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 #279 reviews
October 2006
  • The Applicators My Weapon (Hairball 8)
  • Colour Revolt Colour Revolt EP (Esperanza Plantation-Tiny Evil)
  • Elephone The Camera Behind the Camera Behind the Camera (Three Ring Records)
  • Guitar Gabriel & the Brothers in the Kitchen Toot Blues (Music Maker)
  • Hallelujah Boy Noise and Silence (Transaction)
  • The Hideaways The Whiskey Tango Sessions (Dren)
  • Kind of Like Spitting/Lemuria Your Living Room's All Over Me split LP (Art of the Underground)
  • Ludicra Fex Urbis Lex Orbis (Alternative Tentacles)
  • Movie Star Kiss Starting Over (self-released)
  • The New Sound of Numbers Liberty Seeds (Cloud Recordings)
  • Pilot Scott Tracy We Cut Loose! (Alternative Tentacles)
  • Scott Solter Plays Pattern Is Movement: Canonic (Hometapes)
  • Spottiswoode & McMahon S&M (New Warsaw)
  • Summer Hymns Backward Masks (Misra)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Applicators
    My Weapon
    (Hairball 8)

    Raucous, all-female band--they are the Applicators, fer cryin' out loud--playing basic rock and roll. Loudly. And, for the most part, playing it exceptionally well.

    Very tight sound, really, a lot like early L7. The production is full, but not terribly sharp (I did say "early"), and that suits these songs just fine. Too much precision would strip the band of most of its personality. And that's not a problem here.

    Lots of shouting, lots of catchy anthemic choruses and lots and lots of buzzsaw guitar riffs. Just the sort of thing to get the blood flowing and keep it going all night long.

    I think I liked this album too much to write a lot about it. Either you get it or you don't. The Applicators are anything but subtle. One listen to the first song will tell you everything you need to know.

    Hairball 8 Records
    P.O. Box 681674
    San Antonio, TX 78268-1674
    www: http://www.hairball8.com

    Colour Revolt
    Colour Revolt EP
    (Esperanza Plantation/Tiny Evil)

    Take one dose of one-man emo eccentricity and then add large quantities of any number of hip sounds and you might get close to Colour Revolt. The press note on the front states "There's a lot going on in a Colour Revolt song!" Most often, that sorta statement is an overblown bit of puffery. Not so here.

    I like a band that can sound like OMD and Archers of Loaf--in the same song. The overall feel is pop, but these folks (or person, as I don't know anything about the actual makeup of the act) make that generic label woefully inadequate. The sounds, the moods, the themes shift radically from song to song.

    Which might be a hindrance on a longer release. But it probably won't be. 'Cause when yer good, yer good. And the Colour Revolt is pretty damned fine. This six-song introduction is most impressive.

    Esperanza Plantation
    P.O. Box 55482
    Jackson, MS 39296
    www: http://www.esperanzaplantation.com

    The Camera Behind the Camera Behind the Camera
    (Three Ring)

    Four guys who play stark, yet supple, rock and roll. At first blush, these songs sound like they were ripped off a sound board from a live set. Then the first hints of studio work bleed through.

    Maybe it was just my ears, because the more I listen, the more I hear the fine work done assembling this album. Producing and mixing is an art, even when you're dealing with music that's one step from the garage. The trick is to make it sound good without stripping out all the energy.

    Sure worked here. Elephone isn't a balls-out, take-no-prisoners kind of outfit. But the songs are relatively minimalist, and that sort of stuff requires a patient hand.

    Hard to make the claim of being basic when you've got as much electronic content bubbling in the background. But Elephone is just that. And this album does a fine job of bringing the sound out into the open.

    Three Ring Records
    P.O. Box 883123
    San Francisco, CA 94188-3123
    www: http://www.threeringrecords.com

    Guitar Gabriel & the Brothers in the Kitchen
    Toot Blues
    (Music Maker)

    The Music Maker Relief Foundation is one of the more impressive blues preservation groups around. This re-issue of a 1991 cassette is Music Maker's first "official" release--though it has been selling CDs and tapes for years.

    Gabriel's sound is steeped in the finger-picking Piedmont style--that would be North Carolina Piedmont, if you didn't know--but he had been around long enough to pick up a few things from elsewhere. What didn't change was the acoustic setting and the meticulous fingerwork.

    I'm impressed by the sound. I have no idea what the source tapes were like, but this sounds real. Acoustic guitars can sound awful when miked up, but on this disc they sound like Gabriel is playing in my kitchen.

    I spent too long in Durham not to be a sucker for this kind of down-home blues. Those who like to hear a real rural sound done right will do no better than to pick up this disc. And check out the Music Maker web sit while yer at it. There's a lot more where this came from.

    Music Maker
    Eno Valley Station
    P.O. Box 72222
    Durham, NC 27722-2222
    www: http://www.musicmaker.org

    Hallelujah Boy
    Noise and Silence

    Hallelujah Boy has spent a lot of time recording and posting new demos, hoping to reach 100 songs by the end of the year. Somewhere in between, the boys actually polished up twelve of them and have this album to show for it.

    Perky indie-pop fare, the sort of thing that ought to interest fans of GBV and similar sorts. There's a bit more reliance on organ and general electronics here, and that helps to fill out the sound. I like it. Well-orchestrated without the orchestra.

    Sometimes it pays to let the seams show. The production sound is hardly perfect, but the wrinkles here and there provide an interesting view into the mind of the band. What you don't fix says a lot about you.

    What I hear is a band that wants to sound human. Not out-of-tune or overly messy or anything like that. Just not perfect. Except for the hooks. Some of them may, in fact, be beyond reproach. It's always good to stock plenty of honey.

    Transaction Records
    815A W. 52nd St.
    Norfolk, VA 23508
    www: http://www.transactionrecords.com

    The Hideaways
    The Whiskey Tango Sessions

    A little Byrds, a little Jay Farrar, a little Jayhawks, a little bit of everything that folks call alt. country. Played with loose hand that lets the sound roam just far enough.

    I will admit, right up front, that I find this kinda stuff rather appealing. Comes from a late 80s Missouri college education, I suppose. But the Hideaways do this sound very well, and they add a few nice touches of their own.

    Such as authentic (as opposed to ironic) twang. And clanging guitars within a two-step. I don't know why people refuse to call this "real" country music, but it is to me.

    Whatever. Labels are stupid. Good music is the key (I've typed that line a few thousand times in my life), and the Hideaways are exceptional. Pull up a rocker and some Jim Beam and set a while.

    Dren Records
    P.O. Box 22496
    Philadelphia, PA 19110
    e-mail: drenrecords@yahoo.com
    www: http://www.drenrecords.com

    Kind of Like Spitting/Lemuria
    Your Living Room's All Over Me split LP
    (Art of the Underground)

    Two trios who hail from opposite sides of the continent. They decide to throw down a split. Thank goodness.

    Lemuria has seven songs, and the construction is pop. The sound turns from raucous to introspective to shiny and back to raucous without losing the central vibe of the band. I really like these folks. But I'm a sucker for energetic music with great hooks.

    Sounds like Spitting is much less refined. These guys make a lot of noise, and they hide a fair amount of it in the slightly muddy mix. That would usually be a complain coming from me, but here it simply gives the songs that extra bit of character. These boys are from Portland, and they remind me of Treepeople and Built to Spill and other PacNW outfits. Completely unsophisticated, and rather charming that way.

    Splits work best when the bands aren't a perfect match. These two acts complement each other quite well without getting in the way of the other. Just the way it should be.

    Art of the Underground
    P.O. Box 250
    Buffalo, NY 14205
    www: http://www.artoftheunderground.com

    Fex Urbis Lex Orbis
    (Alternative Tentacles)

    It's been more than a decade since Fear Factory first mixed a death metal growl with gothic wails. Ludicra is the latest band to follow, ripping through a pastiche of heavy sounds (black metal, stoner rock and melodic eurometal, just for starters) and throwing a similarly wide variety of vocals on top.

    This only works if the songs actually pull together. Ludicra does an outstanding job of managing this astoundingly aggressive chaos. Even when the sound is at its most extreme, the only word I can come up with is "beautiful."

    Maybe I just don't get enough of the loud stuff these days, but these guys are completely on top of their collective game. Loud, mean and utterly fearless, Ludicra cuts an impressive path. Few bands would dare play songs like these, and even fewer could.

    Loud music sounds better when it is played louder, of course, but these guys sound quite good at moderate volumes as well. The musical ideas are impressive, and the presentation is impeccable. Big, big smiles from me.

    Alternative Tentacles
    P.O. Box 419092
    San Francisco, CA 94141-9092
    www: http://www.alternativetentacles.com

    Movie Star Kiss
    Starting Over

    Formerly known as Supercrush (and formerly from St. Louis), the now-rechristened Movie Star Kiss hails from Los Angeles. And does its best to play melodic riffola.

    It's best is pretty durned good, too. Pleasantly fuzzy guitars combined with insistent 80s AOR-ish choruses (think more Cheap Trick than .38 Special) all played with just the right level of insouciance.

    This is the sort of sound that still persists in the midwest, even if the boys are now trying to make it on the coast. And since I spent a good chunk of my formative years in that vicinity, I'm more than sympathetic to the sound. More importantly, I'm always happy to hear good music.

    Solid rock and roll. Nothing more, but that's good enough for me. Don't know if there's a big market for the stuff (Didja know Cheap Trick released a new album back in June?), but hell, I'm impressed.

    www: http://www.moviestarkiss.com

    The New Sound of Numbers
    Liberty Seeds
    (Cloud Recordings)

    Hannah Jones decides to get really weird. As if her work with Circulatory System isn't unusual enough. Funny thing is, the stranger the sounds, the closer the songs seem to come to standard pop.

    See, Jones likes to take bits and pieces of strange sounds and build songs around them. But she does have a background in percussion, so each song is built around rhythm. And when you do that, you can never escape into deep space.

    And the way she likes to assemble her drone-like vocals tends to simulate a verse-chorus construction. So what I'm saying is that while this album gets more and more bizarre as I deconstruct it, when I sit back and let the sounds wash over me, I hear Brian Wilson.

    Er, no. I don't. But fuzzing out does help to bring the songs into focus. And the less I think about the songs, the more I like them. Kinda the opposite of my usual experience, but then, this isn't any kind of usual album. Just one I happen to like an awful lot.

    Cloud Recordings
    P.O. Box 821
    Athens, GA 30603
    www: http://www.cloudrecordings.com

    Pilot Scott Tracy
    We Cut Loose!
    (Alternative Tentacles)

    A vaguely-hipster, sorta-garagey, peppy pop-rock outfit on AT? Hell, why not? Can't think of a reason right off the bat.

    Ahem. Anyway, these folks obviously like the Cars and Kraftwerk and Superchunk (early incarnations of each, of course), and that's about what they play. Upbeat, perky tunes that couldn't be sunk by a million torpedoes.

    Despite a reasonable amount of electronic accompaniment, the sound is dirty. These folks are no mechanical band. They're a bunch of folks working their asses off to make joyous music. And they succeed gloriously.

    Just a little shot of happiness headed your way at the end of the summer. The leaves may be thinking of clogging the gutters, but there's always time for one more sweet blast of joyous wonder.

    Alternative Tentacles
    P.O. Box 419092
    San Francisco, CA 94141-9092
    www: http://www.alternativetentacles.com

    Scott Solter
    Plays Pattern is Movement: Canonic

    Scott Solter produced Stowaway for Pattern Is Movement last year. For some reason, the band let him take the tapes of that album and create something altogether new. So every sound on this album comes from the Pattern Is Movement sessions, but it's quite safe to say that Canonic sounds nothing like Stowaway.

    This is really an intriguing project. Solter was intimately involved with the music, and yet he was also able to disassemble it and then create his own work from the bits and pieces. It is, of course, something of an electronic pastiche (kinda the only way to do this sort of thing, really), but the songs here are centered. They are songs. There may be some abstract thought, but there are no abstract songs.

    Solter punches up the sound even as he files down some of the specificity. He transforms most of the guitar he uses. Indeed, just about everything has some sort of new wash or whathaveyou added. Just another way to claim ownership.

    Of course, the band did give Solter permission, and Solter gives full creds to his source material. This is the perfect counterpoint, though, to people who say that sampling is always stealing from artists. I don't like it when people use recognizable bits of well-known songs to punch up their own lame-ass material. But building something up from the ruins? That's pretty cool.

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

    Spottiswoode & McMahon
    (New Warsaw)

    Jonathan Spottiswoode is something of a modern-day Leonard Cohen. He's got that baritone-bass voice and a wryly bleak way of looking at the universe. I've been digging his stuff for years. Here, his "band" has been pared down to longtime collaborator Riley McMahon--though there are plenty of friends who help out as well.

    These guys have worked together for a long time, and together they create some truly amazing settings for Spottiswoode's songs. Earlier recordings were rough in spots, though listening to them it's pretty easy to hear the progression that led to this set. Spottiswoode jettisoned just enough of his eccentricities to allow him to make a truly great album.

    Which isn't to say the other stuff is mediocre. It's fabulous. But this album is something else altogether. There is an emotional depth past mere melancholy, and the music is sparsely sumptuous (where did that vague bossa nova feel come from? I love it!). What was done quite well in the past has been stroked perfectly here.

    An album to play on a cold winter night when it seems the spring will never come. You'll warm up knowing that someone feels worse that you do, and you just might get a laugh or two while you're at it. One of the finest albums of any year.

    www: http://www.spottiswoode.com

    Summer Hymns
    Backward Masks

    The press notes contain references to everything from Galaxie 500 and J Mascis to Mercury Rev and Yo La Tengo. I guess there are lots of music reviewers out there who are geezers like me.

    The Galaxie 500 reference makes the most sense to me, though this album sounds a lot more like a loosey-goosey version of Luna. I never understood how folks could hear bands as disparate as, say, Superchunk or Lambchop and claim to hear something "southern." But now that I've relocated a couple hundred miles to the north (though still south of the Mason-Dixon line), I think there's something to all that. These guys are from Athens, and there a languid grace to these songs that might, indeed, have southern roots.

    Or maybe not. I mean, Dean Wareham is anything but southern. The ringing production sound helps to lend character to these songs, so that even when they spin a bit off their axis there's always something pretty to hear. For the most part, though, that lackadaisical feel is one of the great joys of this album.

    If you ask me, I'd say these guys are closer to the Comas than anyone else. Cheerier, to be sure, and a bit more dedicated to pop song construction, but that's my call. It really doesn't matter who you want to hear in these folks as long as the other band is one you really like. 'Cause these folks sure do make a nice album.

    1405 Broadmoor Drive
    Austin, TX 78723
    www: http://www.misrarecords.com

    Also recommended:

    Justin Beckler Oh! My Troubled Mind (self-released)
    Rough-hewn blues rock that could have been recorded in 1968 or 2006. Well, except that the production does have a modern sheen. Helps, though. Kinda like the Led Zep remixes, if you know what I mean. Anyway, these songs are more soulful than that (more toward the Band, I guess), but there's real power here. Just as good as his first. One of those albums I'll probably end up liking a lot more as time goes on.
    www: http://www.justinbeckler.com

    Bite the Capsicum Bite the Capsicum CD3 (Shame File)
    More madness from Australia. A few "Iron Chef" samples, the occasional bit of sanity and loads and loads of electronic disturbances. More like bite the live wire, if you ask me.

    Can Joann Hurt People Hurt People (self-released)
    Math-y garage pop from one of the more celebrated up-and-comers from the modern Chapel Hill/Durham scene. The pieces didn't completely fall into place for me--the songs do get rather unfocused at times--but the bright spots are transcendent. Definitely one to watch.
    www: http://www.canjoann.com

    Cities Variations (Yep Roc)
    I wouldn't have expected a remix album from Cities, but here it is. On the heels of the band's stellar debut album comes this set of eight reinventions. The sounds are all over the place, but each manages to live up to the quality of the originals. Not many folks would take a chance like this (how many rock bands do any electronic remix releases?), which earns the boys even more respect from this corner.

    Dark Meat Universal Indians (Cloud Recordings)
    A collection of freaks from the greater Athens area, Dark Meat refuses to stick to any agenda. Lots of vocalists, lots of horns, lots of drums, lots of guitars...you get the idea. It's kinda like Captain Beefheart on steroids. Well, not that good, but pretty decent nonetheless. There's more going on here than I could mention in a month.

    Bronwen Exter Elevator Ride (Grantham Dispatch)
    A beautiful woman with a lush voice sings the songs of Jonathan Spottiswoode. Got a problem with that? I didn't think so. The mood here is a bit more stylized than the Spottiswoode and McMahon album reviewed above. I love it loads.

    Alex Gomez Warm Sensations (self-released)
    Reedy vocals and vicious electric blues guitar. And nothing else. Alex Gomez continues to impress as he winds his way down a decidedly unusual path. Think Jon Spencer, completely unfiltered, and you might begin to get a clue. This is guitar playing at its most expressive.
    www: http://www.alexgomez.biz

    Grey Does Matter Your Job Will Kill You (Pop Rally)
    When I dropped this disc in for the review, I began wondering why it had made the cut. And then the cool organ popped in. That little feature--which is only an occasional player on the album--is what pricked up my ears. These are serviceable songs, but they need a little flair. Like that provided by the playful electric piano (or whatever).

    The Heartstring Band Presents: Aurora Songs Vol. I EP (self-released)
    Punchy, dramatic alt.country pieces that never fail to satisfy. I'm not sure how an entire album of these nearly overwrought songs would go down--it would be like trying to down ten pieces of the greatest cheesecake in the world--but in this short dose, they're nearly impossible to put down.
    www: http://www.theheartstringband.com

    Jim Lampos Thunder Moon (Clocwyse Productions)
    Jim Lampos has been sending me his albums for quite a while. He's got that whole understated folk ballad thing down pat...and more importantly, he's good enough to make each song worth hearing. Yet another solid effort from one of my favorite songwriters.

    The Mars Volta Amputechture (Universal)
    I know, everyone else reviewed this a month ago. Sue me. I reviewed the original EP years ago, so I figure I'll keep the string going. Here's my two cents: The mainstream think this stuff is weird. The underground knows where this stuff comes from, and by and large, us bottomfeeders like it. Weird? No. Difficult? Sometimes. Good? Oh yeah.

    MONO & World's End Girlfriend Palmless Prrayer/Mass Murder Refrain (Temporary Residence)
    MONO is a four-piece; World's End Girlfriend is Katsuhiko Maeda. Five avant-garde pieces that wander somewhere between the ambient and straight-up classical. Too subdued to freak people out...but only if they're not listening. There are some disturbing (musical) ideas here. Give this a few listens, and they'll come to you.

    Niobe White Hats (Tomlab)
    Processed vocals and music, all done up in some astonishing vision of the fifties. At times Yvonne Cornelius allows most of her real voice to come through. And then she goes a little trippy again. Kinda like a crashing Billie Holiday after she's taken a tab...run through a Julie London filter. If that doesn't make sense to you, then perhaps you should move on to the next review.

    One Ring Zero Wake Them Up (Barbes)
    Imagine a (talented) indie rock band attempting to recreate the sonic power of the last Beatles albums, complete with decidedly ambitious arrangements, and you're in the ballpark here. The press notes compare this to TMBG, and that's not too bad, though this duo throws a whole lot more stuff into the kitchen sink. I'll stop before I completely muddle my metaphors.

    Edoardo Ricci/Thollem McDonas Sono Contento Di Stare Qua (Edgetone)
    Ricci on contralto sax, McDonas on "beatup pianoforte," which (I think) means out-of-tune piano. Four lively improvisations on the same theme. You gotta be into this stuff, but these are fun if you can dig it.

    Rent Romus' Lords of Outland Culture of Pain (Edgetone)
    It's been a while since Romus has gotten the band together. This band, anyway. Good to hear the folks have lost none of their bite. A cavalcade of throat-pounding sound and mind-bending ideas. You know, the good stuff.

    Rope, Inc. Is That All? EP (Fish the Cat)
    Matt Mencovik and Kramer (yes, that Kramer) noodle around five songs penned by Mencovik. Those expecting truly strange fare will be disappointed. These are often pretty, sometimes delicate songs that are almost perfectly presented. There must have been a lot of cutting and pasting, but the sound is wonderfully organic. The album title is fitting; I think most folks would like to hear a whole lot more.

    Rust Kings Hotel West Virginia (Dren)
    High energy bluegrass played both in the modern and classic styles. The Rust Kings don't seem to give much of a whit for the preciousness of tradition...they just like to play a good tune well. I'm with them.

    Sybarite Sybarite (Temporary Residence)
    Nicely turned out electronic fare that makes no claim for residence in the real world, yet manages to charm with its human touches nonetheless. When the vocals kick in, I get a slight acid jazz feel...but in a good way. The whole human thing, you know. An intriguing set.

    Various Artists Songs from the Movie Fortunes (Pravda)
    By and large the music of Tobin Sprout, with tracks from Chris Day, Ronald Raskin and the Mulchmen thrown in for good measure. Not particularly cohesive, but Sprout is in good form. Makes for a nice mix tape.

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