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 #331 reviews
Built Like Alaska
In Troubled Times...
Built Like Alaska fits in with the somewhat moody ethos of modern modern rock, but there's just enough punch in these songs to lift them out of the ditch.
And yes, there's a pleasant snark component and some skillfully-executed pieces. I was really on the edge about this one, but it improved as the album went on. Or maybe I just got in tune with what the guys are doing.
I truly think it's the former, though. Built Like Alaska actually rocks out more and more as the album moves along, eschewing the noodly introspection for some solid crunch. Oh, the band never quite kicks things into overdrive, but the stuff slips past midtempo for a song or two.
Really, folks, I'm tired of the "we're too cool for rock and roll" sound. Built Like Alaska comes close to that exceedingly silly tradition, but it finds a way to subvert its influences and create a fine little cubbyhole for itself. An intriguing little set.
Gothic americana is a pretty small genre, but within that Coyol is a genre of one. Celeigh Champan and John Isaac Watters have fused their somewhat disparate approaches to music into this set of highly-dramatic, roots-infused fare.
To call this sound unique is an understatement. Sure, all of the elements are familiar, but the way that Watters ultra-dramatic flair and Champan's quavering Loretta Lynn-alike voice come together is unsettling and invigorating.
These aren't even opposites. They're incongruities. And yet when they come together, the music is utterly astounding. You will be amazed.
The Demon Beat
The Demon Beat lives by one credo: If you play a riff often enough and loud enough, people will like it. And damned if they don't have a point.
This is pretty much by-the-numbers garage rock. What sets the Demon Beat apart is its energy. I'm always shocked at how many garage bands sound liked they haven't quite woken up. I mean, what's the point of playing rough and ready rock and roll while you're yawning?
The Demon Beat has no such problems. This starts fast and loud, and that's pretty much the sound of the entire album. Are these songs a bit repetitive? Sure. But they've got a verve that few can touch.
I'm an adrenalin junkie. And these boys come to play. I can overlook some originality issues if a band kicks as much ass as these boys.
Buzz Kill City
Synth-driven rock and roll. Sounds kinda 80s, sounds kinda MBV, sounds kinda frickin' cool. Two singers (a guy and a gal) mix things up nicely. And the songs sparkle.
That is, Light FM doesn't stint on the hooks. Sure, they make sure the riffage has the proper heft, but once the chorus drops, the songs are in overdrive. This is as it should be.
The sound is shiny, but with a mellow buff. The sharp edges have been refined. All that's left is a sound that sounds vaguely nostalgic, and yet rather forward-thinking as well.
One of those albums that simply makes me happy. These songs are exceptional pieces of craft, and they're played with style. Wallow in the glory.
Haste Make/Hard Hearted Stranger 2xCD
Primarily the duo of Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, Mandolin Orange distills the distinctive central North Carolina americana sound that I know very well. There's just the slightest lilt to the rhythms and a steely gentleness to the lyrics.
Yes, that whole Southern thing. Martin plays guitars and mandolin, and Frantz plays guitars and fiddle. And more, of course. Haste Make is nine songs with a rhythm section, and Hard Hearted Stranger is nine (largely) without. The two albums were recorded at different times with different folks, yet they sound like they could've been thrown together in a weekend.
Well, except for the craft inherent in the pieces. Marlin and Frantz are much more about expression than technical precision, but the entire project has been put together astoundingly well. These songs simply ring out.
The wealth of nations, truly. There isn't a clunker on either disc, and the vast majority songs are superior in writing and performance. Absolutely gorgeous, and brilliant to boot. Mandolin Orange's future sounds limitless.
As Bright As Your Night Light
Imagine ringing, flowing pop songs with trippy electro backing. And then throw in just about every sonic disturbance imaginable. Nerves Junior refuses to leave its pretty songs alone, and the results are utterly electrifying.
I'm not entirely sure how these songs play out live (the extraneous sounds would require at least one extra member), but I'm reviewing this disc and not a show. And this disc sounds fabulous. The underlying feel is mellow and unhurried, but things can change in a harry. Kinda like those thunderstorms that whip up out of nowhere.
The chaos here serves to bring the listener further and further into the whirl of the band. These pieces build into almost indescribably intense climaxes. Quite the release.
Whew! Don't listen to this one if your heart can't take the strain. Nerves Junior knows how to rattle the soul. If you weather the storm, you'll be grateful.
No Bird Sing
Theft of the Commons
The obvious reference is Michael Franti, but a better one might be Stetsasonic, the original rap band. But in any case, this is rock and roll. The vocals may be rapped (somewhat), but this is a band.
And anyway, what this really sounds like is a darker and less snarky Girls Against Boys. No Bird Sing fuzzes out a liquid bass and simply booms out these kinetic songs.
Always in motion, these boys have found a simple, modestly lo-fi sound for this album. It works. There's no need for sharp edges when the pieces move this easily.
The songs never let up, and neither does this album. The songs follow through all the way to the finish. I'm breathless.
Bound to Find You Out
Adoniram Lipton knows his way around the 70s. Not many folks can channel Led Zeppelin and Elton John in the same song, but Slowtrain does so with ease.
The sound is loud, but with a light touch. The riffage can be brutal, but it's couched within a pop sentiment. On the whole, piano and a tight rhythm section predominate. That's where references to the Band make sense.
And while Lipton did the writing, the band as a whole is a most impressive unit. These guys trust each other, and they really click once the songs get rolling.
Out of time, but hardly out of place these days. Slowtrain simply puts one great song after another. That enough for me.