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 #259 reviews
Jello Biafra with the Melvins
Never Breathe What You Can't See
If you've never heard of Jello Biafra or the Melvins, then go on to the next review. Or, better yet, go to another web site. I don't mean to be, well, mean, but I do assume a certain knowledge of ancient music history when I write reviews. If you are familiar with the boys, then you have a pretty good idea of what to expect.
Hardcore metal riffs and Biafra's unmistakable histrionic wail. The songs are loud, fast and (surprise, surprise) political as all get out. If you remember the album Jello did with DOA 15 years ago (!!) ago, then this puppy ought to bring on a nice flush of nostalgia.
I know this statement approaches sacrilege, but I prefer the albums Jello has made with DOA, Nomeansno and now the Melvins to old Dead Kennedys. For starters, the production is much better. And while there are a number of DK songs which are undeniably brilliant, the albums tended to be kinda scattershot. And while there's no "Let's Lynch the Landlord" on these later albums, it's obvious that Jello and the bands like each other and are having fun. The albums are cohesive, solid shots of blistering rock and roll.
And, y'know, these "other" bands are much better musicians than the DK boys were back in the day. Maybe I am getting old, but that does count for something in my book. Whatever. Even with considering all that nonsense, this album is a real blast--even if those who made it can count the days until they are eligible to apply for AARP membership. Sometimes loud music ages exceptionally well.
We Almost Made It Home
A collection of players from off-Broadway lights (Chupacabra, Black Halos, Bughouse 5) get together to play roots-heavy indie rock.
The songs (written by Matthew Camirand) whip from the Palace/Simon Joyner axis all the way through early Uncle Tupelo and Eleventh Dream Day and into straight-up early (pre-major label) Pixies. Looking at those references, I get another hot flash of geezerhood. Oh well. That's what this stuff sounds like. Sue me.
Not only does Blood Meridian bring to mind those bands, the quality of the music put it in their league. These songs aren't all haunting paens to the inevitability of death, which makes the dark moments that much spookier. The more upbeat songs not only provide a nice counterpoint; they're truly inspiring.
One of those albums that sticks with you. There's so much going on that I know I missed more than half of it. That's okay. I've just got to listen again. With an album this powerful, that's a joy, not a sentence.
I've never seen these folks live, despite the fact that they live very close to me. I haven't seen anyone live in three years. A kid'll do that to you. Still, I'm familiar with the Comas. They're kinda hazy stars in the local firmament, known more for great live shows than for selling lots of records. Oh, and there's the fact that singer (and songwriter) Andy Herod recently broke up with Michelle Williams of "Dawson's Creek." In fact, this is a "breakup" album, with songs full of shattered hopes, unrealized dreams and all that.
So maybe, just maybe, all those folks who put up the bucks for Smile will take the time to check out bands like the Comas who put almost as much effort into crafting otherworldly pop music. The Shins, of course, have managed to escape Albuquerque with a similar (though much less dense) approach to this sound. I don't want these folks to go away, but I do wish them greater success.
The real question is how many people really like excessively-layered pop music. And this is excessive. There's no doubt about it. These songs do not need all the extraneous noise in tracks 25-48 (or whatever). Yeah, it does makes this stuff sound almost transcendent, but strictly speaking, it isn't necessary.
Not necessary, but still really nice. Really, really nice. Maybe there isn't a big market for complex, moving music. Or maybe it's just really shallow--Brian Wilson is cool, but forget about everyone else. I don't follow that sort of thing. I just know good music. And I know great music. And I know this album is better than that. One final note: The package also includes a DVD of Conductor--the Movie. I'd watch it, but some crackhead (really) stole my DVD player and my stereo this week (he was smart enough to leave my 15-year-old TV). I bought a new stereo (got to do the reviews), but the DVD player will have to wait. Such is life.
Swap Meet Seers
Something of an electronica-jazz collective orchestrated by Gregory Howe, Dissent has evolved significantly in three albums, and this effort sounds much smoother and, perhaps strangely, more adventurous than the first two.
What has struck me from the beginning about Dissent is that no one is doing anything quite like this. Yes, there are trip-hop moments that might remind one of Stereolab or Savath + Savalas. And there are big-beat moments than do recall Propellerheads more than anything else. But then there's more. And more. And...
It's the breadth of Dissent's vision that is most impressive. That and the ability to carry off this stunning swath of sound. Ambition is great (I always salute it), but actually following through on far-reaching plans is most impressive. Dissent delivers.
Fun? Yeah. Challenging? You bet. Rewarding? Absolutely. Dissent is always in motion, but this snapshot in time is most engaging.
Good, old-fashioned Britpub punk from the heart of Texas. Ah, well. What matters is how the stuff sounds, not its point of origin.
Not that Austin is such a bad place. But sloppy, slap-happy stuff like this sounds like it belongs in some seedy London club. And yeah, it's good enough to make that comparison valid.
Like most Dirtnap bands, the Ends do not craft their songs. There's no pretense or subterfuge. What you hear is what you get, and what you get is a solid blast of loud, fast, messy music, delivered with panache.
Don't ask me to explain why this stuff is so fun. If you don't have a soft spot in your heart for raggedy riffage and half-hollered vocals, that's cool. I like to feed off the energy in stuff like this. And there's more than enough juice in the wire.
I've spent quite a while trying to get into Jean Grae. I know why other folks dig her so much: She's witty, literate and exudes cred. I'm just not exactly thrilled by the way she presents her rhymes.
The music, I mean. On most of her earlier work, the stuff has sounded just a bit too sloppy for my tastes. Maybe that was intentional; maybe I'm just too stuck in my ways. But I didn't really like her stuff.
This album sounds a lot more "commercial," though I think she's as much playing with popular sounds as she is endorsing them. Nonetheless, I like it better. The album as a whole holds together musically--something that really couldn't be said about her earlier work.
But hey, she's already tres popular. This album isn't that much of a departure. The differences are subtle--just subtle enough to interest me. The legend grows. The rampage continues.