Welcome to A&A. There are 13 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 #287 reviews
July 2007
  • Art in Manila Set the Woods on Fire (Saddle Creek)
  • At War with Self Acts of God (Sluggo's Goon)
  • Eloine Green Stump/Short Community/Sagebrush/Deimos (Digitalis Industries/Unread/Stentorian/Public Eyesore)
  • Fridge The Sun (Temporary Residence)
  • Grace Basement New Sense (Dren)
  • Hillstomp After Two But Before Five (Fuzzmonster)
  • Reed KD The Ashes Bloom (self-released)
  • Leyode Fascinating Tininess... (Eastern Development)
  • KJ Sawka Cyclonic Steel (Wax Orchard)
  • Alina Simone Placelessness (54-40 or Fight)
  • Josh Small Tall by Josh Small (Suburban Home)
  • Snowglobe Doing the Distance/Me and You (Makeshift/St. Ives)
  • Various Artists A Purge of Dissidents (Ipecac)
  • Old friends: New releases from artists previously reviewed in A&A
  • The 7-inch file: Tiny slabs of pleasure
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Art in Manila
    Set the Woods on Fire
    (Saddle Creek)

    The latest project from the Omaha half of Azure Ray, Orenda Fink. This is something of a follow-up to her solo effort Invisible Ones, as she has populated Art in Manila with folks who toured in support of that disc.

    The music isn't that different. Fink still travels in opalescent pop country, tripping through shimmery sounds and bounding through raucous thoughts. And she does it so damned well.

    The band is stellar, and it seems to have coalesced into something more than a backing unit. There's a sense of community in the arrangements and the verve of the playing. This may be Fink's project, but her mates have plenty to say, too.

    At its most mundane, this disc is merely brilliant. At its best, it is mind-bogglingly transcendent. This is the rare album that gets the excitement going early and then follows through with enough heft to last a lifetime.

    Saddle Creek
    P.O. Box 8554
    Omaha, NE 68108-0554
    www: www.saddle-creek.com

    At War With Self
    Acts of God
    (Sluggo's Goon)

    This album is dedicated to the memory of Piggy (Denis D'Amour of Voivod). That got my attention right off the bat. And then the disc started.

    A lot more proggy (perhaps I really mean "wiggy;" hard to say) and somewhat less intense that Voivod (what isn't?), At War With Self plays largely instrumental pieces that blast through the edges of the hard rock universe. One piece might remind you of the Fucking Champs, the next one Hawkwind.

    Which leads to my main quibble: This is stellar music, but I really couldn't put my finger on anything resembling a band sound. That's never a dealbreaker with me, but when you're doing a lot of unconventional things, it's often best to leave a touchpoint. These guys are so confident that they don't.

    Like I said, that's fine with me. I'll take the good music every time. There's always room on my shelf for talented musicians tiptoeing a high wire--especially when they make it to the other side.

    www: http://www.sluggosgoonmusic.com

    Short Community
    Green Stump

    (Digitalis Industries/Unread/Stentorian/Public Eyesore)

    Eloine is a quartet led Bryan Day, who is Public Eyesore. Day is heading out on tour soon, and he wants to make sure folks know he has discs out there. He tells me that he's reissuing these discs, but whether or not they have the official PE imprimatur, I'm sure you can get them through him.

    And the average Public Eyesore fan (whatever that means) will want to do that. Judging by the variegated PE releases, Day's taste in music is eclectic, but he tends to favor contemplative improvisational fare and really messy Japanese stuff. Eloine is straight out of that first category.

    Contemplative, but not dull. Each piece on each of these discs has at least one--and generally many--exceptional ideas. Day's intriguing use of percussion and (occasionally) guitar often sounds like rats scraping at the inside of your brain. And once these pieces get in there, you'll never be able to get them out.

    I'm not sure how all this translates live (I love this kind of thing when safely within my house; not so much on stage), but these albums are proof that some folks not only know good music, they know how to make it as well.

    Public Eyesore
    3803 S. 25th St.
    Omaha, NE 68107
    e-mail: sistrum1@hotmail.com
    www: http://www.publiceyesore.com

    The Sun
    (Temporary Residence)

    The original home of Kieran Hebden, Adem Ilhan and Sam Jeffers. While Hebden and Ilhan have made somewhat larger names for themselves in recent years, this return to the Fridge works for the first time in six years is hardly an exercise in nostalgia.

    First, because not that many people have heard of Four Tet or Adem, and even fewer are aware of Fridge's output. Second, because this is the work of three guys who are still young (a lot younger than me, anyway) and have plenty to say.

    Fridge tends to lay down some sort of percussive layer and then play off that. Sometimes, though. Ilhan's folkish-guitar leads the way. In any case, the guys play off each other beautifully. Each song is a series of actions and reactions--and sometimes it's hard to tell which is which.

    Well-orchestrated chaos. This album sounds wonderful, and the richness of that sound really complements the music. Fridge resides in a different world, to be sure, but it's quite a nice one to observe.

    Temporary Residence
    P.O. Box 60097
    Brooklyn, NY 11206
    www: http://www.temporaryresidence.com

    Grace Basement
    New Sense

    Kevin Buckley (with a few strategically-placed friends) is Grace Basement. He does a more-than-passable version of the pop one-man band.

    Not one of those emo things, either. I've got nothing against that sort of thing, really, but this is really straight pop, with just a hint of roots. Pretty hooks, jaunty verses, slightly-raggedy vocals. All that good stuff.

    This album begins nicely, but it really takes off after a couple songs. Kinda like Buckley wanted to warm up the room first, so that his manic energy wouldn't scare folks off. The whole frogs-in-boiling-water thing--even if that's a myth.

    Buckley, however, is anything but a myth. He's got real skill as a writer, and he imbues his songs with just enough of an off-kilter perspective to shear off the sharp edges of craft. Ease in and let Buckley take the reins. He'll steer you right.

    Dren Records
    P.O. Box 22496
    Philadelphia, PA 19110
    e-mail: drenrecords@yahoo.com
    www: http://www.drenrecords.com

    After Two But Before Five

    Two Oregon guys who sound like they wish they'd been born in the Delta. Or, at least, some twisted Pacific Northwest version of the Delta.

    These tracks were recorded live, and most of them are something along the lines of blues standards. Henry Kammerer does a nice electric rendition of Robert Johnson-style rural blues picking (with slide, natch), and John Johnson mans the buckets. PVC. Food-grade. With what appears to be a frying pan or Dutch oven on top.

    If you ever saw the Flat Duo Jets as a duo, you might begin to understand this. There's a certain manic energy to a guitar and, um, percussion duo, and it helps to play down and dirty music. The less refinement, the better.

    Hillstomp is anything but refined. Let's hope they never get it in their minds to clean up and become respectable. Because this world is too pretty as it is. We need all the muck we can get.

    Reed KD
    The Ashes Bloom
    (Dirty Laundry)

    It's been a long time since I've heard someone try to sound like Simon and Garfunkel. It's not just that Reed KD plays simple songs written with voice and guitar on the verse and overdubbed harmonies and extra instrumentation on the choruses. The whole sound has that fullness-with-echo that, particularly, the first three S&G albums have.

    KD (Reed? I dunno) is no Paul Simon. His songs aren't as perceptive. But he's got a nice feel for the hook, and in truth, this stuff stands up reasonably well to the comparison. I like folks who are willing to make their songs stand up for themselves. There's not a lot adornment here, and these pieces work quite well.

    More pretty than insightful (Am I repeating myself? Sorry), but not insipid. The songs flow along nicely, every once in a while registering a fine moment. A real pleasure to hear.

    I just can't tell how much this is going to grow on me. It might become one of my favorite albums, or I might forget about in a couple months. I wish I had a feel for that, but I don't. Oh well. I'll take my enjoyment now and see where that takes me.

    Dirty Laundry Records
    214 Ramada Lane
    Aptos, CA 95003
    www: www.reedkd.com

    Fascinating Tininess
    (Eastern Development)

    Eastern Development is Prefuse 73's imprint (Herren himself guests as Savath y Savalas), which makes a whole lot of sense. The songs are less collages and more cohesive pieces (just about everyone calls this stuff cinematic, and I can't disagree), and there are lots and lots of pretty moments.

    And yet, there's plenty of the trippy and experimental fare that folks might expect. Imagine the Flaming Lips (of recent vintage) hooking up with Stereolab and dropping some slinky--if occasionally disjointed--beats, and perhaps this will begin to make sense.

    It took me a half an hour to write the above two paragraphs. That's a long time for me, and part of the problem was figuring out a way to explain this stuff properly. I think I'm gonna give up. It's great. That's enough for me.

    And if it isn't enough for you, well, you know the pedigree. If that doesn't impress you, then there's not much more I can say. Otherworldly just doesn't do this justice.

    KJ Sawka
    Cyclonic Steel
    (Wax Orchard)

    There's techno for the dance floor, there's techno for the geek and then there's the rare techno that manages to be both experimental and accessible as all get out.

    Alright, some of these pieces are probably a bit diffuse for the floor. They're still packed with punchy beat work and the occasional solid vocal. Sawka doesn't reinvent the sequencer or anything, but nonetheless, these pieces are most impressive.

    Mostly a case of good music done well, I suppose. There isn't anything surprising here, just an obvious attention to craft and an inquisitive mind wandering into new scenarios.

    Oh yeah, and it sounds nicely chilly. It fits with today's music, just as it would have fit in just fine 15 or 20 years ago. Well turned out.

    www: http://www.waxorchard.com

    Alina Simone
    (54-40 or Fight)

    Alina Simone has a bit of that Ani DiFranco affectation to her delivery. I'm not a fan of that. Her songwriting, though, is another story completely.

    The songs themselves are more along the lines of Joni Mitchell or (particularly) Alice Despard, perfectly encapsulated episodes with fully fleshed-out characters and story arcs. Simone's occasional wailing actually helps, making these songs seem a bit more unformed than they really are, which lends a greater emotional impact to the pieces.

    By and large, the instrumentation is sparse. Guitar (electric, most often), percussion (sometimes electronic, sometimes not), bass and maybe a little piano or other keyboards. Simone's voice is always front and center, and even though I'm not in love with her singing style, that's the sort of arrangement these songs need.

    Perhaps this album sounds a little more important than it is. I don't think so, though. Simone demands attention from the very start, and most of the time she earns it. A most solid first full-length.

    54-40 or Fight!
    P.O. Box 1601
    Acme, MI 49610
    www: http://www.fiftyfourfortyorfight.com

    Josh Small
    Tall by Josh Small
    (Suburban Home)

    At first listen, music doesn't get much more simple than this. Josh Small whips out his banjo or guitar or resonator (guitar) and sings along. Of course, from time to time there's some bass or drums or something, but again, at first listen this stuff sounds primitive.

    That's the secret to its effectiveness, I think. The songs themselves are anything but "classic" folk or bluegrass. The folks at Suburban Home detect a 70s vibe, and I heartily concur. Sometimes it's more Elton John than James Taylor, but that sense of solid melody and harmony rolls through.

    Oh, yeah, and there's the Fender Rhodes that drops in from time to time. That kinda completes the sound. In short, Small writes great songs and then has the presence of mind to present them in the best light possible.

    Hardly simple, really. There's more sophistication here than on any other album I'm reviewing this set, I'd say. And yet, most of the time this sounds like Small is singing out on my back deck. That, friends, is genius.

    Suburban Home Records
    P.O. Box 40757
    Denver, CO 80204
    www: http://www.suburbanhomerecords.com

    Doing the Distance
    Me & You

    (Makeshift/St. Ives)

    Doing the Distance is a 2004 album by these guys (newly re-issued), while Me & You is a new vinyl-only (except for the promo CDs, I guess) release that consists of odds, ends and just plain doodles.

    Of course, Snowglobe doodles are still most fascinating. I'm not entirely sure of the point of putting all this stuff out here like this (and I can't find the press notes, of course), but then, I kinda like the mystery of it. I suppose all you really need is good music, after all.

    And if there's one thing you can be assured of with Snowglobe, it's mind-bogglingly good pop music. Noodly and doodly at times, but almost always unspeakably gorgeous and yet still grounded. You know, like if you walked into your local and Kate Beckinsale (or George Clooney; take your pick) sat down next to you and just hung out for an evening.

    That has to be the strangest simile I've penned in some time. Nice to be inspired, I guess. Snowglobe is good for inspiration, not to mention whatever else ails you. Large doses are much better than small.

    Makeshift Music
    P.O. Box 40043
    Memphis, TN 38174-0043
    www: http://www.makeshiftmusic.com

    Various Artists
    A Purge of Dissidents DVD/CD
    Art and storyboards by Dalek
    Animations by Jesse Olanday
    Soundtrack by Haze XXL


    Haze XXL, of course, is another name for Tom Hazelmyer, the man behind AmRep and who was mixed up in just about everything that made the upper Midwest punk scene of the 80s so goddamned great. Which explains why folks like Buzz Osbourne and Grant Hart played with him.

    Oh, and why folks like Jon Spencer and David Yow dropped vocals for some singles. That's just a hint at the mind-bending music (everything from pile-driving terror to frontal-lobe-seizing keyboard bits) contained here.

    But then, of course, there's the art. The movies. Whatever. I've watched them twice, and I haven't figured them out yet. They're not surreal and they're not realist...I can't remember anything from art appreciation, so I can't really explain much except to say that there's a lot of carnage surrounding something that looks like Mickey Mouse after he spent a night partying with Hunter Thompson. Thompson, not Ralph Steadman--these pictures are computer-precise.

    As for the story, I dunno. I couldn't quite figure out if there was symbolism in anything or if the story (such as it is) should be taken as is. In the end, I watched it again. And that didn't help, either. But it sure looked cool and sounded better. Let's hope projects like this are the future of entertainment. Beats the shit out of Shrek 10: The Donkey Is an Ass.

    P.O. Box 1778
    Orinda, CA 94563
    www: http://www.ipecac.com

    Old Friends:
    New albums from artists previously reviewed in A&A

    Copperpot WYLA? (EV Records)
    Copperpot spins and his pals drop the rhymes. Three tracks with KRS-One (yes!) and the rest populated with the likes of Prince Po, the Time Bandits, Rodney Braintax and more. There's only one true instrumental, which is a bummer for me, but the beats here are more than worthy of praise.

    Moses Guest Best Laid Plans (Aufhepen/Montrose)
    Less sparse and a bit more "jam-y" than I've heard from Moses Guest before, this one plays a bit more like the Dregs. Which is cool, especially since almost no one is trying to make music like this anymore. Not so much a new direction, I suppose, as simply a refinement. In this case, refinements are nice.

    The Stone Coyotes Dreams of Glory (Red Cat)
    Still trying to work the boost from Be Cool (Stone Coyotes were the inspiration for the band in Elmore Leonard's book), the Stone Coyotes haven't quite come to terms with the fact that making solid rock and roll isn't a blueprint for success. Especially when it's a band consisting of a couple and their grown son. That's just not sexy, no matter how good the music is. But damn, the music is good. Too bad life just ain't fair.

    Woosley Band Follow Fire Exit Signs+The Thundermug Eulogies (self-released)
    See the review above. Sean Woosley and the band have made plenty of albums, all of them good. They've got that midwestern rock thing down, and they do it well. And I just don't think the major labels are ever gonna come calling. But if these boys (or any of the Woosley side projects) come by your town, you'd better stop by and have a listen. It just might restore your faith in rock and roll.
    www: http://www.woosleyband.com

    The 7-inch file:

    The Awkward Stage/Young and Sexy split 7" (Mint)
    I love bands with theme songs, and so the Awkward Stage kicks out "The Awkward Stage," a nicely-strummed bit of power pop--with a cool 80s-style bass line. As for Young and Sexy, I've never quite gotten into the folks. Their brand of eclectic pop just doesn't jibe with my sensibilities. "Hello Sonny" is a nice bit of craft, which puts it right in with the band's previous efforts. Doesn't do it for me, but those previously enraptured ought to be most pleased.

    The Dead Betties Malls of the Midwest 7" (self-released)
    Two songs from the band's new album (reviewed below). I think they're also the versions on the album--I can't detect any major differences. But hey, blistering indie pop sounds so cool on a 7", I just had to give this a mention.

    Derek Higgins + Dino Felipe Properties 7" (Public Eyesore)
    Very subtle stuff, the sorta thing that doesn't always work on a single. But these two short pieces ("Ribbons" is the flip) do quite nicely. Higgins and Felipe drop some cool mutated electronic work onto this steaming slab of pink. In fact, part of the fun is watching the circular flamingo go around while the blips and pops and (occasional) orchestration erupts from the speakers.

    Nick Krgovich One Woman Show 7" (Mint)
    Eclectic pop that does speak to me. Krgovich reminds me a lot of Stephin Merritt (Mr. Magnetic Fields, etc.) in the way he drops wry lyrics into 80s-esque doodles of minimalist pop. There are no soaring bits of joy, but rather intimate snippets that are more profound than they originally seem.

    The Mishaps Rock and Roll 7" (Hall Ride)
    Straight up, um, rock and roll. The sorta thing that Dirtnap has a patent on, to tell the truth. The Mishaps play just a notch below crazed, and methinks they ought to lose just a bit more control and see how that works out. Solid stuff, though. Can't argue with three chords and volume.

    The New Flesh Dog 7" (Terra Firma)
    Throttlerock played through a Loveless-esque distortion filter. These boys have the throb, but they've chosen to wallow in the mess instead. At first, I thought that was a bad idea. But after hearing both songs, I'm reconsidering. This is some glorious noise.

    Ovo/Smut split 7" (Public Eyesore)
    Now, this is the stuff of wee vinyl. Absolutely wacked out tunage squeezed into a really tight space. This is meant to be played at 33, but first time through I listened to the Ovo at 45 and really liked it. It's a lot meaner at 33. Take your pick. As for the Smut, there are eight (yes, indeed) blasts of agonizing destruction. Think "You Suffer," except more of a no wave feel. And, you know, some of these pieces get close to a minute in length. My eardrums are bleeding.

    Temp Sound Solutions Pain Based Lifeform 7" (Terra Firma)
    This is also meant to be played at 33, and it's much better that way. The TSS boys are in fine form, blasting out power metal riffage in the finest punk style. Raggedy, loud and majestic. Fuckin' hell, man, is this not why we listen to music? The slightest dose of this ought to raise yer testosterone levels a couple hundred percent. Ladies, this slab will grow hair on your chests.

    Also recommended:

    Airiel The Battle of Sealand (High Wheel)
    Boy, the early 90s are back upon us. Airiel brings to mind all the distortion-drenched excess of Britpop from that era, throttling plenty of pretty material with sonic excess. Hey, it works.

    Arizona Fameseeker and the Mono (self-released)
    The press sticker references Deerhoof, and while Arizona generally keeps things under a tighter rein, I can go with that. Imagine Richard Thompson filtering his ideas through modern Americana and the pop of the last 20s years. And then really wigging out. Quite the adventure.
    www: http://www.arizonatheband.com

    Arks The International (High Wheel)
    Nothing like Americans going Dutch. Imagine the Refused and the Ex getting together (not exactly a difficult concept to master) and dialing the mayhem down to a minimum. Highly conceptual and rigorously rhythmic. If you like thinking about your beats, this ones for you.

    Black Before Red Belgrave to Kings Circle (self-released)
    Mannered pop that doesn't quite rip itself free from the fetters of its craft. Nonetheless, this stuff is awfully pretty and not without charm. I'd like to hear a little...more, if you know what I mean. That extra bit of oomph would go a long way for me.
    www: http://www.blackbeforered.com

    Sexton Blake Plays the Hits! (Expunged)
    He's not bullshitting, either. Sexton Blake is actually Josh Hodges, but whatever the name, this is a set of 70s and 80s hit songs played by a one-man outfit. I'm pretty sure everyone out there knows all these songs (at least, everyone my age), and these warped renditions are something akin to spectacular. Hodges Air-y take on Air Supply is nothing short of spectacular. This is what they should have been playing at my 20th high school reunion.

    The Dead Betties Nightmare Sequence (Cordless)
    Three guys who sound like, well, three guys playing really loud. Raucous and infused with a certain idiosyncratic indie spirit--if Sleater-Kinney were guys, perhaps, though not quite so incendiary. Good for getting the blood flowing, in any case.

    The Original Mark Edwards The Doom Loop (Princess)
    Raggedy laptop pop explored with all the eccentricity of a one-man outfit. Not really laptop in sound, I suppose, but certainly in the collage-style spirit. These songs sound assembled, but that doesn't really detract from their charm. Loopy fun.

    Kleveland Kleveland (self-released)
    Buzzsaw rock topped off with the sneer of Stephanie Smith. And hey, Smith has the swagger to sell these otherwise mediocre tunes. There's nothing spectacular going on, but Smith has some serious charisma. And I don't even know what she looks. I'm just talking about what I can hear.
    www: http://www.klevelanddmusic.com

    Last November All the Gory Details... (self-released)
    Last November wants to be a buzz band. This album is tricked out for notice from major labels. It's easy to hear hints of the likes of My Chemical Romance, though LN frontman Luke Pilgrim tends to keep things a bit more mellow. These boys have a nice sense of melody. I need to hear more to make a more complete judgment.
    www: http://www.lastnovember.com

    Mancino Manner Matter (self-released)
    Lush pop played in a minimalist style. Mancino throws almost everything into the pot, but the sound is almost gaunt--the sort of sonic dichotomy that tends to intrigue me. I'm thinking I'll warm more to this in time.
    www: http://www.mancinomusic.com

    Maserati Inventions for the New Season (Temporary Residence)
    Basic rock instrumentals that trend toward the introspective. And by "basic" I mean wandering all over the rock landscape. A joke, in other words. Macerate goes just about everywhere on this album, from atmospheric soundscape to some real blasting off to spacey trips. Okay, so the 70s had to happen for these folks to make sense. Fine by me.

    Glenn Mercer Wheels in Motion (Pravda)
    Pretty, midtempo stuff. Mercer doesn't push any envelopes with his tuneage, but he's fairly wry writer and he delivers these songs with something of a bon mot bonhomie. A little cheesy, from time to time, but considering where he's coming from, this stuff is surprisingly unannoying. After a while, I really started to dig it.

    Nagaoag Yama Labam A (Eh?)
    Another of the Bryan Day collection, this one a collaboration with Luke Polipnick. A highly disconcerting set of guitar lines, vocal evocations and percussive wanking. Not for the faint of stomach, though noodly enough to excite extreme fans.

    Nihil Communication We Are Violent (Edgetone)
    Ah yes, the "out there" portion of this month's reviews. Andre Custodio is responsible for the noise produced here, and he's done a pretty good job with it. Pulses, waves and just a spot of white noise here and here. Subsonic rumblings that just might sterilize cockroaches. Good stuff.

    Shelf Life Duct Works (Public Eyesore)
    Brian Day leads this quartet of creaky noisesters (two of the others are also in Eloine) through the belly of a boat on a long ocean crossing. Lots of snaps, crackles, pops and screaks. I don't really get the sense of a larger message here, but these pieces sure sound cool. The sound of ancient machines.

    Solar Fire Trio Rise Up (Foreign Frequency)
    Tenor sax, alto sax and drums, often played at their most annoying. Thing is, all this noise does make sense. You don't even have to wait the songs out. Yeah, it's the most heinous cacophony, but the ideas are right there on top. Under no circumstances should this be played in the company of epileptics.

    Teletextile Care Package (self-released)
    Pamela Martinez's vocals are a bit too precious and dramatic, but she sure does sell these well-mannered songs with style. Perhaps a bit too much craft for my liking, but pretty cool nonetheless. These are some cool folks.
    www: http://www.teletextile.com

    Various Artists The Trials of Daryl Hunt soundtrack (Young American)
    The soundtrack to an HBO documentary on the death penalty. A nice cross-section of artists here, from Ras Kass and Kev Nice to Portastatic to Mark Kozelek to Califone to M. Ward. I'm pretty sure this isn't exactly an uplifting flick, but this collection is surprisingly sunny. A fine collection.

    The Vincent Black Shadow Fear's in the Water (Bodog)
    Bright, thick pop rock with luscious female vocals. Think Dance Hall Crashers without the harmonies...and maybe a little less guitar crunch. Ultra catchy with just enough power to set the hook. I really must emphasize that Cassandra Ford is just about everything you want in a rock star.

  • return to A&A home page