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
October 2011
  • Built Like Alaska In Troubled Times... (Future Farmer)
  • Coyol Coyol EP (self-released)
  • The Demon Beat Bullshit Walks (self-released)
  • Light FM Buzz Kill City (Moonboot)
  • Mandolin Orange Haste Make/Hard Hearted Stranger 2xCD (self-released)
  • Nerves Junior As Bright As Your Night Light (sonaBLAST)
  • No Bird Sing Theft of the Commons (self-released)
  • Slowtrain Bound to Find You Out (self-released)
  • Toy Bombs Will Work for Free EP (self-released)
  • Vanish Valley Get Good (self-released)
  • The Whisperlights Surfaces (self-released)
  • White Shoes & the Couples Company Album Vakansi (Minty Fresh)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Built Like Alaska
    In Troubled Times...
    (Future Farmer)

    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.

    Future Farmer Recordings
    P.O. Box 225128
    San Francisco, CA 94122
    www: http://www.futurefarmer.com

    Coyol EP

    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.

    www: http://coyol.bandcamp.com/

    The Demon Beat
    Bullshit Walks

    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.

    www: http://thedemonbeat.bandcamp.com/

    Light FM
    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.

    www: http://www.lightfmmusic.com

    Mandolin Orange
    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.

    www: http://www.mandolinorange.com

    Nerves Junior
    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.

    sonaBLAST! Records
    c/o The Green Building
    732 East Market St.
    Louisville, KY 40202
    www: http://www.sonablast.com

    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.

    www: http://nobirdsing.org

    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.

    www: http://www.theslowtrainband.com

    Toy Bombs
    Will Work for Free EP

    Bright, bouncy songs that veer from pop to rock to grandiose. Well, all of this is very big. Very, very big. Toy Bombs aren't subtle in any way. And I can dig that.

    What I really like is the way these folks dextrously use power. Everyone of these songs has a rhythmic attitude, and not necessarily the same one, either.

    Everything is loud. And that suits Toy Bombs. Loud is a great way to get attention, especially if the goods you're selling are this good. Lotsa fun.

    www: http://www.toybombs.com

    Vanish Valley
    Get Good

    Another Vanish Valley album. Another outstanding Vanish Valley album. Yawn.

    So, yes, if you happen to adore well-fashioned songs that have settled somewhere between americana and modern rock, you'll be thrilled. And, y'now, a lot of folks seem to groove on that. I know I do.

    The band's ability to shift gears is impressive. A raver here, a more introspective piece there and plenty of gorgeous licks in between. Best of all, whatever mode a song might be in, it always sounds like a Vanish Valley song.

    I've been down on the boring bands that seem to exemplify indie rock these days. Vanish Valley is anything but. Perhaps the hipsters might get hip to this, and life would be much better.

    www: http://www.vanishvalley.com

    The Whisperlights

    Combining the ragged enthusiasm of power pop with the technical precision of math lines--and then adding more than a dose of new wave melodic sensibilities--the Whisperlights sure put a lot on the plate.

    So much that a couple of these songs tend to bend under the weight. I imagine that this stuff is stripped down just a bit live, which would make these already-jaunty songs that much more frenetic.

    There are Shins-y hints now and then, but I'd stick the Whisperlights solidly between Big Star and the Wrens. The boys need to let loose just a bit more, but the ferment at the center is already quite impressive.

    The ambition here is to create songs that nod to a dozen or more traditions. That the Whisperlights don't completely collapse is a miracle. That this album is highly enjoyable and filled with moments of pure bliss is a testament to the band. The future ought to be quite bright.

    www: http://thewhisperlights.bandcamp.com

    White Shoes & the Couples Company
    Album Vakansi
    (Minty Fresh)

    A group of Indonesians who, somehow, suckled at the breast of Burt Bacharach and other mellow proto-disco popsters of the early 70s. Makes one wonder just what the hell we're exporting these days...

    Ah, but that would be dismissing the outstanding stuff on this album. The vocals sound vaguely Asian, and they're sung in Indonesian or some dialect. But what's really striking is just how southern Californian these songs sound. They're adorably bubbly and just plain goofy at times.

    Indeed, the joy of listening to this album is the palpable sense of innocence. Nostalgic without delving into sentiment, these songs are just plain happy. When you get that syncopated jangle groove going and lay a flute on top, well, that's what I'm talking about!

    The layered harmonies, the jaunty rhythms and the flat-out sense of fun are utterly infectious. Whether from Indonesia or Reseda, these folks would succeed no matter what. The smiles are on the house.

    Minty Fresh
    P.O. Box 577400
    Chicago, IL 60657
    www: http://www.mintyfresh.com
    www: http://www.wsatcc.com

    Also recommended:

    Alpine White The Hale EP (self-released)
    Lovely, harmonious rock and roll. Alpine White isn't afraid to be pretty or tough, and it does a good job of being both most of the time. A full-length would be most appreciated.
    www: http://www.alpinewhiteband.com

    Astral Forever After (Vibraphone)
    Locked into that perpetual 1991 Cure/Dinosaur Jr/MBV loop, Astral certainly does evoke a certain mood. These boys play things more straightforwardly, but the reverb-washed vague goth rock sound predominates. Enjoyable, even though I do get the idea I've heard it a few times before.

    Ballyhoo! Daydreams (Law Records)
    A metallic, post-emo, ska-ish outfit that sings about evil penguins and other loopy subjects? Sign me up! Awfully fun, even if not the deepest band around. "Evil Penguins" has to be one of my favorite songs of the year.

    Abbie Barrett & the Last Date The Triples: Volume I (self-released)
    The first of three three-song releases from Abbie Barrett, an almost-smoky voiced singer who writes tight and powerful songs with a flair for the dramatic. I'm guessing that if the three "triples" are collected into an album, greatness might be present. Quite a first (triple) act for this project.
    www: http://www.abbiebarrett.com

    Big Tree This New Year (self-released)
    Big Tree doesn't stick to any particular sound for very long. There's a burble of laptop pop, some seemingly earnest americana and more than a dash of sweet pop. Eclecticism seems to work well for these folks; there's hardly a false note to be found.
    www: http://bigtree.bandcamp.com

    Color Radio Architects (self-released)
    This one takes up two pieces of vinyl. Color Radio is best appreciated with headphones, so it's lucky that I'm reviewing this late at night while the rest of my house is asleep. The depth of sound is impressive, and these songs are sequenced in such a way as to make a compelling album (or two). Well-constructed and well-played.

    Thomas Comerford Archive + Spiral (Spacesuit)
    Bluesy americana that hews to the darker side of life. Comerford isn't depressing, but his songs are fairly blunt in their approach. There's a bit of Neil Young in there, but Comerford's bass voice gives the songs a distinctive bite. Feel the cold wind blow.

    Corduroi Anything for Now EP (self-released)
    Languid electronic explorations that are just a bit too energetic to fit into the ambient circle. I like the way these pieces blip and burble. This universe is utterly artificial, but it sure is fun to visit.
    www: http://corduroi.bandcamp.com

    Family Lumber Look to the Sidelines EP (self-released)
    Nicely blasty songs that sound better the second time around. If there's a way to make actual kick ass indie pop, Family Lumber just might have found the formula. Exceedingly enjoyable.
    www: http://familylumber.bandcamp.com

    Geoff Geis Princess (self-released)
    Hey, if you're gonna make an album all by yourself, you might as well make it as weird as possible. Geoff Geis writes songs in a pop format, but he warps almost reflexively. He does this, however, just in spots. Just one or two pieces (his vocals, in particular) undercut the conventional. I think this makes these songs song even more strange, but in any case it makes them compelling.
    www: http://geoffgeis.wordpress.com

    The Good Intentions Someone Else's Time (self-released)
    This British act has been nominated as americana act of the year for the British Country Music awards. That says something about the global nature of the sound. And more than a little about this band, which plays accomplished songs with style and grace. Like a lot of British bands that play country music, I think there's a bit too much reverence, but it's hard to argue too much with the stellar writing and playing on this album. Very nice.
    www: http://www.thegoodintentions.co.uk

    Hello Electric Dead Champion EP (Spaceman USA)
    If Mother Love Bone had been an indie rock band, it might have sounded like Hello Electric. The sound is often loud and bombastic (and always anthemic), but the eclectic construction and feel strips these songs of any pretension. Quite intriguing.

    Hunters, Run! Crows and Cranes (At Arms)
    Tight, complex, dramatic songs that come on with unrelenting pressure. The tempos and dynamics are hardly extreme, but the band wraps listeners into its extended drama almost immediately. The pleasures of this eclectic set flow freely.

    Icarus Himself Career Culture (Science of Sound)
    Placid yet jaunty, Icarus Himself likes to play with paradoxes. These songs are tightly-crafted, but they have an off-handed sound. In the end, the conflicts within create real charm. Well made.

    Is and Of The Heads Phased for Dreamless Sleep (Mush)
    I suppose that this falls under the rubric of "electronic" music, but Drew Bandos spins his songs much further afield than that. Plenty of organic instrumentation finds its way into the mix. Much of this is pretty introspective, but the ideas are always active. Solid and engaging.

    Jealov Framework (Mush)
    A much more Mush-like release. Jealov traffics in the usual hip-hop/electronic beat mastery that is a specialty of the label. Like a lot of what I've been hearing lately, though, the sound is downbeat even as the thoughts grow more impressive. I liked this one even better than the EP I reviewed last month. Sink in and let the wonder surround you.

    Junkyard Empire Acts of Humanity Vol. 1 & 2 (Mediaroots)
    Harking back to the days when rhymes trumped beats, Junkyard Empire brews up a potent political stew and back it up with a jumpin' live band. Yeah, yeah, this is about as old school as it gets, and that's probably why I like it. For those who remember when acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers and 3rd Bass were fresh and juicy. An extension of 2010's Rebellion Politik, this set is even more fulfilling.

    Melvoy Midnight Make Up EP (self-released)
    The album cover says it all about this disc: There's a woman sitting on top of a man and holding a knife behind her back. These bright, bounding songs are dark as all get out lyrically, which makes them almost irresistible. Catchy and mean. I like that.
    www: http://www.melvoy.com

    Marco Panella In the Age of Batteries (Auger Down)
    Much as Don Van Vliet (as Captain Beefheart) deconstructed the blues, Marco Panella deconstructs folk. These songs move along with a disjointed lurch, but they tend to find their own demented rhythm sooner or later. Panella's sense of melody (or the lack thereof) takes a little more getting used to, but it's quite assured. The more time spent with Panella, the easier it is to appreciate what he's doing.

    The Perfects Many Nights (self-released)
    Some folks from Baltimore that haven't left the 80s. Even more devoted to New Order and than Cure than most modern purveyors of this sound, the Perfects also have a superior sense of melody and hooks. I'm a little worried about the ephemeral nature of this, but I haven't gotten tired of it yet.
    www: http://www.theperfects.com

    Sassparilla The Darndest Thing (In Music We Trust)
    Ramshackle old-timey music (bits of western swing, folk, rural blues, Dixieland and Tin Pan Alley all thrown into the tumbler) that lurches and staggers its way into some satisfying positions. Nothing complicated, which is the best way to play this sort of thing. I'll take two fingers, please.

    Trevor Tanner Musical Charlatan 2xCD (Wee Trevy)
    Easy-going, mildly-blasty rock and roll. Trevor Tanner kinda sticks to the middle in terms of tempo and melody, but once he gets in pocket he rolls quite well. I suppose this set could have been edited, but I'm not complaining. Plenty of quality in the quantity.

    Voice of Addiction Reduce Reuse Resist (self-released)
    Damn, I always forget how refreshing a blast of tuneful hardcore can be. Voice of Addiction combines blazing riffage with just enough melody to create some serious hooks. Oh, and the boys have plenty to say. I'm down with all that.
    www: http://voiceofaddiction.com

    Water Tower Bucket Boys Sole Kitchen (self-released)
    Three lads from the Portland area who like both kinds of music: bluegrass and punk. Oh, and about fifty other types as well. The result is a frenetic workout that always seems to teeter on the edge of disaster. That tension (and the natural energy of the music) makes for a most invigorating experience. Loads of fun.
    www: http://www.watertowerbucketboys.com

    Annie Williams This Mountain/Midnight Window 2xEP (self-released)
    An interesting concept: Kick out two EPs that vary only in their choice of subject matter. Williams has a modestly ethereal take on americana. This Mountain is more far-reaching in its lyrical ideas, while Midnight Window is decidedly more introspective. I like the contrast, though I think it would have worked just as well as a single album. Williams's talents are impressive, no matter how she sequences her recordings.
    www: http://www.theanniewilliams.com

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