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.

If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.

A&A #294 reviews
March 2008
  • Anarchy Club A Single Drop of Red EP (self-released)
  • The Details Draw a Distance. Draw a Border. (Parliament of Trees)
  • Drag the River You Can't Live This Way (Suburban Home)
  • The Drift Memory Drawings (Temporary Residence)
  • Golden Shoulders Friendship Is Deep re-issue (Welcome Home)
  • Rick Helzer/John Stowell Friendship and Remembrance (Circumvention)
  • Nick Jaina Wool (Hush)
  • The Meadows First Nervous Breakdown (self-released)
  • Mustasch Latest Version of the Truth (Regain)
  • Ryan Purcell Kick the Dirt (self-released)
  • Scott Reynolds & the Steaming Beast Adventure Boy (Suburban Home)
  • Robert Ziino Slaves for the Billionaires (Experimental Artists)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Anarchy Club
    A Single Drop of Red EP

    Five new tracks (including a rendition of "No You Don't," the oft-covered Chinn/Chapman tune made popular by the Sweet, an older unreleased song called "Collide" and six remixes of "fan favorites." That's one loaded EP.

    I wasn't familiar with these guys, but I do like their chock-a-block style of industrial rock and roll. Kinda like a funkier Armored Saint, or maybe a groovier KMFDM. Somewhere in that neck of the woods. I like the way these songs aren't wall of sound, but instead feature a full range of dynamics and moods.

    And that Sweet cover? Weird. Not at all what I expected. The dramatic elements of the song are all twisted around. Hey, if you're gonna do a well-worn song, you might as well do it in a new way. Which is kinda what I'm hearing in general. Very nice.

    www: www.anarchyclub.net

    The Details
    Draw a Distance. Draw a Border
    (Parliment of Trees)

    Vocally, this reminds me of the Rocket Summer. The music itself is more assured and much slicker. Which isn't a bad thing; a little production never hurt anyone. What really catches my ear is the way these songs make an immediate emotional connection.

    Ah, yes, the etymology of emo does, in fact, reference "emotion." Though back in the day (what, fifteen years ago?), most of the emo bands were actually kinda minimalist. How these things get all switched around.

    But not the Details. No bait-and-switch here. Nothing complicated. Nothing underhanded. Just solidly-written pieces that have been arranged and played with verve. Works for me.

    In fact, it works really well. The Details seem to have figured out that the easiest way to make good music is to clear out all the crap. Which might well be a shout out to those old minimalist emo outfits of the last century. Or maybe they figured it simply worked the best. Funny thing is, the music doesn't care. It only wants to be good. And this is.

    www: www.parliamentoftrees.com

    Drag the River
    You Can't Live This Way
    (Suburban Home)

    Just to be clear--we're not talking about the Michelle Malone joint, though the music is somewhat similar. This particular DTR is the brainchild of Jon Snodgrass (Armchair Martian) and Chad Price (ALL). It's kinda funny to me that the two most recent ALL singers have new albums out on Suburban home (both are reviewed in this issue; Scott Reynolds comes up later), but what's more instructive is how good the stuff is.

    Highly reminiscent of Armchair Martian, which means highly reminiscent of early Uncle Tupelo, which means we are, in fact, talking about highly good shit. These songs set moods, tell stories and make me think of campfires that are burning down. The feeling is more desultory than valedictory, embers that are fighting to hang on for one more breath of flame.

    The sound is sharp, probably a little too sharp for some of these songs. That goes straight to the Armchair Martian history, I suppose, but there is some charm to rootsy songs with sharp elbows. These puppies never let you out of their grip.

    Every song is at least very good, and there are a few great ones here. The album has put me so much at ease that I'm unable to fully discern which is which, but I think that's a good thing. Next summer is now fully-planned: bourbon on ice, big-ass book and this disc rolling on and on. I can already taste the distilled fermented corn.

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

    The Drift
    Memory Drawings
    (Temporary Residence)

    I've liked everything I've heard from the Drift. No one has captured the feeling of high lonesome (or lone highsome) like this since Dirty Three. This album is at once more coherent and less cohesive than earlier albums. Which is not a bad way to go.

    What sets the Drift apart is the use of horns (specifically flugelhorn and trumpet) that make these eclectic ramblers turn into something spectacular. There's something about brass and rock that works. Especially when the playing is decidedly on the jazz side of things.

    As for what I said earlier, the songs on this album don't fit together quite as well as earlier efforts. But within each song, there is more structure and a bit more of an attempt to explain what is going on. In other words, these songs are more Yeats than cummings.

    You know, I think I blew that reference, but whatever. Five or ten seconds of the Drift ought to convince anyone who cares about music. There's something going on here, just as there has been for a while. This latest missal is right on target.

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

    Golden Shoulders
    Friendship Is Deep re-issue
    (Welcome Home)

    Golden Shoulders is, at its core, Adam Kline. He writes the songs and recruits a somewhat astonishing array of folks to play with him. This album (the band's second) was first released back in 2004. Lots of folks liked it, but I gather it didn't sell well. Sometimes those things are related.

    The sound is something of a slightly-distorted indie pop recycling of 60s garage pop. That description would fit lots of bands, starting with Guided by Voices, but Golden Shoulders sounds a bit more 60s (and early 70s, with a nod to Gram Parsons now and again) to me.

    The production does leave that edge of distortion that tends to drive me nuts. I suppose that its intentional, but I still think it's a bit excessive. It doesn't help the songs, but it does sound kinda cool. If it doesn't wear on you the way it wears on me.

    Ah, but who am I fooling? I like this set. It includes the original album and two tracks recorded in 2005. And if it helps to jump-start the Adam Kline cult, well, that's alright by me. I'm always in favor of more people listening to more good music.

    Welcome Home Records
    18 Gaynor Place
    Rockville, CT 06066
    www: http://www.welcomehomerecords.com

    Rick Helzer/John Stowell
    Friendship and Remembrance

    Helzer plays piano and Stowell has a guitar. And that's it. The setting is simple. The execution is elegant. The music is stunning.

    This duo seems to never be in a hurry, even when the tempos pick up. They simply never break stride. And for those who might read that and scream "Aaaarghh! Not happy jazz!," well, rest assured. This stuff is more than sophisticated enough to satisfy any palate.

    Good music, no matter its style, is able to communicate ideas clearly--sometimes by shouting, screaming or wailing and sometimes with a whisper. Helzer and Stowell are more seductive than anything else. These songs slink their way into the subconscious. And once they're there, there's no letting loose.

    I can't recall a recent album that gave me so much pleasure. I love the sound of piano and guitar. The interplay of the two stringed instruments is remarkable. Combining the natural affinity of the instruments with pieces like these that challenge and engage is a masterful feat. Simply wonderful.

    Circumvention Music
    P.O. Box 948609
    La Jolla, CA 92037
    Phone (858) 205-8859
    www: http://www.circumventionmusic.com

    Nick Jaina

    There's sparse, and then there's minimalist--and then there's Nick Jaina. He writes songs of exquisite grace and then seemingly forgets to adorn them. The song is all that exists. It's a little disquieting.

    Except, of course, it's very quiet. While these pieces would qualify as introspective and wrenching even without the settings, the bare bones arrangements really set the mood.

    Kinda like some of Tom Waits's more recent albums, though pretty much just Jaina and a piano. Oh, he does pick up something else now and again, but mostly this is piano or keyboards. With something or other that sounds like creaks and whistling wind (guitar pickup distortion? maybe). That last bit is so subtle you might think that's it's simply the wind outside your window.

    Which is probably the point. Jaina has put together a masterful album. The songs are remarkable, and the sound of the recording is almost heart-stopping. Makes even the short hairs stand on end.

    Hush Records
    P.O. Box 12173
    Portland, OR 97211
    www: http://www.hushrecords.com

    The Meadows
    First Nervous Breakdown
    (Single Recordings)

    I listened to the first Meadows album the entire week I spent at the beach last summer. Kinda fitting, as those sunny songs with enveloping hooks are just the sort of thing to set the soul at ease. I had high expectations when I pulled this from the package. I wasn't sure I wanted to put it in the ol' discer for fear of disappointment.

    Courage, man! This set is more cohesive than the first. The songwriting is tighter, the playing a bit more effervescent and the overall joy ranking significantly higher. I don't know how Todd Herfindal and Kevin Houlihan are able to craft so many exceptional rootsy pop-rock gems in so short a time, but I'm not going to spend too much energy worrying about it.

    Rather, I'm going to enjoy it. This album has the same "summer all year long" sound as the first--hence my beach experience. This is the rare album that ought to have massive appeal on commercial rock radio and still make the iconoclastic indie rocker smile slyly.

    I guess that's the real trick. If you look at the band's press page on its web site, there's a Rolling Stone review, and then there are plenty from the likes of A&A. We all agreed before; I imagine we'll all agree now. The Meadows are freaks. Just the kind of freaks we like to hear.

    www: http://www.wearethemeadows.com

    Latest Version of the Truth

    This one just missed the cut for the last issue. I guess I was more in the mood for some good ol' Swedish metal this time around.

    And this is Swedish. And good. Power chords with a technical sheen and just enough melody to make the songs vaguely hummable. Oh, and the disco strings. I love the disco strings! Something about these European boys that allows them to show their sensitive side while they're kicking ass serious.

    Not subtle. Not even particularly sophisticated (disco strings excepted, of course). But these boys sure know how to pile drive awesome riffage into one song after another. Lots of midtempo burners here, but with more than enough energy to keep the wheels turning.

    I dunno. I've been a fan of this kinda thing for decades (really). Mustasch doesn't really try anything new or anything, but it doesn't have to do anything like that. It's just gotta steamroller anything in its path. No problems there.

    www: http://www.regainrecords.com

    Ryan Purcell
    Kick the Dirt

    Songs about politics, drinking, women and the like. Ryan Purcell delivers them all with a dash of country, the blues, soul and grit. All plastered on top of a base of rollicking folk. Reminds me a lot of Billy Bragg, though this is most certainly americana.

    There isn't a bad song in the lot. Purcell never lets his political ramblings get bitter--I think he'd rather have a good time. Which leads to the humor of songs like "When Was the Last Time (The Bottle Let You Down)." He may be too good-natured to deliver a full-throated screed, but that temperance makes these songs more timeless than temporal.

    All delivered in a sound that's highly reminiscent of mid-70s Neil Young. Plenty of sound when necessary, but often quite minimalist. Kinda reminds me of Mike Younger as well--that would be the rock and soul side. Solid, all the way around.

    One of those albums that hits hard and never lets up, even as it makes you smile. Great foot-tapping tunes, but there's heft in them thar songs. A quality effort.

    www: http://www.ryanpurcell.net

    Scott Reynolds & the Steaming Beast
    Adventure Boy
    (Suburban Home)

    Scott Reynolds is my favorite ALL singer. He's got a little more soul in his voice than Dave Smalley or Chad Price. Reminds me more of Milo Aukerman, actually. But then, I suppose that makes sense.

    Some of these songs are americana by way of ALL, especially the first track ("Jesus, Satan, Gene Beeman, His Car & Pizza Hut"), which would have fit right in on Percolater--or perhaps a Heavy Vegetable album. The rest of the album is just as wide ranging, though it tends toward the traditional and away from the coffee.

    A lot of piano and acoustics wandering around here. Reynolds is his old hyperactive self from time to time, but he's also able to dial it down and reach some really striking places. The depth isn't shocking, but I'm most gratified to hear it.

    Middle-school ALL fans (that is, those partial to Reynolds's tenure) ought to be most pleased to find this. Anyone who is interested in music without boundaries will probably feel the same way. Reynolds uses almost the entire American musical canvas on this disc, and he does it in an astoundingly understated way. The first listen does this album no justice. Give it ten or twenty and then try to tell me it isn't amazing. Bet you can't.

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

    Robert Ziino
    Slaves for the Billionaires
    (Experimental Artists)

    I think the coolest bit in the liners is "all tracks five minutes." That's a fine bit of obsession, though such attention to detail serves Ziino well here.

    The record label name says it all. Ziino trafficks in electronic disturbances--but more melodic than distorted. He's got a math-y way of putting his lines together, and the pieces themselves are more explorations than actual songs. That would be the experimental part.

    And while he does get a little wiggy, most often the tracks consist of meandering melodic lines bouncing over sometimes-irregular bass lines. He obviously knows a good deal about music theory--his convoluted melodies work well. But this isn't about abstraction. There are clear ideas coming forth.

    That's what I like the most. Ziino isn't weird for the sake of being weird. His music is an expression of his mind, and he's got a pretty ordered mind. The thoughts themselves might seem a bit strange, but I'm all for that. No need for the same old same old when you've got Ziino able to bring the bizarre home in a fine package.

    Experimental Artists
    www: http://www.experimentalartists.com

    Also recommended:

    bran(...)pos Coin-Op Khepri (C.I.P.)
    Goofy, wigged-out electronic explorations into the ids of pranksters. I've liked what I've heard from bran(...)pos in the past, and this release does nothing to hurt that. If you're not ready for the onslaught of playful ideas launched by this outfit, your brain might explode. I prepared accordingly, and it was still touch and go there for a bit.

    The Dagger Brothers You Don't Have to Be Mad to Be in the Dagger Brothers But It Does Help (Void of Ovals)
    Imagine Ween with a serious Zappa jones and a keen sense of pop music. This album is utterly disjointed, as each song arrives from a different perspective. The songs all sound silly, but the craftsmanship is hard to deny. And after a while, that silliness manages to transcend itself. Into what, I'm just not sure.

    15 Degrees Below Zero New Travel (Edgetone)
    A trio that takes a decidedly jazzy approach to abstract electronic-ish fare. Themes repeat themselves, and other pieces of structure give away the skill behind this involving stuff. These boys make great noise, and they're hardly amateurs. Fine stuff.

    The Giants of Gender The Giants of Gender (Edgetone)
    A much more "traditional" Edgetone trio, these improvisations flit in and out of rational consciousness. Lots of skritches and scratches and half-blown notes, but also a good amount of gorgeous melody work as well. These folks do get around, and they've got a fine car for that.

    Inventon Parable of the Surveyors (self-released)
    Taking a modern, post-industrial approach to the heavy harmonies of King's X, Invention sure does have a seductive sound. At times I think the sheen starts to overpower the strength of the music, which is unfortunate. Nonetheless, I think most of the band's ideas come across intact, if a little over-buffed for the effort. An intriguing set.
    www: http://www.inventionofmusic.com

    Jetsumna Delog (self-released)
    Tibetan mantra thrown in with booming electro-funk musings. I like the "authentic" underpinnings--and even the bouncy beats--but the earnestness of the lyrics almost kills this for me. Luckily, I just don't care about lyrics that much. The music here is lots of fun.
    www: http://www.jetsunmamusic.com

    The KBD Sonic Cooperative [four plus one] (Eh?)
    That would be four studio tracks and thirty minutes of live madness. Yet another experimental, improvisational trio reviewed in this issue (maybe that's the theme of the month!), and once again, solid work. KBD tends to do its best work with silence, if that makes any sense. These boys have a fine sense of how to use sound and, more importantly, the practical effects of quiet.

    Jesse Krakow World Without Nachos (Eh?)
    At first listen, you might get the sense that Krakow is something of a polished Wesley Willis. After a few songs, you realize that this is more like a deconstruction of the whole indie pop thing. Krakow has impeccable pop instincts, and he undercuts them on almost every song. That each song tends to be shorter than a minute simply proves the point. Goofy and annoying, but astoundingly involving as well.

    Little Beirut High Dive (self-released)
    As if the 80s took a time machine. Little Beirut has the ringing keyboard feel of Tears for Fears and the tight pop riffage of, I dunno, Let's Active or something. There is something of a modern sensitivity to the hooks, as Little Beirut seems a bit embarrassed to spin pure honey and instead prefers to throw in a little distortion at the peak moments. Not what I would do, but it seems to work pretty well. Fun stuff.
    www: http://www.littlebeirut.com

    Lucy Bland Down to Sea Level (self-released)
    Tight, mannered pop rolled out with just enough of an off-handed touch. I like the languid feel as well as the keen sense of melody. Cat Biell's vocals are perhaps a bit too ethereal for music so slight in stature, but maybe that's the point. On the whole, this works like a charm.
    www: http://www.lucybland.com

    Kristin Mooney Hydroplane (self-released)
    Well-struck folk pop. Mooney has a fine feel for this style. I do wish she'd range a bit further afield; after a while these songs tend to run together. Which is too bad, because taken one at a time they're pretty great. A little more diversity in sound and this would have been brilliant. Though pretty damned good is, well, still pretty damned good.

    One Small Step Another Shelter (Bright Skull)
    Sprightly home-schooled pop from this Louisville couple. I assume they're a couple, as they make reference to "our basement bedroom." Doesn't really matter, I suppose, as they obviously work well together. Much more adventurous than most laptop stuff, One Small Step cycles through a variety of electronic styles and ideas. There's no real center to this album, but the songs are something to behold.

    Pattern Is Movement All Together (Hometapes)
    Andrew Thiboldeaux and Chris Ward are two percussionist types who decided (some time ago) to make music together. Lots of rhythmic excursions via keyboards, bass or drums, generally coming together nicely by the end of the piece. I liked what I heard from these folks in the past, and this album doesn't trip up. Invigorating.

    Bayard Russell Selftitled (self-released)
    Traditional laptop sound, bracingly wry and self-effacing lyrics. Russell has a great voice for this stuff, and he's really funny when he's not going all earnest. That might seem like some sort of whipsaw, but it seems to come naturally for Russell. A fine bit of work.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/bayardrussell

    Shelley Short Water for the Day (Hush)
    Short's voice has great character, and she writes some gorgeous nuevo country songs. There are times she tends to trip over her writing, but mostly she manages to pull off even the questionable bits. Life on the brighter side of Neko Case is, indeed, pretty good.

    The Sump Pumps Revenge of the Sump Pumps (8 Bit)
    Fast punk tunes with a delirious electronic buzz. Not much more here than manic energy, killer beats and preening attitude. But, y'know, that's pretty good all in itself.

    Super 400 3 and the Beast (self-released)
    Every once in a while I hear a band that reminds me how good Urge Overkill was. Super 400 is a bit cleaner and a bit more rock and roll and not quite so bluesy, but the similarities are readily apparent. This trio does a good job with the sound, too. The songs are tight and bruising. I'll take it.
    P.O. Box 129
    Poestenkill, NY 12140
    www: http://www.super400.com

    Various Artists Gold Record Studio 2xCD (Edgetone)
    A couple folks took some antique recording equipment out to the Laney Flea Market in Oakland and recorded whoever showed up. For free. This double set is crammed with just about every sort of music imaginable. What's really cool is that the setting seems to have inspired the performances. This stuff is raw, spirited and impossible to put down. Very cool.

    Various Artists Wait 'til the Ice Melts: New Music from the Lone Star State (Exponential)
    Fourteen bands, fourteen songs. Fourteen different ways that Texas artists interpret the notion of "music." Largely electronic, but using a fairly expansive definition of the genre. A nice little dip into the new new music pool.

    The Wrong Object Stories from the Shed (Moonjune)
    I don't know if you'd call this jazz, or prog with horns or what. The songs are always in motion, the lines ever intertwining and feel most invigorating. If this doesn't move you, you must be dead.

  • return to A&A home page