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 #297 reviews
Yes, the whole garage thing played out a long time ago. A long time ago in "fad years," anyway. But there's something about music played with immediacy and attitude that just doesn't go out of style.
Being British, the Heys sharpen the garage sound to a fine edge and then provide one hell of a shave. These are songs stripped down to their barest elements: power, melody and electricity.
Oh, and they're good. The Heys know how to kick out the hooks, and more importantly, these songs are decadent examples of exceptional rhythmic grooves. In other words, shaking your ass is required.
Not the next coming of anything in particular, but awfully tight and refined in such a way as to maximize the pleasure. Just in time for summer.
Suburban Home specializes in punk-tinged country music, often coming in trio form. Most often, its bands owe old school (No Depression, Still Feel Gone) Uncle Tupelo a great debt--even while carving out their own little piece of the sound. That's pretty much what Jr. Juggernaut does, too.
Which is cool by me. Uncle Tupelo was the house band of my college years at Missouri, so I kinda have an emotional connection to this style. Jr. Juggernaut is more muscular than most. In many ways, these boys have more of a Blasting Room sound than many bands that record at the Descendents HQ.
Behind that throbbing wall lies some really nice thinking. These songs may be bashed out with abandon, but they're put together with grace and care. Not many bands can sound gentle even while thrashing out rootsy riffs at 11. These boys certainly do have a special talent.
And they're from California. California? I feel like I'm in that old salsa commercial. California? Good music works everywhere, I suppose. And these boys sure do good music right. Lovely noise.
Ride With Me
(Black Cat Songs/Fargfabriken)
Kingen is a lake between Sweden and Norway, and it is also the name a certain T. Karlsson has been using for some time. Just not quite as long a time as the sound of his songs might make it seem.
These pieces have the feel of 1950s American r&b and the 60s British invasion redux. There are a few modern improvements (the drum machine on "She's Mine" explodes the song right out of the speakers), but the influences are nice and weathered.
Kingen himself is of indeterminate age. Someone on the web said they'd seen Kingen more than 10 years ago, and his photos put him somewhere between 30 and 50. Doesn't really matter, though. These songs take old school rock and roll and very subtly bring the sound into modern times. Nothing contrived; just solid writing and exuberant playing.
Some folks might liken this to Amy Winehouse and the other Brit replicators. But Kingen's influences are much more wide-ranging, and he's much too interested in the music to insert himself above it. Maybe he's the Swedish Nick Lowe, which wouldn't be a bad thing at all.
Take the Whole Midrange and Boost It
The title is a great description of what most power pop bands need to do to their mix. I suppose it's some sort of inside joke, as these Northern Irish folks play wonky power pop that does, indeed, boost the middle range.
Not so much as to make a mud puddle, of course. These songs have all sorts of ornaments dangling from them, and it would serve no purpose to hide them. This sort of eclecticism comes close to sounding forced, but in the end it simply comes across as a decidedly less-freaky version of Ween.
Take that as you like. The folks in Oppenheimer seem to know that they're not misunderstood geniuses. They're just solid pop musicians with a fair number of fun ideas. That's okay by me.
More than okay, really. The largely electronic flights of wackiness didn't distract from the business of pumping out solid hooks and sturdy harmonies. More like enhanced them, really. Highly enjoyable.
The press sticker overstates the Pedaljets place in history just a bit. The band that inspired Uncle Tupelo? Influenced, sure. Befriended...might well be. I saw the Pedaljets once when I was at Missouri. They were damn good, one of the best regional bands of the mid 80s. And they went away right when things seemed to be getting good.
This album is a re-recording of the band's second effort. Some of the original tracks from that 1989 album are still here, but most of this is new. I don't have a copy of that earlier version, but my memory is that it was rougher. Had to be, really. Everything indie in those days was pretty much hack and slash.
As for the style, Uncle Tupelo is not the correct reference. "The Toup" stirred itself a Minneapolis cocktail that was equal parts Jayhawks and 'Mats. The Pedaljets remained firmly in Westerbergian and Stinsonian territory, though they had (and have) the ability to craft gorgeous songs without sounding forced.
This is a stylish remake. The songwriting is definitely 1989, but the modern production brings out the band's many influences. This is a very strange sort of project, but the results don't lie. If this album wasn't already a classic, it sure is now.
Radars to the Sky
The Big Bang E.P.
Most EPs break out fast and make their points early. Radars to the Sky decided to roll out in a contemplative mode. It works. Probably better than if the disc had kicked off with one of the more uptempo bits.
Radars to the Sky plays slightly-more-than-minimalist fare. They've got a bit of jangle in the hooks and some pop in the percussion. But the real attraction here is the simple beauty of the songs themselves. These folks know how to paint pictures with their songs. Really interesting pictures.
Took me a couple minutes to latch on to this one. But my interest turned to devotion almost immediately. The delicate strength of these songs is a rare treasure.
The life of a modern reed man is almost unfathomable to me. Every stone has pretty much been overturned, and yet folks are expected to come up with something new. David Sanchez seems to follow in the footsteps of Branford Marsalis: Take the old as given and insinuate yourself into every crevice you can find.
Most artists don't have the chops or ambition to make this approach work. Sanchez does. This album is dedicated to Mario Rivera and Cachao (Lopez), two jazzmen who were at the forefront of adding Caribbean rhythms and melodies to the canon. There are echoes of those rhythms and melodies from time to time, but Sanchez is more of a traditionalist. He sets forth his ideas and lets the band work them out.
His rendition of "Monk's Mood" is a perfect example. Less formal than Monk, but languorous rather than sloppy. And while Sanchez's tone is one of the silkiest I've heard in ages, there's nothing "smooth" about these pieces. Lage Lund's guitar work is wonderfully complimentary, serving as either backbone or counterpoint to Sanchez's musings. Their interplay is fantastic.
The centerpiece is the last track, "La Leyenda del Canaveral," 20-plus minutes of sublime exploration. The piece flew by for me, lasting perhaps five exhilarating minutes in my mind. It's a fitting summation for the album, and worthy of a disc of its own. Mindblowing stuff.
The Scarring Party
Come Away from the Light
Any band that features accordion, banjo, tuba, a variety of reeds and strings and something called a "tongue drum" is a winner in my book.
True enough, this stuff is extraordinarily mannered. Daniel Anthony Bullock sounds like the bastard child of Leon Redbone and Les Claypool. Maybe that's what he imagines to be "old timey" singing. Or maybe he just thinks it sounds cool. But again, when played off the accordion and tuba and the like, it works.
Nonetheless, there's no escaping the novelty nature of this stuff. The Scarring Party is interesting because it's so weird. And if I'm calling something weird, you know it must be true. The songs are a bit clunky, which might also be part of that whole gimmick. The sound is immaculate, giving lots of space to each of the instruments while remaining intimate.
All qualifications aside, this is a stirring album. It does help to have a preference for the unusual--but if you didn't, you wouldn't be reading this, would you? Give the accordion a few minutes and see how it grows on you.