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 #285 reviews
May 2007
  • Boy in Static Violet (Mush)
  • The Chris and Joylene Show/Pupa's Window A Family Portrait split CD (Beechfield)
  • The Hero Cycle Lakes and Ponds EP (self-released)
  • Lopside When You're Finally Through Being Responsible (self-released)
  • The New Rags Take Jennie to Brooklyn EP (Silent Stereo)
  • No Second Troy Narcotic (self-released)
  • One Left Wayfaring (self-released)
  • Palomar All Things, Forests (Misra)
  • Saturna Some Delicious Enemy (self-released)
  • *Sons Viracochas (Fractured Discs)
  • Astrid Swan Poverina (Minty Fresh)
  • Syrup Syrup (Feedback Symphony)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Boy in Static
    Violet
    (Mush)

    Minimalist electronic pop by Alexander Chen. Well, electronic with plenty of guitar and such. Chen isn't so much married to his sound as he is to the idea of the song.

    That is, he's not at all abstract when it comes to how his songs work. They pretty much hew to the pop construction ideal, if you allow for the odd bit of stretching here and there.

    And while I'd classify a lot of the background noise as experimental, Chen makes some really pretty music. These are songs for savoring, not necessarily pondering. I like it when someone can challenge convention even while sticking to it.

    I guess some would call that rocking the boat while you're still in it (or some other cliche), but I dunno. I just like the way this stuff sounds. It's almost achingly beautiful. And then your heart breaks. Just like it should.

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


    The Chris and Joylene Show
    Pupa's Window

    A Family Portrait split CD
    (Beechfields)

    Two Baltimore bands sharing one drummer (who doesn't normally play with either, if I read the liners right). And it's kinda hard to call Pupa's Window a "band," since Michael Nestor pretty much does everything (except, you know, the drums).

    The Chris and Joylene Show play pleasantly involved music, fine pop songs that tend to spin around a particular theme. Not quite so complex as, say, Floating Opera (an obscure reference, but what the hell), but good enough. Light tunes with just enough kick to satisfy my wandering mind.

    I love Pupa's Window. It is precisely my sort of geeky laptop pop. Too clever by half and melodic to the point of being cloying, there's just something addictive about these songs. Very cool.

    A good split. These bands contrast well with each other, and the combined contributions make for a fun album. Quite nice now that the winter is finally threatening to make itself scarce.

    Contact:
    The Beechfields Record Label
    P.O. Box 6732
    Towson, MD 21285
    www: http://www.thebeechfields.com


    The Hero Cycle
    Lakes and Ponds EP
    (self-released)

    Five songs from some nice Vermont folk. Fine, softly bashing tunes. I suppose this is more "rock" than "pop," but I'll let you decide. I'm not that particular, myself.

    The key for me is quality, and the songs here are simply showered with the stuff. It took me about fifteen seconds to glom on to what these folks are doing, and my enthusiasm never wavered. I guess that immediate infatuation makes this more "pop" after all. But it's hardly ephemeral.

    I'd be curious to see if the band's energy could hold up through an entire album. Probably. There's more than enough craft and elan here to carry the Hero Cycle through just about any travail.

    Contact:
    www: http://music.hiddenshoal.com


    Lopside
    When You're Finally Through Being Responsible
    (self-released)

    Speaking of minimalist electronic fare that doesn't strictly adhere to pop song construction...okay, that's a cheap opening, but Lopside kinda asks for it.

    Because there are songs here. Sometimes they're hidden within some sort of protective noise layer, but they're there nonetheless. The noise isn't white; we're talking more samples and found sound. But it tends to obscure rather than enlighten.

    I think that's cool. This is music for pondering--at great length, with a couple top shelf gin and tonics, I'd say--and not for enchanting a prospective bedmate. Well, unless your paramour happens to really dig abstract sound. Then this might send you two into paroxysms of ecstasy.

    Which reminds me of the time a radio DJ friend of mine dedicated some Einsturzende Neubauten to "my honeybunch," but I fear I'm way off the track here. Then again, the only thing to do with Lopside is get off the track. And don't worry about when you get back on.

    Contact:
    10726 Woodbine St. #1
    Los Angeles, CA 90034
    www: http://www.lopside.net


    The New Rags
    Take Jennie to Brooklyn EP
    (Silent Stereo)

    Tom Merrigan on Rhodes and vocals and Andy Pierce on drums. The rock duo can often be a maddening trip through the limitations of sound. Or it can something of a liberating experience. You might reference the White Stripes; I'm more of a Flat Duo Jets kinda guy.

    Either way, the key is to play as energetically as possible. As long as the songs stay in motion, it's a lot harder to notice that there's only a drum kit and an electric piano. The New Rags know this and fill each of the six songs here with raggedy hooks and plenty of vavoom. The slowest song is a peppy midtempo, and most of the pieces here simply race by.

    Which makes for a fine (if short) set. The New Rags have a fine handle on the whole duo thing, and these 60s garagey songs are the perfect antidote to a cloudy day. This disc is guaranteed to raise your spirits.

    Contact:
    Silent Stereo Records
    28 Elizabeth St.
    Jersey City, NJ 07306
    www: http://www.silentstereorecords.com


    No Second Troy
    Narcotic
    (self-released)

    Melding together all sorts of "serious rock music" sounds--many of them from the late 80s and early 90s, when indie rock trended toward the intense--No Second Troy manages to make an album that ought to kick in some nostalgia for geezers like me and still prick up the ears of the kiddies.

    I don't know why Aztec Camera keeps popping into my head, but the rhythm guitar work here does remind me of that sorta thing. There's also more than a bit of the Unforgettable Fire U2, though the production smooths out more of the rough edges.

    Do people still play music like this? I mean, many people? I haven't really heard it in a while. No Second Troy does whip out some nice piano bits and garage breaks to update the sound. but even so I keep going back to the mellower side of Peter Gabriel and, well, Mike + the Mechanics (though without the dead solid perfect hooks).

    I dunno. I can't really put my finger on it, but I like this disc. There are lots of little things that sound cool to me, and the band has sewn all that up into a solid sound. Interesting stuff.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.nosecondtroy.com


    One Left
    Wayfaring
    (self-released)

    One Left has changed up its style a bit over the years, but the guys have settled into a fine groove. These laid-back travelogues (of a sort) go down smooth and satisfy immensely.

    The songs range the world ("Girl from Montreal," "The Road to Santiago," "Scandinavian Girl," etc.), though they're mostly love songs with locales sorta tossed in. That's not a criticism, really. These are rock songs (or, perhaps, country-blues-rock songs), not travel scholarship.

    This album reminds me a lot of Dire Straits or, perhaps even more so, the Notting Hillbillies. I think these guys devotion to the roots of rock and roll is better integrated into to the sound, but that rock-steady beat and smooth sound is certainly reminiscent of Knopflerian panache.

    The feel is key here. I found it impossible to resist the easy chair, and after a couple songs I stopped worrying about it. I mean, if One Left wants me to kick back, relax and enjoy some good music, who am I to protest?

    Contact:
    www: http://www.oneleft.com


    Palomar
    All Things, Forests
    (Misra)

    Ooh, give me shimmer pop. With a really keen dark edge. Palomar likes its melodies sweet and slightly complex, with the aforementioned shadings. There's often a vague sense of doom hanging over everything, though it never really materializes into anything specific.

    But the tension is nice. It helps to assuage my guilt at falling in love with such gorgeous hooks. Damn, these folks build hooks into the verses as well as the choruses. It's an embarrassment of riches, but somehow it never becomes cheesy.

    Quite the opposite, actually. The complexities underlying the music become clearer as the album goes along. A second listen reveals a whole lot more than the first. That's when you know you're on to something spectacular.

    It's not a crime to make pretty music. But when you make pretty music with a soul, then you've really done something. Palomar did that, and all we have to do is listen.

    Contact:
    Misra
    1501 Powell St.
    Suite H
    Emeryville, CA 94608
    www: www.misrarecords.com


    Saturna
    Some Delicious Enemy
    (self-released)

    Sophisticated sleaze. Hair slicked-back, chords-ringing-over-cowbell, fuzzy gang vocals on the chorus kinda stuff. Oh, and just enough electronic accouterments to make it sound big time. Shit, works for me.

    This is precisely the sort of music that, to my ear, ought to have mass appeal. But whenever anyone tries something like this on the big stage (Girls Against Boys, for example), it falls flat. Maybe it's the fact that this isn't just ear candy, that there's some substance behind the tasseled pasties. If I knew what the problem was, I'd be running the world's most successful record label.

    There are moments where Saturna ventures into the fringes of Loveless territory. That's not exactly commercial nirvana, though skipping through distortion has a certain sonic appeal to my ears. It's pretty, kinda like watching a woman walk through fog. You imagine more than there is...and by using your mind, you get attracted that much quicker.

    But this isn't all mind games. Saturna's stuff is most pleasurable. And you won't have to go to the doctor three days later.

    Contact:
    www: www.saturnamusic.com


    *Sons
    Viracochas
    (Fractured Discs)

    This information comes straight from the website: "*SONS is a Chapel Hill/Carrboro band featuring current and former members of Boston's SUNTAN (Kimchee Records) and A Problem of Alarming Dimensions." I'm not sure how you can be a Boston band and an NC band, but then, BC is a member of the ACC these days, so maybe that's they explain it...

    What a stupid little tangent. But the music inspires it. *Sons plays that languid, ringing sort of pop I associate with New Zealand (Straitjacket Fits, particularly in "Down in Splendour" mode). The press notes mention Swervedriver, among others. It's all good, 'cause we're talking about the same damn thing.

    Music that drives your mind to new and interesting spaces, even while it blisses out the pleasure centers. Pretty stuff that manages to inspire, well, inspiration. Or something more insipid perhaps, judging by the dross of this review.

    Oh well. I dug it, even it didn't exactly inspire genius to flow from my fingertips. The ride is well worth the journey. Or something like that.

    Contact:
    Fractured Discs
    260 Severin St.
    Chapel Hill, NC 27516
    www: www.fractured-discs.com


    Astrid Swan
    Poverina
    (Minty Fresh)

    The sort of piano-based, proto-Bacharachian pop stuff that Minty Fresh is known for propagating, only more so. Astrid Swan hasn't heard a variation on the "do-do-do" background vocals she doesn't like. Despite this seemingly silly affectation, she imbues her songs with a sense of drama so overwrought you'd guess she did her dissertation on the effects of Wagnerian sledgehammer blows to the brains of audiences.

    So, you know, I think it's great. This album drips with excess, but Swan's voice itself is such an ordinary and simple tool that she comes close to making these songs feel like campfire ditties. Almost.

    But not quite. It's impossible to ignore the bombast behind those vocals, and really, who would want to? I mean, it's great fun to get overrun by a flood. As long as you don't die or anything.

    This is kind of the opposite of Tori Amos. Amos tortures her voice while playing relatively conventional music. Swan kicks out some seriously contorted songs and then adorns it with straightforward singing. I think I like this better. In fact, I know I do. Pretty sweet.

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


    Syrup
    Syrup
    (Feedback Symphony)

    Somewhere between Grand Funk and Kiss (though certainly leaning a bit toward the latter) lies Syrup. Here's a line that I think sums up the boys nicely: "Don't give up that 'tang, just shake that funky thing." It's not lewd, exactly. In fact, there's a certain gentlemanly air about it. If, you know, you were inclined to think that way.

    Of course, there are lots of pile-driving riffs (played with just a hint of twang) and enough energy to power most developing nations. The sort of thing that inspires teenagers to roll down their windows, crank up the stereo and start gesturing incoherently. At least, that's what I did 20 years ago back in New Mexico. I see kids doing it here in D.C. today, so I'm guessing it's something hormonal.

    It's a little sad to see a thirty-something guy with two kids in the backseat doing the same thing, I guess, but I've never been one to worry about shame. If the music moves me, it moves me. And Syrup, well, it moves, period.

    Puerile? Um, sure. But so much fun (especially when turned up to eleven) that you don't even notice. You can't take these boys seriously, but then, who would want to do that? Don't think about Syrup; just enjoy it. Anything else would be a waste.

    Contact:
    Feedback Symphony Music
    P.O. Box 10911
    Knoxville, TN 37919
    www: http://www.feedbacksymphonymusic.com


    Also recommended:

    Arlon Bennett Summer's Voice (Red Sea)
    Pointedly earnest soft rockin' country fare, very much in a James Taylor vein. The playing is wonderful, understatedly so. Bennett's songs have no subterfuge, but they do have some wit and subtlety. Not edgy in the slightest, but enjoyable nonetheless.

    Bruford Rock Goes to College (Winterfold)
    Bill Bruford, Annette Peacock, Allan Holdsworth, Dave Stewart and Jeff Berlin. A prog-jazz supergroup, if there ever was one. And it was, for a short time in 1979. This BBC recording of a 42-minute television concert is the second of two performances this group ever gave. Few people try to make music like this, and even fewer succeed. A pitch-perfect testament to the glories of youth and what was to come.

    The Cringe Tipping Point (Listen Recordings)
    (Generally) uptempo rockers played with restraint. Kinda geeky in its craft and presentation, the Cringe has created an unusual feel for this sound. Skinny ties meet indie rock attitude.

    Earthless Rhythms from a Cosmic Sky (Tee Pee)
    Hey, if the Mars Volta can sell a million records...anyway, here's another spacey, proggy, "we are so out there" band that has blistered together a three-song full-length effort. And, y'know, it doesn't sound anything like TMV and is pretty durned good to boot.

    Terry Garland Whistling in the Dark (Silvermoon)
    Terry Garland is a fine blues guitarist. He's equally comfortable with acoustic and electric, and most of his songs feature both. This is his first "all-original" album, and he plays it cool. There's a fair amount of piano and the odd special guest (among them harp virtuoso Mark Wenner), but this album, like all his others, rises on the strength of Garland's playing. And, like all the others, this one rises real high.

    The Gena Rowlands Band Flesh and Spirits (Lujo)
    The Gena Rowlands Band always manages to impress with its astounding range and provocative sounds (both musical and lyrical). Probably too mannered for its own good, this stuff is nonetheless impossible to ignore. Sometimes the expression gets a bit shrill, but like I said, you can't get out of its way.

    Headquarters O and O EP (self-released)
    Four punchy tunes that have the advantage of being tweaked by Kramer. Whether these guys are wallowing in the 60s or headed for the future, they're always loud and always fun. A goofy little aside.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.hqmusic.com

    Karrie Hopper An Unusual Move (Nobody's Favorite Records)
    Hopper's voice is thin and not particularly precise. She writes pretty acoustic songs, and her imperfect pipes are the perfect instrument for them. Fractured tales, fractured songs...a complete success. Further proof that soul matters most.

    Charlotte Kendrick North of New York (self-released)
    Rather the opposite of Karrie Hopper, Charlotte Kendrick possesses a sterling voice, and she plays tightly-crafted (and even more tightly-produced) songs. The soul at the core, however, is just as impressive. Bright, fun Americana. Makes me feel like the road will always be open.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.charlottekendrick.com

    Little Aida Mad Country (Second Shimmy)
    Another month, another sister act from Second Shimmy. And, you know, it's pretty damned good, too. Tessa and Susannah Rubenstein are more of a regular mellow modern rock outfit (y'know, on the same side of the universe as Mazzy Star) with a side of contemplative psychedelia. It's not hard to hear Kramer's atmospheric mix, but I dig that, too. Well done.

    Morningbell Through the Belly of the Sea EP (Orange Records of Gainesville)
    An arty little trio that plays jaunty pop tunes. There are lots of little things floating around, but once you get to the minimalist hooks, happiness has set in. Not a cloying bit of amusement, but true pleasure. Let it bore into your brain.

    Oblio Joes Let's Decompose and Enjoy Assembling! (self-released)
    Another of those piano-based rock and roll bands that seem to be sprouting up faster than the dandelions in my yard. Oblio Joes takes great care to craft a lush sound, but the playing itself can be rather ragged. It's an interesting bit of counterpoint, and it works most of the time.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.obliojoes.com

    Of God and Science Of God and Science (Detach)
    There are many different sounds to the Albuquerque scene, but Of God and Science hews fairly closely to the contorted pop side of things (which is probably a good business decision, if nothing else). There's plenty of kick in these pieces, along with an easy-going groove that dulls down the occasional pretentious nature of the songs. Cool stuff.

    Luther Russell Repair (Ungawa/Adrenaline)
    More piano and acoustic guitar pop rockers. I really do like this sound, and Russell's ventures into the roots side of things adds something new to the mix. This one won't bowl you over, but rather it quietly impresses more and more as it plays on.

    Richard Trosper The Ocean CD3 (Public Eyesore)
    One track, which is a suitably ambient (is that term even used anymore?) and sounds something like an abstract rendering of the oncoming sea. Subtle and creative, parts of this stuck in my brain for days after hearing it.

    Yukon Mortar (Terra Firma)
    Four guys from the Baltimore are who don't mind mixing the math and the excessive. Precise guitar licks give way to screamed vocals and some seriously inventive dissonance. There's a sort of "ten years gone" feel to this (it would have fit in much better then), but I'm happy to indulge my passion for the Iceburnic idiom.


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