Welcome to A&A. There are 17 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 #260 reviews
(December 2004)

  • The Abstractions Novo Navigatio (Pax/Edgetone)
  • Beans Shock City Maverick (Warp)
  • The Brian Jonestown Massacre Tepid Peppermind Wonderland: A Retrospective 2xCD (Tee Pee)
  • Faux Fox Cusp of the Precipice (Quartz Inc.)
  • Flat Earth Society ISMS (Ipecac)
  • Landing Gear Break-Up Songs for Relationships that Never Happened (Catlick)
  • Lee Marvin Computer Arm Lee Marvin Computer Arm (Conspirators in Sound)
  • Luna Rendezvous (Jetset)
  • The Makers Stripped (Kill Rock Stars)
  • Many Axes 2 Many Axes (pfMENTUM)
  • Minus Halldor Laxness (Smekkleysa)
  • Scum of the Earth Blah...Blah...Blah...Love Songs for the New Millennium (Eclipse)
  • Slomo Rabbit Kick Horatory Examinations (Kittybox)
  • Various Artists Songs of Freedom and Joy: A Saturday Compilation (Also-Ran)
  • Various Artists This Is Indie Rock: Volume One (Deep Elm)
  • The Mort Weiss Trio The Three of Us (SMSJazz)
  • Windmill Every Last Windmill Shall Fall (Big Spoon)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Abstractions
    Novo Navigatio

    The latest musings from Rent Romus and Ernesto Diaz-Infante (and a revolving cast of pals). Are these improvisations? Performance art? A whacked-out attempt at art songs? Probably all of the above. The only thing I know is that each songs pushes a different part of the envelope.

    And so you can flit from a silly political discussion to something that sounds like Leonard Cohen deconstructed to some really nice abstract noise--with a cool vocal track, to boot. A fine mix of fare.

    A sonic bouillabaisse, if you will. Romus and Diaz-Infante throw just about everything into the pot, and somehow it comes out as a nice, cohesive stew. Not for the faint of heart (or mind), but just the sort of musical adventure I like to take.

    But then, I had a feeling I'd like this as soon as I opened the package. So maybe you can't take my word for it. For fans, though, this album just keeps on keepin' on. And that's a very good thing.

    Edgetone Records
    P.O. Box 2281
    El Cerrito, CA 94530
    www: http://www.edgetonerecords.com

    Pax Recordings
    P.O. Box 591138
    San Francisco, CA 94159-1138
    e-mail: info@paxrecordings.com
    www: http://www.paxrecordings.com

    Shock City Maverick

    The latest from former Anti-Pop Consortium member Beans finds him working just as hard as ever to find the funk within the electronic. The rhymes? Solid, if occasionally a bit heavy on the braggadocio. Ah well, like they say, it ain't braggin' if you can do it.

    And since Beans doesn't skimp on the political musings, his occasional forays into silliness don't worry me too much. Personally, I prefer to lie back and let the beats wash over me. It's all too easy to get lost in the background of this album.

    The reason it's so quickly addictive is that Beans keeps things stark and simple. The sound is stripped down and basic. One bass line, one beat track. That's it. Hey, if those two elements are great, why throw a blanket over it? Just let the funk roll.

    So it does, and interestingly, this one sounds better on repeat listens. I wasn't knocked out after my first listen, but I'm quickly becoming a fanatic. I'd say sneaky good, but this is really much better than that. It's quality is apparent from the beginning. Just turn up the volume and keep out of the way.

    Warp Records
    503 8th Ave.
    4th Floor
    Brooklyn, NY 11215
    www: http://www.warprecords.com

    Brian Jonestown Massacre
    Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective 2xCD
    (Tee Pee)

    Kinda fitting that this arrived in the mail just after the passing of Greg Shaw, founder of Bomp! Records. BJM was the first Bomp! artist I heard, and soon I was a big fan of the label. Anton Newcombe and whoever else has filled out the Massacre has been on one long trip the last 10 years, and this set is just a hint of the madness of that experience.

    I should note that there are no tracks from the band's biggest "hit," Strung Out in Heaven--not coincidentally, the only album with major distribution. After that puppy flopped, Newcombe simply kept writing songs and releasing albums. And while the sound has changed a bit in the last decade, the quality has always been high.

    Now, of course, there's Dig, a documentary that focuses on the divergent paths of the Massacre and the Dandy Warhols. I haven't seen it yet, but I've heard it's great. The music shouldn't suck, anyway.

    This is kind of a cute little Christmas present for me, a mix tape of some of my favorite songs. There are a few unreleased songs and alternate versions here--just enough to interest the true fans--but this set ought to serve as a nice into to one of the better songwriters of the last decade for those who know BJM only from the movie. As a friend of mine used to say, "These are happy presents."

    Tee Pee
    365 Bowery
    Second Floor
    New York, NY 10012
    www: http://www.teepeerecords.com

    Faux Fox
    Cusp of the Precipice
    (Quartz Inc.)

    Somewhere between, say, Gary Numan and the Cure, lies Faux Fox. Well, there's also this kinda fun modern sheen to the sound, but the songwriting style is definitely grounded in the early 80s, all that sorta punky, gothic, pre-industrial stuff.

    Which means that the masses might not exactly embrace this album with open arms. Probably why I like it so much. Faux Fox doesn't so much replicate a now old-fashioned sound as much as wallow in it. There's no reason electronic music needs to sound like this--unless you want it to, of course.

    And given that John Congleton (The Paper Chase) is on the boards, it's apparent that this is precisely what Faux Fox wants. The disarmingly simple production highlights the complex songwriting, which then makes all of this that much more inviting. There is a good deal that lies just beneath the surface.

    Hell, this is simply a big wad of fun. Yeah, I can think of all sorts of "intellectual" reasons to dig Faux Fox, but I think the most important one is the overwhelming pleasure of the music. Yes, it helps that I was in junior high back in the early 80s, but I think just about any serious music fan will be entranced. First rate.

    Quartz Inc.
    www: http://www.quartzinc.com

    Flat Earth Society

    Think of this as music for a series of noir cartoons. Band leader (and songwriter) Peter Vermeersch is obviously schooled in Carl Stalling, Henry Mancini, John Barry and, well, Miles Davis and John Coltrane as well. The result is a series of dark--often darkly comic--romps.

    There's something of a Gypsy orchestra in this as well--think Angelo Badalamenti (City of Lost Children, Mulholland Dr., Arlington Road) meets Benoit Charest (Triplets of Belleville). Sometimes ominous, but most often simply wild and engaging.

    So, yes, we're talking about "filmic" music, or more specifically, music that tells a story. The quality of the compositions and production lead me to wonder why one of the major classical labels didn't pick this up. Maybe they're too worried about offending someone. Too bad.

    One of the brightest, most pleasant surprises I've heard in a while. Yeah, Ipecac rarely puts out a clunker. But this is surprising even for them. Of course, the "compiled by Mike Patton" note at the end does explain one thing: he found four albums by this outfit and decided that the rest of us ought to hear it.

    He's right, you know.

    P.O. Box 1778
    Orinda, CA 94563
    www: http://www.ipecac.com

    Landing Gear
    Break-up Songs for Relationships that Never Happened

    It's always nice to hear what's going on in the upper Midwest. Landing Gear is from Minneapolis, but has a sort of lush, rambling sound that is much more reminiscent of, say, England.

    The moodier side of Britpop, the kinda stuff you often find on Jetset. And regular readers will know that's a pretty fair complement from me. Landing Gear is equally comfortable with delicate melodies and bounding rockers. That it can make such disparate styles cohere within the same album is a testament to the band's confidence.

    Honestly, I think the boys are a bit better at the mellower side of the spectrum, but the heavier, more raucous pieces here are quite impressive. What helps is the band's reliance on keyboards--that sort of thing does help to provide a touchstone for all of the songs. The band recorded most of this itself--and it did so very well. This album hardly sounds like some muffled demo. Though I haven't heard a demo like that in years. Technology is an amazing thing.

    A solid and nicely varied album. Landing Gear may just be getting started, but it already has set out a nice road map for itself.

    3208 Grand Ave. S.
    Mineapolis, MN 55408
    www: http://www.catlickrecords.com

    Lee Marvin Computer Arm
    Lee Marvin Computer Arm EP
    (Conspirators in Sound)

    Five snappy, ragged bits of Detroit glory. Recalling the MC5 as much as the White Stripes, Lee Marvin Computer Arm has more than enough energy to make its own name shine brightly.

    While the blistering pace and raggedy sound are more than enough to keep me occupied, these boys have penned some stylish songs as well. Rather than conforming to any sonic ideal in particular, LMCA continually drags in new lines of thought.

    But never lets up on the gas. The main attraction here is the live wire style of playing, and all those other cool things are just added bonuses. Nice to have--especially after a few listens--but I'll take this jolt every time.

    Conspirators in Sound
    19369 Fairlane Ct.
    Livonia, MI 48152


    One of the downsides of having a kid is not being able to get down to the club on a Monday night to get one last glance at Luna. Kinda bums me out, but life goes on. Though some might say life without Luna won't be nearly as pleasant.

    For those who have never quite gotten into Dean Wareham's spare, lilting brand of post-VU pop, well, this album surely isn't going to change your mind. If anything, it is a refinement of the vein that Wareham has been riding for nearly 20 years. Wareham's palette has expanded significantly from that first Galaxie 500 album, but it's still possible to hear echoes today.

    Is this the best Luna album? That's kinda like asking a Yankees fan to name a favorite player of all time. I like it a lot, but it'll take a few months before I could give you a definitive answer. That's the nice thing about Luna albums: They show their true seasoning after a hundred listens or so.

    Getting to that magic number is pure pleasure, too. Too bad the folks are going on hiatus. This sort of pop music seems to be in short supply these days. Of course, Wareham himself will likely continue to crank out songs. A junkie can't control his habit. And I'll be happy to slurp up the detritus.

    P.O. Box 20519
    Tompkins Square Station
    New York, NY 10009
    www: http://www.jetsetrecords.com

    The Makers
    (Kill Rock Stars)

    One might think that Kill Rock Stars, of all labels, wouldn't be jumping on any sort of trendy sounds. The Makers are straight outta the garage, and not particularly subtle about it. What gives?

    Well, when you consider that KRS was releasing garage bands long before they were cool, it all makes perfect sense. And anyway, the Makers do happen to throw in a bit of the stoner rock fuzz and other nice bits to color their songs.

    Hell, this stuff is so damned arrogant and snotty it's impossible not to have some sort of reaction. I'm sure plenty will be put off--these guys truly don't give a shit--but I like that sort of sauciness. Rock and roll ought to be played with a sneer.

    One of those albums that proves that it's possible to find a couple new wrinkles in even the most apparently played-out sound. The Makers aren't going to change the world, but they make me smile. And that's cool.

    Kill Rock Stars
    120 NE State #418
    Olympia, WA 98501
    www: http://www.killrockstars.com

    Many Axes
    2 Many Axes

    If the name of the band (a better term might well be trio or ensemble) didn't tip you off, these three folks each play a musical line or two, with the general concept of the song falling along somewhere along the intersections--or axes (the plural of axis).

    Or maybe not. I'm was just taking a guess. But this stuff is improvisational fare, and it wouldn't work if the three didn't manage to create enough points of intersection to create some sort of synthesis. Many Axes is always careful to make sure that it's pieces do, in fact, stick together. Even when the ideas are as ephemeral as a spring breeze, they have enough cohesion to keep the piece moving.

    Susan Rawcliffe and Scott Wilkinson play wind instruments--most of them instruments Rawcliffe has made herself. Brad Dutz plays whatever percussion makes sense for the song. This sort of free-wheeling approach to instrumentation and song construction doesn't translate into chaos, but rather a decided sense of wonder.

    There is an otherworldliness to this album. These folks don't make music for the timid and static. These are pieces that will exercise your mind. Follow the path, and see where it leads.

    P.O. Box 1653
    Ventura, CA 93002
    www: http://www.pfmentum.com

    Haldor Laxness

    Iceland is so cool. Well, no, Iceland is damned cold. But it keeps turning out bands that like to turn accepted musical conventions on their head.

    Minus likes to play, aggressive, fuzzy, vaguely proggy hard rock. Think Faith No More as performed by Slayer. There's a notion that if you play complicated, sophisticated music you must keep the sound as clean as possible. Take Mushroomhead, a band I like a lot. That band's sound is thick, but crystal clear.

    Minus hides behind distortion and even a relatively muddy mix. It works, bringing this music, which is pretty damned intimidating, back into the fold of the real. With a sound like this, a band like Minus becomes approachable.

    If only for a little while. After all, anyone who can put together songs like this is quite obviously a master of the form. These boys can write, and they can play. Play it loud, but don't forget to listen behind the wall of sound. There's a lot going on.

    P.O.Box 1263
    121 Reykjavik
    www: http://www.smekkleysa.net

    Scum of the Earth
    Blah...Blah...Blah...Love Songs for the New Millennium

    This sort of elektro-industrial-metal that was popular a few years back. Which might have something to do with the seemingly dated album title ("the new millennium" is so 2001). Then again, I've always liked Cheetos, and SOTE is nothing if not cheesy and crunchy.

    Silly as all get out (when you've got a song titled "Get Your Dead On," I think you're just asking for that). There are lots of dumb songs about the devil and evil doings and such. I suppose some freaky religious folks might get all worked up, but come on. This stuff may not be entirely a joke--the music is quite stylish and fun--but I don't think there are going to be any ritual sacrifices laid on these folks any time soon.

    Fans of Electric Hellfire Club and MLWTTKK and Lords of Acid and the like ought to find a smile or two upon listening to this. I've never understood why guitars have never been a staple of dance club music. There's definitely a time and place, as this album proves.

    But whatever. I have a feeling that time has passed SOTE by, and silly geezers like me who occasionally look back with a wry smile are the main audience. Alright. Worse things could happen.

    P.O. Box 215
    Butler, NJ 07405-0215
    www: http://www.eclipserecords.com

    SloMo Rabbit Kick
    Horatory Examinations EP

    Five playful, bouncing songs that probably ought to be called "new wave new wave," or something silly like that. Jaunty pop with plenty of keyboards. That sort of thing.

    Jay Chilcote is the mind behind all of this. He wrote the songs, and he got a few pals to play them for him. This does have more than a bit of the eccentric feel of a one-man outfit, but I've always been partial to that kind of obsessive sound. SloMo Rabbit Kick (the name is telling, isn't it?) does dull a few of the most extreme edges, but there are plenty of nudges and winks within this exceptionally approachable sound.

    A nice set of songs, played with verve and produced with a forgiving hand. Just the sort of thing to warm up a cool autumn day.

    Kittybox Records
    P.O. Box 30712
    Seattle, WA 98113

    Various Artists
    Songs of Freedom and Joy: A Saturday Compilation

    It's hard to figure out exactly what's going on here, though the sub-sub-title does seem to be reasonably accurate: "A celebration of bad music and random weirdness." Lest you think the compiler is making a judgment on these acts, many of the bands on the disc are listed as Also-Ran acts on the label's web site.

    There are all sorts of statements about the Saturday web site, Also-Ran Records and even the songs themselves. Most of them are obvious jokes (if cleverly written), and so it's hard to tell what might actually be true or not. But that thing about "bad music and random weirdness"? That's true.

    In truth, the bands listed on the Also-Ran site put out some unusual, but intriguing stuff. A lot of the rest of the CD falls into the "bad" category. Actually, mind-bogglingly annoying is probably more accurate. And so, what is the point?

    I dunno. Maybe it's the strangest label sampler I've ever encountered. Maybe Also-Ran Records is also a joke, and all of this is one big put-on. Maybe Joseph P. Larkin (the apparent man behind Also-Ran) is a raving ego-manic with nothing else to do other than drive the rest of the world crazy. Or maybe he just wants the attention. But hey, it worked, didn't it?

    Also-Ran Records
    c/o Joeseph Larkin
    144 Willow Wood Dr.
    Slidell, LA 70461
    www: http://www.mintrecs.com

    Various Artists
    This Is Indie Rock
    (Deep Elm)

    You may recall that Deep Elm shelved its "Emo Diaries" franchise after the tenth installment. You may also recall that a new series was promised. And so here it is.

    It should surprise no one that the general sound and feel of the music isn't much different than that of the Emo Diaries. Yes, the standard deviation from the norm is probably a bit higher, but Deep Elm always avoided a narrow definition of emo. And so it isn't hard to imagine "indie rock" as a nice retro reinvention of the emo ideal.

    I feel a little bad about the relatively late nature of this review. I got this disc two or three months ago, and then it slipped into a crack. Now retrieved, I can state with certainty that it is, indeed, up to the high standards of the previous series.

    Deep Elm is a label that rarely releases a bad album. That tradition continues with this new series. A fresh breath of rock and roll ready to infect a new generation.

    Deep Elm Records
    P.O. Box 36939
    Charlotte, NC 28236
    Phone (803) 631-6319
    Fax [803] 631-6314
    e-mail: info@deepelm.com
    www: www.deepelm.com

    The Mort Weiss Trio
    The Three of Us

    I'm always a bit nervous reviewing jazz albums because I'm simply not particularly knowledgeable about the stuff. I know most of the biggies, and I know what I like, but it would take years of study before I'd even think of doing a short bit for Downbeat.

    Well, maybe a month's study. But you get my point. Anyway, one of the things I like about the Mort Weiss Trio is its unusual construction: Weiss on clarinet, Ron Eschete on seven-string guitar and Dave Carpenter on bass (stand-up, of course). The guitar-bass rhythm section lends the songs (all of them standards of one sort or another) something of a beat, hipster feel, while the clarinet simply adds an otherworldly character.

    Weiss has a warm, round tone and handles the melodies on these songs with strength and grace. Eschete and Carpenter match his style and feel quite well, giving this album a toasty, cozy sound.

    Is that good? I dunno. I know I'd like to hear some of Weiss's own compositions--it's always nice to hear what an artist writes for himself. But his selections are good and the performances are quite engaging. I suppose this isn't the most challenging album around. It is a lot of fun, and that works for me.

    3688 S. Bristol St.
    Santa Ana, CA 92704
    www: http://www.smsjazz.com

    Every Last Windmill Shall Fall
    (Big Spoon)

    Windmill is Kent Randell and a whole bunch of friends. And not unlike the Slomo Rabbit Kick album I reviewed in this issue, it sounds more like an idiosyncratic one-man effort than a collaborative band project. Hey, weird is good in my world.

    But Windmill is really more quirky than weird. Imagine grand, sweeping landscapes populated by some strange old coots who can't (or don't want to) keep quiet. These songs burble and pop along without a solid sense of direction, which is fine.

    The song as character study. Or somesuch. The sound is rich and full, but with just enough space for the loopy interspersions to drop in. It almost sounds normal. But almost isn't. Not quite.

    Again, that's a good thing. There are so many little nooks and crannies in these songs that even the laziest explorer will discover entire new worlds. And that texture is what makes this album most enjoyable.

    Big Spoon
    P.O. Box 15066
    Boston, MA 02215

    Also recommended:

    Capstan Shafts Sealcull Rebellion EP (self-released)
    Another set of fine jangly songs (six in all) played with skill and verve. The recording is marginally better--only the vocals are seriously distorted this time out. I suppose this lo-fi, pin-the-needles approach is intentional (by now, Dean Wells ought to have heard about it enough to change if he wanted), though I think a slightly less contrast-ridden sound would better flesh out his wonderful songs.
    e-mail: deanedwardwells@yahoo.com

    The Channel The Channel (C-Side Records)
    Perfectly fine alt-pop songs (imagine the Beatles meeting up with the Flaming Lips--in sound, anyway). I think the Channel ought to work a bit at finding its own sound, or at the very least tying together its own wonderful influences. With a bit of attitude (or a more personal approach), the Channel could move from "nice" to "really, really good."

    Colleen Coadic You Feel This Good (self-released)
    Colleen Coadic was one of the first artists to send me a tape when I started A&A more than 13 years ago. I liked her stuff back then, and I like it now. I haven't heard from her in quite a while, and this album is much better than what I heard back then. Coadic has enough personality to raise her music out of the faceless morass of similar singer. She's a fine anthemic folk-rock singer, and she writes good songs.
    Box 773642
    Eagle River, AK 99577
    www: http://www.colleen.org

    John Danley Drifting into Oblivion (self-released)
    Danley plays solo acoustic guitar, and he imbues his sound with plenty of echo, which gives these pieces a nice dramatic flair. The album is intended to be an "homage to alcoholism, addiction and recovery," and I can hear those themes quite clearly. Not an album of despair, but one of hope.
    1612 Woodland St.
    Suite 2
    Nashville, TN 37206
    www: http://www.johndanley.com

    Driver of the Year Statik (Futureappletree)
    Chunky, jaunty pop-rock with more than a few pretensions. I can't say the music is quite as "important" as it's made to sound, but often the boys come pretty close. Other times, I get the feeling that these songs aren't quite complete. With work, these boys could make a real statement next time.

    Alex Gomez Almost Never (self-released)
    Gomez plays hot blues licks on his electric guitar, and he accents that with boot stomps or a stripped down drum kit (the sound is so fuzzy, I can't really tell which). He's got a nice, kinetic take on the blues which works really well with his naked playing style. A most interesting modern take on an old-fashioned blues style.
    e-mail: agomezmail@yahoo.com
    www: http://www.cdbaby.com/AlexGomez

    Heaven Is a Hotel Heaven Is a Hotel EP (Quartz Inc.)
    Fuzzy indie-pop songs with a few electronic flourishes. The disparity between the keys and the rest of what the band is doing is striking, and it creates a most interesting sound. The songs don't sound quite finished, though that could be a symptom of the sound. Quite intriguing.

    The Interiors A Crooked Line EP (self-released)
    A fine Chicago-area trio that plays solid, well-constructed songs, stuff that's really too crafted to be indie-rock but nonetheless isn't abstract or technical enough to be math or post-rock or whathaveyou. Good songs in a most appealing style. A nice introduction.
    e-mail: newdancingstyles@yahoo.com
    www: http://www.the-interiors.com

    Know Massive MoodSwingSet (Moodswing)
    Lying somewhere between modern electronic hip-hop and older triphop and acid jazz, Know Massive infuses its seductive sounds with thoughtful rhymes and more than a little political content. Worth listening to in more ways than one.

    Men in Fur Men in Fur (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
    Another indie-pop band that relies on a surprising amount of keyboards and electronic accompaniment. The laid-back feel of the songs belies a sophisticated approach to construction and lyrics. There's more here than initially meets the ear.

    Panthers Things Are Strange (Vice)
    Stoner rock sped up and cleaned up. The fuzz is omnipresent, but the riffage is restrained and the vocals are quite clear. I like this approach, and the boys write some solid hard rock songs. Maybe it's time for some NWOBHM nostalgia.

    Pinkie Sharon Fussy (Planting Seeds)
    Pinkie would be a guy named Alex Sharkey. He writes acoustic guitar-driven pop songs and then records them at his house (if I read the pictures right). Fans of the more contemplative side of Big Star would feel right at home here.

    Josh Small Josh Small (Pop Faction)
    Small prefers the banjo, and he uses the word "fuck" as just about every part of speech. These songs are primitive in more than one way, and the stark sound of vocals and banjo (occasionally slide guitar or mandolin) can be jarring. I think that it's supposed to be. That's cool with me.

    So L'il Revolution Thumpin' (self-released)
    This has the feel of an obsessive, one-person electronic affair, but in reality it is five people creating the madness within. So L'il creates a number of different atmospheres, and it does most of them quite well. Some songs are straightforward, and others are more conceptual. These folks resist any easy sort of categorization, so let's just call the stuff "good."
    www: http://www.solil.net

    Tresspassers William Different Stars (Nettwerk America)
    Moody, contemplative, elektro-acoustic rock. Anna-Lynne Williams has a nice alto (more Liz Phair than Hope Sandoval) that she drapes extravagantly over the backdrop. This album moseys, and it does so with some real style.

    Ian Yeager Music for Guitar + Computer (Pax Recordings)
    If album titles could be recognized for truth in advertising, this one would win the grand prize. Ian Yeager plays his guitar and then manipulates those pieces through a computer. Meditative, but often in a mildly jarring way. Without the computer "accompaniment," the pieces would be a bit dull for my taste. The electronic scrambling makes me smile.

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