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 #258 reviews
It seems like everyone is a singer-songwriter these days. Not unlike the pop punk phenomenon of a few years back (which I suppose, simply got renamed "emo," even if that's a sad bastardization of a once-proud sound), there are thousands of faceless "singer-songwriter" albums wandering around these days. Sometimes I hear twenty or more in a row while I am sorting through all the discs I get in my mail each month. And then I come across someone like Kasey Anderson.
The key to standing out from the crowd is, well, standing out from the crowd. Have a personality. Give your music some distinctive touches. Sing in character. Just because this stuff is kinda mellow (I suppose) doesn't mean you can sit back. In fact, I'd say you have to increase the intensity level. Anderson does that from the start. "This Old Town" has a nice Steve Earle-meets-Springsteen feel. The sound is elegiac without being maudlin.
And then the rest of the album follows suit. Some songs have a real musical kick, and others get you with their patient (but insistent) lyrical drive. Anderson holds nothing back--and this is why the album is so outstanding. It's simply a series of nerves rubbed raw in a most appealing way.
Anderson has a lot to say, and he sure as hell knows how to sing it. This is an exceptional album, one of the best I've heard this year. If you're sure you never want to hear another singer-songwriter, this album will turn you around. Come back to the fold. Because even if the genre has a lame name and is filled with dreck, there are a few gems laying about. You can't miss Anderson--he's got a blinding shine.
If you've played around with iTunes at all, you know that the music genre classification system is beyond lame. "Alternative & Punk"? "Alternative" (not punk)? Jesus. What a mess. Anyway, there is one description I like: Unclassifiable. A lot of my favorite albums fit in there. It's a classification made for bran(...) pos.
This is theatrical electronic fare. Some of the songs are almost blandly coherent (the first track is redolent of Esquivel, without the guitar), while others explode with gorgeously-defined pin-pricks of created noise. Those more abstract don't immediately make sense, but give them time.
And maybe a little more, for good measure. Like I said, this stuff is theatrical (though not dramatic, if you catch my drift). There is a reason for the madness, but it's hardly obvious. Instead, you've gotta cruise through layer after layer of truly intriguing, um, intrigue. And then give it more time.
I like wrapping my head around these loopy abstractions. It keeps me sane (or maybe insane; it's always hard to tell). In any case, bran(...)pos crams more ideas into one album than most bands do in a career. Intense...exciting...electric...yeah.
Brian and Chris
That would be Chris Palmatier and Brian Fraser. Fraser handles the percussion and programming, while Palmatier deals with the guitar and much of the noise. The music is electronic, after a fashion, but mostly what it is is alive.
I'm not entirely sure why each of these guy's collaborative albums has been on a different label. The stuff is sufficiently brilliant to impress even the most wonkish critic, and yet it has a nice approachable patina. These songs were intended for a relatively wide audience, not simply a few geeks who like truly weird stuff.
Which isn't to say that Palmatier and Fraser don't push themselves. They do. There's no accommodation to the mainstream here. It's just that the songs express themselves so beautifully that accessibility shouldn't be an issue.
And yet, the boys keep moving around. Maybe they like spreading the joy to all their friends. Who knows? I'm not suggesting that this stuff is major label material. Of course it isn't. But it's goddamned great, and there are a large number of folks out there who ought be able to get their heads into this space.
Sit Down for Staying EP
All good things come around again, and as I've been noting for more than a year, the late-80s psychedelic pop sound is back in a big way. The difference this time is that it doesn't take a magician (and tens of thousands of dollars) to make your album sound like Loveless. Technology is a beautiful thing. Of course, you still have to write some good songs.
And Charmparticles does exactly that. These pieces do have a bit of the meander in them, but they fuzz out nicely, and when the clouds of distortion descend, the thunder and lightning is impressive. Most importantly, the studio processing aids, rather than detracts from, the songs themselves.
Exceedingly crafted, but I think that's almost a must with this stuff. You use the distortion and other studio work to help blend in a spontaneous feel. As was done here. Most impressive.
Black Cloud Talk
Anyone who gets Robbie Fulks to pitch in on his album must be doing something right. Add members of Bright Eyes and Sonia Dada to the guest list, and I started to wonder how many pals this guy has.
If songs could make friends, Brian Deer would have a million. He writes tightly-crafted, easy-going snippets of joy. The lyrics aren't always (or even mostly) joyful, but the end result is happy, nonetheless. It's exceptionally difficult to make such well through out music sound so loose, but Deer does a nice job with it.
There's still that "I'm a damned good songwriter, and I'm gonna make sure you know it" sheen to many of these songs--and that's alright by me. While the production is sterling (and often quite inventive), this still sounds to me like a collection of demos that Deer plans to send out to the more fortunate (and famous). And while I cringe thinking at the damage Nashville would do to these delicate masterpieces, it would score Deer some (I'm sure) welcome ready cash. These songs are good enough to be destroyed by a "major" artist, but they're probably never going to sound as good as they do here. Most pleasing.
The Delgados have been plying their Britrock sound for some time now, and this album is simply the next in a series of strong efforts. Indeed, there are few bands on any continent who can mix rock, pop and electronic elements into such a stirring sound.
Just for kicks, I decided to see what people who buy the Delgados also buy. Amazon sez Super Furry Animals, and that's an apt enough comparison (though it might well be a reverse one, given this band's extensive track record). Still, those who can't parse my prose ought to have an idea of what's going on here now.
Whether jaunty or haunting, the Delgados give each song the atmosphere it requires. The overall sound does have a vaguely gauze-like feel, but the caul is lifted now and again when songs really need to kick into overdrive.
Yes, yes, these folks are veddy, veddy British. No way around that. Americans are still back in their garages. The Delgados never felt the need to "authenticate" their music by making it sound sloppy, but nonetheless this highly-crafted, exquisitely produced album never sounds stilted. Once again, the Delgados have created something truly otherworldly.