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 #280 reviews
November 2006
  • Thavius Beck Thru (Mush)
  • Caural Mirrors for Eyes (Mush)
  • Cheer-Accident What Sequel? (Pravda)
  • Envie Envie (self-released)
  • Kate Kennedy Circle, Spiral, Line (Barely Bias)
  • M Coast Say It in Slang (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
  • Malajube Trompe-Loeil (Dare to Care)
  • 120 Days 120 Days (Vice)
  • Shiny Toy Guns We Are Pilots (Universal)
  • Suburban Kids with Biblical Names #3 (Minty Fresh)
  • Kim Taylor I Feel Like a Fading Light (self-released)
  • Tenki We're Not Talking About the Universe, Are We? (#1) (Future Appletree)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Thavius Beck

    Nominally hip-hop, I guess, but the emphasis here is on sonic construction. Thavius Beck populates his aggressively electronic sounds with all sorts of organic debris. The result can be intoxicating.

    First, though, you've got to be willing to give this album a chance. Beck veers from experimental structures to fairly straightforward jazz construction. It's not easy to find purchase with the ideas presented. But just let your mind wander and see what strikes your fancy.

    Very much a Mush album in that way. Simplicity has no home here. There's simply a raftload of ideas (almost all of them expressed musically) spinning around on a skeleton of throbbing beatwork.

    It's safe to say this is precisely the sort of challenging album that dorky critics like me adore. It's not Top 40 (or even Top 4000, necessarily), but damn, is it good. Don't think too much, and you might agree.

    Mush Records
    1742 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90036
    www: http://www.dirtyloop.com

    Mirrors for Eyes

    See what I wrote above? Double for Caural. The beats are much dirtier, the songs are somewhat flightier, and the need for patience is identical. Caural has a bit more of a track record, but that doesn't make this stuff any more mainstream.

    Still, I can hear a bit more "crossover" potential in this stuff. By not being so overtly aggressive, Zachary Mastoon (a.k.a Caural) leaves the door open a crack further. Plus, he adheres closer to pop song construction--within his interpretation of such, anyway.

    The grungy sound here really completes the package for me. Most of the fuzz comes in the lowest beats, but it's really effective. Something to luxuriate in, for sure.

    As are the songs here. Despite their lofty ambitions, these songs are best enjoyed with a relatively blank mind. Just let the wonderment drift past your ears and you, too, will be enlightened. And if you're not, well, you'd better start looking for your prefrontal lobes.

    Mush Records
    1742 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90036
    www: http://www.dirtyloop.com

    What Sequel?

    Best known for adventurous music that often ventures into unknown territory, Cheer-Accident occasionally ventures into traditional forms, if not exactly traditional songs. One or two an album, on average. Seems to me the guys simply like to do as many things as possible.

    The Why Album came out 12 years ago, and it was the band's first set of meticulously-crafted (sort-of) pop songs. Still weird as hell, mind you, but pop nonetheless. And now we get What Sequel?, which is also chock full of seriously off-kilter songs wedged into the pop form.

    Not exactly like the Red Krayola...well, sometimes it is. Sometimes it sounds more like Yes. Yes playing Sly and the Family Stone. And those are the more accessible songs. Fans need not worry; the major labels will not be knocking down any doors. But then, they never have been.

    Which is my backhanded way of saying that this stuff is, of course, amazing. The boys never compromise, no matter what kind of stuff they play. This album may be somewhat more coherent and contain slightly more melody than the average Cheer-Accident effort, but rest assured, the rigorous ideas are as plentiful as ever.

    P.O. Box 268043
    Chicago, IL 60626
    www: http://www.pravdamusic.com


    Guest shots on major label albums are often exercises in self-promotion. Guest shots on self-released efforts tend to say something or other about the artist in question. So, that said, Jarboe drops by on one track here.

    Yes, indeed, we're talking about elaborate songs--almost art pop, really--and an affected singing style. Not the sort of thing that usually pricks up my ears. Except that Envie does this stuff so, so well.

    That's my usual excuse in these circumstances, and I can't find any fault with it. These songs contain all sorts of dramatic flourishes and intense arrangements, but they also flit around simple cores. So, if you like, it's pretty easy to break these songs down to their (exceptional) bare bones.

    One of those albums that surprised me. It's rare for an album to grow on me as fast as this one has, but then, that's why I'm talking about it here. Immensely enjoyable.

    P.O. Box 89270
    Atlanta, GA 30312
    www: http://www.enviemusic.com

    Kate Kennedy
    Circle, Spiral, Line
    (Barely Bias)

    The sort of girl-with-a-guitar album that could become tedious in no time. And Kennedy's voice is a most uncertain instrument. She uses it with undeserved confidence. And it is that unsteady voice that makes this album so appealing.

    Kennedy's guitar work is wonderful, clean and most expressive. And yet, truth be told, nothing spectacular. Her voice informs the songs here, and takes them somewhere the words and notes couldn't. Her voice makes these well-crafted pieces exuberantly human.

    The untrained voice can be a grating, horrific thing. Kennedy's voice is generally just slightly off, kind of a blue note effect. But I'm sure she's not a wee bit flat (normally, anyway) on purpose. The more she pushes, the flatter she gets...but always on the side of good music.

    Rock and roll (or folk, or whatever) isn't about perfection. It's about expression. And Kate Kennedy does quite well in that department. Most engaging.

    M Coast
    Say It in Slang
    (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)

    How to play pop rock music in fifteen easy songs. Or something like that. M Coast wears more hats on this disc than Bartholomew Cubbins.

    I say pop with good reason. These songs occasionally rock out, but more often there's a bossa nova trip or patched in harmony or some other honey-laden bit. These songs originated in the three-chord, three-minute universe, though M Coast takes each far beyond.

    Superlative production here gives each song its own feel. There's little continuity as the album rolls along (which is a serious quibble, I admit), but as a jukebox set it's hard to find a fault.

    Take what you get. Fifteen great songs that sound like they may have been recorded by as many bands? Hey, as long as they're great, I'm not gonna complain. Just hit shuffle.

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

    (Dare to Care)

    There seems to be something about Canada--east or west, it doesn't seem to matter--that spawns a particular type of obsessive pop band. Whether we're talking about the New Pornographers or (insert any of ten or twenty other semi-famous Canadian acts) or Malajube, these bands seem to have similar places to rest their off-kilter perspectives.

    Maybe it's only off-kilter if an American is listening. I dunno. These guys remind me most of the Wrens, but they're not quite so tightly wrapped. And there's that, well, Canadian wank to the stuff.

    For years I've been trying to identify exactly what I mean by "Canadian wank." There's a certain amount of atonality and a slight disregard for melody, but something else. And it's not the fact that a number of songs here are sung in French.

    I'm gonna have to spend more time thinking this out. Not that it's a big deal. I like stuff that takes interesting angles of attack. Malajube has the skill, intelligence and energy to impress just about anyone. Ten seconds of any song on this album ought to prove that.

    Dare to Care
    P.O. Box 463
    Station C
    Montreal, QC H2L 4K4
    www: http://www.daretocarerecords.com

    120 Days
    120 Days

    Norwegian Krautrock, or something like that. Sounds dreary and dreadful, I know, but somehow all the dirge and gloom (and there's plenty) gets picked up by those old school electronic beats.

    Actually, it's not that surprising. Why the hell do you think kids went nuts for New Wave? A little melody, some addictive beats and you can sing just about whatever lyrics you want. These folks add atmospheric guitars to the mix--which is a really nice touch, by the way--but there's a lot here to remind a few geezers of those chilly 70s albums that have become somewhat iconic over time.

    Kraftwerk, Neu!, Tangerine Dream...critics reference them all the time. Mostly, though, we're talking about the specific sounds of the beat and synth work. These guys really tap into the soul of the sound. And they do it without becoming strictly a retro outfit.

    There are nostalgic moments, of course, but 120 Days throws in enough modern elements (more than a few U2 nods, among others) to make this a proper update. Not an easy listen, I suppose, but a satisfying one.

    Vice Records
    75 N. 4th St.
    Brooklyn, NY 11211
    www: http://www.vice-recordings.com

    Shiny Toy Guns
    We Are Pilots

    Rock-solid electronic band fronted by a pretty lady who sports blonde-on-black hair. Man, I haven't listened to Berlin in ages.

    And yes, there is more of a resemblance than many (including the band, I'd guess) would like to admit. There is a male vocal counterpart to Carah Faye's electronic liplock, and that's always a good thing. Also, the music here is less self-consciously pop. In other words, these folks take a few chances.

    Not too many, of course, as this is a major label release. But the adventurous spirit I hear here impresses me. There are a few songs with real radio potential--"When They Came for Us" and "Don't Cry Out" are exceptionally crafted pop gems, even though both each ignore a (different) key element of song construction. Those (I assume) intentional "flaws" are part of what make the songs work so well.

    Are we really in the midst of a real electronic music revolution? Laptop pop has been around forever, and it hasn't made a huge dent in the collective consciousness. Dress it up a bit, have a real band play the songs and give the stuff a bit more heft and you've got Shiny Toy Guns. Don't know if the masses will buy it, but I do.

    Suburban Kids with Biblical Names
    (Minty Fresh)

    Swedish laptop pop that sounds just like, well, a Scandinavian Magnetic Fields. The lyrics are less wry and more, um, obsessive. With what, I can't quite make out, but there sure are a lot of lyrics in these songs.

    The music itself is minimalist and very attentive to a certain school of melody--thus the Magnetic Fields reference. Fans of Stephin Merritt the musician ought to dig this. Those who groove more on his exceptional lyrical stylings might well be confounded.

    So be it. I'm confused and confounded, but I kept right on listening. I freely admit to being a fan of minimalist pop, and these guys have a fine feel for the stuff. The production is a bit thin, but not dreadfully so. I'd punch up the beats and the bass a bit, which is probably why I'm not a producer.

    A pleasant repast from the troubles of the day. Hard not to smile when listening to this album. At least, I still am.

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

    Kim Taylor
    I Feel Like a Fading Light

    Standard woman-with-a-guitar singer-songwriter stuff. Kim Taylor sings songs of personal experience and puts them in a contemplative musical context. Sounds perfectly ordinary. But it's not.

    Part of it is the exceptional production on this album. The mood is generally restrained, but there are some fine arrangements here. Plenty of piano and organ, harmonica when needed and even a few electronic beats. Everything fits perfectly together and gives Taylor's songs room to shine. And they do.

    While I'm not much for lyrics, Taylor's are impressive precisely because they fit perfectly within the songs. There are no manifestos here, nothing mawkish or absurd. Just a woman speaking her mind in a calm conversation. How...adult.

    Maybe that's not what you want to hear, but I'm always in favor of real ideas expressed confidently rather than with bombast and pomposity. Somehow, subtlety impresses me more than shouting. And by being subtle, Taylor should earn a lot more attention. Most intriguing.

    www: http://www.kim-taylor.net

    We're Not Talking About the Universe, Are We (#1)
    (Future Appletree)

    If there was such a thing as revisionist post rock, these guys are playing it. Rather than using guitars as jazz bludgeons (a la June of 44, one of my all-time faves), these guys let the organs and electronics take the fore. The result isn't really jazz, but it's a good deal removed from the whole rock and roll thing as well.

    It's that whole "good music" idea. Tenki plays interesting, literate music with rock instruments. Every song contains references to rock, jazz, the blues, you name it. And it's all held together by a tenuous system of melodic lines that threaten to break even before they take hold.

    That's where I'm hearing the ol' Chicago via Louisville school of thought. and whaddyaknow? These guys recorded this in Chicago. Alright! So my thesis holds more and more water. As if that matters.

    It doesn't. All I care about is how good any given album is. Tenki has a quiet intensity that burns through this album. Once it grabs you, there's nothing you can do but hold on.

    Future Appletree
    P.O. Box 191
    Davenport, IA 52808
    www: http://www.futureappletree.com

    Also recommended:

    All India Radio Echo Other (Minty Fresh)
    Music for those who like to wait. All India Radio takes a long time to get to the point, and sometimes it doesn't even arrive. That's cool, because instrumental rock is all about the journey anyways. Okay, so there are some guest vocals. Even then, the voices are more instrumental than anything else. Well worth the time.

    Ryan Anderson Trains Take Away Old Friends (Bi-Fi)
    Clunky alt.country stuff recorded in one-man squalor. Jason Nesmith cleaned things up a bit, but these recordings are still quite raw. And that works really well. About as authentic as "authentic" gets. Play loud, and then play louder.

    The Awkward Stage Heaven Is for Easy Girls (Mint)
    Yet another of those "weird Canadian bands." Except that the "band" is mostly Shane Nelken with Kurt Dahle and smattering of friends. About as idiosyncratic as you might expect, but that generally works in the album's favor. Lots of little gems throughout.

    Beat Beat Beat Living in the Future (Dirtnap)
    Restless, raucous punk rawk recorded in its pure state. A typical Dirtnap release, in other words. The quality is typically good as well. These guys sure know how to wring the most out of their three chords.

    The Boxing Lesson Songs in the Key of C (Diamond Records)
    A lovely rock trio featuring a guitar, drums and keyboards. Stuck almost precisely between Trans Am and the Alkaline Trio. Proggy, poppy stuff that has a lot more heft than you might think. The disc would benefit from a slightly more coherent mix, but on the whole I'm impressed.

    Lindsay Buckingham Under the Skin (Reprise)
    Lindsay Buckingham has always been more interesting as a solo artist. Not necessarily better, but definitely more interesting. This multi-multitracked (and otherwise obsessively produced) set is no exception. Not everything works, but Buckingham's exceptional guitar work and intriguing arrangements kept my interest high.

    Cross Border Trio New Directions (Circumvention)
    These guys (who do live on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border) don't necessarily like to call their music jazz. It is, really, but there's a highly improvisational aspect to it as well. Done well, I might add. Not sure how this is "new," exactly, but it is a direction I quite like.

    Stephan Crump Rosetta (Papillon)
    Crump leads his strikingly unconventional jazz trio (acoustic guitar, electric guitar and his acoustic bass) though a number of introspective pieces. The ideas don't come quickly, but they are beautifully expressed. Patience is a virtue and will be highly rewarded here.

    Steve Hackett Wild Orchids (SPV)
    My second dip into the 70s rock god pool this month, Steve Hackett's latest is what might be expected--a trip through prog, world, classical and just about any other kind of music imaginable. All of it relatively stately (those without Hackett's taste for excess might say pompous) in nature, I suppose, but a most satisfying, wide-ranging effort.

    Iceage Cobra Brilliant Ideas from Amazing People (self-released)
    Perhaps not quite as good as advertised in the title, this disc is nonetheless an impressively high-spirited romp through 60s psychedelia, 70s rock and timeless soul. Loud as hell, raucous and yet surprisingly melodic, the songs here never let up on the throttle. Throwbacks, to be sure, but the kind of throwbacks I like.

    K-the-I Broken Love Letter (Mush)
    The kind of experimental beatwork-meets-underground hip-hop stuff that fans of Mush expect. It shouldn't surprise regular readers to hear that the beats impress me more than the rhymes. Solid work all around, though. Highly enjoyable.

    The Multiple Cat The Secret of the Secret of the Multiple Cat (Future Appletree)
    Modestly understated indie rock. The Multiple Cat mixes things up well, all the while managing to stick to its laid back sound. A fine little record. And no matter what anyone tells you, little records are just fine.

    Patience Please Parallel Plots EP (Jigsaw Records)
    This stuff simply bounds from the speakers. It's not loud or throbbing; perky is a much better word. The five tunes here are all strikingly pleasant and bouncy. Sounds milquetoast, I suppose, but that would be the wrong interpretation. Call it straightforward and play it again.

    Roger Powell Fossil Poets (Discipline Global Mobile)
    Not sure whether to file this under "Powell" or "Fossil Poets." Either way, the music here is played by Roger Powell, Greg Koch and Gary Tanin. So, yes, this is my third dip into the 70s rock god bag this month. With similarly pleasant results. Powell and pals riff through some modernized (using all sorts of electronics and the occasional guitar) in a most attractive way. More actively engaging than I expected.

    The Quiet Ones Nite You Surprised Me EP (Firefly Sessions)
    Fine ragged-yet-harmonic rock and roll. Understated, for the most part, but with enough grit on the edges to give it the necessary oomph. Needs a bit more, well, something to break out of the pack, but these songs show serious potential.

    Ratos de Porao Hominem Inmigo Do Hominem (Alternative Tentacles)
    Twenty five years down, and the Ratos are still tearing things up. Can't say how this album is any more (or less) blisteringly cool than most of the band's previous efforts, though the production is probably the best the guys have afforded. Hardcore legends that are obviously still relevant.

    Moody Scott Bustin' Out of the Ghetto (AIM)
    The latest "undiscovered" soul star to be compiled on the Australian AIM label. There is a reason most folks remain unknown, and Scott's main problem is that a few soul greats did what he does even better. He was a passing regional star who never hit the big time. But he did sing a few nice songs.

    24 Hour Flu 24 Hour Flu (Sona)
    The quartet behind 24 Hour Flu seems to pull a new instrument (and new sounds) out for every song. These instrumental pieces veer off every which way, only sometimes pausing for station identification. Only for the strong...but pure joy for those who can handle the trip.

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