Welcome to A&A. There are 22 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 #245 reviews
Superman Won't Take the Call
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.
One song from Brandtson, three from Camber and two from Seven Storey. Very punchy stuff, though it's interesting that the Brandtson stuff sounds a bit more cerebral than usual, while the (quite similar) Camber pieces sound much more off the cuff. Must be my expectations of the band in question.
I'm not sure if there's really a theme to this set, other than really fine songs by great bands (well, Seven Storey is a one-man affair, but still). While each band did its recording separately, the sound achieved by each is startlingly similar to the others. I don't know if this intentional, but it sure does aid continuity.
A great introduction to these three great acts. Fans will certainly want to hear this stuff, but this is the sort of release that brings in new admirers in exponential numbers. Simply outstanding.
Candidate play that peculiarly British sort of neo-folk, stuff that rolls with the roots and still manages to drop in the occasional modern pop convention as well. The fusion is seamless; the songs are intricately-crafted gems.
The songs here are inspired by The Wicker Man, a movie I've heard of but have never seen. This album makes me want to drop what I'm doing (writing reviews is hard work, folks) and go rent the puppy. Inspired? I sure am.
The sound is lush and full, giving the acoustic guitars plenty of room to round out, and enveloping everything else in an organic blanket. This music is connected to the earth in ways that I can't begin to explain. And I'm guessing that's intentional.
Simply a breathtaking experience. I wasn't familiar with Candidate before hearing this disc, but now I am similarly inspired to haul in the band's earlier works. You'd be surprised how rarely that happens to me. This album is simply unforgettable.
Remember that great British hard rock from the early 70s? Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep and all that? This unconventional trio (guitar, drums and keyboards) replicate those thick, fuzzy sounds and actually improve on them.
First, there are no vocals. This means that the riffage (be it guitar, organ or whatever) has center stage. Second, it means that the music never slacks off for a moment. These boys know they've got to keep the pedal to the metal just to keep these songs together.
Man, what a rush. The inspiration may be 30 years old, but the execution is ultra modern. Darediablo isn't afraid to bring things down a notch in decidedly non-hard rock ways, and it's also quite happy to throw in all sorts of quirky thoughts into the mix. Loud, heavy and damned creative. Quite the combo.
Yeah, it helps to have a soft spot for cheesy hard rock. But Darediablo is inventive enough to impress even the most jaded critic. This stuff is not just technically brilliant, it's a big wad of fun as well. Now, where the hell's my lighter...
Dream Upon a Fallen Star
I've got this theory that Uncle Tupelo serves the same role today that Big Star did when I was in college. Back in 1988, Big Star seemed almost ancient--having broken up some 14 or so years previous. Uncle Tupelo broke up in the summer of 1993, so maybe my theory is a bit premature. And then again, listening to folks like Todd Deatherage, maybe not.
Deatherage and pals don't ape Farrar and Tweedy, but the twisting of country and roots with more contemporary sounds of all sorts kinda found its critical mass in the late 1980s with bands like the Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo and a bunch of other bands I saw just about every weekend during my five years at the University of Missouri.
All of which is more than enough about me and my theories. Deatherage is as likely to whip out some western swing as he is to toss off a nice little two-stepper. And while each of these songs sounds decidedly straight on the surface, there's always an odd little aside rumbling in the underbrush. The songwriting is superb, and the performances are similarly superlative.
Did I mention that Deatherage and friends are from New York? I swear, there are more great alt. country types in New York than the rest of the country put together. If this is the hot sound up there, I'm at a loss to explain why the rest of the nation hasn't caught on. Todd Deatherage proves with this album that he belongs in the first rank of modern country artists (or whatever you want to call this sort of stuff). Heartbreakingly gorgeous, it is.
The Desert Fathers
Recorded by Steve Albini and Greg Norman (not the golfer, of course), which is hard to believe at times. Sure, there's some seriously trippy (in a shattered and shrill sorta way) guitar work, but there's also some seriously involved vocal work. The kinda thing Albini is famous for dismissing out of hand.
No need to get into the personality of the producers, though. The Desert Fathers deserve all the attention that is humanly possible. It's pretty much impossible to classify this stuff, except to say that it rarely makes sense in any conventional way. Every one in a while the bass and drums line up for a bar or two, but that's about it.
Despite the discordant sound and deconstructive impulses of the band, the songs themselves fall together quite nicely. Sure, you've gotta kinda listen past the music and let it coalesce slowly within your brain, but that's a good thing. These boys challenge, and the rewards are immense.
Utterly unlike anything I've heard before, certainly when the scope of the sounds on this disc is taken into account. The Desert Fathers have created an entirely original work, one that isn't a walk in the park, perhaps, but still is well worth the journey. Here's to getting lost in new ideas.
(New and Improv Music)
A few years back, I happened to catch a performance of a band called Spaceheads, which consists of a jazz trumpeter and a jazz drummer who also man keyboards, drum machines, sequencers and the like during the live show. The result was an entrancing melange of funky grooves, ace jazz licks and cool beats. Eleven Eyes plays around in much the same vein, except that these boys use a number of real players as well as a turntable man.
And geez, is this stuff addictive. I suppose it manages to still qualify as jazz, but this is dance music first and foremost. There's always a fine beat (even if slower than your average club grind) and the rhythm section is rarely out of pocket for more than a few seconds at a time.
A journey to the center of the groove, without compromising anyone's integrity. There's nothing simple or cloying about these slinky moves. This stuff is dirty, damned dirty, just filthy with the funk. George and Bootsy would be proud.
The jazz take simply adds to the enjoyment for those of us who like complicated music. There are so many layers to these songs that even ten or fifteen listens down the line something new will pop up. I'm just breaking out in smiles.
Smash the Octopus!
Take two Filipino immigrant brothers and a couple of boys who are more than willing to push the metal envelope and you get (it appears) Flattbush. The songs are sung both in Tagalog (the Filipino dialect) and English. The music is loud, fast and extremely complicated.
Did I mention that it was astonishingly great as well? Billy Gould (Kool Arrow honcho) produced, and the result often sounds like Faith No More on crank with a side of Marxism. Personally, that works for me. I'm always in favor of people pushing to the edge and beyond.
And despite the loud and fast and often harsh music, Gould has given these boys an amazingly full sound. Sometimes the anarchy rages while that thick blanket wraps itself around my ears. Again, this is something that works for me. Works really well.
Song construction? A real mess. Performance skills? The focus is on fast rather than precision. Lyrics? In-your-face and sometimes less than coherent. But when put together, the result is astonishing. A brutal, mind-crushing experience. The sort of ride I like to take a thousand times or more.
Another set of alt. country-pop from Harris, who is quietly writing and performing some of the best songs around these days. Think Ryan Adams, only a bit more faithful to whatever sound he's playing at the moment.
And that might be country, jangle pop, a tune that would be right at home on Pet Sounds or stuff that can only be described as "indie rock." Harris doesn't feel the need to pigeonhole his stuff. He just works his ass off and makes great music.
I keep using superlatives, and there's a reason for that. Harris writes songs that immediately affect me. They're straightforward, but hardly simple. He knows how to make a song bite immediately and how to reel in a listener slowly as well.
The production sound is a little tinny at times, but that's an easy stereo adjustment. To be honest, that's my harshest criticism. In my last review, I called his songs timeless. That description fits the pieces on this album as well. Harris shouldn't be unknown for much longer. Talent like his is all too rare.
Hell on Earth
All Things Disturbingly Sassy
Some goth boys from Tampa (I swear to God, I've never seen a scene as weird and, um, natural as the one I experienced when living in Florida a few years back) who play some highly-processed industrial metal.
Kinda retro, in its way. Hell on Earth relies on sledgehammer drum machine beats, synched guitar and keyboard riffs and a nice growly vocal presence. Reminds me of the good Ministry albums.
Actually, that's a fine touchpoint. These songs are obviously studio creations, though I imagine the boys can do a fair job live. It wouldn't, it couldn't--and shouldn't--sound the same from a stage. That's cool.
Just a nice little head trip into the past. These guys really know how to dress up this sound and make it sing. Good enough to make me smile.
The Trouble with Success or How You Fit into the World
Paula Kelley cut her teeth with the Drop Nineteens, then shot through Hot Rod and Boy Wonder before finally recording her first bona-fide solo album a couple years ago. All that preparation certainly prepared her for this album, one of the most astonishing pop albums I've heard in some time.
And don't get me wrong. This is pop as in "pop," Burt Bacharach and Carole King and all that. Kelley draws on sounds from the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and even this new century as she assembles these gorgeous confections. Yeah, it helps that she's got one of those "tough little girl" voices, one that has a lot more strength than might be imagined.
Production is key on an album like this. No matter how good the songs or how fine the performances, it's still awfully easy to screw things up in the booth. Kelley took the reins herself, and she delivers a dreamy, bouncy sound that perfectly frames her songs.
The craftsmanship alone is astonishing. The final result is such that all the hard work that went into making the album is well-hid behind the final sound. This album is a grabber from the first line, and it becomes more addictive with each successive song. Wonderful.