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.|
If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.
A&A #305 reviews
Casiotone for the Painfully Alone
Advance Base Battery Life
This compilation of assorted tracks from 2004 to 2007 is easily the most diverse set from Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. That's not saying a lot, as each "regular" album has tended to wander through a particular corner of the laptop universe. Nonetheless, odds and ends packages are often dull. This is anything but.
The collection is a real hodgepodge, and it includes such nuggets as a completely fuzzed-out rendition of "Born in the U.S.A." and "White Corolla" (just Google it, if you don't know already). The sonic jumping about works well.
You do have to have an appreciation for the laptop creation process, of course. Casiotone is much more adventurous than most of its contemporaries, but don't pick up this disc expecting oceans of sound. I think it's great, but the sound is what it is.
I love Superchunk, but I always go back to Tossing Seeds, its first "singles" (vinyl releases, anyway) compilation. I think the same may be true here. This set provides as full a picture of the band as any album. Very fine.
Death in the Park
Death in the Park EP
Something of a preview for the upcoming album, this five-song set tell me all I need to know. The sound is fairly commercial emo with plenty of kick. Reminds me a bit of the Ataris, though slightly more technical when it comes to the melodies.
The key to this sound is fun. If the songs rev up the heart and bring a smile, then the particulars just don't matter. Death in the Park knows how to create songs that simply cannot be put down. I suppose one might whine about commercial aspirations, but I'm much more interested in how the music makes me feel.
Emo is not about thinking, heavy analysis or musical theory. It's about being alive. And this too-short set breathes plenty of sun into this particularly chilly winter.
The Flying Change
Pain Is a Reliable Signal
I do believe that the minimalist roots sound is on its way back in. This is the tenth (or twentieth?) such disc I've heard recently. Maybe that's why the New Yorker did a profile of Wil Oldham. I dunno.
It's so easy to screw up this sound. There's really nothing to save bad songs from themselves. Sparse arrangements and relatively spartan recording techniques don't leave a lot of room for hiding. The Flying Change has the songs to make this sound sing.
And there are just enough brighteners to keep things lively. These guys aren't slavishly devoted to some false "real" sonic ideal. They're trying to make good music. Where the songs demands just a bit more, the Flying Change makes sure to use that little bit.
An album that enchants more and more as it rolls along. I really like the way these folks put together their songs. There's a sweet off-handed feel that lends an immediate intimacy. Watch out--you just might fall in love.
The Handsome Family
I first encountered the Handsome Family at a Mekons show in Baltimore. Well, I was late, so I missed the band, but I recall Jon Langford saying, "They take a little getting used to, but they're great!" as the Mekons cranked up.
This latest effort from the Handsome Family fits that definition perfectly. Not country, not rockabilly, not rock and roll, not doo-wop, not Elvine...not anything, exactly. But all of that, too. Probably the best way to approach this band is as the opposite of the White Stripes: A still-married couple that plays its songs with care and devotion.
Fans of the band are similarly devoted, and once cast, the spell is irrevocable. It will take a few minutes to unclutter your mind and allow the modestly unconventional arrangements and singing to soak in. Trust me, it's worth the effort.
Another fine outing from the band. Brett and Rennie Sparks hit upon this style quite a while ago, but they certainly seem to have plenty of miles to roam. Let the songs wash over and bathe you in their glory.
Silver Lightning from a Black Sky
I'm always interested to hear how folks from overseas reinterpret American music. European jazz bands are often a trip, but the European take on rock and roll has always been even trippier.
Kenneth Ishak is Norwegian, but you'd never guess that from his vocals. This sounds like crackling-clean indie pop. And it's that almost clinical quality to the sound that distinguishes it from the generally "dirtier" American feel.
That almost astringent production--even when the arrangements get busy, it's easy to hear every single element--lays these songs bare. Ishak comes through with a bevy of pleasant, introspective tunes that generally go nowhere fast, but charm nonetheless.
And these days, charm goes a long way. Ishak knows what he's doing, and he's done it quite well here. Pretty is as pretty does.
Things Look Different When the Sun Goes Down
Mann is belter trapped in the body of a somewhat strait-laced folk singer. She surrounds herself with a veritable americana orchestra (harp, fiddle, cello and even saw) and then lets loose.
The songs themselves are somewhat mannered, and Mann generally sings within the lines. That's precisely what makes her moments so momentous. When she lets go, it's like the light of the world has been extinguished.
Her songwriting style is similar to that of Patty Griffin, but unlike Griffin, Mann rarely makes full use of her voice. Most of the time, she prefers to use the music and lyrics to make her points.
This works pretty well. Generally, I prefer the belters. And I think Mann may end up there someday. Her alto is perfect for that type of singing. Still, she acquits herself well here. Well-crafted and utterly engaging.
A World Next Door to Yours
Britpoppers who, well, like to britpop. Throbbing tunes with all the quirks and creaks that seem to be required over the pond. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I like my music interesting.
The Parlotones crank out one punchy tune after another, backing it up with a thick production sound and the aforementioned squiggles. Every song seems to have at least one head-scratching sound.
That could be distracting, but the hooks here are too tight. The Parlotones play things just enough off-the-cuff to erase the lines of craft, thus walking the tightrope almost perfectly.
In the end, there's only one question: Did I have a good time, all the time? Yes. Everything after that is commentary. Useless commentary, at that.
In contrast to Kate Mann (reviewed above), Alice Peacock is a country singer who belts. She sings better than she belts, and luckily for everyone involved, she sings most of the time.
This sharply-produced album (done up in Nashville, even) is polished within an inch of its life. But Peacock has a good feel for the material (hers, either entirely or co-written) and delivers a solid performance.
The "big-time" production does leave the music sounding a bit generic, but by and large the sound stays in the general americana range. There aren't any Mutt Lange moments here.
Rather, Peacock tends to her songs well. I wish she'd have left a bit more room for herself in the sound, but that's not how you get the big deal. That's the way of life. You sacrifice a piece of yourself in order to get a bit more attention. If you do it right (the way Peacock has done here), you're left with something worth hearing.