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 #284 reviews
The Atari Star
Yet another line in the proof that shows Chicago is, without question, the center of the musical universe. The Wind City has more musicians playing just about every sort of music under the sun. I'd move there in a second except that my wife thinks that DC's winters are too cold--that and Bell's just pulled out because of some beer distributor dispute.
And while I'm not sure that the Atari Star is yet a member of the estimable Chicago pantheon, it boasts a single songwriter and a cast of eight...lots of different sounds blending into raucously catchy tunes. One of the members specializes in handclaps, which ought to tell you all you need to know.
All the disparate elements flow together almost seamlessly, borne along by the nearly ecstatic energy flow. These songs don't rush, but they never flag, either. Even the more contemplative of the bunch have an insistent internal clock.
There's a lot going on here, and that lends a welcome complexity to these songs. It took me a few minutes to really get into what I was hearing, but once there I didn't want to leave.
The Crooked Mile Home
A few guys from Washington state who play nicely punchy country songs. More country than Americana--if you're familiar with Blue Earth-era Jayhawks, these guys are in the same ballpark. Well, kinda, anyway.
I'm not trying to qualify that, really, except to say that these boys have a real nice feel for what they're doing, and there's no reason to tar them with a "sounds like" tag. They are themselves. These songs are more than strong enough to stand alone.
Good singing and stellar guitar work. The rest is very nice, but those two elements really sell the stuff for me. There's a fine back porch feel to the arrangements and production, though the sound is sharp enough to shift focus when necessary. That's a sweet combination.
And the writing is top notch. These songs tell a raft of great stories through the eyes of some compelling characters. This disc will stay in my car all summer, and probably for a good deal longer after that.
Je Suis France
Prog jam rockers who (sometimes barely) refine their excessive tendencies into something resembling songs. I'm not sure I'd want to see a show, as I have very little patience with the whole jam concept (in my twisted world, recorded improvisations are great, but live ones are tedious), but this disc is interesting.
As a case in point, take the second song on the album, "Virtual Heck." It opens with a grandiose Krautrock feel, vamps through some even more pompous riffage and then fistfucks into something that sounds like an early Uncle Tupelo song (the closest song I can put it to is "If That's Alright," though that's by no means a perfect match).
This sort of adventurous songwriting is interesting, though I suppose it ceases to be refreshing when you realize that almost anything might be coming down the pike. What saves these folks is that, by and large, the genre bending and reducto ad absurdum approach to structure serve a greater master. In short, the pieces work.
It helps to have an appreciation for good old fashioned space music, of course, in addition to familiarity with most of the sounds of the last 30 years (or so). Patience is a virtue. And if you let this album do its work, you just might leave smiling.
Too Many Days
Speaking of acquired tastes...Jesus Cristo! Imagine a technologically-advanced Daniel Johnston, with a regular voice. The music and ideas, though, they're out in that same insane part of the universe.
Korein seems to write songs he hopes will annoy people. How else to explain titles like "Writhe Sally Writhe" (which is, in fact, something of a fractured homage to "Long Tall Sally"), "Love Is for Pansies" and "Vagina Dentata Assembly Kit"?
The songs themselves are wild mishmashes of sound and ideas, many of which don't exactly match up. Korein likes to throw lots of noise elements into the palette of his assembled sounds, and most of the time those work quite well with his incisive, if minimalist, guitar work.
I dunno. I thought it was fun. I'm not sure I came across any deep meaning, but the noise (and I use that term advisedly) made my ears happy. Ear candy for deconstructionists, I suppose.
The usual sort of cut-and-paste electronic stuff I hear from Mush. The usual high quality, as well. Loden actually focuses on fairly conventional song construction, and the result is something like Air on steroids.
Air with serious beatwork, too, I suppose. But Loden does traffic in that sound of the ether on its melodic side. There's an awful lot going on in the rhythm section (whether "real" or assembled), though, and that takes these songs to a different corner of the universe.
I kept hearing distinct stories in these songs, which is what you might expect from folks who adhere fairly closely to regular songwriting conventions. Don't expect lyrics, of course (though there are voices here and there), but let the music, um, do the talking.
Insistent and elegiac at the same time. That's a bitch of a combination, but it works quite well here. An album that works for both the amygdala and the frontal lobes.