Welcome to A&A. There are 26 full reviews in this issue (though one is a faker--April fools!). Click on an artist to jump to the review, or simply scroll through the list. If you want information on any particular release, check out the Label info page. All reviews are written by Jon Worley unless otherwise noted.|
If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.
A&A #240 reviews (April 2003)
Happy to be Here
(The Bus Stop Label)
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.
Appalachian Death Ride
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.
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.
The Boxing Lesson
The Boxing Lesson EP
(Send Me Your Head)
The Boxing Lesson plays some of the coolest, most meditative stuff I've heard in some time. The four songs here are relatively long (two clock in a more than six minutes), but there's very little excess. Rather, the deliberate style allows the ideas to unfold at an appropriate pace.
The songs are moody, but they're not morose. And they're anything but dull. The Boxing Lesson proves that slow and thoughtful music doesn't have to be deadly dull. Not at all. Just gives folks like me a better opportunity to figure out what's going on.
The sorta disc that would go well with a bourbon and ice. Let the cubes melt halfway and then begin to sip. Unconsciousness will take you slowly, and you'll enjoy every minute of it.
When you're in college, the natural impulse is to experiment. Good thing, too. These four UCSD students play jazz on their own terms. They pick and choose from their favorite influences (there seems to be a particular affinity for the whole John Coltrane/Miles Davis axis--that's a broad spectrum, but I think it holds together) and then fuse them into something completely new.
Sometimes the stuff works, and sometimes it's merely interesting. I like the way Michael Dessen often teams his trombone with James Robinson's tenor sax. The two instruments are naturally friendly toward one another, and using them in tandem really highlights some cool melodies.
Scott Walton's bass is a bit lost in the mix, but when I can make it out it really helps to hold together some of the more "out there" moments. And while Nathan Hubbard must feel a bit underused as the percussionist, unlike many drummers he doesn't mind hanging out off the beat if that's what it takes to make a song really work.
These guys are not at the height of their powers. They're just beginning to figure out how to really play and how to write songs that fit their talents. Nonetheless, I hear a lot of potential. Anyone who is willing to try as many things as these boys do is off to the right start.
The Ugly Organ
Nearly ten years ago I first discovered the glory of the Wrens, one of the greatest pop bands of all time. Cursive takes a similarly adventurous approach to the form, imbuing each song with an infectious energy.
Further proof that Nebraska has long been underappreciated in terms of bands. Cursive's innovation is the heavy use of cello, which adds more color to the bottom end of the sound. There's a bit more than just an electric bass rumbling down there.
The sound is so utterly live that it isn't hard to imagine the band recording these songs in one take. The stuff just jumps out of the speakers, which makes the already blistering songs acquire that much more power.
I love the Wrens. Cursive is just as intense, only in different ways. And anyone who is willing to completely reinvent pop songs as these dark musings is a good friend of mine. A most impressive accomplishment.
Bent at the Waist
Did you know that Tom Waits began his career as a country song writer? Okay, so he wrote songs like "Looks Like We're Up Shit Creek Again," the kinda song that Patsy Cline probably wouldn't record, but still, it was country. The Eyesores play Tom Waits kinda country.
When your lead singer plays accordion, and the rest of the folks play a wide variety of stringed instruments--drums come in only occasionally--chances are the songs are going to sound interesting. The bass is a stand up, and banjo rivals guitar for frequency of use. There is something of the demented cabaret sound to the songs.
Not unlike Waits's recent efforts, actually. The Eyesores aren't aping anyone, not in the least, but Waits is the closest reference I can come up with. In truth, the Eyesores have created something truly warped and wonderful here, something that no one else has quite attempted.
And man, does it work. So I'm a sucker for the exemplary use of accordion and other unusual instruments. If the songs sucked, the strangeness of the instrumentation wouldn't matter. But these songs are inspired lunacy, with plenty of sweat behind them. Beguiling, to say the least.
Useless & Modern
What might have been if the Ramones decided to be a lo-fi garage band rather than a somewhat souped-up punk band. The FM Knives rely on much the same sort of understated and simple melody structure and highly aggressive (if decidedly basic) guitar riffage.
I know the garage thing is a big trend. One that's probably already lost its bloom. After all, the standardbearer albums aren't exactly great (despite incomprehensibly good reviews), and a lot of these bands sound the same. FM Knives have managed to carve out their own corner of this sound quite nicely.
For starters, these guys know how to write songs. Yes, the construction is simple and the charm relies on energetic playing, but these songs would work if they were arranged for Joan Baez. They've got life, that special something that pricks up the ear and turns up the corners of the lips into a smile.
Will FM Knives change the world? Are they as good as the Ramones? Does it matter? Nope to all three questions. This is a nice little unpretentious album that kicks some ass. Which is pretty damned good in my book.
Plastic Hearts EP
Over the last few years I received two EPs from something called ESP All-Stars. A band which, according to the minimal liners, "consists mostly of Kirby and Armitage." These boys played gorgeous distorted pop in the manner of latter-day Flaming Lips. And they, too, are from Oklahoma City. Interestingly enough, they met because Kirby saw Armitage wearing a bootleg Mercury Rev t-shirt that Kirby had sold at local record stores. Talk about divine intervention, or at the very least blind luck.
So now I get an EP from something called Hello Defective, which also seems to consist mostly of Kirby and Armitage. Four songs (as seems to be the norm) which are almost transcendently beautiful in their dissonance and distortion. Oh, yeah, there are some wondrous melodies flitting about as well.
And so, despite the awesome weirdness that two bands from central Oklahoma might actually play awesome wigged-out psychedelic pop, this continues to be the case. The name has changed, but Hello Defective still knows how to play the game. Apparently a full-length is due in the near future. Not soon enough, in my estimation.
Born on Tuesday
And now we come to point in our broadcast where Jon spoos all over an album that maybe a thousand people will have the balls to buy. Nathan Hubbard is, for the most part, a percussionist, though he augments his rattlings with some cool electronic bits just for the hell of it. Careful readers will also remember him as (i my words) the somewhat underused percussionist in Cosmologic Syntaxis. When you've got an outlet like this, there's no need to hog time in another band.
The percussion in question is something along the lines of jazz. Hubbard isn't one of those freaky guys who simply makes noise for the sake of noise (not that there's anything wrong with that, of course). Rather, he's tightly composed these pieces (or, at least, loosely composed them), which nicely showcases his wide-ranging skills and ideas.
Yes, there is a lot of banging and pinging and such. That's the nature of these kinda projects. But Hubbard's skill keeps everything coherent, and since he's the only one playing a damned thing, there's an eerie feeling of dementia that never quite fades into the background.
Me, I like such single-minded lunacy. It means someone really gives a shit about their music. Every once in a while, such pigheadedness actually results in a great album. Like this one. If you thought percussion was just drums, well, Hubbard will set you straight. There are enough sounds here to populate an orchestra.
Hurl Soul Bridge
Which Is Your Way?
Before I go any further, let me say that a band releasing its own disc really oughta at least include a web site address, if not full contact information, on the packaging. Somewhere. Anywhere. I know, it looks cool, calculating and commercial, but c'mon folks, someone has to know where to call to congratulate the folks on a good album, right? (You'll note that there is contact info at the end of the review; the band was kind enough to point out to me that the phone number for their management is listed on the back of the CD--my bad--and it also threw in its web site for good measure).
Of course, Hurl Soul Bridge is fronted by a guy named Roadie (at least, he wrote all the lyrics, so I figure that's him with the Gram Parsons-esque voice), so maybe good music is all you can ask for, after all. In any case, these songs are tres-Burrito, some tasty alt. country bits that take their time to develop.
Perhaps the coolest part about the sound is that it is so round. No one felt the need to sharpen things up or, as they say nowadays, put a little garage in it. Just to classic new wave country style of the late 60s and early 70s, played by folks who really can, um, play.
Great stuff for kicking back and watching the ice melt in the bourbon. Hurl Soul Bridge doesn't write simple songs, but the ease of delivery makes this album go down dreadfully smoothly. I'll take my own leave now.