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 #311 reviews
October 2009
  • Bear in Heaven Beast Rest Forth Mouth (Hometapes)
  • CJ Boyd Aerial Roots (Joyful Noise)
  • Dead Voices on Air Fast Falls the Eventide 2xCD (Lens)
  • Eva & the Heartmaker Let's Keep This Up Forever (Sony)
  • Josh Fix This Town Is Starting to Make Me Angry EP (Flop of the Century)
  • Hyperstory Hyperstory (Pureland)
  • The Lower 48 Everywhere to Go EP (Grape Juice)
  • Lymbyc Systym Shutter Release (Mush)
  • Parlour Steps The Hidden Names (Nine Mile)
  • Public Radio Sweetchild EP (Deep Elm)
  • Stationary Odyssey Sons of Boy (Joyful Noise)
  • Dan Webb and the Spiders Dan Webb and the Spiders EP (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Bear in Heaven
    Beast Rest Forth Mouth
    (Hometapes)

    Imagine Peter Gabriel playing June of 44 songs. Except that the melodies are both prettier and much, much more twisted. Bear in Heaven has a yearning for pop, but the band takes a most torturous path to get there.

    Which can be maddening for literal-minded folks, I know. But even a moment's worth of patience will bring huge rewards. These pieces pulse with energy, and the range and scope of the music is breathtaking. Not many bands have the imagination to even consider music this ambitious.

    The sound is just muddy enough to keep an organic sound on these intricate songs. The preponderance of synthesizer could easily drag the sound into techno or old school new wave territory (which wouldn't be all bad, I suppose), but there's enough raggedy rumpus to keep this stuff in the key of rock.

    Most bands who attempt this much either fail spectacularly or end up sounding dreadfully pretentious. Bear in Heaven retains an intimacy that makes this album one of the best of the year. Prepare to be astonished.

    Contact:
    Hometapes
    P.O. Box 3843
    Portland, OR 97208
    www: http://www.home-tapes.com


    CJ Boyd
    Aerial Roots
    (Joyful Noise)

    Three extensive meditations on the possibilities of bass-driven music. Not jazz, not improvised and not rock and roll--though there is plenty of roll. Indeed, these songs rise and fall like waves on the sea, telling stories as they go.

    Bass is particularly suited to this sort of languidly bounding sound. There's a natural bounce that's inherent in the playing of the instrument, and movement on the low end of sound always seems to bring to mind large-scale events, such as the motion of the ocean.

    The pieces clock in at 15, 9 and 20 minutes. The slowest and most introspective is the shortest one, which works out well. The longer pieces are more involved, though none drag. Boyd has a fine ear for editing as well as playing, and he never stays in a track too long.

    The sound may be miles from the mainstream, but I think it has a wide appeal nonetheless. Boyd is an outstanding craftsman, and he infuses his playing with more than enough passion to make these songs something wonderful to behold. This one will haunt for years to come.

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


    Dead Voices on Air
    Fast Falls the Eventide 2xCD
    (Lens)

    Mark Spybey has been making extremely experimental electronic music for more than 15 years. I reviewed a couple of his discs back in 1995, and now here's another set (the second disc is a re-issue of a G.R.O.S.S., a tape he put out in 1994).

    Even within the decidedly eclectic world of electronic experimentalists, Spybey is way out there. I saw him live back in the mid 90s, and I was underwhelmed. He can't do it all on stage, or, at least, he couldn't do it all back then. Put him in a studio, though, and the rules change.

    These are aggressively indulgent pieces, full of dissonance and a general sense of instability. One of Spybey's strengths is to bring together disparate sounds and ideas and somehow craft them into a coherent piece. Judging by this set, he's gotten a whole lot better at that over the years.

    This is some fine work, stuff that pushes up against (and might even occasionally cross) the frontiers of music. These ideas are not for the weak or simple minded, which is true for just about anything worth hearing. Exceptional.

    Contact:
    Lens Records
    2020 N. California Ave.
    Suite 7-119
    Chicago, IL 60647-3923
    www: http://www.lensrecords.com


    Eva & the Heartmaker
    Let's Keep this Up Forever
    (Sony)

    There's something about Scandinavia. The new Annie album is finally coming out, and then there's this disc from the Norwegian duo of Eva Weel Skram and Thomas Stenersen. Simple, basic, guitar-driven pop music that knows how to set a hook.

    Reminds me a lot of the first Apollo Smile album, where her voice played off licks laid down by Johnny "Guitar" Watson. Eva has a strong, if generic, voice that has more than a little Debbie Harry to it. That's okay, if only because the music does its job as well.

    Strong and playful, the songs bound around with an infectious energy. There's nothing particularly original about the sound, but Eva & the Heartmaker sell it well. The key is the songs, and they're better than alright.

    If you're in need of a little offbeat pop break, listen up. This disc may not last forever, but it ought to do for right now.


    Josh Fix
    This Town Is Starting to Make Me Angry EP
    (Flop of the Century)

    Five more songs from this pop impressionist. These pieces are more in the faux art rock vein of Supertramp or mid-range Genesis, with all the pomp and perhaps a bit more gravity.

    The heavy reliance on piano also brings to mind early Elton John, but Fix has a light hand with his pompous impulses, so he tends bliss out rather than beat listeners over the head with his hooks. That sweet bit of subtlety is one of the things I like best about Fix.

    Five stellar songs. There ought to be more. Fix is that rare artist: a polymath who is also able to write songs that appeal to the heart as well as the head. Much happiness for my ears.


    Hyperstory
    Hyperstory
    (Pureland)

    C. Scott Blevins has written a minor rock opera that is almost as oblique and sublime as the Rollo Treadway's from earlier this year. The sound is a bit more Steely Dan than Beach Boys, but the exceptional attention to detail is most arresting.

    The "story" itself is more impressionistic than linear, something along the lines of discovery of all types. The songs don't attack the ears; rather, they invite the listener in slowly with a series of intriguing lines and hooks.

    The overall sound is restrained, in keeping with the lyrical content. Despite an almost movie-like roster of musicians, there's no screaming or even stepping on toes. In fact, much of this disc takes place at dynamics just above a whisper. That's okay. It makes the listeners voyeurs. And we're all too happy to listen in.

    An intriguing set that raises more questions than it answers. I like that. Tickles the brain as well as the ears. Hyperstory is anything but hyper, and that makes all the difference.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.hyperstory.com


    The Lower 48
    Everywhere to Go EP
    (Grape Juice)

    Minimalist roots fare that rises and falls on the distinctive vocals of Sarah Parson. She's got a bit of the Linda Perry warble, and that works quite well with these understated songs.

    Despite the rough sound (these tracks sound a lot like demos) and occasional raggedy playing, there are plenty moments of sweet melody. Indeed, those almost accidental drops of sugar are most intriguing.

    I have to wonder if a bit more studio time (and more songs) would smooth over too many of the rough edges. Personally, I like the sound the way it is. It's far from perfect, which brings the Lower 48 that much closer to heaven.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.thelower48.org


    Lymbyc Systym
    Shutter Release
    (Mush)

    Whatever connected Lymbyc Systym to the hip hop world has disappeared completely. That's not a positive or negative statement. It just is. Lymbyc Systym has morphed (ever so slightly) into a full-on electronic sonicspheric experience.

    Which is pretty cool. Despite a definite emphasis on sound and mood, each of these songs is actually a song. There's a beginning, a middle and an end. There's even a story--told instrumentally, of course.

    And damned if it ain't impressive. Well, everything these folks has done is impressive, but I do believe LS has turned a corner. This is music in full bloom, ideas put directly to tape (or, y'know, magnetic media of one type or another).

    Gorgeous stuff, the kind of sounds and songs that refuse to leave the memory after only a short exposure. I had high expectations, but this album blows me away. Astonishing.

    Contact:
    Mush Records
    1742 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90036
    www: http://www.mushrecords.com


    Parlour Steps
    The Hidden Names
    (Nine Mile)

    Another Vancouver collective that makes intricate, infectious, affected pop. Another Vancouver collective that does it really damned well.

    Maybe it's the water. Maybe it's the impending Winter Olympics. Or maybe it's just a trick of geography. I'm not too worried. When the stuff is good, it's good. And in the case of Parlour Steps, it's great.

    The sound is more acoustic and intimate than most bands who try this sound. I think that's an ambitious take; it certainly requires much more nuanced performances. You can hide a fair amount behind a solid electric guitar riff. Vibes don't shield nearly so much. But this restrained approach allows the songs to bloom superlatively.

    Imagine the Wedding Present as a Canadian (mostly) acoustic pop band. Add a few twists and you're here. This second outing is a step forward from the first (which was hardly a slouch). Great things are in the offing.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.parloursteps.com


    Public Radio
    Sweetchild EP
    (Deep Elm)

    Rock and roll that doesn't mind a hook now and again. Public Radio pretty much eschews any particular style over the course of these five songs. Mostly, they sound great. And there's the chance they might have been anthems if some pretty-boy band got its mitts on them.

    Public Radio, however, prefers to leave the climaxes a wee bit understated. That's cool. They function quite well when modestly under the radar. And while the heavy use of electronics is a bit surprising for a Deep Elm band, it works well for these folks. Like everything else, taste rules the day.

    And maybe that's my one complaint. More attitude might add a bit of a charge. But when you name yourself Public Radio, I suppose appearances must be kept up. Most entertaining, in any case.

    Contact:
    Deep Elm Records
    210 N. Church St. #2502
    Charlotte, NC 28202
    www: www.deepelm.com


    Stationary Odyssey
    Sons of Boy
    (Joyful Noise)

    An Indiana trio that plays post rock the way post rock ought to be played. Or that's what I would have written fifteen years ago, anyway. The problem with updating that description is that post rock splintered into all sorts of disparate sounds, and Stationary Odyssey prefers to dip its toes into every pool--even the dread baby pee tank.

    Before my allusions go completely awry, let me just say that these guys play songs with energy and style, most of the time winging it around a particular rhythmic imperative. Sometimes the guitar goes off the reservation, and sometimes the bass heads off to town. There's always a throb somewhere.

    And the sound is wonderfully dense. There's none of that "you can hear every single note" clarity. Rather, these sharply-produced songs often sound like a blender on puree. I'm all for that.

    Every once in a while the boys throw in some vocals. Really, guys, they're not necessary. The music speaks for itself. Oh well. Perfection is a noble idea but rarely realized. All Stationary Odyssey needs to do is hit puree a few more times and things will be just fine.

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


    Dan Webb and the Spiders
    Dan Webb and the Spiders EP
    (self-released)

    Not to be confused with the Australian Dan Webb, who specializes in keyboard-driven rock. This Dan Webb hails from Boston and definitely delivers the guitar. The primitive nature of the recording reminds me a lot of the distortion-laden, minimalist sound of the Capstan Shafts, but this stuff is much more toward the rock and roll side of things.

    Like, you know, socks in the pants and all that. Webb is all about the wielding, and these songs are all but hurled at the audience. That's cool with me. A sneer or three is always good.

    Very basic, and quite good, basically. Webb and the Spiders don't try to do anything fancy. They just play rock and roll as hard and fast as they can. With the odd hook here and there. It's very nice.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/danwebbandthespiders/


    Also recommended:

    Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound When Sweet Sleep Returned (Tee Pee)
    Another fine set of heavy, distortion-laden trips to the edge. This hearkens back to British early 70s hard rock, and AHSS does it with style. I'm just as impressed this time around. Play it loud, play it proud.

    Kush Arora Boiling Over (Record Label Records)
    Dub of a more refined character. Arora is much more subtle with his references and influences than most, and his style of dub certainly is much more introspective and cerebral. That said, there's plenty in this set that would roil a dance floor. Not a moment is wasted.

    Capybara Try Brother (The Record Machine)
    Loopy, disjointed pop anthems that never quite turn over the hooks. This is a pretty popular style these days (at least among hipster types), and Capybara does it well. Plenty of noodles here to wrap your brain around.

    Billy Catfish Half a Full Jug=No Deal (Tokyo Rose)
    Some of these pieces are songs, and those remind me of Gerald Collier. Some of these pieces are brittle bits of id, and they lend more of an insight into Catfish. The set as a whole is rather eclectic, but there are quite a few gems sparkling in the wash.

    The Chinese Stars Heaven on Speed Dial (Anchor Brain)
    More noise, more snot-nosed attitude. I mean, I think the Chinese Stars have pretty much defined themselves by now. Think no-wave with an infectious rhythm section. More specifically, think Brainiac with more whine and less melody. Either way, it's highly effective for neutering cats in your garage or simply scaring the bejesus out of the local rugrats. Oh so tasty.

    Doug Folkins Another Last Call (self-released)
    Smooth-rolling americana with an Irish chaser. I'm not entirely sure where Folkins wants to lay his sound, but he's adept at whatever he plays. He even changes his voice to fit whatever sound he's in at the moment. Fine music for a back porch autumn afternoon.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.dougfolkins.com

    Ad Frank and the Fast Easy Women Your Secrets Are Mine Now (Archenemy)
    Witty pop rockers that charm with their hooks and lyrics. Frank and cohorts create a lush, dense sound and use it to full effect. I like the way the band morphs around different sounds without losing track its identity. Well done.

    The Furious Seasons Thank You for Saturday (Stonegarden)
    The latest from David Steinhart's most recent project (a trio with his brother, Jeff, and Ray Chang). This one works much better than the first. Most of that has to do with the songs (perhaps Steinhart was going through a rough patch a while back), but in general the sound is simply tighter and more cohesive. This is more like it.

    Goonies Never Say Die In a Forest Without Trees (Deep Elm)
    Another example of the more eclectic path Deep Elm has been meandering for a few years now. These songs tend to start slowly and then trend toward the shimmery. I'd like to hear more variation in that formula, but the boys certainly do it right.

    I Love You Bell Ord Forest (Joyful Noise)
    Again with the catchy no wave. In truth, that's far too pat a description, as I Love You throws an improvisational mentality into some of the groovier laptop pop hooks I've heard in a while. And then things really get weird. A most refreshing set.

    Jive 64 GOTO 10 (self-released)
    Seven "original" tracks (original being a somewhat dubious term given the extreme collage nature of the songs) and a couple unauthorized remixes ("Crazy in Love" and Rufus and Chaka Khan's "Any Love"). The BASIC title reference fits the superficially lo-tech sound. This set sounds a lot like a video arcade back in 1981. All the blips and bleeps you can handle.

    Little Tybee Building a Bomb (self-released)
    Roots music with a flair for the artsy and dramatic. It may sound like these impulses might tear the sound to shreds, but the result is more synergistic than deconstructive. I was never sure exactly where the band was going, and that's always a good thing. Quite an intriguing set.

    Mark Matos & Os Beaches Words of the Knife (Porto Franco)
    Rollicking tunes that bound almost effortlessly from the speakers. Matos & Os Beaches have that genial americana sound down, and they leaven it with some sparkling organ work. There's nothing particularly distinctive here, but it feels so good.

    Carrie Rodriguez Live in Louisville (self-released)
    No, she hasn't been dropped. It's just that this live set (recorded back in April 2007 when Rodriguez was opening for Lucinda Williams) is available only through her website. Only one song ("Mask of Moses") from She Ain't Me is included, which makes this a fine way to get into her back catalog. A solid set that showcases Rodriguez's (and her band's) fine performing chops.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.carrierodriguez.com

    Six Finger Satellite A Good Year for Hardness (Anchor Brain)
    The first all-new album from the reformed Six Finger Satellite. It's not that much of a departure from the band's output in the 90s--perhaps a bit more restrained, but only a bit. Loud, wiggy and full of fiber. This one sounds damned good at high volume.

    Spindrift The Legend of God's Gun (Tee Pee)
    First released in 2005, this "soundtrack" actually earned its title when the movie of the same name was released last year. It sounds a lot like the 13th Floor Elevators playing Ennio Morricone pieces. And that's plenty cool enough for me.

    Spring Tigers Spring Tigers (Bright Antenna)
    If the Pete Shelley had idolized Brian Wilson instead of the Beatles, the Buzzcocks might well have sounded like this. The writing is tight, the harmonies divinely excessive and the feeling bliss.

    Skin and Wire PianoCircus featuring Bill Bruford play the music of Colin Riley (Summerfold)
    The title is most descriptive. Riley also contributes via the computer, and the result is an interesting mix between jazz styles and modern electronic composition. Bruford's percussion is as expressive as ever, but I really like this disc when the pieces tend to move away from structure (and the rhythm section) and head into open space.

    Susurrus Station Add a Day Going West (self-released)
    The "West" is the most indicative part of the title. These songs blow by like some sort of gothic western, with all sorts of noises whistling by in the background. I'm not entirely sure that the album comes together, but the sound is most arresting.

    Venice Is Sinking Okay EP (One Percent Press)
    One song from Azar ("Okay"), a couple of covers of Okay songs (that would be the band Okay, OK?) and a couple of alternate takes on Azar songs ("Ryan's Song" and, um, "Okay"). For the completist, to be sure, but Venice is Sinking is one of those bands that justly inspires such devotion.


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