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 #276 reviews
(July 2006)
  • The Benevento-Russo Duo Play Pause Stop (Reincarnate Music)
  • Black Fiction Ghost Ride (Howell's Transmitter)
  • Eluvium When I Live by the Garden and the Sea (Temporary Residence)
  • Fiel Garvie Caught Laughing (Words on Music)
  • Fluorescent Grey Lying on the floor mingling with god in a tijuana motel room next door to a veterinary supply store (Isolate)
  • Robert Fripp Exposure 2xCD re-issue (Discipline Global Mobile)
  • Klee Honeysuckle (Minty Fresh)
  • Steuart Liebig/The Mentones Nowhere Calling (pfMENTUM)
  • Mr. Lif Mo'mega (Definitive Jux)
  • Russian Spy Camera You Are a Vulture (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
  • Sinks of Gandy Trust=Damage (Tiberius)
  • Sleeper featuring ID The Crawlspace (Ransom Notes)
  • Smart Brown Handbag Harry Larry (Stonegarden)
  • The Theater Fire Everybody Has a Dark Side (Undeniable)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Benevento-Russo Duo
    Play Pause Stop
    (Reincarnate Music)

    Somewhere between prog, indie rock and laptop pop lies the Benevento Russo Duo. I've been grooving on these folks for a quite a while, and they've been playing for even longer.

    Marco Benevento plays keyboards (with generally two or three things going on at once) and Joe Russo supplies the skin work. And while these songs are impeccably written and arranged, it's the way these guys work together that really makes their music wonderful.

    The sound on the album is slightly fuzzy--Benevento prefers that different lines have different sounds, and one of them is a slightly-distorted electric piano--which lends these songs a vaguely off-kilter feel. In no way, however, does this take away from the astounding melodic instinct of the band. And unless I miss my guess, these songs were recorded live to tape (or whatever). If not, these guys are even more talented than I've guessed.

    These guys have been playing together for something like 15 years. You can hear it in the way these songs come together. We're not talking about mere anticipation...these two know what the other will be doing. And that rapport helps these intricate pieces come together most impressively.

    Reincarnate Music
    www: http://www.reincarnatemusic.com

    Black Fiction
    Ghost Ride
    (Howell's Transmitter)

    Slyly dancing through the back roads of Americana, Black Fiction actually creates an amazing amalgam of modern music. Looping bits and pieces of roots flavor into the mix, Tim Cohen and Evan Martin show a deft hand with disparate material.

    Oh, yeah, the lyrics are completely whacked. Sometimes they make sense. Personally, I like it better when they don't. Makes me think. As if the music here doesn't already.

    This album was assembled on an 8-track Tascam 388 (not hard to guess, given the intentionally choppy nature of the pieces), and so there is a vague demo feel to the sound. 21st century demo, of course. None of that blasted old school incompetence. The sound is sharp, almost too sharp. But I'm sure that's the point.

    Quite the romp. Probably best suited for those who prefer a little experimentation with their tunes. Black Fiction never plays it safe. The guys simply play it good (or is it well?).

    Howell's Transmitter
    2839 24th St.
    San Francisco, CA 94110
    www: http://www.howellstransmitter.com

    When I Live by the Garden and the Sea EP
    (Temporary Residence)

    Take a cryptically-named band and add cryptic song titles (in addition to the leading name of the title track, the first piece is "I Will Not Forget that I Have Forgotten") and you get folks (or in this case, one folk: Matthew Cooper) who must be trying to be obtuse. Well, yes. And damned if it doesn't work out for him.

    Eluvium (my dictionary doesn't have the word, though I'm guessing it has little to do with effluvium) produces soundscapes (that awful word which many of my music critic friends have sworn off using), but that's really beside the point. These are achingly pretty songs, and relatively short ones at that---the title track is the longest, and it clocks in at barely seven minutes. The four pieces here are frighteningly good, enough to make just about anyone cry.

    I'm not exaggerating. The press has a couple of reviews that compare Eluvium to Brian Eno. Kinda, except that this stuff has much more soul--not a dig on Eno, but a complement to Cooper. These songs not only paint the landscape, they flesh out the story as well. Wowsers.

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

    Fiel Garvie
    Caught Laughing
    (Words on Music)

    Breathy, dreamy Britpop that always manages to keep the ball rolling. These songs rarely get bouncy, but they're always kinetic. Nothing dawdling or dull here.

    Not bouncy, but often bright and shiny. The underlying rhythms to the songs are quite playful, and the melodies often shimmer with grace. Simple they may be, but that simplicity translates into something most wonderful.

    These is nothing complicated about the arrangements or the production. Fiel Garvie plays things straight up, and that serves the songs quite well. No need to pancake a pretty face, and there's no need to gussy up gorgeous songs with studio bombast. Add just enough adornment to emphasize the strong cheekbones and let the rest go.

    I've liked everything I've heard from these folks, and this album doesn't change that. Quite impressive.

    Words on Music
    715 University Ave. SE #201
    Minneapolis, MN 55414
    www: http://www.words-on-music.com

    Fluorescent Grey
    Lying on the floor mingling with god in a tijuana motel room next door to a veterinary supply store

    And I thought Eluvium was being obtuse with its album title! Ah, well. Good thing I like these songs so much. Robbie Martin has been making electronic music for ages, and his assembly technique is impeccable. He never dwells too long on a particular sound or idea. Better to cut the sample short and repeat it than let it run too long.

    An awful lot of folks could learn from that. Editing is difficult, but particularly important in collage-style electronic music. Martin uses his samples both as "melodies" (such as they are) and rhythms. Sometimes he uses the cuts as a something approaching a rhythm track. Like I said, he's good.

    Good enough to make an experimental electronic album that is warm, even though it's filled with pops, crackles and other odd bits of energy. There's never a sense of chaos. Martin imposes a strict order on things even as he is willing to ply the edges of the musical sphere.

    One of the best strictly electronic albums I've heard in a long time. There are so many layers to the pieces, it's gonna take me a while to peel through them. And don't worry: I will.

    Isolate Records
    P.O. Box 117598
    Burlingame, CA 94011-7598
    www: http://www.isolaterecords.com

    Robert Fripp
    Exposure 2xCD re-issue
    (Discipline Global Mobile)

    It's hard to believe, but back in the mid-70s Robert Fripp was right in the middle of a certain wing of the popular music scene. He produced Daryl Hall's solo album Sacred Songs and Peter Gabriel II in 1977 and 1978, and the liners say he conceived of Exposure as the third part of an "MOR trilogy" which included those other two albums.

    Hall and Gabriel are all over this album (presented here in its 1979 version, the 1983 remix and 1985 re-release, with three added Daryl Hall tracks), as is regular Fripp collaborator Tony Levin (who did the vast majority of the bass work here). Phil Collins, Narada Michael Walden, Brian Eno, Barry Andrews are among the other guests. To round out the all-star cast, the cover was designed by Chris Stein (I'm assuming that would be the Chris Stein of Blondie, but I can't confirm that).

    This is a rather over-the-top set, and for me the real result is an almost-desperate need to hear that Fripp-produced Daryl Hall album--Hall's tracks here are rather unlike the blue-eyed soul that has defined his career. He does a number of interesting things with his versatile voice, and melding that with Fripp's vaguely-abstract prog sensibilities creates some really fine stuff.

    As for the album itself, this is probably of greatest interest to Fripp fanatics, though the quality of the project is undeniable. I found it interesting to hear the subtle differences between the two discs (and, like I said, the extra Hall work was a revelation), but then, that's why I'm a music critic. Fine stuff.

    Discipline Global Mobile
    P.O. Box 5282
    Beverly Hills, CA 90209

    (Minty Fresh)

    Gorgeous, resounding pop music. Ringing melodies, husky female vocals...awfully seductive, you know. It's a formula sound, but there's a good reason for that. It works.

    The music is wonderfully realized, with tasteful use of keyboards to supplement bounding piano and guitar licks. Pop music is best realized with up and down beats, and while lots of folks seem to forget that, Klee doesn't. These tunes have pop.

    Remember the Lightning Seeds? Klee's sound is somewhat more organic, but the pure pop sound is much the same. These songs are great because, well, they simply must be great. If that doesn't make sense, listen to this album and it will. From the first beat, there's this feeling that nothing can change the inevitability of joy.

    Pure pleasure, the kind of album that's fun to wallow in for days and days. I think I'll do that now.

    Minty Fresh
    P.O. Box 577400
    Chicago, IL 60657
    www: http://www.mintyfresh.com

    Steuart Liebig/The Mentones
    Nowhere Calling

    Liebig plays contrabass guitar and wrote the music. The Mentones (Tony Atherton, Bill Barrett and Joseph Berardi) flesh out these compositions in the most visceral and exciting way possible.

    The result is one of the most invigorating avant garde jazz albums I've heard in a while. Liebig has long impressed me with his willingness to try out new ideas, and the works here are no exception. Still, it is the performance of the band (Liebig included) that really blows me away.

    These guys play together. Long-time Primus fans might remember the chaos of those early Caroline albums, when Les Claypool and guitarist Larry LaLonde attacked each other with a fury and still managed to play on the same page. That competitive, yet collaborative, dynamic faded as the band scored success, but I've always loved it. These guys have the same feel. They know what the others will be doing, and they push each other to the edge.

    Always moving, always finding new ways to create sounds, the players have created an album that never stops. I wish it would never end, but the laws of physics don't allow such a thing. I guess I'll have to live with that.

    P.O. Box 1653
    Ventura, CA 93002
    www: http://www.pfmentum.com

    Mr. Lif
    (Definitive Jux)

    The thing about Def Jux artists is that there's just as much creativity on the beat side as there is on the rhyme side. Mr. Lif has long since proved himself as lyrically adept, and he doesn't fail to impress here. The tracks behind him are similarly impressive.

    From the very first track, this album assaults senses and sensibilities. There's a definite body-slam feel to the beats and backing tracks, and Lif comes out swinging. He sows ideas as if they were seeds. Some take and some don't, but the sheer quantity of thought is impressive.

    This is a loud album. Really loud. And heavy. A recent tour through some of my old school (as it was) rap albums revealed to me how reliant on rock and roll many of the progenitors were. In the 90s, there was a decided shift toward r&b. Lif sticks to the rock--building in a nice sense of flow.

    Um, anyone in the know had to have a feeling this would be good. It is. Not much left to say. Lif strikes again. And my guess is that he's just getting warmed up.

    Definitive Jux
    451 Greenwich St. #507
    New York, NY 10013
    e-mail: info@definitivejux.net
    www: http://www.definitivejux.net

    Russian Spy Camera
    You Are a Vulture
    (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)

    Right in line with many other HHBTM artists, Russian Spy Camera trafficks in off-kilter pop music. Doesn't matter if we're talking vaguely indie rock or vaguely laptop or vaguely math or whatever. 'cause, you know, we're talking about all those sounds. And more.

    Indeed, Russian Spy Camera's one big weakness is that it simply doesn't have a coherent sound. This album is one big mix tape, and that's about it. Of course, the songs are awfully good. Awfully, awfully good.

    Jason NeSmith and Ryan White make sure the pieces are properly punchy, but that still doesn't give these guys any sense of a real sound. That's alright. When you've got a band as willfully versatile as these boys, it's probably best to make sure the levels are set correctly and then worry about other things later.

    A nice little journey through modern rock. Or modern pop. Or whatever. Adventurous as hell, and pretty far sighted as well. Quite fun.

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

    Sinks of Gandy

    Jaunty pop with plenty of edge. Edge by way of distortion, attitude and raggedy riffage. Good edge, in other words.

    Not unlike the Klee I reviewed earlier in this issue, I had a strong feeling I'd like this album about two seconds after the first song started. There's just something about hanging loosely--all the while keeping everything in order--that makes me happy. Just enough toss off, in other words, to make the music utterly human.

    Sinks of Gandy have spent plenty of time listening to bands like Superchunk and Eleventh Dream Day. There's an insistence to the performances here that demands attention. And that attention is repaid in full.

    Quite a wonderful album. It probably helps that I'm 36 years old and spent my college years listening to, well, Superchunk and Eleventh Dream Day. The fuzzy visage of this disc, though, ought to attract folks from other, um, eras. One can only hope.

    Tiberius Records
    4280 Catalpa Drive
    Independence, KY 41051
    www: http://www.tiberiusrecords.com

    Sleeper featuring ID
    The Crawlspace
    (Ransom Notes)

    I'm not sure how this is different than the iD and Sleeper that I reviewed a while back, but the credit listing is different. And I guess there is more Sleeper (he's the one who creates the sounds) than iD (or ID or whatever). In the end, it doesn't matter whose name is on the spine. The music is the only thing that concerns me.

    And boy, does it. Sleepers distorted electronic vision is astounding. Something dark and vicious this way comes, and it comes hard and fast. You want to scare the kids on Halloween? Play this. You'll make their parents shit their pants, too.

    Quite the ramble through the darkness that is life. The sound feel is oppressive and leaden, punctuated by sharp beats and a wide variety of found audio. ID weaves some verse here and there, but as the credits point out, this album is all about the madness that is Sleeper. Or the madness created by Sleeper. Something like that.

    There are people who like to live shiny, happy lives unblemished by untoward thoughts. Sleeper is not one of those people. Neither am I. And if you aren't, then this album might speak most eloquently to you.

    Ransom Notes Records
    www: http://www.ransomnotesrecords.com

    Smart Brown Handbag
    Harry Larry
    (Stonegarden Records)

    David Steinhart has the band back together, and Smart Brown Handbag has produced another fine set of lilting, pretty pop songs. Damned if it doesn't work every time.

    Steinhart is the songwriter, singer and general force behind the band, but when SBH records, you can be sure Cindy Albon and John Glogovac are there as well. And they're hardly contract players. Glogovac produces here, and there's a very strong feeling of collaboration among the band members.

    I've been reviewing SBH albums for almost 10 years, and the consistency of quality is astounding. Perhaps it's just that Steinhart doesn't record until he's got enough good songs. And perhaps it's simply that these folks know what they're doing and are somehow able to maintain the highest standards.

    Doesn't matter. Sometimes when I say a band hasn't progressed much, I mean that as a criticism. Here, however, it's a complement. Few bands or artists have a track record as solid as Steinhart and company, and in this case, same-old same-old means "amazing."

    Stonegarden Records
    3101 Exposition Place
    Los Angeles, CA 90018
    www: www.stonegarden.com

    The Theater Fire
    Everybody Has a Dark Side

    The sticker on the jewel box references Calexico, Smog, Giant Sand and Lambchop. And those are reasonable. But I'd add the Silver Jews. In fact, the Theater Fire sounds to me like an almost perfect amalgam of Calexico and the Silver Jews.

    The boys like to play things straight, but in as indirect a way as possible. The vocal melodies are about as stock as it gets, but the arrangements and instrumental lines weave all over the place. Some horns here, a lubricated bass there and plenty of variety in the stringed accompaniment.

    Kinda like a freaky campfire band. Sure, these songs could be basic fare, but the performances lift them to more inspired level. The sound is round and full, which is in stark opposition to the spare arrangements. But it works. All the pieces can be heard, and the sound gives the songs more depth.

    The sort of album that slowly worms its way into your heart. Or, perhaps, storms the barricades right away. You've just got to be open to the possibility, I guess.

    Undeniable Records
    381 Casa Linda Plaza
    PMB 176
    Dallas, TX 75218
    www: www.undeniablerecords.com

    Also recommended:

    A.M. Elevator A.M. Elevator (self-released)
    Jaunty, guitar-laden pop-rock. By and large, these are sprightly, shiny pieces. Even the "introspective" bits are pretty raucous. But hey, isn't that what the summer is for?
    www: www.myspace.com/amelevator

    Amiel Accidents by Design (self-released)
    Well-assembled tunes. This is mostly a one-man effort--and at times it sounds like it. The joints aren't always as dovetailed as they ought to be. On the other hand, the writing is solid and the end result is beguiling. More music that's perfect for the season.
    www: www.amiel-music.com

    Anyway Dead End (Silver Rocket)
    Very loud, pretty fast and crunchy as hell. No pretense toward introspection or any other sort of extended thought. Lots of anger and angst. Hey, if you're gonna be mad, might as well do it this way. Chaotic and often crude (the music, I mean). Just the way it should be.

    Archie Blowers and the Swingin' Angels Whole Lot Better EP (You're Going up Records)
    See the review above, except that the Swingin' Angels have just a bit of the rockabilly in their sound. Otherwise, these are heart-racin', brain-throttlin' tunes that sound better the louder you play them. Energy is always a good thing.

    Baby Calendar Gingerbread Dog (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
    A mathy, emoesque take on the loopy pop that HHBTM propagates. Baby Calendar can't seem to decide whether or not it should take itself seriously--sometimes the songs completely slip out of gear for no reason I can discern--but there are a lot of interesting things going on here.

    Justin Beckler Wake Up Process (self-released)
    Taking many folk and other roots threads and then grafting them into an anthemic, atmospheric rock construction, Justin Beckler has that "this is really important music" sound down. I'm not so sure the songs themselves quite deserve that treatment, but there's no denying the arresting nature of the album.
    www: www.justinbeckler.com

    Miss Violet Beauregarde Odi Profanum Vulgus Et Arceo (Temporary Residence)
    If Diamanda Galas were to create a digital hardcore album, it might well sound like this. Miss Violet shrieks with the best of them, and the beats are wonderfully distorted and throbbing. Loud, messy and headache-inducing...I loved every minute.

    Eddie Cohn If I'm Happy It Ends (self-released)
    On the rock side of the whole singer-songwriter sound, Cohn has a nice, light touch. I wish he'd venture a bit further outside the lines, but there's no doubt he can craft a solid song or few. I wouldn't be surprised to hear these songs on the radio someday. Contact:
    www: www.eddiecohn.com

    Haco Hans Jakob Marcos Haco Hans Jakob Marcos (Trummerflora-Accretions)
    Marcos Fernandes plays percussion and his compatriots (Hans Fjellestad, Haco and Jakob Riis) fill in the electronic details. The results can be as peppy as an old-fashioned coffee percolator and as adventurous as the Mars Rover. The sort of whacked-out expedition I've been looking for for some time.

    Jazzhole Poet's Walk (Beave)
    Not unlike Small Brown Handbag reviewed above in this issue, Jazzhole has been doing pretty much the same thing for some time--and doing it well. This latest trip down Smooth and Funky Way goes down just as easy as all the other discs I've heard from these folks. And once again, I can find no reason to complain about that.

    Jil Station Still Love (The Platform Group)
    I am a sucker for loud rock that features a Fender Rhodes. Done correctly, that sort of music excites and relaxes at the same time. And while Jil Station has a few rough edges to smooth out--some of the hooks don't quite work--this is a most enjoyable experience. Fine stuff.

    Mac Lethal The Love Potion Collection 2 (Black Clover)
    Mac Lethal calls this "almost like the sketchbook companion to 11:11," which came out on Rhymesayers not too long ago. Completely messed up, with surprises around every corner. Not the most coherent set, but it's not supposed to be. Rather, this is kinda like paging through the working script of a movie. You know the editing changes everything, but there are an awful lot of nice bits floating around.

    Mass Infusion The Antibody (self-released)
    Proggy old-school metal--more Fates Warning than Iron Maiden. The keyboards are used as an effective melodic thread, and the songs generally come together well. There are a few tangents too many, which is something of an occupational hazard with this sound. But these guys have a good feel for what they're doing.
    www: www.massinfusion.net

    Northern Liberties Secret Revolution (Worldeater)
    I suppose these folks would be full-scale extreme--the lyrics certainly fit--but it seems they have more delicate constitutions. That's not bad, actually, as these stripped-down songs are perhaps even more menacing in this context. One of the more intriguing bands I've heard in a while.

    Stop by Fear Momentum into Nothingness (Tequa Productions)
    Wags would argue that the title is perfectly descriptive. But these guitar and bass-driven excursions into abstract ideas do have some structure to them. You've just got to let go into order to get a grip. If you know what I mean.

    3kSTATIC Where's Our Piece of the Groovy World? 2xCD (dPulse)
    In short, this is fairly accomplished dance music. But any two-disc album is hardly short, and, well, I would have encouraged the folks to edit down a bit. Nonetheless, the classy and creative arrangements here are hard to resist. Put a little thought into your next trip to the club.

    Track a Tiger Woke Up the Day I Died (Futureappletree)
    Jim Vallet likes to play all sorts of music, and he has a fine set of friends who help him out. These often meditative--though generally playful--songs float through like a summer breeze, leaving a pleasant trail in their wake.

    Rich West Heavenly Breakfast (pfMENTUM)
    West is a drummer and he wrote all the songs here. His quintet (which includes Emily Beezhold on electric piano and general electronic noodling) works out these songs in fairly inventive fashion. Plenty of improv, but with enough structure to frame the ideas properly.

    Wydown Noise of America (self-released)
    Fine midwestern rock that evokes a modern version of Cheap Trick. Wydown has come to rely on piano a bit more here--which definitely provides some nice color to the songs--but by and large the guys continue to write and play solid, thoughtful rock and roll. Good work once again.
    www: www.wydown.com

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