Welcome to A&A. There are 14 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 #268 reviews
(September 2005)
  • Between the Buried and Me Alaska (Victory)
  • Caroline Where's My Love CD5 (Temporary Residence)
  • The Divorce The Gifted Program (Made in Mexico)
  • The Drift Noumena (Temporary Residence)
  • Bert Lams Nascent (self-released)
  • The Life and Times Suburban Hymns (DeSoto)
  • P.J. Olsson Beautifully Insane (Brash Music)
  • Oxes EP (Monitor)
  • Patient Zero Seemingly So... (self-released)
  • Pattern Is Movement Stowaway (NFI)
  • Tina Schlieske Slow Burn (self-released)
  • Silverstein Discovering the Waterfront (Victory)
  • Beth Snellings/Yehudit Different Strokes...Live (Jazzheads/Edgetone)
  • Summer Blanket Whisper Louder (Pop Up)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Between the Buried and Me
    Alaska
    (Victory)

    Exquisite extreme hardcore churned with proggy Euro-metal and strikingly thoughtful (if often unintelligible) lyrics. Reminds me of a more coherent At the Gates.

    A more extreme At the Gates as well. This album is positively brutal--plenty of double bass drum licks, crashing riffage and throat-throttling howls. The impressive mix of styles and ideas reminds me of early Fear Factory, though almost completely different in content and tone.

    Between the Buried and Me is a direct descendent of some of those fine Century Media and Nuclear Blast bands from the early 90s, European death metal types who couldn't quite give up on melody. Now, we're not talking about Tiamat--these boys are much, much meaner--but more like Asphyx, Grave, Meshuggah, that sort of thing. But again, much, much harsher on the back of the throat.

    I've been preaching this gospel for almost 15 years, but it's still true: Smart people do play loud music. And some very smart people play some excellent loud music. This album is the perfect case study.

    Contact:
    Victory
    346 North Justine
    Suite 504
    Chicago, IL 60607
    www: http://www.victoryrecords.com


    Caroline
    Where's My Love? CD5
    (Temporary Residence)

    Two songs, and a remix of the title track. That's it. And that's more than enough to fall for Caroline.

    Rising from the world of homespun laptop pop, this professionally-produced short set artfully transposes the minimalist world of personal electronic music into one that somehow manages to sound sleek, efficient and otherworldly.

    And yes, Caroline's voice has a lot to do with that last bit. Her take on ethereal vocals has steel underpinnings. There's no doubt about the strength that lies behind these songs. The future cannot come soon enough for my ears.

    Contact:
    Temporary Residence
    P.O. Box 60097
    Brooklyn, NY 11206
    www: http://www.temporaryresidence.com


    The Divorce
    The Gifted Program
    (Made in Mexico)

    Somewhere between Icicle Works, the Cars and Joe Jackson lies the Divorce. That's one hell of a love triangle, don't you think?

    And yes, despite the obvious Brit influences, these boys are fully 'merican. Kinda like the Wrens--and that's a reference I don't let fly idly. The depth of these songs can often be measured in fathoms. There's a lot going on in a really tight space.

    'Cause we are talking about rockin' pop songs. Stuff that blisters, burns and then scrapes off the goo. Damn. I haven't heard cruelty that sounded this sweet in years. These boys aren't nice, but they're damned fine.

    Kicks my ass so many ways I can't even begin to count. Albums that immediately impress me like this don't come along very often. Albums that have this sort of lasting appeal are even rarer. I'm a slave to my musical taste, of course, but I simply can't imagine anyone failing to respond to these guys. Quality of the highest order.

    Contact:
    Made in Mexico
    P.O. Box 70297
    Seattle, WA 98127
    www: http://www.madeinmexicorecords.com"


    The Drift
    Noumena
    (Temporary Residence)

    Some wide-ranging, vaguely abstract bands are almost impossible to write about. "They sound weird, but they sound cool," is what I end up writing. The Drift is not nearly so difficult.

    In part because these boys simply refuse to play the same song (and sometimes, it seems, the same sound) twice, and in part because there's just so much here to mine. These are compositions, not stuff that is (or resembles) improvisations. There is a solid structure behind even the most loopy piece, and the Drift has obviously given these songs a solid workout.

    And yes, I suppose this does lie in the world of Tortoise and the like, but to be honest, I don't hear a lot of that. There is a member of Tarantel (Danny Grody), but again, these songs are tight compositions. Some may sound languid, but they're never lost.

    Damn. I guess I didn't get much past "they sound weird, but they sound cool." Except that the Drift is hardly weird and exceptionally cool. Instrumental rock can take all sorts of forms, and the Drift seems to have chiseled its own. For all the disparate ideas and sounds, each song here sounds like it was played by the Drift. And that may be the most impressive thing (of so many) about this album.

    Contact:
    Temporary Residence
    P.O. Box 60097
    Brooklyn, NY 11206
    www: http://www.temporaryresidence.com


    Bert Lams
    Nascent
    (self-released)

    Subtitled "Bach Preludes on the steel string guitar," and that's exactly what's here. I sat listening for a minute and I'm like...I know that guitar. I've heard it somewhere. And then the liners tell me what I already knew (but couldn't remember): Lams is a member of the California Guitar Trio.

    That meticulous, yet supple, fingerwork. The way these pieces sound so natural springing from a guitar. Of course.

    The sound is incredible. None of that amateurish tin string sound that has become an unfortunate hallmark of acoustic guitar recordings. These strings ring richly true, and the sound is as full and lush as can be imagined. The sound fills the room without crowding, and there's never a false note.

    Beautiful. Amazing. Precise, yet always expressive. Lams has some impressive technical ability, but his real talent is in making the material his own. Little touches mean so much. This is one of the the finest classical guitar albums I've heard. Absolutely first rate from beginning to end.


    The Life and Times
    Suburban Hymns
    (DeSoto)

    Ah, some luscious, heavy-handed power pop. Not as much distortion and dissonance as seems to be popular these days, but still shrouded in just enough mystery to keep everyone interested.

    And that wonderful Bonham-esque up-and-down drumming style. Gives this stuff the majestic feel it deserves. Kinda epochal that way. Makes me feel like I'm listening to the last will and testament of rock and roll itself.

    Well, maybe not quite. But this stuff is wonderfully evocative, and the dirty hooks that inhabit these songs are just the sort of slutty pleasure I need to get through these dark days. What a throb these songs have!

    Sounds too simple to be true. The Life and Times take some basic ideas and smear them up nicely into one hell of an impressionistic work. Little pieces that come together into some amazing pictures. Listen in awe.

    Contact:
    DeSoto
    P.O. Box 60932
    Washington, DC 20039
    www: http://www.desotorecords.com


    P.J. Olsson
    Beautifully Insane
    (Brash)

    Arrogantly silly, both in music and lyrics, P.J. Olsson is extremely difficult to take seriously. He whips though so many styles and ideas--skewering just about everything he touches--that it can be hard to imagine the mind behind the madness.

    But man, this stuff is so much fun. The worldview is utterly cockeyed, not so much upside-down or underground as simply sideways with a vengeance. Quite refreshing that way.

    And there is no club that would accept Olsson as a member. He says enough here (with a smile) to offend anyone who takes themselves seriously. And yet, for filling this disc with absolutely loony concepts, there's obviously something driving Olsson.

    I can't say what, but I sure enjoyed the ride. The sound of this album is almost innocuous--until you actual pay attention to what he's saying and playing, of course. Perhaps the most subversive album I've heard in years.

    Contact:
    Brash Music
    658 11th St. NW
    Atlanta, GA 30318
    www: http://www.brashmusic.com


    Oxes
    EP
    (Monitor)

    The usual twisted behind-the-scenes scenario (this one involving major labels, a woman and foreign intrigue)...the usual throbbing, pounding, utterly brain-leveling Oxes output.

    Crunchy riffage that simply doesn't let up. These songs are all red meat. You want roughage, go to some fruity salad restaurant. There's a reason there's a dead animal on the cover of this disc.

    Um, yeah, these boys do know how to tell a joke or few. And they have a knack for slyly slipping in a few audio yuks amidst the carnage. Nothing obvious, mind you, just a slight reference here and there. The equivalent of a wink, I suppose.

    If Killdozer wasn't quite so deadpan and had an actual sense of melody, it might have sounded something like this. But hey, Oxes fans are used to the mess. Indeed, would it be Oxes without a big pile? I think not.

    Contact:
    Monitor Records
    P.O. Box 2361
    Baltimore, MD 21203
    www: http://www.monitorrecords.com


    Patient Zero
    Seemingly So...
    (self-released)

    Back in the "olden" days, we would have called this prog/hard rock/jam/whatever sort of pastiche "post metal" and been done with it. Patient Zero is a bit more melodic than, say, Mind Over Four, but we're still talking about the same ballpark.

    I didn't know anyone was still trying to play this kinda thing. But I'm glad these guys are. Anthemic prog licks are really cool, especially when combined with some real sonic pounding. I suppose some folks would just call this "post-grunge" and be done with it, but there is a lot more going on here.

    Not quite so whacked as Thought Industry (another great PM band), the keyboard and electronic elements are nonetheless similarly impressive. Patient Zero takes the time to create an atmosphere for each song, and then the piece progresses from that kernel of thought. It's a nice way to do things.

    I suppose the clearest touchpoint for these boys is another old band called Last Crack. The leaps of melodic fancy and overall heightened sense of drama are about the same. I still listen to my Last Crack albums nearly 15 years after they were recorded, and I think these boys have some staying power that way, too.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.patientzero.net


    Pattern Is Movement
    Stowaway
    (NFI)

    Lovely math-y stuff that always stays in motion, no matter how off-kilter. I particularly like the way the unusual melodic lines crash into the ever-shifting drumming. Cool effect.

    That sort of devotion to stomach-wrenching rhythms does make this album a bit difficult for the novice, but that's just the way it goes. Some folks have what it takes, and the others hurl over the side of the boat.

    Needless to say, the band picked out one hell of a name for itself. Pitch perfect, really. These songs evolve in unusual ways, but always according to some internal logic. One a piece is finished, I'm generally able to piece it together. Of course, I really like to do that sort of thing.

    Music that makes you think. Hey, some of us really dig it. And since it appears that thinking just might be coming back into style on a national basis, maybe these boys are getting this album out at just the right time. Um, right. Still, I'm impressed.. There are plenty of nooks here for my brain to hide a while.

    Contact:
    Noreaster Failed Industries
    c/o John Dudley VIII
    2406 Phillips Drive
    Alexandria, VA 22306
    www: http://www.nfilabel.com


    Tina Schlieske
    Slow Burn
    (self-released)

    A few folks in my neck of the woods wondered what the hell Tift Merritt was doing last year when she released the funky country soul of Tambourine last year. I'm sure a few of Tina Schlieske's fans might be wondering the same thing when they hear this.

    The longtime leader of Tina and the B-Sides steps out solo here, and she gets much, much more soulful than any of her previous albums even thought about going. There's just no holding back, and Schlieske proves herself to be one hell of a soul belter.

    Perhaps it is the, shall we say, indelicate timbre of Schlieske's vocals that make this modest shift in sound even more remarkable. She's got power, but not a lot of subtlety. But that's okay. She lets the background singers do their work, and she simply wails. Comparisons to Janis Joplin or Melissa Etheridge are obvious (especially considering her "regular" gig as a lesbian activist), but Schlieske has a feel all her own. She can pull back from time to time, and she's more roots and soul than Etheridge ever was.

    A better comparison would be Bonnie Raitt--without the stinging guitar, of course. Schlieske sticks to acoustic work, and she uses that guitar quite well. By any measure, this is the most mature and assured album of her career. Quite a step forward.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.tinabsides.com


    Silverstein
    Discovering the Waterfront
    (Victory)

    I love Victory's lineup, everything from peppy pop tunesters to some of the most extreme hardcore around. Silverstein does a nice job of bridging the gap.

    By and large, this is melodic--and rather complex--math-y emo stuff. And then these hoarse, almost vomited vocals blast through for a few bars. Not just a nice counterpoint, either. Every piece of these songs seems to have been calculated for its fullest effect. I'm not slagging with that comment, either. Silverstein is exceptionally efficient with its work.

    And so, yes, there's the occasional feeling that these songs have been manufactured rather than written. But I think critics hear more of that than most folks, and in any case the energy in these songs burns away any misgivings in no time at all.

    Most impressive. Few bands would try to accomplish as much as Silverstein actually does. Highly enjoyable, and wonderfully complicated as well. Well done.

    Contact:
    Victory
    346 North Justine
    Suite 504
    Chicago, IL 60607
    www: http://www.victoryrecords.com


    Beth Snellings/Yehudit
    Different Strokes...Live
    (Jazzheads/Edgetone)

    I'm always a bit nervous reviewing jazz records. And an album largely made up of standards played by an electric violinist and cellist? Yeesh. Anything I write is likely to be wrong, somehow.

    Still, I have to say that I like what this duo does with the songs here. Any time you remake a song with but two players, you have lots of choices to make. Snellings and Yehudit have, by and large, chosen to keep the most recognizable parts of the songs while still incorporating as many tidbits as possible.

    The notes say this was recorded live in concert, but either the audience was completely stoned or somehow the engineer kept all noise (applause included) out. I dunno. In any case, the sound is superb. Yehudit's electric violin has a fine resonance, and Snelling's cello is clear, distinct and supple.

    A very enjoyable album. Even if you don't know all the works here (and Yehudit and Snellings include some of their own as well), the artistry in the arrangements ought to win you over. These pieces were crafted to please--in a good way. They find the core essence of each song and then play a bit. Sounds a lot like a definition of jazz I once read.

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


    Summer Blanket
    Whisper Louder
    (Pop Up)

    Summer Blanket is Keith Michaud and a somewhat evolving circle of friends (all of whom play in other bands). The songs do have that somewhat eccentric "one-man band" feel to them--something that used to be a curse but seems to be coming into style.

    Me, I always like the idea of popping into someone else's head for a while. True band efforts generally have greater depth, but these projects headed by a single person (not always a man, of course) generally have a sense of deviant genius to them. The good ones, anyway.

    And yes, we are talking about the stereotypical slightly loopy pop sound. I guess that's the sound that makes the most sense to such people. Michaud is smart enough to make sure this album has a lush feel--a nice bit of unease mashed up against the singular writing. These songs never quite stay on even keel.

    Which is why I like it, of course. Quite solid writing and fine playing. Summer Blanket isn't yer typical south Florida effort. But then, typical doesn't make the cut with me. This one is special.

    Contact:
    Pop Up
    2605 East Atlantic Blvd #212
    Pompano Beach, FL 33062
    www: http://www.popuprecords.com


    Also recommended:

    Aemae The Helical World (self-released)
    Brandon Nickell is the man behind this wall of noise and electronic exploration. Most of the pieces are relatively subdued--contemplative, if you must. But Nickell infuses each piece with a number of surprising elements. Not knowing what to expect in the abstract is a very good thing, indeed.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.aemae.com

    Mitchell Froom A Thousand Days (Kontext)
    As the cover says, "piano music and interludes composed and performed by Mitchell Froom". No more, no less. Most of these pieces would do quite nicely as the soundtrack to an indie movie with a bit more bite than is immediately obvious. Froom is a relatively conventional composer, but like his work as a producer, he uses convention to lure interesting ideas out into the open.

    Grandaddy Excerpts from the Diary of Todd Zilla EP (V2)
    Grandaddy is kinda what Ruth Ruth might have been: vaguely subversive power pop with electronic overtones. At times nimble, at times ponderous, this little side journey is full of small wonders. How about the full Diary?

    Gutpuppet Gutpuppet II EP (Woetone)
    Another one best described by the cover: Dobro slide guitar and chromatic harmonica. That says it all, and yet it barely hints at the possibilities. Many of these pieces have a high lonesome feel, but my guess is we're talking the Himalayas and not the Sierra.

    The Jena Campaign The Jena Campaign (self-released)
    A couple Rhode Island guys playing introspective folky pop. Imagine if Johnny Marr had listened to a lot of Simon and Garfunkel and Carpenters. Or, maybe don't. But in any case, this duo has crafted some wonderful songs set in a most attractive setting.
    Contact:
    Matt Maggiacomo
    74 Prospect St.
    Apt. 3F
    Woonsocket, RI 02895
    www: www.heartsandstarsrecords.com

    Immaculate Machine Ones and Zeros (Mint)
    I'm not sure what it is about Canadian pop rock bands. The most accessible of them (say, the New Pornographers) are still decidedly unusual. Immaculate Machine throws just about everything into every song, which can get distracting, though some of the songs here (like the title track) manage to be minor masterpieces.

    The Mathletes Jest & Earnest 2xCD (Asaurus)
    Speaking of eccentric pop.... Propagated by someone who goes by the name of "Joe Mathlete," these songs have the feel of Half Japanese songs as sung by Daniel Johnston, but upon further listening, I'd have to say "Joe" is a reasonably competent musician--let's say the songs are played by They Might Be Giants. The songwriting is more of an acquired taste. You've got to like it weird. And I do.

    Thollem McDonas Solo Piano (Pax Recordings)
    Unlike the eccentric pop of the McDonas CDs reviewed recently, this is plain ol' avant-garde piano work. And maybe not even avant garde. McDonas has steeped himself in jazz piano (Thelonius Monk in particular) and then straightened out the rhythms. While I'm not generally a fan of "classical" interpretations of jazz styles, McDonas does a nice job of melding his influences into a most intriguing sound.

    Ken Michaels Sit in the Sun EP (Zomo)
    Loopy, sunny laptop pop from Boston, land of the sun. Michaels proves most adept at assembling the various elements of his songs--the sound often transcends the often artificial one-man production. He's also got a deft hand with a variety of hooks and styles. From jangly to fuzzy to proggily electronic, there's a song here for just about anyone.

    The Pope Jazzman Cometh (Wantage USA-Kill Shaman)
    Some lovely no-wave with a throbbing chaser. Imagine the Jesus Lizard completely devolving into noise without losing its exceptional rhythmic focus. I keep hearing more and more of this stuff lately; it's a trend a heartily endorse. The Pope exhorts the faithful most successfully.

    Songs of Water Songs of Water (self-released)
    This trio plays instrumental music that wanders far afield from the typical "alternative" ideal of such fare. As the liner notes say, "welcome the quiet invitation." Not many rock bands can use hammered dulcimer as a featured instrument and still keep their focus tight. These boys do that and more, borrowing from both American roots and world beat influences to create a truly original sound.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.songsofwater.com

    The Tom Collins Daylight Tonight (Terminus)
    Guitar-driven rock and roll, and hardly apologetic about it, the Tom Collins roll along some unnamed southern interstate with amps turned up to 11. Plenty of blues, plenty of hard country and jar after jar of attitude populate this CD. Anyone partial to six strings used to their full melodic and dynamic potential will be most pleased.

    Various Artists Gospel for J.F.P. III: Tribute to Jaco Pastorius (Moonjune)
    Jaco Pastorius was one of the first electric bass jazz superstars, and his work within the fusion movement (a term disavowed in the liners to this set, I might add) is unquestioned. While I'm not the biggest fan of this particular sound (much of the stuff gets a little close to "happy jazz" for my tastes), the artists on this set do a fine job of explaining just how important Pastorius was to the music community as a whole. An enlightening set, to say the least.

    Various Artists Primosonic Rhythms Vol. 2 (Rivercidal Syndicate)
    Whether you want to call it ska, dub, rocksteady or reggae (and each of those terms does tend to blend into another), there's plenty on this disc. By and large, the pieces here are more stripped down than highly decorated, and that's something I heartily endorse. These styles tend to lose their soul when the production gets too involved. Ride the grooves and get lost in the sound.


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