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 #315 reviews
Unsung Stories from Lilly's Days As a Solar Astronaut
As the title suggests, this is the work of a fairly obsessive guy. The pieces on this disc are a testament to many areas and levels of devotion--not to mention distortion. Badger crafts his songs in symphonic style, laying out a theme and then building on (or, as often as not, deconstructing) that theme.
Which is to say that patience is required. My ears immediately picked up on the sophisticated composition style and unusual arrangements, but some folks might just hear electronic disturbance. I think this stuff is much more accessible than that, but I'm not the most objective judge in that area.
What I can say is that Badger knows his music theory. And while the sounds here might be a bit estranged from the orchestra, some of the ideas behind them are in the finest traditions of modern composing.
Some of the ideas, of course, come from verse-chorus-verse-chorus songwriting. And Badger is pretty good at that, too. Mostly, though, the greatness on this album comes from the synthesis of structures and sounds that Badger manages to achieve. This is an album sans genre, one that is good enough to stand alone from the mountaintop.
materia prima EP
A British duo made up of Markus Reuter and 05ric (Ric Byer), blld does the whole soundscape thing. Far from the usual notions of dreamland, however, these boys create a kinetic world full of power, energy and grace.
And they do sing, which might have had the unfortunate effect of turning this into a wonky prog project. But it doesn't. Somehow, Reuter and Byer retain enough of an otherworldly sense, using the vocals more as instruments than vessels of lyrical thought.
They could be the bastard children of Syd Barrett, I suppose--if they were subsequently nursed at the breast of German techno and the orchestral new wave sound of bands like Tears for Fears. There's just enough accessibility to bring civilians into the fold. These guys aren't complete wonks; they want a bit of the ol' adulation as well. I'm all for that.
oh ah ee
An excellent set of energetic electronic compositions. Hannis Brown uses just about whatever sounds he can find to create his songs, and then once in a while he decides to sing.
His voice is so ordinary that it provides a striking counterpoint to the exceptionally wide-ranging sound of the music. There are more ideas rambling through ten seconds of any song here than most artists get onto an entire album.
Brown's imagination is, indeed, impressive. But even more gripping is the way he brings together all of the ideas and sounds. This ought to be a collection of noise, with the occasional bit of structure sticking out of the rubble. But Brown has constructed a masterpiece.
Yes, we are a few miles away from the mainstream here. Brown has no intention of challenging today's pop stars to a popularity contest. But his mastery of writing and arranging makes this one of the most exciting albums I've heard in quite some time. May his imagination never give out.
The Burning Hotels
There are all sorts of "modern" bands that one might reasonably compare to the Burning Hotels, but really, all you've got to do is listen to some early Smiths or Cure.
Which are, to my mind, much better references than the Strokes or Franz Ferdinand. This is clean pop sung with just a hint of affection. The tempo gets pushed from time to time, and there are some fine keyboard and guitar licks. You know, new wave with a kick.
And don't worry. The production is ultra sharp, which certainly does distinguish this from those days of 30 years gone by. Pretty stuff, the kind of songs that make me nod along with a smile on my face.
One of the better albums of this type that I've heard recently. Jaunty songs, pretty melodies and just enough edge. Well done.
I suppose you might call this a concept album; every piece is named after something that is alive, be it mold, a snowshoe hare or a mesonychoteuthis. That last one, by the way, is the Colossal (not giant) Squid. It's big.
And this album is big, too. Davignon processed it through a drum machine, but the sounds here are melodic as well as rhythmic. Suffice it to say, though, that the relation of the piece to its title can sometimes seem a bit abstract.
But listen all the way through. Hear what Davignon does. I'd hesitate to call this experimental--the song structures aren't entirely obtuse--but it does reside comfortably in the avant garde. Nonetheless, these are not improvisations. Davignon obviously had a plan when he recorded each song, and I'd say he executed marvelously.
Patience is necessary, of course, but it will be rewarded many times over. Let the pieces wash over you, ponder the titles if you wish and then see where your mind has wandered. You'll be most pleased with the result.
Say Goodbye to Useless
Deru starts this album somewhat elliptically, with something in (I think) French. And then things slowly begin to pick up. The skill involved in such an impressive slow rollout is almost impossible to fathom. Very few folks can pull it off. After a couple of listens, I can't imagine a better way for this album to kick off.
There's a bit of the ol' electronic collage going on, but Deru seems to prefer the more organic DJ sound when putting together these pieces. Each song has a dominant beat and is accompanied by a wide array of sounds.
The feel is cool, but not chilly. Ruminative, I suppose. The feel of a chill-down after-party, where folks are comfortable just hanging out. No pressure, but lots of pleasure.
Every piece of sound has plenty of space to express itself. I like that; it gives my brain enough time to do some actual thinking. Of course, the slinky feel of these pieces often gives rise to other, less intellectual pursuits. C'est la vie.
Chunky riffage and rough-hewn vocals are generally enough to get me to listen a bit more closely. A real feel for down-and-dirty rock and roll played with style and energy makes me smile. My grin is ear-to-ear after listening to this album.
There's a temptation when playing this sort of rugged melodic rock to speed things up. I generally applaud such impulses, as that tends to hold a listener's interest. Dirt Mall sticks more to the mid-tempo side of things, but that's even better if your songs can hold up. These songs do.
I often get albums that I can't imagine being played live. This album sounds like it was recorded live to tape. Well, not exactly (recording folks separately does lend itself to a sharper mix, which this has), but these songs must sound great in a dive. Loud, kinda fuzzy and with plenty of kick.
To go old school for my references, these boys sound like a fine mix of Drivin' n' Cryin', Soul Asylum (the middle years, before "Runaway Train") and the first Motley Crue album. I loved Dirt Mall's first album, and this one keeps the blooze'n'boogie train rolling on down the rails. Take a big bite.
The Dustbowl Revival
You Can't Go Back to the Garden of Eden
The actual name of this band may be Zach Lupetin and the Dustbowl Revival, but I opted for the short version. In any case, Lupetin is the undisputed leader of this eclectic troupe which mixes Dixieland, Django Reinhardt-style gypsy jazz, folk, bluegrass, western, swing, blues and tin pan alley pop into one big party.
No, really. Each song incorporates most of those elements and then throws in a few more just for fun. And really, that's what this album is: One bag-ass ball of joy.
Complicated? Yeah, if you parse it out. But the Dustbowl Revival swings so solidly that all the effort remains behind the curtain. All that can be heard is a large group of people playing and singing their hearts out. And having an awesome great time while they do it.
Positively infectious. I defy anyone to get through this album without smiling, much less taking to the floor and grabbing the nearest partner. It doesn't matter if you know how to dance; there are so many styles on this disc even someone with three left feet could find something that worked. Absolutely fabulous.