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
(October 2004)

  • Kasey Anderson Dead Roses (self-released)
  • bran(...)pos chirphuis (self-released)
  • Brian and Chris 3 (Dielectric)
  • Charmparticles Sit Down for Staying EP (Child Star)
  • Brian Deer Black Cloud Talk (self-released)
  • The Delgados Universal Audio (Chemikal Underground)
  • Flogging Molly Within a Mile of Home (SideOneDummy)
  • Andy Grooms Living Room Grateful to Burn (Makeshift)
  • Kilroy The Neon Gate (self-released)
  • Mark McKay Shimmer (Toadfish)
  • Null_Objct The Blind Clockworker (self-released)
  • Page France Come, I'm a Lion! (self-released)
  • Struction 13 Minutes of Love and Doom EP (Noreaster Failed Industries)
  • Untied States Ineffable, by Design (self-released)
  • Watsonville Patio Beneath the Leaves (self-released)
  • Saul Williams Saul Williams (Fader Label)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Kasey Anderson
    Dead Roses
    (self-released)

    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.

    Contact:
    e-mail: kasey@kaseyanderson.com
    www: http://www.kaseyanderson.com


    bran(...)pos
    chirphuis
    (self-released)

    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.

    Contact:
    111B Shotwell St.
    San Francisco, CA 94103
    www: www.soundcrack.net


    Brian and Chris
    3
    (Dielectric)

    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.

    Contact:
    Dielectric
    472 1/2 Alcatraz Ave.
    Oakland, CA 94609
    Phone (510) 541-0875
    www: http://www.dielectricrecords.com


    Charmparticles
    Sit Down for Staying EP
    (Child Star)

    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.

    Contact:
    Child Star Records
    411 E. Loretta Place
    Seattle, WA 98102
    www: http://www.child-star.com
    www: http://www.charmparticles.com


    Brian Deer
    Black Cloud Talk
    (self-released)

    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.

    Contact:
    P.O. Box 1961
    Indianapolis, IN 46206
    e-mail: info@briandeer.net
    www: http://www.briandeer.net


    The Delgados
    Universal Audio
    (Chemikal Underground)

    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.


    Flogging Molly
    Within a Mile of Home
    (SideOneDummy)

    I suppose Flogging Molly doesn't really need the likes of me to, um, flog its albums, but what the hell. It's in my pile, it's great and I feel like writing about it.

    And, surprise surprise, this just might be the political album of the year. Rather than polemics, we get metaphors. The music is the same manic rock 'n' reel that fans know well. And, sure, the boys haven't exactly shied away from current events in the past. Still, the vehemence (and brilliant expression of same) is stunning.

    I know, I know, stuff like this isn't going to change anyone's mind about a damned thing, but the beauty is that the music and poetry is impressive enough to enjoy without bothering with the sentiments behind them. Of course, it helps to think. It always helps to think, even when you're into your fifth pint of the evening.

    Truly inspiring. I had no expectation that this sort of brilliance would be emerging on this album. Yeah, the boys are fabulous, but this is an entirely new level. Let's see if they can keep it up.

    Contact:
    Side One Dummy
    P.O. Box 2350
    Hollywood, CA 90078
    www: http://www.sideonedummy.com


    Andy Grooms Living Room
    Grateful to Burn
    (Makeshift)

    Andy Grooms plays the piano. But unlike most of the "piano rock" I've heard of late, Grooms prefers to take a slightly jazzy, off-center approach to his songwriting. The pieces are elliptical, often containing many lines which might coalesce only at the climax.

    Post-post-rock, if you will. Because Grooms takes the whole idea of conceptual, deliberate rock music to a new level. And even as he keeps thinking, he also manages to keep the songs moving (in their own odd orbits) toward the grand alignment.

    But even with all that wonky stuff going on, these songs retain a moderate level of accessibility. Any fan is going to have to have at least a passing appreciation of jazz. If you can't handle multiple themes operating at the same time, well, go back to your Avril Lavigne or whatever.

    Those of us who don't mind kicking back with an album, a book and a barleywine, well, we'll take this in a second. Grooms has near immaculate taste, and he and his cohorts have created a work that stirs many senses at once.

    Contact:
    Makeshift Music
    P.O. Box 40043
    Memphis, TN 38174-0043
    e-mail: makeshift_music@hotmail.com
    www: http://www.makeshiftmusic.com


    Kilroy
    The Neon Gate
    (self-released)

    Very few artists have plowed as many rock and roll fields as Kilroy. There are echoes of 60s garage, 70s prog, 80s new wave, 90s grunge and today's electronic scenes, with just about everything else thrown in most artfully.

    Some songs have vocals, and those vocals are sung appropriate to the styles used. So a song that, say, emulates Big Star, Pavement, Neil Young and Beck, among others ("The Phone"), there's a slightly off-key, whiny sensibility to the singing. Other pieces may have a clearer tone or adhere more scrupulously to the proper melodies.

    I'm not sure if bringing forth so many different styles (and combining them in rather unusual ways) is really the path to being all things to all people. But who knows? Maybe it will work for Kilroy.

    If nothing else, the folks (folk, singular?) have created a stunning album, one which throws more things into the pot than any other album I've ever heard. That sort of ambition is admirable, even more so given how many leaps of faith are rewarded. Improbably amazing.

    Contact:
    Hessions Recording
    2702 Poplar St.
    Philadelphia, PA 19130
    e-mail: kilroyboyd@hotmail.com
    www: http://www.shawnkilroy.com


    Mark McKay
    Shimmer
    (Toadfish)

    Prolific songwriters like Ryan Adams somehow have managed to get their due. Mark McKay, who seems to put out a great new album every year or so, hasn't yet. This is somewhat mystifying to me; he's got one hell of a track record, and still he seems to be getting better.

    The genre is somewhat unspecified, though alt.country or simply alt (period) probably fits the best. McKay has a knack for encapsulating a complicated emotional idea in just a few guitar lines or a lyric couplet. He says more in one song than many people do in entire albums--and the music is similarly impressive.

    Multilayered without sounding pretentious, the tunes behind the lyrics are just as expressive. McKay isn't one of those people who believes that anything interesting in the music should stop as soon as the vocals kick in. He's more than willing to let the song roll.

    And they do roll, all the way through. McKay's copious output is impressive enough. The quality of the stuff is what simply astonishes me. And while a note from me is hardly enough to put him into the spotlight, I do hope those with a bit more entre can give him the pub he needs. Good music always deserves to be heard.

    Contact:
    Toadfish Records
    www: http://www.toadfish.org


    Null_Objct
    The Blind Clockmaker
    (self-released)

    That's "Objct" without the "e," something I realized I've been screwing up for a while now. Whatever. The key here is that Gary Hebert (the man behind the sound) makes music that sounds like almost nothing else I've ever heard.

    The general feel is that of the most recent New Order album. That is, there are guitars, drums, all that sort of "real" stuff mixed in with just about everything in the electronic playbook. Hebert is a bit less devoted to traditional song structure, but don't hold that against him. He still manages to make even his most extreme moments utterly engrossing.

    I just love the rounded, full sound he gets on his electronic elements. And once the "analog" bits are tossed in, the whole mess has accumulated something of an organic feel. A band could play this stuff live, though there's no way it would sound anywhere near as good.

    There's a voice in the back of my head that tells me I've been neglecting Hebert's outstanding writing and arranging. Without a skeleton, these pieces would be formless ear candy. But they're a whole lot more. The depth within is simply amazing.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.nullobjct.com


    Page France
    Come, I'm a Lion!
    (self-released)

    Michael Nau is a young songwriter. Some of his songs do share a number of features, particularly in the vocal melodies. For me, that's something of a pleasant Half Japanese echo (though, to be fair, Nau and friends are much more musically adept). Some might find it aggravating. I can understand.

    Not that I agree, of course. Nau's songs cut to the chase quickly. Even when he's waxing contemplative, there's really no mystery. And that's cool. His mind is imprinted upon every song here.

    That's the key to the appreciation of one-man outfits. Yes, Nau recruited a number of friends to play on this album, but he's in charge. He edited and produced the album, and in the end, this is his vision alone. It's idiosyncratic as all get out, but that's the charm, as far as I'm concerned.

    As for the name of the "band," well, I have no idea. Doesn't matter. The songs are the only thing I care about, and these are more than worthy of attention. I can't wait to hear how Nau's ear continues to progress.

    Contact:
    549 Fairview Ave.
    Cumberland, MD 21502
    e-mail: michaelsnau@yahoo.com


    Struction
    13 Minutes of Love and Doom EP
    (Noreaster Failed Industries)

    Back in the day, they called this no wave. I suppose there's a better name for it now, though I can't think of it. Struction is so in touch with its sound that I really can't improve upon the title of the EP. Well, except to emphasize the exceptional rhythms produced by these folks.

    Loud, throbbing and generally on the edge of coherence, these songs are utterly inspiring. In particular, "Even If They're Big We'll Find Something Sharp" is completely mindblowing. I'm a sucker for anyone who travels to the edge and still manages to make me want to dance.

    Yeah, I dance in a completely fucked up sort of way. I'm utterly in sync with Struction. Few bands are able to touch my inner being the way these folks do. I know that says something about me. What it says about you is just as important.

    Contact:
    Noreaster Failed Industries
    6423 Richmond Hwy. #3204
    Alexandria, VA 22306
    www: http://www.nfilabel.com


    Untied States
    Ineffable, by Design
    (self-released)

    U.S. Maple is among the bands these boys have shared a stage with in the past year or so. And while that band is a fine touchpoint, I'd have to say that they run almost as close to Clair de Lune in their ambition and wild embrace of noise as a melodic instrument.

    In other words, this is what Led Zeppelin would sound like if...oh, who the fuck am I kidding? The most obvious 60s reference is Syd Barrett, but even that doesn't really explain what's going on here. Try a mix of mid-70s Cheap Trick and the Jesus Lizard, with a generous dollop of Joe Jackson (you pick the era; it doesn't much matter) and Sonic Youth on the side.

    It should be an unholy mess, but it isn't. This is the sort of album you'd expect to see Jim O'Rourke's name on, but these boys did it themselves. Oh, they got Kramer to mix one song (hey, I hadn't even thought about including Dogbowl in the influences...what was I thinking?), so there is that. Yet another clue to the brilliance that is Untied States.

    I can't tell you exactly how it is that this album survives intact, but it does. Not only does it come through alive and well, but it has seared a spot in my memory. I loved the new Clair de Lune, and this album is just as good. Hard to believe, but true. Untied States just might be the future of music. And if not, well, the guys are merely brilliant.

    Contact:
    508 Ralph McGill Blvd. NE
    Atlanta, GA 30312
    www: http://www.untiedstates.us


    Watsonville Patio
    Beneath the Leaves
    (self-released)

    Somewhat dreamy rock music that just keeps on chugging through the night. Not exactly the sort of thing that generally turns my ear, but Watsonville Patio is so damned unseductive that it manages to draw me in almost instantly.

    What I mean is that Janice Grube has one of those vaguely husky voices that, well, works--if you know what I mean. Often enough, bands try to play to that. And while the songs are contemplative, Watsonville Patio doesn't pull a Mazzy Star and go into a pure alpha state--that's cheesing out. Rather, these songs are complete ideas that find full expression in the combination of music and vocals.

    And the sound is just bright enough to bring a ray of sunshine to the proceedings. This is a tough trick to turn, as much more edge to the guitars, in particular, would have taken the band in a totally wrong direction. But as the many albums these folks have created will attest, Watsonville Patio generally knows exactly what it is doing.

    Is this commercial enough to draw a wide audience? I seriously doubt it. But Watsonville Patio ought to be pleased with another sterling album. Good music is, indeed, its own reward.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.watsonvillepatio.com


    Saul Williams
    Saul Williams
    (Fader Label)

    Saul Williams casts himself as the anti-gangsta gangsta, the literate MC who managed to crawl from the ghetto to get an education and make something of himself. Um, no. See, Williams rejects absurd nonsense like that as well. He stays rooted in reality, not theory.

    This album is a wondrous melange of hip-hop, rock, soul, electronic disturbance and all sorts of whatnot. His shouts in the liners go to Andre 3000, the Mars Volta, Planes Mistaken for Stars and Mike Park, among others.

    Williams is the maestro at the center of the maelstrom, and when he waves his hands, chaos erupts. Imagine a much more grubby N.E.R.D. without any pretense of pop sheen. Williams doesn't seem to be interested in the mainstream world, but nonetheless he's crafted a dense, tension-filled symphony that has more than enough presence to catapult Williams into the spotlight.

    A pressure-cooker of epic proportions, this album is so jam-packed with ideas and creative thought that I thought my CD player would melt down. Okay, that's a cheesy and stupid thing to say, and Williams is anything but. In any case, this is one album that ought to earn respect and admiration from just about everyone. Mind-blowing.

    Contact:
    Fader Label
    71 W. 23rd St.
    Floor 13
    New York, NY 10010
    www: http://www.faderlabel.com


    Also recommended:

    The Bandages The Bandages EP (self-released)
    Tasty, high-energy rock with some nice touches (a bit of piano, etc.) The songs are tight, witty blasts of fun with the occasional flash of cogent philosophy. If you don't stop and thing about it, you're missing half the boat.
    Contact:
    815 N. Euclid Ave.
    Oak Park, IL 60302
    www: http://www.thebandages.com

    Bambix What's in a Name (Daemon)
    A Dutch act that plays old-fashioned indie rock with a hard buzzsaw edge. Kinda punk, but really, this is just straight-ahead, don't-look-back rock and roll. A very simple pleasure, but one that provides plenty of rewards.

    Bikini Atoll Moratoria (Bella Union)
    Moody, jarring, introspective stuff. Think To Bring You my Love, but sung by a guy. Lyrically, Bikini Atoll is a bit more abstract. There's very little raw emotion, though plenty of emotional energy. Takes a while to get going, but once you get in pocket, the ride is exceptional.

    The Capstan Shafts Her Chapbook Called "Tiny Grey Radio" EP (self-released)
    I think this is a later set of songs than the ones I reviewed last issue. Kinda hard to tell, but that's my guess. The songs are exceptionally short (the seven tracks here can't even make it to 11 minutes total), but the same clunky, charming songwriting is present. The production is still pretty bad (there's no need to peg the levels on acoustic songs), but the talent shines through nonetheless.
    Contact:
    e-mail: deanedwardwells@yahoo.com

    Caustic Soul An Absence of Warmth (Gestalt)
    Boy, everything here is perfectly named. Almost. Caustic Soul uses its electronic base to touch on everything from anglopop to goth pop to general sonic experimentalism. Most of it lies in the goth territory, I suppose, though many of these pieces are less songs than tableaus. Generally, they do finally emerge into some sort of song form. I know, this sounds awfully pretentious. It is. But the boys pull it off. Mostly. An intriguing set.

    A.C. Cotton Notes for the Conversation (self-released)
    Roots rocker raves, with a bit of introspection as needed. Cotton likes to make noise, but he just can't get away from killer country hooks. That's a fine combination, one that ought to serve him well. Score one for the bar.
    Contact:
    P.O. Box 13701
    Portland, OR 97213
    www: http://www.accotton.com

    Gasoline Fight Useless Piece of Weaponry EP (Thick)
    Chunky, hard-charging punk. A bit over-the-top for hardcore, but not quite to extreme territory. There's just too much thought here. Perhaps if math met the extreme...yeah, these boys are that intriguing. Have to hear a full-length, I suppose.

    I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House Menace (In Music We Trust)
    These boys lie somewhere between the blues and the boogie and the rock and roll. The stuff is a whole lot easier to enjoy if you don't think about the contradictions and simply let the songs roll by. Highly enjoyable fare, played with plenty of gonzo gusto.

    Kava Kava Maui (Chocolate Fireguard)
    I knew somebody out there was still making music primed for the dance floor. It's been a while since I've ventured out into the clubs for an evening of sweat and more sweat (a kid'll do that to you), but if I were to do it now, I'd hope the DJ might spin a track off this.

    Lock and Key Pull Up the Floorboards (Deep Elm)
    In many ways, Deep Elm has managed to stay closer to the "classic" emo sound than any other label. Lock and Key is the latest find in that vein, boys who combine strident riffs with hoarsely-sung anthemic choruses and plenty of aggression. Poppy? Not exactly. Most satisfying? Yeah.

    Pete Miser Camouflage Is Relative (Coup de Grace)
    Miser's musical heritage comes from the 80s, back when rap and hip-hop were interchangeable. So these rhymes flow with smooth rhythms, and the general feel is loose and easy. More clever than anything else, this throwback is most welcome here.

    Morning 40 Foundation Morning 40 Foundation (BRG)
    Cheap, nasty and mean. Morning 40 Foundation loves sleazy riffs, distorted vocals and a greasy good time. They stick to what they know, and they do it very well. Quite the party set.

    Naquei Mahou Bestize (Silver Rocket/Minority)
    I hope I got the names right (or as close as possible, as I can't display Czech lettering with my meager HTML skills). These folks take a basic indie rock vibe and kinda lounge it out into a Stereolab thing (that latter bit might simply be because the songs are in Czech, and this sounds dreadfully European). Cool and intriguing. A breath of fresh air.

    No Doctors ERP Saints EP (No Sides)
    Most folks have let the no wave revolution pass right on by. Not No Doctors or No Sides Records. These people believe, and layered, complex efforts like this are proof that there's plenty of life left in that small corner of the noise universe. Raucous and invigorating.

    Seven Degrees from Center Arion (self-released)
    Energetic, yet contemplative songs that writhe and squirm. The tension between the throbbing center and the need to let ideas incubate is palpable, and it creates quite a thrilling effect. Powerful and engaging.
    Contact:
    4922 N. College Ave.
    Indianapolis, IN 46205
    www: http://www.7dfc.com

    Tarentel We Move Through Weather (Temporary Residence)
    Now this is the sound of exceptional experimentation. The main instruments are guitars, but Tarentel throws all sorts of other sounds into the mix. Rather than simply hitting "puree" and letting things sort themselves out, however, there's a sense of structure that holds everything together. Free, and yet not free. Good, and yet better than that.

    Thee Moths Sand in Our Pockets EP (Total Gaylord)
    Four crackling, idiosyncratic guitar pop songs. Lots of little bits crackle and shine, but the real star is the songwriting, which is incisive and yet loose enough to be quite inviting. Not quite folk or rock or well, anything else. And that's cool with me.

    This Is Exploding Until the Next Red Light (self-released)
    More of that "old school" emo, math-ish riffage, loud hooks and a general disregard for eardrums in general. The songs careen from pretty to frightening (generally within a few seconds), lending quite an emotional rush to the album.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.thisisexploding.com


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