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.

If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.

A&A #324 reviews
February 2011
  • Admiral Byrd Goodbye Cruel Worldview (Princess)
  • Also Music Belongs in the Background (self-released)
  • Marisa Anderson The Golden Hour (self-released)
  • Drawn from Bees Cautionary Tales for the Lionhearted EP (Bonefinger)
  • John Eye Cannonicus 3.14 (H1 Massive)
  • Ethan Gold Songs from a Toxic Apartment (self-released)
  • The Last Royals The Last Royals EP (Ooh La La Recordings)
  • Lousy Robot Hail, the Conquering Fool (Hit Records International)
  • Lubec Nothing Is Enough EP (The Acme Thunderer)
  • Alva Nelson Soul Eyes (self-released)
  • So Adult Rookie cassette/digital EP (self-released)
  • Patrick Sweany That Old Southern Drag (Nine Mile)
  • Teen Fortress Learning (Everything Has To End For Some Reason I Don't Believe It) (self-released)
  • The Way We Were in 1989 The Way We Were in 1989 (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Admiral Byrd
    Goodbye Cruel Worldview

    Running a variety of pop sounds through a Loveless filter, Admiral Byrd fuzzes out quite nicely.

    Unlike MBV and many of its imitators, however, a lot of these sounds are electronic even before the processing. This Danish foursome has found a sound that works, and more importantly, it keeps refining that sound as the album goes along.

    The songs may have the sounds of pop, but they're constructed in a much more free-flowing rock manner. Verse-chorus rules the day, but plenty of these pieces have extended intros, bridges or codas. Also, each song contains more than one sonic idea, and the band seems to like to jam up contradictory thoughts as often as possible.

    And why not? The result is a otherworldly hash of distortion, electronics and complex vocals. It's hard to hear where this came from, but the better question would be "Where is this going?" I'll be listening for the answer.

    Music Belongs in the Background

    Sometimes, an album is simply good. Also doesn't do anything showy. Its songs aren't immediately arresting. There aren't a lot of hooks, and the songs trend toward the midtempo. Yet, after listening, I kept saying, "That's pretty damned good."

    A column in the Washington Post recently asked, "When is indie rock going to quit being boring?" This is, in fact, a question I've asked myself for a few years now. Interpol? Animal Collective? If they're the best of the "mainstream" indie crowd, indie rock is a tame bunch, indeed.

    Also may be muted in its sounds, but its ideas loom large. Lyrics are important--but not self-important. The songs come together effortlessly, without any obvious efforts at strain. The songs are uncomplicated. And generally great.

    There is a vague anthemic strain to some of these songs, but not in that jack-your-fist kinda way. More of a stirring climax than a punctuated boom. Also takes its time. If you give this album an hour, it will repay you tenfold.

    www: http://www.alsomusic.com

    Marisa Anderson
    The Golden Hour

    Marisa Anderson calls this album "12 improvisations for guitar and lap steel." Which is true, I suppose. It sounds like she recorded a guitar track, and then added lap steel--though that might be reversed on a couple of songs.

    The recording methods are far from perfect. There's a bit of hum and other lo-fi disturbances. These only serve to dress up the sound that much more. Like the Ava Mendoza album I reviewed last year, the rawness only intensifies the beauty of the music.

    Many folks misunderstand the term "improvisation." The basic idea is not to simply go free-form crazy, though that is one possible path. One of the longest-recorded formal improvisational methods is variations on a theme. Bach and Beethoven (and almost every other composer the world has known) used this often. Anderson's pieces generally fall into this category, which makes them sound more composed than improvised.

    The quality of the music, not the manner of composition, is what matters. And Anderson has crafted a fine album full of introspection and beauty. This album has the general feel of those desultory moments following a movie gunfight. The right thing might have been done, but it was bad goodness. Anderson finds humanity in some gloriously dark places.

    www: http://marisaandersonmusic.com/

    Drawn from Bees
    Cautionary Tales for the Lionhearted EP

    Ephochal, yet seemingly spartan production laid over gripping, yet understated, anthems. If those dichotomies make sense to you, then Drawn from Bees are your band.

    The vocals are lush with plenty of layered harmonies. The construction of the songs is simple, and each builds up to an almost unimaginable climax. And though I knew what would be happening each time, I was always surprised.

    So if the early 80s Cure met up with the late 90s Flaming Lips...yeah, something like that. Five songs are hardly enough. This habit will be hard to break.

    www: http://www.bonefingerrecords.com

    John Eye
    Cannonicus 3.14
    (H1 Massive)

    I suppose this could be something of a remix album, as many of the titles reference "Cannonicus." It could also be taken as a grand extension of the whole variations on a theme idea. I dunno. Either way, the music is utterly inspiring.

    Seemingly drawing from almost the entirety of the electronic canon, Eye has created a set of exceedingly accessible and danceable tracks. There's plenty of aggression as well. So if you happen to be like me and prefer a little contact on the dance floor, we're covered.

    Not many folks can experiment as much as Eye does and keep their sound right in the sweet spot. These songs travel far afield and do some crazy things, and yet they always end up utterly satisfying.

    If nothing else, this trip through electronic, noise and industrial sounds is a most entertaining history lesson. The whole is even more compelling than each extraordinary part, which is one reason I'm so impressed. Thrilling.

    www: http://www.h1massive.com

    Ethan Gold
    Songs from a Toxic Apartment

    You know those songs that start small and slow, building into something astounding? Ethan Gold does, and he plays the game exceedingly well. The title of the album comes from where the songs were recorded--asbestos, mold and the like surrounded him as he put this together. I don't know if that atmosphere flavored the songs here, but it certainly made for a colorful title.

    And the title does describe the mood of these songs, something of a "waiting for the next personal apocalypse" feeling. Not so much downbeat as defiant in the face of imminent failure, a sort of pop-inflected blues.

    Gold uses all of the current laptop tools to create the music, but with the exception of the beats he has created an organic feel for his sound. Piano (or keyboard, or whatever) is the driving force, but the punchy electronic beats keep these pieces from getting depressing.

    Rather, the overall effect is cathartic. Life is bad, and sometimes you can't avoid the shit that seems to be eternally falling from the sky. But if you can survive the worst, then maybe you can start building again. And somewhere in there is the kernel of an idea as to why we persevere.

    www: http://www.ethangold.com

    The Last Royals
    The Last Royals EP
    (Ooh La La Recordings)

    Deliberately clunky electronic pop. With "real" drums. Each song is almost exquisitely calculated, but all that craft creates an unusually compelling atmosphere. Sure, it's artificial, but beauty is beauty.

    The Last Royals largely stick to pop form on these five songs, but they borrow plenty of rock and americana elements. All spun into an almost-cotton candy architecture. Gossamer and sweet, not to mention sticky. And when it's gone, you've gotta have more.

    I'd like to hear the full monty. Five songs is barely enough for a taste. Eric James and Mason Ingram have a way, and I'd like to hear more. Much more.

    www: http://www.oohlalarecordings.com

    Lousy Robot
    Hail, the Conquering Fool
    (Hit Records International)

    One of the good things about living off the musical map (say, in Albuquerque), is that you get a new perspective on popular sounds. The Brits revolutionized rock and roll 50 years ago because they didn't have the Jim Crow baggage. Lousy Robot digs into the current trends of mopey indie rock and finds real gems.

    Occasionally punchy, but more often downbeat, these songs always home in on the beauty within the ordinary. The skill with which these folks pull extraordinary melodies out of mundane surroundings is astonishing.

    The sound is bright, which helps to emphasize the "Eureka!" moments within each song. Even with the mopiest intro, there's always hope that the song will blossom. And, indeed, they all do.

    Sneaky good. This is one of those albums that sounds pretty good on the first listen, damned good on the second and monstrously brilliant on the fifth. Just hit repeat.

    www: http://www.hitrecordsinternational.com

    Nothing is Enough EP
    (The Acme Thunderer)

    Fuzz-bombed new wavey stuff--imagine the Reid Brothers producing I'm the Man--that is simply too bombastic and gorgeous to stick in the closet.

    Pop anthems are a tricky thing, though Lubec does seem to have found the magic formula: Just add distortion to the soaring choruses. I know, it's not that simple. But these folks make it sound easy. And I like that a lot.

    Not a single clunker in the six songs here. I sure hope the band can keep this up for an entire album. That would be almost too much to bear.

    www: www.theacmethunderer.com

    Alva Nelson
    Soul Eyes

    Nelson is a pianist and leader of an old-school jazz trio. Well, piano, bass and percussion. The players switch out. Which only makes sense, as these tracks were recorded between 1993 and 2003.

    Nelson's touch on the keys is warm and inviting. Even when his playing gets manic, there's a roundness to his sound. Melody is his coin, and he plays it well.

    He takes on a few standards ("'Round Midnight" closes out the album), but most of these songs are his own. He slips into a little boogie woogie and locked hands style now and again (most impressively on "Sanctified Blues"), but the easiest reference would be Vince Guaraldi. You know, the guy who scored the Peanuts TV specials. Guaraldi was a serious jazz pianist who played with plenty of heavy hitters. No shame in any comparison, at least in my book

    This is fairly accessible, but hardly "happy jazz." Nelson isn't exceptionally adventurous, but he's willing to push himself more often than not. A most satisfying album.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/alvanelson

    So Adult
    Rookie cassette/digital EP

    Straight outta Minneapolis, circa 1984 or so. Perhaps a bit more 'Mats than Soul Asylum, with the occasional Husker Du buzzsaw creeping in now and again. Never mind that these boys are from Bellingham. Doesn't matter. Their souls are in Minnesota.

    These rough-hewn anthems are loud, crunchy and ever-so-glorious. Nothing complicated, of course. Complications would completely destroy everything. Simplicity is bliss. Orgasmic, really.

    Four songs (with three short interludes) makes this EP a bit skimpy, but the goods are solid. Don't forget to play loud. Very loud.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/soadultnow

    Patrick Sweany
    That Old Southern Drag
    (Nine Mile)

    Rolling down the road, Patrick Sweany keeps it steady as she goes. After some earlier success, he hitched up and headed to Nashville in hopes of fame and fortune.

    Fame and fortune may be fickle, but good music is good music. Sweany specializes in bluesy renditions of old-school rock and roll. A bit more rough-hewn and raucous than yer average americana sound, though certainly in that ballpark.

    Nashville did do right by Sweany in one way: This album is pitch perfect. The production brings out the sweetest and saddest notes in each of these songs without getting in the way. Like too much makeup on a beautiful girl, too much meddling can leave a great song staggering under the weight of the sound. Not here. The songs are unfettered and free, with just the right emphasis in the right spots.

    Folks might prefer to hearken back to folks like the Band, but Patrick Sweany is here today playing down another lost highway. And he's got a few new tricks to share. Very nice.

    Nine Mile Records
    www: http://www.ninemilerecords.com

    Teen Fortress
    Learning (Everything Has To End For Some Reason I Don't Believe It)

    Ten songs, twenty minutes. Very punk.

    Well, in theory, anyway. It is true that these songs were recorded primitively. At least, they sound primitive. This album is a solo effort from Zach Doney, singer for Bang Bang Eche, a New Zealand band. And at closer listen, it's obvious that the "primitive" sounds are a result of some serious production work.

    I like that. Maybe he pinned the levels in the mastering, or maybe the distortion came in a little earlier. I dunno. These songs take well to the mess. Kitchy, but cool.

    Doney has described this album as the songs he needed to write so that he could write the songs for the new BBE album. Sometimes catharsis can be even more productive than what comes later.

    www: http://teenfortress.bandcamp.com

    The Way We Were in 1989
    The Way We Were in 1989

    The inspiration for the band's name is a mystery to me, as Kelly Dale and Joyell Dunay play the sort of music that might be best appreciated in a Parisian coffeehouse for American ex-pats. I remember 1989, and it didn't sound anything like this. And that's certainly one reason to recommend this album.

    The pieces amble along amiably, often (though not always) coalescing into something approaching traditional songs. Much of what comes along, however, is stream-of-consciousness, observational fare. Existential, from both a musical and lyrical standpoint.

    Not really complicated, though. And hardly grandiose. TWWWI1989 isn't out to change the world. It just wants your tips in the jar. At least, that's how it sounds to me.

    The sort of twisty, understated album that probably would drive most folks mad. Find some patience, however, and you ought to find something wonderful.

    www: http://thewaywewerein1989.bandcamp.com/album/the-way-we-were-in-1989

    Also recommended:

    Kasey Anderson and the Honkies Heart of a Dog (Red River)
    Anderson has taken on many different postures during his travails through the nastier alleyways of americana. On this one, he channels the love child of Steve Earle and Volume Dealer-era Neil Young. Loud, earthy and crude--and that's just the music. Another remarkable album from someone who already has a few to his credit.

    Annabel Here We Are Tomorrow 7" (Tiny Engines)
    The vinyl has four tracks. If you go digital, you get bonus. The sound is modern indie rock...not too fast and not too crazy. Still, there are plenty of ideas bouncing around in this fairly conventional package. I'd prefer to hear a bit more commitment (much less energy), but there's plenty here to like.

    Andre Afram Asmar Harmonic Emergency (Mush)
    A wild mishmash of big beats, dub, general electronic stylings and middle eastern melodic tendencies. Asmar prefers to keep his sound as messy as possible, and this boiling mix is pretty potent. Far to much to savor with just one dose.

    Boy King Islands Fall (Plustapes)
    The latest project from Zachary Mastoon, who is better-known in these parts as Caural. Boy King Islands is a band, with Mastoon at the center, rather than a multi-layered solo effort. Oh, and the sound is definitely a bit more conventional, taking the shoegaze trip and bending it into a few new positions. I think I prefer Caural, but the more I listen to this, the more cool things I hear. Time will tell.

    Clover Seeds The Opening (The Laser's Edge)
    Burbling metal with a heavy dose of prog. Clover Seeds has a fine sense of unaffected melody, and that melds well with the power and grace that flows through these songs. Perhaps a bit too crafted for some tastes, but I like the way this one made me ponder.

    Empresarios Sabor Tropical (Fort Knox)
    A group of D.C.-area musicians combine their interests into a sound that is at once fully American and also part of the world. Some of the songs bloom into full-blown Latin explosions, while others more subtly subvert their dub or trance underpinnings. That these disparate songs hang together at all is quite impressive. That these disparate songs are uniformly good is near astounding. Just give them a little room...

    The Fervor Arise, Great Warrior (Karate Body)
    Each one of these songs has some good ideas. Most of the songs go on too long. The Fervor is quite solid musically, but it often tries to play too long with too little material. More songs, shorter lengths. Might be great, even.

    Guitaro JJ's Crystal Palace (Help Computer Records)
    An electronic trio that combines the spaciness of Air with the tehcnical precision (and aggression) of old-school Kraut rock. The sound tends to move from one end of the spectrum to another, but these songs are universally gorgeous. Electronic anthems for the rest of us.

    The Heligoats/Sam Humans Let Loose/Live Free split 10" (Greyday)
    Back to the old school, as the CD and digital versions of this release add one more track from each band. And what of those bands? Sam Humans (Sam Schauer) leads off with eccentric, affected minimalist sermons. The Heligoats crank out more traditional indie rock musings. The two bands don't really fit together, but the overall effect of this disc is quite startling.

    Hex Map Cryptidography (Claw Solutions)
    Loud, experimental...stuff. Mostly in the electronic realm, but with enough organic material imported into the matrix to allow for some fine fermentation. Oh, and when the occasional hook kicks in? Them's good eatin', boys!

    Hafdis Huld Synchronized Swimmers (OK! Good)
    A cutesy (and cute) Icelandic songstress. More rootsy than chilly, Huld never really stray far from the pop realm. A bit too precious for my general taste, but a fine palate cleanser.

    The Jezebels Dark Storm EP (self-released)
    Five songs in the key of ringing ethereality. Not quite eccentric enough to be spooky, the Jezebels simply pound through these songs with enough obliqueness to miss a barn. In all, it's an interesting idea. Not sure how well all that works, but my ears are pricked.
    www: http://www.thejezebels.com

    Chad Kichula Killer (self-released)
    Remember those 70s westerns, where the good guys wore black hats and everybody died at the end? Chad Kichula mixes moderately traditional americana ideas with all sorts of sounds, from blister pop to cheese country (and a lot of what lies in-between). I can't make heads or tails of the overall project, but there are so many interesting bits and pieces that I had to make a mention.
    www: http://www.chadkichula.com

    La Resistance La Resistance (Superphonic Records)
    Greg Summerlin put together a band and decided that he ought to go riding with the Factory boys. Ending up solidly in the midst of New Order, Buzzcocks and such, these perky songs are irresistible, even if my teeth rotted and fell out after just one taste.

    No More Dolls Another Way of Living (self-released)
    Bright, often jaunty songs about the many ways that mean people suck. Sometimes the songs are from the point of view of the mean people. Sometimes the songs turn into anthems. I kept trying to find reasons not to like this, and in the end I failed.
    www: http://www.nomoredolls.com

    Open Mike Eagle Art Rap After Party EP (Mush)
    I'm guessing these tracks were left off Unapologetic Art Rap for one reason or another, but they're a bit more fun and accessible than most of those tracks. Five sweet spots from one of the more inventive MCs around.

    Poor But Sexy Let's Move In Together (self-released)
    Is this what happens when we get old? Members of Dismemberment Plan put together this album of mid-tempo faux-soul, faux-mood music, faux-disco, faux-faux foo-foo in the days before their recent "reunification" triumphs. I could be wrong, but everything about this album screams "curiosity." For hardcore fans only, and I have a feeling it won't work too well for them, either. Maybe if we take this as a joke? Maybe.

    Rejuvenation Trio Rejuvenation Voyage (Edgetone)
    Experimental jazz trio brings along violinist Jenna Barvistski and proceeds to get jiggy. The Trio gets high marks for keeping the energy levels high. Indeed, even as the ideas flash past faster than the average American Idolette's career, there's a sense that more will (and must) be coming right around the corner. A breathless breath of fresh air.

    Roommate Guilty Rainbow (Antephonic)
    Laptop to the extreme, as the band's name might indicate. Almost orchestral in its use of unusual instrumentation and sounds, Roommate layers its way toward a twisted vision of pop perfection. At times, these songs actually achieve levitation.

    Seditius Carne da Macello (Tornado Ride)
    Stoner hardcore, or is it hard core stoner rock? Sounds a lot like the Refused playing Sabbath. Just as uncompromising, too. A brutal listen, but experience comes with the bruises.

    Shalini Magnetic North EP (Paisley Pop)
    Shalini Chatterjee has put together a few albums with her band, but it's the name of her husband (Mitch Easter) that is up front here. That's not fair, as Shalini puts together peppy, occasionally raucous power pop as well as anyone these days. Chatterjee has a firm and confident hand as a writers, and the sound here (mixed by Easter, natch) is pitch-perfect. A fine tonic for the winter doldrums.

    Stik Figa From the Top EP (Mello Music Group)
    Straight Outta Topeka, produced by Oddisee...Stik Figa has a lot going on. The "complete" EP contains 20 tracks (5 "dirty," 5 "clean," 5 instrumentals and 5 remixes), which is more than enough to showcase Oddisee's talent with the boards and Stik Figa's skill on the mic. Less braggadocious than most young rappers, Stik Figa has charisma to burn. Quite a fine set.

    Sun Splitter Sun Splitter (Land of Decay)
    Sounds a lot like My Dying Bride without the violin. So, you know, Swans on a Godflesh kick or something. The production here left the vocals back a bit in the mix, which makes these lengthy songs (there are only four) seem that much more sinister. Music for ritual sacrifice.

    Sweetkiss Momma Revival Rock (self-released)
    Mountain meets Grand Funk in a duel to the death. What, you were expecting a dissertation on the unrest in the middle east? This album is heavy (heavy, man!) in the middle and pretty damned sweet in the hooks. If you want subtlety, try AC/DC. Just turn it up, baby.
    www: http://www.skmband.com

    The Tall Ships On Tariffs and Discovery (self-released)
    The demise of post-rock continues to be exaggerated. The Tall Ships let loose set after set of modestly-interacting lines with vaguely associated vocals. That it works at all is pretty cool. Most often, though, the churgles and gasps coalesce into something very fine. Best climb up into the crow's nest for the best view.
    www: http://www.thetallships.com

    Various Artists Electric Carpets (Record Label Records)
    The second half of RLRs compilation series (the first was Drinking the Goat's Blood). The concept is the same. Lots of artists (17 on CD, 20 on download) meandering around what it might (or might not) mean to play dance music. Most of this is largely electronic, but that definition varies a lot more than you might think. Most engrossing.

    Watts On the Dial (self-released)
    Another fine outing for these Boston boys who only know how to rock. Not too hard, and not too soft. Just right in the sweet spot. Of course, the anachronistic album title already told you that. Well, if there were any justice (and any rock and roll radio), these boys would be on the dial. They're on my dial, anyway.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/wattsrock

  • return to A&A home page