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
August 2011
  • All the Apparatus All the Apparatus (self-released)
  • Blind Willies Needle, Feather and a Rope (self-released)
  • The Chocolate Horse Beasts (self-released)
  • The Demos Lovely (Young Lion of the West)
  • Dope Body Nupping (Hoss Records)
  • Daniel Isaiah High Twilight (Secret City)
  • The Lions Iconoclastic Motion Picture Soundtrack/Pub Songs & Sing-Alongs (self-released)
  • Armand Margjeka Margo Margo (self-released)
  • Oy Vey Botanical Curiosity (self-released)
  • Team Me Team Me EP (Propeller)
  • Thee Annoying Composition I (Edgetone)
  • Mark Wingfield/Kevin Kastning I Walked into the Silver Darkness (Greydisc)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    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.

    www: http://www.alltheapparatus.com

    Blind Willies
    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.

    www: http://www.blindwillies.net

    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.

    www: http://www.chocolatehorse.com

    The Demos
    (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.

    www: http://www.younglionofthewest.com

    Dope Body
    (Hoss Records)

    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.

    www: http://www.hossrecords.com

    Daniel Isaiah
    High Twilight
    (Secret City)

    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.

    Secret City Records
    5524 rue Saint-Patrick
    Suite 580
    Montreal H4E 1A8
    www: http://www.secretcityrecords.com

    The Lions
    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.

    www: http://www.thelionsrockandroll.com

    Armand Margjeka
    Margo Margo

    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.

    www: http://www.armandmargjeka.com

    Oy Vey
    Botanical Curiosity

    Not many duos can legitimately claim to make "electro rock pop," but that's exactly what Oy Vey does. And yes, there's already one band that pretty much owns the trademark on anything approaching this sound, but Oy Vey does pretty well with its reinterpretation.

    For starters, this is both funkier and often heavier than New Order (really, you were thinking of another band?). The melodies have just a bit of an edge to them, and the guitars aren't afraid to rock out now and again. Of course, the grooves are the key.

    And damn if you can't dance yer ass off to these songs. Yeah, we're talking mid-tempo pieces for the white boy shuffle, but you can still shake the cellulite if so inclined.

    Some bands have it, and some don't. Some know how to take a time-tested sound and create something new within it. And some band simply know how to write songs. Oy Vey is all three of those--and a fair bit more. A glorious whirl.

    www: http://www.oyveyband.com

    Team Me
    Team Me EP

    Alright, so there is a pretty serious Arcade Fire vibe to these electronically-tinged Norwegian rockers. Team Me does pretty well to move past that with the five songs here.

    Of course, "moving past that" means moving more into Flaming Lips or Shins territory (depending on the song). There's only so much room to maneuver in this somewhat limited sound. Which is why it's that much more impressive that these songs pricked my ears so.

    Lovely stuff, buffed up to a brilliant shine. And there's just enough soul to keep these songs from getting brittle. I'll have to hear a full-length to see if my enthusiasm is justified.

    www: http://www.propellerrecordings.no

    Thee Annoying
    Composition I

    Three guys who blister melody into delicious noise. The pieces don't have titles, but rather are listed as "Movement I," "Movement II," etc. That's the first hint that something intriguing is afoot.

    Hint #2 is that one of the members is named "Ten Ticklish Ants." and another is "D.A. Leech." The final member is Michael Mersereau of 15 Degrees Below Zero. So this was either gonna be completely whacked out or pretty damned great. Wait. It's on Edgetone. And so--

    Oh yeah. Great. Undeniably. Meshily melodic and blisteringly noisy (with uber-meta discussions of the songs filtered in as the songs themselves are being played). How many layers are there in this? And does that matter?

    This album can be appreciated on the visceral level alone. The songs throb with excess power. They are pulsating creatures of beauty. Then the deft lyrics and sampled commentaries take the "movements" to the level of greatness. If this doesn't move you, then you need to find some Metamucil or something. Mindfuckingly awesome.

    Edgetone Records
    3020 El Cerrito Plaza, #320
    El Cerrito, CA 94530
    www: http://www.edgetonerecords.com

    Mark Wingfield/Kevin Kastning
    I Walked Into the Silver Darkness

    Wingfield takes the electric guitar, and Kastning the acoustics. Some very weird acoustics (Have you ever seen a 14-string contraguitar? Recently?). The results are predictably noodly, but rather surprisingly focused as well.

    Truthfully, the pieces are simply gorgeous. Wingfield and Kastning work together almost seamlessly, giving and taking with an almost-impossible grace. These songs go almost everywhere, and yet each step seems eminently logical. Like there was no other choice in the world.

    And maybe there wasn't. I don't know how improvised these pieces are, but when you get inside someone else's head, interesting things can happen. And if you can anticipate without stepping on toes, that's when things get good.

    Things get great here. The ideas are thrilling, and the pieces are lovely beyond words. Exceptional.

    www: http://www.markwingfield.com
    www: http://www.kevinkastning.com

    Also recommended:

    Broadcaster Joyride EP (self-released)
    A Long Island trio that plays poppy, rootsy punk with abandon. Plenty of punch, plenty of melody and four songs that make you happy to be alive. Don't believe me? The EP is free. Check it out for yourself.
    www: http://broadcasterny.bandcamp.com

    Rachel Taylor Brown World So Sweet (self-released)
    Brown likes her piano. A lot. Not quite in that kinky Tori Amos way, but her songs are completely piano-driven. That's cool. She's got a fine voice, solid writing chops and a real ear for arranging--most important when you play most of the instruments yourself. More engaging on repeat visits, which always makes me smile.
    www: http://www.racheltaylorbrown.com

    Cabin Dogs Midnight Trail (self-released)
    Perfectly solid americana. A bit too pat, perhaps, but quite well-crafted. I found myself humming along as soon as I didn't start asking too much from these songs. Nothing spectacular, but comforting in its spectacular competence.
    www: http://www.cabindogs.com

    Castle Ditch Effort (self-released)
    Hippie trippy hip-hop from good ol' NC. The songs roll out in a smooth flow, and the rhymes never fail to tickle the brain. Nothing about this sounds forced. I like the mellow mood. Castle takes his time and makes sure to do things right. His notes say he's done recording for a while. Let's hope not.
    www: http://castle.bandcamp.com

    Collections of Colonies of Bees Giving (Hometapes)
    This band has been around since post-rock was a going concern (the first time), and this four-song album is popping with life. The songs are conceptual, but they're hardly wonky. A lot more melodic than math-y, ideas on this album inscribe figures in the sky. Or maybe I've just been listening to this a bit much.

    Dig It Up/Prevenge split 7" (Pavones)
    Absolutely blistering hardcore split. Dig It Up combines sharp rhythms with blistering riffage to create two outstanding screamers. Prevenge is just a bit more pop focused, dropping hints of melody into the guitars and vocals. The sound is more ragged and distorted, which balances the mild sweeteners just fine. If you're needing a bit of aggression, this is a fine place to look.

    Drums & Ammo Vol. 1: Extra Clip EP (Sweetbread Creative Collective)
    Less beatwork and more guest MCs. These "extra" reworked tracks from Vol. I are a bit hit or miss, but the underlying quality of the production is impossible to deny. Drums & Ammo knows how to make some seriously slammin' beats.

    Elks Destined for the Sun EP (Tee Pee)
    The cool thing about good stoner rock bands is that they play fast. Or at least faster than a dirge. Elks blast these short, sweet songs out with authority. For those who prefer their sludge with a shot of Ex-Lax. It'll move you, I promise.

    Estamos Ensemble Jimpani Kustakwa Ka Jankwariteecheri 2xCD(Edgetone)
    Thollem McDonas heads up this sizable ensemble. The music has that composed-yet-improvisational feel, and the somewhat unconventional instrumentation (including guitar and electronics) sends the sound in some unexpected directions. The pieces are well-constructed and played with verve. At times haunting and at others rather forthright, the range of these pieces is impressive. A sprawling, intriguing set.

    Fonda Better Days EP (self-released)
    Another band heavily influenced by Loveless, a trend that simply gets more and more entrenched every day. Fonda lets a bit more light through, but it retains the feeling of damaged beauty. Tinged with regret, these five songs have the feeling of summer ending.
    www: http://www.fondamusic.com

    Golden Bloom March to the Drums EP (The Sleepy West)
    Ringing pop with a few rootsy hints here and there. Ryan Fogel (who is responsible in the entirety for these songs) hasn't really moved forward from his earlier efforts, but that's just fine. These songs have a generous heart and a warm feel. The only problem is the moment you really settle in, the set finishes. More, please.

    The Great Book of John The Great Book of John (Communicating Vessels)
    Atmospheric, soaring rock that uses both electronic sweeteners and needle-pinning distortion to fine effect. Many of these songs show their beauty through ugliness, though once the chorus hits there can be no question as to what predominates. Highly ambitious fare that hits the mark most of the time.

    The Handcuffs Waiting for the Robot (OOFL)
    Stripped-down, in-your-face new wave. The Handcuffs wear their influences (Blondie, in particular) on their sleeves, but the throbbing bass and relatively wide instrumental range (acoustic guitars, piano, etc.) give these songs some solid depth. Not the next coming, but highly enjoyable.

    Brian Keenan Today This Year (self-released)
    Keenan, who is best-known as the frontman for Proud Simon, expands his range a bit on his first solo effort. The sounds range from the southern blues of the Allmans to more recent americana trends. He's more effective when he keeps his songs simple, though I like the inventive way he interprets modern roots music.
    www: http://www.briankeenan.com

    Cameron McGill and What Army Is a Beast (self-released)
    Basic, unassuming americana. McGill makes up for a general lack of sophistication by delivering these songs with joy and style. The occasional horns are a nice touch, and overall the mood is bright--a real departure from the album cover. Perhaps McGill wants to be a beast, but his music is far too cuddly for that. No complaints from me on that account.
    www: http://www.cameronmcgill.com

    Moonlit Sailor Colors in Stereo (Deep Elm)
    A Swedish foursome that takes old-school post rock and turns it into a technicolor circus. Kinda like June of 44 meets My Chemical Romance, except without vocals. And sometimes, it's actually that good. These guys are still young, but this album is quite a progression from their first. If the next one improves by the same amount, it'll be epochal.

    My First Earthquake Friction (self-released)
    New wave sounds combined with somewhat less poppy song construction. MFE drops some experimentation into its rock-ish grooves, but Rebecca Bortman is nothing if not a be-bopping pop hurler. Her squealish delivery tends to tie the sound together, though I can't help thinking a bit more editing would have created some truly stunning songs. Raw and assured, with plenty of room for growth.
    www: http://www.myfirstearthquake.com

    (OME) Tired Birds (Princess)
    Mark Edwards is (OME). He craves beauty, but he needs to experiment even more. I like that. These electronic-tinged pieces can be achingly gorgeous, but often enough Edwards takes one tangent too many. Personally, I prefer ambitious, if flawed, works to those that play things safe. (OME) is nothing if not adventurous. Strap on your machete and enter the jungle.

    Only Living Boy Hide Nothing (Wurli/Hub City)
    If you listen to enough Mountain and Black Sabbath, these sort of songs will begin to make some sense. Only Living Boy thrashes out the blues in the key of stoner, wailing away underneath a tent of fuzz. I kinda get a little nostalgic listening to this, even though it is before even my time. Gotta love that easy-going power.

    Riverside Memories in My Head (The Laser's Edge)
    Three ten-minute plus songs. Harsh sonic paintings that blister an ambient electronic feel onto modern prog. Oh, and there are vocals. I've never heard anyone take this particular ideal out to such an extreme. Pretty wild.

    Roadside Graves We Can Take Care of Ourselves (Autumn Tone)
    These folks have the indie americana sound down pat, with clunky rhythms and achy harmonies galore. By and large, these idiosyncrasies help the songs. And so, by and large, Roadside Graves succeeds. Nonetheless, I can't help getting the feeling that I've heard all this before--in different forms. Oh well. The sound manifests itself quite nicely here.

    San Cisco Golden Revolver EP (self-released)
    Understated pop music from Australia. Yeah, it is reminiscent of a few similar-sounding bands on this side of the Pacific, but these minor gems are perfectly capable of standing on their own. There's no small bit of charm here.
    www: http://www.facebook.com/sanciscomusic

    Silver Ash Deathless/Lifeboat 7" (Generate)
    Silver Ash tossed two kinetic and utterly fearless songs onto this tiny slab. There's plenty of noise to go with the churning rhythms, but those rhythms are the engine of these extremely exciting pieces. Reminds me a lot of Brise-Glace and other post-rock jazz/noise outfits. Strikingly awesome.

    The Sky Drops Bourgeois Beat (self-released)
    This one's been around for a couple of years, which makes its whipsawing between American indie-pop and Loveless-esque layers of distortion seem a bit prescient. The songs themselves hold up nicely, which makes the production modestly irrelevant. Makes me wonder what this duo might be up to these days.

    Laura Stevenson & the Cans Sit Resist (Don Giovanni)
    Stevenson gets a bit of that quavery etherealness in her vocals, but the music provides more than enough of a strong underpinning for these songs. Even when the sound gets decidedly minimalist, there's plenty of power. Quietly impressive.

    Southerly Youth (Greyday)
    Krist Kreuger is the person behind Southerly, though he does accept some help here and there. The songs are anthemic, piano-built pieces that often undercut their grandiosity with sly references. For an album that sounds like it must be the most important thing in the world, this has a fine, understated appeal.

    3:33 The First Thousand Days (self-released)
    Better-known as Parallel Thought, 3:33 brings hip-hop beats and the ambient to a strong simmer. These songs rage and echo, throb and ebb, but most of all they tell stories. If you think that might work for you, go to the Parallel Thought site. This one is free for the asking--but worth any price.
    www: http://www.pthought.com

    Ugly Stick Pick Up the Hatchet EP (self-released)
    Two early-90s releases from this punk-americana Ohio outfit. The feel is all over the place, as befitting the early days of this sound. The extremely rough edges on these songs serves as a reminder that the Replacements influenced Uncle Tupelo at least as much as Gram Parsons or The Anthology. A bit dated, I suppose, but well worth a perusal from serious devotees of the sound.
    www: http://www.standingshawdows.com

    Vandaveer Dig Down Deep (Supply & Demand)
    Solid, if fairly predictable, rootsy americana. There's nothing especially exciting about these songs, but they serve as a solid meal nonetheless. Workmanlike and satisfying.

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