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 #328 reviews
The Backyard Committee
The Backyard Committee
The Backyard Committee starts out sounding like any other solid, jangly americana outfit. And then it takes off. "We Can't Stay," the second track, is a bounding pop song that allows its roots to show. The next track, "Once in a Blue," takes the bluesy side of americana and drops in a decidedly modernist feel.
The most interesting thing about these songs is that they're almost devoid of hooks. Rather, the Backyard Committee seems driven by the groove, the riffage that makes summer songs so much fun to blast on the car stereo.
Maybe the grooves are the hooks, but I've always felt they represented different sides of the song. And while I've always felt that it is the hook that truly makes a song distinctive, these boys are rapidly making me change my mind.
If you want to hear what I'm talking about, jet on over to the Bandcamp site, where this album is available for free. And while I was always taught that if you don't put a price on something then it isn't worth anything, this album proves that theory wrong as well. Thrilling.
Nothing to Lose But Change
The rhymes are utterly intoxicating, a vicious brew of political analysis and raw outrage. And then there's the music, which is among the most varied and exciting as I've heard on a hip-hop album in some time.
Zazan collaborated with a large crew of MCs and producers, but the results here are fully integrated into a singular sound. The fertility of the music and the lyrics is breathtaking. There's simply no letup, either intellectually or viscerally.
In other words, you can feel this, think about it or (if you're crazy like me) do both a once. It's a rush to feel all the senses excited at once, and few artists manage the trick. Zazen seems to do so effortlessly.
A full-bore stunner. Track after track of blistering rhythms, rhymes and ideas. If nothing else, capitulate and let it wash over you.
LKN/Knife the Symphony
LKN sounds like a direct descendent of the whole Slint/June of 44/Shipping News axis. The songs are shorter but just as complex. The band (which is, in fact, one Lauren K Newman) crams so many ideas in three-to-four minutes it's scary.
Knife the Symphony is a bit more contemplative. Only a bit. And while its three pieces are quite distinct from LKN, the truth of the matter is that none of the three songs sounds a lot like any of the others. The best is a seven-minute Kepone-like thrasher called "Flat Time." There's also a fun sludgy cover of fIREHOSE's "On Your Knees."
Two fine bands. Two quite different acts. Except, of course, that both would have been completely at home on Touch and Go Records fifteen years ago. No wonder I liked this so much.
mala in se
mala in se
Wonderful, shouty stuff that packs just enough melody to be utterly catchy. Kinda like Knife the Symphony. Oh, wait, Andy Perkins plays guitar (etc.) for both.
I don't know if that's the entire point of similarity, but Perkins's driving riffage (to repeat from the last review, pleasantly reminiscent of Kepone) keeps these songs from descending completely into the sludge.
And boy, things do get heavy from time to time. Nonetheless, the tempo generally stays brisk. Don't know if the boys get bored easily, but these songs move along with aplomb.
Also like KTS, this band does sound like it is a bit of a time warp. One that I wholeheartedly endorse, but then, I'm a certified geezer. In any case, this rocks. Hard. Very hard.
So you like indie rock. Really, really, like it? Do you remember what you were doing when you heard that D. Boon was dead? Were you even alive?
I'm pretty sure the members of Memory Map were alive, if barely. This album touches on many of the great ideas and sounds of indie rock, often reaching back to the early 80s. Everything from noise, math, no wave and what I like to call "midwestern noodly" are immediately evident. The quavering unison vocals are instantly annoying and addictive. The rock-solid song construction allows the band to follow almost every tangent under the sun. No matter where these folks go, they end up at home.
Oh, and there are plenty of references to the likes of the Shins and Flaming Lips and Pinback. Or, at least, references to the influences of those bands. Memory Map is far too stylish to come close to ripping anyone off. In fact, the band's sound is one of the most distinctive I've heard in some time.
Oh, and the songs do have that certain something. A knowing innocence. A deceitful truthfulness. A--you get the idea. Inherently contradictive and completely intuitive. The more I peel away, the more exciting things I find.
(Holidays for Quince)
Pitch-perfect americana. Heather McEntire and Jenks Miller (who have been spinning with and around each other in the Chapel Hill/Durham scene for quite a while) simply do no wrong.
The songs are utterly gorgeous. Full, rolling bass lines. Not-quite slinky lead guitar. Punchy percussion. And McEntire's mezzo-soprano (not quite alto). Wow. Sometimes things click. And sometimes bombs go off.
Mount Moriah is one of those bombs. A few seconds of the first track really ought to do the trick. And if that doesn't work, there are seven more songs that ought to stop your heart.
I needed the defibrillator more than once. I know, central NC americana is an old flame of mine, but still. I dare you to find a more satisfying album that has been released this year. I just don't think it can be done. Electrifying.
Figure 8 EP
Sometimes a release is so commercial and so good that I simply cannot resist. Outasight is nominally an MC from NYC, but this EP trends straight into processed pop territory. And boy, does he do it well.
Ultracatchy and produced within an inch of its life, this EP packs more hooks into five songs than I've heard in quite a while. The man's rhymes (and rhymin') is mediocre, but the presentation here is impeccable.
Oh, we're heavy into the Velveeta, to be sure. Still, if I heard this pumping from the souped-up Focus idling next to my '92 Civic, I'd give the driver a knowing nod. Even if that driver might come back with, "Geezer, what?" Indeed.
In the Morning
Remember the 80s, back when pop bands played real instruments and flavored their sounds with keyboards? This Chicago quartet does, and it has cranked out ten gems that take me back to high school.
More than that, though, Paper Arrows incorporate a few more recent tends into their mix. There are nods to americana, that whole 90s "modern rock" thing and a few of the better singer-songwriters of the past 20 years.
Indeed, while the use of piano and organ put something of a date stamp on the overall sound, Paper Arrows exist in a timeless zone. One where good music is appreciated without labels.
Oh, hell, why get sanctimonious. This album is anything but. Chock full of joy, reminiscence and muscular contemplation, there's plenty here to love. In the end, the songs are the stars. And they sure are.