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
December 2008
  • A. Armada Anam Cara EP (Hello Sir)
  • Peter Adams I Woke With Planets in My Face (self-released)
  • The British Columbians The British Columbians (self-released)
  • Todd Buckler Let Me Know You Got Home OK (Employment)
  • Faded Paper Figures Dynamo (Shorthand)
  • Hooray for Earth Hooray for Earth (Dopamine)
  • International Jetsetters Heart Is Black EP (Planting Seeds)
  • Mr Russia Teething (self-released)
  • Modern Skirts All of Us in Our Night (self-released)
  • Will Quinlan & the Diviners Navasota (Ironweed)
  • The Rockwells Place & Time (Migrant)
  • Michael Zapruder Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope (SideCho)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    A. Armada
    Anam Cara EP
    (Hello Sir!)

    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.

    www: http://www.hellosirrecords.com

    Peter Adams
    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.

    www: http://www.peteradamsmusic.com

    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.

    www: http://www.thebritishcolumbians.com

    Todd Buckler
    Let Me Know You Got Home OK
    (Employment Records)

    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.

    www: http://www.employmentrecordsonline.com

    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.

    www: http://www.fadedpaperfigures.com

    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.

    P.O. Box 391243
    Cambridge, MA 02139
    www: http://www.dopamine-records.com

    International Jetsetters
    Heart Is Black EP
    (Planting Seeds)

    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.

    Planting Seeds
    P.O. Box 64665
    Virginia Beach, VA 23467-4665
    www: http://www.plantingseedsrecords.com

    Mr Russia
    (Lens Records)

    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.

    Lens Records
    2020 N. California Ave.
    Suite 7-119
    Chicago, IL 60647-3923
    www: http://www.lensrecords.com

    Modern Skirts
    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.

    www: http://www.modernskirts.com

    Will Quinlan & the Diviners

    There are certain elements that mark the indie americana sound. Whiskey-edged vocals, a bounding, prominent bass line and slide guitar. Oh, and a certain rolling anthemic quality to the songs.

    Will Quinlan has it all. This sounds like pre-programmed americana bliss. And it may be. But it's also extraordinarily listenable, and the songs seem to improve with repeated listening.

    That would be the hallmark of what I like to call "good music." Quinlan writes within well-defined margins, but he really knows what he's doing. There aren't a lot of surprises here, but the songs are so strong there's no need shock the listener.

    Listening is all you have to do. Quinlan has done the rest of the work. This album is almost too easy to listen to, but I don't think I'm going to complain about that. I'll just edge up the volume a bit and hit repeat.

    www: http://www.ironweedmusic.com

    The Rockwells
    Place & Time

    Four guys who happen to be two sets of brothers and like to make affected, almost precious, pop songs. Not to be creepy (well, maybe a little), but the eccentricities here sound almost incestual.

    There's a feel that's particular to a solo project, and there's a feel that's particular to a duo project. This feels like a dual duo project, where each weird idea comes back with a slight echo. The ideas aren't that wacko, of course, as this is indie pop. But thankfully, the Rockwells don't skimp on the tangents.

    The songs themselves are all over map. There are a few introverted musers, a few straight-up ravers and plenty of stuff in-between. That's where the dual duo thing comes in. These guys get along so well that they've assimilated each other's craziness.

    That's a good thing, I guess. My understanding is that the Rockwells put out a lot of albums. Don't know how this one stacks up with the rest, but it's pretty good on its own. Sweet enough.

    www: http://www.migrantrecords.com

    Michael Zapruder
    Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope

    The only Zapruder I know is the guy who shot the Zapruder film (you know, the one where Kennedy gets shot). Don't know if there's a connection, but I will say that these are some keenly observed pieces.

    I'd guess it helped that Scott Solter (producer/recorder of stuff from Mountain Goats, Tarantel, Pattern Is Movement, etc.) did the recording. He's got a good feel for this sort of intricate musing. He doesn't make overblown pieces. Rather, he's great at guiding small and intimate ideas into perfectly-formed niches.

    So he's just about perfect for Zapruder's subtle music. There's a lot going on here, and Solter just kinda lets it lay. That's perfect for sonic explorers, and hey, you've got to be one to really get where Zapruder is going. The lyrics are somewhat more direct, but they have plenty of subtle moments as well.

    It took me more than a month to really get into this album. That's impressive, in my book. There's a lot going on here, and it's not an easy task to take it all in. I'm not sure I have yet, but there's plenty of time.

    SideCho Records
    2300 Walnut Ave.
    Suite K
    Signal Hill, CA 90755
    www: http://www.sidecho.com

    Also recommended:

    Arliss Parker Handsome Like a Lion (Dag!)
    Arliss Parker is Chris Parker with a couple friends. Which is why it is up here rather than in the "P" section. The sound is, well, either eclectic minimalism or folky electronica. Or, you know, a little bit of both. The sound bounces around a bit, but it never goes crazy. I kinda like the reserved feel. There's plenty going on, but not so much that the music overwhelms itself.

    Aristeia How to Kill a King (self-released)
    A few guys who decide to let their music do the talking. Specifically, they create dramatic, sweeping songs that tell stories much better than most songs with lyrics do. It's pretty easy to get caught up in the emotion of these pieces. Oh, and the disc comes in a rough-hewn fake velvet pouch. Purty durned cool.
    www: http://myspace.com/aristeiaband

    Avenpitch Cast Off (Dance School)
    Another release from this quirky Minneapolis outfit. The highly-affected new wave sound takes a bit of time to get used to, but give it a song or two and you'll hear why I've loved these guys for a while now. There isn't another band like this anywhere.

    The Escape Frame The Escape Frame (End Sounds)
    Now we know the answer: It takes six guys to re-create the sound of the Rocket Summer. That snarky bit aside, the Escape Frame does a good job with the whole sunny emo thing. The production is a bit excessive (too many keyboards for my taste), but the songs are pretty.

    Expo 70 Black Ohms (Beta-Iactam Ring)
    I love this album. I would've done a full review, but there's not much to say. Droney, fuzzy and best experienced at high volume with headphones on. A trio of 90 Minute Pale Ales and this would set me on a voyage of extracosmic discovery.

    Hang Jones The Ballad of Carlsbad County (self-released)
    Much more into the roots than most americana, Hang Jones tells stories about the darker side of life. The press card calls this "outlaw" americana. Hmm. The music is exceptional, but certainly within the norm. Nonetheless, I'm thinking my appreciation will increase with more listens.
    www: http://www.hangjones.com

    K-the-I??? Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Mush)
    Temple-throbbing fare that's one part hip-hop and two parts experimental electronic beats. I don't know that the former is well-served by the latter, but it does sound awfully cool. I'm not sure how profound it all is, either, but I'm all in favor of interesting.

    Katy Mae You May Already Be a Winner EP (Maggadee)
    Five fine shots of the hard rockin' country blues. I suppose some might call this "southern" rock, but as these New York boys prove, it can be played by folks from just about anywhere. Solid.

    The Kindness Kind The Kindness Kind (self-released)
    Almost too eclectic to hold things together, the Kindness Kind plays that sort of disjointed, jangly indie pop that's been real popular for a while. Lucky for them, the center holds and this stuff shimmers. Let it burble into your brain.
    www: http://www.thekindnesskind.com

    Oh My God Fools Want Noise (Split Red)
    These guys do provide noise. A particular sort of noise filled with chunky riffs, thick keyboard chords and a vague post-industrial feel. Which means it sounds a lot like some of the great hard rock bands of the mid 90s. You know, the ones that no one ever heard. But that's another story for another day. This one takes me back in the very best way.

    Ping Trace Traces EP (self-released)
    Deliberate electronic fare than verges on the mellow side of acid jazz. This duo sets a mood and then wallows in it. If you're wanting to feel sophisticated, throw this one on.
    www: http://www.pingtracemusic.com

    Joel Plaskett Emergency Ashtray Rock (MapleMusic)
    Just yer average singer-songwriter dude with a serious 70s jones. Joel Plaskett and his band recreate some of my favorite sounds of that era, tossing them off with an almost incomprehensibly offhanded style. The songwriting is almost as sloppy as the playing (many of these pieces are fragments--or collections of fragments), but it works. I think Plaskett has really captured something here.

    Pro-Pain No End In Sight (Regain)
    I haven't heard anything from these boys in more than 10 years (I checked, just to be sure). This sounds like old Pro-Pain, if with slightly cleaner production. If there's such a thing as a prototype metal band, these guys are it. This album proves that hardening prostates are no impediment to great rock and roll.

    Slaraffenland Sunshine (Hometapes)
    Um, this is the new Slaraffenland. If you know what that means, go out and buy it. If you don't then go to the next review. These guys left Earth orbit a long a time ago, and I'm not sure newbies will catch up. But if you're feeling pretty good about approaching the speed of light, then by all means...

    Tat Tat (self-released)
    Self-released, but distributed through Sony/RED. You make the call. As for the music, this is loud, aggressive and often anthemic. Lots of commercial potential, but crunchy enough to be a nice snack for those of us on the fringes. Kinda like Halloween candy; you gotta look for the expiration date.
    www: http://myspace.com/tat

    True Widow True Widow (End Sounds)
    I can't quite get my head around this one. The name is truly strange. The sound is Black Sabbath meets Mazzy Star. Actually, it's more like Black Sabbath sharing the shower with Mazzy Star. The songs are fuzzy, yet often subtle. Maybe if I could figure out the band name, I'd have a better shot. I guess I'll just have to listen some more.

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