Welcome to A&A. There are 18 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 #256 reviews (August 2004)
The press says these guys worship at the altar of the Who, the Zombies, etc. And let's not forget the band's, um, namesake, the tune from T.Rex's The Slider. So we've got some anglo-pop, some straight-up rock and roll and a certain modern sensibility that ties it all together.
Indeed, these boys are anything but retro copycats. Sure, that opening lick for "Broken Heart Mechanic" is tres Bolan, but the song incorporates some Stones-y attitude and a little bit of Big Star tunesmithing. These boys do have a bit of a penchant for the blue-eyed soul as well. A nice mix of styles that mix well together.
The sound has that clean-yet-thick feel that made those classic T.Rex albums so great. Not overdone, but enough power to get the adrenaline pumping. Quite nice.
Just one of those albums that sounds great from the first riff. Baby Strange has a knack for writing fine songs, and they made sure to get the right sound as well. That sort of attention to detail is always good to see, and it bodes well for the band as it further harnesses its power.
Important releases stuff from the likes of Jad Fair, Merzbow, Daniel Johnston, etc. Indeed, the King Missile III album reviewed below is also an Important release. So right off, I got the idea that this wasn't going to be just any ol' album.
I guess not. The dominant instruments are violin and marimba, with a healthy dose of accordion. The Kurt Weill-meets-Residents-meets-Russian wedding band reference from the web site isn't that far off. The accordion and marimba do lend an "old Europe" feel to the pieces here, which are themselves steeped in the European art song tradition.
Well, until they kinda devolve into punky noise and general chaos. See, Barbez is almost as interested in deconstruction as it is in standard musical forms, and that dichotomy makes for some most interesting conflicts. These songs often sound like a musical representation of a Stalingrad reenactment--staged within the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic.
Mind you, I think that's utterly awesome. Barbez is perfectly willing to play nice. For a time. And then the knives come out. Those moments are the ones that really grab me. Mordant and glistening with greatness.
The Best of Blurt--Volume One--The Fish Needs a Bike
Ted Milton plays sax. Blurt was (and is) his outfit, a nice little trio (guitar and drums). The tracks here were recorded from 1980-1986 (Vol. 2 will be released at some future date). Those are the facts. But there's a lot more to tell.
First, Milton isn't a jazz saxophonist. I'm sure he's played a little jazz here and there (and maybe even a lot), but the noises he makes here are good old rock and roll. The stripped-down rhythm section is as bare as it can be, but that just gives these songs that much more kinetic impulse.
Not unlike Flat Duo Jets--the groundbreaking guitar and drum garagabilly duo--Blurt's charms are amplified by the decidedly low-tech approach to writing and recording. I didn't hear any overdubs; it sounds like these songs were recorded live to tape. They certainly have that loose, akimbo feel to them. It's hard not to get swept up in the fun.
I gave in almost immediately. Blurt's charms aren't refined, but that only makes them that much more irresistible. One of those albums that is simply too much fun to avoid.
Shake It If You Got It
Somewhere between Iggy and the Stooges and Poster Children--but much better-produced and fronted by two female singers--lies the Cinch. These songs have a fine raw power that is refined into a tuneful current.
That's the feel I get, ragged punk pop represented by a rolling river. The melodies float nicely above the tight, insistent rhythm section. The sorta stuff that gets hypnotic in a hurry.
I suppose I could reference a band like Pluto and that whole "strummed punk" movement of ten years back (or so), but I like my initial reaction better. The sound is much, much more refined than most Dirtnap releases. In itself, that doesn't mean much, but these songs sound better with rounded tones than they would with a sharper, more jagged approach.
Just about everything here is spot on. I quite liked the first Cinch EP, but this is much better. The band is beginning to really get a handle on its sound. The folks have moved from solid to very, very good. I can't wait to hear what's next.
The Cocker Spaniels
Withstand the Whatnot
Sean Padilla just graduated from Baylor. He's been making recordings as the Cocker Spaniels for something like 10 years now. In the beginning, it was a band. For quite a while now, it's been just him.
And that makes this a most interesting CD. The songs take on everything from race relations (apparently some of his earlier albums were more focused on racism, but his observations here are more wry and revealing than angry and bitter) to the vagaries of boy-girl relations. I don't think it would be entirely fair to call him the black Jad Fair, but then again, the first song on this album is titled, "The Only Black Guy at the Indie Rock Show." You make the call.
Certainly, the music does share a certain idiosyncratic feel with Fair, and Padilla himself claims to take great inspiration from Guided By Voices. That and other similar influences come through loud and clear.
But what drives this album is Padilla's skill as an observational poet. I'm not usually taken by the lyrical content of an album, but there's no other way to review this album. The music is simply a medium for conducting Padilla's thoughts. It serves its purpose, and the album shines as a result. Weird--very weird at times--but well worth investigating.
The Royal We
Wonderfully smarmy synth-rock. Corporate MF sounds like a Smashmouth cover band playing the Ramada--except that in my imagined universe, Smashmouth wrote really good songs.
A lot of that has to do with the decided absence of guitars. The basic sound is bass (yes, I know bass is a type of guitar...), drums, organ and synthesizer, with a few choice bits of noisy weirdness thrown in. The pieces themselves are basic 60s style groove rock, updated and shredded for the rigors of modern life.
The sound is astonishingly dirty for such a technologically-driven band. It's a great idea; there's no good reason why these songs should be all shiny and pretty. That extra bit of aggression in the sound pays off, making the songs that much more engaging.
One of those albums I kept meaning to put down but couldn't. I'm not entirely sure why I like it so much, but there's something about the sound and the songs that keeps the headphones glued to my head. Maybe it's one of those subliminable messages the Prez keeps whining about. No complaints from me.
Trevor Dunn's Trio-Convulsant
Sister Phantom Owl Fish
As the sticker on the jewel box says, "Yes, the Trevor Dunn from Fantomas and Mr. Bungle." Yes, it is him, and yes, trust that he'll find every excuse to wig out when he doesn't have to kowtow to anyone else's ideas.
The songs are an unholy mess of styles and sounds. But Dunn does have a decent handle on jazz construction, and most of the time he manages to keep these songs together. In fact, the closer to jazz (as opposed to prog or hard rock or noise) the sound is, the more these songs sound coherent.
No matter what style Dunn happens to be channeling with his guitar, he's always going at least three places at once. He's got one hell of a fertile mind, and there are a few moments here where I wish he'd hired on an editor. But I'm always much more forgiving when the problem is excess rather than reticence. I'm pretty sure no one has ever called Dunn's playing or writing "reserved."
Way too many ideas for one album, surely, but I'll take that overload any day. This is a confident and assured album, even if it is a royal mess at times. Hey, the guy thanks John Zorn in the liners--this stuff isn't that extreme, but it's just as unusual.
Nothing Was Ever the Same EP
Branching out a bit from the more spare sounds of Scale 300 Feet to the Inch, Dutch Kills fills the speakers and still manages to keep a one-to-one conversation going strong.
That's what I liked best about that album. Most albums are obviously aimed at this or that sort of sound. Dutch Kills simply played to whatever listener was around. This may sound like a stupid distinction, but I would disagree. These boys have the knack of creating an intimacy with just a few notes. The music immediately drew me in. And I think it does the same for a lot more people as well.
I paged through some of the reviews, and no one really knows how to describe the band. That's what I'm talking about. The folks love the stuff but can't quite describe it. Not quite emo, not quite post-rock, not quite indie rock, not quite anything in particular. Just all them expressed in the most engaging way possible. Someday these boys are going to blow up something fierce.
Friends of Lizzy
Subtitled EP, Summersongs & Demos, Friends of Lizzy is kind enough to provide 13 songs (and one remix) on this disc, which is more than enough to whet the appetite.
There are two guys here who play piano. Often enough, neither do, but it sounds like most of the songs here were written at the keys. Piano rock does seem to be making a bit of a comeback, and most folks will tell you that even if the finished songs don't use a piano, such tunes have a slightly different kant than pieces hashed out on guitar. Take New Order, whose songs were always written on guitar even though the band could go entire albums without actually using a six-string. No matter. One can tell these things.
These are grand, swooping songs. Even the kickier bits have a fine veneer of grandeur. The sound--even on some of the demos--is full and almost lush. The EP section in particular is utterly cushy. A perfect match for the romance of the songs.
Really solid stuff. Even the more-ragged demos impress--in fact, a couple of those are among the best pieces on the album. Friends of Lizzy isn't afraid to take chances, and those chances pay off. I smell an up-and-comer.
The first track, "Devices," is a study in how any song can be translated into just about any genre. Despite its presentation here as something of an alt. country wallow, the riffage and vocal melodies are straight out of grunge anthems. And many of the other songs here seem to have fallen through the cracks into this rootsy sound.
And that's cool. The songs rarely move at faster than a mid-tempo pace, and often they drag markedly. Not exactly the sort of stuff that generally rips apart my ears. But then when something like "I Am the Little Girl" (where the Graze just says "fuckit" and launches into something akin to laptop grunge) comes along, well, I'm suddenly locked in.
These songs go every which way, as does the sound of the album. Some songs are small, intimate affairs, and others fill the walls with sound. Some pieces even manage to go both ways without tearing themselves apart. That's an accomplishment in and of itself.
Yeah, the Graze (which is, in fact, one guy named Louis O'Callaghan) probably ought to settle down and focus just a bit. But a one-man-band isn't going to do that. And O'Callaghan shouldn't. Ride the waves of idiosyncrasy until they break into something truly astonishing.
Khoury Shearer Hall
Michael Khoury, Jason Shearer, Benjamin Hall; violin, sax, percussion. Not exactly a traditional trio, and not exactly a traditional sound. The songs sound like they've been sketched out, but not actually arranged. There is a large amount of improvisation, to be sure. Mostly, though, what makes this disc click is the ability of the three players to communicate with each other and combine to create something greater than themselves.
In part because of the instruments these guys play, but mostly because of their musical ideas, the pieces here remind me a lot of "Rite of Spring" and other modern classical works. These boys aren't afraid to mix melody and dissonance in order to make a point.
And it's that willingness to go out on an edge--even while keeping a hand on the wall--that serves the trio best. The sound is almost undeveloped. The drums rumble, the sax squeals and the violin wails. There isn't a lot of subtlety in the sound, though the playing itself is often achingly beautiful.
Even though the trio takes on a number of jazz themes, the overarching ideal is more of a classical one. I'm not schooled enough to explain this difference properly, but it's one that I think I can hear. In the end, though, it doesn't matter precisely what the sound is as long as the music is good. And you know something? The music is great.