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 #300 reviews
The Big Sea
Fronting a trio (with special friends) of guitar, drums and upright bass, Cotton plays a certain type of old-timey blues that brings to mind Tin Pan Alley or Bob Wills almost as much as Leadbelly.
By mixing up rural blues, jazz, American song and some sweet western swing, Cotton has brought all these sounds into modern times. The song structures are mainly modern, and the playing is decidedly up-to-date. But the sounds within recall scratchy 78s and acetates.
I'm speaking of the musical elements, of course. The sound on this disc is immaculate. Like I said, this is modern music. Cotton knows his influences, but he's most concerned about making his own music.
And it is music most impressive. Cotton's expressive playing and singing drive this album, and his sidemen and pals paint some real pretty (if often sad, of course) pictures. A quiet gem.
Worldwide Electric Inventor's Kit
A solid pop duo that veers between laptop peppiness and full-bore power pop muscle. Kinda like the Wrens, if the Wrens were inclined to noodle a bit more often.
The hooks are what, well, hooked me. There's bliss in them bits, and Honeycomb knows how to set them properly. The songs are arranged so that the hooks derive the greatest impact.
And the sound is hardly laptop duo. There is the ubiquitous quirkiness that seems to inhabit solo and duo pop acts, but once the choruses break in, all is forgiven.
If you're not sure about any song on this disc, wait thirty seconds. Then a smile will pass over your face and you'll mumble, "oh yeah." Gentle bliss is great stuff, indeed.
This one didn't make the cut last issue, and for the life of me I can't figure out why. Maybe it's that I've been listening to more Uncle Tupelo lately...lead singer and songwriter Andrew Grimm is an aural doppelganger for Jay Farrar.
But these aren't Uncle Tupelo (or Son Volt) songs. They're Andrew Grimm songs, and played by June Star. Timothy Bracken is the other half of the duo, and he does a lot of the playing and all the producing. The two guys make one hell of a team.
It's hard to make rolling roots music with just two people. Takes skill, devotion and a little luck. June Star has all that. These songs sound like they're being played live to tape, with just enough knob-twisting to bring out the sweet spots. Most solid.
I'm still stumped as to why I didn't dig this as much the first time around. Maybe because it is right up my alley. I just don't trust something that stabs me in the heart and twists the knife. Oh well. If I listen to a good album enough times, eventually I'll figure it out. I'm thinking it won't take quite so long for most other people.
Map of the Universe
Not the Russian band Kino ("cinema"), which has been defunct for almost two decades. Rather, these are the demented musings of a certain Poet 9. And no, I don't have any other information, except to say that this release is only available by download.
Though, of course, I'm listening on a CD. Never mind. Critics are geezers. New technology will rule the world. KiNo probably won't, but these meandering songs that sound inspired equally by 80s indie rock, Aphex Twin and Frank Zappa ought to get some attention.
In no small part for the mere sound of the songs, which is much fuller than the average electronic pop/rock noodler generally achieves. It's a lush prog pop ambient universe that could exist only in someone's mind.
Except, of course, that it's pouring out my speakers. Weird. Oh well, this album is a series of unexpected encounters and jarring bliss. Most of the time the songs come together. The thing is, I think I like the ones that don't even better.
The Legendary Pink Dots
The Legendary Pink Dots are, after some 28 years, actually legendary. It's safe to say that certain corners of the goth movement sprouted from the LPD branch, though I can't really think of any bands today that are meandering around this universe.
That's not to say that LPD are goth--this is prog-folk-electro-pop that hinges on Edward Ka-Spel's affected vocals. A first time listener will hear this and scratch somewhere. Give the music a little time, and the scratching might hit the spot.
All that is for the uninitiated. If you're an old fan wondering if this set is worth the dough, prepare to cough up the cash. It's not a career-renovating set, but it's very solid. I have only heard one of LPD's four previous albums released this millennium, and this is better. Weird, eccentric and perhaps a wee bit overly trippy, but quite good nonetheless.
When you're a living legend (even when that legend is circulated among a relatively small set of folks), it's hard to do wrong. But Ka-Spel and LPD do much better than okay. There are a number of compelling songs here, and they sound that much better considering that very few bands are trying anything like this these days. Good stuff.
Los Angeles Electric 8
Plays Shostakovich, Mendelssohn, Braddock, Siegel and Kohl
That would be eight people on electric guitar playing classical music. Mostly modern (Braddock, Kohl and Siegel were all born after 1950, and Shostakovich is one of the great 20th century composers), mostly full of motion.
The arrangements are the most interesting part of this album. It's not that hard to break down most any piece of music into eight parts or less. The different instruments in orchestras provide different textures even as many of them play the same part. Which makes the real challenge arranging these pieces so that the textural intent of the works comes through.
Sometimes it doesn't. There are spots where the sound of eight guitars noodling around a theme sounds like so much mush. The playing is exquisite, but the setting does illustrate many of the limitations of electric guitar, no matter how beautifully it can be played.
Still, I like the way these folks think. I like the way they attack the pieces rather than sit back and let the music play them. I like that these folks take chances, even when they don't always work. You've got to understand: This is an almost impossible undertaking. When all the pieces come together (which is most of the album), the results are transcendent. Wildly beautiful at the most unexpected times.
Pillars and Tongues
Fiddles and harp and percussion and lots more. Pillars and Tongues throw classical ideas into rootsy instrumentation and tie it all up with eccentric song structure. There is a decided lean toward the epic soundscapes of Dirty Three, but these folks are a lot more circumspect. Oh, and there's some singing.
Sometimes quiet is more ominous than noise. The anticipation of what comes next can almost kill. These pieces are deliberate in drafting and execution. It's impossible to guess what's coming next, but when it arrives the effect can be devastating.
The sound of the album is utterly sparse. Every string rattle and reed squonk echoes for a time. The tunnel vision of this sound (I think you know what I mean) is harrowing.
Not for the weak of bladder. This album will devastate serious listeners. It's intense beyond imagining. A real spine-tingler.
The Pineapple Thief
The album opens with a bit of Nik Drake-ian musing. Then it shifts gears, wandering through a variety of 70s sounds before settling on a thoroughly modern rock sound.
I didn't mean that as a pun. Not exactly, anyway. But these guys grapple with modern rhythms and 70s prog and space sounds as if possessed. I suppose it's kind of a Radiohead thing, but much less orchestrated. These guys aren't out to rock the arenas.
Maybe they should. Some of these songs don't have enough of a kick in the chorus to really hit overdrive. This is often pretty stuff, but a bit more backbone would add that much more.
Nonetheless, it works for me. I kinda nodded along throughout and then tried to figure out why I liked this album so much. It is hypnotic, and that's rarely a bad thing. Take a little time, hit that alpha state and take a new look at life. Worse things could happen.