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 #298 reviews
3 Rounds and a Sound
As the press note says, there is a certain Shins-like quality to these songs. Which is a bit unfortunate when you live in the same town and all. Nonetheless, Blind Pilot manages to make up for certain tendencies with a laid-back attitude and some scintillating songwriting.
Maybe the fact that Blind Pilot is (mostly) two guys (Israel Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski) is what leads to the minimalist take on soaring pop. Whatever the reason, the restraint gives these songs something of a phantom ring behind the actual music. The mind imagines grandiose, soaring pop when it just isn't there.
That's just so cool. These small songs have so much to say that they play tricks on the mind. It's subversive and utterly irresistible. Kinda like crack for pop fans. But, y'know, crack with vitamins and stuff. So it's good for you.
Wow, that was messed up. I'm really kinda shell-shocked by this disc. It completely hijacked me with its greatness. Give Blind Pilot two songs and you'll feel the same way. Something wild, indeed.
I loved their album from last year (The Crooked Mile Home), and this one picks up right where that left off. Ramblin', rollickin' and occasionally rockin' country songs. Some horns, some organ plenty of harmonizin'. And some really great songs.
Two albums, and every song is a keeper. These guys cycle through so many sounds (from Tom Petty to the Band to the Gram Parsons to a wee bit of the Big Star) it seems impossible that they could possibly master each one. Perhaps the secret is taking those influences and melding them to some semblance of a well-defined band sound.
And these boys hail from the west coast (albeit upper northwest), to boot. I've been hearing a lot of stuff from this side of the tracks originating from out that way. It has a different feel than the (largely) midwestern and east coast renditions of americana that I'm a bit more used to hearing. Somewhat rougher and a little more emotionally raw. I like it.
Two years, two albums, two winners. I don't know how far these guys are venturing from Bellingham, but I'll be in the front row if they ever stop by inside the Beltway. Excellent stuff.
Michael Dean Damron and Thee Loyal Bastards
Bad Days Ahead
(In Music We Trust)
It's hard to imagine, but Michael Dean Damron has gone solo and nonetheless managed to come up with a more unwieldy moniker than his old band, I Can Lick Any Sonofabitch in the House. Interestingly, he's also tightened up his songwriting and pumped out his first really great album.
There's a definite New Faces meets Replacements (and run through an americana filter) feel--I don't know about you, but just the thought of such a thing sends a shiver up my thigh. Damron has a stellar rasp, and this time he's set it to some first-rate songs.
Damron wrote a number of excellent songs with ICLASITH, but those were often overshadowed by a few too many car wrecks. Those excessive tendencies have been pruned from this set, and what's left is an album chock full of rootsy, rockin' goodies, delivered with some of the grainiest vocals in music today.
Just beautiful. I'd been waiting for Damron to finally come through, and he has. The ever-present talent has finally produced something spectacular. Lovely, lovely, lovely.
Ah, the pleasures of 80s electronic cheese guitar pop. There's nothing subtle or particularly original about what these folks do, but when you combine bouncy bass with kick-ass riffage, keyboard washes and raggedy hooks, well, I flash back to freshman-year keggers. Such good times.
These guys probably weren't potty trained when I first latched onto this sound, but never mind. If you can reference Tears for Fears, Blondie (the band, not Debbie Harry's vocals), New Order, the Lightning Seeds and P.I.L without sounding like a complete ripoff, you're doing something right in my book.
Oh, the hooks are often blindingly brilliant. And there's a bit more guitar than I might have indicated. I've always loved dancing to songs with serious guitar, and these folks do it right.
Out of time, but maybe just right for the sensibilities of today's kiddies. I won't speculate about that--I'm dreadful at assessing commercial viability--but I do know good music. And so does Electric Touch.
(Kill Rock Stars)
Well-crafted minimalist pop, with some great string and horn work from time to time. The most striking thing about these pieces, though, is Hanson's voice.
He sings like a girl. Strike that. He sings like a boy who wants to sound like a girl. And to tell the truth, he succeeds in astonishing fashion. I couldn't say why he affects his falsetto, but it's really effective. This is his third album, and its safe to say a lot of people like the way he does things.
Once the whole question of vocals is resolved, however, the quality of the songs becomes that much more apparent. These pieces are tightly crafted but produced with a loose hand. There are a few spaces for ideas to hide out, and Hanson crams them full of exquisite bits.
Exceptional work. I suppose some won't be able to get past Hanson's vocals (I'm having a bit of trouble, myself), but those who do will find an album of quiet brilliance.
Head Like a Kite
There Is Loud Laughter Everywhere
The early 90s really were the golden age of electronic music. Technology finally seemed to allow the seamless fusion of rock, electronics, funk and whatever else occurred to crazy DJs. The Chemical Brothers and Propellerheads are obviously emblematic of this shift, but listening to KMFDM albums in chronological order gives an even more accurate history lesson.
Head Like a Kite embraces rock, hard rock, funk, trip hop and wiggy keyboard fare. Oh, and more than a bit of the shoegazer as well. The fuzz growing on the sound is most impressive.
The album itself is mostly low key. The moments where Dave Einmo (the man behind HLAK) steps out of this groove are where he really starts to put a stamp on his sound. The incongruities shine like nuclear markers in the bloodstream. Einmo loves rock and roll, even if he seems to prefer to cast glances askance rather than simply rock out.
If you want to get the full package, check out track 6, "Everyday Should Be a Costume Party," which rips through disco, soul and some sweet hip hop beats. Oh, and a nice little bit of guitar. Einmo is awfully subtle sometimes, but he will put your ass in motion.
By and large the work of a certain Ray Weiss (Matthew Gaffney did the drumming on a few tracks), Le Rug sounds an awful lot like the bastard child of U.S. Maple and the Shins.
There's lots of pop and lots of whiny no wave. Often at the same time. Most of these songs annoyed for one reason or another (Weiss's distorted vocals certainly high among them), but I couldn't turn it off. Maybe I fell victim to the whole "you can't look away from a car wreck" psychology, but I don't think so.
Rather, I think the messiness and the grating vocals actually work--when connected to the rest of the music. And particularly when fused with these songs, which do contain an impressive devotion to the hook, no matter how fucked up the rendition of that hook might be.
The total package is impressive. There's no point in breaking it down; after all, it is pretty much the work of one person. And while this album could well be entered into evidence at an involuntary commitment hearing, well, that's what makes it great. A little insanity is good for the soul.
A much more traditional electronic "jam" album, Elliot Lipp takes some excellent German stock and simmers with healthy doses of hip-hop and indie experimentalism. So you've got grooves, gapes and some seriously chilly keyboards.
Lipp isn't breaking any new ground here, but he sure does breathe some life into this sound. There's a playfulness, particularly in the beats, that leavens everything else. These songs glow with pleasure.
And that's true even when Lipp is digging deep into his most wiggy thoughts. No matter how far he heads toward the edge, there's always a smile in the sound. It's not a cloying smile, or the smile of the cheesehead. It's simply the smile of someone having fun.
As I noted, this one should me much more appealing to the purists that the Head Like a Kite reviewed above. But both are fine works in their own ways and ought to captivate anyone who likes to think a bit about music.