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.|
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A&A #242 reviews (June 2003)
Amerikan Made EP
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.
Armor for Sleep
Dream to Make Believe
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.
When I Know You Will Too
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.
That Horse Must Be Starving
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.
If You Only Knew...
Ten years ago, Erik Schuman and Jean-Paul Vest were in a band back in Texas. A couple years ago they met once again--this time in New York--and decided to play some music once again.
The duo is somewhat stuck in that whole midwestern roots punk thing. Think the first couple Uncle Tupelo albums or maybe some early Husker Du. Maybe. These guys make music that falls right into Still Feel Gone territory, though Vest's vocals are much more reminiscent of Walter Salas-Humara of the Silos.
Mostly, though, these guys simply make fine roots-flavored rock. The sound is nicely chunky, though it isn't excessively loud or feedback-laden. The sort of stuff that's a bit loud for the porch, but just right for the back yard.
A fine set of songs. There are a couple of covers, done with cool new settings (why else would you do a well-known song, anyway?). Just right for the onset of summer.
Clarence Bucaro is a guitarist. He's spent hours upon days upon weeks upon years practicing his guitar, playing all sorts of styles until he got them down straight. How do I know this? He sounds as comfortable playing an east African jive lick as he does showboating a little old-timey jug-band bit or a flamenco-tinged Mexican/Spanish blues.
He wrote all of these songs (and arranged one piece that has passed into the public domain), which is almost as impressive as his playing. There are times that I think he's simply showing off, but then the next song comes along and puts me back under the spell.
Each song is produced so as to be true to the sound that it borrows, which lends this album a bit of an uneven feel. But that teeter-totter of styles provides just the right gait for listening to these songs. After all, music shouldn't always be comfortable.
Bucaro is a certifiable man out of time. This is one of those albums that would be pretty damned good as a multi-artist compilation but that is positively astonishing when you consider that it sprang from the hands of one man and his band. Something else, indeed.
The further evolution of Zeke, in a manner of speaking. In any case, these Seattle boys (including a couple of ex-Zekesters) take that nice, fuzzy stoner rock and give it a serious kick in the ass.
The songs run almost three minutes apiece, epic by Zeke standards, but they fly by with all the fury of an April tornado. There's a big whoosh and then everything is blown to bits.
To my ear, Camarosmith gets back to the basic core of rock and roll: loud guitars, bashing drums and kick-ass bass lines. If you've got all that, why do you need anything else?
Got me. Camaosmith certainly qualifies as a guilty pleasure, but I'm gonna indulge myself as much as possible. Dive into the sludge and cavort to your heart's content.
Dream into Dust
The Lathe of Heaven
The gothic industrial edge of pop is a scarcely-populated place. Few bands really want to get down and dirty and truly explore the horrors of everyday existence. Dream into Dust is more than happy to take up the slack.
These songs are assembled in the studio, but there's always a solid core of "real" music around which some really cool structures have been erected. Plenty of acoustic guitar, which makes for a nice counterpoint to the sampled percussion.
When I say industrial, I mean it. These songs sound like they're being played inside of a factory. Rather than being distracting, the extra pops, whacks and whistles add a pleasant grain to the sound, dirtying everything up just right.
These folks have been wandering around these woods for quite a while, and this is their finest effort yet. Nothing sounds remotely contrived or forced; this is music that exists in precisely the right surroundings. Rarely have I heard an album that falls into place as well as this one.
I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House
Put Here to Bleed
(In Music We Trust)
The name may be silly, but the music is anything but. Hard-drinking, bloody-knuckled blues with a couple sledgehammers back. Imagine the Dogs D'Amour with about twenty times the attitude.
I know, the reference is semi-obscure, but hell, that's what popped into my head. The music is a throbbing thicket of riffage, based in the blues but basted in hardcore. There's a fine bit of harp work that keeps the stuff vaguely honest.
The production as designed for maximum power. Not much subtlety here, but I don't think that sort of thing is necessary. This is music for the iron of heart. Why pretty things up when the folks who might like something flowery won't bother to pick up the disc in the first place?
The more I hear, the more I'm convinced the band's name is singularly appropriate. This stuff is pure bluster, walls of sound thrown up in front of a surprisingly basic rampart. Pretty damned good that way, too.
Last Days of April
Ascend to the Stars
Another album from these Swedish emo boys. They like bright, peppy melodies and aren't afraid of using keyboards to assemble songs. In short, there's very little keeping Last Days of April from breaking huge.
It's not just that folks seem to be digging this sort of thing lately. These guys simply know how to craft great pop songs. There is just the slightest hint of distortion, that wee bit of reality creeping into these brilliantly-colored pieces.
I'm not sure how Pelle Gunnerfeldt managed to infuse such power into the light sound he created for this album, but he did it. These songs are grounded; they won't fly away with the smallest breeze. The amplitude is a handy way to throw a little depth into the work, to be sure.
At times, I get the feeling that Last Days of April wants to be the Swedish version of the Flaming Lips. That's not the case, not quite, but there is a similar strain of genius at work. Quite the pretty picture.
Lewis and Clarke
Bright Light EP
Solid contemplative pop. Lewis and Clarke makes no pretentious statements, harbors no ulterior motives and doesn't browbeat at all. Nonetheless, this is one compelling disc.
Rarely do three songs grab me like these. Lewis and Clarke uses all sorts of guitars, pianos and even a Hammond organ to create its shimmering sound. The songs come on with a whisper and have the impact of a bomb.
Sometimes it's the stuff that sneaks up on you that you remember. Lewis and Clarke has created an unforgettable little disc. There'd better be a whole lot more where this came from.