Welcome to A&A. There are 16 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 #293 reviews
February 2008
  • The Billionaires Really Real Forever (Too Soon)
  • Desoto Jones Aurora (Deep Elm)
  • Dirt Mall Got the Goat by the Horns (Daykamp)
  • Envy Abyssal EP (Temporary Residence)
  • Josh Fix Free at Last (1650 Entertainment)
  • Forty Piece Choir The Profound Nature of Life (Cooked County)
  • Yoni Gordon and the Goods Buried in the Basement (self-released)
  • Kabuki Killers Kabuki Killers EP (self-released)
  • Bret Mosley Light & Blood (Woodstock Musicworks)
  • The Pack A.D. Tintype (Mint)
  • The Playing Favorites I Remember When I Was Pretty (Suburban Home)
  • Pretendo ][ (Country Club)
  • Prizzy Prizzy Please Prizzy Prizzy Please (Let's Pretend)
  • Spottiswoods & His Enemies That's What I Like/Salvation (New Warsaw)
  • Andy Werth Seeing Stars (self-released)
  • The Yum Yum Tree Paint by Numbers (Two Sheds Music)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Billionaires
    Really Real for Forever
    (Too Soon)

    The obvious comparison is the New Pornographers, though the Billionaires are more precious and moody than those effervescently eclectic Canadian popsters. The pretension level is high, but by and large these songs aren't quite overbearing.

    This may sound like a right slagging, but in truth, the greatest stuff is always just this side of crap. The Billionaires have big ideas, and while there ought to be a similar focus on hooks (some increased sweetening would be nice), these folks generally manage to bend some complicated concepts into tasty packages.

    Most bands can't swerve from a Supertramp-esque rumination into a raucous raver without losing something in the translation. On this album, such a whipsaw makes perfect sense.

    The one major flaw is that this album is missing that one shimmery song that might burn itself into the brain. All of these songs are good, and some are great. The sound is wonderfully varied. Nonetheless, I never quite reached bliss. But then, I think the Billionaires are shooting a bit higher than that.

    Desoto Jones
    (Deep Elm)

    I know that My Chemical Romance didn't invent the doomy pop-punk-metal anthem, but no one has done more (certainly in a commercial sense) with the sound. Desoto Jones doesn't do a whole lot to mess with the formula, but it sure does things right.

    Right down to the combination of speed, power and melody that drives some of the best songs of this genre. Kinda like Rage-era Queensryche run through an emo filter. That might sound horrific to you, but I dig it a lot.

    The sound is moderately worn (not so shiny) when compared to the likes of MCR, but not by much. This isn't a rip-off or homage; the bands simply ply similar waters. Desoto Jones is--by far--the more aggressive of the two. I like that. When in doubt, play harder and faster.

    Well done. Nothing earth-shattering, I suppose, but fun nonetheless. And when the songs really start racing, so does my heart.

    Deep Elm Records
    P.O. Box 5260
    Clover, SC 29710
    www: www.deepelm.com

    Dirt Mall
    Got the Goat by the Horns
    (Daykamp Records)

    Pleasantly throbbing rock and roll, with plenty of bump in the trunk. Indeed, the bouncing bass work is probably my favorite part of this disc.

    'Cause what we have here is lead-jacketed blooze'n'boogie, the sort of fuzzy, heavy stuff that makes folks like me smile. It's not complicated or sophisticated or anything like that. Just throw in some power chords, add a pint of bourbon and set to spin.

    And yet, so few do it well. Dirt Mall does it great. These are simple songs best enjoyed at 11, which is a description of some of the most exciting albums around. This one qualifies easily.

    This is something of a throwback, I suppose, though there are enough sly references to make it difficult to pin down Dirt Mall's place in time. No matter. When a disc has as many obvious pleasures as this one, there's no need to worry about the why. Just turn it up and let it go.

    Daykamp Records
    www: http://www.daykamprecords.com

    Abyssal EP
    (Temporary Residence)

    Envy is yer typical Temporary Residence band, which is to say it's about as atypical as it comes. Lots of noise, walls of guitar and vocals that are more death metal than, well, sung. Check, check, check.

    That would be my pleasure meter clicking. Envy does have a fine grasp of melody in its music, even if that melody sometimes disappears for moments on end. Gorgeous interludes are blasted to smithereens by fusillades of guitar, bass and drums. And, of course, the "singing."

    I'm not making fun! I'm not! I like Envy's style. On the surface it can seem like a mess, but there's so much structure underneath that it is hard to appreciate in one or five sittings. I can't quite get my head around this one. Most often, that's a very good thing.

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

    Josh Fix
    Free at Last
    (1650 Entertainment)

    Bluesy pop, with just about every added brightener you can imagine. Josh Fix tries very hard to make these songs the best they can be.

    He's got a light hand when he plays, though, so even the most involved arrangement manages to have a loose feel. Imagine Jeff Lynne produced by Jack White. Except, you know, nothing like that.

    There are a ton of flourishes--Fix is a fine guitar player, and he is convincing in a variety of sounds--but they all feel natural. This is the rare hyper-ambitious pop album that sounds like nothing of the sort.

    Rather, there is simply a feeling that this music is the greatest thing going on right now. And, who knows? Maybe it is. It sure is awfully damned good.

    1650 Entertainment
    1650 Broadway
    Suite 1113
    New York, NY 10019

    Forty Piece Choir
    The Profound Nature of Life
    (Cooked County Records)

    Six members rather than the advertised 40, but when you've got an active horn section, it's easy to make small numbers sound bigger. And these songs generally sound much bigger than they are. Which is about what I expected, given how much I liked the band's earlier stuff.

    The guts of the pieces are simple rootsy jangles. But throw in the horns, a Fender Rhodes, violin and mandolin and these songs take on a more ambitious life. They certainly sound more alive, in any case.

    The sound of the album is raucous and restless, almost mono at times. That flat character really takes these songs to a cool place. Kinda like being present at the birth of rock and roll.

    Alright then. Some folks know how to play the country blues, and more than a few can do the rock and roll. Most folks these days don't try to do both at the same time, but Forty Piece Choir does just that most impressively. Most fun.

    565 Yates Ave.
    Calumet City, IL 60409
    www: http://www.fortypiecechoir.com

    Yoni Gordon and the Goods
    Buried in the Basement

    The second song on this disc is "I Dreamed I Saw Billy Bragg Last Night." That's utterly perfect, given Gordon's affection for strident punk rhythms and proto-americana bass lines. Kinda like if Bragg fronted early Uncle Tupelo (much heavier than Bragg's actual collaboration with Wilco).

    Only kinda, though, as Gordon barely dabbles in politics or any strident subject. He's more of a wry commentator on the peculiarities of life--there's an off-kilter sensibility that reminds me of Welcome to Asbury Park. You know, Springsteen's first album with the original version of "Blinded by the Light." Asbury is a highly flawed album, but it does have a singular feel that makes it a classic.

    And Gordon is the same way. He's got his own writing and signing styles, and his mates bash out these songs with sinewy punch. Aggression tempered with perspective.

    I like that. These songs aren't the second coming of anything, just Gordon's glances askew. He's got the chops to make that more than worthwhile. Solid.

    www: http://www.yonigordon.com

    Kabuki Killers
    Kabuki Killers EP

    Chunk, basic rock and roll. Kinda like Urge Overkill without the irony. I'm not complaining.

    Rather, it's nice to kick back and let the music run roughshod over everything in sight. Kabuki Killers aren't out to make anyone think. The lyrics are occasionally amusing, but they're mostly window dressing for the high-throttle riffage. These songs plow forward and never look back.

    Alrighty then. Why try to complicate something this pure and incandescent? No reason I can think of. Kabuki Killers rip off huge chunks of rock and serve them up with style. Be thankful.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/kabukikillers

    Bret Mosley
    Light & Blood
    (Woodstock MusicWorks)

    Bret Mosley does the singer songwriter thing, filtering James Taylor tendencies through a fairly coarse rural blues filter. That's cool. I'm all for adding as many rough edges as possible..

    I like the bluesier side of Mosley--he does a blistering take on Son House's "Preacher Blues"--but even his more whitebread moments have charm. He's earnest, but not cloying. And Mosley is often subtle, though he doesn't hesitate to step right out front when appropriate. There's a lot going on here, more than a first listen can identify. Good thing I'm about ready to spin this puppy again.

    The Pack A.D.

    Somewhere between Jon Spencer, the Flat Duo Jets and Janis Joplin, this Canadian duo destroys everything in its path. Vocals and guitars are distorted, often beyond recognition, and the drums try hard to keep up.

    This is some of the most brutally intense music I've heard in years. The Pack A.D. never lets off the pedal. Not only are these songs fast and heavy, they're mean as hell, too. I don't know what sort of lives these two ladies have lived, but this disc is hardly an endorsement.

    Of their circumstances, of course. The music is astonishing. I'm rapidly running out of superlatives, but that's mostly because the wrecking ball riffage has obliterated my brain. It's all I can do to crawl under my desk and wait out the storm.

    But I'm a pro. I'll stick it out. The pleasures of this album far outweigh any pain, intense as it may be. Holy cow. This stuff is deadlier than Sherman's March.

    P.O. Box 3613
    Main Post Office
    Vancouver, BC V6B 3Y6
    www: http://www.mintrecs.com

    The Playing Favorites
    I Remember When I Was Pretty
    (Suburban Home)

    Joey Cape and a few pals kick back together to do the side project thing. Marko DeSantis, Luke Tierney, Tim Cullen and Mick Flowers round out the lineup. Not bad.

    And not unlike Bad Astronaut, these songs are a bit more far ranging than the average Lagwagon (or Sugarcult or Summercamp or...) effort. Dreadfully poppy, with lots of punch and some surprise touches here and there. Dreadful, of course, if you don't like hooks that cling like Scarlett Johanssen's lingerie.

    Ahhh... Hey, I was listening to the album. Really! This is the sort of album that make a great case for pop punk as the purest form of music. The songs go down smoother than good sake. And each member (other than skinman Flowers) takes a turn or few at mike (so all the fans won't be disappointed).

    All told, a very enjoyable way to spend fourteen songs. I'm partial to Cape's songs, especially "Indigenous," which is one of the better non-New Order New Order songs I've heard in ages. An opiate for fools like me.

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

    (Country Club)

    A tight little NY trio produced by Martin Bisi. You need anything else? I thought not.

    Just in case you're curious, though, these guys play slightly mechanistic blister rock that occasionally features a toy piano. There is a reason Bisi is at the boards, after all. Sometimes these songs sound like they've worked themselves into an unresolvable corner. Except that Pretendo always makes them work.

    Sorta like Ween meets Trans Am, if I had to play a little "sounds like." Nothing traditional, just good music that ranges as far afield as the band's imagination allows.

    It's quite an imagination, too. This album gets more and more impressive with each song. There's a lot going on here, and somehow Pretendo finds a way to hold the center. Nicely done.

    Country Club Records
    3431 75th St.
    New York, NY 11372

    Prizzy Prizzy Please
    Prizzy Prizzy Please
    (Let's Pretend)

    Imagine early Rocket from the Crypt as pure ego, all blistering speed and hypertensive rhythms. Strip away all the layers, leaving you with just boiling rock and roll.

    Prizzy Prizzy Please actually does seem to care about melody from time to time. The boys don't, however, care to pretty up their sound. So there's fuzzy bass throbbing, squonky sax and barrel-rolling percussion. Oh, and the keyboards.

    It's really kind of amazing how muscular many of these songs are considering the lack of guitar. The keys fill in well enough, but mostly these guys survive on attitude alone.

    But hey, when you're as committed as Prizzy Prizzy Please, things tend to work out. This is hardly sophisticated or even accomplished music. But it's got enough energy and fury to power two suns. Awe-inspiring.

    Let's Pretend Records
    P.O. Box 1663
    Bloomington, IN 47402

    Spottiswoode & His Enemies
    That's What I Like

    (New Warsaw)

    I've been a Jonathan Spottiswoode fan for years. Every person I turn on to his work ends up one as well. You'd think he'd be astoundingly popular by now.

    But he's not, and listening to these two albums (released at about the same time, though Like is listed as 2007 and Salvation is 2008) just makes the situation that much more mystifying. Spottiswoode's songs are lyrically and musically deft, one side often making a comment on the other. His "Enemies" are as good a band as you can find, especially long-time collaborator and producer Riley McMahon, who knows exactly how to present this exceptionally sophisticated (especially when utterly crude) material. So, yes, I love these discs. They're as good as his past work, and I think the world of that.

    In short, Like is a typical Spottiswoode outing, drawing in all sorts of sounds and ideas and cranking them through the ol' grinder. The resulting sausage is sweet, spicy and well-aged. The usual treat.

    Salvation is a bit of a departure, probably as close as the Spottiswoode cabaret can get to americana. Mostly acoustic, more western than country. Think Fear and Whiskey and then end up on the opposite side of the coin. Just as incisive and brilliant, but completely involved and lush (in a sparse sort of way, which is exactly how I would expect it to be played). I think I'm in love with this one.

    I hate to give such short shrift to two fine albums, but most readers know of my great affection for J.S. and his Enemies, and really, if you've heard one song from the folks, just seeing that there's a new album (two, even!) is all the news that's necessary. I still have no idea how it is that these folks still toil in relative anonymity, but perhaps these albums will change that. And if not, we still have the music. I can live with that.

    www: http://www.spottiswoode.com

    Andy Werth
    Seeing Stars EP

    Finely-crafted pop rockers, with wonderfully kitchy brighteners. You know, bounding keyboard riffs, Bacharachian horns, etc.

    All that is well enough, but Werth's wry lyrics and even slyer delivery seal the deal. These songs aren't particularly deep, but they're amusing and they sound really good. I'm a sucker for the well put together piece, and Werth has five of 'em here.

    A piffle, perhaps, but a piffle that splits the corners of my mouth because I'm smiling so much. Maybe it is all surface and no substance. I don't care. I'll let you know when the dose wears off.

    www: http://www.andywerth.com

    The Yum Yum Tree
    Paint By Numbers
    (Two Sheds)

    Something of an oddity. Somehow, this album just missed the cut in December, but I liked it so much this month that I decided to do a full review. Maybe January is a better month for appreciating punchy power pop. Maybe I'm in need of a joy infusion now that winter is reaching its peak.

    Or maybe I simply missed the call. It happens. You listen to 250 CDs a month and let me know what skips past your ears. But enough about me. The Yum Yum Tree reminds me a lot of Magnapop and the band hails from Georgia. Logical enough. No connection except the sound and the geography.

    Well, one other connection. The music works. Yum Yum Tree manages to keep the hooks sweet even when the songs slow down past mid-tempo. There's always enough going on, and the band never stints on the power. The guitars are omnipresent.

    Which is always a good move with this sorta music. The Yum Yum Tree hasn't moved the sound anywhere, but it sounds great nonetheless. Ear candy for the likes of me, and I'm not going to complain about that. Even if I did miss it the first time around.

    Two Sheds Music
    P.O. Box 5455
    Atlanta, GA 31107-5455
    www: http://www.twoshedsmusic.com

    Also recommended:

    Steven Alvarado Let It Go (self-released)
    Pleasantly unwound rootsy pieces. Alvarado has a fine rough-hewn voice, and he's got the likes of Marc Ribot and Kenny Wollesen backing him up. Hard to go wrong there, and Alvarado doesn't. Something to savor.
    www: http://www.stevenalvarado.com

    Bronze Calypso Shakedown (self-released)
    Not the obsessive pop band Bronze (reviewed more than once in A&A), but rather a couple of guys from Chicago who like to meander in their choice of styles. The sounds range from disco to some island-inflected stuff (calypso? not exactly) to the more typical introspective stuff. I like the trips afield on this disc. Well met.

    Dave Corp The Sweet Life (self-released)
    Yer typical keyboard/drums/bass trio that...oh I'm already laughing too hard about that description. These guys trip out on everything from prog to math (another bad joke) and then decide to get weird. Fun, though, if you've got a little patience. Some of the noises these guys achieve are spectacular.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/davecorp

    The Delicious The Delicious (self-released)
    Burbling, occasionally disjointed and joyously bizarre. The Delicious delights in throwing together two or more musical ideas and seeing if they stick. Everything ends up relating to pop in the end, I suppose, but not before plenty of rumination. This one will probably grow on me quite a bit. I bet I love it loads in three or four months.

    Eat Sugar Eat Sugar EP (self-released)
    Four grating electronic punk pieces that manage to endear themselves sooner than later. Thoughts of PiL or Skinny Puppy flit though my brain, though I'm thinking Eat Sugar is better at hinting at melody. Manic and throbbing, which always puts me in a good frame of mind.
    www: http://www.eatsugarusic.com

    The Failures' Union Sinker (One Percent Press)
    Fine bar pop stylings, taking the punk-country crunchiness from the likes of Uncle Tupelo and combining it with a defiant indie pop streak. Lots of attitude, lots of noise and plenty of solid hooks. Quite the tasty dish.

    Fripp & Eno Beyond Even (1992-2006) 2xCD (Discipline Global Mobile)
    What you might expect from the boys--fifty-four minutes of their brand of ambient purity. The two discs are the same music, but one has gaps between the pieces and the other doesn't. Something of a throwback (anyone obsessed enough can edit out the gaps with a decent software program), but one that proves old dogs sometimes do perform the finest tricks.

    Miwa Gemini This Is How I Found You (Addictive/Rock Park)
    Not many folks inspire comparisons to Patsy Cline and Bjork, but then there aren't many folks like Miwa Gemini. She spins rootsy pop and rock into her own stew of attitude and aggression. Even the mellow pieces have serious bite. There's an undercurrent of fear and malice that really attracts me.

    Collin Herring Past Life Crashing (self-released)
    This is the second album of Herring's I've heard, and it's become obvious to me that his more aggressive songs are his best. Most of the time, I'm talking about his electric fare, but some of his acoustic stuff packs some real bite as well. Herring is a fine writer and he has a great voice. He's simply not as good when introspective. Luckily, most of these songs are about fucking up his life--and he's not backing down. Good for us.

    I/O\I I/O\I (self-released)
    Wonderfully rhythmic and distorted avant pop. Most of these songs aren't exactly songs in the strictest sense. But they sound really cool, and taken as a whole this album has more than a few interesting things to say. For adventurous listeners on the prowl for something truly new.
    www: http://www.eyeoeye.com

    Lach The Calm Before (Fortified)
    I haven't seen references to New York anti-folk in ages, and I hadn't heard anything from Lach in about as long. This album isn't much different than what I remember: A vaguely Dylan-esque vocal style kicking out solid work. There's something at the center of these songs that makes it hard to turn them off.

    Dave Lionelli Acid Folk (self-released)
    The title pretty much says it all, though the acid is more in the lyrics than the sound. There are electric guitars and other touches that put this stuff closer to americana than folk, but I'm not gonna quibble. Solid, steady-rollin' pieces that give my tongue a thirst for bourbon.
    www: http://www.davelionelli.com

    The Out Circuit Pierce the Empire with a Sound (Lujo)
    Mysterious, almost soundscape-style music punctuated by raggedy vocals. It's a nice dichotomy, as is the use of "real" drums within the largely electronic sound. The sort of aural quandary that tends to draw me in.

    PacificUV longplay2 (Warm)
    Keeping up with the ambient/electronic theme of this issue (or so it seems to me, anyway), PacificUV drops some serious bombs into the mix. These guys can totally wig out or simply be a bit Air-y from time to time. It is a most languid affair, one that I'm willing to continue for the time being.

    Leroy Powell Leroy Powell (self-released)
    What might have been called California country ages ago. These days, most folks would call this rock-inflected fare americana. I'm not gonna worry about the labels. I'll just listen and be happy. Powell has a fine touch with his songs, and he never overreaches. A fine set for sitting a spell.
    www: http://www.leroypowell.com

    Science for Girls Science for Girls (self-released)
    Jazzy electronic pop with guest vocals from the likes of Bronwen Exter, Hugh Wilson and Paul Brill. These songs do rely on the vocals, but the music has been tailored quite well by Darren Solomon so that each track not only sounds like Science for Girls but also something by the vocalist as well. Pretty cool.
    www: http://www.scienceforgirls.net

    Sil Veth The Elemental (8th Sphere)
    Black metal from Philadelphia. What is the world coming to? I dunno, but I liked this a lot. Perhaps that's because no one is sending me much of this kinda stuff, but I think it has more to do with the solid (if manic) execution by the band. The production has left just enough power (black metal is notoriously weak on the bottom end) to kick some serious ass. My gums are bleeding.

    Slingshot Dakota Their Dreams are Dead, But Ours Is the Golden Ghost! (self-released)
    I don't know what the title means, but it seems wildly appropriate for these exuberant songs from this keyboard and drums duo. The sparse sound combined with Carly Comando's effervescent vocals is highly addictive. Indie rock lives, man!
    www: http://www.scienceforgirls.net

    Tut Tut The Heart Goes Nine (Iron Paw)
    Largely the work of a certain Alexander Abnos, Tut Tut wanders through the indie pop universe without putting down much in the way of roots. The somewhat substandard production brings to mind early Magnetic Fields (substandard meaning somewhat lacking in subtlety rather than awful), and there's a playfulness that certainly goes a long ways in that direction as well. Abnos's lyrics aren't nearly so biting, but his musical prowess is astonishing.

    Various Artists Twin Cities Electropunk Volume 4 (self-released)
    Fifteen tracks from some of the coolest bands in Minnesota. And, you know, that's pretty good. If you have any interest in the sound (the name does speak for itself), this is worth checking out.
    www: http://www.tcelectropunk.com

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