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.

If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.

A&A #281 reviews
December 2006
  • The American Plague God Bless the American Plague (Long Live Crime)
  • Argo Attack of the Firebots (Fish the Cat)
  • The Hanks Your New Attraction (Cobra Music)
  • JRK JRK (Wide Hive)
  • Calvin Keys Vertical Clearance (Wide Hive)
  • The Life and Times The Magician EP (Stiff Slack)
  • Blake Miller Together With Cats (Exit Stencil)
  • Outrageous Cherry Stay Happy (Rainbow Quartz)
  • Andrea Perry Rivers of Stars (self-released)
  • Pleasurecraft This Is a Blackout (self-released)
  • The Slip Eisenhower (Bar/None)
  • Triclops! Cafeteria Brutalia EP (Sickroom)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The American Plague
    God Bless the American Plague
    (Long Live Crime)

    Some boys from Knoxville who process much the same material as Urge Overkill did nearly 20 years ago...music chock full of riffs, attitude and, most importantly, loudness.

    Unlike UO, though, these guys really don't let up off the pedal. And the production has a nice cheesy sheen to it. Fits the material, so I like it.

    This is music for action, not thinking. Blood pumping, fist shaking, penetration kinda music. No missteps here. Just rock hard riff 'n' roll laid over a blistering rhythm section.

    Uncomplicated, in other words. Sometimes it's good to just sit back and let the music take control. The American Plague will seep into your veins in no time.

    Long Live Crime Records
    8170 Beverly Blvd. #102
    Los Angeles, CA 90048

    Attack of the Firebots
    (Fish the Cat)

    It's all math. Sometimes it's more electronic, sometimes more navel-gazing. Sometimes it's just out there. It's always (I guess) Argo.

    I like the more electronic songs. They're a lot more fun, and they point out a connection between new wave and indie rock that isn't always obvious. Plus, y'know, I'm a sucker for keyboards done well. Meaning used as an instrument and not a means to obfuscation.

    In addition, the songs with stronger keyboard parts simply sound better. They lend an edge to the sound that's missing on the more standard "rock" songs. They also infuse these often wayward pieces with a bit of personality.

    Fun and interesting. Argo likes to travel in many directions, and most of them are well worth the trip.

    Fish the Cat
    2230 4th Ave. #221
    Seattle, WA 98121

    The Hanks
    Your New Attraction
    (Cobra Music)

    It's been a while since I've gotten some first-class melodic emo. The sound that was played to death a few years back still yields the occasional sprightly disc.

    And actually, this disc is a lot more anthemic than light on its feet. But the hooks are sweet and the power chords are like butter. The Hanks aren't reinventing the wheel, but they've found one slick prototype.

    The production is shiny, but not metallic. There's an indie feel here, even though its more than apparent these boys want to move so much farther down the road. The sound is a nice frame for this picture of a band on the move.

    Of course, this isn't exactly the most commercial sound these days. Okay by me. I just call good music when I hear it and let the industrialists fight over profits. Don't ask for the moon and this one will surprise nicely.

    Cobra Music
    2136 N. Beachwood Dr.
    Suite #6
    Los Angeles, CA 90068

    (Wide Hive)

    The usual polygenre effort from the Wide Hive crew. JRK plays happily in the fields of blues, rock, jazz, acid jazz, hip hop, bossa nova and whatever else happens to slither down the street. With Greg(ory) Howe's hands on the knobs, you know the result is going to sound exceptional.

    Indeed. This is very much a studio-created project (five of the six "band" members are credited as vocalists only, and the sixth apparently plays trumpet), and so there's no need to speculate on live performances. In fact, the spectacular nature of music rules out any such worries. Who cares if this could ever be replicated live as long as it's on this disc?

    The mix is busy, as ideas flow freely from one to the other just about every second. Beats comes and go, sly sample cuts bounce around like popcorn and every other element simply spins in time.

    The one striking thing about this album is how immediately engaging it is. Most Wide Hive releases are a step or two away from the mainstream. There's no reason the average music lover wouldn't pick this one up and shriek with instant pleasure. Drop the needle anywhere--this vein is a monster!

    Wide Hive
    1164 Solano Ave. #416
    Albany, CA 94706
    www: http://www.widehive.com

    Calvin Keys
    Vertical Clearance
    (Wide Hive)

    Calvin Keys plays guitar, and he invites an astonishingly long list of friends to stop by and help out. Gregory Howe produces (this is a Wide Hive release, of course), and the resulting sound is as vibrant as any jazz guitar album I've ever heard.

    And as might be expected with such a wide variety of guests, the songs themselves don't stick to any one sound. There are plenty of echoes of early fusion (Phil Ranelin's trombone sounds some welcome notes), but these pieces are a lot busier than yer average fusion. I can hear plenty of nods to the likes of Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock and the gamut of 60s jazz, but again, this is more modern (that's cemented by Headnodic's contributions).

    No, in the end this is simply a good jazz album, one that defies further categorization. The sound is warm and inviting, and Keys's expressive and generous playing always leaves a good vibe. Not happy jazz by any means, though. There are serious (and seriously good) ideas at work here.

    One of those albums I enjoyed from start to finish. Now I know what it feels like to lounge in a smoking jacket.

    Wide Hive
    1164 Solano Ave. #416
    Albany, CA 94706
    www: http://www.widehive.com

    The Life and Times
    The Magician EP
    (Stiff Slack)

    Stiff Slack is a Japanese label, so I don't know how available this one will be. Then again, if I'm getting it other folks in the U.S. ought to be able to as well. In any case, the Life and Time bashes out five distortion-laden pieces here, and they're all pretty much transcendent. Loud, sprawling and surprisingly melodic, this stuff pricks up the ears immediately.

    Yes, it's a bit ponderous at times, and yes, the accumulation of ideas can at times seem pretentious. But all that is just fine if the songs themselves justify the majestic sweep. And boy, do they.

    Guitar inspired, guitar written (I assume) and certainly guitar driven, these songs are proof that folks simply have not kissed Les Paul's ass nearly enough. The Life and Times plays rock and roll at its most ambitious, and they do it awfully well.

    Blake Miller
    Together with Cats
    (Exit Stencil)

    There are eccentric solo projects, and then there's this. Blake Miller seems to want to play just about every type of music that's been even vaguely popular in the last century or so, and even more astonishingly, he does it pretty well.

    That description is something of an exaggeration. The mode here is pop, though it gets awfully wiggy much of the time. The opening track, "Sinners," is as baleful a rural blues wail as you could want to find. The songs that follow take a minimalist approach to everything from shimmer pop to, well, stuff even I couldn't quite identify.

    The key to this sort of obsessive endeavor is to stay focused. It sounds to me like Miller recorded this himself, dubbing his own vocals and whatever extra noises he deemed necessary. The sound, then, is increasingly spooky or creepy, depending on your feeling toward this sort of thing. I felt both, and I liked that.

    The obvious touchstones are Daniel Johnston or Jad Fair or Simon Joyner or any of the other obsessive minimalists of the last couple decades or so. Miller does seem to want to be a bit more mainstream than those, and he's also got better chops, but in the end, this project is for those who appreciate the unappreciated genius. For the record, Blake Miller is my kinda guy.

    Exit Stencil
    6205 Detroit Ave.
    Cleveland, OH 44102
    www: http://www.exitstencilrecordings.com

    Outrageous Cherry
    Stay Happy
    (Rainbow Quartz)

    T. Rex without the savage genius of Bolan. Or perhaps Big Star without the drugs. I dunno. You make the call.

    This is one of those albums that is astoundingly derivative, but of a sound rather than any particular artist. The songs themselves seem to materialize out of the mists of time. Not only would this have been big in England in 1973 (or maybe 1974), it would have been hailed as the newest representation of the current trend.

    So yes, there are handclaps, shimmery guitars, loose and light harmonies and that certain backbeat that could only come from one moment in time. The production sound is a bit weak, actually. I'd have given this a bit more muscle in the mix--in some ways this is more Tyrannosaurus Rex, if you know what I mean.

    Ah, well, whatever. A very cheap pleasure, but one that hits too close to the bone for me to ignore it. I love this kinda stuff, and Outrageous Cherry does it quite well.

    Rainbow Quartz International
    163 Amsterdam Ave.
    P.O. Box 194
    New York, NY 10023-5001
    www: http://www.rainbowquartz.com

    Andrea Perry
    Rivers of Stars

    I liked the last thing Andrea Perry sent me, and I think I like this one even more. Perry distinguishes herself from the singer-songwriter horde in so many ways, I'm afraid I'd have to write ten reviews to get through them all.

    For starters, she's genuinely funny--in a non-jokey, wry way. She writes lyrics that are touching, but not cloying. She works hard to make her thoughts understood. And most importantly, she pays as much attention to the music as she does to her lyrics.

    Her melodies are wonderful, sometimes lissome and other times muscular. She takes care to give her songs full-formed arrangements and she isn't afraid of bringing in somewhat unusual instrumentation if it will make a song better.

    In other words, Andrea Perry knows what she's doing, and she does it damned well. Not unlike David Singer, Perry sings of love, loss and life. And in much the same way, she leaves listeners feeling fulfilled. Wonderful in every sense of the word.

    2406 W. 10th St.
    Austin, TX 78703
    www: http://www.andreaperry.com

    This Is a Blackout

    One of my (extremely) long-term projects is scanning the ol' music collection into my computer. By the time I'm done, I'll have to do it all over again to match up with whatever format is in vogue then. The reason I mentioned this is that I scanned in Pleasurecraft's Lost Patterns about an hour before I started this review. It's a meaningless fact, I know, but a fun coincidence anyway.

    So obviously I like Pleasurecraft's notion of electronic dance rock. This stuff is more Kraftwerk meets INXS than, say, KMFDM meets the Cure. The clinically-clean sound probably will put a few people off. I maintain, however, that it allows the band's stellar sense of melody to shine through.

    And that's all this is, really, melody laid over the most basic of rhythm tracks. As I noted earlier, plenty of folks would have been tempted to punch this stuff up in any number of ways. Pleasurecraft doesn't, and in so doing it has created a truly unique sound.

    I suppose it's fair to say these folks aren't really doing anything "new," per se. They're just making cool music that goes down easy on the brain. I'll ride these slinky melodies as far as my memory hole will let me.

    www: http://www.pleasurecraftmusic.com

    The Slip

    More of that electronic math thing that seems to be cropping up more and more. Unlike the Argo reviewed above, these folks sound better when they're relying on the guitars. I don't know if it's a matter of confidence or writing (probably both), but the songs are much stronger when they're rocking out.

    The Slip tends to use orchestrations and electronics as a means to an end, which is something I usually applaud. For some reason, though, here it sounds like a cop out or perhaps an overreach. These songs don't need the extras--even the ubiquitous guitar noodling can be a bit much--they just need to be played.

    Which they are. Because the production is so sharp and pointed, I feel confident in making these pronouncements. I can hear everything (or so it seems), and so I can guess at what this might sound like if it was just a bit stripped down.

    And again, it's the overall strength of this album that makes it easier for me to voice these quibbles. I doubt many people would bother with my minor whines, preferring to simply revel in what's here. That's cool. Know what? I can do that, too.

    P.O. Box 1704
    Hoboken, NJ 07030

    Cafeteria Brutalia EP

    A long time ago, I got a lot of stuff from Cargo Records and Touch and Go. A fair portion of that was master basher material, music that gives the ol' adrenaline a fine workout. Jesus Lizard, Rocket from the Crypt, Kepone, Olivelawn...lots of great stuff.

    This is right down that alley. The title is most apt, even if it "Brutalia" isn't exactly a word. These songs throb and flow, and three of the four are nicely long to boot.

    I wrenched my neck listening to this. Haven't done that in years. Feels great. Now I need a beer. Or two. Who said loud music is bad for you?

    Sickroom Records
    P.O. Box 47830
    Chicago, IL 60647
    www: www.sickroomrecords.com

    Also recommended:

    Ellen Cherry Years (self-released)
    Ellen Cherry, or rather, Kristin Putchinski, has written a set of songs that explore the minds of women in different years. For example, "1864: A Civil War Bride." Most of this is Putchinski's voice and guitar, but don't let the concept and minimalist instrumentation scare you. Putchinski makes all this sound very natural, without forcing anything. Surprisingly engaging.
    www: www.ellencherry.com

    Dale Collins Songs for Lake City (self-released)
    My favorite lo-fi South Carolina bluesman has returned with a tape that's more weird than blues. Collins's guitar work is still most intriguing, and he's channeling it into more adventurous territory--stuff that needs more than a boom box microphone. I think he's outgrown this method. Time to pony up some bucks and book some studio time.
    610 Rusty Road
    Conway, SC 29526

    Aaron Comess Catskills Cry (self-released)
    Not yer average self-produced project. Comess is a percussionist (who dabbles in guitar), and he gets Bill Dillon to play guitar and Tony Levin to sit in on bass. The result is a fine set of prog jazz tunes that never gets too busy, preferring to linger only as long as wanted. Fine stuff.
    www: www.aaroncomess.com

    Cosmic Starfish Cosmic Starfish (self-released)
    Cosmic Starfish is J.R. Snyder, and he plays that electronic-tinged (and sometimes almost flat-out electronic) wry rock that's increasingly common. What's not common is Snyder's skill at ferreting out the choicest nuggets of his songs and making sure to showcase them. A nice set.
    www: www.cosmicstarfish.net

    Denelian False:Positive EP (self-released)
    Kinetic Bauhausian stuff, the sort of tunes that bring on a bit of nostalgia for geezers like me. Denelian doesn't do a lot to update the sound, but the folks do a nice job staying in pocket. A fun little disc.
    www: www.denelianmusic.com

    Floater Stone by Stone (Elemental)
    I really liked the track "In America" (something along the lines of a mid-80s U2 rant), and I waited for another song to approach that. Didn't hear it, but there's lots of solid, wide-ranging rock and roll here. Helps to have grown up in the 80s, perhaps, but the kids today aren't morons.

    Chris Garver e4/e5 (Pilcrow)
    Songs, with noise. Garver doesn't mind the occasional trip to the frontal lobes--even within an otherwise "normal" song--but most of these pieces have some formal roots structure. Garver simply doesn't distinguish between the palpable and the abstract. He mixes it all up and expects his listeners to get it. I like that attitude. I like it a lot.

    Alexis Gideon Welcome Song (Sickroom)
    I could be pithy and open this review with "Noise, with songs." But that's not fair. Gideon makes a lot more music than noise. Witness "Casio>lation," a silly riff on OMD's "Locomotion." In fact, most of these pieces are exceedingly silly. Not the sort of thing yer Tower Records customer might have bought (when there was a Tower Records, of course), but rather what a vaguely adventurous listener might check out and say, "Hunh."

    Gregorio Howe y Compadres Salsa Blanco (Wide Hive)
    Subtitled "Latin Soul Flavorings," this disc is a piffle. A really tasty piffle, mind you, the sort of groovy music that only skilled musicians could even attempt. Greg Howe and pals fly through these songs with a style that few can match. It is a piffle; here's not much behind the facade. Still, few facades sound this good.

    Lo Moda Gospel Store Front (Creative Capitalism)
    J. Robbins produced this odd little disc. That should explain enough for most folks. Lo Moda is rather ambitious. It tries to find a new sound for every song. Not all of those songs work, but I really appreciate the effort. I'd rather hear a band trying to do something great than hear a great band coast. Can't wait to hear where these folks try to go next.

    Mittens Fools on a Holiday (self-released)
    Three guys playing earnest, jaunty pop music. The songs are formally presented and rather stiffly played. If Mittens would loosen up its writing and playing, I think I might go nuts. Still, these are some fine songs played with enthusiasm. Some of the stuff is rather inspired, even.
    www: www.mittensmusic.com

    Nippara Tokyo (Jabrec Art Music)
    A fine set of extremely unusual (even for the genre) improvised music. Phil Minton grunts, Yagihashi Tsukasa squeaks through his sax, Sato Yukie scrapes his guitar and Higo Hiroshi does something or other with his bass. This stuff is challenging even for fans of the sound, but if you have a little patience, the more incongruent bits come into focus and the overall project reaches another level. Wild.

    Pacific UV Pacific UV EP (Warm)
    Three new songs and an Eluvium remix of "L.A.P.D. vs. N.Y.P.D." Kinda sharp, kinda dreamy and always awash in guitars. Pacific UV sets a tone and sticks to it here. Even the remix fits in perfectly. This one may be short, but it still needs to unfold at its own pace. Let it, and you'll find something fine within.

    Ponytail Kamehameha (Creative Capitalism)
    Disjointed pop run through a no wave filter. Ponytail makes a glorious noise and every once in a while wraps things up within the same song. Think of U.S. Maple--though more tuneful and more playful by half--and you're starting to get warm.

    Shedding What God Doesn't Bless, You Won't Love; What You Won't Love, the Child Won't Know (Hometapes)
    Three tracks from Connor Bell; the album title tells you all you need to know. This is classical music, actually, but willfully obtuse stuff. Not really avant-garde, just nebulous. I spent about forever trying to figure it out, and I failed. But I had a fine time trying.

    The Summer Wardrobe The Summer Wardrobe (Rainbow Quartz)
    The Summer Wardrobe couldn't have been more aptly named. These shimmery, glistening alt.country songs simply float out of the speakers. Very Byrdsy, with the occasional glam chaser, which leads me to believe that the folks behind Rainbow Quartz are somewhat stuck in a certain time. Oh well. When the music is as pretty as this, I won't complain.

  • return to A&A home page