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 #248 reviews
(December 2003)

  • Against Me! As the Eternal Cowboy (Fat Wreck Chords)
  • Black Spartacus Andromeda (Asaurus)
  • The Bother The Night Bleeds Gold (Three Ring Records)
  • The Bravado Intimate with Slaves EP (self-released)
  • Choking Ahogo Radars and Maps (Victim Records)
  • Corsicana/Kobald Impromptu Caber Toss EP (This Record Label)
  • Crooked Roads Love, Again (self-released)
  • Curl Up and Die But the Past Ain't Through with Us Yet EP (Revelation)
  • Drug Money Mtn Cty Jnk (Hybrid)
  • God Fights Dirty Meow (self-released)
  • The Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet 13 Themes for a Triskaidekaphobic (pfMENTUM)
  • Katie Levent My Eyes are Watching You (Elite Records)
  • Lopside 37 (self-released)
  • Mr. Airplane Man C'mon DJ (Sympathy for the Record Industry)
  • Oliver Future Oliver Future (Lily White)
  • Savath & Savalas Apropa't (Warp)
  • Ron Sunshine Deluxe (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Against Me!
    As the Eternal Cowboy
    (Fat Wreck Chords)

    The thing about the Clash is that the boys made it cool to play all sorts of music through a punk filter. To make a more distinct reference to this disc, Against Me! reminds me of the Clash, but only in the way the folks kinda lope their way through all sorts of punkish fare.

    There are the recognized punk subgroups (a little oi here, a little ska there) and then some country and a whole mess of other stuff besides. What ties all these disparate sounds together is the loosey-goosey playing style. These guys just let it all hang out.

    The stuff is quite well-produced, but it's not sharp or clean. There's a nice, dull edge to the sound (reminds me of the Wedding Present at times, particularly on the song "A Brief Yet Triumphant Intermission," which could easily be from the Weddoes lost files) that keeps this disc a low-key affair.

    Nothing spectacular. Simply good music played with punk style. Good music for good times. Or does that sound too much like a beer commercial?

    Fat Wreck Chords
    P.O. Box 193690
    San Francisco, CA 94119-3690
    e-mail: mailbag@fatwreck.com
    www: http://www.fatwreck.com

    Black Spartacus

    Black Spartacus is Kevin Hume (the younger), a fine young man who makes his home in the Big Q (Albuquerque, for those who aren't old Lies Magazine devotees). Hume plays pleasant little pop songs processed through an often bewildering array of electronic noises and effects.

    Pleasant is more the operative term than pop. These songs are as much Tin Pan Alley fragments as they are modern pop pieces. They remind me sometimes of the sort of thing that might pop out of an organ grinder.

    And that's pretty cool, in my book. Hume is a damned creative guy. The songs themselves are real charmers, and whatever electronic additions he makes fit in quite well. They augment, rather than detract from, the whole.

    A fine, understated little gem of a disc. This is no spectacular spectacular, but that doesn't mean there's a shortage of great stuff.

    Asaurus Records
    P.O. Box 0664
    Allen Park, MI 48101-0664
    e-mail: records@asaurus.org
    www: http://www.asaurus.org/records

    The Bother
    The Night Bleeds Gold
    (Three Ring Records)

    While the whole singer-songwriter thing is tres trendy these days, William Rahilly insists on doing things his own way. And all by himself, to boot.

    Fans of Smog will smile at Rahilly's idiosyncratic singing style and his unusual methods of using effects, samples and noise. These songs are much folkier and less-populated than those of Mr. Callahan, but the resemblance is still striking.

    Perhaps the most obvious connection is the way these seemingly simple songs evolve into complex beings. Rahilly isn't content to do anything the normal or ordinary way. He's always pushing himself to find a new way of expressing an old thought. Good impulse, that.

    The sort of album that keeps rolling along until you realize that you've spent your entire day listening to the thing over and over again. Rahilly's songwriting is entrancing. The spell is difficult to break. I'm not sure I want to, anyway.

    Three Ring Records
    e-mail: threeringrecords@yahoo.com
    www: http://www.threeringrecords.com

    The Bravado
    Intimate with Slaves

    Fuzzy, glam-drenched rock from a couple guys in Columbus. Reminds me a bit of Royal Trux (the crunchy period), and not just because of the way these guys process Donny Monaco's vocals and split up the instrumental duties. There's a vague, anarchic spirit in the songs themselves, like they're about to blow up any second.

    Loads of distortion, but the production is extremely clean. Which means that the fuzz is sharp rather than soft and cushy. These songs have an edge, and the sound helps express those further.

    There's also a bit of Jon Spencer here, both in the occasional blues references and the production style. Monaco and partner Seth Massing sure know where to find inspiration. Hey, you might as well emulate the best, right?

    The strange thing about these five songs is that they're all so easily accessible. A small indie label would be most comfortable releasing this, but I can also imagine a major label putting this puppy out as is. Very few folks have that sort of wide-ranging sensibility. A most impressive set of tunes.

    e-mail: sethmassing@aol.com
    www: http://www.thebravado.iuma.com

    Choking Ahogo
    Radars and Maps

    A fine little three-piece, Choking Ahogo plays fine little rock songs. Nothing complicated or particularly unusual. Except, of course, that the stuff is really good.

    There are few distinguishing marks. I guess the easiest way to describe the sound would be to call it muscular, refined indie rock kinda stuff. There's a nice bit of heft in the guitars, and the production is subtle and of a remarkably high quality.

    Little things stand out, like the way the instruments are blended in the mix. Each is distinct, but there's still a nice bit of blending as well. This doesn't sound like much, but you'd surprised how hard it is to accomplish.

    The same goes for the songwriting, which takes on a number of different ideas and manages to make them all sound like Choking Ahogo. Again, this is a subtle trick, but the end result is a real winner of an album. A lot of little things add up to something great here.

    4203 Cliffwood Cove
    Austin, TX 78759
    e-mail: info@chokingahogo.com
    www: http://www.chokingahogo.com

    Impromptu Caber Toss split EP

    Kobald is a band that includes the Brian and Chris of the band Brian and Chris. Corsicana is another band plying the post rock waves. At first glance I couldn't find a song list or even a note explaining who is playing what where. Then I turned the liner page over. Duh. Anyway, there are six songs. They're mostly instrumental. Without the note, I would have guessed that the stuff was by the same band--the differences are there, but minor. And that's cool with me.

    See, when the music is cool and inventive and constantly evolving, I really don't care who is playing it or what the name of the song might be. There's something quite intriguing about an almost anonymous disc. You can imagine it to be whatever you like.

    Well, I don't have to imagine this one to be good. It's taken care of that all on its own. I just have to let the music run and let my mind bask in the glow. A fine feeling, it is.

    This Record Label
    P.O. Box 40849
    San Francisco, CA 94140-0849
    www: http://www.thisrecordlabel.com

    Crooked Roads
    Love, Again

    Chris Dingman is the songwriter and the singer. Crooked Roads is the band. Reminds me a lot of Chris Cacavas and Junkyard Love. That is, vaguely southern-fried country-rock songs--more Gram Parsons than Black Crowes.

    There's also more than a bit of the ol' Uncle Tupelo chunk to the chords, riffs that are thick enough to grill. That Dingman's voice is slightly reminiscent of Jay Farrar's (kind of the perfect cross of Mark Olson and Farrar, really) helps me make that connection.

    These are songs in the classic style, with titles like "Blue," "I'd Rather Be with Her," "Please Forgive Me" and "Without You." I think all of those titles have been used many, many times before, but Dingman infuses them with a new, invigorated feeling.

    Just a pretty, laid-back kinda album. There's plenty of joy and pain, love and betrayal and all the other stuff that makes old country music so damned satisfying. Dingman and Crooked Roads are one hell of a throwback. And that's definitely a good thing.

    Chris Dingman
    1937 Delaware St. #C
    Berkeley, CA 94709
    e-mail: crookedroadsband@aol.com
    www: http://www.crookedroadsband.com

    Curl Up and Die
    But the Past Ain't Through with Us EP

    Only four songs. Three short ones and something approaching an extreme symphony. I guess you might as well call a song like that "God Is in His Heaven, and All Is Right with the World."

    What I like about these boys is that they're more than willing to try out new ideas. Curl Up and Die takes a lot of chances with its music. That last track is awash in all sorts of little studio tricks. It could be just a mess, but instead it comes out as a truly inspired bit of work.

    Loud, crazy and truly unique. I've said it before, but it bears repeating: There's a lot of loud music out there that's worth serious consideration. These boys make great music. Period.

    P.O. Box 5232
    Huntington Beach, CA 92615
    Phone (714) 375-4264
    Fax [714] 375-4266
    www: http://www.revelationrecords.com

    Drug Money
    Mtn Cty Jnk

    The slick production on this album screams "big time!" The songs themselves just might get these boys a good ways up the mountain.

    Following the same processed power-pop approach as Fountains of Wayne, Drug Money adds its own touches to the sound. There's a little bluesy guitar solo here and some nicely crusty noise there. The songs themselves are built around great hooks, and the boys aren't afraid to exploit that sweet sugar for all its worth.

    The funny thing about this sort of music is that it simply works or it doesn't. There's very little middle ground. It's possible to quibble about some of the arrangements (though I wouldn't), but either the hooks set or they don't. Drug Money yanks hard on the line and should snag listeners by the boatload.

    While there's plenty of interesting stuff noodling around the core, this disc is nonetheless a simple pleasure. Fuzzy, yet sharp, pop is hard to resist, especially when it's done so well.

    Hybrid Recordings
    1515 Broadway, 36th Floor
    New York, NY 10036

    God Fights Dirty

    Unrepentantly unrefined, God Fights Dirty churns through a steady diet of strangely normal grunge songs.

    What I mean is that there's no bombast in the production. The songs avail themselves of grunge-style riffage, but the guitar and bass don't use a lot of distortion and there aren't many effects, either. The anthemic roll of the songs sounds familiar, but rather unusual in this indie rock guise.

    I can't imagine these guys going anywhere. The songs are cool, and I really like the way the bombastic riffs are undercut by the lean sound. It's just that the kids tend to like to have stuff handed to them on a platter, and God Fights Dirty is always a few degrees off-kilter.

    Which is probably why I like it. My digging a band is usually the kiss of death. So pucker up, boys. Here comes...

    Ram Productions
    714 Bainbridge St.
    Philadelphia, PA 19147
    Phone (215) 829-0518
    e-mail: phila1233@aol.com
    www: http://www.godfightsdirty.com

    The Jeff Kaiser Ockodektet
    13 Themes for a Triskaidekaphobic

    Triskaidekaphobia, of course, is the fear of the number thirteen. An ockodektet might be an 18-person ensemble, though none of my dictionaries list the word. In any case, there are 18 people (plus Jeff Kaiser) working their way through some really fun (and warped, of course) compositions here. And as usual, I'm impressed.

    This is Mothers of Invention kind of stuff. Or maybe it's more relevant to Zappa's later orchestral period. At times it's neither. At times, it's both. I think you get my drift. It sounds like Kaiser has written out these pieces fairly strictly, but I think there are improvisational moments as well. A blurb of spontaneity here and there within the inscribed explorations.

    Basically, this is avant-garde composition done well. Kaiser doesn't much like to stick to the ordinary, but his flights of fancy are always unique and creative. He doesn't "get weird" just for the sake of making listeners shake their heads. Rather, he travels unusual pathways so that the listeners can discover a new and exciting window on existence.

    I like unusual music of all kinds, but Kaiser's one of my favorites. He knows how to use the experimental in ways that are approachable. And he creates works of lasting impact. This disc is another amazing outing.

    P.O. Box 1653
    Ventura, CA 93002
    www: http://www.pfmentum.com

    Katie Levent
    My Eyes Are Watching You
    (Elite World)

    People often call, write or send e-mail describing what they do and ask if I want to review the disc. I always say I can't judge anything until I hear it. This disc is a good example. I'm not a big fan of the current r&b scene, and that's where Katie Levent is aiming. The thing is, she's got an interesting twist to the sound.

    Some folks might already have noticed that Levent's name is strikingly similar to the Levant, an old-fashioned name for the Middle East. And indeed, the melodies and even the beats have an exotic flair. On the best songs, the stuff sounds a lot like Egyptian or Lebanese pop. And even on the more conventional bits, there's just a hint of spice.

    Levent's voice is good, though as with most pop r&b stuff, it's really hard to say much more than that. The production is solid, much better than most self-released divas. A fine package, all the way around.

    I wish Levent would do more songs like "Table Dance For 2," "Nothin' to It" or the title track. All three are more hip-hop than the rest of the album, but they also utilize more of the Middle Eastern flavor. Levent should focus on how she's different than all the other young women trying to become a star. Then maybe, who knows?

    Elite World Records
    2451 McMullen Booth Road
    Clearwater, FL 33759
    www: www.katielevent.com


    I'm a firm believer that it's fairly easy to predict what an album will sound like by looking at the album cover. The same goes for the web site. Lopside's web site has a few pictures and a short note explaining that all Lopside CDs are $6 postpaid. And that's about it.

    Dean Hinds (who is Lopside) seems to have gotten all that right. This is minimalist electronic fare. Not really in the ambient, but more like low-key melodic explorations of the barely conscious.

    What beats that exist are similarly naked, but that doesn't mean they're dull. Rather, Hinds has stripped away every unnecessary device, leaving only the elements that are more important. In that way, these cool (as in not quite cold) pieces acquire a humanity that other, more overloaded ones could not.

    Hinds challenges listeners, but he also embraces them, dropping many small treats along the journey. I know I'm supposed to judge music on its merits and not its price, but man, $6 is a steal for this stuff. Of course, $16 would also be a steal. Quite an exciting album.

    e-mail: dean@lopside.net
    www: http://www.lopside.net

    Mr. Airplane Man
    C'mon DJ
    (Sympathy for the Record Industry)

    Back when I was in college, there was one retroid duo ceaselessly touring the country in search of sales and even an amoeba-sized fan base. Didn't matter that the Flat Duo Jets were truly amazing--live and recorded. As far as old-school garage stuff that drew on rockabilly and so much more, they were it. Well, Timbuk 3 was also a madly-touring duo, but Pat and Barbara K played something else again. What a difference fifteen years makes. These days, it seems like two people playing minimalist garage-y rock and roll is the coolest thing since Robert Downey Jr. discovered smack.

    Well, if you're talking about Mr. Airplane Man, you might be right. These two women from Boston have just the right amount of bluster and bluesy brooding to carry off this sound without sounding lame or simply generic. To put it bluntly, Tara McManus and Margaret Garrett sound like an early-60s girl group that has gone and discovered acid rock. Remember the Monkees's Head? Like that. Only much, much better.

    Remember the Red Aunts? Four women devoted to playing punk music as it was meant to be played. They sounded great, but their songwriting was spotty. Mr. Airplane Man sounds incredible. There's this raw distortion in the guitars and bass that just shreds through speakers. Kinda like early Stones or Jefferson Airplane that way. In general, this album reminds me of 1964 blasted through 1968 speakers. Which is a pretty damned good idea.

    As for the writing, it's astonishingly good as well. That's the kicker for me. I'm not sure McManus and Garrett actually planned out all the sound. They just got together, wrote and played some great songs and this disc is the result of their hard work. I'm never gonna be able to get that amazing guitar sound out of my head. And I don't want to, either.

    Sympathy for the Record Industry
    www: http://www.sympathyrecords.com

    Oliver Future
    Oliver Future
    (Lily White Records)

    A couple of the guys here were once in a band called A Love Supreme. I don't know anything about that band, but the press notes say the boys wanted to be a bit less glam with Oliver Future. The strange thing is that these songs remind me of nothing less than Billy Idol's mellower moments. You know, "Eyes Without a Face."

    Well, if that song weren't so damned annoying, I guess. But you get where I'm going here. Oliver Future plays dense, punchy rock music with lots of keyboards and plenty of attitude. And, believe it or not, the stuff isn't smarmy. Which kinda blows to hell my whole Billy Idol reference. Oh well.

    The sound is rich and deeply textured. Lots of drum machines, samples, strings (real ones) and more. Oliver Future sometimes sounds like it's straining at the bit, like these guys want to break free and kick a little ass, but that tension actually adds to the enjoyment. There's nothing like a restrained beast to crank up an audience.

    I'm not entirely won over here. Oliver Future doesn't quite back up its pompous sound with the goods. Some of these songs are merely, you know, good. Life goes on. I like bands who have the balls to go for it all. Oliver Future just might have one.

    www: http://www.lilywhiterecords.com

    Savath and Savalas

    Being the duo of Eva Puyuelo Muns and Scott Herren (aka PreFuse 73). Has that cool Stereolab-style eurotrash feel, though Herren adds plenty of American hip-hop to the jams. Muns has one of those voices that immediately entrances. Which means that...

    Right. These songs ought to get just about anyone in the mood. Seductive doesn't even begin to describe the sound. I have no idea what the songs themselves say (my high school Spanish begins and ends with "dame cabeza"...or is that "dame cerveza"?), but man, someone's getting something somewhere.

    I know, I'm overdoing it a bit. To call this album a bedside jam ignores the high art appeal of the stuff. The playing is exquisite, and Herren's added touches flesh out the sound most beautifully. There's a grace and power to these pieces that is missing from the likes of Stereolab.

    As should be obvious, I worked my ass off to come up with reasons to listen to this album other than simple, visceral pleasure. Hey, it works for me. And if you really need to exercise your brain at all times, there's plenty here. Just let the love flow.

    Warp Records
    503 8th Ave.
    4th Floor
    Brooklyn, NY 11215
    www: http://www.warprecords.com

    Ron Sunshine

    If you're gonna play hipster jams, you've gotta have the lyrical chops. These smoothed-over jump blues and jazzed up Motown-era r&b songs are expertly arranged and played, but the music is still fairly normal. Ron Sunshine provides the spark that ignites the whole mess.

    Yeah, these songs are bright, incisive and witty. Not many folks would write a song comparing various drugs ("Coffee and Reefer") and then still be able to sing a sincere love song. But Sunshine not only does this, he's able to make sense of it all.

    He's not some shallow Rat Pack wannabe. Nor is he some novelty-tossing freak show. He can sing, and he can write. Yeah, he's got some great musicians behind him, but like I noted above, without the right feel and attitude at the front, all this would simply come off as a faded Vegas junket. Instead, Sunshine proves that any kind of music can sparkle if done well.

    A lot of fun, but way more than that. Sunshine's got the personality and ability to make these songs something special. Quite the disc.

    www: http://www.ronsunshine.com

    Also recommended:

    Gustavo Aguilar/Get Libre Collective Destinations (Circumvention)
    Aguilar's idea of percussion is a rather expansive one (he prefers to list what he does as "sabor drum kit, sounds"), and his compositions reflect this wide-ranging vision. Most of these works sound like they're waiting for something to happen. Well, they are. And when it does, it's hard not to be blown away.

    Beans Now Soon Someday (Warp)
    Six new tracks and three remixes from this former Anti Pop Consortium conspirator. As might be expected, the rhymes are somewhat overshadowed by the stunning beat work and exceptional sound works, but Beans has a flow all his own, and he's got plenty to say. Just the sort of disc that appeals to my experimental yet old school ears.

    Burgess Shale It's Never Enough, Is It? (Skeptical Records)
    Adventurous rock music for folks who don't mind thinking a little bit. The music itself wanders all over the place, though generally it's processed into a quirky, accessible brew. The lyrics are not quite as profound as they're intended to be, but it's always nice to hear people who are trying to say something. Never dull, and often quite exhilarating.

    Dakah Live in Los Angeles 07/05/03 2xCD (Kufala)
    Dakah calls itself a hip-hop orchestra, and it sounds like one. Imagine P-funk with a legit symphony orchestra behind it--the reworking of "Come In Out of the Rain" is a nod to Dakah's progenitors. An army of MCs and singers keep everything flowing smoothly. At times the complexity of the venture is overwhelming, but it always better to overreach than stay stuck in a rut. Pretty damned cool.

    Ernesto Diaz-Infante & Chris Forsyth (as is stated...before known) (Evolving Ear/Pax)
    Fans of these boys know what they're getting. Diaz-Infante takes acoustic guitar, and Forsyth the electric. You might think this would limit the improvisation, but not in the hands of these two. If you want grand themes struck in the fires of doom, well, go somewhere else. If you prefer a little spelunking in your subconscious, plop this puppy on and away you go.

    Electric Six Dance Commander CD5 (XL-Beggars Banquet)
    Throbbing industrial garage punk disco whatever from Detroit. The two songs here are utterly silly, but god damn they sound great. Kinda like the MC5 hooked up with My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, with more than a little Kiss and Was (Not Was) thrown in for good measure. Too good to be true.

    Electronic Barnacle Island Deeply Faulted Area Resembling an Upright Deck of Cards (self-released)
    Aaron Noel created this roiling stew of electronic noise, and as is often the case with idiosyncratic one-man operations, you either get it or you don't. I can't say that I get it, but I like it. Noel fuses innovative beat work with melody (the melody is often expressed as part of the beat) in a most interesting way. Join his journey and hear for yourself.

    EZT Goodbye Little Doll (Monitor)
    A fairly large ensemble of folks playing that moody rock stuff. Could be horribly grating, but EZT keeps its songs constantly in motion. This stuff is dark, but it's really cool as well. Both the music and lyrics are incisive, and the loose performances ensure a warm feel. Very nice.

    Mark Lane Golden State of Mind (self-released)
    Lane's favorite Beatle was George, and his favorite producer just might be Mike Campbell. There's this slightly off-kilter feel to the songs themselves, and the sound is full without getting that excessive "ringing" quality. A perfect kick-back album.
    www: http://www.marklanemusic.com

    Maxeen Maxeen (Side One Dummy)
    The band's name says it all. Maxeen is a shiny, sharp power punk pop trio. A tad overproduced, if you ask me, but the songs themselves have just enough attitude and feeling to overcome any excess bombast. Lots and lots of fun.

    The Minds Plastic Girls (Dirtnap)
    Here's something you don't get every day: a band that likes both distortion and organ. The Minds play blistering--yet melodic--tunes that instantly burn themselves into the pleasure center. Fast, loud and fuzzy--with keyboards. Way cool.

    Movietone The Sand and the Stars (Drag City)
    Is this stuff morose or simply understated and thoughtful? I'd lean toward the latter, especially when you consider the deftness of the playing. Movietone kinda wanders all over the place--sort of the Brit version of the Palace universe, I guess--but it always finds its way home. And packing a fine, if slow, tune.

    O'Keefe/Stankey/Walton/Whitehead Tunnel (Circumvention)
    There's something to be said for an improvisational quartet whose main instruments are clarinet, guitar, piano and trumpet. You tend to get a slightly different flavor of weirdness, and in this case, a highly-focused and quite exciting flavor at that. These guys have been working together for some time, and that ease is expressed on this album. These guys know how to work together to really push the sound.

    Raising the Fawn By the Warmth of Your Flame EP (Sonic Unyon)
    Another fine example of grand, ambitious roots music, Raising the Fawn throws just about everything into the mix and comes up with some really impressive "symphonic" americana. But, oh yeah, these folks are from the Great White North. Does that make this canadiana? Such questions are best left to those less silly than me.

    Scorch Faces (self-released)
    Technically proficient and pleasantly dark extreme stuff. The rhythm work here is probably most impressive, but Scorch's lyrical work is quite good as well. Like many bands, Scorch needs to work on its transitions within songs, but there's lots to like.
    P.O. Box 669
    Royal Oak, MI 48068
    www: http://www.scorchmetal.com

    Gay Tastee Gayest Hits 2xCD (Hoex)
    Gay Tastee has that reedy, thin voice that seems endemic to the world of loony singer-songwriters. Some folks think the Jad Fair thing sounds sincere. I think it sounds dorky--though it does work for Fair. Still, the songs here have a lot to say, and most of that isn't in the form of stupid jokes. The recording quality is wildly varied, and I'm not sure why this couldn't have been put on one disc--the two clock in at about 78 minutes. Whatever. For some reason, Tastee and friends left an impression on me.

    They Walk Among Us Mathematics, Art in Progress (Aeronaut)
    Epochal, sweeping tunes that simply ring out joy. I haven't really heard a band go for this warm, engaging sound in a while, and these folks really know how to make it work. Depth, grace and unmistakable good feelings--hard to beat that, isn't it?

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