Welcome to A&A. There are 14 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 #319 reviews
August 2010
  • Cabinessence Naked Friends (Spark and Shine)
  • The Casting Out 1 (Eyeball)
  • Eastern Conference Champions Santa Fe (self-released)
  • Falling Still May All Music Guide and Change You (Peace, Man)
  • Floating Opera Pony Up a Go-Go (Spectral Operator)
  • Hillstomp Darker the Night (self-released)
  • Casey Neill & the Norway Rats Goodbye to the Rank and File (In Music We Trust)
  • The Pineapple Thief Someone Here Is Missing (kScope)
  • Snake! Snake! Snakes! Snake! Snake! Snakes! EP (Modern Art/Common Wall)
  • The Streets on Fire This Is Fancy (Currency Enchange)
  • Sugar Army The Parallels Amongst Ourselves (Shock)
  • Two Hours Traffic Territory (Bumstead)
  • Vanish Valley Vanish Valley (self-released)
  • We Were Skeletons We Were Skeletons (Topshelf)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Cabinessence
    Naked Friends
    (Spark and Shine)

    Named for a song on Smile, Cabinessence inhabits a musical world just a few years down the road. Think mid-70s, somewhere between T. Rex and Nick Lowe. Which isn't a bad spot to be, really.

    The boys also tip a hat toward Gram Parsons, though there's a fair bit too much funk in the bass to call even the rootsiest piece here anything close to country. More along the lines of Lowe's Cowboy Outfit, I suppose. Though there are more than a few Band-y moments.

    The production is spot on, lending a fine ringing sound to the songs. The music has the washed-out feel of the color in an Altman 70s movie. That hint of restraint adds a ton of depth.

    Quite the lovely album. The pieces are engaging, if somewhat elegiac. The scene they set is utterly compelling. The sun may be setting, but it provides one hell of a view.

    Contact:
    Spark and Shine
    www: http://www.sparkandshine.com


    The Casting Out
    1
    (Eyeball)

    This one immediately brought me back to some old school Victory records bands...like Boysetsfire. I always liked that side of the hardcore universe, even if Boysetsfire cheesed out a bit by the end.

    Turns out that singer Nathan Gray was the singer for Boysetsfire. Small world, man. The Casting Out is somewhat leaner in sound, and there's a wee bit of irony in the lyrics. I guess old punks don't die, they just discover the humor in the futility of human existence.

    Or something like that. The songs trend a bit more toward the whole anthemic side, but there's still plenty of angst. The sound is sharp, but not metallic, Just dull enough to warm my ears.

    A fun trip down memory lane, one made even better with new songs. Not groundbreaking by any stretch of the imagination, the Casting Out simply plays good music. Keep smilin' and turn it up.

    Contact:
    Eyeball Records
    www: http://www.eyeballrecords.com


    Eastern Conference Champions
    Santa Fe EP
    (self-released)

    Wonderful pound-and-fuzz rockers that sometimes are able to bludgeon their way with great subtlety. Not many bands can turn their sound on a dime like these folks.

    And yes, this is self-released. ECC is no longer part of the Universal universe. Losing that tie certainly hasn't hurt the music, if this EP is any indication. Of course, the band also managed to get a song on the latest Twilight movie soundtrack, so it's not like they folks have no connections. In any case, the sound of this EP is impeccably brilliant. Each song rings though with vigor.

    The new album, Speak-Ahh, is due one of these days. This EP may be just an appetite-whetter, but it is easily good enough to stand on its own. Breathtaking.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.eccmusic.com


    Falling Still
    May All Magic Guide and Change You
    (Peace, Man)

    I'm beginning to get the feeling that rock and roll is definitely on its way back in. Falling Still bashes and crashes its way through songs that might have been cast as power pop or maybe "modern rock" in days gone by.

    But we're mired in a mean new millennium, and the only thing that can save us is goddamned rock and roll. So Falling Still cranks up the guitars and screws on the sneers. This disc is simply dripping with attitude, and the catchpan is overflowing.

    The production is ultramodern--very clean and sharp. That helps to emphasize the attitude, even though it does drain the power from a couple of these songs. A little distortion and/or reverb can be humanizing, boys.

    Nonetheless, it is fun to hear folks getting back to basics. Falling Still hurls these songs out off the cliff. They're more than tough enough to survive the journey. Stand and take the heat.

    Contact:
    Peace, Man
    www: www.peacecommaman.com


    Floating Opera
    Pony Up a Go-Go
    (Spectral Operator)

    Richard Rebarber and Charles Lieurance have been writing blissful pop songs for ages--I reviewed the first Floating Opera CD way back in 1997. The music has become a bit more muscular in the years since, but the commitment to clever lyrics and even more clever music has remained strong.

    Many Floating Opera songs have a chamber music quality to them. Not just because of the strings and horns and such, but more because of their structure. These pieces generally don't follow traditional pop form; rather, they're much more formalized. Imagine art songs that are actually catchy.

    Do you have any idea how hard that is to accomplish? I've never heard anyone do it this well, and it takes Lieurance and Rebarber years to complete each album. Patience and a demanding rigor to craft have produced yet another stunning album.

    I was thrilled to find this album in my mail, and I wasn't disappointed. My initial feeling is that this is the strongest Floating Opera album to date, but it'll take a couple years of listening to be sure. By then, Rebarber and Lieurance ought to be about ready to start thinking about a new album. When the results are this satisfying, the boys can take all the time they want.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.floatingopera.com


    Hillstomp
    Darker the Night
    (self-released)

    The third studio release from this duo, who do the whole trance blues thing to eleven. Kinda like a hardcore version of the Chickasaw Mud Puppies (the washboard rhythms here are very similar), the power of the performances is almost overwhelming.

    I liked their recent live album a lot, but the studio is really where these songs can be padded out and readied for full-on assault. The boys take full advantage of the opportunity and really tear things up.

    The sound is quite full for this sort of music, and that compliments the energy of the band. This isn't music for appreciating; it's music for experiencing. There's simply no way to sit back once these songs start coursing through the veins.

    The Flat Duo Jets reference on my review of the live album still stands. These boys are a bit more steeped in the blues, but the excess of passion and emotion rings just as true here. Throw your face in front of the blast, if you dare.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.hillstomp.com


    Casey Neill & the Norway Rats
    Goodbye to the Rank and File
    (In Music We Trust)

    The latest from Casey Neill, who's one of the best songwriters operating today. He's managed to latch on to some of the finest musicians in Portland (the aforementioned "Norway Rats") and put out another incomparable set of songs.

    Quite honestly, I can't think of anyone who wouldn't jump in headfirst after hearing just one song. My kids know Neill's songs by heart (even if they don't quite understand all the lyrics) and I've passed him along to countless friends.

    This is the sort of music that inspires such devotion. Neill's sensibilities are folk (there's plenty of politics--personal and otherwise--in the songs), but he's picked up plenty of other influences along the way. The best reference I can think of is Steve Earle--and he's in that league, to be sure.

    There's great music, and then there's great music that demands attention. Neill's been great for a long time, and it's about time he got his due. One of these days, the levee's gonna break. Maybe this album will open the floodgates.

    Contact:
    In Music We Trust
    15213 SE Bevington Ave.
    Portland, OR 97267-3355
    www: http://www.inmusicwetrust.com
    www: http://www.caseyneill.org


    The Pineapple Thief
    Someone Here Is Missing
    (Kscope)

    I mentioned in my review of the recent Pineapple Thief retrospective that I thought Bruce Soord was just beginning to really come into his own. This album is proof.

    Leaps and bounds better than just about anything that has come before, these songs burble and crackle with an almost insidious undertow. The arrangements are deceptively simple, and sound is startlingly clear.

    Most important, though, is the understated nature of Soord's writing. These are anthems, really, but they take quite disparate paths to their ultimate satisfaction. Sometimes there's a climax, but Soord isn't afraid to go with an anticlimax if the song requires it.

    Dip your mind into this cerebral stuff. Don't worry. There are plenty of grooves and hooks to keep you engaged. This is easily the best Pineapple Thief album, and one of the best albums I've heard this year, for that matter.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.kscopemusic.com


    Snake! Snake! Snakes!
    Snake! Snake! Snakes! EP
    (Modern Art/Common Wall)

    Grand (and often grandiose) songs that ring out well past their rootsy roots. The Kings of Leon reference on the press sticker is well-earned, although these boys are rather more conceptual.

    And they move things along better, too. I'm all for that, by the way. It's all well and good to make epochal songs that try to encapsulate the world in four minutes, but if you forget about the groove I just can't get interested. Snake! Snake! Snakes! always keeps its songs in motion.

    One of those EPs that instantly prompts a craving for more. I don't know exactly what world these boys came from, but I'm glad they're here now.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.commonwall.com


    The Streets on Fire
    This Is Fancy
    (The Currency Exchange)

    The latest from this Chicago act--folks who propagate what I've been inclined to see as a Windy City lo-fi new wave renaissance. Two albums in two years, and both a chock full of fuzzy electronics, ironic melodies and awesome minimalist lead guitar licks.

    Not so much throwbacks as purveyors of a modern luddite sensibility. The Streets on Fire chunk these songs at the wall and see what happens. Most of the time, they come together quite well. There are a couple of trainwrecks, but in some ways those are more compelling.

    I mean, whoever thought of new wave as a bludgeon? Well, there are a few other Chicago bands that have hinted at such blunt aggression, but these folks are more than willing to wield the cudgel. Yeah, you can dance to it, but I can guarantee that if this song was played over the air, the first track on This Is Fancy would be a lie.

    You'll have to look that up for yourself. Let the insistent beats and incandescent throb jellify your brain. And then repeat. You'll thank me, I promise.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.thestreetsonfire.com


    Sugar Army
    The Parallels Amongst Ourselves
    (Shock)

    Impeccable complex, eclectic rock. Sugar Army is marching out to conquer the world--and while this is simply an early sortie, these western Australian boys might just get their way if they keep this up.

    Imagine Kiwi pop on steroids (despite the thousands of miles between Perth and Wellington), with the requisite shiny production popping each song out as if from a mold. I'd like to buff a few of the edges, but this type of hyper-tight sound works pretty well with self-important music.

    That last bit isn't a slag, either; Sugar Army is seriously ambitious. That's cool by me. For the most part, that ambition is fulfilled. These songs are dense, shiny gems that glitter almost uncontrollably.

    Quite a sortie, but I'd like to hear more from this army. One very good album is fine, but another would be impressive. Put Sugar Army on your radar. There's almost unlimited potential.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.sugararmy.com.au


    Two Hours Traffic
    Territory
    (Bumstead)

    Yep, another one of those Canadian pop bands. More straightforward and hook-driven than most, though. Hook-driven in a laid-back, almost minimalist style. I can dig it.

    Largely because Two Hours Traffic doesn't push things at all. It lays out its goodies without an pretension at all and simply lets the listener bask in the glow. The performances themselves are quite energetic, and the arrangements leave little to chance. But the band is anything but insistent.

    This style only works if the songs are well-written, and that's no problem. Joel Plaskett (he of the recent triple-album Three) has produced a real gem. He doesn't get in the way of the band, but rather simply lets the music shine on its own.

    Nothing complicated. Just some fine jangle pop for a sunny afternoon. Not all Canadian pop has to twist itself into knots. Some folks in the great white north can kick back just as well as their southern cousins. All righty, then.

    Contact:
    Bumstead Records
    P.O. Box 158
    Stn. E
    Toronto, ON M6H 4E2
    Canada
    www: http://www.bumstead.com


    Vanish Valley
    Vanish Valley
    (self-released)

    By and large, Vanish Valley is Andrew McAllister. A veteran of the northwest music scene, McAllister moved down to L.A. to reboot.

    This album is more sparse and intimate than Conrad Ford, McAllister's previous outfit. Maybe that's just because it is more "him." Dunno. Still, the mellow (yet intricate) roots sound comes through just as strong.

    Quiet is the watchword here. McAllister doesn't rush the pace, and he rarely feels the need to shout. This album is all about nuance. And McAllister deftly wields that stick.

    It might take a while for these songs to properly imprint. Once their supple curves have adapted your ears, however, the game will be over. Quality fare.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.vanishvalley.com


    We Were Skeletons
    We Were Skeletons
    (Topshelf)

    Ah, some truly meaty constructions. We Were Skeletons are quite a bit more raucous than yer average math-y unit, so I'll go with arty hardcore. These songs combine exquisite technical aplomb with hair-raising distortion and a seriously energetic attack.

    Better for you than Grape Nuts, I'll tell ya. We Were Skeletons simply rips through these songs. Every piece seems to be properly in place. Even more remarkably, these songs make sense in terms of construction.

    In other words, the noodling is kept within reasonable limits. This isn't hairy-scary stuff, it's merely tightly-focused aggression. Sounds better the more the volume is raised up.

    Alright, so not everyone needs a dose of power. Nonetheless, We Were Skeletons absolutely tears things up on this disc. That counts for a whole lot with me.

    Contact:
    Topshelf Records
    171 Glendale Rd.
    Hampden, MA 01036 www: http://www.topshelf-records.com


    Also recommended:

    The Advanced Antennas Rundfunk (suRRism-Phonoethics)
    Which would be cascading waves of distortion (not entirely unlike ocean waves) with bits of goodies popping out of the whitecaps. Patience is a virtue, but it is required here. If you put in your time, you will be rewarded.

    Anarobik Operator's Manual (Incidental)
    Kinda like a cross between Annie, Devo and William Orbit. It's really hard to figure out where the gimmick (Autotuned woman singing in a vaguely robotic fashion to dry electronic beats) and the real music (sweeping melodies in the keys) begins. Empty calories, perhaps, but fun is fun.

    Animal Names Let It Been (self-released)
    A full-length collection of the lush, eclectic pop I reviewed in the last issue. Animal Names is still kicking around all sorts of interesting ideas and pulling them together in a big, fuzzy blanket. Cool stuff, but I wish it went somewhere more often.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/animalnames

    Arms & Sleepers Matador Remixed (self-released)
    The Arms & Sleepers crew got some top-notch producers (Lymbyc Systym, etc.) to put a new spin on last year's Matador release. The studio rats found some interesting crannies in these songs, and this collection is something completely different than the original. Better? I dunno. But good, in any case.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.wearearmsandsleepers.blogspot.com

    Buses Busses (self-released)
    Just yer average indie power trio throttling the accepted notions of decency (or, at least, societally acceptable music). These songs stop and start and generally lurch. I'm usually in favor of finding a groove and sticking to it, but Busses seem to have found their groove in the deconstruction of traditional rhythm work. I think it works. Most of the time. I'm pretty sure.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.bussesinternet.com

    Chatham County Line Wildwood (Yep Roc)
    The members of this Chapel Hill-ish band have been kicking around together since many of them were members of Tift Merritt's Carbines (including drummer Zeke Hutchins, her husband). These boys have an almost slavish devotion to old acoustic sounds, but their alt. country (ish) songs are beautifully modern. This is their fifth album, and it extends their almost incomparable record for making exceptional music.

    Carly Comando One Take (Deep Elm)
    Piano music. Just Carly Comando playing the piano. This isn't classical, exactly. It certainly isn't jazz. It's just solid melodies with accompaniment. Just because it's simple doesn't make it bad. Indeed, this is most enjoyable on first listen.

    Chris Connelly How This Ends (Lens)
    Some industrial-age heroes age gracefully. Then there's Chris Connelly. The two tracks on this album (parts one and two of the album title) are sprawling expeditions into the far reaches of the musical universe. Don't even ask about the stream of consciousness lyrics. This won't attract any new fans, but geezers like me ought to be most pleased with an old man still taking chances (and coming through as often as not).

    The Foxymorons Bible Stories (self-released)
    Still jaunty after all these years, the Foxymorons know how to wring just about every worthwhile scrap out of a pop hook without breaking a sweat. These songs don't seem complicated, but it's not easy to sound effortless. The Foxymorons make it easy to like their tunes.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.foxymorons.com

    Lindsay Fuller The Last Light I See (self-released)
    Fuller writes in a minimalist style, but he brings plenty of sound in the arrangements. The stark and uncompromising lyrics aren't overrun by the production; rather, the dramatic presentation makes this all that much more compelling. Intriguing.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.lindsayfuller.com

    Geographer Animal Shapes (Tricycle)
    Elektro bliss pop, kinda like if New Order was influenced by Kraftwerk rather than the Sex Pistols. These gossamer songs almost float away. They're so pretty. I've never heard anyone try to do precisely this sort of thing before. I like it.

    House of Bread Superhuman Tomb (self-released)
    This Indiana duo has a fine sense of humor, describing its sound as "death metal/drum & bass/country" on its mySpace page. The truth isn't quite so exciting, as it consists mainly of mathy melodies and sometimes crashing rhythms. The sound is vaguely disconnected, which lends an air of mystery. I'm not sure why I like that particular feature, but I do. Cool stuff.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.houseofbreadmusic.com

    KaiBorg Harvesting Metadata (pfMENTUM)
    That would be Jeff KAIser and David BORGo, doing what they do best: Make compelling (and sometimes confounding) improvisational music. Kaiser ditches the guitar for a trumpet and flute, while Borgo does his best to pitch in on the percussion side. Both had a hand in the processing. Get your mind in the right place and let this one work its magic.

    Male German for Shark (Other Electricities)
    Male prefers the more meditative side of experimental, improvised rock. These are not crazy, off-the-wall presentations, but rather ruminative and contemplative thoughts. Thoughts that take a while to be expressed. I think this side of the experimental universe is a bit more accessible than the more manic side, but in any case, Male does it well. Compelling music. And if you're into that sort of thing, the album contains remixes and a live track as well.

    Mantler Monody (Tomlab)
    The sort of electronic pop-rock-soul that almost no one tries to play these days. Mantler's been doing it for a while, but this album is really striking. The ease with which the band whips through these songs is astonishing. Drink deep and often.

    Dina Maccabee Who Do You Suppose You Are? (self-released)
    Pretty songs delivered with all due deliberateness. Maccabee is in no hurry to get anywhere, and with songs like these, there's plenty of reason to tarry. Just this side of plodding, this album somehow manages to feel as if it's zipping along in the fast lane. I'm not sure how that works, but it does.
    Contact:
    www: http://dinamaccabee.wordpress.com

    Marco Mahler Laptop Campfire Speed (self-released)
    There are those who use laptops to create laptop pop. Mahler throws in some electronic beats and the like, but he creates warm songs. So maybe the album title is utterly appropriate. These songs manage to be impossibly pretty and often drop-dead gorgeous without the slightest bit of adornment. Luxuriate in the sparse sounds.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.marcomahler.com

    Mobile Wash Unit Tent (Astraea)
    Skip-along pop with affected vocals. This may come off as a bit too-too for some, but I like the undercurrents. There's something untoward happening within these pop gems. I'm not quite sure what that might be, but I'm going to find out.

    Muckafurgason The Pink Album (Deep Elm)
    Muckafurgason is far too jokey, and it relies too much on criminally attractive hooks. Yet I still find myself listening. This album is more of the same, and while one part of me hoped for something a bit less goofy, the other part of me was happy to hear that nothing had changed. Definitely an acquired taste, but one that does wonders for my constitution.

    The National Rifle Vanity Press EP (self-released)
    A quartet that plays indie rock with due restraint. These songs are jaunty, but involved, pieces that rarely explode. Rather, they tend to simmer, giving off the distinct scents of innovative melodies and tight rhythms. Nothing exceptional, I suppose, but dreadfully attractive nonetheless.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.thenationalrifle.com

    The Pernice Brothers Goodbye, Killer (Ashmont)
    Alternately raucous and well-contained, the Pernice Brothers (a quartet that, in fact, has a couple of Pernice Brothers in it) skip through many moods of pop-rock without getting the slightest bit annoying. This is in itself most impressive, but the songs seem to get better as the disc goes along. I like it a lot.

    The Prids Chronosynclastic (Velvet Blue)
    Densely-orchestrated rock that often overcomes the distortion to really rock out some anthems. The production is decidedly overdone, but I really didn't mind too much. Too much can be just enough, as long as the fundamentals are sound. And boy, do the Prids know how to buttress up a fine song.

    Ride Your Bike The Connection EP (Deep Elm)
    Sounds a bit like the Rocket Summer, but with sharper edges. The hooks are a bit faded, and they work well that way. Desultory emo has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

    Joey Ryan & the Inks Well, Here We Are, Then (self-released)
    Driving pop-rock tunes that have a tendency to turn introspective. I like the kickier moments, but the chill-out moments don't bother as much as I thought they might. Well-crafted tunes that tend to have more to say than might appear on the surface.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/joeyryanandtheinks

    Shelf Life Courtesy (Public Eyesore)
    Bryan Day and Joseph Jaros rumble and squawk their way through another interesting set of improvisational music. Day's Public Eyesore (and associated) labels consistently put out some of the most intriguing music from the edge, and his music is no exception. I love how the pieces on this album almost seem to be talking to each other. If that doesn't make sense to you, then lend an ear.

    Sweet Apple Love & Desperation (Tee Pee)
    Which would be J. Mascis, a couple of guys from Cobra Verde and Dave Sweetapple of Witch. It sounds like yer favorite 70s AOR played ever more cocksure than you remember--and cranked to eleven and beyond. That's about it, which is more than enough for me.

    Unknown Component The Infinite Definitive (self-released)
    Reminds me a lot of David Singer, both in the vocals and the way the songs are put together. These contemplative rockers have plenty of angsty white-boy soul and some solid, low-key hooks. That may sound like a backhanded compliment, but trust me, it's not. Quite engaging.
    Contact:
    www: ttp://www.myspace.com/unknowncomponent

    Various Artists Made in Iceland 3 (Iceland Music Export)
    If you're curious about what's going on in the land of Bjork these days, then give this collection a listen. The sounds are quite diverse and often otherworldly. A fine window into a scene.

    Richard Walters The Animal (Kartel)
    Acoustic guitar, piano (or keyboard) and Walters's halting vocals, with other adornments as needed. These songs are crafted to within an inch of their lives, but Walters and his sincerity bring them through the fire--though not necessarily unscathed. While I generally like to hear more spontaneous performances, I have a feeling these songs would fall apart without Walter's nearly-oppressive attention. This one'll grab your ears.

    The Young Sinclairs We Spoke Our Minds EP (Planting Seeds)
    Fresh off a tour with the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and boy, that was most appropriate. These boys stick more to the atmospheric pop (rather than rock) of the 60s, but they're like the flip-side of the BJM. These four pieces are gorgeous. I'd just like to hear a little bit more that would separate this band from the past and other 60s dealers.


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