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 #294 reviews
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.
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.
Drag the River
You Can't Live This Way
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.
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.
Friendship Is Deep re-issue
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.
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.
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.
First Nervous Breakdown
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.