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 #283 reviews
March 2007
  • The Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound Ekranoplan (Tee Pee)
  • Blakk Sweat You Were a Shaman (MT6)
  • The Eames Era Heroes + Sheroes (self-released)
  • Grand Champeen Dial T for This (In Music We Trust)
  • Jessie & Layla Kinetic (Second Shimmy)
  • Meanest Man Contest & Languis "split" (Sneakmove)
  • The October ...Bye Bye Beautiful (self-released)
  • The Old Ceremony Our One Mistake (Sonablast)
  • The Scruffs Pop Manifesto (self-released)
  • Signal Hill Transmission An Empty Space (self-released)
  • Tammany Hall Machine Amateur Saw (self-released)
  • 31 Knots The Days and Nights of Everything Anywhere (Polyvinyl)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound
    (Tee Pee)

    By and large, when I get a package from Tee Pee, I know something interesting and unusual is inside. The Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound lives up to its name, spewing forth a loud and reverb-laden set of modern psychedelic trippage. A lot like the Brian Jonestown Massacre (whose recent compilation was released on Tee Pee), only much, much louder.

    Which is, in fact, saying something. And in saying that, these folks are about a lot more than sonic carnage. There's a fairly rigid devotion to melody and an almost fanatic desire to explore as many tangents as possible. Under less qualified hands, that would render this a bloody mess. As it is, I think I'm listening to a travelogue of the highest order.

    The sound is rich and full even within the rippling chords. Sometimes the heavy hand of the effects makes it difficult for me to discern the true melody. Then I figured out that it was a lot easier to not worry about such silly things.

    This is an album for relaxing, for leaning back and letting the music take control. If you give these boys an inch they'll steal your cerebellum...but they give it back at the end. You can decide if it's been improved or not.

    Tee Pee
    365 Bowery
    Second Floor
    New York, NY 10012
    www: http://www.teepeerecords.com

    Blakk Sweat
    You Were a Shaman

    The artwork (and what serve as liner notes) for this disc are so obtuse I couldn't even figure out the name of the band. Oh yeah, idiot, look at the CD.

    Similarly, it took me a few times through to get a handle on the music. It's kind of a minimalist take on the 22nd century blues promulgated by the good Captain B all those years ago. Fewer flights of fancy, but plenty of weirdness. All wrapped up in a package that kicks out every sound as clear as day.

    Indeed, the stark production here means there can be no mistaking what you're hearing...except that it doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense. At first. Then I kinda let go (which is going to be something of a theme this month, I believe). Two bourbons down, I was still a bit baffled, but I felt better.

    That's when this snapped into focus for me. The whole Beefheart connection. And the nicely warped stripped-down take on all that. Is it as brilliant as all that? Probably not, but it's definitely as strange. For professionals only. But it sure do make us pros some happy folks, now.

    MT6 Records
    3024 Fifth Ave.
    Baltimore, MD 21234
    www: http://www.mt6records.com

    The Eames Era
    Heroes + Sheroes

    The sorta vaguely disjointed--yet almost unbearably lush--pop songs that have a way of completely distracting me from the issue at hand. Which is to say that the Eames Era has just ended.

    Not the band--at least, I assume not. Rather, I'd like to note the recent passing of Alan Eames, a cool beer scholar. He roamed the earth in search of beer, and he sent back a missal every now and again when he found something. That has nothing to do with these folks, but the name kinda made my mind wander a bit.

    But, right, the Eames Era (the band). Pretty songs that break down at what have to be described as utterly cute times. The breaking down thing is intentional; the hooks are always in place. And while often quite involved, those hooks are as sweet as anything out there.

    If these folks were a bit more, well, refined, I'd say they were a perfect fit for Minty Fresh, those Chicago-based purveyors of extreme pop. But maybe a slightly more eclectic label like Merge would be better. I dunno. I'd be proud to have them on my roster, if only because I got to hear their new stuff first.

    www: http://www.theeamesera.com

    Grand Champeen
    Dial T for This
    (In Music We Trust)

    I've been listening to a lot of Big Star lately. And so this kind of crafted, almost-British Invasion stuff hit the spot. Grand Champeen does add a bit of the modern style, but mostly this album takes me back.

    It was a good time for music, though. Sometimes nostalgia is a perfectly good thing. Grand Champeen plays rock and roll like it oughta be, whether it's channeling Alex Chilton or Rick Nielsen.

    Oh yeah, there's a big chunk of the Trick in here ("Wounded Eye" sounds like a hit the boys from Rockville would die to play these days). A nod and a wink and big ol' hook. With plenty of guitars. Indeed, nostalgia can be a wonderful thing.

    I was too busy having a good time to figure out if Grand Champeen was much more than a time machine from the early-to-mid 70s. In the end, it doesn't much matter to me. Summer is coming soon, and this puppy will be doing heavy rotation. Monster smiles.

    In Music We Trust
    15213 SE Bevington Ave.
    Portland, OR 97267-3355
    www: http://www.inmusicwetrust.com

    Jessie and Layla
    (Second Shimmy)

    Jessie and Layla (Collins) sing and play in that offhandedly cool way that Liz Phair used to way back when. There aren't any songs about blow jobs or redistribution of various body parts, but the sound is similar (especially to whitechocolatespaceegg, the Phair-est of them all, IMHO). Specifically, lots and lots of sound and very little in the way of space between the lines.

    This sort of heavy-handed production usually makes an album sound dreadfully pretentious, but it works here precisely because the songs are relatively simple and the Collins sisters don't oversell them. The tracks tumble out one after another, kinda like the mint juleps at Churchill Downs on Derby day.

    If none of this is making sense, imagine that Wilson Phillips wrote songs with the slightest bit of bite and then let their producer run wild in a lush, psychedelic landscape. Kramer's final mix probably didn't hurt, either. If you didn't guess, Second Shimmy is something of the reincarnation of Kramer's old Shimmy Disc label. I'm pretty sure someone else owns the old stuff, but when you're releasing stuff like this and Rope, Inc., there's no need to look back in anger. Except, perhaps, at my dingbat literary cliches. Ouch.

    Second Shimmy
    www: www.secondshimmy.com

    Meanest Man Contest & Languis

    Meanest Man Contest performs a mellow blend of electronic collage and hip-hop. Nothing complicated--at least in the rhymes--but the flow simply doesn't stop. The six tracks here are hypnotically good, the kind of stuff that worms its way into the consciousness without remorse.

    Languis is a more "traditional" experimental electronic act. Much message, with the emphasis on "mess." But there's a nod or two to conventional pop music on "Maxie Flowers," which sounds like 60s chant pop (my term for those "gang vocal" tres-white songs that were more chanted than sung) imported through a modern electronic filter. The other three tracks are kinda out there, though "Lullaby" does have a sweet heart.

    I love splits that don't quite fit together. It's so much fun to compare and contrast, and there's plenty of room for that here. I'm curious what each of these bands would do with more space.

    1660 Fell St. #3
    San Francisco, CA 94117
    www: http://www.sneakmove.com

    The October
    ...Bye Bye Beautiful

    I haven't heard as nice a balance of the goth and the rock in quite a while. When you get this far into both, it's impossible not to hear the Doors as well, but I suppose that goes without saying.

    The guitar in these songs has a ringing quality that is infectious. Kinda like that early (but not too early) U2 sound. And that sound combined with the slightest lilt in the vocals and the rock-solid rhythm section is what really brings this all together for me. These songs aren't particularly innovative, but they move nicely and have some stellar anthemic hooks.

    And, yeah, the production is almost perfect for the songs. I'd have added just a bit more muscle in spots (I see no need for sparseness anywhere here), but that's a quibble. And anyway, a little dynamic tension never hurt.

    Beauty with strength. Hey, playing Cure-ish songs as if you were the Cult is a pretty good idea. Wish I'd thought of it myself.

    P.O. Box 1213
    Calvert City, KY 42029
    www: http://www.theoctober.com

    The Old Ceremony
    Our One Mistake

    Piano-driven rock with plenty of asides. You might imagine Firewater as fronted by, well, Django Haskins. Less verbal one-upsmanship and more musical side journeys.

    I know the name Django Haskins, but then, I spent more than seven years in North Carolina. You can get spoiled, walking into a club in Durham or Chapel Hill or Raleigh on a given night and hearing a true visionary. Haskins could use a little tightening in the lyrics, but he and his friends trip their way through a freewheeling set of tunes here.

    Are they aping the Beatles? The Stones? The Dead? Lambchop? G Love? Not exactly. There are plenty of elements from all over the musical universe, but the Old Ceremony mixes things up in its own inimitable way. I know it might be hard to imagine, but these folks really do manage to create their own sound out of the bouillabaisse of the cosmos.

    Okay, so maybe that's overstating the case. Nonetheless, this is a solid album, one that ought to keep growing on me for some time to come. Hearing discs like this make me want to go home.

    Sonablast Records
    115 W. 29th St.
    Suite 1102
    New York, NY 10001
    www: http://www.sonablast.com

    The Scruffs
    Pop Manifesto

    Hard to argue with the title. Playing songs that sound like they were written by Alex Chilton and produced by Nick Lowe, the Scruffs have embraced a certain retro feel on this disc.

    But it's only a surface thing. These days you can't stick to one or three sounds if you're a cool alternapop band. The Scruffs are only too happy to use touchpoints from the 60s to last week. And hey, when used tastefully that sort of thing really sounds good.

    There's a slight preciousness to some of these songs--I know I keep saying this, but I'd like more oomph and less ahh, if that makes sense. And it feels funny to be saying that, because some of these tunes really pull out the throttle. More, please.

    Maybe I'd like to hear these folks pare down their influences to one page. A couple of the songs here sound a lot more crafted than blistered. Nonetheless, there's an awful lot here to like. A nice manifesto, to be sure.

    www: http://www.thescruffs.com

    Signal Hill Transmission
    An Empty Space

    When you're something of a basher band, it might be a mistake to open up with a subtle (if still quite active) soft burner like "Pipe Dream." Not for these guys. Rather, it simply prepares a listener for the coming wonderment.

    And Signal Hill Transmission is, in point of fact, much more than a basher band. The songs here do share a certain sense of urgency, that kinetic feel that almost always pricks up my ears, but the band is almost always under control.

    The sound is very professional. Not quite shiny enough for the majors, but in the same ballpark. It works here. These are songs that manage to be important without sounding exceptionally pretentious.

    And the subtle shifting of gears helps to make this something more than a nicely tuneful rock and roll album. More specifically, the shadings on this album help to tell the story of today. I suppose that is pretentious, but Signal Hill Transmission manages to pull it off with style. It ain't bragging if it's true.

    P.O. Box 2644
    Los Angeles, CA 90078
    www: http://www.signalhilltransmission.com

    Tammany Hall Machine
    Amateur Saw

    More seriously rocking piano music. Well, Tammany Hall Machine relies a bit more on its guitars, but the piano is front and center often enough. And these boys do rock. Seriously.

    Did I mention the trombone? The vibes? For band geeks (sorry, but it takes one to know one), these guys like to make things really loud. Reminds me a lot of a looser, more vicious version of ELO. Good hooks with a ferocious bite.

    Some of those hooks do get a little lost in the mix. The sound here can be slightly flat (as in texture, not key), but that is resolved somewhat when the volume is increased. And, truly, this is music best appreciated loud.

    I've finally figured out the theme for this issue: throttle pop from the 70s. Or, you know, folks influenced by the folks who were influenced by Abbey Road. Tammany Hall Machine fits right in with that description, and I have to say, it does this sound proud. Don't forget to play it loud.

    12511 Shady Acres Dr.
    Buda, TX 78610
    www: http://www.tammanyhallmachine.com

    31 Knots
    The Days and Nights of Everything Anywhere

    Very mathy, very noisy and firm believers in the art of collage, the members of 31 Knots have charted a course that's pretty much inimical. Wags might say no one else would want to sail these seas, but let's ignore the haters, shall we?

    Reminds me of June of 44, except a whole lot messier. The most interesting thing to me is how the band has trended more and more toward deconstruction as its career has lumbered on. Most telling (perhaps about me) is how I've liked the band more and more as its songs devolved.

    In a way, this music is the ultimate extension of the indie rock revolution. With no apparent fear and a fervent desire to make music with as strong a visceral appeal as possible, 31 Knots works its ass off to craft these pieces into songs that sound like they were dropped off the top of a building.

    You know, it works. I like the hyper-aggressive approach on this album. You'll either love it or run screaming...and don't apologize for where you stand. 31 Knots isn't apologizing for anything.

    Polyvinyl Records
    P.O. Box 7140
    Champaign, IL 61826-7140
    www: http://www.polyvinylrecords.com

    Also recommended:

    ARC Trio Triptych Mirror (Circumvention)
    Rick Helzer, Justin Grinnell and Nathan Hubbard get together and do the "traditional" jazz thing. That is, written songs and not overly improvisational to boot. Guess what? They do it very well. Not like you couldn't have guessed that from the names, but still...

    Autumn Shade Ezra Moon (Strange Attractors Audio House)
    Spooky Americana that often sounds like it was recorded underwater. Jes Lenee sings as if she's been holding her breath for five minutes before finally getting something out. In other words, this is the sound of resigned desperation. And if you've got the stomach for it, it's quite fine.

    The Campbells The Kid from Gillette, Wyoming (self-released)
    Hard rockin' Americana...kinda the polar opposite from Autumn Shade. These songs bang around and scrape paint off the bottom of the boat. The Campbells throw in just enough melody to give these tunes the consistency of uncut bourbon.
    www: www.campbellsrock.com

    Michael Dessen Lineal (Circumvention)
    I love the sound of a well-played trombone. There's a mellow power in the instrument that lights up my soul. If I could go back, I'd have picked that rather than clarinet. Maybe when the kids get a little older. Anyway, Dessen has written eight songs that show off his fine tone and technique--and he makes the trombone do some things I've never heard before. Very nice.

    Drats! Welcome to...New Granada, the Rock Operetta (self-released)
    Songs inspired by the 1979 film Over the Edge, which is billed in the liners as a "sensational cult film of teenage rebellion." Guess it didn't do as well at the box office as The Warriors. If the decidedly warped music here is any guide, however, Edge might well be the better flick. Have to Netflix that puppy.
    www: www.dratslive.com

    Brad Dutz When Manatees Attack (pfMENTUM)
    Exceptionally crafted fare, stuff that's just as playful as the title would suggest. Dutz is a percussionist, and rhythm predominates, but his sides play oboe (and its close cousin English horn), clarinets and cello. So you get a nice variety of sound textures in the melodies. This album is chock full of music that would work perfectly with cartoon shorts...as if that art form is still getting much practice these days.

    The Heirs of Rockefeller/The USSA Pleasuredome The United States of Entitlement (MT6)
    The bands (a term I'm using extremely loosely here) alternate tracks, but that's not exactly obvious on first listen. Both artists are of the beat-driven electronic sort, and both are essentially one person. Both also like to trip around all over place once they've established some killer beats. I can do that. With pleasure.

    Heroin U.K. Heroin U.K. (MT6)
    Loud, messy and often obscene...just my style. There's really not much to do but leap into the mood here, and if you can't, too bad. Pure, unrefined energy with a heart of slime.

    Hiding in Public What Lies Ahead (self-released)
    Somewhat somber tunes played with more than a little nod to the Americana. Imagine Whiskeytown playing Leonard Cohen. Except, well, not nearly so eloquent. Kinda interesting, though, if you're in the mood for it.
    www: www.hidinginpublic.com

    Joshua Marcus Make/Believe (Contraphonic)
    Self-consciously rootsy stuff. Not spirited enough to be bluegrass, but with banjos predominating nonetheless. Jad Fair and Neil Young teaming up to play stripped-down versions of old Bill Monroe songs? Not really, but that's in the ballpark. Sometimes I wish Marcus would just let loose, but these often-deconstructed tunes are certainly intriguing.

    Myo Process (MT6)
    Ah, yes, the "Jon's listening to that weird stuff again" moment. Myo plays (if you want to call it that) stuff that sounds something like electronic whitewater. Lots of burbles and crackles and scratching about. I can't even begin to tell you how cool this is...and the fifteen people out there who agree with me probably already know about it. Oh well. Made me happy, anyway.

    The N.U.R.B-S. Sui Generis (Nonrational Records)
    The N.U.R.B-S. (that's not a typo) often sound a lot like electronic music, but the instrumentation is straight power trio: guitar, drums and bass. These boys do a hell of a lot with that, though. I couldn't get my head around everything I heard, but the music sure did make me pay attention. Have to come back to this one someday.

    Juan Carlos Quintero Las Cumbias...Las Guitarras (Innerknot)
    Rambling through a variety of Latin folk sounds (as he is wont to do), Quintero has made an album that goes down effortlessly. You could play this as background music, but then you'd be missing out. Listen between the lines and you get much more.

    The Tiny Starring Someone Like You (Eyeball)
    Extremely affected pop music...the sticker on the front says "for fans of Kate Bush and Regina Spektor." Yeah, I guess, though the Tiny wraps itself up in its own little word even more than those women. I like this in small doses, and no, I wasn't tempted to use a pun there.

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