Welcome to A&A. There are 12 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 #249 reviews
(January 2004)

  • Battery Life Shotgun Loudmouth (Avebury)
  • Brando 943 Recluse (Mr. Whiggs-Recordhead/Luna Music)
  • Firewater Songs We Should Have Written (Jetset)
  • Friz Looking for Green EP (Tinderbox)
  • Scott Laurent The Truth Is Lies (No Alternative)
  • Mike Lowry Band Mike Lowry Band (self-released)
  • Masonic Too Far. Too Fast. Too Soon (self-released)
  • Monster-0 Entertainment System EP (Omega Point)
  • Mushroomhead XIII (Universal)
  • The Paper Chase What Big Teeth You Have EP (Southern)
  • The Safes Family Jewels (self-released)
  • Willard Grant Conspiracy Regard the End (Kimchee)
  • Come together, old friends: Compilations and re-issues
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Battery Life
    Shotgun Loudmouth

    Back when I was a pup in college, I listened to bands like the Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo and Soul Asylum play to "crowds" of a dozen or two. And those were the "big" bands. Plenty of other acts slid up and down the roots-punk axis, but most of them didn't even leave a CD tombstone. Battery Life could be one of those. And I mean that in the best way possible.

    The feeling is nice and loose, somewhere between Made to Be Broken and the rougher edges of No Depression. These boys claim to be simply a punk band that likes pop music, but the truth is even more complicated.

    What is true is that the songs are plentiful, short and well-cut. There is an underlying bombast which provides plenty of power. But the melodies are as much Gram Parsons as they are Bob Mould, with cloudy lyrics casting a pleasant pall over bright hooks.

    Reminds me way too much of those dollar-pitcher-of-Natural-Light evenings of days gone by. And I suppose there aren't an awful lot of folks like me who did time in midwestern colleges in the late 80s and early 90s, but hell, you gotta take nostalgia where you find it. These boys play my kind of music. Period.

    Avebury Records
    22287 Mulholland Highway
    Suite 98
    Calabasas, CA 91302
    e-mail: aveburyrecords@aveburyrecords.com
    www: http://www.aveburyrecords.com

    943 Recluse
    (Recordhead/Mr. Whiggs-Luna Music)

    In the beginning, Brando was a band. Then, after a series of starts and stops, it became mostly Derek Richey and Josh Seib. Now Richey has hooked up with many of his "original" mates (and, of course, newer compatriot Seib) and made the "band" a sorta full-time thing.

    While I thought the recording-geek phase of the band was pretty cool, this new band phase is much more satisfying. These songs still sound a lot like some sort of one-man-band effort, but the band really fleshes out the sound. It's a trippy thing; the excessive idiosyncrasy is still present, but a lot of people are working hard to make it sing.

    And, like many obsessive bands, these boys do remind me a bit of the Lips. Of the 1980s. Without so much distortion. But with all the loopy inspiration and manic, introverted energy.

    The songs just keep lurching along. There are moments when I wonder if Brando can actually make it to the end of the song. I love that sort of tension. It really makes listening to an album that much more intense. And, by the way, Brando always finishes what it begins...in the most pleasing manner possible.

    Luna Music
    1521 W. 86th St.
    Indianapolis, IN 46260
    Phone (317) 875-5863
    Fax [317] 875-5880
    e-mail: lunamusic@netdirect.net
    www: http://www.lunamusic.net

    Songs We Should Have Written

    Exactly what it claims to be: Firewater performing songs written by other folks. Not unlike the recent side outing by Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham, where the Luna frontpeople decided to dabble (mostly) in the works of others. And as it happens, Tod A invites the divine Ms. Phillips along for the ride here (to provide the sometimes necessary female vocals), and he does have fine taste in song. But really, is this a good idea? I mean, Firewater is known for some of the best songsmithing around. An album of covers? That would be like Bob Dylan doing an album of Tin Pan Alley tunes, right?

    Maybe. The choice of songs here is impeccable. Weird, sure. After all, there are songs made famous by the likes of Sonny and Cher, Frank and Nancy Sinatra (one of each) and Peggy Lee. Plus "Hey Bulldog," "Paint It Black" and, truly inexplicably, a mental-breakdown version of "This Little Light of Mine." I suppose you can tell where he's coming from.

    Oh, yeah, there are songs by Tom Waits and Robyn Hitchcock, and a version of "Folsom Prison Blues" that sounds more Copshootcop than Firewater, though I suppose the distinction is minimal at this point. There then is the question: Is this really necessary?

    Of course not. But it is a lot of fun. And in so many ways, it opens a door on the songwriting mind of Tod A. Not a pretty place, not at all, but an interesting spot to visit now and again. I have but one request: Get to work on the new album soon, okay?

    67 Vestry St. 5C
    New York, NY 10013
    Phone (212) 625-0202
    Fax [212] 625-0303
    www: http://www.jetsetrecords.com

    Looking for Green EP
    (Tinderbox Music)

    Punchy power pop that manages--surprisingly easily--to separate itself from the madding crowd. Friz isn't afraid to rock out or to succumb to throaty harmonizing, but those little cheesy bits are like the pimiento in the olive. Eye-catching and tasty, as long as there aren't too many.

    Every one of these songs reminds me of another few songs I've heard. And after deconstructing them, all I can figure out is that Friz has downloaded the contents of my mind and scrambled it into the songs on this disc. That or the boys have a particularly fun way of exhibiting their influences.

    Way too fun to bring a frown. Friz isn't the most original or brilliant band around, but these songs are more than solid. They're electrifying. Way better than they should be. And that's more than good enough.

    Tinderbox Music
    600 Washington Ave. North
    Suite 102
    Minneapolis, MN 55401
    www: http://www.tinderboxmusic.com

    Scott Laurent
    The Truth Is Lies
    (No Alternative)

    Scott Laurent has that raspy feel to his voice that at once sounds real and pretentious. His songs are ambitious, rootsy pop songs--more possibilities for pomposity. But to be completely truthful, Laurent never gets overbearing.

    Even when his production pulls every trick in the book--shifting sounds in the middle of songs, dropping in somewhat jarring instrumentation, etc.--the songs themselves stay completely true. Real. The first part of what I mentioned. Laurent doesn't make it easy to like his music, but he succeeds nonetheless.

    Like I noted, the sound of this disc is all over the place. Mostly, it's a brooding affair, but the pieces might sound tinny one moment and lusciously full the next. All this knob-twisting works, though. The songs do sound better after going through the wringer.

    So maybe you were listening to some Small Faces or old, old Rod Stewart and you wonder how someone so impossibly talented could have recorded a song like "Have I Told You Lately?" Well, Scott Laurent has a similar knack for telling stories in his songs, and his songs don't suck. In fact, they're pretty damned good.

    No Alternative
    600 Washington Ave. North
    Suite 102
    Minneapolis, MN 55401
    Phone: (612) 220-6555
    e-mail: jon@noalternative.com

    Mike Lowry Band
    Mike Lowry Band

    Mike Lowry looks fifteen. He might be twenty-five. Hard to say. But he's a young guy. And what he's doing is playing the blues. Quite well, thank you.

    Okay, so the stuff is really damned loud. It would be easy to dismiss Lowry as some punk white kid who's trying to glom off ancient traditions. And, you know, there is an element of truth in that. But Lowry wrote all these songs, and they're solid. A bit overblown at times, but solid.

    Of interest to me is the fact that Lowry's impressive guitar playing isn't cranked up in the mix. Rather, it's the rest of his band, particularly the keyboards (or organ or whatever is playing on a particular song) that predominates. I'd dial that stuff back and allow his lean licks to come forward just a bit. When it comes to the blues, I'm a meat and potatoes guy. Give my salad to the cow.

    Lowry has a fine range as a songwriter as well. Not every song works--Lowry writes more from craft than inspiration--but most do. I'm generally the first person to wail on this sort of album, but Lowry has impressed me. Let him get his heart broken a few more times, and he just might start a fire.

    MLB Records
    P.O. Box 80841
    Atlanta, GA 30366
    www: http://www.mikelowryband.com

    Too Far. Too Fast. Too Soon

    Three guys with the last name Mason, a guy named Mike on bass and a girl named Leah singing. Sometimes, it's the simplest of formulas that works the best.

    I've always been a sucker for highly-rhythmic melodic rock. Think Magnapop (first album). That sorta thing. Masonic is definitely a bit more understated, but that just makes the hooks that much more endearing.

    The flat production sound lends a seedy feel to the affair. Three bourbons to the wind, giving the eye to something that probably isn't worth wrecking a relationship in any way, shape or form. Yeah, I feel a bit slutty, but it's so damned easy. Just let it flow.

    So I will. And I won't feel bad about it the next morning, either. Masonic makes this stuff sound effortless, though it surely isn't. That breezy feel is what will bring me back again and again.

    Phone (512) 417-8407
    e-mail: masonic@masonictheband.com
    www: http://www.masonictheband.com

    Entertainment System EP
    (Omega Point)

    The new wave of new wave is in full swing, and Monster-0 (that's a zero, not an "o") takes advantage of modern electronic styles to flavor its synth-based sound. Oh, did I happen to mention that the "band" is Daemon Hatfield. But of course.

    This is a lot more Dare than techno. There's even a cover of "The Politics of Dancing," if you were confused as to where Hatfield hangs his hat. His version is strangely devoid of warmth--odd in that many of the other songs here are hardly chilly at all.

    Though this isn't laptop pop for the masses, not by a long shot. Rather, these are electronic anthems for those just off the beaten path. Hatfield also calls himself the "Laptop Ninja." Yeah, okay. Silliness is always a good thing. As long as the music is solid. And this certainly fits the bill.

    Omega Point Records
    4546 N. Damen #313
    Chicago, IL 60625
    www: http://www.omegapointrecords.com


    I reviewed Mushroomhead's first album, and I was somewhat surprised to watch it get picked up by Universal and then break out. It wasn't that I thought the music wasn't good enough--rather, I just didn't have the confidence in the masses. Foolish me.

    So anyway, here's the second Mushroomhead album. The boys have cleaned up their sound a bit, but for the most part that crunchy Sepultura meets Fear Factory meets Faith No More sound is still in fine form. The songs are tighter--if not better, exactly--and the production is slicker.

    Which makes this something like the band's Angel Dust, to take that FNM comparison further down the road. I don't get quite the visceral thrills that arrived with XX, but I do feel a deepening appreciation for what these guys are doing.

    So I like this moderate evolution. I think this album might stick with me a bit longer, even if it doesn't get my blood steaming quite so quickly. Rarely does metal this catchy have a soul this deep.

    1775 Broadway
    New York, NY 10019
    Phone (212) 373-0697
    www: http://www.universalrecords.com

    The Paper Chase
    What Big Teeth You Have EP

    Perhaps the Paper Chase is the band everyone wishes they had. Appearing on yet another label (sort of; its previous Beatville releases came out on Southern in Europe), these imaginative boys toss off three unreleased tracks, one of their own and pieces by Jacques Brel and Roger Waters.

    You know Roger Waters, at least, right? I have to say that I am only now beginning to understand the lengths to which the Paper Chase will go to try and reinvent that thing we all call music. I mean, the boys know melody. They know rhythm. They know how to play a plethora of instruments and make a myriad of intelligible sounds. And yet, often enough, they don't.

    More specifically, the moments of clarity are separated by great expanses of freakish nonsense. Except that it's not nonsense at all. Which is why this stuff is, indeed, frighteningly brilliant. I don't claim to understand it all, but I can hear enough to know that the Paper Chase is on the trail of something truly astonishing.

    Southern Records
    P.O. Box 577375
    Chicago, IL 60657
    www: http://www.southern.com

    The Safes
    Family Jewels

    Just some brothers named O'Malley from Chicago (or thereabouts). Playing power pop that ranges from basher punk to rockabilly to dreamy 60s stuff (sometimes even in the same song), these boys simply refuse to let this album get dull.

    There is something of a stock Safes sound, though, and it's not too far off from the more tuneful moments of Screeching Weasel or the Queers. Which does, in fact, make a lot of sense. The other bits are a fine window dressing touch, but that crunchy core is what keeps these songs moving.

    The production is shiny, but not excessively so. The pieces pop out easily, and the mix gives every part the proper space. Nothing mindblowing, but good enough to impress me.

    As do the Safes. Some folks know how to do punk well. Some even manage to lift themselves above the faceless masses. The Safes accomplish both, kicking out a most enjoyable album along the way.

    P.O. Box 254
    Park ridge, IL 60068
    www: http://www.thesafes.com

    Willard Grant Conspiracy
    Regard the End

    Robert Fisher and Simon Alpin wrote most of the songs here, and they're joined by a cast of more than a dozen. Recorded in Slovenia (really!), this album sounds more like a one-man effort than a collective.

    But maybe that's what it is, after all. Fisher has the bulk of the writing credits, and I assume that's him doing most of the singing. The songs themselves are these gorgeously dark rambles, something that brings to mind the sight of a midwestern dust storm a few minutes before impact.

    I suppose that might be a bit of an obscure reference. These songs are well-crafted and produced to elicit a decidedly spooky sound. There's a good amount of reverb, and when the fiddle wails I do get a bit of a Dirty Three chill. Works like a charm, too.

    Just when I think things can't get more desolate or bleak, there's a killer of a last line. The lyrics follow in the tradition of the blues. This works well, even if the music itself is anything but bluesy. The end result is, strangely, uplifting and affirming. Survival is something of a task, but it does bring great rewards.

    Kimchee Records
    6 Sagamore Road
    Ipswich MA 01938
    Phone: (978) 356-0093
    e-mail: info@kimcheerecords.com
    www: http://www.kimcheerecords.com

    Come together, old friends:

    Absolute Grey Greenhouse 20th Anniversary Expanded Edition 2xCD (DBK Works-Paisley Pop)
    The first album from this Rochester, N.Y., quartet. Some folks may recognize Mitch Razor, who played bass. The songs are reminiscent of the early indie-pop days. This set includes a disc of live material from the same period. The remastered album sounds great--and not terribly dated. The live stuff is cool, but as you might imagine, somewhat lacking in fidelity at times. In all, a fine package.

    Action Now All Your Dreams...and more 1981-1984 (Avebury)
    This includes the band's All Your Dreams album and a healthy portion of live recordings as well. Perhaps best known for lead singer Paula Pierce (who went on to form the Pandoras), Action Now also features 2/3 of the band Battery Life (reviewed in this issue). There are a couple early versions of what became Pandoras songs, but mostly this disc is enjoyable for what it is: solid early-80s punk pop.

    Garageland Last Exit to Garageland (Foodchain)
    As if there weren't already enough "lost" Kiwi pop bands, here comes Garageland. This disc is a re-issue of the band's first album, with plenty of extras thrown in. Like most New Zealand pop bands, Garageland is no stranger to noise, but it always, always finds a quirky hook on which to hang its hat.

    Various Artists Describing Paranoia (Parasomnic)
    The label name (and the album title, for that matter) describes the material here quite well. The bands are Anaphylaxis, Hollydrift, Kava Project and the Devouring Element. There's a lot of electronic noise and samples, with a certain artistic flair that makes this stuff so intriguing. Quite a fine set for those of us who like to chew on live wires.

    Various Artists Definitive Jux Presents 3 (Def Jux)
    If you still haven't caught on to one of the most innovative labels of the hip-hop underground (and enough people have gotten on the bandwagon to ensure that Def Jux won't be "underground" for much longer), this set will educate you properly. Tracks from El-P, Aesop Rock, RJD2 and others will inspire adulation.

    Various Artists Delta Masters (Dogfingers)
    It's one thing to have normal rock artists play some classic blues licks. But to have whacked-out bands like Rube Waddell and Loraxx--16 such acts, in total--take a pound of flesh out of some of the meanest, lowest blues around, well, that requires a certain genius. Purists on all sides will cringe, but this is one freaky good disc.

    Various Artists Dielectric Records Volume One (Dielectric)
    Five artists with six songs from 12" records released on Dielectric--plus 10 more songs, to boot. Dielectric traffics in electronic noise of a fairly industrial bent. These songs (as it were) are out to wreak havoc. Oh, and if you're so inclined, you might dance to them. Though that would require a certain aggressive sense of rhythm.

    Also recommended:

    Apocalypse Pow! Smash the Superstition EP (Pop Faction)
    Ragged, garage-style pop--complete with organ! There's a strong whiff of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs here, but Apocalypse Pow! acquits itself well on its own terms. These folks are a bit more polished (as it were). No matter who sounds like what, I really like this style of fuzzy and mean rock and roll.

    The Bellakun ...Cantar para Espantar la Soledad EP (Has Anyone Ever Told You?)
    These six songs come in just shy of 30 minutes, which makes this a rather long EP. The Bellakun likes to play with languages (the title is in Spanish, and the title of the first track is in German), and that somewhat loopy feeling is here in the music as well. Think Three Mile Pilot with a bit more of the moody post-rock. These songs wander all over the place, but they're always in the right spot at the right time.

    Castle Oldchair Sad Pants (Standard Recording Co.)
    The liner notes are printed backwards on the sleeve, but that's nothing compared to the music. The first track is called "Backwords," and as near as I can tell, it was recorded backwards. The rest of the songs are somewhat more straightforward moody roots pop tunes, but that demented sense of creativity flows throughout. There's always something lurking around each corner.

    Dielectric Drone All-Stars Dr. One 2xCD (Dielectric)
    Six folks (many of whom are featured on the Dielectric sampler) and six songs spread over two discs. The clever title (is that a pun? I don't think it qualifies...) describes what lies within. Music for the questing and patient mind. Those seeking cheap and easy gratification can go elsewhere. This noise is only for the true believers.

    The Emergency How Can You Move? (self-released)
    Not many bands list their influences as the Who, Husker Du, Cheap Trick and Grand Funk. Though, when you think about it, more folks should. The Emergency has Rick Neilsen's meta take on culture and music, the ability to rock out and isn't afraid to pander when the moment calls for it. I'd like to hear the band after more seasoning, but this bite wasn't bad at all.
    313B Cobun Ave.
    Morgantown, WV 26505
    e-mail: rob@theemergency.net
    www: www.theemergency.net

    Every Last Windmill Shall Fall Duck, Duck, Grey Duck (self-released)
    This is the first "promo-only" self-released disc I've received in my 12+ years of doing A&A. Not that I'm complaining. Just an observation. Anyway, this is the latest utterance from the stable of Kent Randell, and it's a rather diverse set of moody roots rock. Kinda folky at times, simply kinda weird at others. One moment you're in Sixteen Horsepower country, and the next you're slogging through the fields of June of 44. And then Randell and pals let go, and I can't even explain anything anymore.
    www: http://www.everylastwindmill.com

    Hatebreed The Rise of Brutality (Universal)
    After a more than a decade, major labels are once again going after some seriously heavy bands. Hatebreed is a solid member of the extreme gang, pounding out blistering riffage and growling along with the best of them. Hardcore anthems for a new generation.

    Tom Heinl With or Without Me (Leisure King)
    Heinl lists Tom T. Hall as one of his "creative consultants," and there's no better comparison to make. These jokey country songs are heavier on the schmaltz than the authenticity, right down to the "stereoke" instrumentals which follow the album itself. Corny? Yeah. But more often than not, funny as well.

    Peter London Run Away EP (Atlas)
    London sounds like all those AOR singers of the mid-80s--voice just a bit husky, but with a wonderful full sound. He writes songs in a moderately more modern manner, though it's not hard to imagine these pieces as being the bastard child of, say, Live and John Taylor. Not necessarily my cup of tea, but London really does have a good handle on the sound.

    Sadaharu Anthem for New Sonic Warfare (CI)
    Sadaharu would like to be the Refused. These boys aren't quite that good, but the fact that they even came close is remarkable. The 10 post-hardcore ripostes here are blistering attacks on society at large. And they're impossible to ignore. Consider yourself warned.

    The Staggers The Staggers Will Make Hundreds (self-released)
    Not-entirely-serious bashers. It's hard to be pretentious when you lead off your album with "Last Great Piece of Ass." The music is cruder than the lyrics--by far--which is probably why I dig it so much. Cheap and easy is more than acceptable to me.
    www: http://www.thestaggers.com

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