Welcome to A&A. There are 16 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 #278 reviews
The Black Neon
Arts and Crafts
Very seventies, in a 21st century sort of way. The Black Neon spins minimalist electronic pop tunes with eclectic flair. The references to Air and Kraftwerk (not to mention Beta Band) in the press clippings aren't far off. But rather than veer toward one influence or another on a given song, these folks simply meld their various strains into a singular sound.
So despite the old school underpinnings, this really is a sound that could exist only today. One of the nice things about the chaotic nature of the music world these days is that just about anything can be mashed up. When you hear stuff as inspired as this, you're inclined to believe that anything should be mashed up.
Minimalism applies to both song construction and the production. There is a bit of distortion wafting through a few of these pieces (after all, there are real guitars and drums interacting with the electronics), but nothing is overdone. At first blush, it seems ephemeral. And then the full import of what's going on here hits dead on.
Terribly stylish, I'm afraid. One of the most fun albums I've heard all summer--and it's anything but bubblegum. I dare you to listen without bounding around.
The Brother Kite
Waiting for the Time to Be Right
The shimmery pop album that always seems to signal the end of the summer for me. The Brother Kite sucks at the breast of the Beach Boys and Fountains of Wayne, with nips from the Big Star bottle from time to time.
Oh, and they do it so nicely. These are hardly languid pieces. Rather, many race ahead at an almost breakneck pace. Even those bashers are astoundingly pretty. There's just no getting around the gorgeous nature of these songs.
The production is excessive. I mean, it has to be to achieve the ringing reverb and haunting harmonies that populate this disc. That kind of stuff can get grating when the songs are no good. But these folks know how to knock out a great song or few.
Put this in, crank it up and watch the sun go down. A cloudy glass of hefe would be nice right about now.
"For the avoidance of doubt all the music on this record is comprised of sounds originally created by the musicians involved." Well, sure. No one else would claim them. Not is they were sane, anyway.
Which isn't to say Empire and company play for shit. They play fast, loud and mean. But not many folks are willing to pin the needles like this. The distortion levels are freakishly high.
Ah, punk for punk's sake. Fine by me, especially when the songs are as dizzyingly brutal as these. Empire and pals simply never let up off the gas. That sort of approach does wonders for masking inferior songwriting, but in point of fact, these are good songs. They're played past the point of recognition at times, but what serves the quality of the album isn't always best for the song.
Which is to say that this is best listened to as a unit. The individual pieces are wonderful spikes of pain, but the set is simply incendiary. Play it loud. Then play it louder. And let the eardrums bleed.
Speaking of minimalist electronic pop, these folks riff through Tortoise country by way of Sigur Ros and Tangerine Dream (the good 70s stuff, of course). It's a little kitchy, but catchy as well (sorry, I couldn't resist...).
Five bouncy pieces that all seem to time out at around four minutes. A nice little coffee break for the brain. Get some stuff percolating up there and, boom!
This is a short review, and that's a shame, because the depth of musical ideas on this disc is impressive. Some fine jaunty fare that makes me smile just thinking about it.
Back on the Water
I'm not entirely sure what to make of this album. Jim Reid was half of the original Jesus and Mary Chain (with his Brother William) and Ben Lurie was a member in the band's latter days. The studio tracks on this album date to 1997, which was before JAMC broke up. The live tracks were recorded six years later in 2003. Strikingly, there's hardly any difference between them--except that the live tracks have a few scattered shouts after the songs end.
Sounds one hell of a lot like the Jesus and Mary Chain, as you might imagine. Reid still sings, and Lurie's guitar playing hasn't changed much. So it's fair to say that the market for this album consists primarily of JAMC fans. Which is a pretty sizable population.
There are some nonsense quotes about how Freeheat is about stripping down the music to its bare essentials...I thought JAMC was about that, too, if you discounted some of the more distorted moments. Anyway, this sounds to me like JAMC outtakes. Maybe a little looser than some of the stuff on the albums, but in a very similar vein. And that's cool with me. Very few rock bands could do slow burning blues pieces like "Dead End Kids" as well as JAMC--or Freeheat, as the case is here.
I suppose you could read this entire review as some sort of backhanded complement, but really, I like the thing. I am a fan from way back, and this in no way compromises that history. The ancient nature of the recordings themselves is odd, but I've learned that music doesn't necessarily go stale. It sure didn't here. Quite a nice, if occasionally puzzling, set.