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 #271 reviews
(December 2005)
  • Travis Abercrombie Tied (Moon Shot)
  • Keith John Adams PIP (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
  • Blue Collar Lovely Hazel (Public Eyesore)
  • Chad Bradford Dollar Short (self-released)
  • Mick Harvey OneMan's Treasure (Mute)
  • Troy Lukkarila Unsafe Structure (self-released)
  • Modern Skirts Catalogue of Generous Men (self-released)
  • Power Lloyd World Cowboy (Dos Fabulos)
  • Race!!! Travels (Prescott Recordings)
  • Supercreep Supercreep (Pat's Record Company/Universal)
  • Temp Sound Solutions I. Yobot (MT6 Records)
  • Various Artists Rock Outside the Box, Volume II (Socyermom)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Travis Abercrombie
    Tied
    (Moon Shot)

    Well-crafted, tightly-produced nuggets. A bit moody for power pop, I suppose--and probably a bit too shiny for indie rock, for that matter--Abercrombie has a knack for nailing a hook that should make him the envy of just about anyone.

    These songs are deceptively simple. The music is uncluttered and generally straightforward, which is one reason I like it so much. Even when he occasionally trails into major label cliches (the echo-y back beat in a song intro, for example), he manages to turn them around by the time he hits the honey.

    And yeah, these anthems have the hooks necessary to land listeners. This is the sort of thing that just might make it in the mainstream, but I'd guess Abercrombie is still a bit too serious and introspective for the amphitheaters. I've been wrong about that before, though, and I'd like to be now.

    This is a stab at major stardom, make no mistake. Abercrombie knows how to write songs and make them just ordinary enough to attract a wide audience. Whether he gets it or not is a matter of public whim. Gotta love the music biz.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.moonshotrecords.com


    Keith John Adams
    PIP
    (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)

    Keith John Adams has a certain affection for toy piano and other "unusual" instruments (accordion, etc.), but rather than play on some sort of gimmick, he simply plays. And while the effect can be a bit unnerving, his sincere delivery is always convincing.

    And anyway, when you're a one-man band playing off-kilter pop (kind of the bastard step-child of the singer-songwriter genre) it doesn't hurt to do a couple of things to help your music stand out.

    Adams's writing does that, however, so the finishing touches are merely wonderful little presents. He's really got a fine feel for the slightly lurching, slightly deranged pop song. Reminds me a bit of an unrefined David Singer, which is certainly high praise from me.

    Well done. One of those albums that pricks up the ears and quickly invades the soul. Disquietingly good.

    Contact:
    Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records
    P.O. Box 742
    Athens, GA 30603
    www: http://www.hhbtm.com


    Blue Collar
    Lovely Hazel
    (Public Eyesore)

    The usual from Public Eyesore: A trio of guys who make barely playing their instruments an art form. Nate Wooley on high brass (trumpet and flugelhorn), Steve Swell on low brass (trombone) and Tatsuya Nakatani on percussion (percussion). It's pretty rare that either of the brass players gets off a complete note, but this noisy, crackling series of improvisations never fails to astound me.

    These guys know each other. Maybe not Biblically, but certainly they have a fine feel for what the other players are going to do. And that form of divine anticipation leads to a surprisingly large number of inspirational moments.

    The songs hang together quite well, and the sound is decidedly full--somewhat surprising considering the way the music is being played. Many of the pieces sound like some sort of possessed popcorn popper (with added melody), and the rounded sound does right by them.

    Yes, yes, I'm probably preaching to the converted here, but what the hell. This is yet another outstanding release from "Omaha's most unknown label." More than enough to make me smile.

    Contact:
    Public Eyesore
    c/o Bryan Day
    2464 Harney #15
    Omaha, NE 68131
    e-mail: sistrum1@hotmail.com
    www: http://www.publiceyesore.com


    Chad Bradford
    Dollar Short
    (Sevier Productions)

    I'm not against country music produced with a fine sheen--the Foster and Lloyd albums are among my favorites. But more often, producers with heavy hands take all the fun out the songs, churning out dirge-like fare that would be more at home in a Romanian castle than a honky tonk.

    Chad Bradford has a wry sense of humor. And even though he delivers his songs with ramrod sincerity, every once in a while he winks. The production is awfully powerful, but it allows Bradford enough space to make his own mark. His personality is evident throughout this album.

    Not unlike Travis Abercrombie (reviewed in this issue), this is an obvious stab at mega-stardom. And Bradford has a production company behind him, which certainly improves his chances. He's got a good shot to really do something, and this album might get him the attention he needs.

    There are a few touches on this album that aren't particularly country (not even "big-time" country)--a keyboard rumination at the end of a ballad, say, or the odd chord change that suggests punk or goth more than Nashville. I like that. And even if he didn't have anything to do with those studio bits, they fit Bradford. If he does make it big, I hope he keeps making albums as interesting as this one.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.chadbradford.com


    Mick Harvey
    One Man's Treasure
    (Mute)

    Perhaps best known for his long-time association with Nick Cave, Mick Harvey has produced or performed on a lot of your favorite albums (check the liners closely, folks). He gets around, but only infrequently records himself.

    This album does have a bit of the menacing quality of some of the better Bad Seeds efforts, but Harvey's voice is at once generic and powerful. It's not hard to forget, but Harvey has a delivery that can stop a song cold.

    The songs here are his and those of some of the more eclectic writers of decades past (Lee Hazelwood, Tim Buckley, etc.). The sound is seamless, with each piece seemingly flowing into the next. The seduction is almost impossible to resist.

    And then all of a sudden you're completely defenseless, and you get whacked. Harvey is a heartless artist. He takes no prisoners, even as he creates some of the most gorgeous songs around. A true marvel.

    Contact:
    Mute
    140 W. 22nd St.
    Suite 10A
    New York, NY 10011
    www: www.mute.com


    Troy Lukkarila
    Unsafe Structure
    (self-released)

    If Leon Redbone went rootsy and acquired a somewhat juvenile sense of humor, he might sound like this. Troy Lukkarila has that "old timey" voice, and he sometimes even incorporates some older structures in his pieces.

    Other times he comes off as a scratchy Jonathan Richman...which isn't the worst thing in the world, I guess. At times he goes a bit far for a joke, but he only sacrifices lyrics, not music. The sound on this album is wide-ranging and always intriguing.

    Take the song "Lucy," which sounds more than a little like something Daniel Johnston might have written, except that these synth horns fly in at somewhat unexpected intervals. Weird, yes, and certainly unsettling, but nice nonetheless.

    I've never been a fan of weird for weird's sake, and Troy Lukkarila probably fits into that category. But somehow the force of his personality and ideas turn the tide for me. I'm smiling all the way.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.lukalips.com


    Modern Skirts
    Catalogue of Generous Men
    (self-released)

    Rollicking, pretty songs built on piano and keyboards, complete with undertow. Comparisons to the New Pornographers are not out of line, though the Modern Skirts are a bit more American sounding (if that makes any sense at all).

    Something in the way the boys manage their eccentricities, I guess. More Beach Boys and less prog. Or maybe I'm just imagining all that. What I can say is that the Modern Skirts are earnest in their own, freakish way, and that gives them a most distinctive sound. Comparisons may (and do) abound, but this here's something unique.

    Kinda like if the Beach Boys did some time with the Americana folks, dropping in some rootsy notes to go with scintillating melodies and gorgeous harmonies. Pretty, but grounded in reality. Again, if that makes any sense at all.

    One of those albums that attracts instantly and then gets better from there. Infatuation matures into love most quickly.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.modernskirts.com


    Power Lloyd
    World Cowboy
    (Dos Fabulos)

    Kicky power pop that always seems to be on the precipice of falling into a generic trap...but it never does.

    That's mostly due to the loopy sense of humor in the songs and sound. Often enough, the goings get goofy. And even if the meanderings aren't particularly funny, they're generally amusing.

    There is a heavy reliance on keyboards, and that plays into the band's sound. Sometimes the keys are used to keep things moving. When they're more of a filler element I get a bit antsy, but the songs themselves usually resolve this problem.

    Not an unqualified rave, but I like this a lot, even when considering all of my qualms. When I let go of my brain and just dive in, I'm happy. And I guess that's the key to everything, after all.


    Race!!!
    Travels
    (Prescott Recordings)

    A nice modern jazz quintet. Very modern, in fact. Ross Hammond on guitar, Tony Passarell on sax and trumpet, Tom Monson on drums, Erik Kleven on bass and Scott Anderson on tenor sax. The instrumentation alone is intriguing.

    The songs themselves don't so much begin and end as simply fade into one another. These are improvisations that wander through a variety of styles and feels, but the players feel free to use whatever tools are available at any moment. And so this is that rarity, an improvisational jazz album that feels tight.

    Tight in a good way. These songs don't follow any particular construction mode, but they sound like songs nonetheless--even though the actual brackets of a given "piece" are exceptionally loose.

    That Hammond and friends manage to make all of those statements true is something close to miraculous. This one just feels right.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.rosshammond.com


    Supercreep
    Supercreep
    (Pat's Record Company/Universal)

    How Joey Delli Santi actually got this album released by a major label is beyond me. It's not that it's bad or anything, but a drum machine (and an obvious one at that) driven one-man pop act isn't exactly the sort of thing that screams "Ten times platinum, baby!"

    That aside, the album is extraordinarily ambitious, and generally it succeeds. The cheesiness of the drum machine and the resulting cheap beats somehow work in Santi's favor. He frees himself up to write wry, metaphor-laden songs that manage to avoid collapsing under their own wit.

    It does help to be a child of the 80s. I remember a number of folks who tried to do this sort of thing (Timbuk3, Thompson Twins, Sly Fox...well, scratch that last one), though Supercreep is much more rock and roll and kitsch.

    Then again, the whole "mad genius" solo artist has come back into vogue. I still don't think an album this interesting can sell a boatload, but I'd be more than happy to be proven wrong.

    Contact:
    Universal
    1775 Broadway
    New York, NY 10019
    www: http://www.universalrecords.com


    Temp Sound Solutions
    I. Yobot
    (MT6)

    Kinda like Emperor Penguin on an overdose of noise, served up with a decided deficit of funk. There's this playful aspect to the music and the song titles that makes me smile.

    Still, we're not talking about pleasant pop music. Temp Sound Solutions prefers the dirty side of the spectrum, embracing distortion and just about every other form of electronic disturbance known to mankind.

    And it sounds so...crunchy. Despite the messy results, I think great care was taken in the recording of this album. Whoever twisted the knobs has a finely-tuned ear for harsh sounds.

    The sort of album only the insane can love. I include myself in that group, of course. So it's shuffle off to Thorazine for me. Just don't forget to turn the volume up to 11.

    Contact:
    MT6 Records
    3024 Fifth Ave.
    Baltimore, MD 21234
    www: http://www.mt6records.com


    Various Artists
    Rock Outside the Box, Vol. II 2xCD
    (Socyermom)

    A note of disclosure: My brothers's band, Old Beans, has a track ("Republican Girls", click to hear) on this compilation, so feel free to discount anything I say. But given that "Republican Girls" has garnered a good amount of attention from the local (Albuquerque) press, mostly due to its--ahem--unrefined humor, perhaps my opinion isn't completely biased.

    Whatever. I do like these "scene-based" compilations because they give bands that might never commit anything to tape (like Old Beans) a chance to be immortalized, even if only on a couple thousand discs destined to fill the local pawn shops. And believe it or not, Albuquerque has a fairly strong and diverse music scene.

    The Shins once hailed from the Big Q, and I myself have reviewed releases from a few of the bands on this compilation (which merely says they're fairly obscure). Nonetheless, this set does a fine job of showing off the depth and breadth of sounds in the area.

    Thirty tracks, and within them something almost for everyone. The sound quality of these recordings is remarkable--all bands recorded at Stepbridge Studios with Tim Stroh heading the knobs. Yeah, that's something of a windfall for the studio (even if the work was done at a discount), but it also provides a stable baseline for all the bands. I think the quality results speak for themselves. This is a fine snapshot of a scene in motion.

    Contact:
    Socyermom Records
    www: http://www.socyermom.com


    Also recommended:

    Jon Brumit Vendetta Retreat soundtrack (Edgetone)
    IMDB doesn't list a Vendetta Retreat, so I have no idea if the title is a joke or the movie is so obscure that only the people making it have seen it. Either way, Brumit's compositions sound more like a broken CD player than anything else...and that fact along intrigues me. If this is a soundtrack, the movie must be utterly maddening.

    Cars Can Be Blue All the Stuff We Do (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
    Minimalist, lo-fi dork pop. The duo of Becky Brooks and Nate Mitchell often ventures into straight-up annoying territory, but there's a weenie wryness here that is astoundingly addictive. Kinda like eating popcorn off the floor. You know you shouldn't, but it tastes so damned good.

    Divorcee Music for Cleanup Men, Breakdown and Inbetweeners (Princess)
    Not to be confused with the Divorce (reviewed last month), these boys play power pop that is almost too good to be true. Or rather, too predictable to be truly great. Still, these guys make by-the-numbers sound awfully damned good.

    Stephen Flinn/Noah Phillips Duo (and Trio with Tim Perkis) Square Circle (Pax Recordings)
    The literal-minded earnestness of the name of the act moves me to tears. The cool guitar/percussion improvisations take my mind to fairer territory. Crackling stuff (literally, of course) that keeps the synapses firing.

    Kumisuru Kumisuru (Jabrec Art Music)
    Japanese trio (sax-guitar-bass, with elektro on the side) that waxes its improvs in a most introspective fashion. The folks take a while getting to the point, but then again, on discs like this the journey is the point. And there are plenty of journeys worth hearing here.

    Steuart Leibig/Stigtette Delta (pfMENTUM)
    Leibig's contrabass guitars are joined by Ellen Burr on flutes, Andrew Pask on clarinets and Sara Shoenbeck on bassoon. And if you haven't heard a contrabass guitar duel with a bassoon...well, the band geeks out there understand. The pieces are written, but there is some leeway for improvisation as well. The sort of avant classical album that ought to make many smile.

    Napoo Johnston Is Sane EP (MilkHoney)
    The title track is a scintillating trip through alt pop of the last 40 years or so. There's even a mention of Keith John Adams (reviewed in this issue). Napoo's sound fits the subject well, and the other three songs are worthy tunes--even if they don't quite have the inspired feel of the first track.

    Only Now Existing Voodoo Doll (self-released)
    Old school gothic, metallic, industrial dance fare. Takes me back ten years, at the very least. James Garrett (who is ONE) doesn't really move the sound along much, but he knows how the pieces fit together. Tight, mean and occasionally inspiring.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.onlynowexisting.com

    Suzanne Samford Lonely Charade (self-released)
    Brightly produced pop-rock (Samford has the same production company as Chad Bradford, reviewed in this issue) that drops a few surprises in the midst of its churning anthems. Samford has a fine voice, and she knows how to write a song that can soar. Like Bradford, this stuff is aimed at the mainstream, and who knows? Maybe she can get noticed sooner than later.

    Tarantula AD Book of Sand (Kemado)
    Three guys who craft some seriously otherworldly music. These aren't improvisations, though...they're compositions. And some of them are gonna be haunting me for some time. The sort of album that only gets better with time.

    Lauren Taylor Almost Charming (self-released)
    "Dry Country" opens with "Well, I'm on the road to Tupelo to buy a case of beer." Taylor's voice sounds a lot like Nanci Griffith's, but her lyrics are more Carolyn Mark. Which isn't a bad thing in the slightest. There's an awful lot here to like. I'd like to hear more and see if she can sustain what I hear.
    Contact:
    181 Skillman Ave. #3C
    Brooklyn, NY 11211
    www: http://www.laurentaylorband.com

    Twist and Thrall Twist and Thrall (Spring Garden)
    Jack Wright and Todd Whitman wander around on a parade of saxophones, and while the result might sound like a gaggle of caterwauling geese to some, I'm impressed. There are only so many ways to make a sound on a saxophone, and these guys seem to have found most of them. Noisy and exciting.

    Whoosh Whoosh (Spring Garden)
    Jack Wright adds Paul Neidhardt on percussion and Andy Hayleck on saw (trust me, there is such a thing as a saw virtuoso) and then lets things happen. The results are more moody than violent, but beware the whipsaw crackbacks. There's danger in these woods.


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