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
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.
Bars 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.
(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.
Charles the Osprey
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?
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.
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.
Look at that Old Grizzly Bear
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.
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.