Welcome to A&A. There are 24 full reviews in this issue. Click on an artist to jump to the review, or simply scroll through the list. If you want information on any particular release, check out the Label info page. All reviews are written by Jon Worley unless otherwise noted.|
If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.
A&A #241 reviews (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.
Love & Hate
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.
Black Moth Super Rainbow
Falling Through a Field
That which was once Satanstompingcaterpillars is now Black Moth Super Rainbow. Or something close to that, anyway. The same cool graphic design on the CD sleeves, the same idiosyncratic approach to moody pop (a goofily morose electronic tangent, if you can believe that), the same great results.
Some folks just know how to make interesting music, no matter what name appears above the title. And in this case, interesting also is good. The songs generally fall into the noodly electronic realm, but there's a nice scratchy feel to the sound. And the vocals are half-whispered in a droll sort of way (that's where I get "morose," I guess).
The key is how it all is put together. These songs would fall apart if there wasn't a kernel of coherence in the center of it all. And there is. The far-flung ideas never quite escape the orbit of the central themes. The pieces are loose, but not lost.
Like I said, it doesn't matter what these boys decide to call themselves. The music is what's important. And stuff this good will make a name for itself.
Death & Taxes
While some emo bands have decided to pop out with a vengeance, Brandtson has consistently kept a nice rock edge to its bright melodies and sharp hooks. This might be its best set of songs yet.
And make no mistake--this stuff is crafted with extreme diligence. These songs are precisely-cut gems, subtle enough to be truly beautiful.
I find it kinda interesting that Brandtson has veered toward a early-80s arena rock feel. Poppier, sure, but with plenty of punch as well. If you can imagine Night Ranger with well-written material (the first couple of albums, say) and a decided lack of keyboards, then you're getting close.
I'm sure the boys really won't like that comparison, but that's the way I hear it. And I like what I hear. These songs aren't bloated and overblown--which is where they're clearly superior to 80s AOR--but they really do a nice job of communicating within a mainstream sound. Top notch.
Hoo boy, these Cardia boys are sure their songs are damned important. This album is just drenched in that dramatic "you are now listening to the greatest band in the world" sound. And, well, Cardia isn't quite up to that billing.
But the boys are pretty good. Good enough to pique my interest despite my general aversion to such over-the-top pretentiousness. There are plenty of layers to peel, and as I get closer and closer to the core sound, the more impressed I get. Underneath the late 80s U2 vibe lies a vibrant heart.
One which is willing to take chances. More chances than the producer here allowed to creep out, but hey, there's hope for the future. These songs are quite well-written--witty as well as finely tunesmithed.
Like I said, good enough for me to overlook that glitzy, excessively overbearing finish. I'd advise the boys to strip off a couple layers and allow the brilliance of their songs to shine. As it is, though, they just might get the attention they so obviously desire.
High Side of Low Down
Is flamenco the blues? Maybe, maybe not. But, as proven by its recent gospel compilation, NorthernBlues is about much more than some narrow definition of the blues. If you're interested in great guitar playing, James Cohen will more than suffice.
And this isn't yer everday flamenco album. Yes, that's Cohen's style, but he places his dramatic picking and strumming in a number of settings. There's the Django Reinhardt-esque "Mock Pollock," for example, and "Elsie," which flies through jazz, flamenco and blues structures in its four minutes.
It all comes down to whether or not the music is good. This is not good. It is great. Cohen is an astonishingly expressive player, so much so that his virtuosity is hardly noticed. I can't think of a higher compliment than that.
And so I'll take my leave. Cohen's playing and songwriting are exquisite, and his bandmates are spectacular. This is an album of the highest order, no matter how you wish the classify the music within.
Song in the Air
Elliot is one of those bands that seems to be incapable of writing a mundane song. The sound is generally understated, but the impact of these pieces is immediate and intense.
Maybe its just me. I've passed around that first CD to a few friends, and all of them were decidedly ambivalent. Perhaps I'm one of those music critics who falls in love with bands no one else understands (or wants to understand, for that matter). Well, hell, I know I'm one of "those" critics, but still. Elliot makes music that sounds rather universal to me.
Okay, maybe the rush isn't quite so immediate on that first album. Maybe you've gotta let the greatness sneak up on you just a bit. Not here. The pieces are midtempo more often than not, but they've got more energy and fire than most extreme bands I hear these days.
Another stellar album. Elliot makes the kind of timeless rock music that few dare attempt these days. Contemplative and yet compelling at once, an exquisite blend of sense and sensibility. Hey, if you listen to this album and aren't blown away at once, there's nothing I can do to help you. Not a damned thing.
Perhaps you are aware of the whole "no-wave" movement. Perhaps not. The idea generally seemed to be to make music that the members of the Jesus Lizard would find to be unlistenable.
That's a joke. Mostly. In any case, I love the stuff. Loud, noisy, mostly incoherent--but there's almost always a keen sense of rhythm in the stuff. Even if the beat is kept by, say highly-distorted guitars or spoons or sampled gunshots or whatever. Ex-Models actually employ a drummer and use him every once in a while. The main rhythmic elements are in the guitars, though, and they kick ass.
Brevity is a virtue. This album squeezes 15 songs in the space of 20 minutes. The lyrics aren't inane, but I'd say the vocals are generally used more for their musical (as it were) elements than any real expression of ideas. Again, this is most palatable to me. The screechy, throbbing sound is strangely danceable and a joy to my ears.
I know, most folks would find that last sentence almost unbelievable. But if your tastes run to the lunatic fringe of the music world (and you like to shave the fur off your eardrums with high doses of distortion and high-treble squalls of feedback), then Ex-Models are about as good as it gets. My heart brims with joy.
Eyes Like Knives
Eyes Like Knives EP
Eyes Like Knives combines the strident guitar work and edgy vocals of early emo with the insistence and throbbing beats of the news school. Sorta the best of both worlds, if you ask me.
The stuff is catchy in a raucous sort of way. Eyes Like Knives remind me a lot of Vitreous Humor, that vaguely legendary emo band from the mid-90s that broke up "before we became Weezer," (as the band members themselves put it). I've always liked that line, even if it is bullshit. Anyway, this band is in no danger of becoming Weezer. There's just too much power rumbling through these songs.
Another excellent reference would be Jawbox--in that bands more accessible moments. Eyes Like Knives take care to include at least one kick-ass melody in each song, as if to say "hey, we're just a pop band like everyone else." A nice little proletarian instinct. Or something like that, anyway.
Fall Out Boy
Take This to Your Grave
(Fueled by Ramen)
These folks are a wee bit too clever for their own good. Take the label name (Fueled by Ramen) or the title of the first track ("Tell that Mick He Just Made My List of Things to Do Today"). Okay, so I 'm sure the boys didn't name their label. It sure is appropriate, anyway.
These songs aren't all jokes, but there are a few that venture into Nerf Herder territory. The music itself is tight punk pop with just a hint of an aggressive edge on the guitar. The pieces do come together nicely.
And much of the reason for that is the production, which doesn't overdo anything. Rather, the band's natural exuberance is preserved without allowing the proceedings to get out of hand. There's a nice live-to-tape feel here--though I don't think that's how this was recorded. No matter. The final product is quite nice.
Solid songwriting and plenty of energy to pull off these well-crafted pieces. Fall Out Boy isn't the most distinctive band around, but these songs are more than worth a listen or few. Give the boys some time and they just might come up with something better than very good.
Felt plays pop rock the way it was meant to be played: All over the map. There's a little power pop, a little faux-funk wank, some scattered hints of ska (hints, mind you, not the real thing), some anthemic roots stuff and even a wee bit of psychedelia just to round out the package.
So whether you like the Spin Doctors or Hootie and the Blowfish--or you're like me and you like neither--there's something to appreciate here. The songs themselves are written quite nicely, and there's very little resorting to old cliches. Rather, the boys seem to have worked very hard to find an original edge to their music.
I do get a sense that these folks play better than they feel. The proficiency of the musicians sometimes overshadows any emotion that might be present, but that tightness also helps to ratchet up the hook quotient. I'm not sure I like that trade off, but I have to admit that it works pretty well for these guys.
Hey, I'm the first to say that this album is a bit too accessible for my tastes. But Felt does one hell of a job crafting its voice, and I never got bored. There are so many shades of sound on this album that it would be impossible to accuse these boys of falling into a rut. Surprisingly enjoyable.