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 #320 reviews
September 2010
  • Backseat Dreamer The Colors of Dreams, They're In You (Stickfigure)
  • Bars of Gold Of Gold (self-released)
  • Capsize 7 Horsefly (Pig Zen Space)
  • Charles the Osprey Consider (Friction)
  • Eat Sugar Levántense (self-released)
  • Fox in the Henhouse Fox in the Henhouse (iBot)
  • Last Lungs Look at that Old Grizzly Bear (Deep Elm)
  • Mark Mandeville No Big Plans (Nobody's Favorite Records)
  • Raianne Richards Simple in This Place (Nobody's Favorite Records)
  • Secret Colours Secret Colours (self-released)
  • We Are Hex Hail the Goer (Roaring Colonel)
  • Dan Webb and the Spiders Oh Sure (self-released)
  • The 7" File: The latest in small vinyl
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Backseat Dreamer
    The Colors of Dreams, They're in You

    Sean Neuse created these lovely electronic fields of pop. He's got an almost immaculate feel for the right balance between sterile synth backdrops and warm keyboard melodies.

    The vocals are minimalist, and they're secondary. The highlight is the interplay between the icy rhythm section and the ebullient melodies. Neuse throws in just enough contemplation to add the necessary layers of depth.

    Reminds me a lot of early Ming and Ping, though this is more playful musically than lyrically. Neuse is more than content to let his music be the focus. The lyrics can be intriguing, but he never lets them get in the way.

    It's always good to recognize your strengths and go with them. Neuse has started something great with Backseat Dreamer. I hope he keeps heading into that great fractal sunset--very slowly, of course.

    P.O. Box 55462
    Atlanta, GA 30308
    www: http://www.stickfigurerecordings.com

    Bars of Gold
    Of Gold

    Befitting most unusual music such as this, the boys in Bars of Gold have decided to release this puppy in glorious green (or orange) vinyl. The music itself doesn't quite hearken back to the glory days of indie rock, but there are moments.

    What this sounds like is an astonishingly nourishing combination of no wave, math rock and early Superchunk, with just a dash of the anthemic tendencies of early Springsteen thrown in, just for the hell of it. In other words, lots of noise that somehow comes together into a blazing statement of greatness.

    Really. The sound on this album is so clean and stripped-down that every little click and slipped fret is easily heard. Of course, these boys can really play, so there's very little slipping. The arrangements are where the songs get interesting. There is a grandiosity in these collections of snap and crackle that is mindblowing.

    You might not hear this after a minute or two. Just let the first couple songs work all the way through, and I think you'll hear what I mean. This is highly-crafted music that merely carries the surface sheen of incompetent hacks before blooming into something spectacular. Absolutely brilliant. I can't pull my ears away.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/barsofgold

    Capsize 7
    (Pig Zen Space)

    Almost 17 years ago, I got a 7" from Capsize 7. One of the songs was "Scout." I still love that song. And I loved the way Capsize 7 worked the whole mid-90s indie rock thing. And then, after a couple singles, an album on Caroline and a self-released EP, Capsize 7 disappeared. With an album in the can.

    Of course, musicians move on. These days, Joe Taylor is half of Blag'ard. But he, too, liked Capsize 7. And because he was the band's guitarist, he was able to (finally) release the long-lost second Capsize 7 full-length.

    This is it. Fourteen-year-old music that sounds like it was recorded yesterday. Or tomorrow. Yeah, I know, some folks simply imprint on a sound and never let go. I'll cop to that. But this is simply amazing stuff. Capsize 7 didn't cheese out enough to attract a mass audience, but folks who fondly remember bands like Arcwelder and the like will surely find a (large) place in their hearts for this.

    Yes, we are talking nostalgia. Nostalgia for damned good music. I'm not saying folks don't make music like this today...no, I think I will. People don't make music quite like this today, and that's just fine. But Capsize 7 had something, and thankfully we now have thirteen more excellent examples of that awesomeness. It's never too late to release good music.

    www: http://www.pigzenspace.com

    Charles the Osprey
    Consider LP

    Some lovely math-y, post rock-y instrumental constructions. Charles the Osprey is Rafael Ohli on guitar and Derek Lancioni on drums. And this album was recorded in order to be played live. In other words, all that sound is just two people without overdubs.

    Which is really impressive, actually. But that's not why I like this album. I like it because these songs work. Ohli and Lancioni have an impeccable partnership, and they have an amazing feel for how to build songs. There's no gimmick here. No matter how limited the instrumentation may be, this stuff sounds great.

    It does help that there is such an unrestrained hand in the booth. The sound is slightly lo-fi, which does help fill out some of the edges. I mean, there's only so much one guitar can do, though Ohli's skill and feel are wonderful.

    Most engaging. These pieces impress instantly and proceed to sound even better as the album rolls along. Please sir, may I have some more?

    P.O. Box 6605
    Grand Rapids, MI 49516
    www: www.frictionrecords.net

    Eat Sugar

    Remember how INXS took basic rock and roll and added a variety of dance-y grooves? Yeah. Eat Sugar wants to do the same thing, only from a different perspective.

    So the "rock" element is more of a raggedy indie thing, and the "dance" is drum and bass and other techno derivatives. The sound is ultra modern and decidedly addictive. The throb is almost unbearable.

    This does have that certain commercial sheen, but I don't hear any way around that. After all, while the title means "stand up," this is music for moving. And if it doesn't move you, then you ought to find something other than music for inspiration.

    Perhaps you can find fault with some of these songs. I'm a bit too occupied flying around the room. Life's too short not to dance when music such as this impels. Join the frenzy and let loose, baby.

    www: http://www.eatsugarmusic.com

    Fox in the Henhouse
    Fox in the Henhouse

    Fox in the Henhouse is Ryan Escolopio and J.D. Tennyson (formerly/currently? of Wakefield). And they're still interested in layered power pop. Damned good thing, too, cause they've got a fine feel for the stuff.

    The six songs on this album are probably a bit too complicated for the mass market, but you never know. What I an say is those who like their pop darkly complected will be quite pleased. The lyrics are constructed so as to avoid cliches, and there are so many ideas in each song that I was constantly wondering how long the center could hold.

    As long as Escolopio and Tennyson want it to hold, I guess. I should note that the other two members of Wakefield appear on this album, but they're not listed as members. Take that as you will. In any case, this is a Fox in the Henhouse release. Period.

    And I think Fox in the Henhouse will have a much longer shelf-life than Wakefield. If you're smart, you learn from experience. And it seems clear that Escolopio and Tennyson have learned that you might as well make music you like and let fame come calling later. That seems to be the approach they took here, and it worked wonderfully.

    iBOT Records
    P.O. Box 27008
    Baltimore, MD 21230
    www: http://www.ibotrecords.com

    Last Lungs
    Look at that Old Grizzly Bear
    (Deep Elm)

    Languorous takes on the instrumental rock dream. Last Lungs not only plays long songs. It also stitches together long multi-part songs. Imagine Mineral reincarnated as the modern equivalent of an instrumental ELP and you're getting the idea.

    The ELP part is the ambition and the length. The sound is straight old-old school emo (before it was hijacked by pop punk). The folks at Deep Elm know what I'm talking about.

    The sound is ringing and alive, despite the general mid-tempo nature of the songs. Last Lung requires one hell of a commitment. Luckily, the payoff is huge.

    Lovely stuff, the sort of sounds that will haunt my ears for some time. Despair never sounded so engaging.

    Deep Elm Records
    210 N. Church St. #2502
    Charlotte, NC 28202
    www: www.deepelm.com

    Mark Mandeville
    No Big Plans
    (Nobody's Favorite Records)

    Mandeville, frequently accompanied by Jerry Fels and Raianne Richards (see review below), plays a few classic songs in the key of americana. There's an elegiac sound to this album--think latter-day Steve Earle--but not unlike New Orleans funeral marches, the feel is uplifting.

    The simple setting gives these songs plenty of room to breathe. Mandeville makes the most of this, strumming or picking along on guitar or banjo. Everything sounds so effortless I can imagine that these songs poured out in one sitting from whole cloth. I know better, of course, but that's what it sounds like.

    By turns delicate and powerful, Mandeville's songs evoke a number of emotions. The clearest is simply one of freedom. The pieces have an engaging lilt, and they always seem to be in motion.

    A fine album for watching ice melting in bourbon. The key is finding the time and the state of mind, though these songs could be just the inducement you need.

    Nobody's Favorite Records
    34 West Main St.
    Dudley, MA 01571
    www: www.nobodysfavoriterecords.com

    Raianne Richards
    Simple in This Place
    (Nobody's Favorite Records)

    Richards, Jerry Fels and Mark Mandeville get together once again on this, Richards's "solo" effort. Richards does have a different songwriting style. She relies more on the vocals for her music, and she keeps the sound even more simple.

    This is the sound of far, far away. Doesn't really matter where. Just far away. Richards has a fine, dusty voice, and it tends to evoke back roads that got paved long ago. Not antique, really, but simply well-traveled.

    And these songs do move. Even the slower-paced pieces have a kinetic feel to them. No matter how ruminative Richards gets, she never forgets the needs of her songs.

    Sometimes I think the songs on this album are trying to run away and hide. They're too good for that, though. My ears teased them out every time. Patience will bring good results. Just wait, and Richards will deliver.

    Nobody's Favorite Records
    34 West Main St.
    Dudley, MA 01571
    www: www.nobodysfavoriterecords.com

    Secret Colours
    Secret Colours

    The first track, "Redemption," is a straight-up Brian Jonestown Massacre theft. But Secret Colours has the taste to move on to other templates, including the Jesus and Mary Chain.

    What's best are songs like "Lava," which bridge the not-insurmountable gap between BJM and JAMC. Loud, distortion-filled and crackling with snarling life. Is it nice? Hell no. And that's the point.

    Once in a while the boys pull back the dueling scrims of reverb and distortion and reveal some solid songwriting chops. Downbeat and cynical, to be sure, but most enjoyable.

    Yeah, I'd like to hear a bit more originality in these songs. But Secret Colours does this stuff so well that I'm willing to overlook the excessive imitation. Just this once.

    www: http://www.secretcolours.com

    We Are Hex
    Hail the Goer
    (Roaring Colonel)

    It would be simple to cast We Are Hex as just another Yeah Yeah Yeah's imitation. The band even seems to acknowledge this with the "yeah yeah yeah!" hook in what serves as the album's title track, "We Are the Goer."

    But this isn't a pale imitation. Yes, there are yelping and shrieking female vocals. And the music is generally of the bounding, kinetic variety. But We Are Hex tends to prefer a bit more sugar in its choruses. For that matter, it favors choruses, which aren't exactly a YYY staple.

    The similarities do continue in the production, which emphasizes the shriller moments of the vocals. Nonetheless, there's a lot less yelping and more singing. This album is a bit more upbeat than the band's first effort, but only as a matter of degree. We Are Hex prefers to play in the dark.

    And that's alright by me. Any band that moves along this axis will inevitably be compared to YYY, but We Are Hex has the chops to move beyond that and into its own territory. A real step forward.

    Roaring Colonel Records
    www: http://roaringcolonel.blogspot.com

    Dan Webb and the Spiders
    Oh Sure LP

    The pop punk equivalent of the Capstan Shafts, Dan Webb and the Spiders play peppy tunes with vocals distorted almost beyond recognition. This is a conscious choice (the music isn't nearly so fuzzy), and it works.

    Some songs need to be dirtied up a bit. Webb's tunes are pretty solid, especially in the hooks, but I kinda like the steel wool vocal sound. It adds a sense of desperation to these already almost-falling-down songs.

    And so the gimmick works, so well that I can't really call it a gimmick. Rather, it's just one more color in the artist's palette. It works. As do these songs. And nothing else needs to be said.

    An album that leaves me breathless. The fury of the attack is impressive, but I prefer the sense of contentment I get at the end. Damned fine.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/danwebbandthespiders

    The 7" File:

    Banquets This Is Our Concern, Dude 7" EP (Black Numbers)
    The song titles ("Lyndon B. Magic Johnson," "What a Bunch of Aaron Burrs," etc.) and the Lebowski reference in the EP title are almost as clever as the songs themselves. The music is basic pop punk infused with a bit of math rock irony. Nice hooks and just the right amount of noodling. Perfect music critic music that non-geeks just might like.

    The Holy Mess Sesh Benefit 7" (Evil Weevil)
    Peppy, rockin' punk songs played by a band that doesn't take itself too seriously. I'm not sure about the "benefit" (there's no explanation in the liners), but the two songs here sure do make me smile. Uncomplicated and bounding.

    Andrew Liles Monster Munch 7" EP (Tourette)
    Beware of a slab of vinyl that says "45 rpm or 33 1/3 rpm," as the A side here does. Turns out, though that Liles is absolutely right. The two instrumentals work just fine at either speed. The three "titled" songs on the flip play at 45, and they continue Liles's exploration of the assembled instrumental form. Most folks don't put music like this on wee vinyl, but it always makes me smile to hear such devotion. Most worthwhile.

    Montagna & the Mouth to Mouth Ultrapolyamorous 7" (self-released)
    The title track could be a track from the mythical Straitjacket Fits box set. Doomy, fuzzy pop that is simply glorious. The flip changes styles without losing the scrim. There's still plenty of distortion and all, but the song ("At Full Speed") is almost perky. It works exceptionally well, especially when the band wigs out in the solo/bridge section. Messes that clean up oh so nicely.

    Also recommended:

    James Apollo 'Til Your Feet Bleed (self-released)
    Plunging into western minimalism without looking back, James Apollo has created some astounding sounds. His voice is a little weak, or maybe he's simply whispering too much. A little more rasp or throatiness would help. The songs themselves approach brilliance. After a while, I started to forgive the vocal shortcomings and just sat in awe.
    www: http://www.jamesapollo.com

    Barb Barb (Yep Roc)
    This is Liam Finn's latest project. The press is rather vague about future plans for this collection of folks (which includes Connan Hosford, James Milne, Eliza Jane Barnes and others), but the music is about what you might expect: adventurous pop music with a distinctive Kiwi lilt. Even if Barb is just a one-off, it's plenty good on its own merits.

    Black Swedes Tempest (self-released)
    Ian Bell and Matt Benham wander in and around something approximating arty americana: introspective arrangements and rootsy instrumentation augmented by strings. The sound of this album lies in the in between, and Black Swedes seem content to float in the ether. A somewhat prickly album to get into, but one that contains many pleasures.
    www: http://www.blackswedes.com

    Brookhaven When the Chorus Walks (Expel)
    A technology-friendly instrumental act, Brookhaven has the impressive knack of sounding like Dirty Three on one piece and Pink Floyd the next. These are long, largely languid songs that resolve with a surprising subtlety. This one might give a listener Stockholm Syndrome.

    Brutus Faust Vengeance Is Mine (self-released)
    Brutus Faust is the rock project of Andres Serrano, the artist provocateur best known for "Piss Christ." Serrano wrote a few of these songs and appropriated a number of classic songs and plays them pretty straight. The most remarkable element is his voice, which sounds like a froggy (froggier?) Bob Dylan. In any case, he treats his covers with often undue reverence. Though it's fair to say that his reworking of "500 Miles (I'm Gonna Be)" as a contemplative ballad is laughably awful, by and large this project is astoundingly elegant for a guy with Serrano's reputation.

    Kal Cahoone Build the Fire EP (Helmet Room)
    Intricately arranged, sparsely produced and decidedly ethereal, this EP is startling. Cahoone's voice can be a quavering thing, but her songwriting hand is steady. The songs hypnotize almost immediately.

    Clean Equations People/Variables (State Capital)
    Electronic-driven pop-rock with processed vocals. There's a prog feel to the construction (some of these songs are more about lines intersecting than finding a hook), but the sound is strangely analog despite the obvious keyboard underpinnings. There's a lot going on here, and I think I'll take some more time to puzzle it all out. Quite cool.

    DAO+COH Dzerzhinsk-9 LP (Tourette)
    Four improvisations from Russia. In 1996. Ivan Pavlov (COH) and Andrej Kolesov (DAO) utilized all sorts of electronics and instruments to create this pulsating set. Pavlov, perhaps better-known for his work with Coil and Soisong, and Kolesov are supposedly working on something new. That would be great, but this previously-unreleased set is wonderful.

    Dead Voices on Air The Silent Wing LP (Tourette)
    Mark Spybey still has it. DVOA has been the gold standard in electronic experimentalism for almost two decades, and that doesn't appear to be changing any time soon. This album is much more introspective than last year's Fast Falls the Eventide, but to my ear that simply makes it more DVOA. It's oh-so-easy to simply fall into this album and never hit the ground. Lovely and intriguing.

    District 97 Hybrid Child (The Laser's Edge)
    District 9 is that rare prog band that sticks to rock more than metal. Leslie Hunt's vocals are often in-your-face, but that helps to add an emotional element to the otherwise chilly style. The cello is nice, too. The songs themselves are percussion-heavy (the band's songwriter is also its drummer), but I kinda like that, too. I'm not sure that there's anything new here, but it sounds good to me.

    Echo Orbiter Euphonic Montage (Looking Glass Workshop)
    The title is about the only thing that makes sense. It describes perfectly the crazy-quilt songs on this album. I'll freely admit that I could not get my brain around most of this, but I like the adventuresome spirit. And maybe a few dozen more listens will make things a bit more clear. Until then, I'll just surf the chaos.

    Go Rydell The Golden Age (Black Numbers)
    Nicely raggedy punk rawk with all the trimmings. Straightforward songs that simply shout it out. Perhaps a bit generic in that way, but sometimes I like to tap into this kind of energy. Quite engaging.

    Gold Standard Gold Standard EP (self-released)
    Yet another instrumental rock band. Gold Standard toils in and around the old-school post-rock tradition--think Don Caballero with a bit less aggression. I like the three songs here. I'm curious to see if the band can create an entire album that holds together and remains engaging. We'll find out soon enough.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/goldstandardatlanta

    Joe Kile Southern Beauty Queen LP (Eastern Watts)
    Kile sings and plays quite simply, but his songs have an impressive depth. Sure, a lot of people work in this folk minimalist style, but Kile's writing puts him in the front rank. Settle in and let this one glow.

    Will Knox The Matador & the Acrobat (self-released)
    Folk-inflected concept pop. Knox tells his story with impressive detail and striking command of song structure. The songs tend to run together, but as this album seems to be intended as a single piece, such redundancy is likely intended. I like the dramatic delivery and the strong production. Knox knows what he's doing, and he presents himself very well.
    www: http://www.willknox.com

    Jon Lindsay Escape from Plaza-Midwood (Chocolate Lab)
    Lindsay is a fine troubadour. His songs display impressive range and skill. My only serious complaint is that his pop culture references take away from the generally timeless sound of his pop songs. I know, he's clever as hell. And I dig that. But his stuff would have a longer shelf life if he went for more universal lyrics.

    Little Beirut Fear of Heaven (self-released)
    Old-school "modern" rock that sounds just perfect for, say 1993. Or maybe 1994. I dunno. Take the ringing tone of the Edge's guitar and add modestly anthemic construction and whip it all up into a light froth. Little Beirut is not the most ambitious band around, but it does a fine job with this sound.
    www: http://www.littlebeirut.com

    The Migrant Travels in Lowland (self-released)
    Also known as Bjarke Bendtsen, the Migrant wandered the U.S. for a couple years and then created this album. While this is all nicely jangly americana, there are moments when the melodies take an unexpected turn. I'll attribute that to Bendtsen's native Denmark. That slightly off-kilter approach is what pricked up my ears in the first place.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/themigrantmusic

    Mississippi Painful No Recession (J-Shirt)
    Something of a one-off. A few Seattle-area musicians gathered at the house of Brian Massey and played some songs. Massey and friends (including members of the Graze, Rosyvelt, Open Choir Fire and An Invitation to Love) recorded this gathering. Good thing. The loose feel of these americana jams is infectious. Would that I had friends like this who could play like this. In my house. On a random Sunday. Very cool.

    Nuclear Power Pants Wicked Eats the Warrior (self-released)
    You know those folks who are convinced that they're the coolest people in the universe? The ones who are truly dorks? Yep. That's what's going on here. Nuclear Power Pants throttles sing-songy gang female vocals with a crunchy electronic assault. The grooves are nasty, and the lyrics are almost nonsensical. Funny thing about dorks, though. Sometimes they save the world. NPP might. That would be soooo cool.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/nuclearpowerpants

    Sean Renner The Blossoms of Armageddon (The Urban Sound)
    Renner took bits and pieces of just about everything and assembled the result into this album. But while most albums of this kind are herky-jerky affairs, Renner has gone the other way and created a contemplative, almost lush sound. Nothing sounds forced, which is a real accomplishment. The songwriting itself is a bit pedestrian, but the sounds within the songs are transcendent.

    Thee Nosebleeds Thee Nosebleeds (Human in Human)
    Absolutely brutal. Thee Nosebleeds play one way: Fast and loud. And really, is there any other way to rock? I think not. The songs themselves are straightforward punk rawk, but the needles are pinned and the energy is awe-inspiring. Yeaargh!

    Thinking Machines Work Tapes (TMvFM)
    Math lines played with almost incomprehensible noise. The band often sounds like a wall of fuzz, but the technical skill is obvious. Sometimes there's too much going on, and the songs themselves seem to get lost in the shuffle. I like the mess, though. Keeps me sane.

    This Drama Tarantula Mata (Deep Elm)
    This Spanish band plays some lovely riffola. While I find the surface sheen to be a bit much, the songs themselves are dreadfully catchy. There's nothing complicated or particularly original. Just a solid band playing loud music laden with hooks. And there's nothing wrong with that at all.

    Weep Worn Thin (Projekt)
    If the Kirkwood brothers had lived in San Francisco rather than Arizona, the Meat Puppets might've sounded like this. Weep dishes out goth-laced pop punk songs that shimmer. Listening to this is a bit disconcerting, sorta like living in an alternate universe. I think I could definitely adjust. Much fun.

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