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 #303 reviews
Anam Cara EP
I'm of the age that many of my all-time favorite bands are certain Louisville (and post-Louisville) outfits: Rodan, Slint, June of 44, the Shipping News, etc. A. Armada fits right in, though it takes that abstract rock sound to an entirely new orchestral level.
And I mean that figuratively. The production is lush, not strident, and the guitars have plenty of reverb in addition to disortion. There's a ringing tone that really fleshes out the sound nicely. All in all, these songs set a mood and then run with it.
The requisite idiosyncratic melodies and herky-jerky rhythms are present, as is an almost ravenous need to express new ideas. These songs generally come together by the end, but the number of tangents per piece is staggering. I hadn't heard this sorta stuff in a while. A. Armada is a fine band at the top of its game.
I Woke with Planets in My Face
Peter Adams's The Spiral Arms is one of the greatest albums I've ever heard. I still listen to it weekly. A large part of its appeal for me is the unexpected grandeur of waves of orchestration laid over a strumming acoustic guitar. Adams is a master song craftsman, and he's also got one of those unforgettable voices--flawed, and all the more wonderful for it.
Any new album had to be a letdown. I simply adore Arms, and if Adams shifted even a bit from that I knew I'd be bummed. Well, there are a few obvious differences. For starters, the orchestration sounds a bit more electronic. It was largely electronic before, of course, but here he drops the curtain a bit. This adds a different texture to the songs, which makes me uneasy.
Good. An artist who simply repeats himself is doomed to obscurity. Adams's incisive songwriting and willingness to wander out into space (there's more than a little prog up his sleeve) are still present, but he's loosened up the reins on his craft just a bit. That vaguely sloppy feel combined with the more obvious electronics brings the sound of this album back to earth, if only slightly.
I think the only reason I didn't fall in love with this album immediately is because of my undying devotion to Arms. Adams proves here that he's anything but a one-hit wonder. His sense of the wonder of it all is what ties his work together, and he's made another intimate masterpiece. Stunning.
The British Columbians
The British Columbians
Old-school blues played by a top-notch rock and roll outfit. You know, kinda like Led Zeppelin without so much Led. I'm not trying to make any sort of pretentious comparison, except to say that these guys are talented, versatile and energetic. And, you know, they're translating old music into a newer idiom.
Slightly newer, I guess. This is more 70s rock than indie rock, and it's produced with a confident hand. This sounds just like something any major label in the 70s would have loved to release. I've been trying to make more comparisons, but the more I listen, the more I'm convinced these guys are simply the British Columbians.
I couldn't even start writing until I'd listened to the album halfway through. I was just in awe. This is an epochal album, something that comes along only so often. It's probably 40 years too late to make music history, but I'm not gonna worry about that. Good music is its own reward.
This isn't good music. It's outfuckingstanding music. Yes, I'm a guy who came of age in the 80s sporting long locks and playing Led Zep tapes with my Sparkomatic cranked up to full distortion. So perhaps I'm naturally inclined toward this kinda thing. On the other hand, I know shit from shinola. This stuff is pure gold.
Let Me Know You Got Home OK
Five instrumentals and four tracks with guest vocals. The presence or absence of a human voice makes little difference, however. Todd Buckler is out to nail your ass to the wall.
In a nice way, I suppose. These slamming electronic pieces simply pound remorselessly. Buckler takes the whole big beat concept and triples the size of the sledgehammer. As for the rest of it? Merely innovative beat work and insightful melodies.
Goddamn, though, those bass drum (well, synthesized bass drum) beats are heavy. And even when he gets all abstract and experimental, the low end is just as wicked.
To play the name game: Chemical Brothers meet Aphex Twin and then decide to tag-team Download. I know, those are old school references, but for all his innovation, Buckler does seem to have some reverence for the past. Maybe that's what drew my attention in the first place. Or maybe it was the overall brilliance of the album. Hard to say.
Faded Paper Figures
The requisite straight-up laptop pop album for this set of reviews. Faded Paper Figures is a trio that specializes in trippy beats, kinetic guitar and softly sung songs. It's an exercise in constant counterpoint, and I like that.
The key to all of this is the constant motion. It would be impossible to classify any of these pieces as particularly aggressive, but they never stop moving. Between the bass, guitar, keyboards and programming, there's always something moving. Usually, it's two or three things moving in opposite directions.
Very cool. Indeed, I can't think of an album that deserves that appellation more than this one. These songs are involved and often intellectual, but they simply sound cool. Not so much hipster as simply self-confident. Being cool means that you don't worry about being cool.
Or that's what my mom always told me. Maybe she was just trying to make me feel good. Doesn't matter. I know that these songs make me feel good. This album produced almost a month's worth of smiles. A rollicking success.
Hooray for Earth
Hooray for Earth
Not many bands rock out these days. There's a lot of cerebral noodling going on, and there's a lot of making noise, but not many bands settle into pocket and simply blister a hook into the ground. Hooray for Earth does. Not as much as I think it ought, I suppose, but it's good to hear a band rock out now and again.
Now, Hooray for Earth's notion of rocking out includes a bit of noodling and a fair amount of noise, but nonetheless, these folks know the benefit of a solid groove and they seem to know when it ought to be pile-driven into the tundra.
The keyboards lend this a bit of a new wave feel, but Hooray for Earth is really more of a modern indie rock band. Certainly, the energy level comes more from that side of things. The production is solid, though not overly aggressive. After all, when you attack songs the way these folks do, there's no need to ramp up the power. It's already in there.
Dig the throb. I had a lot fun here. My head thrashed around like it hasn't in quite a while. My neck is a little sore, and I'm plenty happy. That's a winning recipe in my book.
Heart Is Black EP
Planting Seeds seems to have cultivated a Britpop connection. International Jetsetters play that energetic and yet so cool pop that's been a staple since, well, the Beatles. These folks borrow heavily from the American pop resurgence of the last 15 years or so, but that, too, is a time-honored Britpop tradition.
The best of these bands take a wide array of influences and meld them into a seamless pop sound. The six songs here have an impressive range and continue to be intriguing on the fourth and fifth listens.
Like the best popsters, these folks don't let up even when the songs turn introspective. The intensity remains. A most impressive set. I'll queue up for the full-length.
Remember those first Girls Against Boys albums? The ones before the guys signed to Touch and Go? This album has that sound. But these guys aren't cool and detatched. They're loud and in your face. Kinda like a poppier Jesus Lizard.
And guess what? Mr Russia hails from Chicago. Well, if that don't beat all... Interestingly, the label describes the band as a combination of Iggy Pop and the White Stripes. That's probably not too far off, either. The fact of the matter is that Mr Russia starts loud and fast, plays loud and fast and ends loud and fast. With some awfully raggedy hooks every once in a while.
I love the rough-hewn sound. It's somewhat artificial, as there are far too many overdubs to trick even the most inexperienced listener into believing this puppy was recorded live to tape. On the other hand, whoever twisted the knobs created a sound that feels alive. And not just alive, actually, but truly vibrant.
A real electric shock. This album carries one serious rush, and it never drops the ball. I'm not sure I could survive a live show; my heart couldn't take it.
All Of Us in Our Night
These guys have some famous friends. David Lowery (Cracker, etc.) and Mike Mills produced a few tracks. But the sound here is much more sophisticated than that pedigree might indicate.
By sophisticated I mean multi-layered and introspective. More like Tortoise than R.E.M., say. The Shins are an obvious reference point, I suppose, though these guys have a more than a bit of the Rob Crow mutant pop gene as well.
The songs never really take flight. Instead, they're deliberate and exacting examinations of a variety of musical ideas. Not the sort of stuff to excite the kiddies, I suppose, but I don't think that's where these guys are going.
Think Elton John without the cheese (those hooks that soar way too high). That sort of thing. Modern Skirts play music for adults. And there's not one single reason to apologize for that.