Welcome to A&A. There are 16 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.

If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.

A&A #253 reviews (May 2004)
  • Butchies Make Yr Life (Yep Roc)
  • The Capsules Someone for Everyone (Urinine)
  • Country Club and the Porn Horns The Stationwagon Revolution (self-released)
  • Matt Davignon Music at 1/2 Speed (Edgetone)
  • Descendents Cool to Be You (Fat Wreck)
  • Dirty Dozen Brass Band Funeral for a Friend (Ropeadope/Artemis)
  • King Khan & His Shrines Smash Hits (Vicious Circle)
  • Josh Lederman y Los Diablos The Town's Old Fair (Coffeestain-Nine Mile)
  • Lucero That Much Further West (Tiger Style)
  • Rob McColley Sings Insults to an Ex-Girlfriend (Legal)
  • David Mead Indiana (Nettwerk America)
  • Noertker's Moxie Sketches of Catalonia Vol. 1: Suite for Dali (Edgetone)
  • Old Ghost Light Returns (Morphius)
  • Slow Jets Remain in Ether (Morphius)
  • Swissfarlo Boxed (Data Was Lost)
  • Wonwons Original Punk Super Stars (Public Eyesore)
  • All together now: Compilations, etc.
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Butchies
    Make Yr Life
    (Yep Roc)

    It's pretty rare that I get to review a local act. Once or twice a year--at most. Look at it this way: I've reviewed more albums from bands in Vilnius than I have local folks (whatever local might have meant over the 12+ years I've been doing A&A). So it's nice to get this disc from one of the true stars of the area scene.

    The easiest way to describe the Butchies is that they're Sleater-Kinney--if Sleater -Kinney was a pop band. There's the strident riffage and strained lead vocals, but that's all tied together by tight hooks and sweet harmonies. Another way to think of it: The Butchies are what the Go-Go's would have sounded like if Jane Weidlin was the most "normal" member of the band.

    The sound is sharp, which tends to emphasize the tough sides of the songs. But when rounder tones are needed, they're found. No one would mistake this for a major-label outing; the songs themselves are the power element here. And the last track, a muted rendition of the Outfield's "Your Love," is simply electrifying.

    I'm not going to make any judgment against the overall Butchies canon (I just haven't heard enough of the band's earlier, much-praised albums), but Make Yr Life is simply outstanding. Edgy and occasionally terrifying, but always, always tuneful. This tightrope isn't razor-thin; the width is more atomic in size. And the Butchies dance across in perfect time.

    Yep Roc
    P.O. Box 4821
    Chapel Hill, NC 27515
    www: http://www.yeproc.com

    The Capsules
    Someone for Everyone

    At first, I thought the name of this album was Something for Everyone. Which wouldn't be right. The Capsules play a repetitive form of pop music that is a delight to my ears but just might piss off someone with less, shall we say, eclectic taste.

    Remember My Bloody Valentine before Loveless? Something like that. The production sticks to the background, allowing Julie Shields's astonishingly voice to ring out and carry the show. I suppose there's a Galaxie 500 feel to this puppy as well, but the Capsules are a bit more varied in their approach.

    Still, the slow to mid-tempo songs move along with a light grace, and there is something of a minimalist approach to the arrangements. This is a trio, and it sounds like one. The Capsules make very little effort to disguise their numbers, but that's cool. Let the songs speak for themselves.

    Let them sing, I should say. Let Shields sing and sing and sing. These pieces play to her strengths, and she's got a few. Quite an entrancing album.

    Urinine Records
    P.O. Box 413903
    Kansas City, MO 64141
    www: http://www.urinine.com

    Country Club & the Porn Horns
    The Station Wagon Revolution

    I'm always in favor of people trying to do cool things with horns in rock music. Everything from Chicago (some of those early jams are truly incredible) to Blue Meanies to the multitude in-between. Country Club & the Porn Horns utilize some of the dissonant styles of Blue Meanies, but there's not much in the way of ska to be found here.

    Rather, the pieces whipsaw between the poles of fusion jazz (the good side, of course) and rockabilly, with often obscene spoken interludes from a guy (or character) named Wexler. Don't ask me to make sense of it.

    There's just no need. This is a band with singular requirement of its music: The stuff has to be good. It might swing, it might wail, it might screech, but it's always interesting.

    I'd imagine that these songs are completely reworked in a live setting. As incendiary as this album gets, my guess is that the show is ten times more impressive. And that's a truly frightening prospect.

    e-mail: info@ccphband.com
    www: http://www.ccphband.com

    Matt Davignon
    Music at 1/2 Speed

    Matt Davignon was just sitting around, bored off his ass (I'm extrapolating ehre, of course), when he decided to pop a 4-track into a regular cassette player. Whoa! The mind boggled. He reached back, found these recordings from the mid-90s and mastered them to half speed.

    Instead of the Chipmunks, we have the Narwhals. Or something like that. Some of these pieces were experimental to begin with. It relatively easy to pick those out. They make no sense at all. But there are a few former pop songs in there, and those turn out so damned cool. You can imagine what these things might sound like at speed (making them an octave or two higher in pitch).

    I dunno. Maybe I'm just a jaded music critic who latches on to anything that doesn't sound "normal." But I think Davignon is really on to something here. Slow down songs, and you start to really delve into their inner secrets. That or, as I noted, I'm simply trying to justify the preferences of my burned-out brain.

    Nah, this stuff is great. Once you get a load of the blown-out harmonica in track two, you'll agree. This album is an experience that never fails to excite.

    Edgetone Records
    P.O. Box 2281
    El Cerrito, CA 94530
    www: http://www.edgetonerecords.com

    Cool to Be You
    (Fat Wreck Chords)

    Before the recent "reunion" disc on Epitaph, I'd never really thought about how much Chad Price--the current ALL singer--sounds like Milo Aukerman. Much more so than Scott Reynolds or Dave Smalley. But the rest of the band is the same, so I guess it shouldn't matter who's singing. The songs themselves are fairly similar in style--though the boys in the bands swear they have a "sixth sense" when it comes to picking material for one or the other. Enough bullshit analysis. Is this album just a tired retread or does it kick ass? I think it's fair to say that many of ALL's more recent outings have been somewhat disappointing--a lot of strident anger and not nearly enough fun--but this puppy sounds good for the long haul. Even an earnest protest song like "'Merican" keeps things peppy.

    And, yes, the production is vintage Blasting Room. These boys didn't get slapped with the "caffeine punk" label for nothing. These songs percolate along at a fast clip, keeping the thick riffage churning.

    So, no, this isn't a tired retread. It's another solid latter-day Descendents album that stands up quite nicely next to the classics. The boys may have mellowed just a tad, but the occasional bit of introspection simply adds a bit more depth. Lots and lots of fun.

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

    The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
    Funeral For a Friend

    It's not like my reviewing a Dirty Dozen Brass Band album would help their sales one iota. This collection of New Orleans musicians has been legendary for as long as I can recall. I've heard plenty of their albums, own a few, and I can say for a fact that none of them suck. In fact, none of them are less than good, and most are brilliant.

    As with most DDBB albums, there's a theme here. The songs are hymns, spirituals or old-time gospel favorites, and they're played in the finest New Orleans fashion--often elegiac, but never downbeat.

    What's interesting is the use of slide and acoustic blues guitar and other "roots" elements. These touches "age" the sound here, taking me back to the "O Brother" days. If, in the worst case, this was a conscious effort to cash in on a fad, well, it still worked wonders. If there was ever a band loose enough to blend jazz, gospel and old-time roots music, it was this one.

    What was that word I used? Brilliant. Much like the second soundtrack to Kansas City (the one where the "K.C. Band" assembled to record the music for Robert Altman's movie gets high and low, low down), this album has a spontaneous feel that is invigorating and life-affirming. Precisely the sort of music you'd want to play at a funeral for a friend.

    130 Fifth Avenue
    Seventh Floor
    New York, NY 10011
    Phone (212) 414-1700
    Fax [212] 414-1703

    King Khan & His Shrines
    Smash Hits
    (Vicious Circle)

    Absolutely incendiary R&B from a Canadian who is now wandering somewhere around Europe. The label is French, and it says King Khan lives in Germany, but I'm not exactly sure how up-to-date it is. Screw all that. Listen to the music.

    When I say R&B, I'm talking about the real thing, the whole Screamin' Jay Hawkins meets James Brown kinda thing. This is rock and roll, of course, the purest distillation of the sound. The Rolling Stones approached this level a couple times, of course, but they couldn't sustain it. Very few other folks have even tried.

    But man, they should have. The energy and grooves here are enough to bring JFK back from the dead. Khan is lucky to have the Shrines backing him up; the ensemble is one of the tightest I've heard in years. I can only imagine how intense a live show might be. Khan might well be one of the few modern performers who can approach the pure sexual thrill of James Brown in his prime.

    I guess Europeans appreciate this sort of music much more than Americans. That's too damned bad. I'd love to experience the wonder of King Khan & His Shrines live. Something tells me it's precisely the sort of danger than music has been missing for decades.

    Vicious Circle
    Bordeax Cedex
    www: http://www.viciouscircle.fr

    Josh Lederman y Los Diablos
    The Town's Old Fair
    (Coffeestain Music-Nine Mile Records)

    Not unlike Firewater, which originally billed itself as "the world's worst Bar Mitzvah band," Josh Lederman y Los Diablos started life playing Irish weddings. Which might explain the occasional reference to a reel that seems to crop up now and a again.

    Mostly, though, this is old-fashioned country music--some folk, some rural blues, a healthy dose of western swing and a healthy helping of plain ol' poor white trash wailin'--the kinda stuff that folks like to call "Americana." I suppose that's as good a moniker as anything, though it sure does create a wide-ranging category. If it has room for folks like Lederman and friends, who can combine early-60s Tom Waits with Marty Robbins, the Pogues (see, I told you there was a vague Irish feel), the Jayhawks and Whiskeytown, well, I guess there should be no complaints.

    The sound here is, well, non-existent. The producer (who also mixed) did a smashing job of staying out of the way, mixing up the elements that needed a slight boost and making sure that nothing overpowered anything else. It's awfully hard to create such a transparent sound, and Darren Burke deserves full marks.

    I remember when I first heard Strangers Almanac. I still haven't recovered. This album has the same sort of powerful presence. I kept waiting for some sort of emotional letdown, a song that couldn't quite stand up with the others. It never came. By the end, I was a total wreck. And that's a very good thing, indeed.

    12 Acadia St.
    South Boston, MA 02127
    Phone (617) 435-8115
    e-mail: losdiablos@coffeestainmusic.com
    www: http://www.coffeestainmusic.com
    www: http://www.ninemilerecords.com

    That Much Further West
    (Tiger Style)

    So what if Jay Farrar had fronted the Replacements? I know, it still would have sounded like Uncle Tupelo, but indulge my fantasy. Lucero plays a snazzy, modern version of indie roots rock, complete with dressed-up production and busy song arrangements.

    But Ben Nichols really does remind me of Farrar trying to channel Paul Westerburg (not unheard of, of course), which probably also accounts for my hearing some of these pieces as a bit more snotty than they ought to be.

    And there's this odd post-grunge bass feel as well, but I'll chalk that up to Lucero working its ass off trying to create an original sound. I'm not sure the boys completely succeed--there's more pastiche than coherent thought in the arrangements--but I do like what I hear.

    There's a bonus disc here that sounds like demo versions of the songs on the album. Less production, simpler arrangements--that sort of thing. I like these rough versions better. They show off the songs better. And they prove that sometimes it's possible to overdo a good thing. Nonetheless, Lucero proves that it has the chops for the long haul.

    Tiger Style Records
    401 Broadway
    26th Floor
    New York, NY 10013-3005
    www: http://www.tigerstylerecords.com

    Rob McColley
    Sings Insults to an Ex-Girlfriend

    The full title of this album is Sings Insults to an Ex-Girlfriend and an Unrelated Song About Television, Because How Much Can You Really Say About One Not Very Complex, Dishonest Person. Which is just about perfect.

    Rob McColley used to go by the names Laurie McColley and A Boy Named Laurie (the latter alias is still used on the CD cover for this album). I have no idea what sort of identity issues the guy has in real life, but his music is similarly obsessive.

    Witty as hell, too. Not necessarily in a Wildean context, but just in an easygoing, laid back way. These songs are about what must have been a pretty brutal break-up (except, of course, for "Teevee"), but they have a droll, loose feel to them. It's always good to be able to laugh at yourself even as you break out the angst stick.

    More fun than funny, I guess, which is still pretty impressive given the material. McColley knows his way around a sweet pop hook, and he also knows enough not to oversell what he's got. The golden moments on this album are true surprises--even on repeat listens. Once you accept the rules in McColley's universe, then everything makes sense. Which is exactly what art is all about.

    David Mead
    (Nettwerk America)

    I got this CD a few months ago, and I've been listening to it about once a month since. This is rare for me; usually my reviews are based on my first exposure. But I hadn't noticed the release date when I first popped this album in, and so I've had a lot more time to appreciate what David Mead does.

    While I was initially impressed, I've found that this album improves significantly on repeat listens. That's somewhat surprising for a modern folk set like this, given that the songs are quite straightforward and the sound is similarly open. Most of the time, this is the sort of album I like initially before getting bored.

    Maybe it took me that long to really hook into Mead's songwriting style. He lies somewhere between Nick Drake and Sound of Lies, that most moody and paranoid of Jayhawks albums--which, again, means I should dig this immediately.

    Okay, so it took some time. That's cool. The fault is all mine. Mead has created an album of deceptive power. Let it flow, and you'll hear what I mean.

    Nettwerk America
    8730 Wilshire Blvd.
    Suite #304
    Beverly Hills, CA 90211
    Phone (310) 855-0643
    Fax [2310] 855-0658
    www: http://www.nettwerk.com

    Noertker's Moxie
    Sketches of Catalonia Vol. 1: Suite for Dali

    Bill Noertker plays the bass, but he writes songs for the ensemble. So while there are a few kick ass bass solos, the important stuff here lies in the whole. That sort of old-school approach is a bit unusual coming from Edgetone (whose releases tend to be a bit more off-track), though the quality and intensity certainly fits the label's profile.

    I don't know enough about jazz to be able to pin a distinct reference on Noertker and company, but this does remind me of the sorta thing Coltrane was doing at Atlantic back in the late 50s--traditional fare with a few added brighteners. Certainly, the two-sax attack (Annelise Zamula and Jim Peterson play both flute and sax, and they often play the same instrument in a given song) doesn't hurt in making that connection in my ears. Then there's the title and cover, which mimic "Sketches of Spain," the classic Miles Davis album. This is a quartet, not a "big" band--as on that record--but I suppose you could make an argument for a similarity in feel. Me, I just think it's a sly joke.

    The production sound, too, is somewhat dated. Well, not exactly. But these tracks do sound like old recordings. The tone is very warm, which is probably an effect of the two-track live recording. Whatever the reason, the feel is very inviting.

    Each piece is named after (and inspired by) a Salvador Dali painting. Again, these songs aren't particularly surreal, but the complexity of the writing is more than enough to give a good sense of the visual originals. Quite well done.

    Edgetone Records
    P.O. Box 2281
    El Cerrito, CA 94530
    www: http://www.edgetonerecords.com

    Old Ghost
    Light Returns

    Paul Hutzler has one hell of a dramatic streak. His style of heavily-produced Americana (replete with strings and horns and keyboards and more) is as dramatic as anything I've ever heard. This puppy grabs from the very beginning.

    There are times when I do wish for a bit of a change of pace. All of these songs have that "important" sound and feel to them, which does get a bit tiring by the end. There's a part of me that would like to hear this album just a few songs at a time.

    And then there's the part of me that says "keep going." The enveloping sound is most impressive, and I am always impressed by the way all of the elements come together to drive the plot of the given song.

    More of a short story collection than a novel, if you understand my comparison. Which is cool. These pieces are almost too intense to take in one sitting, but the quality kept my ears glued all the way to the end.

    Morphius Records
    P.O. Box 13474
    Baltimore, MD 21203
    www: http://www.morphius.com

    Slow Jets
    Remain in Ether

    The second track here is "Famous Flaws of King Ubu," and indeed, these boys must have been raised on a steady diet of Pere Ubu. Slow Jets's vaguely-twisted take on pop rock reflects more of philosophical rather than structural influence, but I think it's fair to say that fans of one will smile at the other.

    At times, I worried that the complicated and off-kilter concepts would overpower Slow Jets's obvious devotion to the hook. The songs take a while to develop. The fifth track, a three-part suite, is amazing, but it doesn't exactly light up from the beginning.

    Patience, then, is the key. And that goes for the sound as well. There is almost no distortion--but plenty of reverb--in the guitars, and at times they sound almost as if they've been processed through a MIDI interface--just for kicks. Or maybe that's just the tech dork in me.

    A tough sell for the masses, but like I said, fans of Pere Ubu (and the entire gang of 80s geek pop rock) oughta lap this one up. A big ol' heart resides inside all the mannered loopiness. It just takes a while to find it.

    Morphius Records
    P.O. Box 13474
    Baltimore, MD 21203
    www: http://www.morphius.com


    Back in the late 1980s, a lot of bands played this easy-going-yet-tight sorta pop music. Production values varied, of course, but most of the time they sucked. Which tended to add to the appeal of said bands. This was music at the edge of existence.

    Swissfarlo gets it. Rather than bashing it out in the garage, the boys kept things tight. Sure, the production isn't exactly shiny, but again, that simply allows the simple pleasure of the songs to blossom in the hothouse.

    Nothing complicated, nothing pretentious, nothing annoying. Rather, Swissfarlo has distilled the essence of pop music into a fine minimalist pulse. Why throw on all the bells and whistles when things sound this good?

    Got me. I will note--for the record--that this album is a couple years old. A new set ought to be forthcoming sooner than later. Sooner is better for me.

    Data Was Lost
    P.O. Box 19401
    Cincinnati. OH 45219
    www: http://www.datawaslost.net

    Original Punk Super Stars
    (Public Eyesore)

    The Public Eyesore web site calls this stuff "anti-climactic concept rock." Jesus, I wish I could think of stuff like that. All I could come up with was "dreadfully-recorded drone surf." Though that's not terrible. It just makes Wonwons sound, um, bad.

    And instead, this is a charming little set. Short songs, and not very many of them. Six studio tracks (as such) and five live recordings (three songs are repeated), and all of them sound like the soundtrack to the old "Batman" TV show if it were played on a turntable with a bad motor and fucked-up needle.

    Again, I must insist that I'm writing a good review. I really like this stuff. It has a certain joie de vivre, a panache that would be lacking if Wonwons had actually bothered to spend money on recording. Sometimes you have to break music down to its simplest forms to truly appreciate it. And sometimes I work too damned hard to justify my oft-bizarre taste in music. Whatever. This disc is good for me.

    Public Eyesore
    c/o Brian Day
    2464 Harney #15
    Omaha, NE 68131
    e-mail: sistrum1@hotmail.com
    www: http://www.sinkhole.net/pehome

    All together now:

    Various Artists Def Jux Presents III (Definitive Jux)
    The latest set from one of hip-hop's most influential labels. Not that long ago, Def Jux was underground. And even though it has blown sky high, the ear is still tight to the ground. This stuff has real legs.

    Various Artists The Hope I Hide Inside: The Emo Diaries, Chapter Ten (Deep Elm)
    Deep Elm has finally thrown in the towel: This is the final installment of one of the most far-sighted compilation series going. And while there's a multitude of bands that did, indeed, break after getting in one of the diaries, I think the real hallmark of this effort is how many "nowhere" bands contributed awesome tracks. Deep Elm never forgot that new music is created by the nobodies. If you want a real picture of the progression of the emo phenomenon, all you've got to do is listen to all ten Emo Diaries discs back to back. What now that emo has been officially offed? A new series, of course. The music will always go on.

    Various Artists Modern Day Troubadours (Nettwerk America)
    A nice little mix tape, with proceeds going to Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Okay, so I've heard a few of these tracks before. Whenever you drop Johnny Cash, Jay Farrar, Grant Le Phillips, Neil Finn, David Mead and more into the same disc, well, it isn't going to suck.

    Various Artists One Two Three (Datawaslost)
    A nice little set of Cincinnati-area bands (including Swissfarlo, reviewed in this issue). These bands don't share much more than a general geographic proximity and a tendency to create interesting music. That's more than enough for me.

    Various Artists Record of Shadows Infinite (Crucial Blast)
    A fine collection of experimental electronic drone music. I know, I know, there's a small market for this stuff, but let me assure you: This set is worth checking out. This music takes me to another universe.

    Various Artists Rock Against Bush Vol. 1 CD/DVD (Fat Wreck Chords)
    Fat Mike convinced so many of his pals to contribute that a second set is due toward the end of the summer. On this set, we'll have to make do with new stuff from the Ataris (doing a Bad Religion song that was first released on a Maximumrockandroll propaganda single--with Noam Chomsky protesting Gulf War I on the flip!), the Offspring, NOFX (duh), Less than Jake featuring Billy Bragg (you read that right) and even the best music from Ministry in almost a decade. Buy the CDs, go to the shows, but most importantly, GET OFF YOUR ASS AND VOTE, MOTHERFUCKER! Thank you.

    Various Artists Tracks and Fields 2xCD (Kill Rock Stars)
    No one ever accused KRS of ripping of the kids. This massive set is part of a second "compilation trilogy" (don't ask), a project whose main purpose is to toss out scads of music to the winds in the hopes that people find something they like. Take the first disc, which starts off with the likes of Superchunk, Dos, Gas Huffer, His Name Is Alive (geezer rock, man!) and then wraps up with the King Cobra, Semiautomatic and Alaska! (I don't know quite how to describe that second set, but it's sure not geezer rock). Disc two is similarly eclectic, and brilliantly so. For all lovers of unusual music, period.

    Also recommended:

    Detachment Kit Of This Blood (French Kiss)
    Pleasant freak-a-zoid stuff. Detachment Kit wanders in a wide variety of directions, most often in a disarmingly gangly manner. There's a loose loopiness to the songwriting that keeps all of this from getting too weird. And anyway, these folks know how to find a groove, even if it's one of those "my guitar ate yer mama" sorta things. There's something to be said for a band that manages to remins me of June of 44 and Frank Zappa at the same time.

    E.T. Doolin E.T. Doolin (self-released)
    Doolin is a sucker for those skiffly Beatles moments--the acoustic, harmony-laden songs that are probably best remembered as the majority of the soundtrack to A Hard Day's Night. Doolin's not stealing, though. He's simply got a nice feel for that late 50s rockabilly/folk/country stuff, and he updates it nicely for the kids today.
    24, Queen Helenei St.
    P.O. Box 32158
    Jerusalem, 91320

    Dope Stars Inc. 10,000 Watts of Artifical Pleasures EP (self-released)
    Bouncy, fun new wave goth dance metal (whew!). A lot like Dead or Alive with better guitars and cooler beats. Cheap and easy, sure, but when a band plays stuff with this much style, it's hard not to get a wee bit excited. Most engaging.
    www: http://www.dopestarsinc.com

    Full-Source The Nothing (Second Thought)
    Full-Source is mostly Tim Dwyer, and this is, indeed, a one-man electronic show. But instead of creating a coherent sound and sticking to it, Dwyer roams all over the map. And that's a good thing. I don't think he's the most innovative songwriter, but he tried so many different things that he kept me engaged the whole way.

    The Goslings Perfect Interior (Asaurus)
    The bitter end of the distortion-laden pop universe. The Goslings eschew most of the noise and simply fuck up their songs to an astonishing degree. This is deconstruction writ large, and it's so cool I can't even describe it properly. Let me just say that I tripped out heavily.

    Grubstake Ghosts of Arkadelphia (Coffeestain Music-Nine Mile)
    There's a picture of a shattered 78 on the back cover, and that's about right. Grubstake is more down home than Jon Spencer, but these boys play in the same hard blues ballpark. Nothing spectacular, just dirty riffs and mean licks.

    Daniel G. Harmann The Lake Effect (Post 436 Records)
    Big music--you know, crashing chords, warped string arrangements, breathy vocals, etc. This could be pretentious and dull, but Harmann's energy is unflagging. He never fails to give a song the last bit of gas in his tank, and that's what sells this for me.

    Hushdrops Volume One (Subspace Platform)
    Meticulously-crafted pop songs with an edge. So rather than getting all dreamy or garage-y or whatever, Hushdrops simply groove along with a quiet intensity. The songs are pretty, but they've got bite. And that's always a nice delivery.

    Just About to Burn Just About to Burn (Art Monkey)
    Very basic, stripped-down roots stuff. This trio makes do with a couple acoustic guitars and some drums--and the occasional harp and banjo. There's nothing complicated to the playing or writing, and maybe that's why it's so engaging. A very solid, impressive set.
    www: http://www.artmonkeyrecords.com www: http://www.justabouttoburn.com

    Katfood Fight or Flight (Silica Music)
    Fine anthemic roots rock, the sort of thing that I didn't expect when I saw the name of the band and the album cover (which features a saber-toothed cat jumping a guitar-wielding caveman--no, really!). There's nothing terribly unusual about these boys, but the songs are put together well, and the playing is expressive enough to keep my interest. This one snuck up on me.

    Kill Henry Sugar Love Beach (Surprise Truck)
    Another solid set of minimalist roots fare. These boys do have a Youngian fascination with distortion-laden bass guitar, and that low-end rumble gives these simple songs some real menace. I've liked what I've heard from these boys in the past, and I like this album as well.

    Steuart Liebig/The Mentones Locustland (pfMENTUM)
    Alto sax, harmonica, percussion and contrabass guitar. Not exactly yer traditional jazz combo. And, well, the Mentones don't play jazz. Not exactly. Rather, this stuff is a fine amalgam of prog, jazz, blues and whatever else passes in the night. Sure, it does all revert to variations on a theme and solos all around, but the meantimes are awfully nice as well.

    Minmae Ya Te Vas? (Devil in the Woods)
    Conceptual rock, somewhere in-between math and post and all that sort of "we spent hours deciding on a chord change" kinda stuff. I mean that as a compliment, by the way. Minmae's main plus is that this music sounds spontaneous, despite the fact that it has been heavily-crafted. Sometimes the boys get a bit too clever, but too much is always better than not enough.

    Mirah with the Black Cat Orchestra To All We Stretch the Open Arm (Yoyo)
    Singing songs by Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Stephen Foster, Fausto Amodei and herself, Mirah Zeitlyn shows an astonishing range. She has the chops to be a real art song singer, but she's got the instincts of a blues wailer. Most of the time she picks a different character for each song, and that works very well. There's almost too much here to hear in one sitting.

    Sounds Like Violence Sounds Like Violence EP (Deep Elm)
    Andreas Soderlund has this desperate way of singing that might not hold up well over a full-length. But six songs seems to me to be the perfect slice. Standard-issue melodic punk played (and sung) with an overload of passion. An unholy racket that still manages (most of the time) to coalesce into something recognizable. Sounds like violence, indeed.

    Terror at the Opera Snake Bird Blue (No Sides)
    You know those weird-ass European movies where everything is shot in the fog and there's always a gypsy (or some other stereotypical villain) lurking around the corner? And there's always an accordion playing? Terror at the Opera takes that sorta stuff and then warps it into something akin to old-school art songs. That two women (or two people; gender doesn't enter into it) could make stuff this oddly intriguing is most impressive.

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