Welcome to A&A. There are 12 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 #266 reviews
July 2005
  • Annie Anniemal (Big Beat/Atlantic)
  • Black Sunday Tronic Blanc (Dirtnap)
  • Frank Carillo and the Bandoleros Bad Out There (Jezebel)
  • The Churchills The Odds of Winning (Near/Red Eye)
  • Halfway Farewell to the Fainthearted (Laughing Outlaw)
  • Sara Hamilton Call My Name (Saricana/Red Eye)
  • Gordon B. Isnor Creatures All Tonight (Lord Sir Skronk)
  • Kingsley Kingsley (Blood Orange)
  • Monster-0 ...And Then There Were Zero (Omega Point)
  • The Silent Type Hot and Bothered (self-released)
  • Zom Zoms One Brain (Omega Point)
  • Zox The Wait (Armo)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    (Big Beat/676/Atlantic)

    I can't wait to hear the jibes. Yes, Annie is just another Eurotrash girl (Finnish, actually) glomming onto Madonna's vapor trails. In fact, her one big hit up to this point (1999's "The Greatest Hit," which is included on this album) rips a loop from "Everybody." But if it works, it works.

    Take the lead single for this album, "Heartbeat." It sounds like a Pet Shop Boys tune that never was, though strangely enough it doesn't really resemble Tennant and Lowe's own "Heartbeat." Annie's voice isn't particularly strong, and when she tries to hit the higher registers it almost fuzzes out completely. And I happen to think that sounds almost unbearably cute.

    Annie's future will be tied inextricably to her ability to find producers who are able to create slick yet interesting songs. I wouldn't want to bet the farm on her future. But she is a DJ, so it's more than possible that she'll be able to replicate the sophisticated music on this astoundingly fun--if ephemeral--album.

    C'mon. It's summer. It's time to screw around and listen to cheesy pop music. I'm all for that--I might even plunk myself down in the grass when Earth, Wind and Fire and Chicago come to town. Annie makes cheesy pop music that sounds good to my ears, and that's all I require. Laugh all you want...I'll still be smiling.

    Black Sunday
    Tronic Blanc

    Dirtnap bands are usually fuzzy, raucous beasts. Black Sunday fits right in there. But the sheer sonic inventiveness of Alicja (who, for all intents and purposes, is Black Sunday) is astounding. There's psychedelia, new wave, pop punk and experimental electronic punk as well--and often enough, more than one of those styles in a given song.

    Focus, focus, focus. Black Sunday does not have it. These songs and the music within them are all over the map. I applaud the desire, and my intellect is most gratified by the unwillingness to pander to pop dorks like my decidedly dull emotional side.

    When the energy stays solid (which is most of the time), the visceral thrill of power is able to carry the day. Black Sunday needs to figure out how to keep that wire live all the way through.

    If it does, I'd have to predict (sadly) that Dirtnap will not be big enough for its future. Black Sunday has more potential (a good portion of it almost realized) than anyone I've heard in some time. This album is rough, ragged and often inexcusably messy. A fine wallow, if you ask me. A bit more attention to detail, and the world will not be big enough for Alicja and Black Sunday.

    P.O. Box 21249
    Seattle, WA 98111
    www: http://www.dirtnaprecs.com

    Frank Carillo and the Bandoleros
    Bad Out There

    If you've been listening to recent Bob Dylan, you know the man has been steeping his sound in the blues, even while retaining his own remarkable feel for American music. Frank Carillo does much the same thing here. He's a bit more Tom Petty than Dylan, perhaps, but he sure knows how to rock out the blues.

    And not in that dreadful, ponderous white-boy blues style that is just far too tiresome. Most folks would probably through Carillo in Americana, that alt.alt.country catchall category. And while I wouldn't argue--these songs use rock and roots rather than blue conventions--I still say Carillo's heart is in the blues.

    Much like Americana icon Whiskeytown (when there was such a thing, of course), Carillo infuses his songs with so much feeling and blue atmosphere that it's hard to imagine these songs existing without the likes of Muddy Waters and Leadbelly.

    Simply lovely. In a kinda depressing, are-you-sure-it'll-be-alright? kinda way. Carillo makes good music. Call it what you want; I'll be listening to this puppy many more times.

    P.O. Box 729
    Holbrook, NY 11741
    www: http://www.frankcarillo.com
    www: http://www.jezebelrecordsinc.com

    The Churchills
    The Odds of Winning

    Grabbing as many cool pop ideas as they can, the Churchills have the stylings and feel of a globetrotting band. There's a little Kiwipop, a chunk of emo, a bit of the Britpop and just enough raggedy roots to dust up the final product.

    All that probably has something to do with how these guys got their songs placed in places like the TV show "Scrubs"--and their t-shirt on "The Sopranos." The songs are awfully perky (a nice confluence of the Brit and Kiwi, I'd say) without getting saccharine. Many times, the boys dance right up the precipice before gracefully gliding back into coolsville.

    Which isn't to say these guys plan to be indie heroes for very long. This ambitious album is a calling card, one that ought to be well-received in many major label A&R departments--if it hasn't been already. The Churchills won't have to change their sound at all. This stuff is ready for the major leagues right now.

    And it's still good. Exciting, in fact. There are a couple spots where I think I can hear echoes of excised, more experimental, ideas. But editing isn't a crime if the music turns out fine. And it sure does here.

    www: http://www.thechurchills.net

    Farewell to the Fainthearted
    (Laughing Outlaw)

    So can you call it Americana if the band is Australian? Why not? Seven guys in the outfit, and enough pedal steel and dobro to take me down the road apiece. Indeed, I can name a couple dozen bands around my little corner of North Carolina who would love to make music this good.

    The songs are impressive, but I think I like the collective feel of the album the best. When you've got seven members (and a lengthy list of guests), a genial, collaborative sound often results. These ideas have been bounced off any number of folks, and they came back improved.

    When I go to the beach later this summer, I'll be packing this disc, a bottle of the finest bourbon and as little else as possible. Keep it easy, and make sure the ice cube bin stays full.

    Laughing Outlaw
    8 Victoria St.
    Lewisham NSW 2049
    e-mail: coupe@laughingoutlaw.com
    www: http://www.laughingoutlaw.com.au

    Sara Hamilton
    Call My Name
    (Saricana/Red Eye)

    Sara Hamilton has that Mary Chapin Carpenter mid-alto range, and she knows her way around writing songs as well. This album is set up to feature those two things, and those two things only.

    Which is how I would have produced it as well. Hamilton is obviously angling for a Nashville contract, though I'm not sure she's got the glitz and firepower. Maybe she really is aiming for the AAA country-folk-pop submarket, that commercial side of alt.country where Carpenter and Rosanne Cash (another obvious influence) reside.

    Her stuff is good enough, and like I noted up top, producer Jesse Dayton makes sure to dress up the music without distracting the listener from Hamilton's voice and ideas. The album sounds lovely, as it should.

    I always get a little bummed when I hear such a fine album and yet can't quite envision commercial success. Only a little, though, because most musicians never make an album as fine as this.

    www: http://www.sarahamilton.com

    Gordon B. Isnor
    Creatures All Tonight
    (Lord Sir Skronk)

    Remember those faux new wave pop bands from the late 70s and early 80s? The Cars were probably the best known, though I was thinking more of the Tubes, Tommy Tutone, etc., one-hit wonders (or two, at most)--even though it sounded like most of those songs might well have been recorded by the same producer.

    Isnor has a terrific handle on the cheesy keyboard riffs, the processed guitar sound and the offhanded hooks that defined this sound. This is sophisticated cheesy pop. And damned proud of it.

    Yes, you have to be in the mood. And it helps to have actually liked the stuff back when it was current (and since we're talking more than 20 years ago, that does exclude more than a few readers). Geezer pop for aging geeks. Or something like that.

    And since I'm a rapidly-aging geek who can't resist a nicely-turned pop hook (no matter how cheesy), this album utterly charmed me. Wistful smiles all around.

    Lord Sir Skronk Records
    2155 Armcrescent East
    Halifax, Nova Scotia B3L 3C8
    www: http://www.lordsirskronk.com

    (Blood Orange)

    Some lovely fuzzed-out rock. Kingsley reminds me of many excellent bands from the early 90s, but the one that most comes to mind is Brainiac. Maybe the second or third album, before the boys (and by then, they were all boys) became full-on electronic math freaks. No, Kingsley is all about the rock, with some classy keys on the side.

    And damn, if the stuff doesn't just fall into place. These anthemic piece could sound ponderous or overblown or simply turgid, but Kingsley always remembers to step lively. The energy level never flags, and the songs remain in full flight.

    Plenty of reviewers will likely reference the Kings of Leon and a few other modern rockers, and that's cool. Others might mention that guitarist (and songwriter) Harris Thurmond served in Hammerbox and other outstanding Seattle bands. There's lots to mention, like the fact that Kingsley always keeps things tight and stylish--and that's the only way to play this particular musical game.

    The songs are sharp, but the arrangements and performances are what make this disc. One or two steps off the path, and this material would sound generic and dull. Thankfully, what we have here is fresh and invigorating. Quite the solid effort.

    Blood Orange
    117 Louisa #216
    Seattle, WA 98107
    www: http://www.kingsleymusic.com

    ...And Then There Were Zero
    (Omega Point)

    Few labels would have the courage to release one Monster-0 album. Daemon Hatfield writes some of the most incisive and attractive songs I've ever heard, but he seems to insist upon some of the strangest arrangements possible. Almost all of them involve some sort of rock-electronic hybrid, but rarely does he repeat himself.

    So if you're able to sit back and simply rock out the bones of the pieces, you're cool. Likewise if you simply like to hear great music put into some of the strangest positions imaginable. Those in-between, well...

    Luckily for Hatfield and Lindsay Williams, his new partner in Monster-0, Omega Point insists on releasing unusual--but always exceptional--electronic music. The sound palette for Monster-0 albums is breathtaking, and the results--once you've steeled yourself--are similarly impressive.

    I like weird stuff, and I also like picking music apart. This stuff is perfect for my ear. But it should be accessible to any vaguely adventurous listener. My only advice is to let the songs come to you. Trying to scale the ideas perpetrated by this album would be a true feat of genius.

    Omega Point Records
    3921 N. Claremont, 2F
    Chicago, IL 60618
    www: http://www.omegapointrecords.com

    The Silent Type
    Hot and Bothered

    So if I happened to mention that the Silent Type and Kingsley (reviewed earlier in this issue) were two sides of the same coin, would you castigate me for fomenting a cliche? Yeah, I guess so. And you should. Nonetheless, there are a lot of similarities in philosophy, even if the execution couldn't be more different.

    Basically, the Silent Type crafts some wonderful anthems and borrows a good amount of its sound from the early 90s. But rather than crafting its sound, including deftly-placed keyboards, these boys decided to simply amp up the attitude and the energy.

    Strangely enough, though, Brainiac is one of my main touchstones for these boys. And like Kingsley, we're talking about earlier rather than later. There's plenty of GvsB and other fashion punk stars as well--including a surprising dollop of emo here and there--but in no way can these guys get around the fact that they're playing sharp, cerebral rock and roll.

    I suppose that sort of compliment is akin to the kiss of death. I'm sure it doesn't matter that this stuff gives me a visceral rush that is at least the equal of the intellectual satisfaction these songs give me. Whatever. Let's just slap a "good music" sticker on the Silent Type and call it a day.

    P.O. Box 39468
    Philadelphia, PA 19136
    www: http://www.thesilenttype.org

    Zom Zoms
    One Brain
    (Omega Point)

    Self-referential to the extreme (three of the 10 songs have "Zom" in their title somewhere, and most of the others mention "Zom Zoms" at some point) and manic to the point of apoplexy, Zom Zoms bliss out in some alternate electronic universe only known to the Residents and a few other brave souls.

    Zom Zoms prefer to make bad jokes--sometimes building entire songs around these lame concepts--than worry too much about where the music is going. The boys seem to think that if they keep it fast and lean, then everything else will fall into place. It's amazing how right they are.

    One of the stranger acts on the Omega Point roster (which is saying something), Zom Zoms are frighteningly charming. Stupid at times, of course, but always engaging. Generally enthralling, actually. Give your mind over to the madness.

    You know, I'm not sure if this stuff is stupid for a reason (like some greater joke or some different meta concept) or the guys are simply lame. It doesn't matter, because everything is so over the top that the album charms for almost imperceptible reasons. Or something like that. Once you do let the madness overtake you, even the most basic forms of thought become quite difficult to accomplish. All you know is that you need another hit, even if it will kill you. And rest assured, repeated exposure to Zom Zoms will do you harm. Me? I just don't care. I'm mainlining once more.

    Omega Point Records
    3921 N. Claremont, 2F
    Chicago, IL 60618
    www: http://www.omegapointrecords.com

    The Wait

    So I'm reading some reviews of Zox's first album, and they all seem to make mention of some mind-bending elektro-violin playing. I don't hear a whole lot of that here. Not as much as it seems the first album contained, anyway . In fact, it seems to me (just judging by what I read, since I haven't heard that disc) that these boys really streamlined their approach for this album.

    And while that probably won't make the fans of that first album particularly happy, I think it probably helped Zox make this album as good as it is. The songs are tight, generally in a slightly trippy new wave-punk-ska sound that has "tomorrow" written all over it. The playing is energetic, and the production is ultra-clean.

    This sound is certainly good for getting major label attention. Zox won't have to clean up much if they get a deal. I'm sure a big label would want simpler songs--you gotta have a single, man--but the sound is radio-ready. And I mean that as a complement. Zox is mainstream in the most interesting ways possible.

    Right. So that I don't insult the boys any further, let me get out of here by saying I really enjoyed the disc. That's unqualified praise, by the way. Zox rocks. Oh my God, did I really say that? Somebody shoot me...

    Armo Records
    e-mail: info@armorecords.com
    www: http://www.armorecords.com
    www: http://www.zoxband.com

    Also recommended:

    Casionauts! Bailamos Morimos Juntos! (Omega Point)
    Conceptual laptop industrial that keeps its sound and ideas utterly goofy. For reasons I can't quite explain, this sounds like a cheap electronic version of early Senator Flux (more "Move Sequence" than "Grey Eyed Athena"). A lot of fun, if ephemeral.

    The Charming Snakes Ammunition (Dirtnap)
    Loud, fast and fuzzy. The Charming Snakes aren't the most original band around, but they make up for their somewhat generic songwriting with some of the most incendiary playing I've heard in ages. This disc is pure energy. Don't listen; just let the power surge through you.

    Michael Dean Damron A Perfect Day for a Funeral (In Music We Trust)
    I know Ryan Adams doesn't have the most distinctive voice around, but do so many people have to sound like him? Damron has a slightly huskier and more ominous take on Adams's folky rasp, but when combined with these alt.country shitkicker pieces, well, the resemblance is obvious. That his songs still stand up is most impressive. Damron has talent; now he needs to work on differentiating himself from the pack.

    Jascha Ephraim Jascha Ephraim (self-released)
    Framed by what might well be oh-so-cute recordings of Ephraim as a small child, the dorky psychedelic laptop pop songs on this disc take on an almost otherworldly presence. Imagine Emperor Penguin and Jad Fair meeting the Flaming Lips...and then cheesing out from there. I've never heard anything quite like this. And even if I'm not entirely sure I love it, the unique nature of the pieces is undeniably appealing.
    www: http://www.jaschaephraim.com

    Felt 2: A Tribute to Lisa Bonet (Rhymesayers)
    Murs and Slug get together once again to shine a light on yet another "underlooked" actress. Well, sorta. Most of the pieces here have very little to do with the erstwhile Huxtable, but they're worthy of their creators. Felt is a decidedly oddball side project...one that brings a fresh cool breeze to these hot summer days.

    High Tension Wires Send a Message (Dirtnap)
    Ah, the one album in the most recent Dirtnap package that sounds like, well, Dirtnap. Speedy pop punk amped up with heavy treble and upper-level distortion. Easy to love, impossible to turn down. Don't ask me about substance...it's summer man. Have a good time, all the time.

    Lunascape Reminiscence (Noir)
    Songs from two previous albums combined with a couple unreleased pieces. I'm not sure if this is a posthumous release, but if it is, that's too bad. Lunascape makes some wonderfully lush goth anthems--stuff that may be a bit too slow for the dance floor, but perfect for setting the mood anywhere else. Absolutely gorgeous.

    The Makers Everybody Rise! (Kill Rock Stars)
    The Makers are probably older than me. They've been purveying their own version of snot-nosed, attitude-driven garage rock for nearly 15 years. They know how to make this stuff sound good, and this album is further proof. Not much different from their KRS album of last year, but certainly as good. And, of course, louder is better.

    Midnight Syndicate The 13th Hour (Entity)
    These guys have been making gothic soundscapes for almost as long as I've been writing A&A. They're one of the best at creating full-orchestrated music full of doom and terror, and this album is as spooky as any. The perfect music for giving a scare to anyone who might need one.

    The Misspent All There Is, Is Now EP (self-released)
    Warrick Hayes is the singer and the songwriter, and he tends to write stuff that reminds me of cheesed-out Kiwi-pop (you can extend that to Aussie bands like the Go-Betweens, if you like). The pieces can get mawkish--"Wish You Well" was a finalist for VH1's Song of the Year contest, and it sounds like it--but most of the time the cheer is nicely-tempered by a wry sense of humor. Not the most adventurous band, but absolutely listenable.

    psi Artificially Retarded Soul Care Operators (Evolving Ear)
    Lots and lots of odd noises and general lunacy from the psi folks. These pieces are decidedly improvised...there's even a snippet or few of club banter to round out the sound. More conceptual than most improvisatory acts, psi is all about the ideas, whether they're jokes or something more substantial. Yes, you have to think. A lot. I'd expect nothing less from psi.

    Sleeping People Sleeping People (Temporary Residence)
    It would appear that the Fucking Champs have competition. And while Sleeping People is a bit more prog and somewhat less metal, the intent seems to be the same: Kick out a little intellectual loud music and see what happens. As it happens, I'm impressed. Wonky, but oh so true.

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