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 #299 reviews
August 2008
  • The Breakups Eat Your Heart Out (Ball Shop Pop)
  • Don Chambers and Goat Zebulon (Warm)
  • Circles Weighs a Ton (Wooden Man)
  • Dead Heart Bloom Fall In EP (KEI)
  • Liz Durrett Outside Our Gates (Warm)
  • Jasper TX In a Cool Monsoon (Pumpkin Seeds in the Sand)
  • KaiserCartel March Forth (Bluhammock)
  • Lewi Longmire Band Fire 'neath the Still (self-released)
  • Loudspeaker Speaker Meets Clearly Human Like Ten Feet Tall (Broken Twilight)
  • Umbrella Brigade Ex Nihilo (self-released)
  • Vancougar Canadian Tuxedo (Mint)
  • Dan Wallace Reattachment (Torito Bravo)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Breakups
    Eat Your Heart Out EP
    (Bait Shop Pop)

    The folks pursue pop bliss with the sheer abandon of the Posies, though their harmonies trend more Wilsonian than Chiltonian.

    The structure is impeccable. These songs possess impressive character and hooks that trap with steel rather than sugar. I didn't detect a single misstep, even if the opening and closing skits are a bit silly.

    Six songs, and each one a gem. I don't know how long the Breakups have been in the business, but this EP augurs a bright future.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/thebreakupssuck

    Don Chambers and Goat

    The disc opens with apocalyptic americana a la 16 Horsepower. The album somewhat ripens into a slightly more optimistic key, but Chambers and Goat (what a moniker!) never let the listener get comfy.

    Indeed, these songs retain a remarkable surface tension in the lyrics. Chambers generally adds resonance with some sort of musical dissonance, and sometimes he doesn't quite resolve either issue. Some problems can't be resolved. I think Chambers is pretty clear about that.

    What's he's also quite clear about is his vision for the scope and sound of this album. Each successive song seems to stretch further and further in hopes of finding some greater truth. Again, not all problems can be resolved, but Chambers quest is compelling.

    This album sounds great on first listen, and then subsequent spins reveal layer upon layer of subtext. I'm gonna be finding something new five years from now. That's the sort of attention to detail that creates a classic.

    Warm Electronic Recordings
    P.O. Box 1423
    Athens, GA 30603
    www: http://www.thewarmsupercomputer.com

    Weighs a Ton
    (Wooden Man)

    King Missile meets Tom Waits in a bad alley. Jesse Jackson mistakes John S. Hall for Barack Obama...and inexplicably Hall's voice drops. A jaunty eunuch in the company of madness; that's probably the only way to make sense of this disc of divinely warped storytelling.

    Make no mistake: the music is utterly compelling (and often closer to Neil Young than Tom Waits, but whatever), but the lyrical flights of fancy take precedence. Even on the instrumentals. Like I said, madness is merely the beginning.

    After about five songs, though, I was completely addicted. Mike Millevoi's off-handed speak-singing is a glorious counterpoint to the convoluted compositions. The sound is noisy but full. These folks are having a great time destroying rational thought. I'm with them all the way.

    It is impossible to enjoy this album and remain in touch with the real world. You just gotta let go for a while. And that act of liberation is a gift that cannot be overstated. Wildly amazing.

    Dead Heart Bloom
    Fall In EP

    Sumptuous rock and roll, played with solid orchestral backing through the occasional scrim of distortion. The sort of sonic perfection that stops the heart. Over and over again.

    Dead Heart Bloom is releasing three EPs in the near future, and this is the first. God help us all. If the next two are as good as this one, the combination of the three might be more than civilization can handle.

    Anyone who can channel Bowie, early U2 and My Bloody Valentine--in the same song--deserves plenty of attention. Brace yourselves. There might be new heroes in the big rock game. The next two EPs will tell the story.

    www: http://www.deadheartbloom.com

    Liz Durrett
    Outside Our Gates

    Durrett has a couple cameos on the Don Chambers album reviewed above, and her music does share a certain dour feeling. But while Chambers warms up a bit, Durrett never puts away her ethereal singing style. Not even when the music starts moving.

    This highly-restrained sort of singing is an acquired taste, and it's not really mine. But it does work exceptionally well within the arrangements of these songs. I'm sure there are other ways to sing these pieces, but her way works quite well.

    That vocal style does keep these songs from ever taking full flight, but they're not supposed to. This is an introspective exercise, and as such it triumphs. These pieces invite pondering.

    And then they flit away on the wind. Some folks who try this style get ponderous. Durrett never touches the ground. Her songs are graceful gliders eternally swooping low and then finding the next thermal in order to rise once more. Entrancing stuff.

    Warm Electronic Recordings
    P.O. Box 1423
    Athens, GA 30603
    www: http://www.thewarmsupercomputer.com

    Jasper TX
    In a Cool Monsoon
    (Pumpkin Seeds in the Sand)

    While this occasionally sounds like a mildly-restrained bit of improvisational chaos, Jasper TX is actually one Dag Rosenqvist. And Dag's one dude I do not want to meet in any alley, dark or not.

    The ideas that wander through these pieces are often brilliant. They're also often deconstructed to the edge of existence. Whether by skewing tempo, slaughtering melody with distortion, swimming toward the ambient or simply moving pieces around, Rosenqvist refuses to play the game in a simple way.

    Thank goodness. I love music that warps and bends in on itself. Easy tunes are nice, but every once in a while it's good to have a substantial meal. And this disc is full of five-course wonders.

    Yes, yes, it's not everyone's cup of tea (or even saucer of hemlock). That's okay. I'll dive right in again and again.

    Pumpkin Seeds in the Sand
    385 Humboldt St. #312
    Brooklyn, NY 11211
    www: http://www.pumpkinseedsinthesand.com

    March Forth
    (Bluhammock Music)

    I got two KaiserCartel discs this month. The first one I listened to, Okay...And Other Things We Feel, is a collection of odds and ends. It's not very interesting. So I popped in this disc (which is the band's debut), expecting nothing much.

    Whoops! This duo combines the playfulness of laptop pop with real instruments and a decidedly off-kilter sense of humor. These songs would be goofy if they weren't so damned wry.

    Wry is a good description of the music as well. Many of these songs are well-appointed with significant orchestration (played largely by Ms. Kaiser and Mr. Cartel). But the arrangements retain a tasteful minimalism, which gives these songs all the room they need to take off.

    So, anyway, March Forth is the album. It's really good. That other thing? Listen to it only after you've fallen hard for this one.

    Bluhammock Music
    227 W. 29th St.
    New York, NY 10001
    www: http://www.bluhammock.com

    Lewi Longmire Band
    Fire 'neath the Still

    Yet another fine practitioner of modern country-rock music from the Pacific Northwest. Maybe folks up there are getting a bit jaded, what with so many outstanding artists in a relatively small area, but I find it hard to believe that Longmire couldn't find a label interested in this album.

    Longmire swings wildly between mannered, introspective pieces (think latter-day Dylan, I suppose) and great driving music, with a few anthems (of varying styles) tossed in for good measure. Perhaps he doesn't segue between moods as well as he should, but the songs stand up nicely on their own.

    Maybe the problem is that Longmire isn't quite sure what tradition to follow. There's some "traditional" americana, some Texas two-step, the obligatory paeans to the open road, some 70s AOR (with a bit of twang) and more. He shifts gears so easily that it's sometimes hard to believe that these pieces are, in fact, part of one album.

    Longmire's songwriting skill is impressive, and his band does a nice job with this album. I suppose I wish it was a bit more coherent, but there's no denying the power of the songs. Impressive.

    www: http://www.lewilongmire.com

    Loudspeaker Speaker Meets Clearly Human
    Like Ten Feet Tall
    (Broken Twilight)

    Or Chad Imes and Jason Falk. These pieces exist in a corner of the electronic/dub/hip hop universe that I haven't visited since the heyday of Wordsound Records (what, ten years ago or longer?). They sucked me in within seconds and left me spent, my fingers trembling at the keyboard.

    What is it inside these sounds that affected me so? I wish I could tell you in objective terms. The plain fact is that there's something in the bass and rhythm work that simply echoes through my soul. It didn't take hold of me so much as I leapt headlong at first note.

    The lovely reverb-heavy sound is a plus. These songs flow out of a deranged echo chamber, one that holds a deadly allure for me. This is, truly the worst feeling a critic can have. I love an album unconditionally, which makes it almost impossible for me to write about it.

    But I'll soldier on, nonetheless. I've never heard Imes or Falk on their own--at least, I can't remember doing so. This collaboration is so strong, however, that I'd suggest they think about making it a partnership. Exceptional.

    www: http://www.brokentwilight.com

    Umbrella Brigade
    Ex Nihilo

    Another stellar perversion of laptop rock, Umbrella Brigade merges the minimalist and playful tendencies of that sound with full-on goth attitude and melodies. And then there's the rest of the stuff.

    The sort of album that continues to amaze as it rolls along. This is the sort of well-sequenced disc where each successive song builds on the previous one. Few bands are disciplined enough to even consider this, and of those even fewer are able to pull it off.

    But these folks are masochistic. They do things to their songs that most guys wouldn't do to their jerk rags. Like, say, take a perfectly nice throb rhythm and then subvert it by leaving it accompanied by only the slightest hint of bass. Maybe this is a geeky thing, but leaving such beats naked is an inspired move, one that raises all the hair on my arms.

    I am tingling all over. Umbrella Brigade is one of those acts that seems to have completely mastered its music. Or, perhaps more appropriately, dominates its music. I'd be a sub for these folks any day.

    www: http://www.umbrellabrigade.com

    Canadian Tuxedo

    Four women of a certain age (including drummer CC Rose, once of the Cinch) playing intricate, bounding pop songs. Quite possibly what the New Pornographers might sound like with a bit more estrogen in their fuel.

    Actually, a lot like that. Vancougar doesn't rely on quite as much melodic trickery, but the obsessive, in-your-face approach to hook-laden music is unmistakably from the same school. And given the geographic proximity, it's not surprising or bothersome in the slightest.

    And given the obvious love these ladies have for bands like the Primitives, most of these pieces are just that much more straightforward. They're also often keyboard-driven, which is interesting considering their aggressive nature.

    Women of a certain age, indeed. Vancougar stands up strong and takes no prisoners. These songs demand respect, and I don't know anyone who'd deny it. Thoroughly satisfying.

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

    Dan Wallace
    (Torito Bravo)

    I've been impressed by Wallace's work for years. One of my favorite things about him is that he doesn't stand still. He's equally adept in the worlds of pop, rock, blues and country, and he often melds them in interesting ways. The title track (and first song) is a great spacey piece. The second song takes a great blues lick and turns it into an intricate rocker. And so it goes.

    I do believe that Wallace has gained confidence over the years. His early stuff was simpler, or at least, he didn't try to incorporate as many different ideas in a single song. He not only blenderizes just about every song on this album, he does so with a style and grace that is almost unthinkable.

    One of the more interesting things I noticed on a couple tracks here was a definite Steve Miller influence. The good Steve Miller, the bluesman who threw some stellar guitar work into 70s rock and created a handful of the greatest rock and roll songs of all time. Wallace refuses to dumb down his ideas, which means that his songs never quite reach Miller's epochal middle-of-the-road sound, but there are hints of what might be.

    Plenty of other hints as well, such as the occasional Reinhardtian guitar run and such. Indeed, the most impressive thing about Wallace's music is his guitar work. But his increasingly complex and stirring songwriting is catching up. This is his strongest work to date. And I don't hear any reason why he'd be falling off any time in the near future.

    www: http://www.danwallace.com

    Also recommended:

    The Awkward Stage Slimming Mirrors, Flattering Lights (Mint)
    Mint does seem to be overflowing with mannered pop bands. The New Pornographers are great, and as I note above, the Vancougar debut is pretty sweet as well. The Awkward Stage isn't quite so eccentrically brilliant as TNP or blisteringly brilliant as Vancougar. But this is the second album from Shane Nelken and Co., and it's pretty darn good. Not first rank--not yet, anyway--but more than good enough for a listen or few.

    California Guitar Trio Echoes (Inner Knot)
    Hideyo Moriya, Paul Richards and Bert Lams are outstanding guitarists. They jump from Beethoven to the Floyd without a moment's hesitation, and they even dig out an old Krokodil piece (with Bonnie "Prince" Billy singing). There is a novelty factor--especially on "Freebird," what with BPB singing on that one, too--but the playing is undeniably brilliant and the arrangements perfectly entrancing. Kinda like kettle corn. You know too much is bad for you, but you scarf down the whole bag anyway.

    Dalglish Ideom (Record Label Records)
    The space photos throughout the package are appropriate. This sounds like radio telescope observations run through distortion loops and set to the appropriate beats. Think Aphex Twin without the ambient tendencies. Exceptionally noisy, pleasantly warped and wonderfully crackly. My kind of stuff.

    Terry Eason Sentimental Vanity (Jam/Garage d'Or)
    Eason's musical tastes are impeccable. He's got that whole manic pop with plenty of rock thing going on. His voice, however, is more than a bit annoying. I kinda got used to it by the end--and his occasional semi-whine fits nicely within these intricately-crafted pieces--but I keep wondering where these songs would be with a slightly more ingratiating singer.

    Falcon Falcon EP (No Office)
    Well-crafted, moody pop that might have made a bit more of an impression if these songs sounded like they had intent. Any intent, really. As it stands, they're intricate and pretty, but I'm just not sure of the point. Still, intricate and pretty means I'll be spending a bit more time trying to figure it all out.

    Frisbee ReDISCOVERY (self-released)
    Mellow, pleasantly-rolling piano rock from Louisville. There's nothing particularly earth-shattering here, but these songs do have a way of worming into the consciousness. And the more I hear, the more I like. There must be something good going on.
    www: http://www.frisbeemusic.com

    Goldcure Portuguese Prince (self-released)
    This "also recommended" section is filling up with these indie-rock versions of MOR. They're a lot more interesting than Air Supply--they certainly tackle more interesting characters--but the music, even when raucous, wouldn't offend anyone. Goldcure has written some gorgeous stuff here. I just wish the boys would cut loose now and again.
    www: http://www.goldcuremusic.com

    Gravity Propulsion System Days Like Razors (Ascetic)
    No problems with cutting loose here. GPS shoves a lifetime of ideas into its songs and then chops them up into noisy, distorted bits. Loud as hell, unrepentantly obtuse and absolutely grating. My friends, this is what rock and roll is all about. I've loved these guys for ages, and this album made me cream my shorts. Play it loud and wait for your brain to explode.

    Trey Gunn Music for Pictures (7d Media)
    King Crimsoner collects 29 tracks of incidental music for film and TV projects. He "severely manipulated" a few in order to try to give this disc some coherence. He didn't really get there, but each individual piece has plenty of interesting ideas. The guitar work, of course, is breath-taking. Probably of most interest to completists, but fans of this kind of composing (short and highly-directed) would do well to inquire within.

    Taylor Hollingsworth Bad Little Kitty (Mass Music)
    The whacked-out intro doesn't do this album justice. Hollingsworth is a devotee of early 70s glam, Marc Bolan in particular. He plays it with lots of fuzz, plenty of verve and a whale of an attitude. He doesn't do a damned thing about updating the style, but this is sure a tasty package for those who dig this kinda stuff.

    Loxsly Flashlights EP (self-released)
    Four new songs from this Austin outfit. Each wanders into slightly different territory, but all four pieces do share that "edge of nowhere" feel that I've been hearing from that particular locale for a couple decades. I like the way these guys pop. The hooks could use a little sweetening--they have a habit of not quite breaking down--but the loosey-goosey feel is infectious.

    The Metamorphosis Project The Seven Mile Journey (self-released)
    Sounds a lot like the band's name and the album's title. Songs that take a while to form and shift, and even when they do it's a little hard to explain what just happened. I'm down with that. Expands the mind and sharpens the senses. Fine pondering material.

    Neil on Impression The Perfect Tango re-issue CD (Pumpkin Seeds in the Sand)
    Most often, albums don't get re-issued after only a couple years. But this one is quite good, and it was previously only available on vinyl. The songs (instrumental) follow the theme (though not necessarily the plot) of Last Tango in Paris. Skeptical? Me, too. But the music reminds me of an orchestral version of Dirty Three--and that's pretty damned awesome. As this is.

    The Pack A.D. Funeral Mixtape (Mint)
    Far and away my biggest disappointment of the month. I loved Tintype, and I thought the Pack A.D. could well be the second coming--of what, I have no idea, but you get the point. This time out, the gals continue wailing away at lo-fi blues, but without the same magic. The sound is the same, the themes are the same and the performances just as energetic. But maybe my problem is the lack of forward movement. Also, these songs just don't have the visceral immediacy that drove Tintype. They're close--maddeningly so at times--but not quite there. A very good album, but not the godhead I was hoping to hear. I'll be waiting for the third album with greatest anticipation.

    Ruby Isle Night Shot (Kindercore)
    Dan Geller (I Am the World Trade Center) and occasional mental patient Mark Mallman get together to create sumptuous cheese pop. Sorta like new wave meets laptop, with a chaser of "Nasty Girl" thrown in. Utterly vapid, but so luscious that it's impossible to shut down. Throw this on at your next party and watch the heads turn.

    Say Bok Gwai Chink in the Armor (Edgetone)
    What Zeni Geva might have sounded like if KK Null had a better sense of humor. These sometimes manic/sometimes ponderous throttleworks need a bit of a boost on the bottom end, but the energy and clever lyrics take hold quickly. Louder is definitely better.

    Ben Solee Leaning to Bend (SonaBlast)
    Yet another album by a Kentuckian in this issue (I think I overshot my quota), Solee takes on classic soul sounds (including a cover of "A Change Is Gonna Come") using a cello as his lead instrument. Oh, he brings in fiddles, piano, guitars and plenty of other traditional instrumentation, but he seems to be a cellist by trade. It's a weird way to back into this sound, but he makes it work. Just don't expect to sit comfortably.

    Vic Kingsley These Frequencies (self-released)
    A band, not a person. Trucking mightily in the old-school indie traditions of Echo and the Bunnymen and the like. Except with a bit more processing. Indeed, this album is sharply produced, as if the boys think they've got a major label in their future. Don't know about that, but this one sure took me back 20 years or so. In a good way, of course.
    www: http://myspace.com/kingsleyofmiami

    Xu Xu Fang TheMorning Son EP (self-released)
    The press sticker references Sigur Ros, My Bloody Valentine, Spiritualized and Dead Meadow. Um, yeah. That about sums it up. Not sure how I'd add more. This exceedingly short EP is more tantalizing than anything else. What could these folks do with a full length? If the somewhat disparate elements get drawn together in a bit more coherent fashion, watch out!
    www: http://www.xuxufang.com

    Young Widows Old Wounds by Young Widows (Temporary Residence)
    Much more straightforward (and brutal) than the average TR release. Young Widows wail their way through the intersection of rock and the blues. Everyone suffers needlessly. The carnage is increased exponentially as the volume is increased. Kill 'em all, man, kill 'em all.

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