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 #274 reviews
(May 2006)
  • Johnny Berry and the Outliers Fegenbush Farm (self-released)
  • CopperShot Issues (EV Records)
  • The Death Set To (Rabbitfoot/Morphius)
  • DJ Logic Zen of Logic (Ropeadope)
  • Islands Return to the Sea (Equator)
  • If All Else Fails Do Not Forget to Be Angry (Baseline Music Co.)
  • Lonely China Day Lonely China Day EP (Tag Team)
  • Miranda Sound Western Reserve (Sunken Treasure)
  • Onid + Isil Onid + Isil (Public Eyesore)
  • Pussyfinger Chew and Swallow (Dielectric)
  • Soul Position Things Go Better with RJ and AL (Rhymesayers)
  • Sapnish for 100 Metric (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Johnny Berry and the Outliers
    Fegenbush Farm

    Johnny Berry's got a rough-hewn baritone that sounds great when mixed with traditional country music. And when I say traditional, I mean unadorned. Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. Or, in this case, Johnny Berry and two guys from Kentucky (with some friends on the side).

    Honky tonk laments, heel-clickin' two steps, rip-roarin' wailers...you name it, Berry plays it. Now, again, we're talking about real country music. None of that Californy nonsense, no trips to the hills. Just a guitar and a pair of shit kickers.

    Berry's songwriting is solid, and he's obviously smart enough to know when to turn to a friend for help when he needs it. But what I like best is the presentation. This sounds authentic. For that very reason, it probably isn't. Life goes on. This disc sounds great.

    A fine CD for traveling down the road a piece. Especially if you're hankering for a bit of what Johnny Cash used to do so well. Johnny Berry and the are worth quite a few spins.

    www: http://www.johnnyberrymusic.com

    (EV Records)

    Stellar beatwork by Copperpot, incisive and insightful rhymes by Longshot. I'm always in the mood for something political, and this disc hits the spot right.

    When I describe the beats as stellar, that's an understatement. I'd love this album if it were an instrumental. Copperpot combines the collage style of PreFuse 73 with the smooth grace of RJD2. These songs are real songs, assembled by a master.

    And that's not to slight Longshot, who is one of the more creative MCs I've heard in a while. He's not afraid of taking the time to fully expand an idea within a song. He does this without getting lost or, even worse, dull. This is incendiary fare.

    A collaboration that deserves to continue. CopperShot blisters every track on this disc. Don't listen if you don't want to think...even though these songs are too infectious to put down.

    EV Records
    1457 Ashland Ave.
    Evanston, IL 60201
    www: http://www.evproductions.net

    The Death Set

    New wave meets no wave. The Death Set uses bouncy keyboard riffs and increasingly strained vocals to create a grating and exhilarating album. This disc might be that one night stand you can't resist--even though you know you'll be paying for it in the morning.

    Manic, crazed and yet surprisingly tuneful. If I were in a sillier mood, I might call these songs goofy. But I don't think that's quite right. Nonetheless, these folks visit the rational world infrequently.

    Which makes these songs that much more exciting. Sane people wouldn't make stuff like this. I have to admit that guessing which mental disorder is most prevalent in the band is a lot of fun. Mania is winning out right now.

    The vast majority of people will run screaming from this album. And they should. The Death Set is for true believers only. And if you can figure out exactly what to believe after hearing this set, you're way ahead of me.

    Morphius Records
    100 E. 23rd St.
    Baltimore, MD 21218
    www: http://www.morphius.com

    DJ Logic
    Zen of Logic

    As if by divine providence, I've received a number of albums with great beatwork this month. DJ Logic, however, has the only one that is largely beats and beats alone. And it's mind-jarringly good.

    Absolutely masterful. I hate to repeat myself, but in my book the master of the hip-hop instrumental is RJD2. DJ Logic takes that smooth, strong sound and adds more of an electronic sheen to it. And he's got a slightly different musical perspective as well.

    More of straightforward hip-hop influence in the beats, while the attendant music is more on the rock and roll side. At times pretty, at times chunky, always inspiring.

    The tracks with guest MCs don't stint on the beatwork. Rather, there seems to be a sense of real collaboration, something greater than the parts. Which is always the best way to go.

    Ropeadope Records
    Village Station
    P.O. Box 1021
    New York, NY 10014
    www: http://www.ropeadope.com

    Return to the Sea

    Loping (sometimes lurching) geek pop that can be as simple as a trio and as fleshed out as a small orchestra. And while the songs have that laptop feel, these are "real" performances.

    You might ask why it matters if the music is programmed or played. It doesn't, I guess, but there is a difference in sound--or rather, texture. And this sounds like a band. Barely sometimes, but a band nonetheless.

    The songs themselves are often goofy and always intricately plotted. Such crafting can lead to something stilted, but these boys always manage to infuse a warped energy into the pieces. Kinda like a French Canadian They Might Be Giants.

    Except that these guys aren't nearly so snarky. They're actually painfully earnest, which makes these songs even that much more engaging. I'm not sure why someone would make music quite like this, but I'm sure glad Islands did.

    Equator Records
    135 Kenaston
    Montreal, QC H3R 1M1

    If All Else Fails
    Do Not Forget to Be Angry
    (Baseline Music Co.)

    By and large, the albums I give full reviews to are very easy choices for me. This one wasn't. I was torn between the full review or none at all. And so I listened to the album again.

    The conundrum for me was that I've heard this sort of wailing, crunchy, melodic pop punk many times before. If All Else Fails breaks no new ground at all. But man, this album is one hell of a rush. The songs are all played at least 30 BPM too fast, and it feels like they speed up as they go on. There's a palpable kinetic energy here.

    In the end, I've got to honor that. I'm not saying IAEF is ripping anyone off or simply adhering to musical precedents. But there's nothing surprising on this album...except for the visceral thrills it provides. A bravura performance, to be sure.

    So let the power wash over you. Don't ask too many questions and enjoy the ride. It's electric.

    Baseline Music Co.
    P.O. Box 2541
    Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91729
    www: http://www.baselinemusic.net

    Lonely China Day
    Lonely China Day EP
    (Tag Team Records)

    Four guys from China. Who play something that sounds like electronic-tinged emo. Really.

    The lyrics are Chinese, and according to the notes, they're ancient poetry. Which makes the vocals just another instrument, at least to English-speaking ears. Fine by me, as I'm always more about the music, anyway.

    The music is a peculiar hybrid, sounding a lot like Air meets the Appleseed Cast. That's not a bad combination, mind you, just odd. And then there's the fact that a Chinese band is using western tunings...but then, Japanese rock bands have always sounded American, too. So I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

    Now, a Chinese band using Chinese tunings in a rock style--that would be wicked. Lonely China Day is merely quite intriguing. The writing is stylish, and the presentation is most impressive. A fine short set.

    Tag Team Records
    115 N. Kenmore
    Suite #3
    Los Angeles, CA 90004
    www: http://www.tagteamrecords.com

    Miranda Sound
    Western Reserve
    (Sunken Treasure)

    A couple times a year I hear a band that shifts between jazz and rock modes as if there were no difference. Reminds me a lot of a band called Clockhammer that released a couple of albums 15 years ago. Miranda Sound reminds me of them.

    J Robbins produced, and he has a crunchy-yet-clean style that emphasizes the similarities to me. In truth, these guys are much less mannered and much more willing to bliss out the hooks. But even the slightest hint triggers a reaction in me. There aren't that many adventurous bands out there. There never have been.

    Especially when we're talking about pop. Most folks are all about the sweeteners. Miranda Sound is much more interested in texture. That's sort of impulse that creates albums which will last past a few listens.

    Solid writing and playing, and Robbins's touch on the knobs makes this shine all the brighter. A fine set, and a band well worth listening for in the future.

    Sunken Treasure Records
    www: www.sunkentreasure.org

    Onid + Isil
    Onid + Isil
    (Public Eyesore)

    Imagine Devo as a lo-fi electronic improvisational duo. And then stab yourself up the nose with an icepick a few times. You might get the idea then.

    This is twisted stuff, no doubt. The straight up-and-down beats lend a disco flair, but in reality the 10 "jams" here are mutant messages from alien life forms. Nothing else explains what can be heard here.

    Mind you, it's horribly addictive. Kinda like candy for the warped musical mind. Maybe more crack than candy. I kept turning up the volume, and it was never enough--even as the feedback and distortion threatened the structural integrity of my CD shelves.

    Um, yeah. Something like that. Inordinately seductive. If you're like me, of course. If not, you'll probably be sterilized. Darwin's way, I guess.

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

    Chew and Swallow

    Sufficiently messy electronic noodlings. Some of these pieces are arranged into songs, and some of them are merely an exhibition of cool sounds. Inevitably, people much more clever than me will start a discussion as to what is music and what is not after listening to an album like this. I won't...because I know this is music. Good music.

    I'm not a strict constructionist when it comes to music or the Constitution or whatever. If it works, it works. And Pussyfinger makes sure everything works quite well. These pieces all have a certain resonance. They all make sense within their own space.

    And perhaps as importantly, they sound terrific. The throbbing distortion is a wonder to behold, and the occasional ethereal side comment can be haunting. Don't get me wrong; these folks cherish brute power above just about everything. But the occasional subtle moment is cool, too.

    Solid all the way around. Enthralling, really, if you allow yourself to become immersed in the experience. Don't go looking for landmarks, and you'll come out just fine on the other side.

    472 1/2 Alcatraz Ave.
    Oakland, CA 94609
    Phone (510) 541-0875
    www: http://www.dielectricrecords.com

    Soul Position
    Things go better with RJ and AL

    RJD2 and Blueprint picking up where they left off with 8 Million Stories. I know I've referenced the former a few times in this issue, and it's nice be able to return the love in this review. No one is more eclectic and exciting as a DJ. And Blueprint spins his rhymes with just as much skill and style.

    The breadth of sound and subject on this album is breathtaking. Politics, sex, culture, philosophy...no subject is out of bounds. And on the musical side, RJD2 blasts from old school R&B to hard rock to the occasional classical riff. For a set with such powerful ideas, the songs sound awfully playful.

    Which is perhaps the secret to the greatness here. These guys don't take themselves too seriously. It's that whole "spoonful of sugar" bit. Let the good times roll and drop a little science while you're at it.

    Science...Jesus, am I old school these days? Probably. And that's cool. As long as I get to hear great sets like this one, I'll play grandpa any day.

    Rhymesayers Entertainment
    2409 Hennepin Ave. S.
    Minneapolis, MN 55405
    e-mail: info@rhymesayers.com
    www: http://www.rhymesayers.com

    Spanish for 100
    Metric EP

    Spanish for 100 claims all the right Americana influences. But these boys don't play Americana. There is something of a roots flavor here, but we're talking about contemplative indie rock. Put it all together, and you've got a fine combination.

    Reminds me a bit of Eleventh Dream Day, a band whose myriad sounds confounded any attempt to become popular. Spanish for 100 has a bit of luck, as the last 15 years have proven EDD prophetic.

    Only five songs here, but each is well worth hearing over and over again. This is the sort of date that must lead to another.

    www: http://www.spanishfor100.com

    Also recommended:

    Cherubs Uncovered by Heartbeat (Cargo)
    A large slab of minimalist Britpop...the kinda stuff that seems to be flavor-of-the-month right now. It's interesting stuff, with enough kick to keep up my interest. Can't say how it's that much different than others of its ilk, but that's probably best left to cooler folks than me.

    Amy Denio Tasogare (Public Eyesore)
    Music for a modern dance piece. Denio plays accordion and sings (well, you know) and Eyvind Kang adds some solid texture with a cello. This piece is exceptionally slow-moving, but it does sound very cool. Kinda like the story about frogs: If you place them in cold water and turn up the heat, they never figure out they're boiling. Let this one build and see what happens.

    Ghost of the Russian Empire With Fiercest Demolition EP (Thirty Ghosts)
    Hypnotic, kinetic pop songs that lie submerged below an ever-changing layer of distortion. Sometimes just a scrim and other times a full-blown fog. GOTRE changes the rules somewhat by writing perky songs for this sound, and I like that. Stay contemplative even as you bound around.

    Emily Hay/Marcos Fernandes We Are. (Trummerflora/Public Eyesore)
    The first professionally-pressed CD issued by Public Eyesore, this album is right in line with its CD-R predecessors. Largely flute (Hay) and percussion (Fernandes), I'd venture a guess as to say this is largely nonimprovisational, but that doesn't mean these songs adhere to any particular mainstream concept of "normal." Flights of fancy that sound awfully nice.

    Hi Red Center Architectural Failures (Pangaea)
    Jaunty, if lurching, geek rock. With enough asides to fill a Woody Allen movie. These aren't so much songs as unsorted collections of ideas, which is somewhat appealing to me. Stick with it and, well, you might not go insane.

    The Knights of the New Crusade A Challenge to the Cowards of Christendom (Alternative Tentacles)
    Whether this album is simply an exceptionally clever satire or the spawn of strikingly earnest liberal Christian kids, there's no doubting the arresting nature of the songs within. I'd lean toward satire, except that there are so many overtly sarcastic skits and one-liners that I'd have to guess these boys are for real. God help them.

    Joel Kraft Big Ideas (Blinking Light)
    Running the gamut from Jonathan Richman-esque folk to Brian Wilson ecstatic excess (though keeping more to the former than the latter), Joel Kraft blazes through some fine pop. He's got a nice lyrical touch, though I'd like to hear him sweeten up the hooks just a bit. Just enough to send a listener into cardiac arrest. Nothing more.

    Lamella Love Versus Dirt (Contract Killers)
    I'm always a sucker for the silk-screened sleeve and obviously homemade liners. The music within is similarly homeschooled, a series of brooding electronic themes that somehow manage to sound uplifting by the time they finish. It's a cool trick, one I like listening to over and over again.

    Rennick To the Skins (Pathways)
    Laptop goth, or something like that. These songs are minimalist pop pieces realized on a computer, but there's that sweep of a cape above them that keeps dropping a shadow. An interesting mix of styles. Shady and cool.

    Retisonic Levittown EP (Ascetic)
    If the Mark E. Smith was just a bit more interested in melody and 20 years younger, he might be fronting Retisonic. The often-disjointed punky ravers on this album are chock full of vitriol and energy. One bite is enough to last all day.

    Scott Solter One River (Tell-All)
    Very much what I'm coming to expect from Tell-All: Intricate, deliberate songs that aren't overtly in-your-face. Rather, the ideas reveal themselves in due time, until the wonderment is complete. Ambient for those who really like to dig deep into the cerebral cortex.

    Sote Dastgaah (Dielectric)
    I could guess and say this is a truly warped electronic interpretation of traditional Indian music. But I don't know. If I had to take a stand, I'd say that it is inspired electronic music that happens to borrow liberally from the Indian subcontinent. In any case, it is otherworldly and ever so intriguing.

    Thee Moths Nature (Banazan)
    Thee Moths has seen many incarnations over the years. On this outing, Alex Botten pretty much does things himself, enlisting help as he sees fit. The resulting cavalcade of sonic energy defies description (as before) but does come together when it matters most.

    Volumen Science Faction (Wantage USA)
    While many outfits have tried to replicate the carnage wrought by Ween, none have succeeded. Volumen ably takes on the prog-metal-punk-pop sound (such as it were) and rips off a sizable number of solid tunes. The band doesn't really establish its own sound, but I like what I hear anyway.

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