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 #298 reviews
July 2008
  • Blind Pilot Three Rounds and a Sound (Expunged)
  • Chuckanut Drive Fidelity Grange (Ragtown)
  • Michael Dean Damron & Thee Royal Bastards Bad Days Ahead (In Music We Trust)
  • Electric Touch Electric Touch (Justice)
  • Jeff Hanson Madam Owl (Kill Rock Stars)
  • Head Like a Kite There Is Loud Laughing Everywhere (Mush)
  • Le Rug Bleenex (Omad)
  • Elliot Lipp The Outside (Mush)
  • Object O (Eh?)
  • Philadelphia Slick Culture Industry (self-released)
  • The Slants Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts (self-released)
  • Woven Designer Codes (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Blind Pilot
    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.

    Expunged Records
    2507 SE Salmon
    Portland, OR 97204
    www: http://www.expunged-records.com

    Chuckanut Drive
    Fidelity Grange

    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.

    In Music We Trust
    15213 SE Bevington Ave.
    Portland, OR 97267-3355
    www: http://www.inmusicwetrust.com

    Electric Touch
    Electric Touch

    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.

    www: http://www.electrictouchmusic.com

    Jeff Hanson
    Madam Owl
    (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.

    Kill Rock Stars
    120 NE State PMB #418
    Olympia, WA 98501
    www: http://www.killrockstars.com

    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.

    Mush Records
    1742 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90036
    www: http://www.dirtyloop.com

    Le Rug

    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.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/lerug

    Elliot Lipp
    The Outside

    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.

    Mush Records
    1742 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90036
    www: http://www.dirtyloop.com


    Object's instrumentation consists of glass objects, laptop and something called a bass-balloon kit. The pieces are performed as solos, duets and full trios. The sound is otherworldly.

    The bass-balloon kit provides most of the truly unusual sounds. There's a photo behind the liners that kinda shows what this is...and I can't really piece it together. The sound, though, is probably close to what one might imagine a weather balloon being bowed would sound like.

    Add in the glass tinkles and everything thrown in by the laptop and there's the distinct feeling that civilization is turning in on itself. I'm not sure if that's where these people were headed, but these are the sounds of collapse.

    Compelling stuff. Way out on the edge of rational sound, of course, but most intriguing nonetheless. Let this one rest on the edge of your brain for a few minutes and then see how you're feeling. If you're not the least bit queasy, you're not listening hard enough.

    Public Eyesore
    c/o Bryan Day
    3803 S. 25th St.
    Omaha, NE 68107
    www: http://www.publiceyesore.com

    Philadelphia Slick
    Culture Industry

    The think I liked most about Schooly D and Stetsasonic were the full backing bands. Stetsasonic, in particular, did some really amazing stuff with music and vocal. Philadelphia Slick has a late 80s/early 90s style of rhyming, but the horn, strings and keyboard sections take us back to TSOP.

    Well, sorta. But there is a 70s feel to this. More rock (or, at least, more aggressive beats) than the Philadelphia sound, I suppose, but the lush surroundings do take me back.

    Back to when I was in grade school, but whatever. Philadelphia Slick rips off huge chunks of thought and then gives it in a thick coating of tuneage. There's a definite separation between the two elements, but the interplay is exceptional.

    This one's easy. It sounds great, it has a few things to say and it never loses sight of the groove. Keep the party goin', guys.

    www: http://www.philadelphiaslick.com

    The Slants
    Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts

    Straight back to the 80s, with just a wink and a nod toward the 90s. The Slants create stellar grooves and dress them up sharply with a pair of keyboard players and a healthy dose of crunchy guitar.

    A simple formula for pop music, but it only works if the hooks kill. By and large, they do. The Slants have conjured up something of a concept album, with lyrics that refer to a very short graphic (as in pictures) story that ends the liners. The whole Yakuza (well, mafia of some sort) wife taking revenge on the family tale is delicious, but it doesn't have anything on the songs themselves.

    Reduced to the basics, the Slants are pretty much Duran Duran melodies dropped into New Order rhythms. The good Duran Duran, I might say. Y'know, back when the boys could drop two or three haunting melodies into one song and still make it sound good.

    The Slants make this sound plenty good as well. Quite an audacious album. We'll have to wait and see if these folks can keep up the excellence.

    www: http://www.theslants.com

    Designer Codes

    An album that's more realized than actually played. Designer Codes is one of those rare assembled works to really pack an emotional wallop.

    The music sounds almost entirely reconstructed. There are a few keyboard lines that sound mostly complete, but I'm guessing almost every sound here (including vocals) has been processed almost to the end of its existence.

    That's where the genius here lies. These songs still sound like songs. They follow regular construction and don't venture off into too many tangents. It's just that the sounds used to make these songs lend an unreal feel. Judging by the album cover, this is completely intentional.

    With a "normal" sound, these pieces would probably fall somewhere into the whole angsty metal-emo-etc. sound that My Chemical Romance has popularized. Much like My Bloody Valentine almost 20 years ago, Woven has taken the path less traveled. That's why this album is the stunner that it is.

    www: http://www.wovenmusic.com

    Also recommended:

    Annabel Now That We're Alive EP (self-released)
    Three guys named Ben, Andy and Scotty who know how to make well-crafted, finely-mannered pop. There's just enough sloppiness in the playing to make this stuff most endearing. All it needs now is just a bit more personality.
    www: http://myspace.com/annabelrock

    J.J. Appleton Black & White Matinee EP (self-released)
    Reminds me a bit of David Singer, what with the sly 70s grooves and self-consciously mellow mood. The lyrics don't quite have the same bite--hardly a insult, given the black holes that are Singer's songs. Still, I'd like a little more injected into the songs so I could have a better feel for what it is Appleton is trying to do.
    www: http://www.jjappleton.com

    Blackmarket Blackmarket EP (No Office)
    Solid pop-rock that echoes Alkaline Trio or the Ataris or any number of other bands. The songs are well-constructed and played with enthusiasm. What I don't hear is the one song that might send these guys into orbit. Quite engaging, nonetheless.

    Fish 13th Star (Chocolate Frog)
    Like most Americans, my main memory of Marillion was "Kaleigh," a bit of treacle that bit hard into my teenage angst. Fish has cranked out a number of albums since Marillion's demise, and I've heard a few of them. This does sound like one of his better efforts, though his uncompromising arty prog-pop is certainly an acquired taste. After hearing this, I'm thinking a Fish/Peter Gabriel tour would be most intriguing.

    Karmacoda Illuminate (Sola Musa)
    Atmospheric trip-hop with vocals provided by a sweet-voiced Amazon (and a guy, but let's not worry about him). This fact leads me to be a bit more interested in a live show than this disc, but the songs do seduce nicely as well. Ripens late in the evening.

    Adam Marsland Daylight Kissing Night--Adam Marsland's Greatest Hits (Karma Frog)
    Marsland fronted Cockeyed Ghost (I reviewed a couple of CG albums about a decade ago) and then wandered around on his own. This disc collects a few CG songs (both in original and re-recorded forms) and a few of Marsland's later works. What comes across quite quickly is Marsland's impeccable pop ear. He knows hooks and he knows how to set them. A most invigorating album.

    My American Heart Hiding Inside the Horrible Weather (Warcon/Fontana)
    Read my Blackmarket review above and multiply by ten. This album actually has the major-label production value to go along with the songwriting that launched a handful of emo kids into stardom. Does My American Heart have the song necessary for such a trip? I don't think so, but there are a lot of good pieces here. I have to admit a soft spot for this kinda stuff. It's cotton candy for my ears--devastatingly sweet and utterly unfilling.

    Orso Ask Your Neighbor (Contraphonic)
    It's been a long time since I've heard from these folks. They're on a new label (since I last got one of their Perishable discs back in 00), but the sound is pretty much the same: deliberate, minimalist, roots-infected indie rock. For those sympathetic to such sounds, the band sounds as good as ever.

    Osaka Popstar Rock'em O-Socke'Em Live! (Misfits)
    John Cafeiro may not be particularly famous, but if you can put together a band that includes Dez Cadenza, Ivan Julian, Jerry Only and Marky Ramone, well, chances are you might have a decent live show. Cafeiro's songs are crunchy pop-punk anthems, and his vocals are kinda thin, but the band is tight. Forgettable, but immensely fun.

    Eivend Opsvik Overseas III (Loyal Label)
    Not quite jazz or rock or, well, anything. Opsvik's band (he plays the upright bass) is a combination of the forms, with vibraphone and sax matching up with pedal steel and a wide array of keyboards. The pieces are largely contemplative and lengthy, but quite intriguing as well. There's more going on than I can hear, which means I'll have to listen quite a bit more.

    The Pale Gallery The Pale Gallery EP (self-released)
    Sounds a lot (a lot a lot a lot) like mid-career Archers of Loaf, though not quite so eccentric or intense. That seems like an odd touchpoint, but these guys do raggedy rock quite nicely.
    www: http://myspace.com/thepalegallery

    Perhapst Perhapst (In Music We Trust)
    John Moen of the Decemberists puts together a new outfit, gets Stephen Malkmus and other pals to stop by and ends up with a tight album chock full of eclectically peppy pop tunes. Kinda like you'd expect.

    Julian Sakata See? (self-released)
    Exquisitely-produced anthems than sometimes fail to leave earth. Sakata is great at the set-up, but he sometimes falters on the follow-through. Still, his foundations are so good that I'm interested in hearing what he does next. There's some real potential here.

    Shelf Life Concerning the Absence of Floors (Friends and Relatives)
    Brian Day and pals return with more noodling into the minds of the insane. The set-ups are abstract and the sounds are often almost incomprehensible. When I let my ears wander, though, I begin to tease out the barest hint of an outline. Does that have to do with the title of the album or the sketchy nature of my brain? Lemme listen again and I'll let you know.

    The Shys You'll Never Understand This Band the Way That I Do (Aeronaut)
    These boys play that sort of bluesy, rootsy indie-esque rock that isn't exactly in demand these days. Add to it a certain preciousness to the lyrics and the arrangements (they scream "Hey asshole! This music is really damned important!") and there's something of a disastrous recipe about. But the Shys manage to pull it off--mostly. This music is important, though probably not quite as stellar as the boys think. Oh well. That pretty much describes everyone, doesn't it?

    They and the Children Home (Kill Normal)
    Probably a couple steps back from actual death metal, these boys merely sail the edges of extreme hardcore. Or whatever the kids are calling it these days. The adrenaline flows nonstop, and the riffage is most invigorating. I was rocking so hard I almost broke my chair.

    A Tomato a Day The Moon Is Green (Public Eyesore)
    Brian Poloncic shares his institutional history with Roky Erickson. And he writes songs in a similar--if much less deranged-- vein. These pieces often cling to some sense of rationality within a pretty acoustic pop setting. I'm not sure if Poloncic is holding back or he's just overcrafting a bit, but I'd like these songs to have just a bit more oomph.

    Victorian Halls Victorian Halls EP (self-released)
    Highly reminiscent of Ex-Models and (to a lesser extent) Sleater-Kinney, there's a lot of screech, a fair amount of rhythmic brilliance and a hell of a lot of noise. That's a scene I dig, to be sure, and Victorian Halls brings the noise with exceptional style. I'll have a better feel after I hear more from these folks.
    www: http://www.victorianhalls.com

    The Weeks The Weeks (Esperanza Plantation)
    Not quite gothic southern rock (it's not Trailer Bride, anyway), but pretty spooky and southern nonetheless. More rockin' and southern than spooky, I suppose. Solid, in any case.

  • return to A&A home page