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 #301 reviews
October 2008
  • Absentee Victory Shorts (Memphis Industries)
  • Duane Andrews Raindrops (self-released)
  • RJ Cowdery One More Door (self-released)
  • Dead Heart Bloom Oh Mercy EP (KEI)
  • Mary O. Harrison Factory of Days (Two Sheds)
  • Like a Fox Where's My Golden Arm? (Transit of Venus)
  • The Magnificents Year of Explorers (self-released)
  • Matthew and the Arrogant Sea Family Family Family Meets the Magic Christian (Nova Posta Vinyl)
  • Novillero A Little Tradition (Mint)
  • Carrie Rodriguez She Ain't Me (Manhattan/Universal)
  • The Theater Fire Matter and Light (self-released)
  • We Landed on the Moon! These Little Wars (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Victory Shorts
    (Memphis Industries)

    Deliberate, immaculately crafted pop tunes of doom and despair. Some of that is almost unavoidable considering the bass lead vocals. Most of it comes from the despair-drenched lyrics.

    The music itself is peppy enough, and Absentee is smart enough to throw in just enough good times to keep hope alive. But by and large, this what passes for white boy blues these days.

    I don't mean that pejoratively, either. The whole point of the blues is to provide catharsis, and if the subjects of these songs don't make you feel better about your own stupid life, then you've got some real problems.

    The presentation is a bit warped, but the results are impressive. Absentee knows how to bring a house down--way down. I got really bummed...and feel great about it!

    www: http://www.memphis-industries.com

    Duane Andrews

    If you can't get enough of the particularly Parisian sound of Django Reinhardt, Duane Andrews is here to help. His guitar work wanders over a much greater range--and he's not nearly so distinctive--but the feel is right in there.

    Another obvious reference would be the soundtracks for the films of Jacques Tati (or the more recent The Triplets of Belleville, an animated homage to Tati). The music just sounds French.

    Of course, Andrews is Canadian. And not even Quebecois--he's from Newfoundland. He does include a Reinhardt piece, but he also throws in one from Mingus. Andrews is simply a fine jazz guitarist, and he's hooked into one of the classic sounds of his instrument.

    His pieces are my favorites. He seems to be more inventive with his own work, and those are the songs that really swing. If you really believe that jazz is all work and no play (perish the thought!), give Andrews a listen. I'm thinking he'll change your mind.

    www: http://www.duaneandrews.ca

    RJ Cowdery
    One More Door

    Cowdery writes songs that are obviously influenced by her life. The lyrics tend toward an excess of earnestness, and the music is basic country folk. All that is moderately interesting, at best. Then there's Cowdery's voice, which is what makes this album work.

    Cowdery sounds more than a little like Nanci Griffith, and she's got a bit of Griffith's bell-like delivery as well. Whatever the qualities, her vocal performance is what makes this album a delight.

    There's something to be said about competent songwriting and arranging. Cowdery's lyrics head off into the treacle a bit too much, but they always fit the music. The music is workmanlike, but it never gets lost, either. And so, with a solid platform, Cowdery's voice is able to take flight.

    It's not a voice that fills a stadium. It may not even fill a small hall. But it's a voice of character and wisdom, and Cowdery knows exactly how to deliver these songs. It is amazing how one element can completely sell an album.

    www: http://www.rjcowdery.com

    Dead Heart Bloom
    Oh Mercy EP

    The second of three Dead Heart Bloom EPs scheduled for release this year. This set finds the boys deep into Bauhaus/Black Sabbath/Cure territory. Not sure what territory that might be? Think lurching, oft-snarky pieces with stellar fuzzy riffage.

    This is, of course, a somewhat different sound than Fall In, and I dig it just as much. Dead Heart Bloom is obviously all about power, and it seems to know a thousand ways to deal it.

    Not many folks trust rock and roll enough to go all out like this. Fabulous. I await the final chapter with baited breath.

    www: http://www.deadheartbloom.com

    Mary O. Harrison
    Factory of Days
    (Two Sheds)

    Ten years ago (or so) I kept getting a raftload of minimalist rootsy singer-songwriter stuff. Edith Frost comes to mind. In the last five years, I've been getting a lot of stylishly-produced Bacharachian singer-songwriter stuff. Sarah Shannon is probably my favorite of that bunch.

    Mary O. Harrison provides an almost seamless combination of these styles. Her voice and the songs's instrumentation are very much in the minimalist camp. But the arrangements and production are more late-60s lush.

    And the result sounds like well-turned out indie pop. Harrison is a fine songwriter with an instinctive ear for the hook. Jason NeSmith produced, which shouldn't be surprising. He's been lurking around these sounds for more years than I can recall.

    A quiet gem that isn't really so quiet after all. These songs will stick with you much longer than Thanksgiving turkey. And they won't put you to sleep, either. Great stuff.

    Two Sheds Music
    P.O. Box 5455
    Atlanta, GA 31107-5455
    www: http://www.twoshedsmusic.com

    Like a Fox
    Where's My Golden Arm?
    (Transit of Venus)

    Wonderfully raucous indie rock that borrows just enough from the Flaming Lips (1988-present and all that entails) to throw a spacey spin into the grooves.

    There are plenty of laptop, glam and new wave elements thrashing around with the raggedy guitars and sing-song choruses. The lyrics wander off and sometimes never come back. But somehow, someway, the songs manage to come together by the time they finish.

    It's a close thing at times, but I kinda like that sort of dramatic tension. And the tangents are so pretty (not to mention loopy) that it's hard not to enjoy the sideshow.

    Like a Fox runs along the edge of disaster for almost this entire album. And every time, the band stays on the side of good music. This has to be intentional. If these guys didn't know what they were doing, this album would be a complete mess. I like the way they think.

    Transit of Venus
    P.O. Box 250
    Blue Bell, PA 19422
    www: http://www.transitofvenusmusic.com

    The Magnificents
    Year of Explorers

    Kinda like a Flock of Seagulls with New Order bass lines, the Magnificents throttle the old school new wave sound with abandon. I haven't heard someone sound so dated while, in fact, creating something entirely new.

    Maybe Echo and the Bunnymen is a better reference point than FoS, but that depends on the song. The driving bass lines and generally insistent beats give these songs an energy that often flagged in "classic" new wave songs.

    Which is to say, these guys never let off the throttle. And we're talking about pop here. Seriously aggressive pop with a lot of synth in the mix. I'm almost out of breath just listening. And having blast, too.

    This is the perfect album for back-to-school. I can imagine my compadres in college radio going nuts for this. Of course, that was 20 years ago. I have a feeling, though, that the kids are alright. They oughta dig this as well. Electrifying.

    www: http://www.themagnificents.us

    Matthew and the Arrogant Sea
    Family Family Family Meets the Magic Christian
    (Nova Posta Vinyl)

    I'm not sure what "Family Family Family" refers to, but The Magic Christian is one of those weird 60s Peter Sellers movies--with Ringo Starr playing an important role. It's incoherent, but rather drolly so.

    MATAS (as the band seems to be more popularly known) isn't particularly incoherent, but it sure does owe a debt to the 60s. Late Beatles, the Zombies and (as the press notes say) the Mamas and Papas are obvious influences.

    But 40-odd years have passed, and these folks take note of a few later trends as well. In particular, there is a devotion to Big Star's anglophile constructions and some nods to the more recent power pop revival.

    This is not power pop. Not by any stretch of the imagination. MATAS falls into the realm of the Stills and other purveyors of pretty pop--with a bite. Gorgeous, but with enough of a foothold on the real world to score an emotional response.

    www: http://www.novapostavinyl.com

    A Little Tradition

    So I'm listening to this and all of a sudden it comes to me: that's Duotang's singer!

    I suppose that doesn't mean much to you, but Duotang was one of the great pop duos of the 90s. A bit eccentric--two people playing mostly just organ, bass and drums will do that--but a lot of fun. The band's first single concerned the impending destruction of Earth by unseen beings who reside in the atmosphere. Or something like that.

    These songs are much more fleshed out. Indeed, the reference to the Jam in the press notes is dead on. These guys still sound awfully Canadian with their almost subconscious prog bits, but there's lots of rock'n'soul driving the heart of these pieces.

    Noisy, tuneful and toe-tapping. Highly-crafted, but in the best way. These boys play with plenty of energy, giving these songs lots of crackle. I guess Canadian pop does say it all...except possibly to add that these boys do the sound proud.

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

    Carrie Rodriguez
    She Ain't Me

    I didn't know major labels were still taking shots on the whole americana sound, but here comes Carrie Rodriguez on down that well-worn back road. Gary Louris of the Jayhawks co-wrote many of the songs here, and other collaborators include Dan Wilson of Semisonic and Mary Gauthier.

    This is Rodriguez's second album, but I'm guessing it's a lot better than the first. There's an assurance in her singing and songwriting that generally takes time to develop. These songs range all over the americana universe, from fairly jangly fare to the more proggy folk stylings of Emmylou Harris and Neil Young.

    Rodriguez is a fiddler by trade, but she doesn't really highlight her playing much. Her voice is solid, if unspectacular. What really works here are the songs, which sound like they flow from the font of the country.

    A fine album from an artist who just might mature into something special. I'll be keeping tabs.

    The Theater Fire
    Matter and Light

    The songs sound like gentle breeze, the eclectic roots music rambling over vaguely-familiar terrain. The subjects of the songs are rather a different sort. This is one hell of a bait-and-switch.

    One that works exceptionally well. The arrangements of the songs are along the lines of Tom Waits's late 90s albums, and that's the direction the lyrics take. Dark days, indeed.

    And so those pleasant sounds are morphed into the dissonant universe of the Theater Fire, and the result is highly unsettling. The spine tingles almost constantly. I interpret that as pleasure. You might see things another way.

    What can't be disputed is the quality of the writing and production. This is complex, intelligent fare that packs a massive emotional punch. The songs suck in the listener immediately and do not let up. Blistering.

    www: http://www.theaterfire.com

    We Landed on the Moon!
    These Little Wars

    Another fine new wave meets modern indie rock combo. We Landed on the Moon! never lets its foot off the pedal, and so erases almost any quibble I might have.

    I love the lead guitar work in particular. Most often it operates with just the right amount of reverb, and when it hits the upper register it fairly sings. Which is good, because the vocals are merely in the above average category.

    On the other hand, no one ever said the 80s was the golden age of vocalists. Simon Lebon? Belinda Carlisle? Any of the folks in the Human League? Umm, no.

    Again, the key to this sort of music is to keep the songs moving and find your hooks wherever they come. Here, the tempo never wavers and the guitar is gorgeous. Like I noted at top, any quibbles are mere whines. These songs achieve orbit and never return to earth.

    www: http://www.welandedonthemoon.com

    Also recommended:

    The Boat People Chandeliers (self-released)
    An aussie outfit that builds its songs around jaunty beats and ringing keyboards. Nothing complicated, just solid pop hooks and enough power to kick the stuff into overdrive.
    www: http://www.theboatpeople.com.au

    Simon Bookish Everything/Everything (Tomlab)
    Kinda like what Frank Zappa might sound like if he did laptop pop, Simon Bookish scores his pieces impeccably and then sends them reeling. The performances are impressive, and the writing is highly crafted and eccentric. This music fits in no category...and is all the better for it. Quite invigorating.

    Chop Chop Screens (Arch Enemy)
    Highly affected laptop pop. There's so much craft here that it's hard to imagine any passion within the music whatsoever. Nonetheless, the intriguing melodies and unusually quiet presentation give these folks plenty to work with. The more I listen, the more I like it.

    The Coral Sea Firelight (Red Clover)
    Long, languid pieces that arrive via synth washes and electronic sunsets. There is a definite surreal quality to these leisurely jaunts, and I have to admit that I fell right into the mood. I'm thinking I've wandered this way before, but I just can't put my finger on when. Whatever. I'm in my happy place right now.

    John Eichleay John Eichleay (Copper Beech)
    Nice little pop songs that ring brightly in the ears. Eichleay may slow the tempo down but he doesn't really change the mood. I'd like to hear something a little darker, something with a little more snap. My ears tell me he has it in him; he's just got to get his heart broken a few more times.

    Mark Geary Opium (SonaBlast!)
    The latest from this Irish ex-pat. He's still got the lilt, but his songs keep trending a bit more American. That is, the beats are a wee bit straighter and the guitars just a bit louder. He hasn't lost his ear for fine melodies and intriguing subjects. As singer-songwriters go, he's still one of the best. Solid stuff.

    Her Space Holiday Xoxo, Panda and the New Kid Revival (Mush)
    Hipster pop with all the proper accouterments. Children's instruments, tight harmonies administered with snark and the rest of the package. It's kinda like eccentric conformity. But the thing is, I like the songs. They are wrapped up in cellophane, but somehow the soul comes out anyway.

    House of Badger Death Birds (self-released)
    An interesting amalgam of mathy guitars, moody female vocals and a decidedly eclectic rhythm section. Amanda Kelly is responsible for the first two elements, and she seems to have a solid handle on whatever it is these folks are doing. Thoroughly unconventional, but well within the mainstream. A fun curiosity.

    I Love You Drones, Drugs and Harmony (self-released)
    Some bands put things out on their own because they don't know how to get a label. Others do it because they have no choice. That's the situation here. These songs are a conglomeration of walking bass and assorted noises (a fair portion of that is some really nice guitar work). There's madness in the construction, but by and large the pieces make sense on the whole. The album title is a better description than I could ever give, and I must admit to being a bit smitten.

    Kellarissa Flamingo (Mint)
    Larissa Loyva, the artist now known as Kellarissa is probably best known for her work with eclectic pop outfits P:ano and the Choir Practice. This album continues in a similar vein, though within a much more intimate setting. Also, Loyva takes many more chances with both her voice and the music. There are some obvious pop gems, but there's a lot more "Eh?" stuff. After a few takes, though, those tend to become "Oh!" bits. If you know what I mean.

    Lymbyc Systym Love Your Abuser Remixed (Mush)
    Just what it says: An entirely new way to enjoy the last Lymbyc System effort. These re-examinations are generally way outside of the original versions, and they're kinda fun that way. Usually when you take apart a great album, you get a bunch of junk. But this set is just the opposite, a brilliant work in its own right. Pretty cool.

    Rogue Motel Daylight Breaking (self-released)
    Somewhere between Bad Company, Foreigner and Bruce Springsteen, I guess. There's a heavily-fermented late 70s feel to these songs. A bit rootiser than the first two acts, and a bit more straightforward than most Springsteen. I like the power of the songs, and I like their laid back presentation. Oh, and Matthew Kendall has one of those classic rock and roll voices. Very nice.
    www: http://www.roguemotel.com

    Laura Roppe Girl Like This (self-released)
    Apparently aiming to become the Shania Twain for stay-at-home moms, Laura Roppe dishes a certain lifestyle to the hard-rockin' country beats that paid for Mutt Lange's lawyer. Roppe has the delivery of Mary Chapin Carpenter; she could use just a bit of Carpenter's relatively subtle songwriting. Nonetheless, there's no denying the "Mom's gone wild!" shout out.

    Second Dan Bringing Down Goliath (self-released)
    Solid run-throughs of late 90s modern rock. There's nothing particularly outstanding about the songs, but they're attractive in that genial generic way. I hear a lot of talent being shunted into a less-interesting shape. If Second Dan were to cut loose, it might crank out something inspired. I'll be listening.
    www: http://www.seconddan.com

    Silent Kids Dinosaurs Turn into Birds (Two Sheds)
    Some folks who really like the Flaming Lips and other indie rock bands of that ilk. Lots of off-kilter harmonies and crashing guitars woven into a most pleasant tapestry. These songs don't quite come together as an album, but they make a fine collection. Throw this on your iTunes and smile when the random bit of brilliance shines.

    Thursday/Envy split (Temporary Residence)
    Thursday is another of those "We'd like to be the Mars Volta" bands, though they're a little more subtle about it than most. Envy is a more basic "everything in the pot" rock band. I'm not blown away by either of these bands, but both do enough interesting things to keep me listening. Hard to say what the future holds.

    Frank Turner Love Ire & Song (Xtra Mile/Arbor)
    One of those sing-talking Brit folk rockers, Frank Turner doesn't do anything particularly unusual, but he delivers these songs with a massive amount of panache. In other words, he sells the shit out of them. And once I've been sold, I realize they're pretty good. Kicky and kitschy all at once, which wears quite well on Turner.

    Wax Fang La La Land (Don't Panic)
    Wax Fang swings for the fences on every song, no matter if we're talking about a screamer or something a bit more introspective. I love that passion, even if sometimes it seems to smother the occasional song. These folks make all sorts of noise (literally) and sing all sorts of songs. I can't (and wouldn't want to) put a label on the band. But there's some stellar energy here.

    Wunderbugg Written in Flesh (self-released)
    If you like electronic music, Wunderbugg has something for you. From techno-esque ramblings to brain-throttling digital hardcore, there's just about every electronic sound you could desire. Oh, and a decided lack of vocals. People may have created this fine stuff, but at times the very notion of people seems awfully far away.

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