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
Casper and the Cookies
(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.
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.
Pine Sticks and Phosphorous
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.
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.
We Didn't Go EP
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.
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.
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.