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.|
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A&A #257 reviews
A Is Jump
My Ice-Fingered Ghost
At least the album title makes some sense. "A Is Jump?" I have no idea. Whatever. Aerosmith is a pretty weird name, and those boys seem to have prospered reasonably.
Of course, A Is Jump sounds nothing like Aerosmith. This is mannered, eccentric (in a decidedly linear fashion) pop music. Kinda like a nice fusion between the romper room infectiousness of emo and the icy, conceptual world of math. What's important is that these folks pick the best of both worlds.
That's good, because combining sterile, stilted melodies with insipid lyrics would be a recipe for disaster. It's also good that this album has a slightly warm feel. Nothing overdone, but inviting enough. Takes a bit of the edge off the band's more adventurous turns of phrase.
Fun and involving music. Always a good combination. I still have no idea what the band's name means, but now I know that it stands for good music.
Stripped-down, streamlined hardcore with a chaotic soul. Reminds me a lot of the recent Clair de Lune album, though these boys aren't sonic perfectionists in the slightest. Rather, they seem to revel in "blue" notes and other missteps.
The playing (and singing) is more loose than sloppy, and that's what really does the trick for me. These songs sound like spontaneous statements of anger and remorse, a stream of consciousness diary that is being written just as I hear it.
And, of course, it's loud, fast and gleefully eccentric. Piano and other unexpected sounds rise up amidst the sonic destruction. There's actual singing (sometimes in tune, sometimes not) in between the shouts and shrieks. Alison Ranger has the ambition and range to move into Mars Volta territory. That would be fine, but I kinda like where the boys are now. This no-man's-land between hardcore, extreme, prog and jazz is ground for some of the most fertile musical minds going these days, and there are plenty more furrows to plow. This album is ready for harvest.
Call Me Lightning
The Trouble We're In
I'm beginning to think there's a trend toward prog-influenced hardcore. In truth, Call Me Lightning is hardcore in attitude only, but the devastation these songs leave in their wake has all the hallmarks of a massive attack.
Unlike the Alison Ranger album reviewed above, the sound on this disc is exceptionally clean and sharp. The general songwriting conventions and musical ambition are similar, but Call Me Lightning lies much closer to latter-day Guns N' Roses than, say, the Ex.
Which isn't to say that these boys are sell-outs. Rather, they simply prefer to have all the trappings of a commercial rock sound and still stick to their wacko indie music rantings. Hey, as long as it works, right? Well, it works. Amazingly well.
Yes, this is precisely the sort of adrenaline-pushing, intellect-tickling music that makes me shoot first and clean up later. I'm a sucker for blistering tunes that, oh, by the way, are skillfully crafted and far deeper than mere epidermis. And I'm pretty sure that there are at least a couple more people out there whose taste agrees with mine. Call Me Lightning is most satisfying.
The Capstan Shafts
Ample Tribes for Sullen King Pounder EP
Hey, hey, the levels are pegged. Pegged! Really, man, buy better mikes. Or maybe don't record into an old Walkman. Or simply set the levels correctly.
Okay, that's out of my system. It's actually kinda interesting how badly recorded this is. Clunky roots-inflected rock tunes aren't especially meant to sound this freakin' distorted (even ol' Neil Young would blanch if he heard this), but apart from being distracting, the weird production (I think it might even have been intentional) doesn't destroy the power of the songs. They're purty damned good.
Enough to make me want to hear more, anyway. The Capstan Shafts aren't exactly breaking new ground (except in the sound, perhaps), but the songs are solid and the rollicking feel of the playing is most engaging. Fun, if way too fuzzy.
Supersize It Under Pontius Pilate
A trio formed by members of various Cincinnati bands (I'm not entirely sure if this is a simply side project or more of a full-time gig--though I know such distinctions can be dangerous), Culture Queer plays happy, fuzzy pop music with insouciant glee.
The lyrics are simply scathing. Hypocrisy of all sorts takes a good amount of the heat, though it took a few listens before I really picked up on some of the threads here. Song like "Dulli" required a bit less thought, of course.
The harsh, plastic glare of the satire here erases any possible preciousness. The sound is bright, even with a heavier emphasis on distortion than you might expect, and that only sharpens the blade of the wit. Damn, these folks have no fear.
And that's always a good thing. I do hope that Culture Queer becomes a front-burner band if it isn't already. The results of this collaboration are more than encouraging; they're enthralling.
Mike DeLaCerda sounds an awful lot like Jimi Hendrix. His voice, that is. His guitar is pure white-boy blues--well, as white as Buddy Guy, I suppose. DeLaCerda does bow to convention and construct most of his songs along blues 'n' boogie lines--definitely on the rock 'n' side of the divide--but his playing has soul to spare.
And then there comes some like "Tribute to George Harrison," which is as fine a guitar noise composition as I've heard in a while. It doesn't sound a whole lot like Harrison, even when he's borrowing a bit from the Dark Horse, but it is inspired nonetheless.
What I like is the ringing tone he gets on his guitar. He's not afraid to play loud or heavy or anything like that, but his playing always dances rather than pummels. For me, that's the key difference between rock and blues. Both can be exceptional, of course, and both are inextricably intertwined, but there are differences. At the heart of things, DeLaCerda proves himself a bluesman.
And an accomplished player and songwriter. He does have a few covers here (including an interesting take on "Are You Experienced?"), but his songs shine as well. DeLaCerda has obviously put in his dues. Now he's ready to roll.
Three Chords...One Capo
Canadian emo boys recording for a Swedish label. It truly is one world, isn't it? Anyway, Four Square plays that almost sickeningly-sweet power pop emo, and it doesn't really do much with the formula. All these boys do is kick out one great song after another.
Yeah, I keep hearing from some of my more sophisticated friends that it doesn't take any talent to write and play stuff like this. Hey, the boys here have heard that one before, and they've got an answer in the title of the album. That's pretty damned funny. But, see, they also know that writing tight hooks and keeping the energy level up song after song is a real bitch. You think crafting music like this is easy? You do it.
Anyway, the sound is nice and thick, with just enough space to hear all the necessary sounds. This album goes by the book all the way down the line. It's nothing incendiary. It's just one big wad of fun.
And sometimes that's more than enough for me. As the boys themselves note in "Hitmaker," "...there's nothing original, 'cause that would be absurd." Big cheese that makes me laugh? Alrighty, then.
The Great Depression
So if Bauhaus were to meet up with U2 and get busy...Jesus, that's just fucked up. But it's also the Great Depression, a band that seems to thrive on droning vocals laid over almost hyperactive drums.
Yes, there are plenty of purely introspective moments, but most of the songs here are played at significantly faster tempos than they seem. It's almost like some of the more interesting ambient acts, the folks who play with beats incessantly but relegate those experiments to a spot just behind the curtain. I love that sort of contrived tension.
And, apparently, so does the Great Depression. These songs may be moody, but they're hardly downers. They do bring their more contemplative side to the fore, but way back there somewhere those drums keep churning away. Down a hole, behind the iron mask, whatever. They're there, and they make their presence known.
Very cool. It takes supreme confidence and true vision to put together songs like this, much less mix them in this way. I'm impressed.
Highly processed, highly aggressive. The Magnificents sound like Devo run through a digital hardcore filter. Some songs more new wave, some more hardcore, but always an interesting mix.
I've always been fascinated by folks who fuse melody and noise--no matter the sort of noise. Here, we're talking about electronically-created distortion, for the most part, though there's plenty of other little modulation tricks in the mix as well.
The key to an enterprise like this is to keep a spontaneous feel to the songs, no matter how crafted they may be. Devo's best stuff sounded like a real mechanical band, as it were, and not just some geek at a keyboard. The Magnificents keep the tunes moving at a fair clip; that does most of the heavy lifting in terms of making the sound fresh.
Probably too-piledriving for pure pop fans, and perhaps a bit too melodic for hardcore hardcore fans (though we're talking about some extreme ears on that side of things), the Magnificents do a fine job of fusing an original sound out of styles that have, in some cases, actually been played to death. Most engaging.
(Liquid Death-Hello Pussy)
Panicsville has gone through all sorts of lineups, but at this point it might as well be described as Andy Ortmann and friends. The friends this time out include Thymme Jones, Ben Capps, Jeremy Fisher and others--it's pretty obvious that Ortmann knows a lot of cool people.
And he makes some truly weird electronic music. If you don't know Panicsville, you haven't been reading A&A very long. Suffice it to say that the album cover (which, as near as I can tell, is a partially slaughtered cow), title and name of the record label ought to go a long ways to explaining just how close to the edge Ortmann likes to go.
But the cool thing about Panicsville, as opposed to many experimental electronic noise acts, is that the songs do have structure. They do have themes which are fairly easy to discern. You may not find these themes particularly attractive (duh), but Ortmann doesn't make appreciation of his work particularly difficult.
Once in the door, of course, a hall of terrors awaits. So be forewarned. This is a typical Panicsville release, which means that the sound changes radically from song to song, the ideas are powerful and the music highly challenging. If you can stay standing after this assault, you're ready for anything.
Since By Man
Four songs from one of the more engaging extreme acts around. Since By Man never stints on the aggression, but the band is also sweet enough to include the slightest hints of grooves in each piece.
I'm not saying you're gonna be dancing yer ass off or anything, but the riffage does have a certain swing to it. It's the difference between loud and dull and loud and magnificent.
I know, this is just a spacemarker, a little something for the fans between albums. But shit, man, it's still incendiary as all get out. No slacking off here for these boys. This EP is short, sweet and enthralling.