Welcome to A&A. There are 13 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 #295 reviews
There's a type of music that seems almost endemic to the urban south. There's plenty of blues, a fair amount of folk and more than a smidge of country. It's not really americana--or if it is, it's decidedly unpolished. Back when I lived in Durham (N.C.), I heard this sort of thing all the time. Sometimes it was more bluesy, sometimes more folky and oftentimes simply more old school.
John Amen hails from the Charlotte area, but he sounds like he grew up in New Orleans. Or maybe even Chicago. There is a great windy city blues sound to his guitar, especially when it gets rockin'. Kinda like the Band by way of Appalachia, with a Buddy Guy kicker.
More Buddy in the guitar sound than the blues feel. A lot of this does sound a lot like New Orleans rock from the 70s, which is fine by me. There's a certain malevolent laid-back sensibility to that sorta stuff, and Amen seems to channel a fair amount of vague unease within the easy-going songs here.
Most of all, though, this is music for the back porch. Two (or three) fingers of bourbon in the glass and nothing to do but sit for the rest of the day. Now that's the life.
So your older sister listed to a lot of Cure and then got into My Bloody Valentine--right before the apocalypse. That sort of thing is bound to make an impression.
It sure did on the members of Astral, who play music right in that alley. There's not a whole lot more going on, but it sure it some noise. Glorious noise, that is.
Modestly gothic songs disfigured by curtains of distortion and reverb. The songs themselves are kinda lost behind the veil, but that certainly seems to be the point. We are talking about early Cure, the stripped-down stuff that often rocked your socks. To obscure such throb is an interesting idea, one that works more often than not.
A pleasant trip into a yesteryear that never was. Astral has planted its flag in a most interesting sonic territory, and since I'm a geezer who was old when the music the band is appropriating was first around, I must admit a fair amount of affection for the stuff. Smiley smiles for me.
Scotland Barr & the Slow Drags
All the Great Aviators Agree
Reminds me nothing so much as Josh Lederman, that purveyor of Irish americana from Boston. Scotland Barr hails from the other coast, and he dips into just about every musical tradition he can find and runs it through a bright filter.
See, this is americana. It's sharply produced and polyglot by design. It works because Barr's songs are solid and his band plays with a loose, accomplished feel. Nothing sounds rushed, but all the notes arrive on time.
And when you've got this much stuff in the pot, you need a strong hand on the knobs. If you allow too much sloppiness, then this would become incomprehensible. There's a clear vision in the sound, and this album was produced with that in mind.
Down and dirty songs that ought to make just about anyone feel good. Bring your troubles to this bar, and you're sure to go home happy.
Claws of Paradise
Claws of Paradise
Badass rock and roll, with horns. It's not a new concept, but few bands have attempted it with such a ferocious attitude. It's not just that this album is one blistering blast after another (think Voodoo Glow Skulls meets "Paranoid" Black Sabbath and then slips into a bloozy hot tub). Well, maybe it is.
The horns really make the sound, too. The whole caffeinated stoner bar band thing is cool, but the horns just set it off. Otherwise you've got a low-tech Hanoi Rocks with more guitars. An intriguing idea, to be sure, but one that these boys surpass.
The other key to these songs is that they remain in motion throughout. If the beat wasn't so insistent, the energy would drain out quickly. But once Claws of Paradise opens up the throttle, there's no looking back.
A big ball of fun, with some kick-ass riffage as a bonus. One for the testosterone set, to be sure, but even adrenaline junkies prefer quality. And there's plenty of that here.
Loopy math-ish stuff. Reminds me a lot of Brainiac. I guess that reference may be lost on some of you. Too bad, man. Brainiac was the shit.
What I like is that these guys mix their obvious proficiency and inclination toward analytical sounds with what can only be described as a deranged sensibility. There is no sense to a fair portion of this, except within the minds of the folks propagating it.
And even when Dallas Orbiter retreats into geekland, the songs are engaging. There's always an interesting rhythm somewhere, and the sense of melody here is involved, but rarely convoluted beyond the realm of reality.
Sure, it's a little weird. And it's guaranteed to reduce your chances of romance. Sacrifices must be made if good music is to survive.
Shade Side Sunny Side
(Words on Music)
Another venture into the spooky side of 80s indie pop. For Against doesn't so much emulate a particular band or two but rather simply basks in the glow of the sound.
At times languid and at others insistent, For Against never hurries. These pieces take a while to unfold, though they're not particularly lengthy. Patience is required, but it's the sort of patience that comes naturally when listening to such engaging music.
The sound is just hefty enough to provide a nest for a speck of reverb. That hint of unsteadyness washes these songs in a molecule-thin gauze. Just enough to notice, but not enough to annoy.
And the craft is spectacular. These songs connect the dots effortlessly, and more importantly, the junctions are inaudible. Once again, For Against has put together some truly fine work.
The Foxglove Hunt
(Common Wall Media)
The partnership of Rob Withem and Ronnie Martin (Fine China and Joy Electric, respectively), this is yet another album in this set of reviews that skips through the fields of the 80s.
In this case, these guys dive straight into the bounding synth pop that brought dolts like me to the dance floor back in the day. Interestingly, the sound doesn't stick to a particular era; there are plenty of Get Ready-esque numbers as well as those that would feel at home on Low-Life, if you want to use the New Order comparison.
In other words, there are a few sterile dancefloor anthems, and sometimes there's a bit of leavening in the dough. Just enough fluff to provide a comfy spot for the ever-widening butts of the geezers who will appreciate this most. And yes, we're most grateful.
What strikes me most here, though, is the sheer joy of the music. I'm all for moody introspection--if it's done well--but sometimes I just want my personal cheese. This satisfies like almost nothing else.
Head of Femur
A gang of three with a baker's dozen of side players. Sixteen folks working their way through a complex web of mostly acoustic psychedelic tunes that would have fit in real well in the 60s.
Yeah. That cool, really. Imagine early Urge Overkill with an orchestral acoustic bent. And then twisted a few more times for good measure. These songs often fold in upon themselves, but when you pull on the ends they turn into a gorgeous work of origami.
Okay, that was a pretentious analogy. But Head of Femur walks a tight line between brilliance and excessive pretentiousness. Somewhat astonishingly, the folks never cross. I kept waiting for that to happen, but no. Simply one astoundingly fine song after another.
That's the thing with tightly-crafted pop. It can get overbearing fast. Maybe it's that vague psychedelic twitch or simply the bands obvious enthusiasm for the songs that saves the day. In the end, it works. And somewhere out there, Roky Erickson is smiling.