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
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.
(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.
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?
Looking for Green EP
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.
The Truth Is Lies
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.
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.
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.
Entertainment System EP
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.
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.
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.
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.