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 #330 reviews
If You Were Me
Most folks who try on techno-freakpop tend to either get too technical or too freaky. Even the Flaming Lips, venerable masters of this sound, lost it with Embryonic. Which is why it's so refreshing to hear Bear Lake.
The songs are sophisticated and deftly layered. But they're all based on simple, easily-identifiable grooves. Most importantly, they're fun.
Fun is utterly underrated in music. Bands trip all over themselves to create ponderous, overbearing albums. Forget that. Bear Lake shows that it is quite possible to show off some serious playing and compositional chops without succumbing to the dread "I'm too serious for my pants" disease.
Freaky? Sure. Electronic-laden? Sometimes. But these songs sing, and they bound from the speakers with verve. Lovely stuff that brings a smile or two a minute. This one will burble its way to your heart in no time flat.
At Sea EP
The latest short release from this Grand Rapids band. These boys must've grown up listening to the Bosstones, Pegboy and Shipping News--just for starters. While the songs tend to to take on modestly serious themes (not to mention the occasional math-y guitar line), I get the feeling that Cain Marko shows are awesome goodness.
There's just that little bit of party hearty in the gang harmonies and anthemic choruses. The band sometimes sounds like it's going in three directions at once, but these songs always come together by the end.
And yes, they're fun. The energy of this stuff is amazing. And if my review doesn't sell you, go to the web site. This release is $2, but all the old stuff is free. Check it out for yourself. I don't think you will be disappointed.
The Dustbowl Revival
Holy Ghost Station
With fourteen listed members and an additional handful of "special guests," calling the Dustbowl Revival a collective is something of an understatement. Calling it anything other than startlingly remarkable would be a crime.
These folks ply the waters of modern old-timey music, bringing in folk, rural and urban blues, western swing, bluegrass, N'awlins jazz, Tin Pan Alley and plenty more. Every song features gloriously ragged vocals (though often sweet harmonizin') and the sound of a party in full swing.
The sound is round and full, leaving the ears dripping with excess. The entire package is a lush testament to the greatness of American music, even when the folks dabble in a bit of Francophilia. I suppose you could file this under "americana," but then it would close off the category forever. The Dustbowl Revival is almost unparalleled.
You're welcome to find some flaws, but they've largely escaped my ears. This is the second incomparable album from these folks in as many years. I'm thunderstruck.
Find North EP
Eight songs is generous for an EP, and likewise, Echorev is generous with its use of sound and ideas. These largely understated songs are chock full of interesting loops and rhythms, elements which coalesce into modestly dramatic pieces.
A bit counterintuitive, I suppose, but the method works. And while the music is largely assembled, its mellow musings sound quite organic. Echorev has created a striking reality.
This one won't hit you upside the head, but after a few songs you just might feel that way. The quiet power of this disc is undeniable. Quietly impressive.
Sprechen Sie Hi Fashion? EP
Thunderous techno bass lines, outrageously flamboyant vocals and blistering electro rhythms. Oh, and some of the funniest songs of the year. How's this for a line: "I don't give a hurl if you say you like girls, because I know that you're gay-zing." Ka-chow!
Um, yes, this is tres-gay (in all the right ways). But when camp is taken to the level of Camp Mohawk (c'mon folks, Meatballs!), it's all good. This stuff is full of slamming smirks and ultra-tight hooks.
So over-the-top that it demands to be taken seriously. But really, why think about such infectiously addictive songs. Hoo boy, this is one big rush.
Shimmy Shimmy Dang
I guess if you're from Louisville, then dropping your sound pretty much dead between the Cramps, and Southern Culture on the Skids, early Neko Case and 60s girl groups is about right, geographically-speaking. The Ladybirds play a most raucous form of traditional rock and roll. Not that tradition is hardly the first thing that comes mind upon first (or tenth) listen.
For starters, there's a goofiness factor that might put a few people off. These folks see trailer trash as a gold mine, and that's just how these songs are presented. Perhaps there's a bit too much mugging, but the band never lets off the throttle, so any annoyances flit away harmlessly.
The sound is a bit bright, but that's part of the modest sleaziness factor that these folks cultivate. While there may be a modestly earnest point here and there, the Ladybirds are out for a good time first and foremost.
They certainly deliver on that. These songs are a blast, and the band's cavalier approach is refreshing and energizing. Big, big smiles.
The evolution of a duo better known as Starberry, Mild Mannered is a husband and wife from Cleveland who recruited Tim Parnin (Cobra Verde guitarist, among other things) to fill things out.
I can't speak to who is filling what, but these jangle-rock songs are solid and filling. Jennifer Casa's vocals are strong and expressive, selling these off-the-rack songs with aplomb.
What I'm saying is that Mild Mannered does not travel far out to sea. These are basic songs, but they're performed with such style and energy that they're transformed from merely engaging to truly infectious.
There must be a million bands like this out there. Mild Mannered doesn't do anything special, but it does nothing special really, really well. The perfect top-down album for summer, even if those months are largely past.
The Piney Gir Country Roadshow
Going completely the other way from the Dustbowl Revival (reviewed earlier), Piney Gir is a Brit country act that trends more toward Ennio Morricone or Carolyn Mark than more traditional rootsy folks. I don't really get the references to Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton, but then, maybe the Brit press is still a little kerfluffled after the phone tapping scandal.
And after hearing "Master/Mistress," I think most folks will agree. This is post-modern country music, and wittily so. These songs don't set up jokes, but they're generally wry as hell. The music is pretty much straight up, but it's so citified that most folks in these here parts wouldn't call it especially rootsy.
That's cool. Piney Gir (the alter ego of Brit electro artist Angela Penhaligon) is blazing her own path. And in that way, the heavy hand on the production knobs probably helps more than hurts. What's most important is to keep the many post-modern elements from overwhelming the centers of the songs. Most often, these pieces swing quite nicely.
And so we're left to enjoy songs with titles like "I'm Better Off Without a Piece of a Shell of a Man." Hard to disagree with that sentiment, and it's hard to take this album out of the discer. When it comes to a close, I just keep hitting "repeat."