Welcome to A&A. There are 20 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 #247 reviews
All Out War
Condemned to Suffer
Back in the day (when All Out War first got going), folks might have argued about whether the boys fit into the death metal or grindcore camp. I think there's a pretty solid case for death metal--the riffs are melodic, and there's a sharp, metallic edge to the guitars. These days, though, most folks just call this sort of thing "extreme." Fine by me.
The important question is one of quality. All Out War delivers a blistering, textured attack. There's plenty of pure aggression, but I like the way the boys integrate quieter moments into the mix. The arrangements sound great, nothing forced or contrived.
The sound itself is full and round, providing a very nice canvas for the songs. Perhaps the most important aspect of loud music is the production sound. Too little, and even the greatest songs sound thin. Too much, and you lose that all-important visceral feel. All Out War has hit it just right.
A tasty bit of adrenochrome. These boys have been doing their thing for quite some time, and I think they just might have put their best disc forward with this album.
Nowhere Is Too Far
Jon Allmett plays that catchy singer-songwriter stuff that's all over the place right now--the kinda stuff I usually can't stand. But Allmett has a couple of good things going for him. For starters, his lyrics are incisive and often poetic. And whenever I think he's about to totally cheese out the music, he kicks into a more interesting gear.
I can't say that's a good idea if he wants to score the big check. You can bet that his song "Free?" ("I am free as long as I'm silent"--I really like the phrasing which contrasts the full words and the contraction for "I am") won't be making the rounds on ClearChannel or Cox stations any time soon. And those great little quirky musical shifts that I like are the sort of things that make commercial radio cringe.
But the sound, oh, the sound is sooooo big time. Rich and vibrant and alive, but it doesn't overpower Allmett's voice or his songs. Indeed, the lush-but-punchy feel is just about perfect for Allmett's slightly off-kilter vision.
Pretty damned fine. I'm of the opinion that singer-songwriter stuff is hit-or-miss for most people--what some like, others will hate just as much. Well, I like Allmett. He sure has a way of making his music come alive.
The Terror State
(Fat Wreck Chords)
Anti-Flag is more than willing to help Fat Mike and the Fat crew in its unrelenting attack on the Bush presidency. The cardboard slipcover for this disc contains a "one term president" design, with instructions for creating stencils, posters and flyers. I've already been down to the copy shop, myself.
Of course, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Anti-Flag is willing to take a political stand. This band has been pure punk since its inception. And the songs here take on not only the Bushwa but also GATT, mindless media and other prime targets.
These boys have always used slick production to showcase their ample and varied songwriting styles. Oh, to be sure, we're talking about melodic punk. And Anti-Flag doesn't buy completely into ska like, say, the Clash. Everything comes back to three chords and straight beats. But there's some texture, nonetheless.
Another fine outing from the guys. The lyrics are as fiery as ever--without being excessively preachy. Play it loud. Piss off the president, and anyone else who is foolish enough to follow without thinking.
If Craig Bennett didn't pay attention to his craft, his idiosyncratic observational songs would quickly get tiring. Mind-numbing, even. But Bennett makes sure that each dark little notion is slotted into the correct position, and wonderful pop songs fall out.
It's quite possible to pay too much attention to form, ending up with cookie-cutter songs. Bennett's point of view is so contorted that he needs a little convention to get him back within the viewfinder. And boy, does he know how to turn out a fine downcast line.
Bennett prefers a minimalist feel to his sound. He does allow things to get messy now and again, but usually that's the result of distortion rather than reverb. There's very little echo, and in general the feel is a bit flat. Which fits his wonderfully subversive noirs just fine.
I've heard a few Bennett albums, and they're all great. This one doesn't really take him to another level, but he was already pretty high up there. Pain junkies, here's your next fix.
Okay, so this is the new Cheer-Accident album. Last month's comic book soundtrack thingy was way cool, but this here's the goods.
The goods in that every song comes as a complete surprise. Well, I suppose anyone who knows the band expects the unexpected, but past that, you know? There's prog, pop, rock, funk, jazz and plenty of goofiness. Oh, and I think I heard some sitar in there somewhere. Of course.
Albini engineered (duh), which means the sound is pretty darn near exquisite. Some bands don't know how to use his talents, but Cheer-Accident is precisely the sort of band that Albini knows how to handle. Creativity begets creativity.
Um, yeah, like I said. This is the new Cheer-Accident album. It's fucking amazing. Sorry if I can't be more specific, but I've really got to get back to the headphones. There's way too much going on here to pick it all up in the first hundred listens.
Chicklet is a duo from Toronto with a California record deal. Julie Park is the main songwriter, and she and Daniel Barida share the musical duties. Park sings a lot more than Barida. I'm not sure how all this works out live, but that really doesn't matter here.
Nope. What matters is how the music sounds on this disc, and it sounds great. Park has one of those strong-yet-ethereal voices, the kind that can achieve that bell-ringing tone when it really gets going. She likes to write fairly unnuanced songs, and those compliment her voice quite nicely.
Bascially, each song has a nice beat, a solid riff and the vocals (Barida's vocals, when they come, are strangely similar to Park's). A simple construction set, and it works. Don't make something good more complicated than it needs to be. Just let it ride.
Nothing spectacular, I guess, but Chicklet sure does know how to make some ace pop songs. It sounds effortless on this album, but man, putting together an album this good just isn't that easy. I'm more than impressed.
The Chinese Stars
Turbo Mattress "weaponized CD"
The "weaponized" bit simply means that the CD has been cut into the shape of a four-cornered Chinese throwing star. This means that you can't put it into your carousel CD player (my first choice) or, most likely, your computer (my second choice). I also tried to put it on a sliding-tray player, and it didn't work. But, like any audio junkie, I've got an ancient portable CD player, the kind where you snap the disc right on the motor. Worked like a charm.
So here's the thing. The Chinese Stars are Craig Kureck and Eric Paul of Arab on Radar and Richard Ivan Pelletier of Six Finger Satellite. There is also a certain Paul Vieira, of whom the press sheet says nothing. So I won't. Anyway, if the previous band names mean nothing to you (and you've never heard of Skin Graft Records, for that matter), go on to the next review. Because what I say in the next paragraph just won't apply to you.
If necessary, buy a CD player which will play this. I think you can get something down at the Best Buy for forty bucks that will do the trick. But man, does this puppy wail. This is the distillation of no wave into its most powerful, vaguely coherent parts. These are primal wails of insight and anguish. This shit smokes.
Right. And if all else fails, you can sacrifice your cat with the CD. So it's got that going for it as well.
Christiansen's strident buzzsaw prog approach sounds just like the early days of emo--back before it was called that, of course. But there's a strong Jawbox feel to this album. And that's a good thing, really. Because few bands moved a sound further than that D.C. quartet.
Christiansen constantly pushes its songs to achieve more than they really can. There's a desperate anthemic feel to these clunky pieces, which often leaves a limping or lurching impression. I think that's exactly what these guys want. There's so much passion and force that the music is almost squeezed into introspection by willpower alone.
Sometimes old school is a good place to be. And when you can take those classic nuggets and forge something even more beautiful, well, you've done your job as an artist. These boys have impressed from the first song I heard. This album is no different.
In fact, I think this is easily the band's most complete effort. The writing is so dense, so thick with ideas and implied thought that it's impossible to work through everything at once. Listen again, and you'll hear an even better album. Masterful.
Desert City Soundtrack
These boys really impressed me with their album last year, and this one picks right up where that left off. The trend of using piano and horns in punk music (in a non-ska setting, that is) is still coming over the horizon, but I like the approach. Take the energy and vitality of punk and add some new melodic elements.
Desert City Soundtrack, of course, isn't particularly melodic. It's more like the melodies are implied. The vocals are distinctly off-kilter, and the music rambles in and out of tune. Or, if Christiansen is a rougher-edged update of Jawbox, let's say these folks are a more raucous Archers of Loaf.
Indeed, the approach is very similar. Even the most blistering track is still based on a piano line, and the songs tend to clump themselves somewhat clumsily around whatever idea the keys are providing. You might think this sounds messy. It is. Sublimely so.
A step forward. And if you recall that last year's album was a feature, well, that's saying something. Desert City Soundtrack has a hold of something truly special. If the band continues to hew this road, well, greatness just might emerge.
For No One in Particular
For No One in Particular
I'm not entirely sure if "For No One in Particular" is the name of an act or simply the name of the album. The players are Billy Martin and Grant Calvin Weston on all sorts of percussion (Weston adds some trumpet when necessary) and DJ Logic (Jason Kibler) on turntable. The key here is that this is a live recording. Really.
So what we're dealing with here is an astonishingly exciting fusion of electronic effects, beats from hip-hop and the entire world beyond and a seriously whacked-out vision of jazz. I know that description doesn't do the music justice. But it will have to do.
This album is the sort of thing that could only happen in a few places in the world, spots where the creative mass is so combustible that folks wander in and out of gigs, scenes and sounds without worrying about propriety. New York, where this album was recorded, has been one of those places since, you know, forever. But it's not just a place that makes this album great. It's the willingness of the three guys here to take astonishing chances--and work together--that makes this disc so amazing.
Not to disparage any rock drummer in particular, but this is no mere hour-long drum solo. Percussion involves a bewildering array of instruments and sounds, and Martin and Weston seem to work as many of them into this performance as possible. This is life-blood.
You Know the Rules
Much like Young and Sexy (reviewed later in this issue), I've never quite gotten into the Gay. Which is odd, because I've often felt this sort of psychic connection to the folks at Mint. They seem to like the same sorta off-kilter pop that I do. I just found the earlier Gay stuff to be a bit too mannered for my taste. Good, mind you, but just off my radar.
Not so here. Maybe I've matured; maybe the band has subtly altered its attention to craft. You've got me. But I like this album. There's enough sweetness in the hooks to offset some of the excess structure.
What mean by that is that the Gay pays very close attention to what it is playing. These aren't simple three-chord songs. There's a definite Bacharachian affectation to the melodies. Sometimes notes are added for very little discernible reason. When that works, it's kitschy. It's cool. On this album, it's cool most of the time.
The Gay is the sort of band that college music geeks love. I always sneered at this stuff back when I was in school some (gasp) 15 years ago, but it's grown on me since. Whatever the reason, and for whatever it's worth, I like this album. These folks sure have studied their music theory, and they make it sound quite fun.