like that I can truly appreciate.

    Autechre uses beats as melodies, harmonies and effects. This is electronic music on the edge, skillful compositions played in artificial setting. There's no mistaking the fact that human hands never quite touched this music, though the ideas expressed are clearly of this world.

    There are moments (the intro to "Sim Gishel," for example) that sound like an old Atari game that has developed a short. The sounds are that kind of soft, rounded electronic sort. A big warm fuzzy to a day gone by. There is something in the way Autechre makes its noise that is truly nostalgic for a geezer like me.

    The songs themselves, however, are thoroughly modern. Avant garde wouldn't do the writing justice. Ahead of our time, to be sure. But not beyond the realm of human existence. Autechre is nothing if not truly real.


    Autodidact
    Devotional Hymns for the Women of Anu
    (Public Eyesore)
    reviewed in issue #264, May 2005

    Anyone who would give their songs names like "Cry Me a River, Elizabeth Nietzsche" and "SS Fuck Puppets of the She-Wolf Ilsa" must be dreadfully interesting. Those titles are funny on too many levels to count. Autodidact caterwauls its way into the senses with the scratchy, power feel of early Godflesh while leaning on distorted melody and mechanistic percussion for wider appeal.

    My understanding is that this band is from Austin. At least, that's where the thing was recorded. But it could be from anywhere. This music not only sounds antisocial, it veers off on so many arcane paths that even I (who love this sorta thing) get lost now and then.

    Still, the mechanical rhythm structure generally gets things back on track. And no matter how wiggy things tend to get, there's always something interesting going on behind the wall of sonic disturbances. Trying to pierce that shield of white noise isn't easy, but it can be fun.

    Yep, another one of those head scratchers I love so much. The 50 or so of my readers who dig this sorta thing are probably chomping at the bit by now. The rest of you can move on, your sanity still intact.


    Automatic 7
    At Funeral Speed
    (Mental)
    reviewed in issue #290, October 2007

    Automatic 7 reminds of Social D. A lot. Except that these three guys are more bluesy. And a hell of a lot more rock and roll, too.

    If I can be clear, early Social D was louder and more ragged. The major label stuff (before the complete abandonment of punk, that is) was more crafted. Automatic 7 relies on heavy duty riffage much more. These riffs are blistered at full volume and with plenty of energy, to boot.

    The best of both Social D worlds, I suppose. And I also suppose that Automatic 7 would like me to write this review without all the references to another (much moire famous) band, but the truth is that anyone over the age of 35 will hear one song here and say, "Wow, Social Distortion hasn't sounded this good in ages."

    Which is why I like this so much, I guess. It would certainly make things easier on my conscience if these boys owned their sound, but no matter where these songs come from, they're loud, tuneful and lots of fun. Turn up, tune out and let the rest of the world keep spinning.


    Autopsy
    Fiend for Blood EP
    (Peaceville/Caroline)
    reviewed in issue #11, 4/15/92

    Featuring an ex-member of Death, Chris Reifert (and what American death metal band doesn't sport an old Chuck Schuldiner cohort these days?), Autopsy carves a six-song ep out of grunge and traditional grind core sensibilities. Kinda starts to sound repetitive after a while.

    If there is one particular shining point, however, it is the strong, not overblown, drumming of Reifert. If he gave up on the vocals and concentrated on the skins, he might really be doing something.

    While this is their first U.S. ep after two European albums, I still have the feeling this is just the first volley in a work-in-progress. With some improvement (and cleaning up of the sound), Autopsy could really be something.


    Acts of the Unspeakable
    (Peaceville-Caroline)
    reviewed in issue #24, 11/15/92

    More chunk-blowing action than you can toss a turd at. Most of the songs with vocals discuss various actions performed at a Gwar show (and worse). I must say I'm not a real fan of slasher films (or slasher lyrics), and the music is unremarkable, but decent. And they have diversified. Eighteen tracks of gore and more. If you like that kind of stuff, there is a bevy of treasure here.


    Severed Survival
    (Peaceville-Futurist)
    reviewed in issue #49, 2/28/94

    Their first album, before they really tried to rip off Cannibal Corpse.

    I know I shouldn't rag on traditional death metal style, but this is not a very talented band. To be fair, this is the best I've heard them play, and the production is pretty good. I even found myself getting into a couple of the songs.

    It's just all so bland, though. No texture or coloring (check out Sinister for an example of a traditional type band that shows a little artistic merit) to spice up the noise. Oh well. This did exceed expectations by a notch or two.

    See also Abscess.


    Autumn
    Autumn EP
    (Crisis-Revelation)
    reviewed in issue #144 (9/29/97)

    Hardcore with lots of noise pop trimmings. Kinda like Guilt, though in a much more uptempo way. The songs tend to move forward in a herky-jerky fashion, though always toward a crashing climax.

    The band has a good feeling for incorporating all sorts of ideas into each song, still managing to keep the sound sane. The result is something like controlled chaos, with no song sounding much at all like the other (except that all four are best enjoyed with the volume way up high.

    Really infectious, once the initial rocky surface has been pried away. It takes real talent to even conceive of music like this, much less actually execute so well.

    Wholly convincing. A statement of purpose, with intent to injure. Autumn holds nothing back, and the results are great.


    Avail
    (with (Young) Pioneers)
    The Fall of Richmond split EP
    (Lookout)
    reviewed in issue #148, 11/24/97

    A couple Richmond bands joining up to slime out some messy-but-melodic punk. Goofy, fun and ever-so-crunchy.

    Avail is, well, Avail, with a serious hardcore track, a mostly acoustic tune and a ripping take on "You May Be Right". All pleasantly amusing without any thought of tomorrow morning. Best not to think about this stuff too much.

    (Young) Pioneers sound (as some of you know) something like a punk rawk version of U.S. Maple, with strangled vocals laid over lean, tuneful licks. Oh, and the odd bit of Vietnamese propaganda, thrown in mostly for laughs (I think). These tunes have a lot more going on then it sounds like at first. Dig in.

    As I expected, some serious quality fare. More than enough to make me happy.


    One Wrench
    (Fat Wreck Chords)
    reviewed in issue #201, 6/26/00

    These hardcore veterans from Richmond just keep coming. Vaguely tuneful, eternally powerful. Just about where I thought this would be.

    The melodic elements set Avail apart from most hardcore outfits. These guys don't mind carrying a tune, if in a raggedy fashion. That the tunes are tightly-written and exceedingly infectious also may be taken as a given.

    After a while, bands either ossify, reinvent themselves or simply refine a formula to near-perfection. Avail is in the latter category. Nothing new to report here, just that the boys are rocking with the usual intensity and flair.

    What else is there to say? I mean, this is a fine Avail album. It seems like that might go without saying. But I just thought I'd mention it.


    Front Porch Stories
    (Fat Wreck Chords)
    reviewed in issue #234, October 2002

    Another fine outing from these Richmond boys, who obviously know how to write thick and chewy punk tunes. Surprisingly tangy hooks on this one, like the boys dropped in some melody despite themselves. This one might sneak up on folks.


    The Avalon
    The Couch Theory 7 " EP
    (Road Carnival)
    reviewed in issue #4, 12/15/91

    Jim Yeager, the Avalon's lead guitarist, wrote a nice note along with this, asking for a few good words.

    Jim, when music sounds like this, a few good words is the least I can do. Okay, Walla Walla is in the same state as Seattle, and some of that has rubbed off on the band. The vocals do screech at times, but in a nice way, and the light grunge gives way to cool melodies.

    I like all four songs on this, but "Anxiety" and "The Couch" really yank my crank the most. Hope to hear more from these guys soon. For contact info, see the notes on their 10-song demo on page 4.


    The Monster
    (demo)
    reviewed in issue #4, 12,/15/91

    If the 7" your station should be receiving (so says the press) isn't enough (and it shouldn't be), then by all means check out this tape. I don't really want to be redundant, so check out the review on page 2. This stuff is good. And if you didn't get a copy of the 7"-Get it!

    See also Sweat.


    Avandguard
    Greener
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #219, 7/16/01

    Avandguard is Mike Kondol. He plays everything, from acoustic guitar to orchestrating synth to percussion to bass to... you know, everything. The style is a clunky form of roots rock, with some window dressing.

    Kondol's songs don't always fit together. Sometimes this is a good thing. A song that flows along too easily doesn't require a listener to think. Thinking is good. But too much effort, especially with music like this, can be a killer.

    I can hear Kondol working. He's not the greatest singer, though his strained vocals work very well with his songwriting style. They're fine. But he's also put a lot of effort into playing and producing this disc. The songs would roll along a little better if I couldn't hear the bulk of that work in the finished product. Sweep it behind the curtains or something.

    More work is the solution, really. Kondol is just beginning. He's got some good instincts, and there are quite a few enjoyable moments on this disc. A little more craft, a little more skill and some of the rough edges can be smoothed over. his kinda music should never be shiny, but it shouldn't be pocked, either.


    Avenpitch
    Avenpitch
    (Omega Point)
    reviewed in issue #243, July 2003

    So imagine that there really is a direct line from new wave to goth pop to industrial dance music. Such a musical etymology would require some sort of missing link to put everything together. A Piltdown Man, if you will--except for the fraud, of course.

    Avenpitch does this nicely. There are some industrial dance style guitars, and the vocals are pleasantly distorted as well. The keyboard melodies flow straight from the early goth school, and the sound of those keys and the drum machines are pure Human League (Dare, of course).

    The song construction style is fairly conventional, but the cool presentation gives these pieces a truly unique sound. Avenpitch is one of those bands that takes a few moments to truly wend its way into the brain. Once it's there, though, it's like those worms from Wrath of Khan: Remove and you die.

    Highly addictive once the poison sets. Very few bands are able to take a plethora of "historic" sounds and blend them into something truly modern. Avenpitch is extraordinary.


    Butterfly Radio
    (Omega Point)
    reviewed in issue #275, June 2006

    Avenpitch's blend of new wave derring-do and modern guitar crunch makes the band one of Omega Point's most accessible acts. Indeed, I don't know anyone who wouldn't succumb to the pleasures of this album.

    I suppose it does help to have come of age in the 1980s, but remember: the 80s were the last time the "Top 40" mattered. Radio splintered, audiences splintered and music went to hide in all sorts of segregated corners.

    Yes, yes, the 80s were hardly a time of purity and light. But shit, when you distill pop music down to catchy guitar riffs and sprightly keyboard bits, well, I think you're on to something. Avenpitch is more than that. These folks are absofreakinbrilliant.

    Shiny, thrashing, gorgeous and loud. Imagine a combination of Judas Priest (the keyboard albums), Devo, Kraftwerk, the Human League and Buzzcocks. And then distill those ideas to their pure pop essences. Ahh, Avenpitch. Nectar of the gods. I've loved these folks for a while, and this album utterly sears my soul. I'd sell it to Avenpitch in a second.


    Cast Off
    (Dance School)
    reviewed in issue #303, December 2008

    Another release from this quirky Minneapolis outfit. The highly-affected new wave sound takes a bit of time to get used to, but give it a song or two and you'll hear why I've loved these guys for a while now. There isn't another band like this anywhere.


    Manscaping
    EP (Dance School)
    reviewed in issue #344, 1/21/13

    This is the title track and a number of remixes. I'd stick with the original, which is pleasantly amusing and twisted in the trademark Avenpitch style. Slighty better than yer average novelty song, but still solidly in that arena. Good for a laugh or few.


    Aversion
    Fall from Grace (advance cassette)
    (Doctor Dream)
    reviewed in issue #66, 11/15/94

    Rather groove-laden traditional hardcore. Heavy and catchy at the same time. Some slight metallic touches add rather than detract; sounds absolutely great.


    El Aviador Dro
    !Electrico!
    (Omega Point)
    reviewed in issue #275, June 2006

    A hefty retrospective from this Spanish electronic outfit. Eighteen songs from 28 years. Maybe this isn't hefty enough.

    It definitely isn't. The pieces here are playful and engaging. My high school Spanish isn't good enough to follow along perfectly, but I think I'm safe in saying the music is what counts here. And the tunes are great.

    Yes, you have to like weird, vaguely atonal electronic jams. I mean, that's what these folks play. Unlike Kraftwerk, though, the songs are generally tight and short. More of a pop structure, even if the melodies do take flight now and again.

    More new wave for the new century--even if most of this is from the old one. El Aviador Dro has been making cool music for almost three decades. I think this disc proves that us folks in America ought to be hearing a lot more of it.


    Avoid One Thing
    Avoid One Thing
    (Side One Dummy)
    reviewed in issue #229, May 2002

    Joe Gittleman is the voice (singing and writing) of Avoid One Thing. His singing is reminiscent of Dave Smalley (just enough rasp to make the melodies sound slightly ragged), and his writing (generally) reminds me of early Social D.

    But Gittleman and company aren't out to sound like anyone else. This is tight power pop punk, but there are moments like the drum machine-driven "Lean on Sheena" that give a hint as to the real greatness lurking within.

    Any punker who's willing to use acoustic guitar and wax vaguely sentimental deserves some praise. To do so without sounding trite or dull signifies writing of the first order. The playing is spectacular as well, highlighting all the right spots.

    Just a great album. The sorta disc that just knocks me out from beginning to end. Joyous, but with enough thought behind it to keep me coming back for more. Bravo.


    Fred Avril
    That Horse Must Be Starving
    ([PIAS] America)
    reviewed in issue #242, June 2003

    Whether he goes by Fred Avril or just plain Avril, the boy sure does know how to put together songs. Which is to say that he's generally the man behind the sound. He makes the music and while he does a good chunk of singing, he's not afraid to let others take the mike.

    Call him maestro, if you like. This is the sort of electronic music that sounds so natural, so off-the-cuff, that it seems an insult to simply attribute the exceptional arrangements to the glory of the Powerbook.

    The Chemical Brothers used to make music like this (in spirit, anyway), the sort of thing that wouldn't be wasted on a stage. Avril uses all of the tools at his disposal, but his roots are firmly in the real. These songs are completely grounded.

    But what pretty pictures he paints. The press calls Avril an outsider to electronic music. I guess that means he doesn't run with the right crowd (if he's in a crowd at all). Who gives a shit? Good music is good music, and great music deserves to be experienced by as many people as possible. Time for Avril to stand up and be acknowledged.


    The Awkward Romance
    Covington
    (self-released)
    reviewed in issue #254, June 2004

    I never thought of Archers of Loaf as an emo band. Never occurred to me to even think about such a thing. Never even crossed my mind. Kinda strange, because I've always considered Treepeople to be an overlooked and underappreciated forefunner of the sound, and I've often pondered AoL's connection to those art-pop-punk boys from Seattle (nee Boise).

    The reason I digress so excessively is that the Awkward Romance has that old school emo anthem thing going, but there's this odd clunkiness to the riffage that is a direct descendant (notice I didn't say "theft," because it's not) to the one-time kings of Chapel Hill. These boys aren't doing anything new, but they've put together well-worn sounds in unique fashion.

    These guys are young. In their bios, they list Top 5 favorite albums. Weezer makes the cut in each--though not the same album. These guys are going for an edgier and more interesting sound--reminds me a lot of Vitreous Humor, the band that claimed it broke up because it didn't want to end up sounding like Weezer (that's not true, but it's still a funny joke).

    The difference between cool and dull is razor-thin. The Awkward Romance needs to expand its listening and work out even more new ideas. Still, this first shot is chock full of energy. As long as they keep evolving and challenging themselves, these boys have a real future.


    AWOL One & Daddy Kev
    Souldoubt
    (MeanStreet)
    reviewed in issue #223, 10/15/01

    AWOL One takes care of the rhymes, and Daddy Kev provides the backing beats. Regular readers know where my interest lie. I wanna hear something original from both sides.

    Daddy Kev creates some really fine grooves. He's not afraid to try something new or to stick with something really thick and stinky. He puts these songs together with flair and ease. Quite enjoyable.

    AWOL One comes on a bit sloppily, but that fits the beats Daddy Kev has laid down. The rhymes are relatively simple, though there's plenty of thought behind them. After listening for a bit, I really got into his delivery. Hardly smooth, but it works

    There are plenty of ideas from both collaborators. The album ranges for some 70 minutes, and it never gets dull. Just keeps rollin' and a rollin'.


    Azeem
    Craft Classic
    (Stray)
    reviewed in issue #217, 6/4/01

    Azeem rhymes around the beats. Or, perhaps more correctly, the experimental beats lands between his rhymes. Something like that.

    Dropping references to dance hall, dub, jungle, drum 'n' bass and about every other electronic style around, Azeem's beats get down and dirty, leaving an organic feel despite the careful crafting.

    As for his rhyming, Azeem almost creates polyrhythms when he raps. Like I noted at the top, he's not always on the beat (even when the beats are consistent), but instead he plays off the beat, creating a third rhythm that rolls above the fray.

    Oh, yeah, the lyrical content? Quality. Azeem has a sly sense of humor and a sharp sense for politics both personal and societal--something he might have honed his taste for during his days with Spearhead. I haven't heard the full package like this in quite a while. Azeem has all the tools and is only too happy to show off for the masses.


    (with Variable Unit)
    Mayhem Mystics
    (Wide Hive)
    reviewed in issue #251, March 2004

    Variable Unit is a wide-ranging collective of musicians and such. Azeem is one of the most inventive and perceptive MCs going these days. From what the press notes say, these talented folks kinda hung out for a while and, after a good amount of jamming and experimentation, this album emerged.

    Certainly, Azeem seems to be in more of a freestyle mode here, though as Variable Unit is very much into crafting the final product, my guess is that these are hardly dressed-up improvisations. Rather, the songs have an exciting spontaneous feel enhanced by the depth that comes from hard work in the studio.

    Much more low-key than recent albums from both Azeem and VU. The feel is cool--as in the birth of the--but combined with the burbling undercurrent of those earliest fusion ventures. Using the Miles reference once again, something's definitely brewing.

    The sound on this album is simply amazing. It lulls the listener into a comfort zone and then raises the stakes. The intensity is constant throughout, but it becomes apparent only now and then. Ah, the benefits of fine crafting. Quite a divine organic experience.


    Thomas Azier
    Hylas
    (Universal)
    Thomas Blondet
    FutureWorld
    (Rhythm & Culture Music)
    reviewed 9/25/14

    I really love Azier's single, "Ghost City." It's got the perfect mix of 80s new wave, 90s techno and 00s electro. Also, it moves. More of a slink than a canter, but that enough to find the groove. In addition, Azier uses his falsetto to perfect effect. The soaring chorus is just lovely.

    So I was expecting more of the same on his debut album. Turns out that Hylas is more Tangerine Dream than Kraftwerk. Even when the tempos pick up, they're leavened by long stretches of synth washes and drawn-out phrases. This is one moody pile of bits and bytes.

    While I it's likely would have been happier with an album full of songs like "Ghost City," I think Azier has marked some interesting territory. His song construction trends toward the gothic (and maybe a little goth, but you'll understand my differentiation if you hear this), and he has a real knack for the dramatic chorus. The most common song here is the slow-jam electro anthem, and that's unusual to my ears.

    With a less-deft touch, this sound could get dreary fast. Azier throws in plenty of ideas for each song, though, and he manages to drag this album to a satisfying conclusion. Not the sort of album you'd crank in the car, but it is pretty good if you're looking for an intensive chilldown.

    I do still think that "Ghost City" is the best track here, but that song is a bait-and-switch. Azier has his sights set on more introspective territory, and he does a pretty fair exploration here. This album had all sorts of chances to fall into a torpid mess, but Azier made it shine instead. It can be hard to warm up to cold steel, but Azier's talent should be more than enough to warm your ears.

    Thomas Azier has a song called "FutureSound." Thomas Blondet brings us an album called FutureWorld. Despite the obvious differences in rhythms (Blondet is a definite dub aficionado), the concepts are surprisingly similar.

    Blondet fuses his dub work with vocal guests from around the world, which makes this album much more than reggae 2.0. There are bits and pieces from Asia, India, Africa and South America, as well as the requisite Jamaican patois. Blondet is the producer. He built the stage for his guests to shine.

    The album title is an obvious reference to "world beat" music, a now-archaic term that was pretty lame even when it was in popular use. I think the idea here is to take sounds from all over and spin them into a tasty concoction.

    Blondet's greatest accomplishment is mixing all those influences without turning them into grey goo. All the personality and unique traits remain. His structure is more than generous enough to give room to all of his collaborators.

    This does lead to the occasional problem of identifying an actual "Blondet sound." If you want to call that a problem, of course. I'm more inclined to call it a strength. This album floats and bounces all over the world, even while its electronic soul resides in the Caribbean. That's a pretty cool trick.

    The way forward is to put together old ideas in new ways. Blondet and Azier have succeeded in fusing electronic past and future. And now, the future.


    return to A&A archives index page
    return to A&A home page