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 #322 reviews
November 2010
  • The Campbells The Inside of Out There (self-released)
  • Daniel Christian Hold your Breath (self-released)
  • Eux Autres Broken Bow (Bons Mots)
  • Majeure Timespan (Temporary Residence)
  • Seafarer Hiding Places (self-released)
  • Seven That Spells Future Retro Spasm (Beta-Iactam Ring)
  • Shipping News One Less Heartless to Fear (Noise Pollution)
  • The Sleep-ins Songs About Girls & Outer Space (Ingot Rock)
  • Sleeping in the Aviary Great Vacation! (Science of Sound)
  • Suns Close Calls in the U.S. Space Program/The Howl & the Many 2xEP (self-released)
  • Sunshine Factory Sugar (self-released)
  • The Van Gobots Guantanamo Beach Party (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Campbells
    The Inside of Out There

    Largely the work of one J. Campbell, who seems intent on defining americana as broadly as possible.

    So you've got some Byrds (both with and without Gram Parsons), a dash of Love, more than a passing glance at Big Star and the fuzzy, epochal sweep of BJM. This is his third release, and it sure sounds like the kid from Gillette, Wyoming, has figured out what he wants to do.

    One song might be spacey, but the next is just as likely to be an intimate romp. Campbell has full command of his arsenal, and each of these songs radiates confidence. They are simply a joy to hear.

    It's rare to pick up an album, fall in love and then do it all over again as each song rolls by. The songs here are impeccable and played with an irresistible energy. One of the best I've heard in ages.

    www: http://www.campbellsrock.com

    Daniel Christian
    Hold Your Breath

    There is a template for solid-rockin' americana, and Daniel Christian follows it closely. And while his ardor for that formula can lead to an occasional stumble, by and large Christian fills in the lines with style.

    Think Jackson Browne with a fuller, more modern sound. Christian's voice is an unremarkable instrument, but he tailors his songs well and makes all the parts fit nicely.

    Craft never quite overcomes passion, which is what saves this album. It's safe to say that there's nothing wrong with any of these songs. Often enough, there's something very good.

    A stylish spin through a style that has become very popular with the singer-songwriter crowd. Christian's writing is superb, and almost works himself to death shining these songs up until they blaze. Sometimes working too hard is exactly the right thing to do.

    www: http://www.danielchristianmusic.com

    Eax Autres
    Broken Bow
    (Bon Mots)

    Absolutely outstanding peppy downer pop. Imagine Shonen Knife with all the happy-happy-joy-joy scraped off. Same perky drumming. Same simple structures. Same aggressively sparse production. Just, you know, not so blissful.

    I've always held that pop music is the perfect format for the blues. Eux Autres seems to have the same opinion. These aren't ruminations on death and dying. Just frustration and disappointment. Death by small cuts, if you like.

    Power pop can be utterly irresistible, but I often prefer the more open feel that Eux Autres uses. Each instrument and voice is clear in the mix. In a way, all that space between the sounds makes the overall that much more powerful.

    This third album from Eux Autres offers more than enough proof of mastery. Yeah, a lot of these songs are downers. And they'll make you feel so damned good. Genius.

    Bon Mots Records
    1363 7th Ave. #2
    San Francisco, CA 94122
    www: http://www.bonsmotsrecords.net

    (Temporary Residence)

    Majeure is A.E. Paterra of Zombi. On this, his first solo release, he gives up on any pretense of rock and roll and simply flies into the ether. Comparisons to Tangerine Dream or Vangelis's score for Bladerunner are obvious, but they won't tell the whole story.

    For example, "The Dresden Codex" almost sounds like a remix of themes from Bladerunner. The rhythm riff (everything is keyboarded, with the exception of some live drums) is a slightly-reworked take on the insistent burbling that infused the film. But then he moves on and finds something new to say with the sound.

    It's easier to do that sort of thing when your songs are between ten and nineteen minutes long. The three pieces here are involved and immediately absorbing. There is no energy wasted. Paterra starts each piece relatively simply and then builds. And builds. And builds. He knows what he's doing.

    The three "original" pieces are stunning. The three remixes (by Steve Moore, Justin Broadrick and Black Strobe) are equally fine. If you ever wondered what the future of electronic music might sound like, this is a good place to start. Let your mind wonder, but make sure you keep up. Majeure doesn't wait for stragglers.

    Temporary Residence
    P.O. Box 60097
    Brooklyn, NY 11206
    www: http://www.temporaryresidence.com

    Hiding Places

    Eclectic means different things to many people. Allow me to say that just about everyone will agree that Seafarer plays eclectic pop.

    That is, the music is pop in format and sound. There's just a lot of other ideas wandering in and out as well. The feel is generally jaunty, but there's plenty of clutter to weigh down any excess of joy.

    And then there's Patrick Grzelewski's singing, which is hardly conventional. Every note is quavering, though sung with plenty of strength. The feel is most disconcerting, which is a positive. The unusual vocals simply underscore the unusual nature of these songs.

    Not too quirky in my book, although I have more tolerance than most. In the end, the songs come together. That's my only criteria. A most interesting set.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/seafarerchicago

    Seven That Spells
    Future Retro Spasm
    (Beta-Iactam Ring)

    Churgling proggy stuff that may (or may not, depending on your point of view) veer a bit closer to jazz than rock. In my book, this is rock. But of a very specialized kind.

    Imagine, if you will, the Jesus Lizard as a prog band. With a saxophone replacing David Yow's vocals. But the same pile-driving, groove-laden rhythm section and the same aggressive tendencies. Something like that.

    Far more visceral and emotionally-engrossing than most prog bands. I'm not sure that label really fits, anyway. But there's some serious technical precision here, and the songs bristle with bits and pieces of classical music theory. So, you know, there's that.

    More to the point, great music is what there is. Outstanding stuff. If the first ten seconds excite you, then this album will blow your mind. Otherwise, well, look somewhere else. I'll be right here, turning the sound up another notch.

    Beta-Iactam Ring Records
    P.O. Box 6715
    Portland, OR 97228-6715
    www: http://www.blrrecords.com

    Shipping News
    One Less Heartless to Fear
    (Noise Pollution)

    It's been a while. Too long. Years and years ago, I fell in love with the whole post-Chicago-via-Louisville-oriented heavy groove rock thing. June of 44. Rodan. Jesus Lizard. And, representing both a figurative and literal distillation of all that, Shipping News.

    Don't expect anything new here. In fact, this album hearkens back to the pre-Shipping News days of hyper-heavy, bone-throttling rhythms. The notion of these boys being some sort of math rock influence? Sent to a neutral corner. Any pretense of melody? Pretty much wiped away. What's left is mind-crushing riffage, utterly infectious rhythms and generally shouted vocals.

    House-crushing, too. I turned up the volume a bit too loud, and the vibrations sent glasses flying off the shelves. For a few seconds I wondered if the tinkling sound I heard what something on the album. Then I turned around. Oops.

    I'm always happy to sacrifice glassware in the cause of good music. Shipping News has returned with easily the most powerful album of its career. Special bonus: There's no need to think. You just have to survive. Good luck.

    www: http://noisepollutionrecords.blogspot.com

    The Sleep-ins
    Songs About Girls & Outer Space
    (Ingot Rock)

    For those who remember the joys of 90s no wave and 80s indie rock, the Sleep-ins are a lovely tonic. Loud, raucous, seductive and often a complete mess. Glorious.

    The album title is a reasonable description of the themes of this album, but it doesn't begin to explain the musical density of the songs. While these songs generally build around one sludgy guitar riff or another, that riff may or may not have much to do with the song by the end.

    About half the time, the Sleep-ins stick to a relatively traditional rendition of jaunty pop--albeit played as a series of caterwauls. The other half, though, is deconstruction in one form or another. Yes, there's a lot of thought behind the carnage, though you can also simply ride the wave of slow-burning anger if you like.

    Unlike almost anything that I've heard recently. The Sleep-ins seem to believe in punishing the listener, and I'm down with the program. On my knees, actually. Submission comes naturally when listening to songs like this.

    Ingot Rock
    www: www.ingotrock.com

    Sleeping in the Aviary
    Great Vacation!
    (Science of Sound)

    There are many ways to play eclectic pop. You can throw in the kitchen sink (like Seafarer, reviewed above) or you can mess around with the notes in the music. Sleeping in the Aviary does both, tossing in all sorts of electronic mess and taking liberties with the melodies within the songs.

    The press sticker makes reference to the Lips, and I suppose that's fair. But these boys aren't that trippy. They're more straightforward in their musical experimentation. Not better or worse, but simply different.

    The pieces are catchy as hell, which makes the tangents that much easier to accept. After a while, I stopped questioning where the music was heading and simply hung out for the ride.

    Whatever the approach, it's impossible to deny the quality of these songs. Lots and lots of fun, with plenty of substance to boot. Very nice.

    Science of Sound
    www: www.scienceofsound.com

    Close Calls in the U.S. Space Program
    The Howl and the Many

    I've always figured double EPs as something of a novelty designation. You've got nine songs, just call it an album, okay?

    Suns are making me reconsider. A bit. The Space Program EP is, indeed, a bit more spacey than the Howl EP. Suns sound like a somewhat bizarre cross between Three Mile Pilot and Collin Herring. There's that raggedy americana thing going on in addition to the intricate indie doom rock thing. Believe it or not, it works well.

    No matter how you want to classify (or even attempt to comprehend) this music, it is immediately arresting. Few bands sound anything like this, and I can't think of one that manages to entice both the intellect and the emotions as well.

    So hey, if the boys want to call this a double EP, good for them. I'll simply call it a stellar collection of songs. Blows me away.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/sunsband

    The Sunshine Factory

    Originally an EP, the kind folks at the Sunshine Factory decided to add a few songs and make an album of it. I'm always happy to see bands that cater to the needs of their fans.

    On a more serious note, I'm also happy to hear a band try to squeeze something new out of pop music. This Mobile outfit trafficks heavily in JAMC and MBV processed tuneage, but with a more modern feel.

    Most of the time. There are a couple moments where I thought I was listening to outtakes from Loveless, but on the whole the Sunshine Factory takes a modestly cleaner approach to the sound. The production is handled electronically, which might be the main reason for that. But the key is having songs that respond to this sort of treatment, and these do.

    Sure, I wish the folks would edge a bit closer to a truly unique take on this sound. Maybe they will in the future. What's here, though, is impressive. Bend your brain.

    www: http://www.thesunshinefactorymusic.com

    The Van Gobots
    Guantanamo Beach Party

    The title sounds like a joke, but the Van Gobots are as serious as any band I know. These math-y songs pop and prickle with deadly intensity, and there's not even a hint of a smile in the lyrics.

    All that makes me like this more. No need to be jokey when you can make music that clicks in like this. The Van Gobots are almost as kinetic as the ALL/Descendents axis, though they mostly stick to rhythms and somewhat amelodic lead lines.

    Very tight and lean production, too. These songs simply keep moving, and I get the impression that they speed up slightly as the album rolls along. I could be wrong about that; I know I couldn't keep up the pace.

    Leaves me breathless. While the sound is relatively innocuous, the energy of these songs is almost unfathomable. Definitely worth the ride, though you might want to check with your doctor to make sure your heart can take the strain.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/thevangobots

    Also recommended:

    Alessi's Ark Soul Proprietor EP (Yep Roc)
    I'm not a big fan of the plinky, sorta-folky sound finished off with gauzy female vocals. A bit too too for me, if you know what I mean. Nonetheless, Alessi's Ark impresses me. The music comes more to the front, and there's less angst and more humor. This isn't a somber or serious affair. It's fun. And I can get behind that.

    California Guitar Trio Andromeda (Inner Knot)
    A twentieth-anniversary celebration, both for CGT and HST (Hubble Space Telescope), this collection of originals is less crowd-pleasing than previous albums (which often featured covers of dinosaur rock chestnuts). But artistically, it works much better. On some pieces, Lams, Richards and Moriya round out their sound with percussion, bass and some strings. But as usual, the most stunning moments come when three guitars work together to create otherworldly sounds. A bit more abstract than most CGT releases, but the best I've heard. Wowsers.

    The Cold Beat Get Safe (self-released)
    Boston punk-pop-rock bands have always had something of a different feel. The Cold Beat has that jaunty, crunchy feel down right, but these songs hang together with more depth and focus than most. The longest song here clocks in at 3:24--this puppy is tight. The band describes its sounds as "garage-new wave," a designation more than a few folks have appropriated lately. The Cold Beat actually follows through with the potential that genre label promises, blistering some serious heat. Well done.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/thecoldbeat

    Dorena About Everything and More (Deep Elm)
    Lengthy explorations into the potential of instrumental rock. Dorena isn't particularly experimental, and it doesn't really dabble in prog. This is more along the lines of Pell Mell (going back a ways for that reference, I suppose), a band that used traditional rock themes and constructions and then meditated a bit. Pleasant, but hardly cloying. I like the way this rolls.

    Everyone Everywhere Everyone Everywhere (self-released)
    Math-y anthems with that cool ringing tone particular to this sound. Everyone Everywhere isn't breaking any new ground, but it sure does this sound nicely. The songs are well-crafted and played with just enough recklessness to shave down the sharpest edges. Very nice.
    www: http://www.everyoneeverywheremusic.com

    Fat Worm of Error Ambivalence and the Beaker (Resipiscent)
    Songs loosely-constructed around some very unusual sounds. But these are songs, and they are crafted. I like the way this burbles, and really like the way that minimalist structure reveals itself--most of the time, anyway. Definitely on the strange side of things, but not so much as to offend. Plenty of quirks to keep half a mind working.

    Filthybird Songs for Other People (Holidays for Quince)
    Much like Alessi's Ark (reviewed above), Filthybird overcomes the cloying vocals of Renee Mendoza with superior writing and musicianship. I think Mendoza can sing just fine, but this trend of not-quite-articulating in a fuzzy way drives me nuts. But that's just me. I've been wrong many times before. Nonetheless, I'm right about the music, which is a muscular form of americana that borrows as much from the old-school Chapel Hill punk scene as it does from old Hank.

    Freebass Two Worlds Collide EP (Hacienda)
    This is the final product of the union of Peter Hook, Gary Moundfield, Andy Rourke, Phil Murphy and Paul Kehoe. As often happens with such supergroups, it was easier to do a little recording than to actually get the band together to play shows. Nonetheless, this is a nice trip through the minds of a few 80s icons. Breathtaking? No. But a fun little romp.

    David Gergen The Nearer It Was The Farther It Became (self-released)
    A set of rather eclectic songs in the key of singer/songwriter. Gergen doesn't stick to jangly guitar. Instead, he throws in some interesting electronics and the occasionally throbbing beat. His adaptability as a writer and singer is impressive. An interesting disc.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/davidgergen

    Giant Sand Blurry Blue Mountain (Fire Records)
    Howe Gelb is kinda like Robert Pollard. He's been putting out Giant Sand albums for 25 years. This is his 17th set of minimalist alt.country, and it's in the same vein as the others. Wry observations, fine playing and an easy-going style that is eternally undercut by the ironies in both the music and lyrics. If you haven't checked out Giant Sand yet, this is a fine place to start.

    Jenny Gillespie Kindred (self-released)
    Ethereal vocals, lengthy songs and a sound somewhere between new wave, folk and dream pop. Jenny Gillespie's songs create a spell a that's hard to break. Takes a bit of patience to really break into, I suppose, but there's a lot of depth here. I like the way to music shifts gears.
    www: http://www.jennygillespie.com

    Goonies Never Say Die No Words to Voice Our Hopes and Fears (Deep Elm)
    Dramatic, occasionally brain-throttling pieces that bring together the quirky epic scope of 3 Mile Pilot with the raging guitars of a modern power trio. This Blackpool outfit is actually a double trio, which only increases the strength through the middle. If you never believed that instrumental rock could tell a story, listen to the first two songs here. You'll become a believer.

    Daniel G. Harmann & the Trouble Starts Risk (Burning Building)
    Harmann sometimes sounds like he's throwing his vocals from some ethereal fog. But his music makes that work. This jumble of indie rock attitude and tight craftsmanship is quite appealing. There is still a piece of me that wishes he'd put a little more oomph in the singing, but the muscular lines in the songs are a fine tonic for all ills.

    Massy Ferguson Hard Water (Spark and Shine)
    Seems to me that if you're gonna use a name like Massy Ferguson (the misspelling is apparently intended to avoid a lawsuit) you ought to sound like those late 80s/early 90s midwestern bands that helped kickstart the whole americana thing. And that's exactly what this is: chunky chords, a bit of twang, some harp and fine melodies. This sits nicely in the sweet spot between early Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks and the Replacements. Yes, this was the sound of my college years and I'm damned biased toward it, but Massy Ferguson does it ever so well.

    Mojo Monkeys Blessings & Curses (Medikull)
    Barroom rock 'n' blooze from three guys who have been around long enough to know better. That, of course, is one of the joys of this album. Nothing complicated, and certainly nothing rushed. Just basic music that gets right to the heart of the matter. Settle into the groove and stay a while.

    The Mommyheads Finest Specimens (Dromedary)
    A generous helping of Mommyheads, an almost-famous band who dropped out back in 1997. The band regrouped after the death of its first drummer and put out an album in 2008. Most of this set, though, comes from the band's glory days (as such), with a few live tracks thrown in for fun. A fine way to celebrate a band that always deserved better than what it got.

    Montagna & the Mouth to Mouth Ultrapolyamorous 7" (self-released)
    Two nifty (and short) bits from this New Jersey outfit. The title track is a trippy, fuzzy blowout, and the flip is a bit of fuzzy, jaunty pop. I like the shimmer, and I like the way the band shifts gears in these two songs. Definitely worth taking note.
    www: http://www.onceagreatsurgeon.org

    Oceansize Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up (Superball)
    Sludgy stoner rock that has a surprisingly poppy core. After all the pyrotechnics are exhausted, what's left are catchy songs, albeit sung in the key of mud. An unholy mess, but eminently listenable. I have no idea what these guys are trying to do (my description is woefully inadequate, not to mention inaccurate), but it is compelling.

    Jason Robinson Cerebus Reigning (Accretions)
    Robinson throws out some stellar tenor sax lines, and augments them with soprano sax, alto flute and various electronics. No improvisations here; this is utterly composed and assembled. Aggressively engaging, but certainly on the odd side of music. I like the way Robinson builds his pieces. He may be a bit heavy-handed, but he makes sure the stories get told correctly.

    Sad Brad Smith Love Is Not What You Need (self-released)
    Not the former MU QB (and current jack-of-all-trades for the Jets), but a guy from Chicago who likes to write songs that are impossibly cheerfully morose. The sound is minimalist. Imagine early Magnetic Fields, but more chipper than dour. Brad may be sad, but his music is anything but.
    www: http://www.sadbradsmith

    The Saddest Landscape You Will Not Survive (Cover Your Heart)
    Blistering post-punk that could strip the BPA out of every can in existence. The most interesting parts, however, are when TSL takes the sound down a notch and really shows off its chops. The title is wrong. You may survive, but all the enamel will be removed from your teeth. Excellent.

    Second Story Man Screaming Secrets (Noise Pollution)
    Just the sort of off-kilter punk rock that made Louisville famous oh-so-long ago. Second Story Man is more tuneful than its predecessors, but the eclectic (and generally bone-breaking) approach to these songs does ring a bell. A fine set from a band that just might have something exceptional going on.

    The Sextons The Sextons (Princess)
    Eight songs chock full of lilting lines and dreamy vocals. This album sounds like it is hiding just around the corner. There's hardly a straight-up moment here, and I think that lends this set a lot of its charm. Most intriguing.

    Solar Temple Suicides Sentinels of the Heliosphere (Sleepy)
    Lurching and lumbering its way through thick chords and electronic atmospherics, Solar Temple Suicides manages (eventually) to get to the point. Sort of. I think the music is intended to meditative, though it is a bit loud for that at times. That's cool. I tend to let go better when my head is being staved in.

    Sunshower Orphans From the Fire Escapes EP (self-released)
    A fine jumbled set of songs. All of them are pleasantly punchy and vaguely trippy, but past that the band tends to roam freely. Once you get used to the dull roar in the background, it gets easier to hear everything else that's going on. A nice little treat.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/sunshowerorphans

    Tripping Hazard Wron: Suicide Goat (Trinket Trance)
    I've been listening to a lot of Hammerbox lately (ah, the nostalgia!), and Tripping Hazard sounds a lot like them. Also a lot like Morsel (a fairly obscure Ann Arbor band from the 90s). A bit restrained, perhaps, but the songs are built much the same way. This Toronto outfit favors burbling bass lines and throaty alto female vocals, all dropped over some fine rock and roll. Gotta dig it.

    Zook van Snook (Falling From) The Nutty Tree (Mush)
    The usual fine eclectic electronic work one would expect from the Mush crew. This English band (if that's the right word) throws together playful songs utilizing just about every color in the electronic palette. Much more conceptual than dancey, the beats here slink and plink and point toward something on the horizon. Fine food for the brain.

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