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 #306 reviews
April 2009
  • Casper and the Cookies Modern Silence (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
  • Chico Fellini Chico Fellini (Shangri-La)
  • Robert Gomez Pine Sticks and Phosphorous (Nova Posta)
  • Iuengliss Motion in Mind (Bocumast)
  • Jaden South Leading the Horse (self-released)
  • The Kokoon We Didn't Go EP (New Average)
  • Loudspeaker Speaker Recorded Sound (Broken Twilight)
  • Paper Arrows Things We Would Rather Lose (Quell)
  • Propagandhi Supporting Caste (Smallman)
  • Aaron Thomas Follow the Elephants (Everlasting)
  • The Von Ehrics Loaded (Crustacean)
  • Hermas Zopoula Espoir (Asthmatic Kitty)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Casper and the Cookies
    Modern Silence
    (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)

    Three people. Eighteen tracks. Miles and miles of conceptual pop soundscape. An eternity of possibilities.

    Reminds me a lot of art pop-era Mekons, though with a bit more of a proggy kitchen sink approach. Some of these songs are naked ideas without much exposition whatsoever. They're arresting and ear-popping, but not exactly fully-formed.

    That's okay, though. After all, you have to throw pasta on the wall to know if it's really done. The studio additions to the sound give a lot of these pieces something of a post-modern Chinn-Chapman (y'know, the Sweet and all) sound. Something very much mid-70s and yet altogether today as well.

    Those contrasts are part of what make this album so exciting. Casper and the Cookies range at least as far afield as bands like the Wrens, and if their writing and execution aren't quite up to that standard, they're getting awfully close. Skin bracing.

    Happy Happy Birthday to Me Records
    P.O. Box 742
    Athens, GA 30603
    www: http://www.hhbtm.com

    Chico Fellini
    Chico Fellini

    Chico Fellini sounds just like what the major labels were wanting to hear in 1992. Slick sounds, immaculately-written songs and attitude to spare. Perhaps a wee bit mannered, but that's all an act.

    Ah, yes, the whole theatrical nature of the band. There's a lot of prancing about (I mean that in a Siouxsie Sioux way, of course) and a certain affect to the vocals. It all says, "This may be a put on, but you're gonna have a good time, nonetheless."

    So, yeah, post-modern punk with an electronic sheen. I like my Siouxsie reference more and more, though the reliance on beats (analog and digital) reminds me a bit of the Ants as well. But even with these exceedingly dated references (I tend to forget I have readers who weren't born when Black Flag was a going concern), the band sounds rather up-to-date. Perhaps we're well into our third trip through 80s nostalgia, or maybe the kids today have figured out that the last golden era for pop music ended in 1985.

    Or maybe 1986. I dunno. Doesn't matter. Chico Fellini has the genre-crossing impulses that all good artists have. Don't label the music, other than "good" or "bad." Needless to say, I find this good. Very good.

    www: http://www.chicofellini.com

    Robert Gomez
    Pine Sticks and Phosphorous
    (Nova Posta)

    Robert Gomez got Matt Pence (Centro-Matic) to help produce and plenty of friends to come along for the ride. This heavily-orchestrated album (modern rock orchestra, anyway) lays out some of the prettiest songs I've heard in quite some time.

    Oh, and it's fabulously ambitious and decidedly pretentious. Gomez had no intention of making a nice album, and thank goodness he didn't. These songs sound unthreatening at first, but the slightest bit of actual listening will end that notion immediately.

    There's real teethies hanging out just below the gossamer surface of these songs. You could call it an undertow, I suppose, but only if your idea of an undertow is a tiger shark. Gomez doesn't let up once he's started the attack.

    Indeed, the best advice is to simply survive. The overall effect of the album is most disconcerting, and that's the thing I like best about it. Gomez and Pence have crafted something subconsciously dangerous. Most excellent in most ways.

    Motion in Mind

    Tom Metz created the electronic madness that is Iuengliss, and he really revels in the digital gore.

    Not digital hardcore, mind you, but rather disassembled melodies and beats that are never quite put back together correctly. It's easy to hear coherent thoughts and vocals, but they never quite fit together. Brilliant.

    Indeed, if these songs were produced in a straightforward manner, they might be a bit dull. After all, there's only so much you can do with processed vocals and an array of keyboards.

    Metz has done all that--and gone past the limits of the form with his arrangements. These songs aren't experimental in conception, but they are in execution. The sounds just aren't right, and that's what lights up my brain. I really like grooving to the fractured sounds of this album. Quite engaging.

    www: http://www.iuengliss.com

    Jaden South
    Leading the Horse

    Straightforward rootsy stuff with a bit more punch than yer average americana. Jessica Draper and Deborah DeLoach have solid voices than never get brassy. I think that last bit is why I liked this so much.

    In a strange way, it's like listening to the Indigo Girls play hard-rockin' country. Which, of course, is about where Amy and Emily have ended up. These gals don't do it better, but they have written some good songs and sure know how to sing them.

    An exceedingly conventional album, but one that is put together quite well. Slide guitar goes in here, organ here, etc. Predicting the sequencing is a snap. There are no surprises, and I'm okay with that. I'm more interested in hearing what comes next.

    Jaden South has put together a good effort here. I think there's plenty of room for growth, and I'm curious what direction that will take. I'll be listening.

    www: http://www.jadensouth.com

    The Kokoon
    We Didn't Go EP
    (New Average)

    Another band that takes more than a few cues from the 80s. The Kokoon wears its devotion to the likes of Depeche Mode and the Cure on its collective sleeve. Of course, when you make music swing like this, it doesn't matter much whose material you're cribbing.

    And if you want to hear one of the most blistering modern goth pop rock anthems in decades, try "Life It Seems So Delicate." I can just see the dance floors of my youth filling up quickly if this song were to hit the speakers.

    Five songs that invigorate and inspire. I'm assuming there will be a full-length sometime soon. I simply cannot wait.

    Loudspeaker Speaker
    Recorded Sound
    (Broken Twilight)

    Utterly idiosyncratic electronic explorations. The vocal work is often some form of found sound or simply something silly. It's what my mother-in-law would probably call "very creative."

    Well, sure. But what I like about Loudspeaker Speaker (which I first encountered on the recent collaboration with Clearly Human) is the playful nature of these pieces. They're weird and often race off into somewhat unformed territory, but there's an intoxicating vitality to the sound.

    A sound that is not organic in any way. These pieces are not part of the rational world. Rather, they're some sort of symbolic representation of our shared reality.

    Wow, that was pretentious. Gotta lay off the textbooks. In any case, Loudspeaker Speaker uses electronic disturbances in rather exciting ways. I plugged in right at the start and rode that wire hard until the end.

    www: http://www.brokentwilight.com

    Paper Arrows
    Things We Would Rather Lose

    Indie rock with some wonderfully raucous arrangements. The melodies are relatively modest and the songs tend toward kicking ass, but it seems there are always some horns or piano or the like hanging around to prettify things.

    And, well, these guys don't mind getting a bit introspective. There are a few power pop references in the writing, though by and large these are rock and roll songs. The hooks are fine, but the energy and intensity of the performances is what locks in the sound.

    That's the indie rock part, I guess. The production has left this sound nice and raggedy despite the added brighteners, which makes my smile widen that much more. Everything is just a little bit messy, which makes these songs that much more cozy.

    Not the most distinctive album in the world, but one that makes folks like me want to curl up with a bourbon and a nice George Pelecanos book. Okay, maybe my idea of cozy is a bit off the beaten track, but I think the same can be said for Paper Arrows.

    www: http://www.quellrecords.com

    Supporting Caste

    Haven't heard from these boys in a while. Glad to hear they're still ripping through current events with a hardcore buzzsaw.

    And doing it without being utterly annoying. Punk bands can get awfully preachy, and Propagandhi isn't immune from this tendency. Most of the time, though, the speed and power of the music overshadows the most pretentious aspects of the band's point of view.

    More to the point, Propagandhi doesn't preach much. The lyrics present a point of view (one that lies a wee bit to the left, to be sure), but they also give the why. There are explanations for the ideologies. And, you know, the songs sound great. If you cut out the vocals, this is still classic hardcore.

    I need a fix of political rock every now and again. Anything to challenge the rut I find my brain settling into is always welcome. And when it's this loud, this fast and this good, I simply cannot say no.

    Smallman Records
    P.O. Box 352
    RPO Croydon
    Winnipeg, MB R3M 3V3
    www: http://www.smallmanrecords.com

    Aaron Thomas
    Follow the Elephants

    So Aaron Thomas recorded this in Madrid. He lives there, though he seems to be an American. The name would certainly indicate such a thing. But his songs have a definite continental sensibility.

    Mostly in the construction, I'd say. Thomas tends to start a song off on a roll and then see where it goes. Some of the pieces do stick to a rough form of verse-chorus, but many simply ramble on in a most appealing fashion.

    A large part of that appeal is the percussion/bass work, which is almost jazz-like in movement and sound. Django Rinehardt sorta jazz, the stuff that's eternally in motion. When the rhythm section is rolling, this album soars. When Thomas pulls back a bit, the sound is a bit more pedestrian.

    I like his style. Don't know why he's in Madrid, but it seems to have served Thomas well. A fine gem of an album.

    The Von Ehrics

    Hard-rockin' rootsy stuff that brings to mind Social D, early Uncle Tupelo or some of the Meat Puppets straighter moments. The Von Ehrics have an ear for melody, but they save their passion for speed and power.

    There is a hint of twang, to be sure, but this is mostly throttleneck territory. Wring as many chords out of the guitar as is humanly possible and turn it up to 11. Oh, and mention drinking every other line or so.

    This is a strikingly attractive approach, of course. Plenty of adrenaline and enough bad habits to clothe a convent whorehouse. Um, the mixed metaphors are free--and a nice bonus.

    Best not to analyze this sort of ear candy too closely. After all, rock and roll is all about emotion, and the Von Ehrics have plenty of that. Take down the top and let the sun shine in.

    Crustacean Records
    P.O. Box 829
    Madison, WI 53701
    www: http://www.crustaceanrecords.com

    Hermas Zopoula
    Espoir 2xCD
    (Asthmatic Kitty)

    Two exceedingly different discs from Zopoula, who hails from Burkina Faso. The first set sounds like a lot of Western African guitar pop that I've heard, with a certain bump in the bass and sing-song sound to the melodies. It's good, but not particularly unique.

    The second disc is Zopoula and an acoustic guitar--demos cut live to tape. I like that a lot better. It's not hard to imagine what they would sound like with the full band production sound, but I prefer this style.

    I like this set precisely because you can hear how an artist writes songs and then how those songs would be translated. There are no repeated songs between the two discs, but a one-to-one comparison isn't necessary.

    Hearing echoes of American music wafted back across the Atlantic is always fascinating. This set has something of a documentary feel about it, but it's also quite easy to enjoy the songs on their own merits. A real joy.

    Asthmatic Kitty Records
    P.O. Box 1282
    Lander, WY 82520
    www: http://www.asthmatickitty.com

    Also recommended:

    Anchor Arms Cold Blooded (Fail Safe)
    It's always nice to hear a band that appreciates bass-centric hardcore. This isn't exactly D.O.A. or Nomeansno (not that either band would be confused for the other), but there's juice in the bottom end of these songs, and it drives everything quite nicely.

    Bellini The Precious Prize of Gravity (Temporary Residence)
    More striking post-rock explorations from this outfit. The lines dance, the rhythms pulverize and my ears are rich. Lovely stuff with a lot of power.

    Casiotone for the Painfully Alone Vs. Children (Tomlab)
    Further proof that last month's oddities collection is the strongest album by this most intriguing band. These songs do range over a fairly wide territory, but this set is definitely rooted in a particular feel. There are a number of stunners, "Natural Light" principal among them. Excellent work, as always.

    Charlene release #6 EP (Shark Attack)
    Three songs chock full of shimmery goodness. Charlene doesn't stint on the excess; rather, it indulges just about every impulse and still manages to keep the songs together. Most impressive.

    The Color Wheels The Color Wheels (Viper Bite)
    Power pop that dives a bit hard into the cheese, but manages to redeem itself by the end. I do wish these guys worked a bit harder to define their own sound. After all, three chords and a nice hook has been done. Still, this is solid and enjoyable.

    Hammer No More the Fingers Looking for Bruce (Churchkey)
    J Robbins produced this trio, and it kinda sounds like what you'd expect: Three guys playing lo-fi pop punk with more than a hint of technical ability. Sounds a bit more like 1989 than 2009, but that's fine with me. There's something interesting going on here.

    In Endeavors You've Got Your Friends, I've Got Mine EP (Eugene)
    The title track is one of those slacker lounge lizard garage anthems that simply will not leave the brain. Gerren Reach slurs his way through most impressively. The other songs are solid to very good. I think this sound has trended toward the sunset, but these boys do it nicely.

    Living with Lions Dude Mirror EP (Black Box Recordings)
    Ah, this month's dose of brain-throttling emo. Living with Lions is more about power than melody, which puts the band firmly in the old school. You'll be bobbing your head in no time.

    Amy Lynn Amy Lynn EP (Rangletorian)
    The latest singer to jump onto the old school soul/r&b bandwagon. The songs are fine, and Lynn has a good voice. What I don't hear is the breakout song that will imprint Lynn's name onto the foreheads of a legion of fans, though the cover of "Against All Odds" (Phil Collins's song for the movie starring Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward) does have a certain kitsch factor.

    Peelander-Z P-Pop High School (Eat Rice)
    A Japanese band that formed in New York. The Ramones reference is telling, though these guys remind me more of the Blue Hearts, a criminally underappreciated Japanese pop punk band from the 80s. Cheap, easy and terrible for the teeth. What's not to love?

    The Season Standard Squeeze Me Ahead of Line (Unsung)
    Post-post-rock, if there were such a thing. The Season Standard incorporates prog and jazz influences into conceptual indie rock, and the decorates the premises with stylish vocals. Pretty much unhinged, but in a pleasantly Zappa-esque way. Don't try to figure it out. Just let the glory wash over you in waves.

    The Thoughts Consider the Bear (Brass Tax Cooperative)
    Pretty and often exceedingly-crafted songs. Sorta in the folk/roots/americana universe, though I can't quite pin these songs down. Perhaps that's a good thing. Sometimes solid music should simply be appreciated as such.

    Victorian Halls Victorian Halls EP (self-released)
    Four loud, messy songs that meander around the edges of trendy punk movements. They're going for something, even if I couldn't quite pin down what that might be. In the end, I found all of the affectations a wee bit silly, but I'm always in favor of people putting themselves on the line.

    Who Shot Hollywood? Springtime in Greenland EP (self-released)
    New wave performed by kids who were born well after the first wave. Which leads to a few interesting interpretations (plenty of drums and guitars) and even more innovations (intricate melodies and rock construction). I like this decidedly different take on an old sound. I wonder what these folks might do next.
    www: http://www.whoshothollywood.com

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