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 #307 reviews
May 2009
  • Almost Charlie The Plural of Yes (Words on Music)
  • Clock Hands Strangle Distaccati (Chocolate Lab)
  • Deaf Judges All Rise (Emerald City Ruins)
  • Foma Inverness EP (self-released)
  • Heavyweight Dub Champion Rise of the Champion Nation (Champion Nation)
  • Hermit Thrushes Slight Fountain (Joyful Noise)
  • Eric Margan & the Red Lions Midnight Book (self-released)
  • Schleusolz Running Out of Tie (self-released)
  • Secrets Between Sailors Secrets Between Sailors (self-released)
  • Snowglobe No Need to Light a Night Light on a Night Like Tonight EP (Makeshift)
  • Paul "Snowflake" Taylor Share It! (Makeshift)
  • Christopher Tignor Core Memory Unwound (Western Vinyl)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Almost Charlie
    The Plural of Yes
    (Words on Music)

    For all those people who say the Internet is destroying personal relationships and fostering the triumph of hype over talent, there is the entity that is Almost Charlie.

    Charlie Mason lives on these shores, and Dirk Homuth is a Berliner. Mason and Homuth write the songs--as they've been doing since 2003, without any actual face-to-face meetings--and Homuth gets a few friends to record them in Berlin.

    The sound is crafted pop, in that wistful Abbey Road sorta style. Almost Charlie doesn't really sound like the Beatles, though there are echoes of John (and Julian) Lennon in his off-handed delivery. What this sounds like is modern pop with a classic sheen. And the writing is, indeed, first rate.

    One of those albums that is immediately enjoyable and even more impressive on successive listens. Personally, I think these guys ought to get together for reals one of these days, but if keeping the ocean between them ushers forth songs like this, well, maybe they ought to stay put where they are.

    Words on Music
    501 4th St. SE
    Minneapolis, MN 55414
    www: http://www.words-on-music.com

    Clock Hands Strangle
    (Chocolate Lab)

    I really liked these guys' first album. Did a short review. This one, though, is an awful lot better. Back then I wondered how five guys could create such a full sound. That's still a mystery to me, but the true wonder is the sound itself.

    There's no easy way to categorize Clock Hands Strangle. The simplest description would be raucous roots fare with horns. But that would ignore the solid song construction and tight playing. Yeah, these songs often seem to be devolving into cacophony, but the center always holds. These boys know what they're doing, even when the playing gets almost hyperkinetic.

    Imagine a convergence of ALL, Meat Puppets and the Wrens. Okay, so those references kinds show my age, but they're still apt. CHS is fearless in its reinterpretation of a wide variety of sounds, and they play so well and so energetically that there are no holes whatsoever.

    A joy, pure and simple. A lot of my friends ask me why I listen to a hundred or two dreadful albums a month. An album like this is all the answer I need. Flat out brilliant.

    www: http://www.chocolatelabrecords.com

    Deaf Judges
    All Rise
    (Emerald City Ruins)

    Combining a gang-vocal style highly reminiscent of the Beastie Boys with an embrace of the full range of hip-hop beats from the last 30 years (and then some), Deaf Judges leave quite an impression.

    So you've got some old school slammin' beats and plenty of collage work that brings to mind the Bomb Squad or Prefuse 73 (depending on the song). The rhymes tend to have a point of view (always a plus with me), and they've delivered with style.

    This goes down so easily that I'm somewhat reticent to get excited. Can something this immediately enticing actually have staying power? I think so, mostly because of the quality of the beatwork. This album spins from sound to sound without seeming disjointed. The song sequence has a fine flow.

    That willingness to experiment so freely makes this an obvious pairing with DOOM, but I think I've already exhausted my list of superlative references. Suffice it to say that Deaf Judges ought to appeal to those who prefer their hip-hop with an dash of spice.

    www: http://www.ecruins.com

    Inverness EP

    Foma could have stuck to the dreamy sonic construction sound that floats through this album. But these folks want to sound a bit more intense than Air.

    The vocals are still on the dreamy (or, as most folks prefer, "ethereal") side, but there's plenty of movement behind them. Sure, there are the occasional waves of keyboards, but those are augmented by some actual rock and roll.

    Yeah, Foma is exceedingly precise in its arrangements and playing. That can be a hindrance at times, but on a song like "Hannah, It's Finished!," that craftsmanship really pays off as the tone (and sound) of the song shifts into overdrive and then back again.

    There's a lot here to figure out, and I'm always a sucker for that kind of attention to detail. Foma may think a bit too much, but I'm guessing the live shows are just blistering. This set (the band's third) certainly provides plenty of great songs.

    www: http://www.itsallfoma.com

    Heavyweight Dub Champion
    Rise of the Champion Nation
    (Champion Nation)

    Wandering from a completely different corner of the hip-hop world than Deaf Judges (reviewed above), Heavyweight Dub Champion lays out some astounding dub and then recruits the likes of KRS One, Killah Priest and many more to throw down the rhymes.

    This "guest artist" approach works only when the underlying production is good. And the sound on this album is simply explosive.

    Dub is one of the most fertile grounds for hip hop and reggae, but too often artists get lazy. Fuzz is emphasized over structure and the rhymes are even further off the radar. Obviously, HDC took care of the latter with its guests. But the creativity in the beats is what really makes this disc amazing. Each song is rooted in the dub world, but there are plenty of field trips abroad.

    Which is the key to success in music: Take something that works and tweak it just enough. HDC puts its stamp on dub, and the outstanding lineup of MCs and singers push the songs even higher. Most invigorating.

    www: http://www.championnation.net

    Hermit Thrushes
    Slight Fountain
    (Joyful Noise)

    Minimalist pop occasionally deconstructed into something sublime. Hermit Thrushes refuse to play a song straight through--there's always a reason to slice up a line or two in an attempt to find deeper meaning.

    I sympathize with those who find this sort of disjointed style annoying. I do as well, but only when it doesn't work. Hermit Thrushes really do open up new windows on the songs with this approach, so I'm not going to complain.

    The sound is often loud, but rarely is it overwhelming. Each instrument can be clearly heard, and the band stays firmly in control even during the most raucous moments.

    An interesting set. This is definitely a "music critic" kinda band, but I think there are plenty of folks out there who appreciate such adventurous fare.

    Joyful Noise
    P.O. Box 20109
    Indianapolis, IN 46220
    www: http://www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com

    Eric Margan & the Red Lions
    Midnight Book

    Ah, youth. There's always an endless fascination with the ol' "Romeo and Juliet" tale (Shakespeare, of course, didn't invent that play's romantic themes, either), though it tends to fade as one gets older.

    Eric Margan is in his early 20s, and he's written an exceedingly engaging album about love found and love lost. The sound is full and all-encompassing (most fitting) and the songs themselves have no problems standing alone outside the context of the album.

    Indeed, these songs are so complex that it might take a listener a few trips through the disc to completely pick up on all the subtleties of the tale. The vibrant arrangements and playing are wonders in themselves, making it that much more difficult to keep an ear on the big picture.

    I like albums that can be heard many different ways. Margan's songwriting is astounding, and the execution on of this album is simply amazing. No matter how you listen, you will be blown away.

    www: http://www.ericmargan.com

    Running Out of Time

    Worsel Strauss and Zodi Paulinen have created an album of electronic wonder. The songs are generally written in the style of swinging 60s instrumental lounge music, but the execution is largely electronic.

    The German members of Schleusolz had the impeccable taste to send their tunes to Kramer for mastering. I'd guess that Kramer found a couple ways to bring out even more of the whimsical nature of these songs. In any case, this is just the sort of project I associate with the man.

    I suppose many folks would find the incongruity of electronic (almost to the point of techno, at times) renditions of lounge-y stuff far too off-putting. It is a little weird. But this duo infuses so much fun into these pieces that I cannot imagine people running away.

    This disc is a wonderment. Silly, certainly, and also a bit on the odd side. Right up my alley, I guess. All I can say is that it left me with a smile that's hard to erase.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/schleusolz

    Secrets Between Sailors
    Secrets Between Sailors

    Sometimes you just need a little rock and roll. Indiana's Secrets Between Sailors sounds like a midwestern band. From the late 70s or early 80s, perhaps, but midwestern nonetheless. Chunky chords, raspy vocals and plenty of volume.

    A little more Cheap Trick than Replacements, I suppose (the guitar work, in particular, is very nice), though it's not hard to hear echoes of any number of bands. I went to Missouri in the late 80s, and I can think of at 20 bands that sounded a little like this.

    So I like the sound. It's not so much dated as geographically stamped. It's true that an awful lot of folks fell in love with many of those 80s indie rock bands. But there was a scene then, a knowledge among folks across the country that something interesting was happening. That's not really the case today.

    But this is still a solid album. I like the way these guys pound out the songs. They're probably not going to be the next...I dunno, anything. But they make fine music.

    www: http://www.secretsbetweensailors.com

    No Need to Light a Night Light on a Night Like Tonight EP

    I think it takes longer to say the title of this disc than to listen to it. Pretty typical Snowglobe, really. Write a few pop songs in a variety of idioms, throw in the kitchen sink in the arrangements and then play them with lots of spunk.

    Very few "collective" bands (those with an expansive and ever-evolving membership roster) are able to create songs that sound as idiosyncratic as one-man efforts. Snowglobe is the exception.

    Seven songs just aren't enough. But, again, I suppose that's how Snowglobe likes it. Joyous and energetic, with enough craft and complexity to engage the most demanding listener.

    Makeshift Music
    P.O. Box 40043
    Memphis, TN 38174-0043
    www: http://www.makeshiftmusic.com

    Paul "Snowflake" Taylor
    Share It!

    Having played for many better-known artists, Paul "Snowflake" Taylor is now striking out on his own. He's a great musician with a spectacularly unsteady voice.

    He knows this, and so he writes songs that give his reedy and often off-key vocals a fair cushion. This is rock and roll, after all, and having nice pipes has never been a requirement. As long as the proper emotion is conveyed, technical ability is secondary.

    More remarkable, though, is that the music is often almost unbearably gorgeous. And when Taylor's voice starts warbling, the first instinct is often to run and hide. But after a few bars, everything starts to make sense.

    Perhaps the best label for Taylor is "songwriter-singer." That's certainly the proper order, though I think a case can be made for the vocals on this album. They're not great, but they serve the songs well. Which is all anyone can ask.

    Makeshift Music
    P.O. Box 40043
    Memphis, TN 38174-0043
    www: http://www.makeshiftmusic.com

    Christopher Tignor
    Core Memory Unwound
    (Western Vinyl)

    Better known as the leader of Slow Six, Christian Tignor steps out on his own for the first time. The sound is similar to Slow Six (meditative pieces that spin multiple lines into a coherent thread), but on this album Tignor relies more on computer editing than a band.

    I'm not sure how much of a difference that makes. Tignor is composing pieces much the same way he has in the past, and he's still in charge of the final product. I don't want to make too much of this, though.

    Because the music is paramount. It doesn't matter how many tracks you use; if the music's no good, it's no good. And Tignor definitely knows how to make good music. These songs ebb and flow as they slowly get to the point, but there's never a dull moment.

    Artsy? Sure. But almost absurdly engaging as well. Tignor knows how to write music that matters. It doesn't really matter whose name is above the title. Contact:
    Western Vinyl
    4409 Merle Dr.
    Austin, TX 78745
    www: http://www.westernvinyl.com

    Also recommended:

    Annabel Each and Everyone (Count Your Lucky Stars)
    Ringing, energetic indie pop that seems to always have a smile on its face--even when the songs address less sunny themes. This band has a knack for writing melodies that stick immediately. Quite a find.

    Bloom McDonas, Romus, Brumit, Baker (Edgetone)
    Bloom Project Sudden Aurora (Edgetone)
    The first album is a studio project with quartet. The second album is a live performance by Rent Romus and Thollem McDonas as a duo. There are no repeat songs between the two albums, but Romus and McDonas dominate the first and are the sole players on the second. Fans of these guys will know what they're getting: nuanced improvisation that often heads for the highlands before returning to the fold. There aren't many folks out there who can make improvisation as accessible as Romus and McDonas, and these two albums are perfect examples.

    Brunnen Swoon (Beta-Iactam Ring)
    A re-release of a 1993 album, with four bonus tracks. As noted on his website, Freek Kinkelaar created his Brunnen alter-ago to "combine songs with abstract soundscapes." Right. I like the way the song elements come and go while the atmospherics remain steady. The perfect soundtrack to a steady-state universe.

    Cinema Cinema Exile Baby (Digitone)
    There's a certain old-school 80s rock vibe to this. Somewhere between the Flaming Lips and U2 (we're talking the 80s versions, of course). The only thing missing is the middle, which robs the pieces of their potential power. But I will say that the mix makes for an interesting sound.

    The Creeps These Walls EP (Black Pint)
    If you're lucky, you can get this on a 7". Otherwise, you can download. Either way, you get a full dose of jaunty Canadian punk pop that provides equal doses attitude and sun--that would be the sound. The lyrics are really depressing, which is a nice counterpoint. This is not complicated, but it sure sounds great.

    Drifting in Silence Facewithin EP (Labile)
    Solid post-techno electronics. Derrick Stembridge knows how to put together inorganic sounds in a most engaging fashion. Would've been a natural for the Reconstriction label, but that closed its doors years ago. Ah well. Got to move with the times.

    Joie de Vivre Summer Months (Count Your Lucky Stars)
    Coming straight out of the Gloria Record/Mineral minimalist emo tradition, Joie de Vivre alternately bashes and rolls though these seven songs. The melodies are haunting, and the songs quite affecting. Sometimes the point is a long time coming, but it's worth the wait.

    Loxsly Tomorrow's Fossils (self-released)
    Pretty, crafted songs that tend to circle a bit. The result could be a mincing mess, but what Loxsly tends to do is create a bit of mystery. Not enough to be off-putting, but just enough to bring a smile to the mind.

    LSD March Uretakumo Nakunarutorika (Beta-Iactam Ring)
    Three folks who tend to use their voices as instruments, and their instruments as purveyors of benign chaos. These songs are highly engineered (not to mention spooky as hell), but they come across as strangely natural. I should mention that I use the word "song" in its most loose sense. Not normal, by any means. Quite intriguing.

    Oceans Nothing Collapses (Copper Blue)
    Gently rolling songs that find their bite in unexpected moments. The melodies are a bit math-y, and they're a good fit with the rest of the song structures. The band name is most appropriate: fine seas with the occasional storm.

    On Ensemble Ume in the Middle (self-released)
    Some really pretty avant garde stuff. The pieces are composed, and I don't hear a lot of improvisation. The real astonishment here is the wide range of sounds used to complete the songs. That these sounds (vocals, instruments and some electronics) come from a small group of people is most impressive. The best past is that even when the ensemble heads for the extreme, the center holds. Fascinating.
    www: http://www.onensemble.org

    Push-Pull Between Noise and the Indians (Joyful Noise)
    Complex rock anthems played with the sound of 80s sludgecore. This is a most intriguing conceit, and it works most of the time. The more I hear this, the more I like it. and as you might guess, louder is most definitely better.

    Seven that Spells Cosmoerotic Dialogue with Lucifer (Beta-Iactam Ring)
    Serious King Crimson devotees who take that epic prog sound and bring it forward into the more eclectic oughts. The pieces pounce and lurch way forward, but they sound great all the time. Lots of ferment, and a fair product at the end.

    Zelazowa Elephants on a Moosehunt (self-released)
    These boys are all over the place. A little hard rock, a little early 90s "modern" rock and more than a hint of indie rock attitude. What holds the sound together is the raucous sneer of singer Bryan Weber. These guys make some fine noise, and their energy is most addictive. I'll be listening to hear where they go next.
    www: http://www.zelazowa.com

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