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
(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.
The Casting Out
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.
Eastern Conference Champions
Santa Fe EP
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.
May All Magic Guide and Change You
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.
Pony Up a Go-Go
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.
Darker the Night
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.
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.
The Pineapple Thief
Someone Here Is Missing
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.