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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.