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 #325 reviews
March 2011
  • All Tiny Creatures Harbors (Hometapes)
  • Bardo Pond Bardo Pond (Fire)
  • The Big Eyes Family Players Family Favourites (Karate Body)
  • Dennis Coffey Dennis Coffey (Strut)
  • Dangerous Ponies Dangerous Ponies (Punk Rock Payroll)
  • David Wax Museum Everything Is Saved (self-released)
  • Duke Garwood Dreamboatsafari (Fire)
  • The Jigsaw Seen Bananas Foster (Vibro-Phonic)
  • Robinson England's Bleeding (Palawan)
  • The Second Academy Bohemian Grove (Tsurumi)
  • Spottiswoode & His Enemies Wild Goosechase Expedition (Old Soul)
  • David Vertesi Cardiography (File Under: Music)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    All Tiny Creatures
    Harbors
    (Hometapes)

    The first All Tiny Creatures album with vocals, but fear not: The vocals are treated much more like instruments than purveyors of lyrics. And that's just fine with me.

    The songs themselves are crafted out of loops and whorls, ideas that go forth and then turn in upon themselves. Tie enough of those together and things start to happen. Patience is required, but the songs are gorgeous from the start.

    Taking equal measure from 60s pop, 70s prog, 80s indie rock and a dash of more modern sensibilities, ATC has crafted an engaging sound that generally leaves the songs with more than the sum of their parts. Sometimes craft can lead to ecstasy.

    Fun? Sometimes. But the overall effect of this album is one of wonder. The possibilities of sound increased when this album came into the world. A real stunner.

    Contact:
    Hometapes
    P.O. Box 3843
    Portland, OR 97208
    www: http://www.home-tapes.com


    Bardo Pond
    Bardo Pond
    (Fire)

    Just what is Bardo Pond? Hell, the band has been around longer than A&A, and that's sayin' something. So what is Bardo Pond? One of the finest purveyors of eccentric heavy noise to ever hit the planet.

    This isn't grunge, and it isn't sludge. It's a few steps down the evolutionary ladder from mid-80s Sonic Youth, but certainly more sophisticated than Mudhoney. I will say this: If you don't recognize those references, this album just might strip away all your skin.

    Remarkably nimble for a band that isn't afraid of using a sonic sledgehammer, this Bardo Pond album (the first one I've reviewed in 16 years), does sound a bit more introspective than earlier works. A bit. There are some unconscionably gorgeous segments. There are some very weird moments. And then there are the requisite "end of civilization" brain-splitters.

    I kinda like a band that can roam around the edges of reality and then drive its point home with a bludgeon. I've loved Bardo Pond for ages (even when its previous labels didn't send me the latest album), and this album continues that trend. Geezer rock, I suppose. Or, at least, freaky geezer rock. And damned good stuff, too.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.firerecords.com


    The Big Eyes Family Players
    Family Favourites
    (Karate Body)

    First there was Big Eyes, which was mostly James Green. Then some people more people joined. And then, when it became clear that there would never be a stable band line-up, the Big Eyes Family Players were born. This compilation set pulls together songs from this British band's albums and gives them a proper American airing.

    What would be really nice is a full airing of all the Big Eyes (etc.) albums. At the moment, they are available electronically through various British labels. But a proper U.S. outlet would be nice. I'm just sayin'.

    Few bands provide such a clear deconstruction of the folk form. Dirty Three, in its better moments, could do that. And there are songs here that do remind me of such travails. More often, though, Big Eyes rearranges folk traditions into its own particular groove. Pretty, yet unsettling.

    I like both, especially when they come at the same time. Whatever the name and whatever the origin, Big Eyes has put together some stunning music during the last ten years. This album barely begins to do justice, but I'll take it. Absolutely amazing.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.karatebodyrecords.com/


    Dennis Coffey
    Dennis Coffey
    (Strut)

    Dennis Coffey is legend. A member of the Funk Brothers, the backing band featured in the movie Standing in the Shadows of Motown, Coffey has played almost everything with more bands and artists than you can imagine.

    This album rips through chunks of that history, presenting new versions of Funkadelic, Parliament, Wilson Pickett and 100 Proof Aged in Soul songs. He doesn't sing, but he recruits great vocalists you may or may not know. The results are impressive.

    Even better, though, are his original instrumentals. Coffey's range and skill are both impressive. This album sounds like an old-school soul album--back when soul meant R&B, rock and more all wrapped up in a bow. Folks don't make records like this anymore, and that's a damned shame.

    Yeah, it's something of a nostalgia trip. But I much prefer the songs (and singers) on this album than I did with Standing in the Shadows, which seemed stilted to me. There's nothing stiff or restrained about this album. Just good music played with style and energy.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.strut-records.com


    Dangerous Ponies
    Dangerous Ponies
    (Punk Rock Payroll)

    Raucous, messy and often scintillating indie pop. Dangerous Ponies fail to adhere to any particular song construction style, but the almost omnipresent walking bass keeps everyone in line.

    Jaunty is another fine word for many of these songs. It's difficult to avoid smiling when this album trips across the ears. The general disorder of the proceedings tends to charm rather than annoy.

    And the sound? All over the place. Sometimes sharp, and sometimes much more muted. Dangerous Ponies connect almost none of the dots and seem to be eternally reaching for more material. Somehow, that all works.

    I suspect the astounding energy levels of the band has a lot to do with that. This stuff is crazy crazy, but mostly crazy good.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.punkrockpayroll.com


    David Wax Museum
    Everything Is Saved
    (self-released)

    David Wax is half this duo, but Suz Slezak more than holds up her half of the partnership. Together, they make some of the most joyous, unselfconscious americana I've heard in ages.

    The folk is real folk from Mexico and the U.S., not some ersatz coffee house sorta stuff. These songs were written to be played. Played with an almost unimaginable amount of verve.

    The album sounds like it was recorded live in a hall of some sort. There's a bit of echo in the drums and vocals. I don't know exactly how this came together, but I sure like the result. It's easy to see how the band's live shows have already become the stuff of legend.

    Live, the Museum is a much fuller outfit. More raucous. More fun, even if that's hard to imagine. The first track starts somewhat conventionally, but it morphs into the bounding wonder that this album becomes. Even when introspective, it is hard to contain the wonder. Fabulous stuff.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.davidwaxmuseum.com


    Duke Garwood
    Dreamboatsafari
    (Fire)

    Guitars like Neil Young, voice like Nick Drake and production like that of Daniel Lanois. Clunky, noisy and somewhat otherworldly. I'm not sure if this is folk, blues or something entirely new.

    I am leaning a bit toward the latter. Few folks are as willing to deal volume in such intimate settings as Garwood is here. These introspective songs are pretty damned heavy, even when they have room to breathe.

    Maybe I am simply blown away by the production, but this is awesome. Garwood has an extraordinarily off-kilter take on these sounds--maybe it's the Brit in him. I dunno. But I can guarantee that you haven't heard anything quite like this.

    A full-blown stunner. I'm not familiar with Garwood's previous efforts, but this album has me scrambling for the credit card. Wow. And wow again.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.firerecords.com


    The Jigsaw Seen
    Bananas Foster
    (Vibro-Phonic)

    More than ten years ago, the Jigsaw Seen released Zenith, which garnered a best-packaging Grammy nomination. Utterly appropriate for a band that plays such crafted (though hardly mannered) pop.

    Some bands that traffic in this sort of thing seem to have never gotten over the 60s. I really like some of those bands, but the Jigsaw Seen isn't one of them. Rather, these songs use the layering, horns and strings (or horn and string sounds, at least) of that pop heyday and then create utterly modern songs.

    The sound is impressive, largely because it doesn't overshadow the ideas in the music. Really fun stuff, with plenty of asides. You know I'm a sucker for that sort of thing.

    A fun album with a big chunk of substance holding up the middle. A fine return to the world for a band that always had more going on than just about anyone else.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.vibro-phonic.com


    Robinson
    England's Bleeding
    (Palawan)

    Gentle-sounding (though hardly gentle) folk pop songs. Andy Robinson tends write in a melancholy mood, even when he tries to kick his heels. The title track is a vicious romp through his country's recent history. Not exactly uplifting.

    Even so, that song is one of the uppers on this disc. I'm generally not one for such negativity, but Robinson's acid tongue (and guitar playing) is utterly compelling.

    The sound is generally sparse, though there are a few fuller moments. I'm not sure which I prefer, as Robinson's voice is wonderfully expressive when there's nothing to cosset it.

    I get the idea that Robinson might wish to travel down the Tom Waits road. I hope he blazes his own trail. This album states his own presence a bit better than his previous efforts. Striking and then some.

    Contact:
    Kscope
    www: www.palawanproductions.com


    The Second Academy
    Bohemian Grove
    (Tsurumi)

    These Seattle hipsters incorporate most of the trends of the last ten years into a slinky, occasionally slippery sound.

    There are plenty of references to earlier times, too. "Lullabye for the Divorced" skirts the riff from "Jumpin' Jack Flash" in its intro, and more than one song deals its fair share of grungy fuzz.

    All of these are passing elements in the whole, however. The Second Academy amalgamates its influences so seamlessly that the result is a stylish modern sound.

    Well-crafted garage pop with a metropolis of accouterments. Kinda like the BritPop of the early 90s, except newer. And, just maybe, better. 'Cause this is rock and roll, baby, and you've gotta respect that.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.tsurumirecords.com


    Spottiswoode & His Enemies
    Wild Goosechase Expedition
    (Old Soul)

    The "enemies" are back, and Spottiswoode has crafted another full set of songs. Seventeen in all, grouped under four headings (as if this were some of a soundtrack for a novel or movie by the same title). That sort of preciousness often comes off as pretentious, but Jonathan Spottiswoode has always managed to avoid that problem.

    Rather, the songs are gloriously eclectic, from the resplendent first track, "Beautiful Monday," to the burbling ramble of the title track. The songs traverse a huge range, with the unifying traits being Spottiwoode's vocals--and his acerbic wit.

    But even with his offhanded delivery and cutting lyrics, Spottiswoode has always managed to come across as sincere. This astounding feat is one reason he has attracted his significant underground fan base, though it is also probably the reason his music will never leap into the mainstream.

    As usual, Spottiswoode put as much effort into the music as he did his striking lyrics, and the result is one more fabulous album. I can understand why this stuff might freak out some folks, but for me it has become mother's milk.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.spottiswoode.com


    David Vertesi
    Cardiography
    (File Under: Music)

    There's something about most Canadian singer-songwriters. They don't play by the rules. At least, Vancouver's David Vertesi doesn't. He does wield a mean acoustic guitar, but the rhythm section might be drums or laptop. The sound might be minimalist or lush. And the style? Impossible to say.

    On the whole, he sticks to the pop universe. But that leaves a lot of room for messing about. And there's plenty of mess here. Vertesi wrote all the songs and made most of the sounds. He indulged himself as fully as most. Some of these songs kinda head down dead ends.

    But Vertesi makes them work. There's an intensity that glowers through even through the upbeat pieces, though it positively shines in the more introspective songs.

    The sort of album that might scare off a few listeners at first. Gird up, my friends, and withstand the blows. There's plenty of reward on the back end. Quite a feat.

    Contact:
    File Under: Music Records
    www: http://www.fileundermusic.com


    Also recommended:

    Ace Reporter Sleepyhead EP (self-released)
    Ace Reporter wrote and recorded a song every day in 2010. This is the third of four EPs collecting the best of that output. The sound is introspective, but hardly derivative or tired. Indeed, Reporter (I can't believe this isn't a pseudonym, but you never know) tends to push around the folky singer-songwriter style a bit. Solid stuff.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myacereporter.com

    Benton Falls Ashes and Lies EP (Deep Elm)
    A bit more conventional than what I've heard from the band, but there's still a nice kick to most of these songs. The guys from Claire de Lune drop by on the final track, which is the most sharp and urgent song of the bunch. Perhaps just a lull in the proceedings. We'll see.

    Campaign Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! Beetlejuice! EP (self-released)
    Five guys from Atlanta. Perhaps the first punk band to make serious beards a fashion accessory, though what's even more intriguing is the music, which is good old school Epitaph-style pop hardcore (think Pennywise or Pegboy or something in-between). Crunchy, tasty and ever-so-filling.

    Campfire OK Strange Like We Are (self-released)
    Intricate rock anthems with rather inventive instrumentation. Okay, so maybe these guys would really like to be Radiohead or someone really cool, but I like the way these songs break down. There's a hint of humility that tells me the boys are actually quite happy to be Campfire OK. And that's a pretty good thing, too.
    Contact:
    www: http://campfireok.com

    Communipaw Big Blue (self-released)
    Pop rock anthems with a hint of something extra. Commmunipaw hews a bit too closely to the precious line, but there's some steel in the girders. The hooks are fabulous, which makes up for almost everything else.

    Conure Strings, Locations (Edgetone)
    Sonic structures that are heavy on the found sound and full of fresh ideas. Oh, and enough noise to sterilize a few million cockroaches. Strangely accessible despite all that. Let this piledrive you into a better place.

    Eastern Conference Champions Akustiks EP (self-released)
    Six more songs from this band that seems to keep getting better and better. If this and the previous EP are any indication, next month's full-length, Speak-ahh, is gonna be a monster!
    Contact:
    www: http://eccmusic.com

    Essex Chanel French with Me EP (self-released)
    If you've ever imagined lunch at a West Bank cafe, this might be the music that was running through your mind. I'm not sure that there's anything particularly French about the music itself, but damned if it doesn't sound like it ought to be. Kitschy, sure, but fun.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.essexchanel.com

    Five Eight Your God Is Dead to Me Now (Iron Horse)
    Remember when alternative meant alternative rock? Five Eight not only remembers, it's been around since those days. These tuneful songs sock it to listers with a solid left. Yeah, they've been doing it forever, but this album sounds more alive than almost anything around these days. Score one for the old school.

    Lisa Savidge Lisa Savidge (Black Cactus)
    This would be a band, not a person. And the music kinda sounds like what you might imagine a band that calls itself Lisa Savidge would sound like: Off-kilter, vaguely tuneful and modestly intriguing. The boys can build on this, their second album.

    Lohio Family Tree EP (self-released)
    Ringing, gently joyous pop. Kinda indie, kinda laptop and kinda goofy. I must admit I'd like to hear more before I make any serious judgments. Lots of pretty baubles. I just want to know how well they hold up.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.lohiomusic.com

    Melting Season Harmoni-Pet Deluxe (self-released)
    The band's website calls this Japanese classic music. That's pretty droll. But it is safe to say that Melting Season doesn't sound much like anything else. Take experimental rhythms, generally coherent vocals and unusual uses of typical instruments, and then stir. I couldn't take it all in at once, but I plan to revisit often.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/meltingseasonmusic

    Orchestre Poly-Rythmo Cotonou Club (Strut)
    A recent compilation brought this Benin band into the edges of American consciousness. And now we have the band's first album in 20 years. The band's revolutionary days may have passed, but these songs are dreadfully engaging. I dare you to take this infectious disc out of the player once it has started.

    Gwil Owen Ahab's Birthday (Rambler)
    By-the-book americana, complete with boogie. Gwil Owen doesn't travel the backroads, but he sure lays down a smooth trail. It'll take about two second for these songs to latch themselves onto your brain.

    Parlours Parlours EP (Aqui Estamos)
    Note-perfect pop that could use just a little darkening about the edges. On the other hand, summer is coming up soon. So perhaps this puppy is right on time.

    Phineas and the Lonely Leaves The Kids We Used to Be (self-released)
    Jaunty roots pop that is too rounded and too folky to fit neatly into a category. The songs are a bit too cluttered to really provide a laid back feeling, but the roots style informs the pop sensibilities quite well. A fine effort.
    Contact:
    www: http://lonelyleaves.com

    Matthew Sawyer and the Ghosts How Snakes Eat (Fire)
    Precisely the sort of complex and intriguing album I'm coming to expect from Fire Records. Sawyer attacks his roots influences with gusto, which results in songs with real bitter bite. What lies just beneath is even more impressive.

    The Sound of Growing Up Drifting EP (self-released)
    Utterly crafted emo pop, complete with decorations. Uke, horns, whatever. A little cutesy for my taste, but I can't deny the utter tunefulness of these songs. This one's for the kids.
    Contact:
    www: http://thesoundofgrowingup.com

    Starry Saints Serenade (self-released)
    Woof! Ultra-catchy electronic-tinged rock and roll that never fails to punch out the top of the anthems. I'm not really into stuff that's this glittery, I'm afraid. I do know a few folks who are, tough. This trio knows exactly what it's doing.
    Contact:
    www: http://starrysaints.com

    Stereoflowers Stereoflowers (Walking Horse)
    Stereoflowers wanders all over the map, taking on 60s psychedelia one moment, americana another and arty pop the next. I like the way this album comes together, even if I can't begin to put my finger on a trademark band sound.

    W.H. Walker Suds EP (Boogie Creek)
    It's doesn't often turn out this way, but the label name is the perfect description of the sound. Walker takes the boogie out to the woods and proceeds to blast the hell out of it. Not a terribly unusual idea, but Walker's energy pushes these songs into overdrive.

    Way Yes Walkability EP (self-released)
    On the whole, American bands that try out African musical styles tend to sound silly. Way Yes also sounds silly, but not because of some of its influences. Rather, there's just something giggle-inducing about the construction of the songs. I wish I could put my finger on it, but no luck yet. I'll let you know.
    Contact:
    www: http://wayyes.com

    Wolf Ram Heart Betrayal of Hearts (Sovereign States)
    Purty, purty stuff. A bit of that 60s psychedelia, a fair chunk of indie rock a seriously lush canvas. These folks set a fine tableau.

    Robert Ziino Playing in Hell (Experimental Artists)
    In truth, this one deserves a full review. But I've given more than one of his releases the full treatment, and I don't have much else to say. Ziino is one of the most accessible experimental electronic artists around. I also love that every song is five minutes long. That is so cool. Anyway, t his album is easily the equal of the others I love. I know the world will never come around to this stuff, but I find it grand.


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