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 #329 reviews
All the Apparatus
All the Apparatus
A decidedly large collective of Portland musicians who kinda refuse to abide by the rules of any four or five genres. These songs come at the listener from all angles. Dissociation disorder is definitely advised.
Well, maybe this isn't quite that free-wheeling, but these songs do have that engaging "just thrown together" feel. The vocals tend to be sung in gang unison, and often enough the playing is just loose enough to be not quite in key.
Much like Providence's What Cheer? Brigade, All the Apparatus has the feel of ex-drum corps membership, although these folks sing and have more of a traditional rock band core. The wildly cascading horns are exceedingly exciting, and the bounding bass lines make just about all of these songs smilefests.
Some bands just make you happy to be alive, and All the Apparatus is definitely one of those. It's pretty much impossible to hear this album without breaking into a wide grin. If you manage that feat, you ought to get into therapy--though it might be argued that this album can cure almost all ills. Rapturous glory, my friends.
Needle, Feather and a Rope
There's enough gypsy flair to give these songs that slimy carny feel, though as the album descends into madness the gospel elements begin to take over.
And so what begins as a trip into blindness becomes a tale of redemption. Of sorts. The resolution isn't half-hearted, but it's more resignation than acclamation. Life will wear on you.
All that may sound drearily deep, but the music is so searing and enthralling that the themes of good, evil, life and death are hardly overwhelming. Rather, such grandiose routes of thought seem like the perfect accompaniment.
An utterly ambitious album, and one that follows through with a massive emotional impact. This'll put you through the wringer, but in the best of ways.
The Chocolate Horse
Jason Snell is the songwriter for this collection of folks centered around Cincinnati, but this is absolutely a band effort.
In part, this is because Snell writes simple songs in that old-school indie rock style. His bandmates flesh out the sound and create something fuller and more adventurous than the bones that I hear.
Sure, there's more than a bit of the Whigs in the sound, but there are plenty of moments that sound reminiscent of a now-ancient scene just a bit further down the Ohio. Sometimes, the sound gets almost too conceptual. Almost, but not quite.
What is apparent is that these folks like making music with each other. The interplay on this album is impressive. These songs sound like they just fell together. It's amazing what hard work, great skill and teamwork can accomplish. Fine stuff.
(Young Lion of the West)
Few album titles are as appropriate as this one. The Demos play perfectly lovely pop music. Lush harmonies, ringing guitar leads and punchy rhythms. I mean, could anything be better for summer?
Not that I can think of right off the bat. How deep does this stuff go? Hard to say, though there's enough here to make me like it better and better each time I hear it. That's gotta count for something.
The sound is indie pop, and so there's not much sheen. Even more stripped down than the first Shins album (and I'm only talking about the sound, because the Demos have very little to do with the former kings of Albuquerque, other than the occasional martial beat), which lets all of the pieces find plenty of space.
More proof that these songs have what it takes. Solid work. Sunny, rollicking stuff that hit my ears just in time to head out to the beach. Time to pack the umbrella and the beer.
This Baltimore duo simply blows the shit out of whatever it plays. The word "experimental" is bandied about loosely by many, but that isn't really what's going on. Rather, Dope Body has stripped rock and roll down to its bare essentials--and added some serious reverb and distortion.
"Noise" is appropriate, I assume, but really "noisy" would be better. These songs do have fairly rigid constructions (or, on occasion, deconstructions), but they simply don't have much in the way of prettification.
Make me think of a funkier Zeke. Well, and (somehow) even more spartan. Louder, though. It occurs to me that there aren't many duos out there that manage to make this much of a racket. The Flat Duo Jets on a good night, perhaps, but that's a whole different type of sound and a long, long time ago to boot.
Don't let the plain brown wrapper on the sound fool you. There's some serious sophistication going on here. Or maybe there's not, but once the riffage infects your soul it won't matter none anyways.
It is almost never a good idea to start an album with a slow, slow burner. The first two minutes of this album are interesting, but somewhat unfocused. Or, it least, they seem that way. Little by little, however, the genius behind the screen reveals himself.
And so what starts as a modestly-engaging folk piffle builds brick by brick into a massive edifice of rock majesty. Isaiah is happy to trade in the realms of Americana, but he definitely believes in rock and roll.
The easy-rollin' 70s version, perhaps, but rock and roll nonetheless. There seems to be an increasing affection for the sounds of Paul Simon and the Band and such (and yes, there's one hell of a connection in all that), and Isaiah pays heed. But he's not paying tribute. He's simply spinning his influences into his own skein.
So have a little patience. Isaiah gets going eventually, and this album truly takes flight soon after. Roll with the mood shifts and sound slips and let his vision filter through. It's something impressive, to be sure.
Iconoclastic Motion Picture Soundtrack/Pub Songs & Sing-Alongs
A Calgary trio that loves the 70s. Imagine T. Rex romping through some Floyd, with all the excess that implies. Hell, there's even a song called "Syd...Is a Serial Killer." So they're fully aware of what they're doing.
And while the uninitiated might feel that those parameters are a bit constraining, in fact just about anything goes. Glittering raspy harmonies, moody grungers and some serious bombast. All delivered with panache.
As for the album title, the apparent conceit is that these songs were written for a variety of movies that don't, in fact, exist. Like I said, somewhere between the Floyd and T. Rex. On the good side--the punchy, not-entirely self-involved side, that is.
BJM fans ought to enjoy this, as will geezers like me who actually remember when lots of bands tried (and failed) to make music this good. Eighteen tracks, no filler. Give this one a few spins and you'll be addicted.
Nick Lowe often says he becomes a different character for each song he writes. Armand Margjeka seems to have the same level of commitment. These keenly observed songs are gems unto themselves.
But the performances and production take this album to another level. Margjeka is responsible for the knob work as well, proving that he knows exactly what he wants his songs to sound like. Each piece has a different arrangement style. Some songs are basically Margjeka and guitar, while others bring in piano, strings or horns.
So maybe Margjeka is the Spottiswoode of Birmingham. Or something like that. These pieces have been honed to perfection, and yet the deft touch on the performance and production gives a deep breath of life. There's nothing stilted here.
This is the sort of album just about every singer/songwriter dreams of creating. Lovely, moving and powerful, with some of the best songs you'll ever hear. Wow.