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 #289 reviews
September 2007
  • Kasey Anderson The Reckoning (Terra Soul)
  • Diet Kong Diet Kong (Onus)
  • Little Name How to Swin and Live (Sleepy)
  • The Mabuses Mabused! (Magpie)
  • Leigh Marble Red Tornado (Laughing Stock)
  • Mother and the Addicts Science Fiction Illustrated (Chemikal Underground)
  • Prints Prints (Temporary Residence)
  • Josh Roseman New Constellations: Live in Vienna (Accurate)
  • Sea Dragons Sea Dragons EP (self-released)
  • Siberian With Me (Sonic Boom)
  • Max Stalling Topaz City (Blind Nello)
  • The Umbrella Sequence Events (Princess)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Kasey Anderson
    The Reckoning
    (Terra Soul)

    Kasey Anderson could write songs like Tom Petty or Steve Earle. In fact, he does. Almost. And then, right before the rousing (or bitterly melodic, depending on the song) hook kicks in, Anderson subverts the whole thing one way or another.

    Which is why he's Kasey Anderson and not a renowned singer-songwriter. Thing is, I like his shtick. I also like Petty and Earle, who are two of the great songwriters of the last 30 years. Anderson isn't quite in their league, but he says interesting things in interesting ways. And he writes songs that are almost anthems.

    What a nice grumble he has. Really. And he uses it singing as well as talking. There's an attitude to these songs that is pretty tough to beat.

    Just like Dead Roses, this album could be a kick-out-the-boots foot-stomper, if not for Anderson's idiosyncrasies. But the very instincts that subvert his commerical appeal make this multifaceted album something well worth hearing.

    Terra Soul Records
    725 NW Flanders St.
    Suite 402
    Portland, OR 97209

    Diet Kong
    Diet Kong

    Keith Gladysz and Fred Sargolini with a few friends here and there (the Ess brothers, Alan and Vin, are also listed as band members, though they appear on only about half the songs). While I'm tempted to refer to this as laptop pop (this album was seriously assembled), there's not a whole lot of pop going on.

    Rather, what we have here is kind of a modern version of Die Warzau or something, hyper-catchy vocal lines sneered over snappy electronic tuneage. Rock, not pop. With killer hooks.

    At times, this stuff gets positively Strokesean, which is both impressive and more than a little silly. This isn't garage fare. Almost the opposite. Truly a genre-blurring effect for the ages.

    The main element here is fun. There's nothing ponderous or particularly profound going on. Just a good time spread out over a fabulous musical tableau. Nicely done.

    Onus Records
    315 Flatbush Ave.
    Suite 505
    Brooklyn, NY 11217
    www: www.onusrecords.com

    Little Name
    How to Swim and Live

    Lee Barker is Little Name. He's from somewhere in England, which doesn't really matter. This is Britpop of a sort (Belle and Sebastian-y, I guess), but it really has the feel of the obsessive American one-man-band sort.

    First, the man adores Bacharachian melodic lines. Hell, don't we all? And he doesn't make things too pretty. There are some nicely-chimed harmonies here and there, but rarely does a song enter treacle territory.

    Rather, this has the feel of a well-crafted lark. All the pieces are perfectly placed, but they don't sound forced. This album moves along like a warm spring breeze, all wafty and the like.

    Sometimes it's nice to relax into a comfy pillow and let the day drain away. Little Name knows all about it and is ready to wash your cares away.

    Sleepy Records
    7831 Acorn Bank
    Pasadena, MD 21122
    www: http://www.sleepyrecords.com

    The Mabuses

    I threatened this last month, and in fact, I've done it. The Mabuses get a full review. And damned if it only took me 20 listens to pull the trigger.

    In truth, I'd decided after about five, but the other 15 simply confirmed my second (and third and...) impression. This is mordantly obsessive pop with more bits and pieces floating around in it than Pamela Anderson's chest. I'm not entirely sure why I didn't fall in love at first listen, but then, the best albums never hit me the first time.

    Naw, this one takes a little getting used to. Mabuses have this habit of sewing two or three songs together into a single piece. Nothing unusual about that, except that the parts assembled rarely have a lot to do with each other--sometimes even when smashed up together.

    The bouncy, bounding sound on this disc truly sells the songs properly. The music and lyrics are quite ambitious, but what comes out strongest is the fun these folks are having. Their music isn't quite conventional, and they're really damned happy about that.

    So am I. This might well be my favorite album of the year. I'll have to listen to it another hundred or so times and then decide. There's a task I can definitely embrace.

    Leigh Marble
    Red Tornado
    (Laughing Stock)

    Emotive Americana played with strident attention to rhythm and attendant aggression. Leigh Marble starts off raucous and keeps the energy up throughout. The tension intensifies when Marble slows things down--a sign that the songs are really working.

    Rowdy but refined, I suppose. Marble throws plenty of rock and roll into his rootsy delivery...I suppose another Tom Petty reference wouldn't be amiss, though Marble's approach to this style is anything but southern.

    There is an underlying bitterness to some of the lyrics, but Marble generally comes off as hopeful. Hoping, anyway. Even if things aren't going well now, the future might be different. Maybe

    Marble channels too much energy to make these songs dreary. Even the slower ones have plenty of punch. This album crackles. That's always nice to feel.

    Mother and the Addicts
    Science Fiction Illustrated
    (Chemikal Underground)

    To reference two of the bands listed on the promo sticker, Mother and the Addicts is nothing less than Roxy Music fronted by Mark E. Smith. The music is all over the place--most often giving off a vague new wave vibe. You know, bouncy with lots of keyboards and the occasional guitar.

    No harmonies to speak of, of course. There are background vocals, but they really don't harmonize much. These songs have enough hooks in the music without worrying about finding them in the singing.

    I really like the sound of this album. The production is just lush enough to evoke an 80s feel, but there is a modern edge that places these songs in the now. One more check in the "Yesssss!" column.

    One of those albums that will either immediately charm or utterly annoy. Kinda depends on what you think of the Fall or P.I.L. or the like. Dissonant vocals paired with tight melodies have always made me smile, and so I thought this album went down as smoothly as single-barrel bourbon on ice.

    (Temporary Residence)

    Glorious, bounding pop that never lets up. The songs themselves skip about in terms of tone and feel, but the hooks are uniformly stellar. That said hooks are complicated and sometimes a wee bit understated only made this album that much more fun for me.

    Prints can take a moment or two to get to the point. Along the way, you'll get a full dose of stellar musicianship, but I can understand if a certain bit of frustration kicks in as well. When one song immediately lights into effervescent wonder and the next wigs out for a while before dropping into a similarly stellar groove, it can be hard to feel the flow.

    But it is there. This album needs its interludes. They provide something of a palate-cleanser, a chaser to sweep the excess sugar from your taste buds. And anyway, if you listen hard enough even those chasers have plenty of sucrose.

    This album never relents in energy, but its tonal shifts do require patience. Those who complete the journey will be handsomely rewarded. Those who do not are doomed to read nothing but "pop stars in trouble" notices for the next month.

    Temporary Residence Ltd.
    7 W. 22nd St.
    Floor 4
    New York, NY 10010
    www: http://www.temporaryresidence.com

    Josh Roseman
    New Constellations: Live in Vienna

    Josh Roseman leads a septet. He plays trombone and fiddles with electronics. His septet plays music. Jazz, perhaps. But music most definitely.

    If this is jazz, it's an unusually wide-ranging vision of the form. There are plenty of electronic beats, keyboard riffles and reggae riffs to dissuade one from the notion that this might be jazz. And yet, I'm inclined to call it just that. After all, jazz has always been a mongrel (in the best sense of the word) music form. It has assimilated elements of just about every form of music known to man. Makes jazz almost as inscrutable a term as "rock."

    And that's cool. I think most jazz traditionalists would disavow this stuff, but Roseman is simply following the dicta set down by Miles Davis's Bitches Brew and the rest of the fusion movement. That he's fusing ska, reggae and other Caribbean grooves, rather than prog rock, into his jazz doesn't make this any different. Roseman is taking jazz to places it doesn't normally see. I like that.

    Absolutely addictive. It's hard for me to comprehend that a "music lover" (however that might be defined) wouldn't like this. Roseman and his band have set forth a mighty album. Let the ideas keep flowing.

    Sea Dragons
    Sea Dragons EP

    Five bits of rockin' roots stuff that feels so nice. Nothing complicated; just jangly guitar riffs banged out over a laid back rhythm section.

    It sounds so simple...when done right. Sea Dragons are much more rock than, say, Americana--in fact, they're pretty much all rock, except for Daryl Thurston's raggedy vocals. And that combo is most appealing, as I've noted in a number of the reviews in this issue.

    Nothing wrong with solid rock and roll, especially when it's played as seamlessly as it is here. I don't know if I'll remember this tomorrow, but it sure gives me a warm feeling tonight.

    28-A Windsor Place
    Brooklyn, NY 11215
    www: www.theseadragons.com

    With Me
    (Sonic Boom)

    I've said it a thousand times (though it feels like a million): If you're gonna play far-reaching, pretentious music, you've got to follow through with quality. Siberian heads out to the edge with the first note of this album, and by and large it fulfills its ambition.

    I'd like to hear a bit more quiet and loud here. Siberian sticks mostly to the middle sonic dynamics, though it does shift through intensities nicely. Still, you can't compare this to The Bends (as the sticker on the cover does) when these guys don't go from a whisper to a scream in .5 seconds.

    It all sounds so pretty, though. Siberian does create some lovely pictures, and it fleshes out its ideas with admirable clarity. Highly crafted, but not entirely obvious about it.

    A little more abandon, and Siberian would really have blown me away. As it is, I'm rather impressed. I'll be keeping an ear out for these boys.

    Sonic Boom Recordings
    2209 NW Market St.
    Seattle, WA 98107
    www: www.sonicboomrecordings.com

    Max Stalling
    Topaz City

    Not too long ago, I reviewed Stalling's live album. I liked it a lot, but I hadn't heard any of his studio albums, so I had no way to hear if the understated feel of the live sound was his regular style or an anomaly. I mentioned that in the review, and Stalling was kind enough to send me his fine back catalog. Sometimes it's good to be in this business.

    Each successive album, Stalling has been adding new elements while dialing back on the production sound. He branches further afield from straight country music on this album, borrowing liberally from folk, blues and other traditions even as he adds more organ, dobro, horns and other instruments.

    Which moves him ever so slightly from the "Texas country" fold and toward that more nebulous genre of "americana." I don't know if it was the experience of recording and listening to the live tracks, but Stalling has achieved the loosest and sparsest feel of his career on this album--despite, as I noted, much more of a "large band" instrumentation on many songs. There is also the fact that this is Stalling's first studio album in almost five years. A progression of sorts had to be expected.

    I think this is Stalling's most realized album. He's always been a great songwriter with a sly delivery, but I think he's coming to understand the best way to present his stuff. That this album is a stunner comes as no surprise (my wife tried to steal it from me before I even reviewed it), but the depth and restraint of the sound here is most impressive. Wonderful and then some.

    P.O. Box 721144
    Dallas, TX 75372-1144
    www: http://www.maxstalling.com

    The Umbrella Sequence

    Doesn't matter if we're talking upper or lower midwest, there does seem to be a high percentage of kids in the middle of America who have discovered the joys of excessive art pop.

    The Umbrella Sequence hails from Minneapolis, and there is a certain Semisonic feel to some of the song construction. These are traditionally-structured songs. They just take flight from the start and blast away at conventional notions of melody and harmony.

    Oh, and then there's the line "Listening to Deicide..." It doesn't matter what comes next. Once you've said that, you're already miles outside the alt.pop universe. And, of course, you're making me laugh. I had to stop the disc for a couple minutes after I heard that one.

    I know, I'm easily amused. But these songs are wonderfully trippy bashers, precisely the sort of thing that, you know, amuses me. The Umbrella Sequence makes me smile. And there's nothing wrong with that at all.

    Also recommended:

    Bevel Phonician Terrane (Contraphonic)
    Via Nuon leads this ensemble. The music resembles pop music, but it's played with decidedly orchestral arrangements. More concerto than symphony, which only makes sense. Deliberately wonderful stuff.

    Birds & Batteries I'll Never Sleep Again (self-released)
    Michael Sempert plays existential americana. Or, if you prefer, artsy roots music. Lots of assembled electronics, and yet plenty of links to the dusty back roads. From the first track, a fairly bizarre emotive rendition of "Heart of Gold," this album announces its intention to be something different. At times, it's also something brilliant.
    www: http://www.birdsandbatteries.com

    Fjord Rowboat Saved the Compliments for Morning (self-released)
    I had to find out where these folks were from, because there were all these little hints. Toronto is the answer, and while there's nothing particularly Canadian about the busy, introspective pop fare, it doesn't sound American. It's a little too diffuse and indirect for that. Damned good thing, too.
    www: http://www.fjordrowboat.com

    The Izzys The Violent Bear It Away (self-released)
    New York boys who play raggedy blues/rock/etc. Kind of yer basic midwestern bar band (well, like I heard when I was in college in the 80s, I guess) without the midwestern part. Resolutely raucous and fun.
    www: http://www.theizzys.com

    Junior Are We Famous Yet? (Universal)
    Major label punk and sounds like it, not unlike Sense Field or any number of other solid shiny emo pop types. The hooks are solid and sweet, not saccharine. Throwaway most likely, but amusing enough to play out the last days of summer with the knob ripped off.

    Lazarus Hawk Medicine (Temporary Residence)
    Pieces that are more about the sound than the song. Lazarus crates some really amazing stuff, setting scenes unseen on this planet--or at least any part of the planet I've visited. Even after the vocals kicked in, I kept waiting for the point...or maybe that is the point.

    Martians See Red When All Seems Lost... EP (self-released)
    Six chunks of nicely-dressed meat. Lots to chew, but boy does it taste good. Thick riffage, swirling rhythms and a slightly off-kilter take on humanity. I'd like to hear something more distinctive from these folks, but there's nothing wrong with walking down a well-worn path when the view is this good.

    The Menzigers A Lesson in the Abuse of Information Technology (Go Kart)
    Tight, crafted and truly loud punk. A little more refined and deliberate than what I'm used to hearing from the Go Kart crew, but the quality is still high. I'm not sure if the boys accomplish everything they set out to do, but I think they come close. Solid, thoughtful (and truly loud) stuff never goes out of style.

    Mono Gone (Temporary Residence)
    Nine songs from five different EPs and compilations. For the completist who doesn't have the Temporary Residence Limited stuff. And, of course, anyone unfamiliar with Mono's spectacular journeys to the frontal lobes. Not trippy, but definitely mind-expanding. Mono never forsakes logic, but the structure isn't always obvious. A nice set.

    Rashomon The Ruined Map (Film Music Vol. I) (Mirrors)
    Matt Thompson put all this together and then got some friends to help out as necessary. The result is eight pieces that sound vaguely improvisatory--but aren't. The last three pieces showcase Thompson's mastery of editing and electronics. I'd like to see the film.

    Diego Sandrin A Fine Day Between Addictions (self-released)
    Continuing the singer-songwriter trend that has exploded in this issue, Sandrin plays with an assured hand and sings with an almost distracted voice. Kinda like Mark Knopfler, though with a bit more rhythm in the arrangements. The craft is a bit too close to the surface for me, but there's no denying Sandrin's gift for matching his music to his lyrics. He never forces things, instead finding some way within the craft to work out his problems. That's not as easy as it sounds.
    www: http://www.diegosandrin.com

    Sleeping People Growling (Temporary Residence)
    Wonderfully kinetic fare. The rhythm is the message, though these folks do have a melodic sense that brings to mind Rob Crow--without the vocals. After a few songs, my interest faded a notch. These boys could use a few new points of inspiration. But the energy in these songs is tough to match.

    Swivel Chairs The Slow Transmission (Transit of Venus)
    A couple of guys from the Philadelphia area who play nice jangle roots stuff but can't quite sing it. They're close, though, and so I'm not sure if the off-kilter vocals are intentional or not. They did grow on me the more I heard, and like I said, the music is quite solid. Not a bad package.

    Dan Wallace Culture of Self (Torito Bravo)
    I liked Wallace's last album, and this one sounds awfully good to me as well. Wallace is an ambitious songwriter, penning pieces all over the spectrum. There's often a folksy or rootsy undercurrent, but he's quite willing to move past first influences to paint a more complete picture. I like his pastiche approach. It gives his songs that extra shimmer. Another one well done.

    Wisely Wisely (Oglio)
    Some folks who love the kitschy pop of the 60s and 70s. Sunny, sunny, sunny and not even a cloud on the horizon. I'm not convinced of a well of depth here, but what's on the surface is so gorgeous that I'm not going to worry my pretty little head about silly things. I'll just enjoy this moment, ephemeral or not.

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