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 #327 reviews
May 2011
  • Ancestors Invisible White (Tee Pee)
  • Anti-Social Music Is the Future of Everything (Peacock Recordings)
  • Botanical Bullets We Bleed Fluorescent EP (self-released)
  • Arron Dean MLPS (self-released)
  • Ryan Driver Who's Breathing (Fire Records)
  • Earthmonkey Alms of Morpheus (Beta-Iactam Ring)
  • Falcon Disappear (Future Media Research Lab)
  • Fluorescent Grey Antique Electronic Synthesizer Greats 1955-1984 (Record Label Records)
  • Howe Gelb and a Band of Gypsies Alegria (Fire Records)
  • Identity Theft Night Workers (self-released)
  • Should Like a Fire Without Sound (Words on Music)
  • Sleepy Vikings They Will Find You Here (New Granada)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Ancestors
    Invisible White
    (Tee Pee)

    From deep the heart of folk space, Ancestors create some of the least epic prog anthems of all time. And trust me, that's one hell of a complement.

    There are three songs on this album, which clocks in at 29 minutes total (so maybe we're talking EP here; you make the call). The technical skill is impressive, but I like the way these songs start from just about absolute zero and then slowly build to a quiet climax. Yes, there's power here, but it is understated and often merely understood. I mean, you know Ancestors could rip a hole in your ears, but that doesn't happen.

    Rather, this album is a subtle delight. I like overbearing prog as much as the next non-fanatic (I know that's a seriously qualified statement, but the stuff does have its place), but Ancestors show some welcome restraint and craft seriously moving songs.

    I'm not sure how all this plays out live, but it makes for one hell of an album. Turn down the lights and walk through the door. A world of wonder awaits.

    Contact:
    Tee Pee
    365 Bowery
    Second Floor
    New York, NY 10012
    www: http://www.teepeerecords.com


    Anti-Social Music
    Is the Future of Everything
    (Peacock Recordings)

    An ever-changing collective whose sole mission is to keep new music alive, Anti-Social Music has been making some of the most vital albums of the last decade. This album features three suites and some assorted (and occasionally vaguely-related) songs.

    When I saw new music, I mean new music. This isn't rock. It isn't even avant garde (though one of the suites has the fabulous title "Grunt Work for the Avant Garde"). No, this stuff is completely new. The works borrow from almost every tradition imaginable, and each one charts new territory. Simply put, you've never heard stuff like this.

    There are those who are put off by such effrontery. I understand, but I cannot sympathize. Anti-Social Music doesn't play this stuff because it's weird. This music is on this album because of its essential power. I'm not much for labels, and neither are these folks. That might be why I like them so much. Or, just maybe, ASM is the future of everything.

    Nah, that's just a joke. Just close enough to the truth to make me think about it. This generous helping of 20 tracks (three suites and six separate songs) is more than a mealful. It'll take me months to piece it all together, and even then I'll be finding new ideas to explore. Yes, you will have to think. But you'll have a lot of fun while you do so.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.peacock-recordings.com


    Botanical Bullets
    We Bleed Fluorescent EP
    (self-released)

    If you recall such electro-pop groups as Emperor Penguin or the sample-heavy Corporal Blossom, you might get your groove on with Botanical Bullets. Yes, yes, I know I could reference LCD Soundsystem, but this New Jersey trio plays things much more on the edge.

    For starters, the melodies often hide behind or even within the electronic riffage. Everything revolves around the soft electro beats--and then things get silly.

    That's really the kicker for me. Botanical Bullets insists on having fun, even if that fun gets just a wee bit dorky. That's cool by me. It's always best to be yourself, no matter who that is. Botanical Bullets have that lesson down solid.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.botanicalbullets.com/


    Arron Dean
    MLPS
    (self-released)

    Deliberate and desperately earnest, Arron Dean warps the whole folk-pop-americana sound into something seriously eccentric. Perhaps its his jazz background, or maybe it's just the result of moving from South Africa to New York and then wandering through this fine nation of ours.

    The most arresting thing Dean does with his songs is to multi-track his vocals. But most often, we're not talking harmonizing. Rather, when the tracking really stacks up, the effect is one of modest dissonance. It sounds really cool.

    The songs are well-written and performed with precision. I'd like to hear a slightly looser hand on the music, but that would really go against the entire feel that Dean has going. I'll have to live with his need to craft to the nth detail.

    And the crafting isn't annoying, even if it sometimes renders the odd song almost surreal. With so much effort put into the making and producing of this album, almost anything could have gone wrong. Very little did. And that's most impressive.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.arrondean.com


    Ryan Driver
    Who's Breathing
    (Fire Records)

    A Toronto native who plays in almost more bands than is imaginable, Ryan Driver's "solo" efforts are almost pedestrian compared to his other pursuits.

    But listen closer. Driver couples Paul Simon's talk-sing delivery with stellar guitar work and world beat riffage. Most often, the effect is to leave these songs understated and sparse. That's a very good place for them to be.

    Driver's writing needs little embellishment. I'm sure a producer might be tempted to dress up these small gems, but that would be a grave error. This album sounds like it is in Driver's own voice, which happens far too little.

    Take the time, and this one will win you over. Let its peace soak into you, and let its optimism heal your soul.

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


    Earthmonkey
    Alms of Morpheus 2xCD
    (Beta-Iactam Ring)

    There are some things I don't ask questions about. Like, say, why a person with a perfectly weird stage name like Peat Bog would decide that he needed another weird stage name like Earthmonkey. The answer to that (not exactly) unasked question probably explains the music on this album.

    Earthmonkey delves into just about every possible electronic sound around, with the general attempt to make it all as funky as possible. There are echoes of Joe's Garage in the guitar work and a general feeling of disconnectedness in the arrangements.

    Two full CDs worth of this tripped-out stuff. Despite the excess, I never found myself bored. Annoyed? Once or twice, but that always happens when people push boundaries. After all, if you know how an experiment will work out, then it's not an experiment, is it?

    Long, engaging and utterly mind-warping. I need to dig up my blacklight and velvet posters. I know they're hiding somewhere in my attic.

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


    Falcon
    Disappear
    (Future Media Research Lab)

    Heavily-processed indie pop. That is, lots of keyboards and electronic beats in addition to the usual paeans to maudlin bliss.

    Falcon sounds like it is simply tossing off these downbeat little gems, but the behind-the-scenes craft isn't entirely invisible. Truthfully, there's so much laid over the basic band sound that it's not that hard to hear how the production tightened and expanded the original concept.

    A good job, in any case. These songs rumble by at a mid-tempo clip (or occasionally slower), and leave me feeling lighter despite their general downward cast.

    That is the wondrous thing about indie pop. When it works, the more bummed out the songs are, the more uplifting the music. Achingly beautiful.

    Contact:
    Future Media Research Lab
    www: http://www.fmrl.com


    Fluorescent Grey
    Antique Electronic Synthesizer Greats 1955-1984
    (Record Label Records)

    Robbie Martin, who sometimes records as Fluorescent Grey, has a history of parody and provocation. So is this album a series of rerecordings of old electronic pieces, or is it just the product of his own twisted mind?

    Mostly the latter. Martin took bits and pieces of old electronic works and melded them together into his own compositions. The results are utterly stunning.

    As in, "What planet is this from, and why won't my butt stop moving?" Yes, there's a heavy experimental element to all of this, but the pieces are often catchy as hell.

    There are 27 tracks, but only 15 loops. How did he do it? Listen a few dozen times and you'll begin to get the idea. But once you've deconstructed this stuff, you'll simply love it even more in the altogether. Fantastic.

    Contact:
    Record Label Records
    38771 Bell St. #37
    Fremont, CA 94536
    www: http://www.recordlabelrecords.org


    Howe Gelb and a Band of Gypsies
    Alegrias
    (Fire Records)

    Striking out again into slightly new territory, Howe Gelb slips his Giant Sand persona and whips out a few songs with a band of flamenco-playing gypsies.

    That band includes Raimundo Amador, flamenco guitarist extraordinaire. Indeed, Amador's playing overshadows Gelb's somewhat understated songs. But I think that's the point.

    Gelb isn't afraid to let someone steal a fair chunk of his thunder, and that generous spirit makes these songs that much more engaging. There is a bit of a disconnect between the music and Gelb's lyrics (and vocals). But the conversation between those two poles is most intriguing.

    A fine side road. Gelb has been around long enough to let some other folks star in his show. Let's hope he keeps wandering for some time.

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


    Identity Theft
    Night Workers
    (self-released)

    An extravagantly generous set of electronic tunes. Identity Theft includes 22 songs on this album, and there's very little here that's not up to snuff.

    Indeed, the immediate sense is that so much is great. The songs fall all over the landscape, from bubble melodic pieces to much more moody, soundscapey kinda stuff.

    And that range does make it a bit difficult for the album to hold together as a unit. I will confess that I cannot find much in the way of unifying features.

    But I prefer to hear this as a sort of travelogue through the many moods of electronic music. A jaunt here, a rumination there--and the occasional rage as well. Most impressive, both in terms of quantity and quality.

    Contact:
    www: http://identitytheft.bandcamp.com


    Should
    Like a Fire Without Sound
    (Words on Music)

    Should made delicately-beautiful electro-pop ages ago. Well, the last full-length album came out in 1998. Ah, but it's so nice to live in the future. Should brings just enough laptop accouterments to soften the edges, and just enough "real" band sound to pretty up the sounds.

    Oh, and some dreamily beautiful songs. The second track, "Turned Tables," is one such song. Taking a bit of the bass line and melodoy from "(A Whisper to a) Scream," throwing in just enough New Order-esque beatwork (in the background) and then adding in some gorgeous vocals, Should has created one of the most stunning songs I've heard in ages. Simply wonderful.

    The sound takes its cues from the 80s, but this is modern all the way. All of these songs point forward rather than look backward. In other words, the mood isn't "Wasn't it great?" but rather "Isn't this great?" A subtle difference, I suppose, but one that makes Should pretty damned awesome.

    Lovely to imagine these fine songs meandering out of Baltimore. Hey, folks, lets have another album sometime before 2024, okay?

    Contact:
    Words on Music
    501 4th St. SE
    Minneapolis, MN 55414
    www: http://www.words-on-music.com


    Sleepy Vikings
    They Will Find You Here
    (New Granada)

    Insistently quiet songs that simply force their way into the room. There's no good reason such seemingly innocuous music should prick up the ears, but boy does it.

    These songs simply trip by with their mid-tempo beats and their dialed-down sound, and yet they're utterly compelling. There's nothing spectacular going on, except that's exactly what it feels like while listening.

    Such a conundrum. And I'm afraid I can't quite solve the mystery, though a fair chunk of the arresting sound comes from having a guy and a gal sing most of these songs in unison. That's always a winner.

    But there's more to it than that. Sleepy Vikings structure these songs for maximum impact, and while there aren't any stirring climaxes to speak of, there's plenty of emotional intensity. And that's where Sleepy Vikings truly shine.

    Contact:
    New Granada
    P.O. Box 260276
    Tampa, FL 33673-0276
    www: http://www.newgranada.com


    Also recommended:

    Ace Reporter Arcadia EP (self-released)
    The final EP collecting the best of Ace Reporter's 365-day song cycle. As with previous efforts, the six tracks here range far and wide, with only their quality truly linking them together. What this project really signifies is the presence of a stellar songwriter in our midst.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.myacereporter.com

    The Bell Great Heat (Badman)
    A Swedish trio that favors those particular electronic pop sensibilities that came of age in the 80s. Kinda disco, kinda new wave and occasionally a wee bit kludgy. I kept waiting for that breakthrough moment. It never came, but I enjoyed myself nonetheless.

    The Blue Eyed Shark Experiment The Fluffer (Sidewalk 7)
    Perky, closely-observed pop songs. BES is a London boy (or so it seems), but these songs are much more reminiscent of American indie pop singer-songwriter fare. I'm thinking that there's just a tad too much Lou Reed in the vocals, but that doesn't bother me too much. I just need to keep peeling the layers.

    Brontosaurus Cold Comes to Claim (self-released)
    The songs are like dot-to-dots; you hear every suture, and yet the sound at the end is still quite pretty. I'd like to hear a bit more emotion, but I must say that the various lines and swells that crop up here are well worth contemplation.

    Bunky Moon Schtuff We Like (Lonote)
    Three guys from North Carolina give their favorite 70s songs the instrumental business. Bunky Moon plays all over the prog landscape--the four originals on this album are have little to do with each other, except for their technical brilliance. The bass-guitar-percussion trio works well here. I'd be curious to hear more of their own stuff.

    Drums & Ammo Drums & Ammo Vol. 1 (Sweetbread Creative Collective)
    You know how the tracks on some instrumental hip-hop albums seem to drag on and on? Drums & Ammo is with you. The longest track on this expansive set of 30 runs a mere 2:30. Honestly, I kinda wish these bits and pieces were more fleshed out, but the salt-and-pepper approach rewards those in the attention-deficit camp. Something for everyone, to be sure.

    El Obo Oxford Basement Collection (Esperanza Plantation)
    Jesse Coppenbarger of Colour Revolt (recently reviewed on this site) kicks out a solo effort that strips everything down to the essentials. Perhaps even a bit too minimalist for me. I'd like to hear these songs move through fuller arcs.

    Ethienne The New World (Deep Elm)
    One of the branches of the emo tree has run to extremely anthemic sounds. Ethienne fits solidly in that group, and this album is filled with drama. Much of it manufactured, I suppose, but still intriguing.

    Fan Modine Gratitude for the Shipper (Daniel 13 Press)
    Glittery, understated pop music. These songs don't entirely set sail, and I think that's by design. Fan Modine almost constantly pulls its hooks, and I kinda came to like that. Pop that doesn't quite. An interesting concept.

    Miwa Gemini Fantastic Lies of Grizzly Rose (Rock Park)
    The sounds are from the past, but the song construction is decidedly modern. Gemini's two-part approach to her music is intriguing. I like the way these songs wrap themselves together into something truly unique.

    Hay Perro Eastern Ideas of Death (self-released)
    Lovely noise. If Iron Maiden were a hardcore band, it would sound a lot like this. Maybe the appeal is to geezers like me who still love the Maiden and don't mind hyper-aggressive riffage as well. I can live with that. Just don't touch the volume dial.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.hayperro.com

    Holiday Band Memory Map (Joyful Noise)
    If the Meat Puppets went math mental, they might've sounded like this. The lines on this album are amazing. The singing is, um, not. I kinda like the dichotomy, though. The shiny up against the rough-hewn and all. A fine collection.

    The Hungry Kids of Hungary Mega Mountain EP (Stop Start)
    Very Shins-y--and good that way. Just the four songs here, though a full-length is due any time. Ought to be much more than worth the while.

    Jackie O Motherfucker Earth Sound System (Fire Records)
    As the name of the band might indicate, these folks are all over the place, and they play with a most deliberate nature. Descriptions are pointless; JOM simply warps reality to its own standard. Something else, truly.

    Jookabox The Eyes of the Fly (Asthmatic Kitty)
    The latest and last effort of this Indiana band is as adventurous and eclectic as anything they put out before. I didn't quite flip out over this, but there are some truly fine moments of mayhem. No way to get bored here.

    Lights at Sea Palace Walls (Barrett Records)
    Lovely aural pictures. These songs take place in an epic landscape, and it's hard not to get swept into the rolls and swells. Most invigorating.

    The Morning Code Tell Someone EP (self-released)
    A trio that plays, you know, alternative. Alternative rock, alternative pop, alternative alternative. You've heard these ideas before, but the Morning Code does a pretty good job of recycling without actually stealing. What needs to happen next is for these ideas to be reconstituted into something truly enthralling. Maybe next time.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.themorningcode.com

    Lee "Scratch" Perry Rise Again (M.O.D. Technologies)
    Bill Laswell's name is on the cover of this album, and that's most appropriate. He produced this album and he's thrown just about everything he knows about reggae and dub into the mix, flowing Perry's trippy vocals over the top. The result is easily Perry's best album in decades--certainly his best-sounding album, ever. It's not exactly reggae, but it's utterly invigorating.

    Bill Popp & the Tapes 25x30 (121st St Records)
    Music is a way of life for many folks, and Bill Popp is one of them. He's been making albums for 30 years, and he's collected much of the best here. Popp came of age in the 70s, and that's apparent in the sound of these songs. What's more interesting is to hear how the music progressed as the years rolled by. Fine work.

    Radiation City The Hands that Make You (Apes Tapes)
    Self-consciously cool indie pop. The references flow from the 50s to the present, and for the most part Radiation City does something interesting with them. "The Color or Industry," in particular, is a fascinatingly perverse jaunt into the Wall of Sound. The album doesn't actually hold together, but a number of the pieces are quite arresting.

    Ravishers Ravishers (self-released)
    Okay. So Ravishers aren't as suave as they might act, and they certainly aren't as deep as some of their lyrics might suggest. No worries. There is plenty enough behind the curtain to sustain interest. If the band's ambition overtakes its current ability, I can live with that. The future might well be damned bright.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.ravisherstheband.com

    Run With the Hunted Run With the Hunted (Panic)
    Loverly extreme hardcore that brings to mind some of the more interesting bands of the mid-90s. RWTH is a bit more metal than hardcore in its guitar sound, but the song construction is straight-up blister. The adrenaline flowing through this album is exhilarating. Tap in too close and your blood might boil. And you would enjoy it.

    Simon Says No! Simon Says No! (Brilliance)
    The name is brilliant. The music is energetic and engaging, with all that fine distortion all the kids seem to like these days. I've heard a lot of stuff like this lately, but these folks do this sound quite well.

    Stripmall Architecture Feathersongs for Factory Girls Part Two EP (self-released)
    I was underwhelmed by the first part of this album, but part two is absolutely invigorating. I'll cop to preferring intensity to languidity (I might have just made up a word; sorry), and this set of songs is much more engaging. Perhaps it's the stronger reliance on electronic beats and fuller production. The songs themselves are as impossible to grasp as ever--though I must say I like that. On the whole, then, the entire Feathersongs effort is much more impressive with these additions.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.stripmallarchitecture.com

    Talons Hollow Realm (Big Scary Monsters)
    Two guitars, two violins, bass and drums. No singing. Scared yet? You oughta be. Talons is about as vicious as they come, and these songs have a screech and roar that much be heard to be believed. Even more impressive is what happens when the folks dial everything back a notch.

    The Woodlands Heavy Hands remix EP (self-released)
    While I thought the Woodlands album had its moments, this electronic rendition of five of those folky songs is utterly intoxicating. I'm not sure the Woodlands wants to hear this, but this is definitely the direction they ought to head in the future.
    Contact:
    www: http://thewoodlands.bandcamp.com

    Various Artists Genesis Bending (Record Label Records)
    A large collection of electronic/ambient sounds from the We Are Music Makers Forum. The sounds come from manipulating memory states from Genesis games, or some such. I don't even know what that means, but I do like the loopy melodies that emerge from the process. Don't overthink. Just enjoy.

    Various Artists The Very Best of Treasure Co. 1 (Record Label Records)
    A collection of "songs" from games created by Treasure Co. Ltd., a small Japanese game development company founded by former employees of Konami. If you didn't already comprehend the association between games and modern electronic music, this collection will do the trick.


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