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 #269 reviews
(October 2005)
  • Aiden Nightmare Anatomy (Victory)
  • Baleen Follow Me Blind (Liquilab)
  • C Universum (54-40 or Fight!)
  • Desert City Soundtrack Perfect Addiction (Deep Elm)
  • Alex Gomez Metallic Blue Electric (self-released)
  • The Kola Koca Death Squad The Kola Koca Death Squad (Wife)
  • Mad Happy Renegade Geeks (Mutiny Zoo)
  • Pinetop Seven The Night's Bloom (Empyrean)
  • The Post In the Event of Tomorrow (Jalisco)
  • Semaphore Make (self-released)
  • Silver Sunshine A Small Pocket of Pure Spirit EP (Empyrean)
  • Straylight Run Prepare to Be Wrong EP (Victory)
  • Ticonderoga The Heilig-Levine LP (54-40 or Fight!)
  • Valina Epode (54-40 or Fight!)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Aiden
    Nightmare Anatomy
    (Victory)

    The Aiden boys have a full-on goth look. They have a full-on Maiden-meets-Alkaline Trio sound. I can only imagine the live show, but the songs on this disc are astonishing in scope and intensity.

    I suppose it's only natural for pop punksters to have a Eurometal jones, but this is the most pronounced I've ever heard. Kinda interesting to hear the prog excesses blurred with crunchy harmonic excesses.

    Aiden has a few other influences that burble up from song to song. There are a few extreme hardcore moments (which are surprisingly unjarring, considering the general content of the album), and every once in a while there's the fleeting goth keyboard wash and glam metal reference. I'm partial to these kinda asides, obviously.

    Truly invigorating. Aiden brings a few strange mates to the table, but hell, who says one emo band has to sound like all the others. Oh, yeah, the major labels. Good thing these boys are on Victory, a label that knows a thing or two about distinctive music. Play it loud and smile lots.

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


    Baleen
    Follow Me Blind
    (Liquilab)

    A King's X for the modern era. Baleen is much more electronic than hard rock (though these songs are played, not programmed), but there are more than a few points in confluence. The science fiction references (The title of a song on this album, "Magnifico (The Mule)," is a character in Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy). There's also the use of strong, if somewhat unusual harmonies and an off-kilter rhythmic base.

    Mostly, though, the resemblance is strictly artistic. At its best (say, on its second and third albums), King's X re-invented hard rock. Baleen is simply a modern rock and roll band, but by infusing jazz elements (including saxophone), an electronic sensibility and more melodies than any album rightly ought to have, these boys have carved out their own space.

    And it's one hell of a space. Even in the quiet moments, a lot is going on. I know a few folks who would make a Morphine reference, and I suppose that's legit on an artistic level. Hell, while you're at it, why not include Roxy Music and any other band that didn't fixate upon any fixed conception of music?

    Sorry about the soapbox. This is one of those albums that sneaks up on you fast. The first few bars aren't anything spectacular, but I can't imagine anyone not getting hooked by the end of the first song. Spectacular.

    Contact:
    Liquilab Records
    P.O. Box 12321
    Charlotte, NC 28220-2321
    www: http://www.liquilab.com


    C
    Universum
    (54-40 or Fight!)

    C might stand for the Czech Republic, home base for these boys. Or it might stand for "champs." These boys play instrumental post-rock like few others.

    And even before I saw the reference on the sleeve, I thought of Del Rey, one of the great, oft-overlooked instrumental bands. These guys incorporate that signature ringing guitar tone often enough, though C likes to veer in plenty of other directions as well.

    So much so that Sonic Youth and (early) Don Cab (also listed on the sleeve) are completely accurate comparisons...both in style and quality. The songs on this album lurch and stagger from sound to sound, but the underlying strength is present throughout.

    I really dig the way C cycles through ideas. Give each notion its due, and then move on. Proof, I suppose, that there's always something new under the headphones, after all--even if it is largely a sly re-examination of the past. Most exciting.

    Contact:
    54-40 or Fight!
    P.O. Box 1601
    Acme, MI 49610
    www: http://www.fiftyfourfortyorfight.com


    Desert City Soundtrack
    Perfect Addiction
    (Deep Elm)

    Desert City Soundtrack hasn't been around for the longest time, but I think it's time to acknowledge what seems almost inescapable: This trio from Portland is quite likely the most creative, even brilliant, band in the world.

    Yes, this stuff sounds "important" (in that urgent, almost pretentious way), but what sets these boys apart is their ability to shift gears (and keys and time signatures and...) without losing focus. Each turn of the corner pulls the listener in closer, every little tic further binds the ear to the song. This is something that can't be taught, though it must be learned.

    And, of course, piano is an important instrument (piano-oriented rock is, of course, all the rage these days, especially in the mainstream), but frequently the keys are used as percussion as much as melodic elements. Desert City Soundtrack uses every single sound and trick at its disposal to create its music, and the result is a richness beyond compare.

    Bathe in the luxury, if you like. The sheer weight of the ideas on this disc is staggering. But the approachability of the music is perhaps the most stunning thing of all. Your mom would probably like this, though not necessarily for the same reasons you might. The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that no one does it better.

    Contact:
    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


    Alex Gomez
    Metallic Blue Electric
    (self-released)

    I've been listening to Gomez for a while now, and I've always kinda liked his stuff. His guitar playing relied a bit too much on rock and roll licks for my taste--though I've always thought his playing was first rate--but his voice is one wonderful blues instrument.

    Turns out it wasn't his guitar that was too rock and roll. It was the band. So here Gomez sits down with his electric guitar and wails the blues. There may be some bass drum work in here, but that also might be the sound of his feet pounding the floor (amplified, of course). Otherwise, we're talking about electric guitar and voice and nothing else. And damned if it isn't the most arresting, invigorating blues album I've heard in ages.

    There's no reason why more people don't play this way, but in the last decade or so I've only heard a couple of folks attempt it--and that was live. Jon Spencer came close often enough, and that's not a bad reference point at all. Gomez shreds the blues here, and it's about time.

    Sometimes less is more, especially when you're talking about the blues. Gomez strips down without letting up on the throttle one inch, and the result is one of the best white-knuckle blues albums around.

    Contact:
    www: www.alexgomez.biz


    The Kola Koca Death Squad
    The Kola Koca Death Squad
    (Wife Records)

    You'd think a two-piece (with a little help from some friends) would try to keep things straightforward and simple. Not so the Kola Koka Death Squad.

    Rather, the drumming is all over the place stylistically, and the songs themselves veer from innocuous rock and roll to things darker and much more dangerous. They'll lull you off your guard, and then comes the ambush. And even when I came to expect it, I couldn't anticipate it.

    It's strange that I like this, because a good chunk of the album is kinda nondescript. But those moments of terror, the spots where I wondered whether the sun would rise again, those make all the difference.

    I'm not sure this will hold up on multiple listens, but the theatrical nature of the songs does bode well for a live show. Fun? Not really. But it leaves one hell of an impression.

    Contact:
    Wife Records
    6865 Addenbrook Blvd.
    New Albany, OH 43054
    www: http://www.wiferecords.com


    Mad Happy
    Renegade Geeks
    (Mutiny Zoo Records)

    Goofy as hell laptop hip hop. Reminds me of Dee-Lite, though more in terms of sensibility than sound. Mad Happy trips through a variety of electronic styles, including a heavy reliance on dance hall reggae.

    What separates these folks from the plethora of college-educated white folks making hip hop albums these days is the relentless self-deprecation. Even when this duo starts bragging, it's making fun of itself.

    The sound itself is thoroughly stripped down, giving the whiny rhyming plenty of room to annoy. But somehow I'm more amused than aggravated. And in case anyone is looking to pick up an act like this, both MikeiLL and Rivka are almost reprehensively attractive. Never hurts, you know.

    But what actually sells this album is the rhymes. The wry observations come fast and furious. And for such a minimal sound, a lot of these songs are pretty damned catchy. Maybe the better parts of the 80s are finally coming around, after all.

    Contact:
    Mutiny Zoo Records
    Monroe St. #8
    Hoboken, NJ 07030
    www: http://www.mutinyzoo.com


    Pinetop Seven
    The Night's Bloom
    (Barbary Coast-Empyrean)

    More of that important-sounding piano rock. Pinetop Seven doesn't actually build most of its songs around piano--guitar is still the base--but piano and strings really supply the mood for these introspective songs.

    Indeed, a lot of this stuff is full-on retina gazing, eyes turned completely inward. The songs have a stream of consciousness feel, and often they wander around a bit until all the pieces fall into place. Quite impressive that way.

    And sometimes the pieces don't come together. Such "unfinished" songs can be maddening, but they do have their place. By and large, they supply atmosphere. Pinetop Seven seems to look at things from the macro perspective, and when you take the album as a whole, every string finds its end.

    Not in a knot, either, if you'll allow me to butcher the metaphor that much further. Rather, there's simply a natural settling of accounts. Humanity doesn't necessarily do well. And that's only natural as well. One unsettling album, and that sits just fine with me.

    Contact:
    Empyrean Records
    P.O. Box 97
    Warren, RI 02885-0197
    www: http://www.empyreanrecords.com


    The Post
    In the Event of Tomorrow
    (Jalisco-Morphius)

    So what if you really dug the Black Heart Procession and the like but didn't want to use any piano on your songs? You might do what the Post did and create an album of spooky, atmospheric rock songs.

    Sometimes I miss the piano. And it's not like there aren't keyboards here now and again, so obviously someone has at least rudimentary knowledge. But then I hear how the guitar rings through what would be the piano lines, and I realize how these folks are creating something relatively unique. Good for them.

    The sound is a bit muddy, though I suppose that's probably the best move with the material. After all, this stuff lives and dies on an aura of mystery, and certainly not being able to hear every note clearly adds to that.

    That's not a backhanded compliment, either. These folks have obviously put a lot of thought into all of the little bits of this album, and that attention has created a fine album. The Post is the sort of band that sounds better when its wound up, and so that focus on craft is most welcome. Quite an intriguing piece.

    Contact:
    Jalisco Records
    2836 South Walnut Street Pike
    Bloomington, IN 47401


    Semaphore
    Make
    (self-released)

    Semaphore is Kirby Clements. And yes, this is an electronic album. Those who fear to tread further are excused. Wimps.

    Very much in the vein of Aphex Twin (Selected Ambient Works phase, I suppose), these pieces often come on softly before really kicking the ideas in full force. The beat work is impressive, but not at all overbearing, as if the beats are merely another part of the construct. What a revolutionary thought.

    Yeah, yeah, I deserve the razzing. But it is nice to hear someone with a firm grasp on all elements of a sound. Clements knows what he wants his music to sound like, and he's taken the time to really put everything together nicely.

    This one really is a sleeper, as most good "ambient" (that term dates me, I'm sure) works are wont to be. Semaphore sails through the electronic universe with elegant lines and insistent grace. And that works for me.


    Silver Sunshine
    A Small Pocket of Pure Spirit EP
    (Empyrean)

    Hard to imagine a band name and title more appropriate. These folks play a brand of psychedelic pop with a winsome shine. Might've been pals with Love or (more likely) the Zombies, but with much better production.

    Still, the sun on this album casts long shadows--not unlike this most pleasant time of year. Underneath the pretty exterior lies a pretty rough undertow. These songs are pretty, not happy.

    But damn, they sound good. And I like a little bite with my pop, anyway. A most invigorating short set. Next time, bring a full plate.

    Contact:
    Empyrean Records
    P.O. Box 97
    Warren, RI 02885-0197
    www: http://www.empyreanrecords.com


    Straylight Run
    Prepare to Be Wrong EP
    (Victory)

    Taking Back Sunday splintered after its debut album, and Straylight Run is one of the offspring. Of course, TBS 2.0 released a new album last summer, but I don't think there's any huge competition. The bands don't sound a lot alike.

    And that's cool. Straylight Run trends toward the At the Drive-In "punk" ideal: somber, thoughtful, crafted yet emotional pieces. And the stuff is really good. It's nice to see a good band sell some albums.

    Or in this case, EPs. I have no doubt that this release will be as successful as the SR debut album from a couple years back, and I think the songs here are a bit stronger. No plateau yet for these folks. I'm still breathless.

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


    Ticonderoga
    The Heilig-Levine LP
    (54-40 or Fight!)

    There are a lot of bands in my neck of the woods, and a lot of them are very good. Ticonderoga is one of them, and slowly the boys seem to be gaining buzz. I haven't seen any shows (two kids younger than four will do that to you), but the two releases I've heard are most impressive.

    The medium is post-post-rock, I suppose, a noisy mutation from the late 90s ideal of jazz-rock fusion. But this trio does work together like a jazz combo, even if the sounds produced are fully rock and roll. Lots of lines crashing and clashing, plenty of ideas resolved (or not) in the final restatement.

    Yes, any reader of A&A will know this is the sort of thing that makes me instantly soil my shorts. But even so, Ticonderoga impresses almost effortlessly. These boys move the sound forward by incorporating a strong sense of melody into the stew of dissonance. Take a trip on the first song ("Fucking Around") and you'll immediately understand what I'm saying.

    Yeah, the boys do follow a few tangents. That's gonna happen, and in truth, those tangents are impressive. They add depth and range to these already complex songs. Every once in a while something comes along that utterly kicks my ass. Like this album.

    Contact:
    54-40 or Fight!
    P.O. Box 1601
    Acme, MI 49610
    www: http://www.fiftyfourfortyorfight.com


    Valina
    Epode
    (54-40 or Fight!)

    Valina is the other side of the post-rock coin from Ticonderoga. These guys are all about rhythm and keeping the songs in motion. They've got a lot ideas, but they make sure that those ideas spin in the blender of the rhythm section rather than strike out on their own. Which method is better? Depends on your point of view.

    I happen to like both approaches, and bands that dabble (or dabbled) in each (June of 44 comes to mind) are among my favorites. Valina isn't afraid to follow the occasional tangent, but the lines are kept on a tighter leash.

    Which doesn't mean the thoughts are any less vital. The intensity of this album is almost overwhelming. It blasts out of the gate and never looks back, even when things get a wee bit contemplative.

    There are more than two ways to rock, even post-rock. Valina has taken one road (by and large) and it has paved that path most impressively. Grab the handle and hold on.

    Contact:
    54-40 or Fight!
    P.O. Box 1601
    Acme, MI 49610
    www: http://www.fiftyfourfortyorfight.com


    Also recommended:

    The Audition Controversy Loves Company (Victory)
    Solid, punchy, fun (if ultimately undistinguished) emo. Play it loud and I guarantee plenty of smiles. Just don't wear out the grooves.

    Cage Hell's Winter (Def Jux)
    Wide-ranging beats and wonderfully lucid rhymes. And then there's the spectacle of Jello Biafra doing a W impersonation. A typically eclectic and solid Def Jux release.

    Diesto Doomtown 7 (Elastic)
    Skin Yard reincarnated as a post-rock outfit. Which is to say Diesto doesn't really fit in a category. It just rocks. Really, really loud. No, make that really, really, really loud.

    Dissent Primal Deconstruction (Wide Hive)
    Greg Howe's fusion (and I use that term in the widest possible context) outfit returns with another invigorating set. There's a lot going on in these songs, but somehow they manage to retain a highly accessible feel. Party jams for the Mensa set.

    Explosions in the Sky Explosions in the Sky (Temporary Residence)
    One of those "Now that they're kinda famous, let's get the catalog out there" releases. But this 2000 set is worth the listen. Let's just say the guys ought to prove more than a flash in the pan.

    For Against December (Words on Music)
    Sounds a lot like those new wave indie rock Britpop bands from the mid-to-late 80s. Awfully early Cure-ish, really, though some might call it Chills-y. Take your pick. This is pop music distilled to its finest essence.

    Morricone Youth Silenzio Violento (Country Club)
    The intro song fits the band name. Then comes the album, filled with hard-edged, horn-driven, late-60s style pop (with the odd tangent, of course). Interesting, to be sure, though I kinda wanted something a bit more off the beat. Like their namesake composer, though, these folks sure have style.

    New Grenada Parting Shot (Asaurus)
    I love the hyper-fuzzy electronic beats and melodies. I'm not so hyper about the vocals, which trend toward the whiny or grating (or both). Still, the songs themselves are little gems. Big wads of fun.

    The Pathways Boat of Confidence (RIYL)
    Buckets of distortion, cisterns full of disjointed melodies and a barnyard full of off-key vocals. Back in the day they called this indie rock. It still holds its charms for me, though I can imagine that plenty of other folks will run screaming.

    Petracovich We Are Wyoming (Red Buttons)
    The sort of languid, gorgeous songs that float on summer winds and then make a home in the woolens for winter. Indeed, it's possible these songs are too pretty for many mainstream types. Oh well. I'll simply have keep indulging myself.

    Gary Reynolds & the Brides of Obscurity Instant Happiness (Electrokitty)
    The title track is absolutely brilliant, a wondrous little piano-pop supernova. The rest of the album kinda veers between okay and pretty damned good. A little more consistency and I might not be able to control myself.

    Sicbay Suspicious Icons (54-50 or Fight!)
    Oh yeah, guitar rock is back. And Nik Sakes (he once of Dazzling Killmen) is just the man to raise it back into the musical firmament. Lotsa spit, lotsa crackle and lotsa attitude--all wrapped up in a decidedly abstract form. Alrighty then.

    Jeff Scott Soto Lost in the Translation (Frontiers)
    I got a big wad of albums from Frontiers, and this is easily the best. Soto must still be listening to a lot of Van Halen, though his vocals are a lot more Lou Gramm (Foreigner) than Diamond Dave. Rather cheesy, but strangely appealing to a guy like me who did high school in the early and mid 80s--which makes sense, as Soto got his start singing with Yngwie Malmsteen way back in 1984.

    Stretch Armstrong Free at Last (WPO)
    Much like the Audition (reviewed above), this stuff isn't particularly original or deep, but damn, it sounds good. Volume definitely increases the appeal, and hell, well-played emo isn't a bad thing.

    The Tossers The Valley of the Shadow of Death (Victory)
    More solid hardcore reels and tin whistle punk. This sort of thing is kinda love it or hate it, but I have to say the Tossers do this sound about as well as anyone. Stock up on the Bushmills and raise your glasses.


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