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 #313 reviews
3 Rounds and a Sound
Originally a duo that toured the west coast on bicycles (that's commitment!), Blind Pilot has fleshed out its kicky folk sound by expanding to a six-piece. Finding some range is just fine, as long as the basics don't get lost.
And they haven't. There are a few moments that bring faint echoes of follow Portlandsters the Shins (especially in the harmonies), but by and large Blind Pilot sticks to its nuevo Nick Drake sound.
This isn't americana, at least as most people define it. Blind Pilot sticks to folk construction and restrained, syncopated rhythms. There's no country and little western going on here. These are still the songs of bicycling troubadours. And that's pretty cool.
A most enjoyable album. I like the deeper focus, but mostly I love the songs. Israel Nebeker and Ryan Dobrowski are fine writers, and their band brings those pieces to life quite well. Good stuff.
Three Fact Fader
Four Brits mildly wigging out. Kinda like Radiohead meets Spiritualized, except much less pretentious. Indeed, the burbling feel to the songs is almost infectious.
So, y'know, these songs are almost poppy. They're not at all, of course. First, they rely on decidedly complicated song constructions. Second, there's just a bit too much going on past that. Nonetheless, there are some fine hooks in the fuzz.
There are a number of ways to use a prog influence. Engineers has decided to go with the technical brilliance and shy away from the overly-involved melodies. This simple complexity (or is it complex simplicity?) makes these songs oh-so-accessible.
Easy to love, really. These folks don't get particularly aggressive, but there's a lot going on behind the curtain. A few listens only make this one sound better.
(Words on Music)
Another For Against album, another set of intricately-crafted, deeply introspective tunes. The sort of stuff that sticks with you for a few years.
I have the feeling this is the best For Against album I've heard, but I can't be sure. Even listening to the older ones (always a pleasure), I'm not positive. But that doesn't matter. These songs are a bit more confident; the playing is somewhat more assured. There are no holes.
Nothing is missing in the writing or the execution or anything. These midtempo excursions into the recesses of human existence are revelatory. Despite the relatively steady tempos, there is no tedium here, which is an impressive feat. For Against takes its time, but the intensity never fades.
Damned fine. I've written about these folks a few times before, and I'm all out of fresh praise. Just check it out, okay?
I've always preferred Herring's electric songs to his acoustic ones. Sometimes the boy can wallow a bit. Of course, he's got a great voice for wallowing, but still...
On this album, Herring balances the scales as well as I've heard. There are plenty of somewhat mopey, introspective pieces. But he also kicks up the sound more than usual. I kind of like it when his voice gets a bit excited. He's got some of the best scratchy pipes around, and they sound better when they're allowed to roam free a bit.
And, you know, it's always good to change things up. Like I noted up top, this is easily Herring's most complete album. I've liked a number of his songs ("Back of Your Mind", from The Other Side of Kindness, remains one of my all-time faves), but this is the first album that really works for me on the whole.
He's been working at it for a long time, but I think Herring might well be coming into his own with this album. He's defined himself nicely, and now he's stepping out confidently. Fine work.
On the Up Side
Up side, indeed. The Humbugs play straight-up pop rock with just the slightest of lilts. Think early Posies without quite so much lyrical bite. Which leaves plenty of room for a nibble or two.
Pretty stuff, with lyrics that make this worth more than a couple listens. The Humbugs stick to day-in-the-life material, but the perspective is slightly askew.
The sound is restrained. This stuff won't overpower; rather, there's plenty of space to let the songs breathe, which helps to give this album a bit of a different spin. And when you play pop, that's always a good thing.
Not the second coming or anything, but solid and enjoyable. I'm thinking the Humbugs just might have a few more roads to wander before they're done.
The Lonely H
(The Control Group)
The Control Group is best known for releasing albums by the likes of the Killers and the Kings of Leon. With this third album, the Lonely H is rapidly joining that company--in quality, if not in rabid popularity.
The songs center around chunky guitar riffs. The production sounds much like that ringing Gulf Coast feel favored by the Band. Lots of organ, fuzzy guitar and emotive singing. Is it soulful, or is it just overwrought?
Well, a bit of both, I suppose. You've gotta take this stuff as it comes, and at some point sensitive cock rock does cause the eyes to roll once or twice. Then the stuff heads straight into rootsy ramblers, as if that might leaven things.
It does, kinda. I think the Lonely H goes a bit overboard at times, but I do like the way the band goes full tilt at everything it does. If I had to choose, I'd take the latter. This is some crazy stuff, but it simply sparkles with energy.
The Lucy Show
(Words on Music)
The Lucy Show is one of those gothic new wave acts that never quite made it. If you read your Trouser Press (1989 edition or earlier), you wil be told that the reason is that the band never quite pulled all if its influences together.
That's fair enough. None of these songs quite matches the majesty of the first track, "Ephemeral (This Is No Heaven)." The band vacillates between uptempo (almost coke-fueled at times) ravers and mid-tempo gothic pop songs--though no one would have called them that back in 1984, which is when this album first appeared.
Looking back, this is a distinctive cultural artifact. The Lucy Show sounds a lot like the Cure, but not what the Cure was doing back in the early 80s. I wouldn't call this album prescient, exactly, but its intentions (often not quite realized) were fulfilled by later, more popular acts.
This re-issue is just a remastering of the original album. I don't know what archival material might be available, but it's not here. All you've got is an album that didn't catch fire 25 years ago...but somehow it's still around. An interesting set.
SideOneDummy used to be the home of punk bands--often ska and Irish-tinged. Good stuff. Audra Mae is a rootsy singer-songwriter. And she's got good stuff, too.
For starters, she's got an arresting voice. Like Neko Case, Audra Mae's voice betrays little training. It's a wild beast roaming through these torch tunes. Great pieces, songs that touch on just about every side of human existence.
Well, the downer side of human existence, anyway. You won't get me complaining. Audra Mae's voice along is enough to recommend this, but her songwriting is top-notch as well. We'll be hearing much more from her, I'm sure.
(The Laser's Edge)
So, you were wondering what it might sound like if Dirty Three and Led Zeppelin threw together some instrumental jams? Kinda like eight different (awesome) versions of "Kashmir" or something?
Yeah, something like that. By and large, these pieces are long. They center around guitar and violin, and they can be heavy. They can also be drop-dead gorgeous when they feel like it.
The sound is organic. There's none of the tinny sound that sometimes infects prog projects. And while this is most definitely prog, the lush and open sound lends it a much more classic feel. These songs sound like they've been around forever.
And maybe they will be. I'm not sure who can resist such lovely and powerful work. Certainly, I was not up to the task. Play it loud and melt your mind.