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
September 2006
  • The Black Neon Arts and Crafts (Memphis Industries)
  • The Brother Kite Waiting for the Time to Be Right (Clairecords)
  • Alec Empire Futurist (Digital Hardcore)
  • Feathers Synchromy EP (Hometapes)
  • Freeheat Back on the Water (Planting Seeds)
  • Gliss Love the Virgins (Mountain Lo-Fi Recordings)
  • Emily Herring My Tears Will Be Relieved (self-released)
  • Lonesome Travelers Lonesome Travelers (Valley Entertainment)
  • Luxxury Rock and Roll (Is Evil) (self-released)
  • Mark McAdam Cavalcade (self-released)
  • McGill Manring Stevens What We Do 2xCD (Free Electric Sound)
  • The Poems Young America (Minty Fresh)
  • Sebastien Schuller Happiness (Minty Fresh)
  • Shinyville No Sleep Till Babylon (Public Eyesore)
  • Soundtrack Instrumentals Music for Driving and Film Vol. 1 (Kingtone)
  • The Wildwood Band Bad Attitude (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Black Neon
    Arts and Crafts
    (Memphis Industries)

    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.

    14 E. University Ave. #206
    Gainesville, FL 32601
    www: http://www.clairecords.com

    Alec Empire
    (Digital Hardcore)

    "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.

    Digital Hardcore
    P.O. Box 35019
    London NW19Y
    United Kingdom
    www: http://www.digitalhardcore.com

    Synchromy EP

    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.

    P.O. Box 7563
    Boulder, CO 80306
    www: http://www.home-tapes.com

    Back on the Water
    (Planting Seeds)

    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.

    Planting Seeds
    P.O. Box 64665
    Virginia Beach, VA 23467-4665
    e-mail: mailbag@plantingseedsrecords.com
    www: http://www.plantingseedsrecords.com

    Love the Virgins
    (Mountain Lo-Fi Recordings)

    You know, that whole uber-hip slickster rock trio thing. Lots of moany vocals and slinky riffage. Been done to death the last few years.

    But rarely has it been done this well. Kinda like if Girls Against Boys had gotten the whole major-label sound thing right. Or something like that. These folks devolve into some of the most sensual sounds I've heard. At times the guitar and drums simply exude hot, sticky sex.

    And, you know, that's what rock and roll is all about, right? I must admit I didn't listen to the lyrics a whit. Though with titles like "Off to Bed," "I Want You" and, of course, the title track, I guess I don't need to. The music makes the point perfectly clear before the first word is sung.

    I haven't heard a fuck album this good in years. Pop this one in your iPod, split out the sound and I guarantee you the best headphone sex you've had in many a year. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you just aren't trying hard enough. Because Gliss is trying harder than the two (or more) of you combined.

    Mountain Lo-Fi Recordings
    P.O. Box 291432
    Los Angeles, CA 90029

    Emily Herring
    My Tears Will Be Relieved

    For the most part, this is Emily Herring singing and playing guitar or dobro. There are the occasional drums and accordions, but I think you get the idea.

    Rough-hewn roots fare, of course. Herring's playing is spectacular, though her voice is decidedly more uneven. Thing is, that's how this kinda music often works. Herring's tendency to yodel through notes might drive some listeners into fits, but I find it endearing.

    Solid songwriting--with as much emphasis on the music as the lyrics--keeps this album moving all the way through. The sound is slightly ragged; good enough to feature the fine playing, but rocky enough to justify Herring's vocal tics.

    Tics that really set off the songs, by the way. Herring really gets into her music, and that infectious spirit is more than enough to get me to go along. Quite a fine set.

    www: http://www.emilyherring.net

    Lonesome Travelers
    Lonesome Travelers
    (Valley Entertainment)

    Those looking to hear a little modern western swing can stop off right here. The Lonesome Travelers play a somewhat more rocking version of the old school sound, but the two-step is still alive and well.

    Equally accessible to fans of George Strait or Gram Parsons, the Lonesome Travelers straddle that divide quite nicely. What these guys don't do is cheese out. Even the more sentimental pieces play out with surprising edges.

    And then there's the wonder that is "The Fire Eater," the first time I've ever heard this kinda sound merged with circus stylings. It's fun, and it sounds great, too.

    That playful nature is present throughout the disc. Indeed, it's not only possible to like this album without appreciating its genre-bending tendencies--it's probably the best way to listen, period. Good music works that way.

    Rock and Roll (Is Evil)

    A full-length from these folks who knocked me out with their recent EP. There are repeats, but with 14 tracks, this disc provides plenty more reasons to dig Luxxury.

    For the uninitiated, the guys list Giorgio Moroder as a prime influence. Indeed. This is like pop music on crack, it's so irresistible. Lots of synthesizers, a few guitars and an insistent disco/techno beat that simply screams "dance, motherfucker!"

    A, well, luxurious sound envelops these songs. Kinda like plush velvet on a comfy chaise lounge. Or something more organic with the same general contours.

    Don't know why I'm getting all euphemistic here. This is filthy music, and it revels in depravity. Quite the wonder that way, really. This sort of attitude is hard to keep up for an entire album, but Luxxury does nicely without even repeating itself. Throb baby, throb!

    530 Chestnut
    Suite F311
    San Francisco, CA 94133
    www: http://www.luxxury.com

    Mark McAdam

    Largely self-made, this tour through "things that rock, softly" is as impressive for its breadth of sound as for the quality within. McAdam can sound like a new wave folkie, a singer-songwriter troubadour, an indie rock paramour or obsessive emo geek. And he does all of them pretty well.

    This is a relatively popular sound these days, of course. And McAdam acquits himself well, creating songs that are distinctive and engaging. You do need to need the mellow, of course, but hey, don't we all sometimes?

    The sound sparkles throughout. That contributes to the slightly whimsical feel I get from the stuff, I suppose, but it's a neat trick to make the songs pop out just enough to prick the ears.

    An album that makes me go "hmm." A little nice 'n' easy, with some keen observations on the side. Good dish, that.

    www: http://www.markmcadam.com

    McGill Manring Stevens
    What We Do 2xCD
    (Free Electric Sound)

    What do you get when a traditionally-constituted (guitar, bass, drums) power prog trio plays jazz? Um, this. (Scott) McGill (Michael) Manring (Vic) Stevens have two albums of their own works under their belt, so this time they took on the masters. You know, Coltrane, Davis, Hancock, Towner, Evans...stuff even your kid brother who buys Pink albums because he thinks she's hot knows.

    Funny thing about it is how traditional this sounds. Oh, sure, the instrumentation is different. But the passion is the same, and the skill level is comparable. These guys can shred, but more importantly, they can say something with their playing. These aren't rote run-throughs. They're quality interpretations of timeless songs.

    The sound lies somewhere between geek prog and electric jazz. There's really no way to dull down the sound enough to make it sound truly "jazzy," but then, if McGill made his guitar sound like Stanley Jordan, it wouldn't have the same impact it does here. These guys are true to themselves, and that makes the songs work that much better.

    And two discs worth, to boot. The second disc contains eight MMS pieces (it's titled What We Do Too), just in case you want to make a comparison. Truth is, what they do, they do very well. I'm sure I'm not the first idiot to put that in a review of this album, but what the hell. Superlatives aren't enough.

    Free Electric Sound
    P.O. Box 388
    Voorhees, NJ 08043-0388
    www: http://www.lasercd.com

    The Poems
    Young America
    (Minty Fresh)

    Truly gorgeoso pop music from the wilds of Scotland. Yes, plenty of famous Scottish guests (in fact, name yer fave Scot and he or she is probably here). In a way, this is something of a Scottish all-star album.

    Except that it is a Poems album. The guests contribute nicely, but the well-heeled, slightly scratchy pop sound of the band comes through in every song. And man, what songs. These are some of the finest bits of pop wonderment I've heard in years.

    The sound is that pleasant acoustic-electronic feel that seems to pervade Scotland. And two female singers--one of whom is the daughter of a Simple Minds drummer. Incestual all stars...wowsers!

    Ah, it's all good. And that's what this album is. Music of the highest quality, stuff that tickles the mind and the heart--and provides a nice bounce to the day as well. Lovely and delicious. Like a slightly overripe plum. Damn, my mouth is watering again already.

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

    Sebastien Schuller
    Sebastien Schuller
    (Minty Fresh)

    Another Minty Fresh offering, but one that is utterly different than the Poems. These are slightly chilly electronic pop musings. The extremely arty side of pop.

    Just as impressive, in its own way. And as this stuff is hardly accessible, I was constantly amazed at how quickly each song wormed its way into my brain. There's something almost stream of consciousness about Schuller's writing style...or maybe it's just that his brain and mine are kindred spirits.

    The sound is spare and often minimalist. Not isolated or anything like that, but not enveloping in any way. This one comes at the listener straight through the brain.

    So if you like your pop visceral and intuitive, Schuller is not your man. But I dig the way he expresses himself. I'm tuned in to his wavelengths, that's for sure.

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

    No Sleep Till Babylon
    (Public Eyesore)

    While I stand by Mushroomhead as the foremost metal incarnation of Faith No More, Shinyville might make the same claim on the "weird" music front. This trio of folks throws more ideas into the pot for one song than most bands do during a career. It's truly hard to believe that three people could replicate this stuff live.

    And maybe that's not the point. What is undeniable is the power of the music, a bass-heavy, keyboard-drenched throb infused with all manner of eclectic sounds and ideas. Every song lurches in a different direction before the three manage to corral it and bring the thing back into the fold.

    The writing is almost impossibly complex...and it works. The production has left the sound somewhat flat, which helps to highlight the wide-ranging flights within each song. Not one tidbit gets lost in the shuffle. You can hear everything, even though processing everything might make your brain explode.

    Exciting is an understatement. Invigorating doesn't begin to explain things. Shinyville is a truly unique beast, one that must be experienced to be believed. Shouldn't you be doing that right now?

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

    Soundtrack Instrumentals
    Music for Driving and Film Vol. 1

    Kinda just what it says...instrumental music that has, by and large appeared in films and whose electronic and vaguely rootsy feel makes it a natural for listening while driving.

    A visit to the Kingtone site didn't enlighten me as to the secret identity behind this music, but whoever it is has a nice, light touch with the pieces. Kinda on the Eno side of things, but with more of a sense of motion. Going back to the album title again, I guess.

    The sort of album that either drives folks up the wall or leaves them agape in amazement. I'm actually in between, though obviously closer to the latter. I needed to intellectualize a couple bits here and there, but then, I like to do that.

    So. Music for movies you'll probably never see. Stuff that would sound great with the top down (if you're into vague meditation in an automobile). Fine work that's heard enough from me already.

    P.O. Box 3231
    Oakland, CA 94609
    www: http://www.kingtone.com

    The Wildwood Band
    Bad Attitude

    I'm generally not a big fan of the rockin' blues. I like bluesy rock and roll, but not the other way around. And Doug Wood and friends are definitely playing the blues with a rock and roll beat. For some reason, though, they seem to have gotten it right.

    One of the main reasons it works, I suppose, is that the music is played with a light hand. There's no forcing the sound into a corner, which leads to an easy melding of styles. And then there's Wood's harp work, which is simple and yet unrestrained.

    If you're familiar with Steve Miller's pre-"Joker" output, you might have an idea of what's going on here. But there aren't a lot of guitar pyrotechnics, just an emphasis on solid songwriting. Which might be another reason this stuff makes me smile so much.

    Nothing complicated. Just good music played with steady hands. Sometimes that's all you need to settle into the groove.

    Also recommended:

    American Watercolor Movement It Takes Fifteen to Tango in My Book, What Book Do You Read? (self-released)
    The title is indicative...this set of eclectic rock bits never quite coalesces, but there are lots of high points. If you like to connect the dots in your own head, these folks will give you more than enough material. Intriguing.
    www: http://www.americanwatercolormovement.com

    Andrew 33: The Best of Andrew (Hanky Panky)
    Twenty tracks from Andrew, including many from previous releases reviewed here. Andrew (Sandoval) creates some wonderful pop pictures. Sometimes he gets a little sweet, but somehow his attention to detail (and whimsy) wins me over again and again.

    The Capstan Shafts The Megafauna Undermined (Slight)
    Another month, another 20 songs on yet another record label. Is Dean Wells really recording more than a dozen songs a month, or has he just holed himself up for years and is just now letting loose the floodgates? Anyway, these songs seem to be a bit looser than previous, with slightly better production than most of the self-released stuff--but not quite as sharp as the Kittridge album. The mystifying legend continues.

    Barton Carroll Love & War (Skybucket)
    Yet another album from a former Crooked Finger (I reviewed Barbara Trentalange's last month), this one goes a bit deeper into the roots bag and gets a little more lost within itself, as well. Carroll is a daring writer--particularly lyrically--and that carried me through the somewhat more unfocused moments. About what you might expect, which is pretty damn good.

    Damsel Distressed (Temporary Residence)
    Long bits of noodling that are best enjoyed with some Faulkner in one hand and bourbon in the other. Really. This stuff will take your mind to another plane, and you might as well be enjoying yourself while you make the journey.

    Matt Davignon SoftWetFish (Edgetone)
    Davignon likes to play with drum machines and other electronic devices. His pieces are more snaps and crackles than beats proper, but if you listen long enough, you will discover some structure to the chaos. This stuff will send you scurrying around the less-traveled bits of your skull, and what you think of it will have a lot to do with your state of mind. Not that that isn't true of any album, of course.

    The Doxies In Search Of... (Co-Opt/Emergency Umbrella)
    Folks born in the 80s who seem to love new wave, indie rock and the Faces in equal measure. That may not make sense to you, but it does to them, and I have to admit that the more I listen, the more it makes sense to me as well. A sneaky little disc that is probably a lot better than I'm giving it credit for being.

    Curtis Glatter/Nathan Hubbard Rivulet (Circumvention/Trummerflora)
    Two percussionists (and that means they each play more than a dozen instruments in each piece) who really know how to take sound into new places. Not for the meek or those who don't wish to be challenged. If you've got the patience, however, you will find some truly glorious noise.

    The Great Crusades Four Thirty (Innocent Words)
    Loud, crashing punky rock that features a lot of slide guitar. Kinda like old Social D with a lot more cowbell. The songs do tend to run together at times, but at least it's one hell of a cool sound.

    Brady Harris North Hollywood Skyline (self-released)
    If I hadn't reviewed a number of previous releases and been swamped with CDs this month, this would have been a shoo-in for a full review. Harris is one of the best songwriters going, and this album is chock full of the contemplative (but never dull) work I've been admiring forever. Simply stellar.
    www: www.bradyharris.com

    Bill Horist and Marron Sleep Hammer (Public Eyesore)
    Much more of a traditional Public Eyesore release than the Shinyville reviewed above (which almost sounded mainstream compared to the usual fare), Bill Horist and Tanaka Yasuhiko (aka Marron) trade guitar licks and noises. For all the unconventional noise, however, most of these pieces have a discernible structure and are quite intriguing. Purty durn cool.

    Nathan Hubbard Compositions 1998-2005 2xCD (Circumvention/Trummerflora)
    Unlike his album with Curtis Glatter reviewed above, this set sounds, well, composed. Recorded at times with an almost orchestra-sized ensemble, this sizable set really provides a fine insight into Hubbard's mind. I have to admit, I like these more structured works. Hubbard has a really solid handle on how to bring unconventional ideas into accepted musical theory. Important listening.

    The Jolenes Get It to Go (Good Forks)
    Power pop from female-dominated quartet (would you like to be the one male Jolene? I thought so). Shiny shiny shiny...so much that it simply seems inevitable that Jolenes would reference the Archies on their own piece "Sugar." A little too saccharine and plastic for long-term enjoyment, I think, but quite a nice little breather.

    Jeff Kaiser/Tom McNalley Zugzwang (pfMENTUM)
    Kaiser on trumpet, McNalley on guitars and both tweaking the knobs. Definitely a treat for fringe folks only, but if you want to head into deep space, this is an E ticket ride. I'm never bored when listening to anything Kaiser does, and this album is no exception.

    Kevin Lee Flip the Switch (self-released)
    Straightforward rock and roll that doesn't take any chances. That's my only complaint, because Lee does have a nice handle on that old school AOR sound--somewhere between the Hooters and Sammy-era Van Halen. Don't know who wants to hear it these days, but the man is nothing if not a craftsman. You want him to change things up? I bet he's got the skills to do it right.
    P.O. Box 577143
    Chicago, IL 60657
    www: http://www.kevinleeonline.com

    Kristin Mueller Ports of Call (Dren)
    Mueller has a fine little rasp in her voice, and she uses that to more fully flesh out the ideas in these sparsely-populated songs. A very mellow work (in terms of sound, anyway) that never drags. Ease into it and you might find yourself very comfortable, indeed.

    Nire My Father's Record Player EP (OIC)
    Just about as mellow as the Kristin Mueller reviewed above, though with a completely sound. The organ/keyboards here really make for a somewhat spooky sound, which is completely in keeping with the themes of the lyrics. I have a feeling this will grow on me.

    Second Story Man Red Glows Brighter (Landmark Recordings)
    The press notes reference the New Pornographers, and that's kinda accurate. These folks are a little more married to their idiosyncrasies and a little less concerned about the stability of their hooks. If that makes sense. Second Story Man makes its own music, and you can like it (or not). Me, I kinda like it.

    The 69 Eyes Framed in Blood (Cleopatra)
    Five Finns who decided that Type O Negative and Sisters of Mercy were just dying to be mashed up. This best-of collection is full of pounding, driving goth anthems...really good ones. Takes me back to the late 80s, nights of black lipstick and fishnets. It may be cheap candy, but it sure satisfies.

    The Tall Ships Paint Lines on Your Glasses Look Up at the Stars and Play Them As Notes (Minority)
    Straight-up mathy post rock. Not exactly redefining the mousetrap or anything, but these guys do know how to put lines through their paces. Been a while since I've heard anything like this...I'd like to hear more.

    The Vestals Songs About Girls...and Other Mysteries (Warming House)
    And we close this issue with some fine hooks and solid riffage. I think the Vestals would like to be more than a ringing pop band, but hey, they do it well. Why complain when you've got your finger on something good?

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