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 #314 reviews
February 2010
  • Seth Augustus To the Pouring Rain (Porto Franco)
  • Fanshaw Dark Eyes (Mint)
  • Gigi Maintenant (Tomlab)
  • Julie the Band An Act of Communication (Baby Bird)
  • Nite Nite How to Touch the Moon (self-released)
  • Mike Olson Incidental (Henceforth)
  • Dana Reason Trio Revealed (Circumvention)
  • Frank Rosaly Milkwork (Contraphonic)
  • The Slants Slants! Slants! Revolution! (self-released)
  • Philip Stevenson Starless (Night World)
  • The Woodlands The Woodlands (self-released)
  • Robert Ziino An Unusual Day in Montana (Experimental Artists)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Seth Augustus
    To the Pouring Rain
    (Porto Franco)

    Combining the voice of Tom Waits and the minimalist approach of Wil Oldham, Seth Augustus is certainly an ambitious fellow.

    But the understated approach undercuts any latent pretentious tendencies, and so the songs rattle forth with confidence and style. The sound is raspy and dark, with almost an old-fashioned demo feel.

    That's just how he wants things, though. Augustus drops the minimalist scrim from time to time, most effectively on "Big Cocoon," a song that goes straight into the heart of Waits territory without losing Augustus's identity.

    Indeed, Augustus's ability to remain his own person despite the almost oppressive presence of his influences is impressive. I would still like to hear him slide a step one way or the other, but I'm not going to complain too loudly.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.portofrancorecords.com


    Fanshaw
    Dark Eyes
    (Mint)

    Olivia Featherstonhaugh is the driving force behind Fanshaw (is that the proper pronunciation of her last name? Just curious...), and she dives right into the eclectic pop pool that seems to have flooded western Canada.

    Featherstonhaugh is comfortable arranging one song as a multi-tracked vocals-only piece, another as a wide-ranging pop exploration and yet another as a sweetened version of late 80s indie country. And that's all without getting to the Kate Bush fetish she affects from time to time.

    It's all good. I mean that literally. Featherstonhaugh seems incapable of sticking to any particular style (though most of these pieces are understated in one way or another), but whatever she touches emerges somewhere near the realm of perfection.

    The glue to this album is her voice, which she often uses to an ethereal effect. There's a real strength underlying those breathy tones, though, and that steel girds that album and brings everything together. There are waves to be made with this one.

    Contact:
    Mint
    P.O. Box 3613
    Main Post Office
    Vancouver, BC V6B 3Y6
    Canada
    www: http://www.mintrecs.com


    Gigi
    Maintenant
    (Tomlab)

    Colin Stewart and Nick Krgovich decided that what the world needs now is an expansive set of Spectoresque pop. I hadn't been aware of such a deficiency, but after listening to Maintenant, I'm willing to reassess my previous position.

    At the very least, the world needs this particular expansive set of Spectoresque pop. The boys recruit a number "guest" vocalists (though when you don't have a regular singer, it seems wrong to call anyone a "guest") to decorate their compositions, and then they throw in just enough of the wall of sound to induce a slight twinge when thinking about the passing of mono.

    Of course, this is a stereo recording. I wonder if Stewart and Krgovich even considered going whole hog and heading back to mono. I doubt it. Why ruin something good with an abstract artistic conceit?

    Yeah, it's much better to actually make good music that sounds good, too. And if you haven't spent years mixing into mono, you will screw it up. Gigi makes nary a misstep here, but rather dances nimbly over the non-British pop sounds of the 60s. Delish.


    Julie the Band
    An Act of Communication
    (Baby Bird)

    Okay, this is one seriously ambitious band. Julie the Band pumps out layered anthem after layered anthem, hoping that the hooks are able to overcome the weight of the songs.

    By the way: These hooks could raise the Titanic. Which, honestly, is almost necessary at times. I'm at a loss to try and figure out why these boys are trying to put so much into what ought to be relatively simple rock songs. Maybe because these guys are in L.A. and think that a "deal" is actually worth any money these days. Or maybe because they're tired of listening to paper-thin songs and think they can do better.

    I'd say they know they can. This album is most assured, from the writing to the playing to the ultra-sharp, almost blinding production. I'm guessing these poor saps think that you can make some serious buckage with some seriously good music.

    Lightning does strike on rare occasions, but if it doesn't, you might as well make a good album. Julie the Band has the goods. I refuse to make commercial predictions, but I can say that I'll be listening to this one for years to come.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.julietheband.com


    Nite Nite
    How to Touch the Moon
    (self-released)

    Nite Nite riffles through the synth-goth-punk-disco styles of the early eighties with astounding ease. It's one thing to be a revivalist; it's quite another to actually do something different (and interesting) with established sounds.

    Hewing to a ragged Blondie/Cure axis (singer Davis Chatfield has a pleasantly expressive alto that does cross into Debbie Harry territory at times), Nite Nite creates bounding pop gems set deep in a synth universe. The band doesn't have a full-time drummer, and that leads a reliance on guitar and bass for a larger load of the rhythm work than normal.

    That keeps these songs in motion. And there are drums, of course. After all, this stuff is pop music. But the emphasis is on the instruments in the rhythmic periphery. That keeps things nicely off-kilter.

    Bouncy and fun, with enough bite to please. Nite Nite may be something of a revivalist, but I like the way it spins its influences. This spell has been cast quite well.

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


    Mike Olson
    Incidental
    (Henceforth)

    A set of six movements, Incidental contains some of the most impressive composing I've heard in quite a while.

    This is avant garde, of course. You won't be hearing it on the local classical music radio station, even though it arises from the finest traditions. The work was recorded piece by piece. Some of the parts (the strings, in particular) were notated. Many of them were not. In any case, Olson recorded and put this together with intent. I'm gonna stick with composition as my noun of choice.

    In his notes, Olson says this music is about movement. Indeed, that's the most obvious thing about it. But I think some of the more introspective moments lend another perspective on objects in motion. That is, at some point everything must rest.

    The orchestra (as such) contains both the traditional brass, reeds and strings as well as electric guitars and rock drums. The most impressive thing is that he was able to conceive this music and then put it together so convincingly. I think Frank Zappa might be fairly impressed by what Olson has wrought.

    Contact:
    Henceforth
    P.O. Box 33694
    San Diego, CA 92163
    www: http://www.henceforthrecords.com


    Dana Reason Trio
    Revealed
    (Circumvention)

    A trio of piano (Reason), bass (Dominic Duval) and percussion (John Heward). Reason attacks the piano with the manic power of a tornado and, somewhat counterintuitively, the subtlety of a breeze.

    So what we have here are energetic pieces that fly all over the place and yet still manage to convey deep feeling. Reason's strengths are in the deftness (and softness) of her technical virtuosity. She's not an exceptionally lyrical player, though she carries off the more gentles passages quite well.

    Energy is what this is all about. Reason and her mates have a collective spirit that really fires these pieces. When that sort of collaborative magic appears, everything seems to flow that much better. These are souls in similar orbits, and they complement each other very well.

    Most impressive. The absolute absence of formality on this album ought to endear it to many who don't think they like jazz. The exceptional compositions and playing will impress just about anyone who does like jazz. This is one of those rare albums that ought to work for just about anyone.

    Contact:
    Circumvention Music
    4370 Idaho St. #1
    San Diego, CA 92104
    www: http://www.circumventionmusic.com


    Frank Rosaly
    Milkwork
    (Contraphonic)

    Frank Rosaly is a drummer. This album is pretty much him drumming. Except for one thing. He messes around with the recordings.

    So for much of the time, you just get some impressive jazz improv drumming. And then you notice something else going on. Electronic blips that serve as counterrhythms. Then the sounds of the drums themselves seem to shift.

    That's because they are. Rosaly is using all the tools at his disposal to make music. He's taking something as simple (so to speak) as a solo percussion album and making it much more experimental. That he does this without taking the project fully into outer space is even more impressive.

    I'm into this kind of stuff. I like it when people mess with perceptions of reality. Rosaly sure does that, but he remains fully human at the same time. It's a trip. A damned fine one.

    Contact:
    Contraphonic
    P.O. Box 2203
    Chicago, IL 60690
    www: http://www.contraphonic.com


    The Slants
    Slants! Slants! Revolution!
    (self-released)

    Eight remixes from the stellar first Slants album. There's another full-length due soon, but this puppy is out there just to wet the whistle a bit.

    These mixes are much more dance-oriented than most of the material on Slanted Eyes, Slanted Hearts, but that's to be expected with such a project. The songs themselves survive the translations exceptionally well--largely because of the outstanding hooks of the originals.

    A joy ride, pure and simple. And while I expect the new album to blow this away, I'm happy to get this small fix. A fine reminder of just how good these guys really are. Surf the pleasure, dudes!

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


    Philip Stevenson
    Starless
    (Night World)

    By and large a true solo effort, this latest album from Philip Stevenson sounds a lot like the work of a collective. Maybe it's just multiple personality disorder, but I have a feeling that Stevenson just happens to be a stellar songwriter.

    More importantly, though, he knows how to put his songs down in the studio (as such, anyway). These pieces ramble through rock, the blues, a bit of americana and a whole lot of attitude. Somewhere between the Magnetic Fields and Leonard Cohen, I suppose.

    I'd include the quality of the lyrics in that judgment. Stevenson don't quip much, but he's got fine powers of observation. The characters in these songs ought to be recognizable to just about anyone, and they lay down some serious insight.

    Explaining this album to those who haven't heard it would be impossible. Stevenson refuses to pigeonhole himself. He simply writes what he sees and then works his ass off to give the song as much life as is possible. Quite the experience.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.nightworldrecords.com


    The Woodlands
    The Woodlands
    (self-released)

    A duo from Portland, the Woodlands sounds a lot like, well, a duo. Strummed acoustic guitars and breathy female vocals predominate. Stop if you've heard this one before.

    Except that you probably haven't heard the Woodlands, or you'd realize that I was being more than a little flip. Yes, these songs do have the external sheen of hippy dippy wonderfulness, but they travel some seriously dark roads. There's so much rumbling beneath the surface it's sometimes hard to figure out how Hannah and Samuel Robertson (um, yes, they're married and all) manage to keep the songs so seemingly simple.

    The sound is unadorned but not skimpy. The guitars and piano have rounded tones and are given plenty of space to ring out. Hannah's voice is extraordinarily high-pitched (might even be a falsetto), but the recording lends it additional strength as well. This album was recorded in their bedroom. That's some bedroom.

    It's easy to get lost in the Woodlands, and that wouldn't be a bad thing at all. Just let the music blow through your soul and then see what you've got after the breeze has slowed.

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


    Robert Ziino
    An Unusual Day in Montana
    (Experimental Artists)

    I love Robert Ziino's stuff. It's very keyboardy and noodly and throbbing and generally warped. Just stellar, really.

    Then there are the song titles. "Cows Will Never Be On Colombo." "Kill It With the Bible." "Meat Is a Fetish." These are instrumentals, but the titles make plenty of sense when you listen to the songs.

    Or not, I suppose. It all depends on your state of mind. Ziino's songs have always made me smile (goofy title or no), and that's mostly because they're fun. Sure, they often ride the edge of what might be considered "music" by those who wish to restrict the use of the term. But the pieces contain so much unfettered joy within the electronic experimenting that I simply cannot imagine anyone not digging the stuff.

    My five-year-old loves it. And he also loves the Flaming Lips. So he's got good taste. Ziino is a few light-years beyond the scope of the average Flaming Lips album, but like the Lips, he never stints on the joy quotient. Effervescently bounding around the edge of the universe.

    Contact:
    Experimental Artists
    www: http://www.experimentalartists.com


    Also recommended:

    Ampline/Atomic Garden split 7" (Phratry)
    Ampline has a kinetic take on old school (well, 1990-ish) indie rock. Atomic Garden is just as energetic, but it focuses on power and melody a bit more. Both of these bands have that throwback feel, but the two songs are so raucous and lively that all I can do is bob along with the current.

    Arms Exploding/Caterpillar Tracks split 7" (Phratry)
    Arms Exploding are exceptionally well named--abrasive and incendiary. Caterpillar Tracks are a fine counterpoint, exhibiting at least as much rhythmic power while keeping the sound a bit more restrained. The difference between Earth Crisis and Kepone, if you will. And if those references mean a thing to you, your prostate is about as hard as mine. Oh well. If the good old days have to come back, I'm glad they sound like this.

    PJ Bond You Didn't Know I Was Alphabetical (Black Numbers)
    If your idea of old time rock and roll lies somewhere between Pavement and Gram Parsons (a wide berth, I'll grant you), PJ Bond is your poster child. This is americana spun with an eccentric authenticity. Bond has a fine sense of melody, but he is somewhat enamored of thematic tangents. I can dig it. The hooks are just too fragile and pretty to ignore.

    Communipaw Communipaw (self-released)
    Searching and sometimes lurching, Communipaw keeps hauling through its universe of countrified mope-rock. More country than mope, but not always. I'm intrigued. There are some ungodly beautiful moments here, but sometimes it takes a bit long to hear them. Hmmm...
    Contact:
    www: http://www.communipawmusic.com

    Dios We Are Dios (Buddyhead)
    Conceptual rock that occasionally loses track of the concept. These boys would like to be as good as the (far too frequently mentioned) Flaming Lips, but they're not. Yet. There are a number of solid songs, however, and a real hint of something interesting on the way. I'll keep my ears open.

    Essex Chanel Love Is Proximity (self-released)
    Eclectic and technically precise pop, played with a sense of irony. This the latest Essex Chanel album; you can download 'em all (eleven total) for free at the band's website. I think the music is worth the cash outlay.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.essexchanel.com

    The Houston Brothers The Archer EP (Chocolate Lab)
    I'm a sucker for piano and electric piano and organ and that sort of thing. The Houston Brothers throw plenty of that stuff into their gruff pop rock songs. The choruses are almost invisible, but the songs are built so solidly that you don't miss them. I like this sort of declarative singing. Very cool.

    Jamie Hutchings His Imaginary Choir (Nonzero)
    Hutchings is the long-time singer of Sydney band Bluebottle Kiss. This is his second solo album, and like the first it's a bit looser that BK material. Hutchings has an almost laconic delivery, but he tends to kick up the noise in the choruses. Not exactly folk or australicana (ahem) or indie rock, but rather an interesting amalgam of acoustic styles.

    The Izzys Keep Your Powder Dry EP (Fat Man)
    Digging a little deeper into the country and blues bag, the Izzys kick out an EP that would make Thad Cockrell proud. The ballads have a nice swing at the bottom, and the rockers never get out of pocket. A simple pleasure that's almost impossible to put away.

    Kasumi Trio Oh! Gimme You (Beta-Iactam Ring)
    Deliberate folky stylings that end up in a completely different universe. I'm not sure if this is jazz or simply something edging off the face of the earth. I sure did enjoy pondering the question, though.

    Knife the Symphony Dead Tongues EP (Phratry)
    Noisy fare that turns introspective at the drop of a hat. I like the power, but this disc really gets interesting when almost everything drops out. There's an intelligence underlying these songs that is easy to hear. If these boys could let go just a bit more, I'd be blown away.

    Elaine Lachica I Think I Can See the Ocean (Stunning Models on Display)
    Exceedingly stylized pop songs. Not so much arty as simply excessive. But I kinda like that. Lachica is putting it all out there, and most of it is pretty good. I would suggest going for a bit more cohesiveness--the only thing connecting many of these songs is Lachica's breathy vocals. They're cool, but they're not enough to make this album a coherent statement.

    Motion Turns It On Kaledoscopic Equinox (Chocolate Lab)
    A trio that makes statements with kinetic noise. I've been hearing a lot of that sort of thing lately, which means that Touch and Go is hanging it up just a bit too early. These pieces are much more, well, kaleidoscopic than most of the early 90s power noise trios, but they come from the same universe. Invigorating.

    Outernational Eyes on Fire EP (self-released)
    Where Rancid is obviously a superb retread of the Clash, Outernational trends a bit more toward Big Audio Dynamite. There's more of the dance-rock feel mixed in--then again, there's a lot more metal in those guitars. A solid melange of sound wrapped around uncompromisingly political songs.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.outernational.net

    Panda Transport Monorail EP (Kinderlust)
    Trippy, Air-y pop songs that sound oh-so-French. And this was recorded (partly) in Lyon. So there you go. There is a bit of the goofiness that always seems to come with duos, but also the fine sense of adventure. I'd like to hop onto a full-length one of these days.

    Parenthetical Girls The Scottish Play (Tomlab)
    Once known as the Swastika Girls, this band of folks with extreme musical sensibilities doesn't bother much with the mainstream. This "tribute to the works of Ivor Cutler" (a Scottish writer) is lots of things, but not a mess. Imagine the Magnetic Fields as an experimental art rock band, and you're somewhere in the same galaxy. Very, very strange, which is just as it should be.

    Post Harbor They Can't Hurt You if You Don't Believe in Them (Burning Building)
    It's like the whole post-rock movement never splintered. This latest from Post Harbor is full of noise, delicate ruminations and achingly gorgeous arcs of sound. Song structure? Strong sucksure. But that's okay. I'm always interested in finding new ways to listen to music. A treat for all the senses.

    The Read Party Lines 7" (Phratry)
    More no wave than the noise rock I've heard from other Phratry artists, the Read adds just a bit of melody to the formula. Two short and sweet songs that ought to please folks of a certain deranged sensibility.

    The Reveling 3D Radio EP (self-released)
    If Pegboy had decided to mellow out just enough to become an emo band...or something like that. The Reveling works a bit of rough-edged harmony into the ol' Naked Raygun formula, and it sounds pretty good. I'd like to hear the boys work a bit harder to find their own sound, but these songs sure are a lot of fun.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/thereveling

    Seaspin Reverser EP (self-released)
    Some folks from L.A. who decided to mix indiechick singer-songwriter songs with the excessive production of My Bloody Valentine. If that doesn't work for you, imagine a hippie version of Liz Phair drenched in waves of distortion. This works a lot better than you might think. The songs themselves aren't exceptional, but the sounds the band drapes over them create something impressive. I'm curious to hear where this is going.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/seaspin

    Samuel Stewart The Beginner EP (self-released)
    Five snippets of excessively affected pop songs. Stewart is an impressive arranger, bringing in all sorts of instruments and styles into his songs. His voice, however, is an acquired taste. If you can get past the whine inherent in his singing, you might just fall in love.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.samuelstewartmusic.com

    Uniform Motion Life (No Source)
    Deliberate, deceptively simple songs that waft between notions of folk, introspective pop and worldly temptations. The real treat comes when each song pulls its disparate elements together and really starts to sing. I kinda wish the folks would get to the point a bit faster sometimes, but once the bliss kicks in I don't much mind anything at all.

    Jonathan Vassar and the Speckled Bird The Fire Next Time EP (Triple Stamp)
    An enchanting set of not-exactly old-timey music. Vassar and company ramble through archaic-sounding americana, but there are more modern influences than immediately hit the ear. I like the way these folks simply set themselves down and play. It's not that simple, of course, but the fact that it sounds that simple is enough to make me pay attention.

    Yukon Blonde Yukon Blonde (Nevado)
    Some Canadians showing that patented Canadian flair for eclectic pop music. Yukon Blonde has no intention to settling into a groove, but the sounds it chooses to use are all done very nicely. Just don't expect for one song to sound like the next.


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