Welcome to A&A. There are 17 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 #246 reviews
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.
Gumballhead the Cat comic book and soundtrack CD
I can't really say if this is what might be described as "the new Cheer-Accident album" or if it is, as the cover says, merely a soundtrack to the enclosed comic book. Skin Graft specializes in this sort of thing, and I think I've already spent too long pondering my silly question.
I mean, what we have here is more than an hour of new Cheer Accident music. And a nice comic book. The set is packaged as a seven-inch might be, which might post some display problems for record stores, but since there are only four stores left that would even think to sell anything such as this, well, I guess it doesn't matter.
Right. Cheer Accident. A Chicago-based semi-collective which features (on this outing) Jamie Fillmore, Thymme Jones, Jeff Libersher and Kyle Bruckmann (Bruckmann has the dreaded "with" appellation attached to his name, whatever that means). These guys like to play highly-deconstructed rock music, but somehow they make it sound almost accessible. Almost.
Mostly instrumental fare, which isn't unheard of for these boys. After all, this is a soundtrack. Anyway, if you know Cheer-Accident, then this set of songs won't disappoint. And if you're in the mood for some pleasantly warped takes on the future of music (not to mention a cool, snarky comic book), well, you could do a lot worse than this. Let the grooves blast their way into your brain. In no time at all, they'll have you living right.
Leave Me Out of This
(Words on Music)
Dreamy, lush, Britpop that reminds me a lot of Mazzy Star or Elysian Fields or stuff like that, except that Fiel Garvie is never lethargic.
Which is not to say these songs are quick or in any way fast-paced. Nope. Fiel Garvie navel-gazes as much as anyone, and the songs can pretty much all be lumped into the languid category. But there's just too much going on to fall asleep when this stuff is playing.
Part of it is the tasteful distortion and echo-filled sound achieved by the producer. These songs are interesting on their own, but the vaguely mysterious feel caused by the sound made me bite almost immediately. Just a bit of a skin crawl combined with nervous curiosity.
One of those albums that took a while to really prick up my ears. Cool stuff, to be sure, but how cool? I'm beginning to think that this album is much better than I first imagined. I keep coming back for another hit.
Kill Us Now
A few months ago, Hello Defective (which contains the creative core of the fine band ESP All-Stars) released the Plastic Hearts EP. I dug it immensely. Now comes a full-length which also features the four songs from the EP.
I've never liked that sort of marketing. Makes the folks who bought the EP feel cheated or something. But enough of my soapbox. Time to talk about the music. And, as with everything I've heard from Mssrs. Armitage and Kirby, the five songs on this disc I haven't heard before (Stop it! Just stop it!) are simply outstanding.
Yes, these boys are from Oklahoma City, and yes, they play a highly-processed form of psychedelic pop music. Not unlike another band we all know and love. The comparisons are obvious, and I'm sure Hello Defective is a bit tired of them. Too bad. They'll have to change their sound to get rid of all that nonsense. But I wouldn't do that, because these boys sure do know how to make their songs shimmer.
And in the end, there's no way to rip off the Flaming Lips, apart from stripping out actual chunks of music. Hello Defective plays in the same pool, and it also produces similarly impressive sounds. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, if all bands were as creative as these boys, no one would be bitching about how terrible music is these days. I dunno. I'm a sucker for this stuff. You know that. These boys play it real nice. 'Nuff sed.
Hum & the Quick
The album is merely 18 songs long. The EP contains a new version of "Peek" (which also appears on the album) and two other tracks. You get both of them at once, as long as supplies last. And thus ends my shill.
Or maybe not. Hum & the Quick plays extensively orchestrated fare. There's plenty of piano and accordion and strings and other nice bits of accompaniment. The songs themselves are generally introspective downers, with lyrics that often express utter confusion with the reality of the world.
That would be as seen by the character of each song, of course. The lyrics themselves are deft enough to turn themselves around, illuminating their own inconsistencies. I'm not sure if this is meant to actually contradict, or merely to exude ambiguity. I'm not sure that it matters much.
Hum & the Quick is the rare band that is able to play what might be construed as depressing fare and still leave its listeners with a smile. After all the pondering and hang-wringing and toil, it turns out that maybe life isn't so bad. As long as that 16-ton weight hanging over my head doesn't fall.
Katie the Pest
Katie the Pest is a dead-ringer for Cub, except that instead of a trio, only two women make up the band. Talia Rose and Mary Suzuki play blissful pop tunes. It's amazing how sweet a simple guitar and drum sound can be. The four songs here are just wonderful.
Banner Day also plays peppy, poppy stuff, though with more attitude (and, you know, bass). The hooks are on the complicated side, but these boys carry them off with ease. As with Katie the Pest, there are only four songs. And once again, I'm left wanting more.
Quite a fine introduction to both bands. I'm particularly taken with Katie the Pest (for the obvious reasons, I suppose), but Banner Day is just as impressive. Sheer happiness.
Live from the Memory Hotel
Actually, this is live from Jammin' Java outside of D.C., but I have to admit, Mark McKay's title sounds cooler. Not that he needs any special enhancers. What he does is certainly good enough.
McKay is all alone on three tracks. Four more feature Kris Delmhorst's smoky vocals and evocative fiddle playing. The second half of the disc shows off June Star, a fine rootsy four-piece band. No matter the personnel, the key here is McKay's songwriting.
Here's a fine test: He does a version of Springsteen's "Atlantic City," and it fits right in with the rest of his electified tunes with June Star. This isn't to say that McKay writes like Springsteen--he really doesn't have much in the way of anthemic tendencies whatsoever. But his chops are solid, and his songs stand up quite nicely.
And the performances, well, they range from merely very good to incendiary. These songs were recorded on three nights over six months of last year, and McKay sounds like he was on every time. Sure, that's why you edit, but still. This set shows off a fine songwriter in full play. A very nice set.
Spoon and Rafter
Anyone who has heard Mojave 3 has an opinion. I know folks who love these guys, and I know those who would take the band's CDs out for skeet practice. Very few people are ambivalent, which is kinda odd, considering the measured, highly-crafted folk pop the band purveys.
It's something of a cop-out to say that this album will enchant current fans and irritate those in the opposite camp. But this is just another outstanding Mojave 3 album. The song are flawless, though that very fact is exactly what can drive people to violence. How can you dislike something so perfect?
Well, I don't know. I'm in the pro-Mojave 3 group, and I happen to think that very few bands write such consistently good songs. Sure, this isn't the stuff you're going to play at your next kegger, but I think that's the point. There's plenty of room for thoughtful, nuanced pop music, which is exactly what these folks play.
This is no groundbreaking album, and it's not likely to garner many new fans for the band. But I fail to see the shame in praising a band that has hit its stride. When music is this good, I can't help but get a little excited.
Jaga Jazzist Horns
In the Fishtank
(Konkurrent-Touch and Go)
For those not in the know, Konkurrent is a Dutch label. Every once in a while, it invites a band to jam in the studio--often with another band in tow. The results are chronicled by the In the Fishtank series. This is the tenth such jam.
But which Motorpsycho would show up? Perhaps the horn section provides a hint: These sessions are all about cool jazz, funky soul and, um, prog rock. Of all the thousands of ways the boys might have gone...
To be sure, Motorpsycho is just about impossible to pigeonhole, and the five songs here (including the 21-minute behemoth "Tristano") defy easy description. Let's just say that the horn section is an ace addition to Motorpsycho's unique sound. This album sounds nothing like any other Fishtank session. These are no improvisations; these songs are burnished to a shine.
Wow. I suppose any moron could have predicted this outing would, indeed, be mindblowing. But come on, man. This is one of the great albums of the year, period. If Motorpsycho has the creativity to put together something like this in a week's time, then their next "planned" project ought to be a real stunner.
The Sleeping Lines
So do you remember the "experimental" new wave bands? The ones that used electronic pop sounds to try and create something utterly new?
Yeah, me neither. I mean, there were bands like Can, but was Can new wave? Yeesh. Don't ask me. In any case, Plink sounds a lot like the early goth new wave bands (say, the Mission) with everything stripped down to its bare essence: minimalist rhythms, the occasional keyboard wash and ethereal vocals. And boy, is this stuff seductive.
Not in a "I'm gonna make love to you, woman" kinda way. More of an intellectual seduction, a sly, slinky wit that slowly deceives your brain into believing that Plink is actually doing more than it is. There is the illusion of greatness here. It's an illusion that's truly tough to break.
In the end, this house of cards stands. The foundation is rock solid, and even if the walls might be paper thin, they're decorated with the most beautiful patterns imaginable. I'm entranced.
The Ramblin' Ambassadors
So is it fair to say that most of the best instrumental rock and roll comes from the great white north? Oh, sure, perhaps the finest instrumental band of the last 20 years (Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet) was Canadian, but does that mean Americans don't know how to rock without vocals?
The Fucking Champs aside, I'd have to answer yes. But in any case, Mint seems to find these wacky Canadian instrumental quartets and trios with ease. Which brings me to the latest example: The Ramblin' Ambassadors.
One part surf (there's always one part surf), one part spaghetti western (ditto), one part psychobilly and one part bad attitude, these three guys really have a great feel for the instrumental. These songs say more than most songs with vocals. Well, they say it louder than most songs with vocals, anyway.
Easy to love, easy to play over and over again. The Ramblin' Ambassadors have crafted a short, sweet album full of cheesy licks that are very quickly addictive. Quite the confection.