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.

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A&A #326 reviews
April 2011
  • Kip Boardman The Long Weight (Ridisculous)
  • Gazpacho Missa Atropos (KScope)
  • Glorie Glorie (Makeshift)
  • Golden Glow Tender Is the Night (Mush)
  • The Hit Back Who Are These Old Weird Kids (self-released)
  • Imaginary Cities Temporary Resident (Hidden Pony)
  • Kronomorphic Micro Temporal Infundibula (pfMENTUM)
  • Marissa Levy 63 Songs About Joe EP (Crayonbox)
  • Chris Marshall August Light (In Music We Trust)
  • Francois Peglau The Imminent Failure of Francois Peglau (A Tutipien)
  • Run, Forever The Devil, and Death, and Me (Solidarity)
  • Sloan The Double Cross (Yep Roc)
  • Street Chant Street Chant (Arch Hill)
  • Tin Horn Prayer Get Busy Dying (Suburban Home)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Kip Boardman
    The Long Weight
    (Ridisculous)

    It's been a while since I've heard an album that owes so much to There Goes Rhymin' Simon. I guess the 70s are back in force. Or maybe Kip Boardman is just settling into a particularly fertile groove.

    The specific sound of that electric piano is what colors this for me. Boardman has an easygoing-yet-crafty approach to his lyrics that does hold a couple echoes of Simon's style, but it's the slyly mellow music that really pricks up my ears.

    And, yes, the songs are put together quite well. Boardman has a way of ruminating right to the heart of a problem. And he isn't content to stick with any one groove or beat. Within the general confines of the electric piano, this album rambles a bit.

    As it should. If, like me, you hold an affection for "Take Me to the Mardi Gras" and other tres-mellow Simon hits, Boardman ought to make you happy. And if you listen long enough, you'll start to hear where he blazes his own trail. Keep moving along, young man, and see where the music leads.


    Gazpacho
    Missa Atropos
    (KScope)

    Prog pop rock that illuminates some seriously grand themes. The sweep is impressive, but what I like best is the way that Gazpacho manages to keep these epochal tunes largely intimate.

    Unlike, say, post-Dark Side Pink Floyd, which simply took off for the rings of Uranus and never looked back. Gazpacho brings in many influences from around the world, but everything serves the whole of the album. If it didn't fit, it got thrown out.

    Which is to say that this album just doesn't get wiggy. It gets slightly weird from time to time, but such is the nature of this sound. To further my point, I like the way even the tangents relate back to the whole.

    Exceptionally crafted and emotionally whole. Quite a complete package. A fine album for an evening's pondering.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.kscopemusic.com


    Glorie
    Glorie
    (Makeshift)

    The best instrumental music makes the listener forget that most songs have vocals. Glorie makes the listener forget the point of vocals.

    Some of these songs do have traditional melodies laid over rhythm sections, but most are organic collections of sounds and ideas. The pieces are well-crafted, but they have constructions all their own.

    This may not make sense in a review, but think about some of the symphonies of the 20th century. There's lots of dissonance and rhythm, and eventually an idea is formed. Sometimes the idea is implied (and that can be especially tough to handle), but usually it is stated. Eventually, as I said.

    Glorie states its ideas clearly, but the context can be complicated. These pieces are melodic, even if they don't all have unifying melodies. The pieces surge and wane and until some sort of stasis is reached. And then the idea is left written in the sand. Hypnotic.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.makeshiftmusic.com/


    Golden Glow
    Tender Is the Night
    (Mush)

    A few folks from Manchester who decided to reprise just about everything good that the north of England had produced over the last 35 years or so. Plenty of nods to Joy Division and New Order and the Smiths and Pulp and more.

    On the whole, this trends toward kicky beats and ultra laid-back vocals. Kinda like the whole New Order ideal taken to an extreme. Oh, and there's some fine guitar work on the margins.

    The songs sound like they were recorded in a bathtub or something; the reverb is something fierce. That lo-fi touch gives these songs their own feel. Golden Glow borrow plenty, but it pays back its influences in full.

    A fine set. I'd like to hear where these ideas go next. That will help determine how long this Glow will last.

    Contact:
    Mush Records
    1742 Laurel Canyon Blvd.
    Los Angeles, CA 90036
    www: http://www.mushrecords.com


    The Hit Back
    Who Are These Weird Old Kids
    (self-released)

    Imagine an americana outfit playing new wave--complete with drum machine and the like. The Hit Back isn't quite that rootsy, but the feel is very much there.

    More poppy than americana. Think Marshall Crenshaw singing over mostly electronic backing tracks. That's a better combination than you might think, too. It's at once endearing and edgy.

    The beats aren't entirely coherent, so perhaps I ought to add a bit of experimentalism to the mix. The Hit Back isn't the most straightforward band around, but its sound is strikingly consistent. After two or three songs, I figure I could name anything this duo might do in three beats or less.

    Adventurous and fun. Kind of like a party that made you a bit uneasy at first, but by the end of the night you were making out on the couch. You decide how far you are willing to go.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.thehitback.com


    Imaginary Cities
    Temporary Resident
    (Hidden Pony)

    This Canadian duo makes some of the most instantly insistent music I've heard in ages. Marti Sarbit sounds like the perfect distillation of Grace Slick and Neil Young, and Rusty Matyas always seems to have the perfect music for the occasion.

    Imagine: Uptempo, moody, rootsy rock and roll. Kinda like a modern-day Captain and Tenille, except that these songs are fully-formed. Matyas may be the only player, but this sounds like a full band. And boy, does it know how to rock!

    Maybe a better reference is C&T meets the New Pornographers, with a side trip to some of the grander arena sounds of the 70s. If you can imagine a sound that fully embraces all of these ideals and still sounds great, you might be starting to understand what's going on here.

    I'm hearing it (and, mostly, describing it), and still I can't believe it. This is one of those amazing albums that seems to have come from nowhere. I know, Matyas and Sarbit put in unimaginable work, but the effortless ease of the greatness here is breathtaking. My heart is racing.

    Contact:
    Hidden Pony Records
    4446 St. Laurent
    Suite 801
    Montreal, QUE H2W 1Z5
    Canada www: http://www.hiddenpony.ca


    Kronomorphic
    Micro Temporal Infundibula
    (pfMENTUM)

    Let's see. David Borgo on sax(es), Nathan Hubbard on mallets, Paul Pellegrin on drums and three equally accomplished friends throwing in on bass, guitar and harp. Goodness me, this ought to be good.

    Yep. The friends, in order, are Danny Weller, Paul "Junior" Garrison and Bill Barrett. And it's Barrett's harp blowing that really drives this otherwordly fusion of blues and jazz.

    The lines get very blurry, indeed, and I like it that way. Barrett is generally restrained in his playing, but he can wring out emotion when he needs it. His interplay with Borgo is simply stunning.

    Weller and Pellegrin hold up the rhythms section with aplomb, and Garrison and Hubbard spin spells of their own. This sextet could have been an unwieldy mess, but the players mesh amazingly. Easy to get into, and impossible to leave.

    Contact:
    pfMENTUM
    P.O. Box 1653
    Ventura, CA 93002
    www: http://www.pfmentum.com


    Marissa Levy
    63 Songs About Joe EP
    (Crayonbox)

    Peppy songs full of pop hooks and just the right touch of venom. Levy veers from all over the rock landscape, but her voice is always on top of the mix in standard singer-songwriter style.

    These songs are well-crafted and even tend toward the slick, but I like Levy's delivery. She's direct and confident without being brassy. Her voice is high alto, and she had a good range--both singing and writing.

    I haven't heard either of her earlier albums, but this short set is pleasantly enticing. Fine stuff.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.marissalevy.com


    Chris Marshall
    August Light
    (In Music We Trust)

    Most east-coast americana artists pay some sort of homage to bluegrass or Appalachian music. That's just how it is. The folks out west have a different perspective. No banjos and more muscle. Steel guitar, though, is de rigeur anywhere you hang your hat.

    Chris Marshall has that west coast sound. His songs ring out with power--both in terms of amplification and chord structure. This is "big" americana, the sound of the open range. A few songs have intimate moments, but even those feel as if they're being broadcast to millions.

    That's fine. I like the wide open feel of this album, and I like the way Marshall arranges his songs. The pieces are grand in scope, and they might as well sound that way. No reason to shorten up on the stick when you've got a swing like this.

    Yes, baseball season has arrived. But an album like this is made to be appreciated all through the year. I hope no one ever tames Marshall's spirit.

    Contact:
    In Music We Trust
    15213 SE Bevington Ave.
    Portland, OR 97267-3355
    www: http://www.inmusicwetrust.com


    Francois Peglau
    The Imminent Failure of Francois Peglau
    (A Tutipien)

    A guy named Francois who hails from Peru and now lives in London. Well, that explains just about everything.

    Oh,and his voice can be a dead ringer for John Lennon's. The oft-disjointed nature of the songs is a bit reminiscent of the Plastic Ono Band, though the sounds are quite up-to-date.

    I'll say this: If you can write a song as witty and brutal as "I'll Never be Alain Delon," you can sound like whatever you like. Peglau's true talent lies in the tunes (writing and arranging) rather than the vocals, but the strange Liverpudlian aftertones aren't offputting.

    An intriguing set. I have no idea if Peglau can keep up the excellence of this first effort, but I can't wait to hear if he does.

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


    Run, Forever
    The Devil, and Death, and Me
    (Solidarity)

    Desperately epic punk songs that bring to mind a much-sloppier My Chemical Romance. That lack of attention to detail seems a bit affected, but it rounds off the edges of these heartstopping anthems quite nicely.

    Indeed, the over-the-top drama of the pieces makes this more than punk. Not unlike Bad Religion, which gave up on a straightforward punk attack about two decades ago, Run, Forever picks and chooses when it comes to punk sounds. There's also a fair bit of folk and straight-up rock thrown into the mix.

    I like that. There's no reason to sound like everyone else, and it's safe to say that few bands are as adept and ambitious as this one. I mentioned the sloppiness. It mostly shows up in the vocals, which are often intentionally off-key. The playing can be sharp, though it gets muddy when the mood calls for confusion.

    And these songs are a testament to the confusing times in which we live, so plenty of riffs skip a beat now and again. Perhaps this one troweled on a bit too much makeup, but it's gorgeous in a garish, almost frightening way. Arresting.

    Contact:
    Solidarity Recordings
    2509 Tolworth Dr.
    San Jose, CA 95128
    www: http://www.solidarityrecordings.com


    Sloan
    The Double Cross
    (Yep Roc)

    Four guys from Canada. Four guys who all write songs. None of them are named Sloan. So far, this makes complete sense.

    And it explains how the band can veer from Cheap Trick riffola to Look Sharp-era slick Joe Jackson to something that resembles what some folks like to call Canadian pop. Of course, if you mix all this together…

    Yeah, I know. In any case, all of the songs here are utterly irresistible. Sloan is one tight outfit, and these songs blaze by all too quickly. While it is easy to pick out which songs were written by each member, the interplay between the members helps to create something of a cohesive sound.

    Though, to tell the truth, one of the most appealing things about Sloan is the set of songwriters it boasts. You'll never get bored listening to a Sloan album, even if this one boasts only 13 tracks (the previous one had 30!). Way too catchy to put down after just one listen.

    Contact:
    Yep Roc
    449-A Trollingwood Rd.
    Haw River, NC 27258
    www: http://www.yeproc.com


    Street Chant
    Street Chant
    (Arch Hill)

    No matter how modern a New Zealand band might be, it still sounds like a New Zealand band.

    Howzat? Well, Street Chant sounds a lot like Pinback (which is definitely not from New Zealand) with a more traditional sense of melody. And then there are the harmonies. The harmonies are what gives the New Zealand in the band away.

    Well, that and the particular ringing guitar sound that folks my age immediately identify with the likes of the Chills and Straightjacket Fits. The Chills made the sound famous, and the Fits did a few nice things with it a few years later. Street Chant picks up the tempo and the aggression (I guess this might well be considered Kiwi punk), but that ringing lead guitar sound still dominates.

    And that's just fine by me. These songs are wonderfully assertive, immediately ratcheting up the energy in the room. Street Chant never lets off the pedal, but rather imposes melody and order on its internal combustion. It's unusual for that to work, but then, this band's from New Zealand. 'Nuff Sed.

    Contact:
    Arch Hill Recordings
    www: http://www.archhill.co.nz


    Tin Horn Prayer
    Get Busy Dying
    (Suburban Home)

    Denver punk survivors get together to record a raucous americana-type album. In keeping with my earlier observation about the geographical differences in americana, Tin Horn Prayer plays it loud. And without even a hint of bluegrass.

    There are some occasional nods to Irish reels and plenty of foot-stompin' riffs, though. Just what I'd expect. The bonus here is that Tin Horn Prayer keeps its game face on for the entire album.

    The sound is full and lush, with a muddy-enough mix to let the instruments blend together nicely. That makes this album sound like some sort of a happening. Indeed, this is probably one of the loudest and most intense americana albums I've heard. More likely, this is just something else entirely. Something very good, in any case.

    Contact:
    Suburban Home
    P.O. Box 40757
    Denver, CO 80204
    www: http://www.suburbanhomerecords.com


    Also recommended:

    Josh Allen and the Whiskey Brothers Giant (Muddy)
    Bouncy boogies in the key of americana blues. Allen and the Brothers can be sweet or neck-throttling--I like that sort of range. A most engaging set.

    Almost Free In/Out EP (self-released)
    New wave-inspired laptop pop played (largely) on "real" instruments. I like the combination of sounds and the dreamy song construction. Makes me think I'd like to hear a full-length.
    Contact:
    www: www.almostfreemusic.net

    The Caribbean Discontinued Perfume (Hometapes)
    I've always been of two minds about the Caribbean. Is this modestly dull experimentalism or tongue-in-cheek proggy MOR? In the past I've gone with the former, but this album definitely has some bite. The style is geeky lounge lizard, but the songs are a scream. My favorite Caribbean album, by far.

    Casper & the Cookies Ice Mattress (self-released)
    Some odds and ends from one of the more inventive bands around. If you're not familiar with Casper Fandango and friends, just jet over to the web site and download this set for free. Tell 'em I sent you.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.casperfandango.com

    The Cast Before the Break Still (self-released)
    Some boys from Albany who make seriously dramatic songs. Perhaps a bit overly dramatic, but I'm always happy to hear people push boundaries. Sometimes the anthems soar, and sometimes they simply float. A little more forward momentum would go a long ways, but I hear some potential here.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/thecastbeforethebreak

    The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library Volume One (self-released)
    I'm not entirely sure how to describe what went into the recording of this album, but the results are absolutely stunning. Epstein has an ear for the goofily absurd (sample lines: "I just called to save the universe," "Leave some room for the Holy Ghost"), and his music is well-crafted and playful. Reminds me of a much lighter Floating Opera. I'm liking this a lot, perhaps a lot better than a short review. Hmm...
    Contact:
    www: http://www.michaeljepstein.com

    For Against Black Soap EP (Words on Music)
    Three songs from this trio. For Against seems to be getting more focused and strikingly better every time I hear it. These new wave-inspired songs trip along perkily, and then bare their fangs. Wowsers.

    Gentle Will and the Settlers Minus the Settlers EP (self-released)
    Four songs with basic titles ("1," "2," "3," "4"). Gentle Will and the Settlers may be one person (thus the title of the EP) or not. My meager Internet research hasn't turned up definitives. What I can say is that these four songs are impressive intimate journeys into the mind of...whoever wrote them. Hey, if a little mystery brings forth fine fare such as this I'm all for it.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/gentlewillandthesettlers

    Ghost Heart The Tunnel (Friction)
    If you ever wondered what Loveless might've sounded like without the solid pop songs underneath, here's a thought. Ghost Heart plays loud, often distortion-laden pieces aren't necessarily coherent. Sometimes pretty, often a little scary. I don't know exactly where these folks are headed, but it's a most interesting journey.

    Bill Gould and Jared Blum Talking Book (Kool Arrow)
    Yes, that Bill Gould. The label ought to give it away. In any case, Gould does a lot more work on sonic construction than bass playing with this project, which seems to be an attempt to create a novel-like experience for the listener. I'm not sure it quite comes together, but there are many astounding audio bits on this CD. Patience rewards the brave.

    Gray Young Staysail (307 Knox)
    An N.C. threesome that kicks out the instrumental love with the best of them. The pieces are more introspective than aggressive, and they sometimes spin in unexpected directions. A fine jaunt.

    Ted Russell Kamp Get Back to the Land (Dualtone)
    Kamp combines a 60s country-pop sensibility (very Byrds-y) with hard-driving rockabilly and more than a bit of standard Nashville country. Not exactly americana--or anything else, for that matter. Kamp is a solid songwriter, and the production on this album is great. There may not be a category for this album, but it's good enough for me.

    A Lull Confetti (Mush)
    Exceedingly-produced fare that threatens to collapse under the weight of the samples involved. But it doesn't. A Lull has a relatively light touch with this technology-heavy sound, and that keeps these songs from sinking into the silicon. Crafty and jaunty.

    Man the Change Weather the Storm EP (self-released)
    Crunchy, full-throttle punk rawk. Not particularly distinguished, but definitely blistering. Bite the bullet and let the energy flow.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.manthechange.com

    Midway Fair The Distance of the Moon at Daybreak (self-released)
    Reminds me a lot of Fairport Convention, what with the formal playing and the kinda wordy titles. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Midway Fair also tries its hand at looser styles, with somewhat mixed results. The playing and craft are exquisite. A little more work on the material and Midway Fair might really take off.
    Contact:
    www: http://midwayfair.wordpress.com

    Mixtapes A Short Collection of Short Songs (Death to False Hope)
    Not exactly punk, and not exactly anything else. The songs are short, though. Reminds me more than a bit of Heavy Vegetable, though Mixtapes is loads messier. Totally endearing.

    Moddi Floriography (Propeller)
    Pal Moddi Knutsen is a young man with an interesting sense of composition. Of course, he hails from Iceland. Of course, this stuff is more than a bit out there. Surprisingly, the few nods to convention really tie the album together. Something for the avant art song set.

    The Morning Birds The Quickening (self-released)
    Scads of songs from this duo. If you edit it down, you'd have a really fine album. It's not so much that there's a lot of filler. I'm just not sure all of these songs are finished. I can dig the style, but I think there are ideas here that might work themselves into better form with more work. But hey, if you really dig the 22 songs here, there's also a disc of b-sides. Spotty, but occasionally brilliant.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/themorningbirdsmusic

    The Perfect Vessels Name Our Own Stars (Makeshift)
    Catchy pop with just enough groove to take the edge off. The songs have a nice kick, and often enough they made me smile. I like the way the melodies pop and crackle.

    Pilesar Radio Friendly (Public Eyesore)
    A collection of pieces that Jason Mullinax has put together over the last twelve years or so. While certainly on the unusual side of things, this is one of the more conventional Public Eyesore releases I've heard. Mullinax goes at his songs with both fists, and sometimes they survive. Striking.

    Roommate Guilty Rainbow (Antephonic)
    If you haven't had yer fill of symphonic indie rock, here comes Roommate. These songs are chock full of lines and ideas, with a heavy dose of electronic disturbances. Just when this album begins to creep toward normality, chaos ensues once more. Nicely done.

    Shipbuilding Co. Radios and Flying Birds (Greyday)
    The solo project of Michael Partington, who is better known as part of Head of Femur. These songs are much in the same vein of eccentric, well-crafted pop songs. Not quite as wide-ranging, but then, Partington is calling the shots here. A fine jaunt out the side door.

    Storms Lay You Sea Coat Aside (Plancha/Art Union)
    Guillermo Scott Herren convinced two very good friends (Lori Scacco and Eva Puyuelo) to indulge their inner art folkiness and get a bit wiggy. Yes, this idea goes way too far. Yes, these songs are a bit overwrought. But in the end, all that excess simply charms me all the more.

    Sugarplum Fairies The Images We Get (Starfish)
    Ah, dreamy mope pop. The Sugarplum Fairies move more than most bands who much around in this stuff, and the hooks are quite nice. Good enough to make me forget that I generally don't like this sort of thing.

    Water Tower Bucket Boys Sole Kitchen (self-released)
    Completely annihilating my assertion about geographic biases in americana, these Portland (Ore.) boys play some fine post-bluegrass. A little mannered for my taste (can't you let go a bit more, boys?), but certainly solid. And I won't hold their destruction of my misguided theory against them.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/watertowerbucketboys

    The Wilderness of Manitoba When You Left the Fire (tinyOGRE)
    These folks shroud themselves in some gothic folk, but what they really like to do is wax pop. Gorgeous harmonies, but not much in the way of kicks. Kinda like the High Llamas meet Wilco. Most of the time, that's a good thing.


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