Welcome to A&A. There are 25 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.

If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.


A&A #272 reviews
(March 2006)
  • Peter Adams The Spiral Eyes (self-released)
  • Anti-Social Music/The Gena Rowlands Band The Nitrate Hymnal (Lujo)
  • David Borgo Ubuntu (Cadence)
  • Caroline Caroline (Temporary Residence)
  • Caural Remembering Today (Mush)
  • Cavalier King The Sun Revolutions (Rubric)
  • Lisa DeBenedictis Tigers (Magnatune)
  • Free Diamonds There Should Be More Dancing (Deep Elm)
  • Glovebox Glovebox (Baria)
  • The Meadows The Meadows (self-released)
  • Momzer Goodnight Nobody (Mean Bed)
  • P:ano Ghost Pirates Without Heads (Mint)
  • P.O.S Audition (Rhymesayers)
  • Prefuse 73 Security Screenings (Warp)
  • Radiant Darling Cryptomnesia (Tense Forms)
  • Matthew Shaw Convenience (Burning Building)
  • Slowride C/S (Deep Elm)
  • Small Arms Dealer A Singly Unifying Theory (Deep Elm)
  • Max Stalling Sellout (Blind Nello)
  • Stoley P.T. Lesson #1 (In Music We Trust)
  • Tortoise & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy The Brave and the Bold (Overcoat)
  • Untied States Retail Detail (self-released)
  • Dan Wallace Neon and Gold (self-released)
  • Cindy Woolf Simple and Few (MayApple)
  • Mike Younger Every Stone You Throw (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Peter Adams
    The Spiral Eyes
    (self-released)

    One of those one-man recordings that sounds a whole lot more than that. Peter Adams knows how to record an album, and even if he is filling in some of the holes with synthesizers and keyboards, his brand of laconic, bright pop is the perfect match for that technique.

    Laconic in terms of how busy the music is, of course. Adams has plenty to say. His restrained touch on the arrangements (full, but just) lends a slightly off-kilter feel to the songs. Kinda like early Magnetic Fields, but with more feeling.

    Not overly earnest, however. Adams is jaded enough to know that life isn't about to deal him a full house, and his songs reflect that outlook. But far from being maudlin, these tunes tend to provoke a smile at the finish.

    Still, I wouldn't call this stuff wry. Amazing, isn't it, how many times I can turn a review into a semantic war. Screw all that. Peter Adams has made some fine music. That's the bottom line here, and that's all that needs to be said.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.peteradamsmusic.com


    Anti-Social Music + The Gena Rowlands Band
    The Nitrate Hymnal
    (Lujo)

    This is one of those projects that simply couldn't have happened without kind people giving money to artists and walking away. Not to get on a soapbox or anything, but anyone who thinks there shouldn't be public funding of the arts (including the "weird arts") just isn't getting out enough.

    On to the story. Bob Massey (of the Gena Rowlands Band) received a cache of 8mm movies documenting the life of his grandparents. He wrote an opera to accompany an edit of those films, and then he got his band and the Anti-Social Music collective to flesh out his ideas and then record the completed project.

    If this sounds pretentious and somewhat twisted, that's because it is. And even though opera was the popular music of the times 200 years ago, these days the form is considered by many folks to be the most unapproachable in the music pantheon. Not always true, but this is a difficult work. These people have an unusual approach to melody and song structure in general. There's more than a bit of the ol' Kurt Weill in here, and there's plenty more that really ranges far afield.

    For me, this is an exhilarating experience. The swoops and whorls of the melodies fit the melancholy (and occasionally melodramatic) lyrics perfectly. At its base, this is simply aggressively interesting music. The story takes it to another level. Ambitious as hell, and immensely successful as well.

    Contact:
    Lujo Records
    3209 Jennie Drive
    Morgan City, LA 70390
    www: http://www.lujorecords.com


    David Borgo
    Ubuntu
    (Cadence Jazz)

    David Borgo, like most musicians, has certain passions. Beyond merely composing and performing, Borgo also likes to study the roots of music everywhere. And so comes this album comprised mostly of pieces written by South African jazz master Abdullah Ibrahim. The non-Ibrahim pieces on this set also hail from the same part of the world.

    Borgo's playing and arranging reminds me a lot of Branford Marsalis in the late 80s and early 90s--lots going on, and the space within the music to capture a complete picture. He rarely rushes an idea, preferring instead to take the time to fully parse the thought.

    The sound is warm and inviting, and this, too, reminds me of those Marsalis Trio and Quartet recordings. It might be unfair to call this jazz for the non-jazz listener (we're not talking "smooth" or "happy" jazz here, after all), but when I say something like that I mean to say that I can't imagine anyone failing to immediately warm up to these recordings. Borgo takes plenty of chances and does a stellar job of combing through Ibrahim's pieces, but he presents all this in such an accomplished and complete form that it's hard to imagine the songs being played any other way.

    Like I said, I can't think of anyone I know who wouldn't like this album. It's not perfect, but in its ability to connect a wide range of listeners to really great jazz, it's pretty damned good. Hard to sing louder praises.

    Contact:
    Cadence Jazz Records
    Cadence Building
    Redwood, NY 13679
    www: http://www.cadencebuilding.com


    Caroline
    Caroline
    (Temporary Residence)

    And now, the album. My review of Caroline's "Where's My Love" single last year is one of the most accessed files on my site. Apparently lots of people were taken by her deceptively fragile voice and unusual way with words and went to extreme lengths (such as reading A&A) to learn more about her.

    The album opens incredibly slowly. Caroline (Lufkin) has put together some really great electronic backing tracks, but those first three songs are languid to the point of somnambulism. The voice is still there, but man, it's easy to drift off. And then I get it: That's what I'm supposed to do.

    Not fall asleep, of course, but simply fall into a trance. So by the time we get to "Where's My Love" it's almost like the sun rising. And, indeed, after that Caroline really starts to come on. If you've managed to fall under her spell, the songs that follow slide down the throat like Galliano Jello shots. Ewww, maybe that's not the best simile. Sorry.

    Still, as the album kicks into overdrive (as such), it's easy to understand why the album starts so slowly. Without that early introspection, there would be no counterpoint to the "kickin'" side of things. The single was great. This album is even greater. Better than I thought possible.

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


    Caural
    Remembering Today
    (Mush)

    Fabulous cut-and-paste (electronic style, of course) combined with stellar beatwork. I know, I've said as much about Caural in the past, but this album puts a fine shine on past glories.

    Yes, digging an album like this does require some ability in the area of abstract thought. Goes without saying. But come on. There are so many interesting ideas meandering in and out of focus here, how can anyone get bored?

    Stupid question, I know. Philistines rule the world. Whatever. Those who jam to the likes of PreFuse 73 probably already know Caural well. Perhaps the rest of the world ought to get better acquainted.

    Just so damned...pretty, I guess. In an occasionally dissonant, sometimes in-your-face kinda way. I suppose this isn't the easiest album to like, but it's real easy to love.

    Contact:
    Mush Records
    1742 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90036


    Cavalier King
    The Sun Revolutions
    (Rubric)

    By and large, Cavalier King is Chris Taylor. He uses a wide-ranging pastiche of "alternative" sounds of the past 25 years to fuel his music. It's easy to pick out bits and pieces of the Mekons, U2, Blondie, Radiohead and many more. Which is fine by me. The more important question is how well Taylor uses this conglomeration of ideas to fully express his own.

    Damned well, I'd say. He throws so much into each song that it would be really hard to say he's ripping anyone off in particular. All music is an expression of what has come before, and while Cavalier King may stretch that maxim slightly, the results are excellent.

    The key is in the arrangements. This stuff could be some sort of bizarre mess, and it's not. Rather, what's here is a collection of grandiose, slightly off-kilter anthems. not exactly warped, but not normal, either.

    Kinda like where I put my head most days. This is one of those albums that should sound better on the 20th listen. There's a lot here to explore.

    Contact:
    Rubric Records
    356 Bowery, 2nd Floor
    New York, NY 10012
    www: http://www.rubricrecords.com


    Lisa DeBenedictis
    Tigers
    (Magnatune)

    For those who don't know, Magnatune is one of those newfangled online labels. The folks have an interesting idea. Check it out. As for Lisa DeBenedictis, she's got some interesting thoughts of her own.

    One is that lots of synthesizers go well with a folk sensibility. Maybe she's been listening to some of the more recent Emmylou Harris albums. In any case, I'm apparently one of the few who found the slightly sterile sound of this album bracing. Kinda like a cool amalgamation of new wave and folk.

    As for the songs themselves, they're far-reaching beasts. There's a lot more going on here than navel-gazing. Rather, DeBenedictis tries to find some answers to important questions. I'm not convinced she does every time, but since she always shows her work, I'm happy.

    This one sneaks up on you slowly. Let it. And then roll with the waves. Most intriguing.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.magnatune.com


    Free Diamonds
    There Should Be More Dancing
    (Deep Elm)

    Any question as to how far afield Deep Elm is ranging these days should be put to rest with this album. Free Diamonds plays tight rock and roll (in most every style) and lays some seriously cracked vocals on top.

    Reminds me a lot of this upstate N.Y. band called the Wallmen--in fact, I thought it was them at first. But I haven't heard from those boys in seven or eight years, and it's not like the album I reviewed sold more than a handful of copies. No, I'd say Free Diamonds came upon this lovingly twisted sound all on its own.

    I can see how this stuff would get grating or annoying or just plain insufferable to a lot of folks. Now, these aren't folks who have been paying a whole lot of attention to music recently, of course, but I can empathize. Life goes on. If you can't find the stomach to bite into this live wire, maybe you need a new game.

    More fun than it ought to be. Not pretty and certainly not smooth. Just, you know, really good. Really, really good. Lace 'em up and get on the floor.

    Contact:
    Deep Elm Records
    P.O. Box 5260
    Clover, SC 29710
    e-mail: info@deepelm.com
    www: www.deepelm.com


    Glovebox
    Glovebox
    (Baria)

    Deee-Lite meets Madchester meets Macy Gray meets...maybe you get the idea. Just some Aussies trying to find a little American soul and dance while they're at it. Disco rock, in other words.

    That's it. Nothing complicated. Snappy guitars, solid beats and sassy vocals. Catchy as hell. And so stripped down as to eliminate any chance of pretension.

    Keeping things this simple is the key to the entire enterprise. Glovebox never oversteps the groove. Each song stays tied to that which is most addictive. And that keeps things more than solid.

    Fun is not a bad word. And Glovebox provides much more fun than should be allowed by law. Awfully fine.

    Contact:
    Baria Records
    Locked Bag 10001
    Capalaba BC
    QLD 4157
    Australia
    www: http://www.bariarecords.com


    The Meadows
    The Meadows
    (self-released)

    Not exactly yer normal self-released project. Todd Herfindal and Kevin Houlihan have been wandering around California for quite a while, and even if few of their bands made much of a splash (Herfindal's band Single did manage to chart its first album in CMJs Top 200), they've obviously spent plenty of time figuring out how to make good music.

    Folding in rootsy instrumentation into a lush power-pop anthem sound, the Meadows quickly create a comfortably exciting atmosphere. These pieces sound like songs you've been singing in your head since you were ten, except that they're new.

    Oh, yeah, and they placed one of the songs on this album ("Younger Yesterday") in a very small movie (Little Manhattan). Just to show that, indeed, they know what they're doing. Hell, that's obvious about 20 seconds into the disc. Some might quibble with the dramatic feel to the sound, but I like it. It sure is powerful, but it's not harsh and shiny like you tend to get on a major label release. The sound here is like your grandpa's leather easy chair, strong but ever so comfy after fifty years of use.

    The band's web site calls this the most unanticipated album of the year. A joke, but possibly true nonetheless. My guess is that the next Meadows album will have a bit more buzz behind it. Damn, this is good.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.wearethemeadows.com


    Momzer
    Goodnight Nobody
    (Mean Bed)

    With few exceptions (the Dark Heart Procession comes to mind) piano-based rock needs to be kinetic. Motion is the key. Always move, always keep the pieces going forward. Momzer is more than happy to oblige.

    And even though the boys keep a steady hand on the throttle, they are more than willing to try out different sounds and ideas. This is an incredibly fertile album, with each song inhabiting a slightly different ensemble from the alt-pop wardrobe.

    The sound can be tinny, but where that might give some albums the sheen of cheapness, here it gives just the right edge to its sound. I do with the acoustic guitars were a bit warmer, but that's a minor quibble. It's far outweighed by the cool, icy organ sound the keyboards have.

    The album title is easily recognized by any parent as a line in Goodnight Moon, and the song not only acknowledges the reference but expands upon it in unexpectedly fine fashion. Kinda like the rest of the album. Momzer's understated approach sneaks up on you, but in the end you'll be hitting repeat.

    Contact:
    Mean Bed
    3877 Pell Place #416
    San Diego, CA 92130
    www: http://www.meanbed.com


    P:ano
    Ghost Pirates Without Heads
    (Mint)

    Mint is perhaps the finest pop label in the world. Being Canadian, it is a bit easier (and probably even more necessary) to embrace a wide variety of sounds. Still, anyone that can give a band like P:ano any real level of success is a winner in my book.

    Minimalist pop played, by and large, with ukulele, bass clarinet, accordion and assorted percussion--a break from previous recordings which tended to incorporate every weird instrument under the sun--and sung in decidedly distracted fashion. Somehow, it's really damned pretty.

    But this isn't the sort of thing that is likely to attract a lot of attention. Most of my friends (even the ones who really like interesting music) kinda shake their heads when they hear P:ano. They agree that there's something cool going on, but they can't bring themselves to get excited about it. Maybe if they hear "I Felt His Presents/Doing the Can Can" on this disc (which is something of a minor masterpiece) they'll change their mind.

    Short, sweet and stellar. Probably not destined for mainstream acceptance. And thank God (whatever it might be) for that.

    Contact:
    Mint
    P.O. Box 3613
    Main Post Office
    Vancouver, BC V6B 3Y6
    Canada
    www: http://www.mintrecs.com


    P.O.S
    Audition
    (Rhymesayers)

    There are a few hip-hop labels out there that consistently impress, and Minneapolis's Rhymesayers is right up there. This second effort from P.O.S is kinda emblematic of everything that's right with hip-hip today.

    Not many people would start an album with cello. And not just any cello, but aggressive, dissonant cello. And then P.O.S comes on and starts spinning his ideas. The first real track is called "Half-Cocked Concepts," and the album is just jammed with insightful and often refreshingly self-deprecating observations.

    Yes, hip-hop can be politically and socially conscious and still sound great. P.O.S balances the need for superlative backing tracks (shifting from sly to bombastic and back again in the wink of an eye) and deft rhymes like few others I've heard. His first album was alright. This one might well become a classic.

    It helps that he has some talented collaborators. The depth of the music here is astounding. And it probably is one of the things that might keep P.O.S from larger fame. I mean, popular music isn't supposed to be complicated, and there are so many ideas here I can't begin to count them. I guess it's time to remove the qualification in the last paragraph. This album has all the hallmarks of a classic. All it needs is time.

    Contact:
    Rhymesayers Entertainment
    2411 Hennepin Ave. S.
    Minneapolis, MN 55405
    e-mail: info@rhymesayers.com
    www: http://www.rhymesayers.com


    Prefuse 73
    Security Screenings
    (Warp)

    Few DJs are as interested in as many different ideas as Prefuse 73. Heading even further out into the electronic realm, this mini-album (does that mean EP? I dunno) dissects Guillermo Scott Herren's experiences as he traveled to promote his last album, Surrounded by Silence.

    Not good experiences, either. Stirred into the sparkling instrumentals here are some spoken samples that are downright angry--or that ought to make a listener angry, anyway.

    Sometimes frustration and angst can drive an artist. I'd say it worked here. As this release is meant to be a bridge between Silence and the next full album, maybe Herren hasn't quite reached the edge. Or maybe he's tacking in a completely different direction.

    The fact remains that Prefuse 73 is not just prolific, but prolifically challenging and intriguing. This isn't an easy listen, but it's a vital one.

    Contact:
    Warp Records
    285 West Broadway
    Suite 440
    New York, NY , NY 10015
    www: http://www.warprecords.com


    Radiant Darling
    Cryptomnesia
    (Tense Forms)

    Further proof that Chicago is the center of the musical universe, Radiant Darling blazes forth with an album that's one part gothic Americana (y'know, Trailer Bride), one part gypsy jazz (they even do a Django Reinhardt piece), one part art rock and, well, lots of other things thrown in.

    It all makes for an invigorating blend that is impossible to turn off. These songs spin spells that can't be broken. Radiant Darling has created an alternate universe that is exceedingly enticing. I might, indeed, want to live here all the time, if I wasn't scared out of my mind at the prospect of doing so.

    The minimalist production really helps here, leaving plenty of space between the mostly acoustic instruments and raucous percussion. I could be wrong, but it sounds like much of the music was recorded in one take. I hear a little bleedover between some of the instruments. If that's merely a studio trick (or unintended result) I'm just that much more impressed.

    It's old. It's new. It's indescribably delicious. And I just can't say enough.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.tenseforms.com


    Matthew Shaw
    Convenience EP
    (Burning Building)

    Not exactly laptop pop, but somewhere in the vicinity. Matthew Shaw sings pop songs, but he really geeks out the electronics in his music. The two styles don't always mesh, and it's that fissionable feeling that really drives this disc.

    Tension is always a good thing in art. A landscape isn't a good landscape unless there's something there that shouldn't be. Same goes for music. Pretty music is fine, but there's got to be something else (within or without) to provide a sense of unease. Otherwise nothing happens.

    A lot happens here. Shaw writes simple melodies and sings them in a nice, wavering emo style. Then he cracks out the computer (or whatever) and assembles some really crackling music. Lots of pops, snaps, screeches and trickles. Yeah, it's all in the same key, but the sounds often grate against each other. And that is what makes this one hell of an EP.

    Contact:
    Burning Building
    P.O. Box 17798
    Seattle, WA 98127
    www: http://www.bbrecordings.com


    Slowride
    C/S
    (Deep Elm)

    More goodness from Slowride. Tunes that veer from the ominous to angry to flat out purty purty. And then back again via different routes. Enough bash to be properly punk (if that's what you want) and enough texture to impress silly critics like me.

    Mostly, though, I'm impressed by the loudness of it all. This album sounds fine at the normal decibels, but when you roll the knobs higher and higher, the thing starts to take on an inspired aura. The glow that surrounds the sound at high volumes is a wonder to behold.

    Works well on headphones--maybe that's the point. But even when the waves travel through a spot of air the power is untrammeled. And we are talking about power here, not some shiny, happy nonsense. Slowride takes no prisoners. If you lose the battle, you won't survive.

    What a terrible metaphor. Oh well. Maybe I'm due for a stomping as well. And if an album is gonna kick my ass, it might as well be one as raucous and energizing as this one. Geez, how could anyone resist?

    Contact:
    Deep Elm Records
    P.O. Box 5260
    Clover, SC 29710
    e-mail: info@deepelm.com
    www: www.deepelm.com


    Small Arms Dealer
    A Single Unifying Theory
    (Deep Elm)

    Somewhat conventional pop hardcore--my way of describing this particular emo variant--Small Arms Dealer keeps up the interest simply by never letting up off the throttle.

    Pedal to the floor is a good way to disguise mediocre songwriting. And, to be fair, the songs here are good. But the band's energetic reading of these songs is what raises this album above the teeming masses. The craft is excellent, but craft doesn't always serve punk well.

    Indeed, there ought to be a level of uncertainly, something unstable at the core. The instability here is simply some ragged playing and singing--and that's enough. Cuts a few jagged edges and bloodies up a few noses.

    Solid, with enough spirit to overcome any shortcomings. Not necessarily an inspired album, but one that is immediately approachable and exciting.

    Contact:
    Deep Elm Records
    P.O. Box 5260
    Clover, SC 29710
    e-mail: info@deepelm.com
    www: www.deepelm.com


    Max Stalling
    Sell Out
    (Blind Nello)

    Funny thing about some of this "new-fangled" country music is that it sounds like the old stuff. Max Stalling's voice ilies somewhere between George Strait and Randy Travis, though his songwriting is something of a cross between Rodney Crowell and (lyrically, anyway) Carolyn Mark. Which is to say he seems to come from that "new traditionalist" movement of the late 70s and early 80s, but with his own little quirks.

    I don't know what his studio albums sound like. It's possible to take songs like this and really trash them with glossy production and overblown arrangements. I'm guessing he didn't make that mistake, as the sound on this live album is strong and assured without any sense of bombast.

    The tinny sound on the acoustic guitars is annoying (I'll always complain about that when I hear it, I guess), but otherwise the sound is clear and full. Stalling comports himself like a good ol' boy who's been there and who assumes his audience listens to more than country ("6x9 Speakers" references AC/DC, April Wine, Cheap Trick and more). Oh yeah, he's 35...I knew there was a reason his stuff speaks so much to me.

    Mostly, though, it's the quality of the songs. Stalling does 13 here, and all of them are at least excellent. I don't know why I haven't heard him before, but I know I'll make sure to hear a lot more from now on. One of those albums that brings clear vision to the blind.

    Contact:
    Blind Nello Records
    P.O. Box 721144
    Dallas, TX 75372
    www: http://www.maxstalling.com


    Stoley P.T.
    Lesson #1
    (In Music We Trust)

    Clunky, bouncy pop songs. The hooks shimmer without really going overboard. Nothing pretentious at all. And sometimes that's the thing that really attracts my ear.

    Because Stoley P.T. isn't doing anything particularly revolutionary. The songs are good--and sometimes better--but the sense of whimsy in the verses contrasted with the white heat of the choruses do elevate things. Nice bit of work there, really.

    Otherwise, we're talking about a less-refined version of mid-career Flaming Lips. Which is a plus in my book--and these folks aren't ripping off anyone--but I'd like to hear more. And this album gives me that.

    I'd be interested in hearing where Stoley P.T. goes from here. This is a fine statement, but progress would be good. I think there's every chance we'll hear that.

    Contact:
    In Music We Trust
    15213 SE Bevington Ave.
    Portland, OR 97267-3355
    www: http://www.inmusicwetrust.com


    Tortoise & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy
    The Brave and the Bold
    (Overcoat)

    I've heard two reviews of this album and read three more. Rest assured, anything I say will disappear into the ether just as soon as I post it. But what the hell...

    As you may know, this album contains rather odd recordings of (generally) well-known songs (Springsteen's "Thunder Road," Richard Thompson's "Calvary Cross," Elton John and Bernie Taupin's "Daniel," etc.). Decidedly louder than the average Tortoise or Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (Wil Oldham) album, it is safe to say that no one checked their artistic arrogance at the door.

    And arrogance is what's needed to even contemplate a project like this. Why simply record a bunch of songs the way they originally appeared? My all-time favorite cover is the one Palace (again, Wil Oldham) did of AC/DC's "Big Balls" for a Skin Graft 7". There are some renditions here that nearly reach the same level of mutant genius perfection.

    It's possible to listen to this album and simply compare what's here with the originals you know by heart. And it's also possible to simply listen and appreciate the tunes as they sound here. And, of course, it's possible to do both over and over again. That would be my choice.

    Contact:
    Overcoat Recordings
    3831 North Christiana
    Chicago, IL 60618
    www: http://www.overcoatrecordings.com


    Untied States
    Retail Detail
    (self-released)

    Quirkiness does not equal genius, but Untied States's excessive use of eccentricity just might. The songs themselves are relatively straightforward, but the instrumentation and arrangements get about as far out as is imaginable. Sometimes the kitchen sink is thrown into the kitchen sink, an Escherian conundrum that simply elevates the songs into the stratosphere.

    I really like what these folks do, but then, I'm a big dirty pop fan. Anything you can do to a pop song that doesn't destroy its innate purity is a plus in my book. And while these folks do have their deconstructive moments, at the heart of each song is a solid hook. Often demented, of course, but a hook nonetheless.

    And while things keep flying at the ears with dazzling fury, the sound itself is somewhat restrained. To wit, you can distinctly hear each of these aural missiles as they threaten not only your ears but your sanity. That level of detail is something to behold.

    Thus a gawd-awful mess really isn't. I was anticipating greatness from the moment I opened the package containing this disc, but this album surpassed that. I remain blown away.

    Contact:
    839 Harold Ave. SE
    Atlanta, GA 30316
    www: http://www.untiedstates.us


    Dan Wallace
    Neon and Gold
    (Torito Bravo)

    Wallace takes the "everything is more" approach to roots rock. There are minimalist ballads, dense acoustic prog pieces, pretty bits enlivened by electronic paintings and, well, more.

    Each song is built around the vocal melody with guitar of some sort (generally both acoustic and electric), but past that all bets are off. Wallace also incorporates a good amount of piano and keyboard, and he likes to cram a lot of notes into small spaces--kinda like Frank Zappa writing a prairie opera.

    Or a more acoustic version of the Dixie Dregs. Or (much) less bombastic Kansas. The funny thing is that Wallace has just as much grand ambition as all the folks I mentioned, but he's more willing to restrain himself in service of the song. Which makes his work that much more listenable.

    He's still one idiosyncratic puppy, to be sure. Wallace will always take the road less taken, though he's careful to line it with rose petals. That consideration for the listener is what makes this album such a simple pleasure to hear.

    Contact:
    4554 N Maplewood Ave. 1-E
    Chicago, IL 60625
    www: http://www.danwallacemusic.com


    Cindy Woolf
    Simple and Few
    (MayApple)

    Having spent the last seven years in North Carolina, I've heard a lot of bluegrass and "newgrass." Folks in the New South are pretty parochial about their music, and they have a right to be. Merlefest happens every year in the N.C. foothills, and an awful lot of bluegrass legends are tar heels. And yet...

    Cindy Woolf grew up in Arkansas and spent a lot of time in Springfield, Mo., which many folks in the northern part of Missouri (where I lived off and on for nine years) generally consider to be part of Arkansas--and not necessarily in a good way. All that aside, this music brings me back to North Carolina, even if it is trying to take me to the Ozarks. While there are some regional touches, I suppose, I'd guess most of the anomalies (couldn't think of a better word) are actually the result of Woolf's own inspiration.

    And that's cool. Most of these songs are contemplative, finger-picked folk, with the occasional foray into bluegrass excitement. If you've heard Dolly Parton's most recent albums, you might have an idea of what I'm talking about, though Woolf's album is produced in a much simpler fashion, and Woolf's voice is much stronger that Parton's (Woolf is much more in the range of the buffed steel voice of Nanci Griffith). Woolf assembled a band of orchestral proportions, but each song has a very intimate feel. I like that.

    If you'd played this for me without any info, I would have guessed it was from western North Carolina or eastern Tennessee. There are midwestern touches (Woolf's accent, for starters, though that's not the tell it used to be), but hey, isn't there a reason some folks call this stuff Americana? Woolf now lives in Portland (the big one in Oregon), and I bet people there like her just as much as the folks did back in Springfield or North Little Rock. Or, you know, everywhere else.

    Contact:
    MayApple Records
    1006 S. Delaware
    Springfield, MO 65804
    www: http://www.mayapplerecords.com


    Mike Younger
    Every Stone You Throw
    (self-released)

    Every time I re-alphabetize my CD stacks (yeah, I do have a touch of the ol' OCD), I come across Mike Younger's first album and wonder "When the hell is he going to record another album?" Well, more than five years later, he finally did. And if I'm getting it a year after he released it, well, I'm just happy to hear the music.

    He still traffics in the soulful rock of the Band, the Faces and other early 70s soulmates, and he does it well. He has a deft and subtle touch which serves his writing well. "Everyday War" could have been a cudgel, a bludgeoning polemic. Younger writes it as a wistful lament. There's plenty of anger, but he channels it into his playing, making a solid song that much more powerful.

    People don't make music like this much anymore, which is probably why Younger is toiling on his own rather than getting the support of a major label. Thirty-odd year ago, this sound was everywhere. And while Younger has put his own spin on it (he tosses in a bit more country and folk, I suppose), he makes no bones about where his music comes from.

    I just want to know that he will keep it going. This is the second great album he's recorded, and I hope more people out there take notice. Younger's albums are intended to make a difference, and I think they do. Big ideas wrapped in gorgeous music are some tasty snacks, indeed.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.mikeyounger.com


    Also recommended:

    The Accident that Led Me to the World The Accident that Led Me to the World (Nobody's Favorite Records)
    Wailing, brooding minimalist folk rock. Kinda like Palace (etc.) with more movement. There's more than a touch of the bluegrass in the rhythm section, but that feel is sublimated to the will of the vocals. Which works here. Somewhat maddening--in a good way.

    Airport Cathedral Jetlag (Infiltrate/Burning Building)
    Bashing, throbbing goodness. Lots of distortion and reverb and some nice (male) breathy vocals. Okay, so we're still traveling down the MBV trail, but it sure feels good. These boys make dense pop shrouded in their own fog. Which makes the journey to the center that much more fun.

    Anomaly The Long Road (SGE)
    Instrumental wonders. Some prepared, and others just flow along. I've always liked it when folks combine experimental electronic stuff with "regular band" music--there's a friction that tends to highlight the good parts of both "sides." A nice little vacation for my brain.

    Barbarellatones Beyond the Valley of the Barbarellatones (self-released)
    Slutty, often goofy glam rockabilly. Not really up to the standards of the Cramps, but hell, who is? Take silliness where you can find it, and play this sucker loud.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.barbarellatones.com

    Burns Out Bright Save Yourself a Lifetime (Deep Elm)
    I've really liked everything I've heard from these boys, and this album is no different. Slash-and-burn emo with the occasional foray into complex construction. I didn't get into this one as quickly as the others...which may mean that it turns out to be my favorite BOB album in the end. Hard to say much else right now, except that this puppy is rock solid.

    The Capstan Shafts The Night Shrine of Well-Groomed Lawns EP (self-released)
    Yet another installment in the progression that is the Capstan Shafts. The levels aren't mashed in the red here, but then, the songs are much more fragmentary. As Dean Wells's work becomes t hat much more conventionally listenable, the songs themselves get stranger. Still, few folks can tap into a primal vein as well as this.

    John Carey Undefined Psycho-Chromatic G.R.I.D. (Planet Bass)
    Carey is a bass player (fretless and fretted) and he's recruited a few friends to tag along on a journey into his mind. These improvisations are more contemplative than manic, and Carey's bass work is an interesting center for the songs. Unusual and invigorating.

    Dan Clucas/Immediately Exile (pfMENTUM)
    Clucas plays cornet. Immediately is his hand-picked band. The music is a fine amalgam of post-prog aggression and late-modern jazz (that's my term; sorry for any confusion). When you throw an electric guitar into the mix with a reed player (clarinet and tenor sax), percussionist, contrabassist and corn, things do sound a bit odd. In this case, the compositions are up to the task. Bright to a point of harshness. Sometimes ears need to be seared.

    East West Blast Test Popular Music for Unpopular People (Ipecac)
    The album title might as well be the slogan for Ipecac Records as well. Chris Dodge and Dave Witte take bits and pieces of recognizable music (some King Crimson here, the little percolator song of some brand of coffee--just to talk about the first two songs) and then play variations on a theme. Not long variations, either. This album flies by far too quickly.

    1888 Abble Goose Dam CD5 (Planting Seeds)
    Two songs, each clocking in a couple sends short of three minutes. Well-constructed, pleasantly rambling pieces that don't fit into any neat slot. Maybe a much more worldly Air--but man, that's not really it, either. The band's exceptional use of melody and harmony within a loudly soaring pop sound is most interesting.

    Jack Endino Permanent Fatal Error (Wondertaker)
    As the guy who did as much as anyone to create the grunge sound, Jack Endino has a right to stick to his guns. And that's what he's done here, create something that sounds a lot like a more refined Skin Yard album. Me, I'm pretty happy with that. You can make the call for yourself.

    Mind Controls Mind Controls (Dirtnap)
    Put the Ramones in the garage (I know, I know, but bear with me) and then keep the engineering to a minimum. Mind Controls don't quite have the same heart of pop, but they're sure enthusiastic. Loud, scratchy and oh-so-much fun.

    Model One Model One EP (self-released)
    Four songs that remind me a lot of 80s pop rock--with a "modern" chaser. Kinda like if Cutting Crew actually wrote good songs or if Greg Kihn had a sense of irony, if those references aren't too insulting. Breathy vocals, choppy guitars and anthemic choruses. Takes me back in a good way.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.modelonemusic.com

    MONO You Are There (Temporary Residence)
    Four Japanese musicians + Steve Albini = something awfully nice. MONO takes a while to get to the point (if it ever gets there at all), but the contemplative journey is well worth the price. The sound is amazing, and the songs are quite intriguing.

    The Notes and Scratches uh-oh (Tense Forms)
    Raucous, glorious stuff. The melodies are sterling, and the arrangements about as messy as can be. Kinda like Nick Lowe producing a later OMD album...though probably a bit busier than even that. This album sounds completely alive.

    Phillomac Phillomac (Shut Eye)
    Or maybe it's Phil Lomac, whose songs grace this album. Dunno. In any case, Lomac's songs are slightly cludgy and self-conscious, traits which serve to draw the listener in that much quicker. There's something about the way these pieces work that makes them much more attractive than they probably ought to be. Well done.

    Ponies in the Surf Ponies on Fire (Asaurus)
    The reason more people don't try to do the minimalist electronic pop thing is that it's so easy to fuck up. Ponies in the Surf manage to strip their sound down to the bare minimum and still sound utterly charming. It helps that the stuff comes at you from oblique angles. Fragile, pretty and endearing.

    Reverberations from Spring Past Reverberations from Spring Past (Pax)
    A nice little improvisational quartet: Ernesto Diaz-Infante, Robert Montoya, Marcos Fernandes and Rent Romus. What I like best about this particular set is the driving energy in the songs. There's not a lot of dicking around here. Rather, the folks have a destination in mind and they get there--with the requisite fuss, of course. One of the most engaging improv sets I've heard in a while.

    Tempest The Double-Cross (Magna Carta)
    Celtic prog is one of those sideways genres that probably ought not exist. And yet here's Tempest, and damn if the stuff doesn't work. There's the requisite technical wizardry, but by and large the band channels those impulses into the songs themselves. Over the top? You bet. And a lot of fun because of it, doncha know.

    Test Icicles For Screening Purposes Only (Domino)
    The pop side of no-wave, I guess. And since no-wave hasn't really existed in years...well, I give up. The hooks are understated, but they sweeten the discord inherent in such a sound. Annoying, but in such an insistent way that eventually resistance becomes futile.

    Things Falling Apart As Above-So Below (self-released)
    Slowly evolving, but with a real sense of drama, Things Falling Apart kinda rolls oddly along. These songs take a while to unfold, but there's always the sense that something is about to happen. That excellent use of manufactured tension is most inspired. It's easy to get caught up in this one.

    13ghosts Cicada (Skybucket)
    Brad Armstrong and Buzz Russell wrote a few songs and then got 20 or so of their closest friends to record them. The songs fall everywhere from art rock to balls-out rock and roll to introspective navel-gazing. I'm not entirely sure this set holds together as an album, but the individual pieces are stellar.

    Tony Travalini Silence & Obscurity (self-released)
    Dour, but in the brightest and most engaging way imaginable. Travalini has all the traits of a troubadour (if that's a pun, it's the worst one I've ever written), and he has great songwriting instincts. Something of a strange little snack, but one that turns out to be sweet in the middle.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.tonytravalini.com

    Various Artists Sleeper Cell TV soundtrack (Rhythmbank)
    I haven't seen the show on Showtime, but whenever you can put together a soundtrack with the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Tricky and Faithless (that last one a nice little remix which I'd guess is the main title song), you're doing alright. Most of the pieces here by Paul Haslinger, ably assisted by Nona Hendryx, Sussan Deyhim and others, and they're varied an interesting enough to carry the disc on their own. Almost makes me want to see the show.

    Various Artists To: Elliot From: Portland (Expunged)
    Fifteen Portland bands and artists take on the Elliot Smith legacy. Most don't really try to diverge much from Smith's originals, but even so, this set is a solid example of what was lost when Smith took his life.

    Watermelon Slim & the Workers Watermelon Slim & the Workers (NorthernBlues)
    Slim evokes one hell of a mood. This sharply-produced album sounds great, and even if Slim does rely a bit too much on the lyrical cliche, it's easy to hear why there's so much buzz about the guy in the blues world. He's got a voice that must be heard.

    Young and Sexy Panic When You Find It (Mint)
    I still go back and forth on these folks. The tightly-crafted songs, which range all over the pop universe, are undeniably solid. Sometimes I think that I'm, well, thinking too much when I'm listening to Young and Sexy. Still, I can't deny how pretty these often-convoluted pieces can be.


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