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 #290 reviews
October 2007
  • Automatic 7 At Funeral Speed (Mental)
  • Bear in Heaven Red Bloom of the Boom (Hometapes)
  • ...By the End of Tonight/Tera Melos Complex Full of Phantoms split LP (Temporary Residence)
  • Jim Connolly Time Stops to Visit.../And the Gove County String Quartet (pfMENTUM)
  • Linfinity A Manual for Free Living: Installation EP (St. Ives/Secretly Canadian)
  • Ponyno Rosa Mystica (self-released)
  • Push-Pull 3 EP (Joyful Noise)
  • Sleeper Car Love & Anxiety EP (self-released)
  • Small Arms Dealer Patron Saint of Disappointment (Deep Elm)
  • Untied States Bye Bye Bi-Polar/These Dead Birds 7" (self-released)
  • The Wannabe Hasbeens Former Trans Future Vol. 1 (self-released)
  • The White Fires of Venus Skin and Light (Corporate Nightmare)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Automatic 7
    At Funeral Speed
    (Mental)

    Automatic 7 reminds of Social D. A lot. Except that these three guys are more bluesy. And a hell of a lot more rock and roll, too.

    If I can be clear, early Social D was louder and more ragged. The major label stuff (before the complete abandonment of punk, that is) was more crafted. Automatic 7 relies on heavy duty riffage much more. These riffs are blistered at full volume and with plenty of energy, to boot.

    The best of both Social D worlds, I suppose. And I also suppose that Automatic 7 would like me to write this review without all the references to another (much moire famous) band, but the truth is that anyone over the age of 35 will hear one song here and say, "Wow, Social Distortion hasn't sounded this good in ages."

    Which is why I like this so much, I guess. It would certainly make things easier on my conscience if these boys owned their sound, but no matter where these songs come from, they're loud, tuneful and lots of fun. Turn up, tune out and let the rest of the world keep spinning.

    Contact:
    Mental Records
    2640 E. Barnett Rd.
    Suite E-331
    Medford, OR 97504


    Bear in Heaven
    Red Bloom of the Boom
    (Hometapes)

    Seven songs that sound like they were created by a couple of mutant geniuses. There's a wiggy electronic (even ambient) feel to these songs, the sort of thing that generally doesn't lend itself to a band.

    But Bear in Heaven is a band. And these intricately loopy songs are played more than assembled. Color me impressed. In the end, though, it's the final sound that matters, not how it came to be.

    And this does sound like the inner musings of a disturbed mind. There is no set "sound," as one piece might be a relatively traditional "song," while the next piece is a sublime bit of experimental whimsy. Sometimes that sorta thing shifts within one individual song. That's when you know there's something cool going on.

    It would take years to properly dissect the sounds here. Imagine if Aphex Twin was inspired to interpret 60s and 70s Pink Floyd in his own style. And that's just the starting point. I'm rather blown away. The ambition here is so far beyond what I can imagine that I simply must bow in awe.

    Contact:
    Hometapes
    P.O. Box 7563
    Boulder, CO 80306
    www: http://www.home-tapes.com


    ...By the End of Tonight
    Tera Melos

    Complex Full of Phantoms split LP
    (Temporary Residence)

    ...By the End of Tonight bashes its way through near-manic angular instrumentals. Tera Melos is just as geeky, but there are vocals. Sounds like a winning recipe to me.

    And it is. BTEOT is something of a lighthearted Don Caballero, featuring plenty of strength but also remarkable agility. These songs turn on a dime, but they make sense all the way through. I like the way these songs think.

    Tera Melos plays music that's even more intricate and involved, and the guys play it faster. The vocals tend to be used more like instruments rather than lyrical vehicles--I've always like that approach, myself. Sound at the speed of light, with added brighteners.

    If I haven't lost you yet, this album might. It's high-octane, well, music. Lots of speed, lots of power...almost a sensory overload, really. My brain is bleeding and I couldn't be happier.

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


    Jim Connolly
    and the Gove County Philharmonic
    Time Stops to Visit... (2002)
    Jim Connolly and the Gove County String Quartet (2007)
    (pfMENTUM)

    While listening to albums for this issue, I heard the String Quartet album first, liked it and tossed it in the "full review" pile. A couple days later, I listened to the Philharmonic set and did the same thing. I didn't realize I had two albums from the same artist until I sorted out the piles. These must have come in the same envelope and gotten separated.

    Which is cool. I like it when I have two validations for a given review. It means I'm not losing my mind. Yet.

    The String Quartet album is just that, a set of pieces played by a muscular string quartet. It is the newer album (recorded this year), though I'm not sure that matters much when we're talking about classical music. Classical with a hint of the avant garde, I suppose, but classical nonetheless. The melodies are often haunting, but the rhythmic passages really set this album off for me. This baby moves. Exceedingly well.

    The Philharmonic album adds clarinet, trumpet, accordion and piano to a basic string trio (violin, viola and Connolly on bass). This album (recorded in 2002) moves, too, but in a much more conventional way. This one feels like a day at the fair: playful, exciting and ultimately exhausting. Sometimes the songs run themselves into the ground. In a good way.

    It's easy to hear the progression in Connolly's writing. Where the older album is often manic without apparent motive, this year's effort is purposeful--almost stalking--in the way it moves. Both are vibrant and alive in ways that most music (of any sort) is not. Quite a two-fer.

    Contact:
    pfMENTUM
    P.O. Box 1653
    Ventura, CA 93002
    www: http://www.pfmentum.com


    Linfinity
    A Manual for Free Living: Installation EP
    (self-released)

    Dylan von Wagner has a certain way about the way he sings. Imagine a restrained Eddie Vedder with a greater flair for the dramatic. The band itself seems capable of playing just about every side of rock and roll.

    And it does on the four songs here. By and large, the pieces are piano-driven (ah, my not-so-secret weakness), but that doesn't really tie these guys into any particular sound. They can whip out a raver and they can take the slow burn the anthemic heaven.

    Well-crafted, but even more importantly, well-played. The energy level is high, and the emotional impact of these songs is substantial. A full-length would be most welcome.

    Contact:
    Secretly Canadian
    1499 West 2nd St.
    Bloomington, IN 47403
    www: http://www.secretlycanadian.com
    www: http://www.linfinitymusic.com


    Ponyno
    Rosa Mystica
    (self-released)

    Jeff Hatch is the singer and songwriter for Ponyno. He did some time as drummer for Green Ice, who passed through Seattle in the mid-80s. I'm not familiar with that band, but I'm betting these 70s-influenced country rockers don't sound much like Hatch's old outfit.

    They do sound awfully good, though. Hatch has a wonderful easygoing feel for his material, and the songs rollick and roll along. There's more than a bit of Gram Parsons in the harmonies here, but the general song structure is more straightforward pop-rock.

    Throw in a little pedal steel and organ and the sound is almost perfect. Hatch's experience-worn lyrics are wry--and often wise as well. This album has sunset written all over it. I'd like to call this a "shine on" sound, but I don't know if that makes sense even to me.

    Whatever you call it, please call it good. Ponyno is one of those projects that kinda comes out of nowhere to really impress. The sorta thing I simply can't put down.

    Contact:
    Jeff Hatch
    15841 124th Ave.
    Renton, WA 98058
    www: http://www.ponyno.com


    Push-Pull
    3 EP
    (Joyful Noise)

    Muscular and energetic (not to mention angular), not unlike the ...By the End of the Night/Tera Melos split. Except that this is nothing like that at all. Think more Minutemen than June of 44.

    A lot more tuneful, of course, and somewhat more construction-conscious than D., Mike and George. But who isn't? This is some glorious noise that happens to groove on a funky math-hardcore axis. Push-Pull is really none of those things--far too strident and sparse in its sound--but the influences are obvious. It's the final execution that's most impressive.

    These boys take solid ideas and kick them out as impressionistic works. Loud, wild and somewhat improbably technically superb. I want to know where these guys are going.

    Contact:
    Joyful Noise
    P.O. Box 20109
    Indianapolis, IN 46220
    www: http://www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com


    Sleeper Car
    Love & Anxiety EP
    (self-released)

    Another side of americana altogether. Where Jeff Hatch and Ponyno play it loose and free, Sleeper Car is tightly crafted. The results, however, are surprisingly similar.

    The songs are written to the bone, but the band's feel for the material keeps it from becoming stilted. The precise-yet-warm playing allows a listener to peel back the layers to find some treasures within the bones of the songs. Most often, that's not the recommended method of listening to this sort of thing, but it works here.

    Sleeper Car laid down six songs worth hearing many times. I'd like to hear a full-length, if for no other reason than to see if the band can find some continuity in a longer form. These songs are great, but they don't necessarily have anything to do with each other. Perhaps a longer format would allow for more filling in the spaces. In any case, this disc has me primed for more.

    Contact:
    www: www.sleepercarband.com


    Small Arms Dealer
    Patron Saint of Disappointment
    (Deep Elm)

    Much more of a pop feel than I've heard from recent Deep Elm bands, but no matter; Small Arms Dealer is awfully good.

    Just enough buzzsaw to lend a hard edge to the sound, and more than enough attitude to fill three albums. Try these song titles on for size: "Small Arms Dealer Makes Baby Jesus Cry," "Harry Houdini Says No and Proves It" and "Venkman, Burn in Hell." Oh, and "Fuck You and the Cross You Rode in On" for good measure.

    So these are true two fingers straight up punks, right? Not really. These songs have some serious hooks, even if they're somewhat obscured by the scratchy guitars. The choruses can be awfully sweet, after a ragged fashion, and the riffs themselves bounce along nicely.

    A swell package all the way around. It does require a tolerance for attitude and blasphemy, but I'm down with that. Otherwise, this stuff is muscular and tasty enough for just about anyone. Full throttle is just the beginning.

    Contact:
    Deep Elm Records
    P.O. Box 5260
    Clover, SC 29710
    e-mail: info@deepelm.com
    www: www.deepelm.com


    Untied States
    Bye Bye Bi-Polar/These Dead Birds 7"
    (self-released)

    More ineffable work from these folks. The song titles (particularly the first) ought to clue you in even if you're unfamiliar with the bruising eclectic sound of Untied States. And, even more so than usual, "bruising" is the operative word.

    "Bye Bye," in particular, is just throttling. The speed is merely mid-tempo, but the ideas and guitar work simply pound away relentlessly. The song is something of a low-motion blender, to tell the truth.

    The flip is somewhat more reserved, although that's like saying Rudy Giuliani is somewhat less egotistical than Donald Trump. It's all relative. The intensity, quiet as it is through much of the song, ratchets even higher. By the climax of the piece, the tension is strong enough to hold up the Empire State Building.

    Why all the New York references? I dunno. But the stuff is good, as usual. No, that's not quite right. It's brilliant, as usual.

    Contact:
    www: www.untiedstates.us


    The Wannabe Hasbeens
    Former Trans Future Vol. I EP
    (self-released)

    Really, really shiny pop punk rawk. And to tell the truth, this isn't punk at all. But since folks will call it so, I guess I ought to along.

    Don't mistake that rumination for a complaint about the music. If you can play pretty heavy pop rock music well, I'm your boy. And the Wannabe Hasbeens do this well. I'm a bit concerned that I'll soon burn out on the confections within this disc, but I think I can live with that.

    'Cause, you know, listening to pop is like chewing gum. And right now, these boys taste pretty good to me.

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


    The White Fires of Venus
    Skin and Light
    (Corporate Nightmare)

    After all the high energy and easy-rolling of most of the reviews in this issue, it's nice to settle into a mellow and emotionally-intense album like this one. More palliative than purgative (I always embrace my inner cheese) as far as all that goes, this album comes on like a lamb before it sears the soul.

    And I'm talking as much about the music as the lyrics. Jeff Sparks is the songwriter, and he pays as much attention to the tunes as his words. Which, in turn, makes those words that much more important.

    Funny how that works out. Resonance is a beautiful thing. The attention to the sound is similarly impressive. The songs sound like they're sparsely arranged, but most of them have a few nice little bits hidden in the margins. Treats for the discerning listener--treats that enhance, rather than distract.

    Quite simply well done. The Ponyno album might have the sound of sunset, but this one has the feel of midnight. A very welcome repose after a most rewarding day. Ride this until the coals fade from the fire.

    Contact:
    Corporate Nightmare Records
    P.O. Box 22451
    Santa Barbara, CA 93121
    www: http://www.corporatenightmare.com


    Also recommended:

    Riad Abdel-Gawad El Tarab El Aseel (Incognito)
    Abdel-Gawad's tahkt ensemble ("Takht" refers to the instrumentation of the group) play songs in the taqasim and tarab traditions. I know next to nothing about all that; I'm just parroting the liners. What I can say is that these pieces are immediately arresting and translate easily into just about any musical language. This really excited my ears.

    Champion Kickboxer Perforations (54-40 or Fight!)
    A bit more technical and slide-ruley than most of the math-influenced stuff I've been hearing from 54-40, these boys nonetheless manage to convey a wide range of emotions among the many diverging and converging lines of these songs. I'm curious as to whether the live show would be quite so precise--and whether or not a spot of sloppiness would be an improvement. I think I'll listen a few more times and ponder.

    Cheater Pint Cheater Pint (Kinger)
    The cover art is great (light refracted through a full pint glass, a slight variation on a certain Pink Floyd cover), and the sloppy, poppy punk that pounds through the speakers is similarly pleasing. Not complicated and not particularly refined, these easygoing tunes slide right down. Just like a solid bitter down at your local.

    Clock Hands Strangle Redshift/Blueshift (Team Grizzly)
    Sparsely-populated songs. It's hard to believe five guys are behind the sound here. But the minimalist approach to vaguely-rootsy rock is solid. The eccentricities of the songwriting pop out in stark relief, but in the end, it's the different nature of these songs that makes them so interesting.

    Denelian August 2007 demos (self-released)
    Three new tunes played in the band's intriguing technical new wave style--kinda like New Order meets the Refused, with much less guitar. Devo and, at times, even the Buzzcocks come to mind. But these guys are much more atonal than yer average 80s retreads. There's something interesting going on.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.denelianmusic.com

    The Drift Ceiling Sky (Temporary Residence)
    Another "catch-up" disc from a TR band. This set contains tracks from two 12" records and two vinyl-only songs from Noumena. Probably not the best jumping-off point for new fans, but essential for anyone who has even a passing knowledge of the band.

    The Kevin Frenette 4 Connections (Fuller Street Music)
    Frenette plays guitar, but his backing trio of piano, bass and percussion fits right in to jazz tradition. The music, of course, is anything but traditional, breaking most improvisational jazz rules--and yet still managing to connect quite easily with the audience. These songs range far and wide, but they're wonderfully engaging. Quite a bright set.

    Daniel G. Harmann Anthems from the Gentle War (Hello Tower Media)
    Ambitious rock and roll. Harmann has a fine sense of melody, and part of that sense is to emphasize melody over rhythm. His guitar lines, in particular, ring out with almost impossible clarity. His traditional songwriting style (anthemic; that part of the title isn't ironic) probably informs that part of the mix, but it's effective in any case. An album I might well think better of after more exposure.

    Michael Hensley Fire Behind Me (self-released)
    Exceedingly processed dance-floor pop. Hensley incorporates elements of new wave and techno, but by and large these songs are most fully-informed by 90s club anthems. Plinky keyboards set off the thumping low-end percussion, and Hensley sings rather robotically. An intoxicating brew.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.michael-hensley.com

    Adam Hill Four Shades of Green (self-released)
    Hill establishes his presence with artificially-created snaps and crackles. Then he proceeds to kick out his bluegrass-tinged americana with full sincerity. Sometimes this album sounds better than the songs themselves, as Hill hasn't quite learned to make the lyrics match the music (and not vice versa). By and large, though, this is a train well worth riding.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/mradamhill

    Holler, Wild Rose! Our Little Hymnal (Backlight)
    Dense, sonically advanced songs. These puppies are seriously constructed, not to mention constructed most seriously. There's a lot in the background on each piece, and at times I wondered if all that was necessary. Then I wondered if I just wasn't getting it and ought to listen again. I don't have an answer a couple more spins down the road, except to say that I didn't mind going back again and again.

    Mama's Cookin' Mama's Cookin' (self-released)
    If you were wondering what Aerosmith might sound like if Tyler, Perry and the boys were 35 years younger...or even if you weren't. Mama's Cookin' kicks out some fine hard rockin' blooze and boogie with more than a couple modern touches. This isn't a finished product; I think Mama's Cookin' is still working out the kinks in its sound. But I like what I hear so far.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.mamascookinmusic.com

    Man Rockwell Lava Proof Boats EP (Ancient Vessel)
    Strident, throbbing tunes. Loud, messy and surprisingly bouncy at times. I do not have a handle on these boys as yet--the five songs here reach out in many directions--but I like the way they keep their songs simple while trying out new ideas.

    Naked Mall Rats Somewhere on the Internet (self-released)
    Fourteen shots of temporary insanity from George Korein and friends. Lots of playful romps among some serious guitar sludging. Yeah, this stuff is almost terminally goofy. It also has the charm of being good music. Amidst the chaos lie a few kernels of inspiration.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.bathotaxe.com

    Rachel Barton Pine/Matthew Hagle American Virtuosa: Tribute to Maud Powell (Cedille)
    Maud Powell was a violinist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The liners credit her as the first great American violinist. Pine (violin) and Hagle (piano) work their way through 18 pieces from that era that Powell played (or might well have played). Pine and Hagle have a fine grasp on this material. That it also serves as a portrait of a time (and a great artist) brings these works together that much better.

    Prong Power of the Damager (13th Planet/Megaforce)
    Tommy Victor is still around, and it sounds like he's taken a few lessons from his time with Ministry. Indeed, 13th Planet is Al Jourgensen's label. This set of songs focuses more on rhythmic intensity (the bass and drums are always in motion) than sheer power. That's a good thing. Prong breaks no new ground here, but this album never lags in energy. A fun romp.

    Simak Dialog Patahan (Moonjune)
    As much jazz as prog (if not more), Simak Dialog has a wonderful way with melody. This live recording of five songs (each clocking in at 11 to 20 minutes per) showcases some fine musicians at work. The interplay between the members is enthralling at time, and the sound and writing are both more than solid. Most engaging.

    Slider Pines Road*Avenue*Railroad (Wire to Ear)
    Straightforward hard rockin' toots fare. Slider Pines pushes forward with every beat and never looks back. Think Cracker without the wry asides. Me, I'd like to hear a bit more self-awareness in both the music and lyrics, but this is most listenable. Pour a bit more whiskey in the iced tea, please.

    Tambourines Sally O'Gannon CD5 (Planting Seeds)
    Three songs, all of them paying homage to the prettified garage pop of the 60s and 70s that's been a staple in England for years. I like all three songs, and I'd like to hear more. Fun stuff.

    Various Artists Taking Back What's Ours: The Emo Diaries Chapter Eleven (Deep Elm)
    Deep Elm decides to return to the old moniker for its compilation series. Twelve bands and all of them solid. Emo is a state of mind, not necessarily a sound, so if you're unfamiliar with this series, expect to hear stuff from all over the map. The legend returns, and not a moment too soon.

    Michael Wolff Trio Jazz, Jazz, Jazz (Wrong)
    Wolff takes on some well-known standards--some of them jazz and some of them better known in the pop world. So you have Gillespie's "Con Alma" followed by "Cry Me a River," and that makes sense here. The playing is intricate and generally restrained, but the trio generally manages to bring out something remarkable (at times, even new) in these well-worn works. Easily accessible, but not dumbed down in any way.


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