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.|
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A&A #287 reviews
Art in Manila
Set the Woods on Fire
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.
At War With Self
Acts of God
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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.