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
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.
Clock Hands Strangle
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.
(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.
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.
Heavyweight Dub Champion
Rise of the 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.
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.
Eric Margan & the Red Lions
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.
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.