Welcome to A&A. There are 14 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 #288 reviews
Drzhivegas is a Van Halen for this generation. Well, it could be. I doubt these guys are going to break like that (almost no one does), but it seems possible to me. Just like Van Halen took all the catchy bits of 70s arena rock and dolled them up with a wildman singer and (truly) revolutionary use of the guitar, Drzhivegas drops stellar riffage (from almost every side of rock) on top of unreconstructed disco beats, bouncy bass lines and, yes, vocals courtesy of a blonde-mopped wildman. To be sure, the similarity is one of attitude and not sound.
Drzhivegas seems to really have hit upon something here. These are serious boogie workouts augmented by loud and crunchy guitars and plenty of soul. Many have tried to fuse all these crowd-pleasing sorts of music--the best, to my ear, was Bootsauce's 1990 effort, The Brown Album--but by the end of those albums there was a palpable feeling of exhaustion. It's hard work making ultra-catchy tuneage.
This album sounds utterly effortless. It is a party record, pure and simple, though the lyrics are often slyly clever. The overall sound is sharp, but the bass is nice and round. And Frankie Muriel's vocals aren't the smoothest around, but he sells these songs with aplomb, not unlike a certain Diamond Dave did 30 years ago.
I know I'm gonna regret the Van Halen reference, but it still makes sense to me. These guys have style. The band sounds as if it doesn't have a care, and so you get nine pop/rock/r&b/disco raveups imbued with pure pleasure. My teenage throbbing desire, indeed.
By the Sword
Another dose of modern no wave pop from these freakazoids. I still can't get my head around everything these folks are trying to do, but I have to admit I like it a lot.
Much of the allure resides in the ultra-tight rhythm section. While everything might (and often does) go to pot, the percussion, bass and (occasionally) rhythm guitar keep the songs locked in.
Which is how you can sound tight and astoundingly loose at the same time. I think that might be the secret of why these folks appeal to dorks like me. Even the madness is calculated, I guess--and it works well enough to make me smile.
Oh, hey, I just picked up on something of a Meat Puppets reference--1980s Meat Puppets, mind you. Free Diamonds make little pretense to sophistication. These folks merely make music of the most maddening sort.
Gringo Star EP
The boys may hail from the Atlanta area, but this music is much more western in origin. The country and blues references have more of a California than red dirt feel, and the piano pop constructions (even if the songs themselves are driven by guitars) are tres-L.A.
Every once in while, though, there's a bit of ragged harmony (or somesuch) that just screams Athens. The full production sound boosts these songs out of the speakers with strength and purpose. In other words, this stuff sounds great.
Good songs, good playing, good production. Six songs are nice, a full-length would be nicer. Gringo Star bears watching.
16 Words CD5
The "16 Words" are: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." Those are the lyrics of the song. There are also samples from the Prez himself, all thrown together into a vaguely martial existential pop song. As anti-war songs go, this is one of the most brutal in its power.
Lying liars and all that, but Guryan doesn't really dwell on that aspect. She simply puts the song out and lets the listener figure out what's going on. It's not subtle, but neither is it obvious. Quite a fine tune.
The other song is "Yes I Am," a 2001 song from a previous album. It's more of a Dusty Springfield-style chick rocker, dolled up very nicely. These two songs make me most interested in hearing what else Guryan is up to these days.
Rock N Roll
Hawk sticks to mid-tempo rockers (so, um, 80s rock and roll). That does lend a certain sameness to some of these songs. On the other hand, if you ever wondered what Loverboy might have done if it hadn't discovered the power ballad, then this album might tell you.
Probably not the reference these boys would like, but this reminds me a lot of that first Loverboy album. Lean, stripped down rock and roll that never gets out of line. Can that actually be rock and roll? Yeah, I think so.
The production gives the guitars just enough oomph to carry the day. Otherwise, the mix is fairly spartan, letting the songs themselves do most of the work.
And they do. The lyrics entice a few wry smiles, but the real pleasure here is the simple nature of the music. There's nothing complicated in the writing, and Hawk doesn't hide behind studio tricks. The boys just play rock and roll. Or rock n roll. Whatever.
On the Move
Blissed-out punk pop...just skip the first song, okay? It's not bad, but it just doesn't set the table properly. The second track, "Dance With Me," would be much more appropriate. But I don't need to get into a sequencing digression or anything...
Ben Weasel had his hands all over this (including, specifically, the sequencing--ouch!), and this does fall into his territory. Ephemeral, perhaps, but when the chords are this muscular and the hooks this sweet, ephemeral can last a lifetime.
There's just enough oomph in the production to kick these songs into pop heaven. Not Mass Giorgini style by any means (though his punk wall of sound would probably suit these songs as well), there's plenty of room to breathe here. Makes the songs sound like old friends.
And if my enthusiasm doesn't flag, they might well be lifelong buds. The Leftovers don't do anything but play exceptional punk pop. The kinda stuff that makes one happy to be alive.