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 #296 reviews
May 2008
  • Daniel Ahearn Pray for Me By Name EP (Riparian)
  • Anthem In Anthem In (Quiet/Loud)
  • Baskervilles Twilight (Secret Crush)
  • Beehatch Beehatch (Lens)
  • Dropsonic The Low Life (Ascetic)
  • Steven Hess/Miles Tilmann Departures LP (Other Electricities)
  • Steuart Leibig/Tee-Tot Quartet Always Outnumbered (pfMENTUM)
  • Lousy Robot Smile Like You Are Somewhere Else (Socyermom)
  • Misfortune 500 Before This Winter Ends (self-released)
  • The Ramblin' Ambassadors Vista Cruiser Country Squire (Mint)
  • The Slackers Self Medication (Indication)
  • Toy Gun Cowboy Big Blue (Gutter Groove)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Daniel Ahearn
    Pray for Me By Name EP

    Five songs that sound to me like a modern rendition of the electric piano-driven songs penned by Alan Price (remember the Animals?) for the Malcolm McDowell film O Lucky Man!. For those of you not tied to my Netflix queue, that translates into kinda soft-rockin', rootsy stuff that sounds utterly sophisticated when played out through the keyboards or guitars.

    Gorgeous pop songs, the kind of things that would be soaring anthems if Ahearn trended that way. He doesn't, though, and the result is immeasurably more enjoyable gems, subtly crafted and sublimely played.

    Unrushed, intricate pieces that instantly dance upon the ears. Perhaps Ahearn will take a bit more time off from Ill Lit and do us a full length. Sure would be nice.

    Anthem In
    Anthem In

    Stuff that might have been released ten years ago. Anthem In traffics in tight melodies and insistent rhythms--more often alternating the concepts rather than melding them together. I'm more of a synthesis guy myself, but I must admit a certain attraction to this sort of deconstruction.

    It's slightly schizophrenic, of course, but that's cool. As long as the engine keeps firing away, it doesn't much matter which gear the band finds itself in. The disjointed structure doesn't do much for song cohesion, but the craftsmanship is so high that most songs do, in fact, hold together.

    I'm not really tied in to what's popular these days, but the reference on the press sticker to Pinback makes sense. There is a Rob Crow influence in the off-kilter build of the melodies. I'm a sucker for that.

    An unsettling disc, but I think that's a good thing. Anthem In isn't out to make a bunch of kids hold up lighters. I think the band has more ambition than that.

    Quiet/Loud Records
    57 Front St. #205
    Brooklyn, NY 11201
    www: www.quietloudrecords.com

    (Secret Crush)

    Ultra-sharp orchestrated pop, produced by (no surprise here) Mitch Easter and Rob Keith. Keith is the band's main songwriter. Mitch Easter is...oh, c'mon. Let's Active? Produced Murmur?Etc.? Thank you.

    He still knows what he's doing, by the way. As does Baskervilles, which might well have crafted the first orchestral garage album in history. I suppose that's not quite right, but it's closer than you think.

    Most important to the sound is a lugubrious pop bass line that seems to burble through every song. Some might think that such a thing could just be programmed in, but an awful lot of bands seem to forget that as the bass goes, so does the butt. And if your butt doesn't feel the groove, there is none.

    Mine's shakin' plenty, and yours will, too. These bright, peppy songs keep on coming until fourteen have passed. I hope these folks didn't wear themselves out. This is going to be a tough act to follow up.

    www: www.baskervilles.net


    Phil Western and Mark Spybey reconvene ten years after Download's first demise. Spybey is the guy behind Dead Voices on Air (reviewed in these pages 13 years ago), Zoviet*France and other similar projects. So maybe funky is a subjective term.

    This is, however, much more delicate than, say, Download. It's also much more accessible than DVOA. The gist of the album is a series of wig outs, of course, but more cerebral than raucous. Western and Spybey work hard to get inside their sound. It's an almost impossible task, but sometimes they succeed.

    And then that happens, the world actually turns upside down. If you're not careful, your brain will escape to balmier climes and you'll be left wondering who turned out the lights. Don't worry; I've been there. Just wait out the disc and you'll find your own way home.

    Beehatch travels far afield, but the journey is most rewarding. Conscious thought is your enemy. Let the music take control and everything will be alright. Trust me.

    Lens Records
    2020 N. California Ave.
    Suite 7-119
    Chicago, IL 60647
    www: http://www.lensrecords.com

    The Low Life

    It took me a while to comprehend why this disc stuck to my brain like a whiny three-year-old. And then I listened to a couple of old Kepone albums and it hit me: Rhythmic bliss.

    Trios are kinda uniquely qualified to create seriously rhythmic music. The bass and drums take on more melodic responsibilities (as it were), and one of the ways to do that is to blister the rhythms to an almost impossible level.

    Such is the greatness of Dropsonic. The guitars stick to the rhythmic path as well, and that makes these songs pop out with that much more fervor. Strident and striking, to be sure.

    Dazzling Killmen also come to mind, though Dropsonic is bit less bombastic and a bit more sly. I hadn't heard stuff like this in ages, and now I crave it like no other. Dropsonic made me lapse. Bastards.

    Ascetic Records
    P.O. Box 411193
    St. Louis, MO 63141
    www: http://www.asceticrecords.com

    Steven Hess/Miles Tilmann
    Departures LP
    (Other Electricities)

    True story: When my wife and I were preparing for the birth of our first child, our childbirth instructor suggested we bring some CDs that might help my wife meditate during labor (so as to have a natural childbirth). The disc she liked best was Miles Tilmann's Underland EP. For a variety of reasons, we never used the CDs, but I've always had a bit of affection for that EP.

    This album is much more abstract than that EP, but I still feel some sort of kinship with Tilmann. The sounds are subtle, but the ideas have force. You just need to wait for them.

    Well, and perhaps turn up the volume. This one isn't going to surprise you with sudden lurches into fortissimo; it's merely going to amaze with the breadth of its thought.

    This one would be good for the hospital, too. Lots of meditative possibilities, but hardly boring. Quite stirring in its own way, actually.

    Steuart Leibig/Tee-Tot Quartet
    Always Outnumbered

    I tend to hear Leibig's work as straddling the avant-garde and accessible worlds. Most of the time, I'm an avant-garde kinda guy. But I tend to like Leibig's more straightforward work best.

    This album, however, seems to straddle the straddle, as it were. Leibig's contrabass work here is fairly conventional in a melodic sense, but his pieces are anything but. In particular, Dan Clucas's work on the cornet is spectacular. He kinda flits through the universe as Scot Ray on dobro and Joseph Berardi on drums keep order.

    Each player takes his share of solos. Ray's dobro work is exemplary, and he takes his turns with aplomb. But these pieces seem written to feature the cornet, and Clucas is the clear star here.

    I'm cool with that. These are well-constructed pieces played with style and emotion. In the end, I'd say this is one of my favorite Leibig efforts. Very nice.

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

    Lousy Robot
    Smile Like You Are Somewhere Else
    (Socyer Mom)

    A solid Albuquerque pop band that doesn't try too hard to sound like an Albuquerque pop band (if you know what I mean). Lean melodies, some sweet keyboards and fine jangle.

    Indeed, the feel is cool all the way. I don't know if the "robot" in the name is a reference to the keyboard sound, but there's more than a bit of the new wave in that element.

    Nowhere else, really, which is what makes these guys so interesting. Most of this is straight garage pop, produced with an extremely loose hand. The sound is bright but thin. It kinda screams "indie" at the top of its lungs. And that works with these understated songs.

    Nothing spectacular or otherworldly. Just cool music kicked out with an extreme lack of pretension. So no, this doesn't sound that that ex-Albuquerque pop band. But it's quite good as well.

    www: http://www.socyermom.com

    Misfortune 500
    Before this Winter Ends

    Take the ringing guitar and insistent drumming of The Unforgettable Fire, throw in a little surf-a-billy and then push the tempo. Always push the tempo.

    Misfortune 500 sounds more like an early 90s indie rock band than something from this misbegotten era, but as you might surmise by my comment, that's a good thing. These folks have the sense to throw together a number of complimentary sounds. Sounds that worked the first (or tenth) time around.

    The sound is nice and noisy, the sort of crunchy feel that breathes yet another spark of life into a sound like this. This is a most dirty album, soundwise. All for the best, boys.

    It's true that these guys aren't the most distinctive act around, but they write good songs and thrash them out with plenty of attitude. In the finest possible tradition, of course.

    www: http://www.misfortune500.com

    The Ramblin' Ambassadors
    Vista Cruiser Country Squire

    Just in time for summer, the Ramblin' Ambassadors wander through with another batch of ace surf instrumentals. This second outing from Brent Cooper's "side project" is more assured and just as wide ranging as Avanti.

    And I like it a lot more, which is saying something. Maybe its because Cooper (of Huevos Rancheros) and pals played for more than four years before cranking out another album. Maybe it's just because. In any case, there's more of a complete feel to this set.

    The sound is stronger. That's a production thing, but it's important to surf music. I've always been more of a Dick Dale fan, and that means power, a real bottom end to the sound. These boys have found it, and they wail with it.

    Full throttle, and then some. The Ramblin' Ambassadors have found their groove, and I don't think they're giving it up for nobody.

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

    The Slackers
    Self Medication

    A somewhat restrained outing for the Slackers. The balance of ska and soul remains about the same, but the boys seem more in the mood for contemplation on this one.

    It works, too. At first, I was missing the insistent, in-your-face version of the Slackers I'm more used to hearing. But a few songs in I slipped into the feel of the album and joined the party.

    It is a low-key joint, and the minimalist sound (at least for these guys) forces the songs to perform. They do, most admirably. If you never thought the Slackers could pen (much less play) a delicate, introspective piece, check out "Stars." It's perhaps the most extreme example of the change I hear on this disc, and it's a knockout.

    Why not try something a little bit different? The musicianship is, as always, admirable, and the band jams together as well as anyone. Lower the lights, slide something cool into a glass and let this one wander by. More than once, if you have the time.

    Indication Records
    P.O. Box 4669
    Alexandria, VA 22303
    www: http://www.indicationrecords.com

    Toy Gun Cowboy
    Big Blue
    (Gutter Groove)

    Certainly the wackiest album in the reviews this month. That's not saying a whole lot, as most of my choices are fairly conventional. But Matt Erickson (who is Toy Gun Cowboy) has a cool, proggy take on pop music. Kinda like Ween meets Bourgeois Tagg--how's that for fucked up?

    Actually, all it means is that the music is slightly disjointed and utterly accessible. Jambling rhythms and bouncy melodies, all tossed into a blender. Like the folks I mentioned (and others, like Was Not Was, I suppose) Toy Gun Cowboy knows how to pour.

    That is, you gotta get all the pieces in the right places. By and large, that happens here. These are some crazy songs, but they all make sense--both within themselves and as part of the album. It's kind of a cool trick, really.

    The liners suggest playing the songs in reverse order for a "conceptual effect." You should try this. It provides an entirely different way to hear this album. I like the way Erickson thinks.

    Also recommended:

    Baboon Baboon (self-released)
    I seem to get something from these guys every five years or so. Intense or insistent doesn't quite describe what's going on here. More like solid pop music with the feel of the impending apocalypse. A simple pleasure that only improves with age.
    www: http://www.baboonland.com

    The Boxing Lesson Wild Streaks & Windy Days (Big Bigness)
    The band thanks the universe. The album cover is of some sort of astronomical formation. So it makes sense that these guys play spacey (in the 70s sense) indie rock. A little backbeat jangle, a little drum machine madness, some ringing guitars and the sound of deep space. Kinda cool.

    The Boy Bathing A Fire to Make Preparations (self-released)
    Very much music of the moment, that highly-evocative, almost-cloying version of emo that first hit it big with the Rocket Summer. These folks burrow much further into the introspective side of the sound, which will either inspire or infuriate. Seriously dedicated, in any case.
    www: http://www.theboybathing.com

    The Broken Letters Sing the Burning Alphabet (Bent Rail Foundation)
    Stark, sometimes folky and sometimes bashing stuff that sounds a lot like Palace on electric piano. Actually, that's exactly what it sounds like. Idiosyncratic to the extreme, but astoundingly gorgeous in places. Especially when the thunder comes.

    Diamondhead Dirty Realism (Eh?)
    Reminds me a lot of Brise-Glace, though much, much messier. Throbbing rhythms and loopy experimentalism trade body blows. No one wins, but it sounds really cool.

    Iglomat Iglomat (KFM)
    Assembled instrumental fare--instrumental if you considered sampled vocals to be "instruments," I suppose--that makes a fine place for itself. There's nothing particularly unusual about what these three guys do, but they sure do it well. These contemplative pieces echo far into the sunset.

    The Instruments Dark Smaland (Orange Twin)
    The A in "Smaland" has one of those Swedish circles on top (my coding is not good enough to do that here), and so my thoughts turned to IKEA, where the kids' playgrounds are called "Smaland." If that's the reference or not, I don't know, but it kinda suits this involved, but playful, set. Massive orchestration illuminates, rather than overcrowds, these delicate pieces. A nice world to hang in for a while.

    The Lodger Life Is Sweet (Slumberland)
    Jaunty pop that surveys the 70s and then reinvents itself as a purely 21st century sound. Gorgeous hooks and tight playing make this a solid set. Songs for a wistful summer evening never felt so good.

    Mass Solo Revolt Easy Mark (self-released)
    This has the feel of a one-man project, and it is true that Martin Brummeler wrote all the songs and produced the album as well. But the band is four people--and it's pretty amazing that a quartet could make such idiosyncratic fare. There's an obsessive edge that most bands tend wear down. Ride it as long as you can, boys.

    Nerf Herder Nerf Herder IV (Oglio)
    The latest album of highly competent punk pop (or is that competent highly pop punk?) from these boys. Silly, cheesy and far too much fun to relegate to the benches. Geeks rule, man

    Ness You Can't Afford to Feel (self-released)
    Elaborate pop rock that sounds orchestral, but merely relies on piano and other keyboard implements for some extra shininess. The songs here do often fall into the modern piano rock sound that has become so popular with dorks like me. These boys wander off into a few too many tangents for their own good (remember the hooks, guys!), but the ride is quite a trip.
    www: http://www.nessmusic.com

    Dudley Saunders The Emergency Lane (Fang)
    A fine bit of minimalist-leaning faux-roots music. There's an artiness here, a preciousness to the arrangements that makes this anything but roots (or minimalist), but that kink is exactly what makes me come back for more.

    Shelf Life Rheuma (Eh?)
    Bryan Day and three friends get together to make, um, music. Those of you who know Day (and the Public Eyesore label, etc.), know that he ascribes to a fairly expansive definition of the word. This stuff burbles and drips and kinda oozes its way along. It's strangely comforting, abstract fare that reminds me of an old house settling down for the evening. That's music I can really dig into.

    Temple of Soul Brothers in Arms (self-released)
    If you were wondering what Narada Michael Walden is up to these days, well, here it is. He recruited Clarence Clemons, T.M. Stevens and Vernon "Ice" Black to make an interesting amalgam of r&b, funk, disco, rock...you get the idea. The groove is king here, and by and large, the grooves come through. I do get the feeling this might have been more at home in the mid-80s, but it sounds pretty cool now.

    Twin Tigers Curious Faces Violet Future EP (self-released)
    The Twin Tigers may not be so otherworldly as they might like you to think, but the band's moody, shimmery sound is pretty cool. I kept waiting for the songs themselves to kick into overdrive, but these folks have perseverance. They remain true to their purpose and hold things in check. It's an interesting choice, but it works most of the time.
    www: http://www.thetwintigers.com

    Waz The Sweet Bye and Bye (self-released)
    Gorgeous songs with ringing tones and elegiac melodies. Waz is a bit too upbeat to be dour, but no one would mistake these songs for anthems. Kinda reminds me of a more mannered Ryan Adams (in his "down" phases), but I like Waz's phrasing better. Lots of goodness here.
    www: http://www.wazmusic.com

    Win Win Winter A Brief History Of... EP (24 Hour Service Station)
    So brief I doubt this qualifies as a real history. But it is a clever title, and Win Win Winter works hard to be clever. What with titles like "Doves and Uppercuts" and "We Came From Stereos," it's apparent that these folks are trying hard to impress. Mostly they do. The music sits awfully low in the mix--it doesn't sound soft, but it is hiding. The fuzzy, almost whispered vocals are a nice touch as well. Unusual and affecting.

    The Yoleus Nightmare Circle Vision (self-released)
    Three guys from Minneapolis who sound like the usual midwestern mathy alt.rock trio. You know, Don Cab (is Pittsburgh the midwest? Hmm...), etc. Lots of energy, lots of volume, lots of awe-inspiring flights of rhythm. These boys work well together. This album is merely very good. More time spent doodling, and they might be great.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/theyoleus

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