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 #332 reviews
November 2011
  • Bear and Moose Bear/Moose (self-released)
  • Big Black Delta BBDLP (self-released)
  • Carrie Clark Between the Bedsheets and Turpentine (self-released)
  • Eight Bit Tiger Parallel Synchronized Randomness (self-released)
  • Joe Lasqo Turquoise Sessions (Edgetone)
  • Leadsmen Words Unspoken EP(Beats Broke)
  • Maximino Not So Cold, Cave EP (self-released)
  • Mutiny Mutiny Constellation (self-released)
  • Rah Rah Breaking Hearts (Young Soul)
  • SONOIO Red (self-released)
  • Winfred E. Eye Today Was Another Day (Whaleboy)
  • Wooden Wand & the Briarwood Virgins Briarwood (Fire)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest


    Bear & Moose
    Bear/Moose
    (self-released)

    A couple guys from Portland (left version) who play Big Starry anglophile pop run through a Flat Duo Jets garage filter. With a lot of fuzz thrown in because, y'know, it just sounds cool.

    Songs of blistering intensity, intricate craftsmanship and almost brutal execution. Bear & Moose believes in pinning the needles on almost every beat, and then ramping things up from there.

    Despite all that, this album has a charming, intimate sound. There are quiet moments, although they tend to get mangled sooner or later. Not so much deconstructive as simply the "you know it's gonna happen" kinda thing.

    Don't know why there's any need for complaint. Bear & Moose have put together some of the most compelling music of the year. Yeah, the songs are great, but the way they're played here is otherworldly. Feel the pain. And then go back for more.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/bearandmoosepdx


    Big Black Delta
    BBDLP
    (self-released)

    Mellowdrone's Jonathan Bates has a bit too much time on his hands. So he created the Big Black Delta to satisfy his cravings for electro-pop-metal. He popped a single last year and then an EP earlier this year. This release takes some of the tracks from BBDEP and adds a healthy dose of new material.

    If you ever wondered what the bastard child of ELO, Mike + the Mechanics, Nine Inch Nails and Laibach might sound like, this might help you out. Of course, the references are tres 80s (I've always thought of NIN as the logical extension of that decade), and the music leans strongly that way.

    I approve. Anyone who can harness the strong songwriting, soaring melodies and raw power of the best acts of that decade deserves high praise. And damned if I'm going to pass on this opportunity.

    Okay. So this is something of a throwback. It's kinda like a Wes Unseld Bullets jersey--so cool you simply cannot keep your eyes off it. Or ears, as the case is here. An adrenalin rush from beginning to end. And it's good for you, too. Bliss and then some.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.myspace.com/blackdeltarocks


    Carrie Clark
    Between the Bedsheets and Turpentine
    (self-released)

    Carrie Clark throws just about everything she can into her songs. There's more than a bit of Tin Pan Alley and plenty of hints of general American popular song thrown in with her idiosyncratic take on the americana sound.

    She's from Oregon and now bunks in Seattle, which helps to explain that approach. I've found that west coast types tend to go with a lighter, yet more experimental, approach to this sorta thing. Clark has a voice that has more character than strength, but that suits her oft-quirky songs.

    Indeed, the first song on this album ("Bum Ba Dum") will either utterly charm you or completely turn you off. I can't imagine anyone finding it dull. And if you like that, you'll love this album. Clark ranges far afield from her opener, but that first taste reveals her intentions. She's gonna grab as much as she can and cram it into this album.

    Works for me. Clark is a fine songwriter, and she's found a great sound on this album. Much like Carolyn Mark, she might be a bit too unusual for some, but those who appreciate the folks who stand on the outside looking in will be entranced. Lovely and thrilling.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.carrieclark.com


    Eight Bit Tiger
    Parallel Synchronized Randomness
    (self-released)

    If Big Black Delta epitomizes the "big" 80s, Eight Bit Tiger is a conglomeration of the "small" 80s. Well, if you consider New Order or early Human League small. Relatively minimalist, perhaps.

    To be perfectly honest, there's plenty of 70s krautrock lolling about as well. The melodies have been processed within an inch of their lives, that that sort of chilly ambience does have a certain charm.

    Especially when the songs are put together expertly. Eight Bit Tiger rarely deviates from the formula, and that modest bit of comfort helps to ward off frostbite.

    The 80s have been coming back ever since 1991, but these days the trend seems a bit stronger than usual. If bands this good keep coming along, I might actually turn into a teenager again. Yikes!

    Contact:
    www: http://www.eightbittiger.com


    Joe Lasqo
    Turquoise Sessions
    (Edgetone)

    A strikingly American (modern) take on Japanese and Indian (the subcontinent) musical forms. Joe Lasqo takes his time on each of these lengthy improvised solo piano pieces, but he never dawdles.

    Rather, he simply digs deeper and deeper into the connections between Eastern and Western forms. His improvisations sound utterly natural. He has created a world that doesn't exist--except that it does. Right here.

    There's something compelling about the solo piano sound. It is stark and lush all at once. Lasqo's source material highlights this paradox and helps to make this set that much more striking.

    Some folks are experimental for the sake of being experimental. That's cool. I like that. But what really impresses me are the experimentalists that sound almost mainstream. Lasqo makes improvisation sound easy and accessible. Wow.

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


    Leadsmen
    Words Unspoken EP
    (Beats Broke)

    Two Dutch guys who really know how to mine a groove. The title track takes the jaunty funkiness of "Low Rider" and turns those shuffling beats into a dark, dense jam. Along with another thousand or so songs ("Push It" and "Funky Cold Medina" come immediately to mind) the drum and bass elements on "Words Unspoken" run very close to the old War horse, but here those jams are pressed into service by music far superior to most.

    Is that a defense? I dunno. "Words Unspoken" is one of the most compelling songs I've heard this year, even though the song title comprises pretty much all the lyrics. Indeed, the three songs here are high on throb and short on verbage. Cool by me. I always say if you've got a groove, put all the focus there.

    This presages a full-length next year. We'll see if the boys can make that hold up. Until then, we'll have to make do with the brilliance of "Words Unspoken."

    Contact:
    Beats Broke
    www: http://www.beatsbroke.com


    Maximino
    Not So Cold, Cave EP
    (self-released)

    Gerald Perez lives in Orlando, but his work as Maximino travels all over the electronic landscape. While these songs may sound as if they're simple table settings at first, the intricate burblings weave a much more complex picture as the EP wears on.

    And while these songs never really take flight or even form themselves into songs proper, they have an intriguing structure all their own. The internal logic of these pieces is almost as entrancing as the sounds they purvey.

    The EP is the perfect length for an introduction to the unusual sounds of Maximino. A full-length might be too much, and a single is simply not enough to begin to comprehend what's going on here. I'm curious to see how this will hold up, but right now I'm fascinated.

    Contact:
    www: http://maximino.bandcamp.com


    Mutiny Mutiny
    Constellation
    (self-released)

    The power trio is dead. Has been dead. Is no longer an issue. The indie trio, on the other hand, is alive and well.

    Mutiny Mutiny may hail from Seattle, but their discordant rhythms and sharp-elbowed riffage bring to mind a certain scene in a biggish city one state south. The low-slung bass lines are very much Green River, but the attraction to well-produced chaos is a more modern affectation.

    I'll be honest; I've been all over the map on this one. Sometimes I really dig it, and sometimes it annoys the shit out of me. What I do like is the endless antagonism. These folks are endlessly pushing the limits of good sense.

    The sound is a bit nostalgic for me, what with all the nods to "college radio favorites" of the early 90s. Yeah, I've heard it all before, but not thrown together in such an aggressively forceful package. My brain is still rattled.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.mutinymutiny.com


    Rah Rah
    Breaking Hearts
    (Young Soul)

    Pop that leaps straight into bliss and rarely look back. I particularly appreciate the understated nature of these songs. Their gentle flows are utterly intoxicating.

    Sure, these folks hail from Regina and thus have a fair chunk of that "eccentric Canadian pop thing" (which is apparently called "canadiana" these days; I think I'll have to steal that) going on. And they've had their share of acclaim.

    But none of that seems to have derailed the music. These songs plink and float along with deliberate, if infectious, grace. The very light hand on the knobs provides plenty of space for the music to fill. The sound is gorgeous.

    The complete package. If you don't like this, chances are you simply don't like music very much. It's so accessible and so well-done that I can't imagine anyone turning it out of bed. Quite the charmer.

    Contact:
    www: http://www.youngsoulrecords.com


    SONOIO
    Red
    (self-released)

    Hard to imagine edgy electronics being sliced and diced into absolutely fabulously infectious pop songs. And yet, here's SONOIO (a certain Alessandro Cortini, who did some time with Nine Inch Nails during the past decade) doing just that.

    The quantity is almost overwhelming; the quality takes my brain to a new dimension. The razor-edged melodies soften up my receptors, and the gooey goodness of the hooks just oozes right in.

    There are enough plainly experimental moments to keep the hobbyists rocking as well. Red is a bit less spacey than last year's Blue, but both do one hell of a job making challenging electronic fare totally accessible.

    A more than welcome addition to my establishment. I'm a firm believer that there's always room for improvement, but I'm not sure exactly what that might be here. Pristinely beautiful.

    Contact:
    www: http://sonoio.org


    Winfred E. Eye
    Today Was Another Day
    (Whaleboy)

    I am a bit ahead of schedule on this one, which will be released just after the new year. Just in time for the fans to let loose a little of that Christmas money.

    A new Winfred E. Eye album is a present, after all. These shambling compositions roll along with an assured grace. Dusty they may be, but never do these songs threaten to fall apart. Rather, they slowly compact into modest greatness.

    And all with an offhand feel and slightly reverb-y sound. Not much distortion, but more than the average alt-americana sorta act. Of course, these boys are hardly average.

    Yes, a new Winfred E. Eye album is a present. And maybe if you beg long enough, you'll get a taste before it's time to crack open the gifts. And if not, let me assure you that the quality will not fade during the next two months.


    Wooden Wand & the Briarwood Virgins
    Briarwood
    (Fire)

    James Jackson Toth has recorded more songs than he can remember. He's written more than even he can imagine (I'm taking these nuggets from a couple of interviews I've found on the Internets). So you gotta figure when he settles down and puts together an album, the material oughta be good.

    As usual, it is. Recently, Toth has focused more on the Wooden Wand brand name for his stuff, and it is a great moniker for the restless, pile-driving americana blues he cranks out.

    Any Neil Young fan will tell you that some of the tenderest moments in a song can come when the listener's ears are bleeding. Toth isn't afraid of volume or noise, but he's judicious. His dynamic flow is better than almost anyone around these days.

    None of that would matter if the songs weren't good. And these aren't good. They're transcendent. Life is better with a new Wooden Wand album. Even better than the greatness I anticipated.

    Contact:
    Fire Records
    www: http://www.firerecords.com


    Also recommended:

    Ariel Abshire Still So New (Darla)
    Abshire finds a lovely ringing sound for these lilting songs. Yeah, it's a bit cliched, but Abshire has such an earnest delivery that such a quibble is pretty easy to overlook. Her tenacious hold to golden melodies is what really took a hold of me.

    The Asteroid Shop The Asteroid Shop (The Council)
    Running 70s psychedelia through a heavy distortion filter, Eric Brendo (who is the Asteroid Shop) obviously loves to roll in excess. These songs do get a little bit spacey, but they always sound interesting. I suppose general interest might depend on the tolerance for particular bits of noise.

    Thavius Beck Amber Embers Volume 1 EP (Mush)
    Four tracks that find Beck deconstructing house music. The sounds are ripped inside out and then assembled into a pulsating force. A absolute thrill.

    Bethesda Dreamtiger & Other Tails EP (self-released)
    Cutesy melodies, affected vocals and loads of backbeat. Bethesda (which hails from lands far beyond the Beltway) seems to be eternally treading a high wire. Is this too annoying to listen to, or is it just kitchy enough to bring a smile? I'm leaning toward the latter, if barely.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.bethesdaband.com

    BigBee of the Whitetree Fairytale Dust EP (self-released)
    Intriguing minimalist folk wanderings. BigBee (which seems to be both a stage name and the name of the band) embraces stark lyrics, but the melodies have just enough movement to create some beauty.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.bigbeeofthewhitetree.com

    Zoe Boekbinder Darling Specimens (self-released)
    Fun, plinky music than sounds kind of like a circus version of americana. Boekbinder's voice isn't particularly distinctive, but her matter-of-fact delivery is a fine counterpoint to the often otherworldly nature of the music. Kinda weird, and I think it's better that way.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.zoeboekbinder.com

    Deru Mini-Mini Me single (Mush)
    A couple of tracks from this innovative DJ. Casual and Gift of Gab throw in some rhymes. More hip-hop and less electronic than most of his stuff, these two songs still show off his absolute mastery of sound. Exhilarating.

    Ex Norwegian Sketch (Dying Van Gogh)
    Solid pop that has a fine rock kicker. Ex Norwegian hasn't quite mastered the fine art of anglophile pop, but this is a good start. The boys just need to tighten up the ship and sharped the hooks just a bit.

    Grand & Noble Grand & Noble (self-released)
    Some lads from Chicago who play electronic-tinged rock and roll. And I mean tinged. These songs are rock all the way through. I like the way the piano and keyboards add some texture, but the center of these songs is in the rhythm section. Ride the swells and surf the crests. There are plenty here.
    Contact:
    www: http://http://grandandnoble.net/

    Grand Atlantic Constellations (self-released)
    An Australian band that blends boogie, indie rock and straight-up rock, packaging it in a slick and pretty sound. Sometimes I wonder how much depth there is beneath the gorgeous production, but I've been well satisfied so far.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.grandatlantic.org

    The John Steel Singers Tangalooma (self-released)
    Robert Forster produced this clangy, eclectic set of ambitious pop songs. At its best, the John Steel Singers are sublimely eccentric. The flip side, of course, is some serious inconsistency. Some of these songs simply don't work. But the ones that do are absolutely brilliant.
    Contact:
    www: http://thejohnsteelsingers.bandcamp.com

    Wendell Kimbrough Things that Can't Be Taught (self-released)
    Minimalist folk that occasionally breaks through into some heartbreaking melody. Kimbrough doesn't overwrite at all. Instead, he pares everything down to the core. That sometimes hamstrings the movement of these songs, but it also makes them vibrate with intensity.
    Contact:
    www: http://wendellk.com

    LCTRISC Sunbird single (self-released)
    "Sunbird" is a glorious electro-pop song that recalls all the grace and beauty that new wave could offer. "Reach the Children (Book of Doom)" is a raucous, electric rock song that reminds me of a demented Depeche Mode. I like sides of this story.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.lctrisc.com/

    The Mommyheads Delicate Friction (Dromedary)
    The Mommyheads released a retrospective last year and played a few shows. Apparently they liked the way that felt, because now we have a new set of eccentric prog pop (the sound lies somewhere between Pere Ubu and the Flaming Lips, though I apologize for that description, which isn't specific enough for me) from this trio. Consistently and almost arrogantly offbeat, the Mommyheads prove that their instincts were right: This is well worth the time.

    Old Wives Tale Paraphernalia (self-released)
    Jaime and Juan Felipe Valencia are Old Wives Tale. They play elektro rock with all the verve and sneer of post-punk new wavers, though they sound a bit more like Trans Am. There's a kinetic kick to these songs that really drives this album. Quite fun.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.listentotheold.com

    Paladino Paladino (self-released)
    Throwing more western swing into americana than most bands, Paladino two-steps its way through a fine set of ramblers. And indeed, this is more western than country. The restrained sound and palpable energy bring big smiles. Occasionally demented, but charmingly so.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.paladinomusic.com

    Jessie Payne Buffalo EP (self-released)
    Contemplative compositions that rarely break the skin. Jesse Payne prefers his music calm. The lyrics? That's another matter entirely. Sometimes it sounds like he's singing in code. There's a lot more here than meets the ear on the first listen.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.jessipayneonline.com

    Public Jones The Fall (self-released)
    Electronic, indie rock, whatever. Public Jones worries less about labels and more about compelling songs. These pieces find their groove and then wring that sucker out. Yeah, there's a bit of cheese, but cheese that's a bit modly and definitely funky. That's more my style. Luxuriate in the dankness.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.publicjones.com/

    The Reminding Ideas House of Weather (self-released)
    Toccata and Fugue for the indie elektro-rock set. The Reminding Ideas play a lot of variation on a theme, eschewing traditional rock construction for more esoteric ideas. Some of these songs do have a traditional climax, but most don't. They just run around their ideas until it's time to go to the next song. More intellectually pleasing than visceral, I lost myself in the maze.
    Contact:
    www: http://theremindingideas.com/

    kayln rock Passenger* (self-released)
    A strong voice witha a hint of gravel will take you far. kayln rock put this album together with the help of Josh Cohen, whose instrumental skills did a lot to fill out the sound. rock's songs, though, are the stars. She starts with a solid foundation and then frames everything most beautifully.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.kaylnrock.com/

    Sakert! Pa Engelska (Minty Fresh)
    Sakert! (there's an umlaut over the "a" that I haven't slotted in) has released two albums in Swedish. This collects many songs from the band's most recent album (Facit) and a couple from their first--and then translates them into English. This works better than you might think. These songs are minimalist electropop, and so the vocal rhythms are modestly adaptable to the different languages. I think I'd like to hear the Swedish now.

    Second Thought Since Every Hour Is Too Late (Jerky Oats)
    Ross Baker works with keyboards--sometimes regular piano, sometimes something electric--and then does a spot of processing. The sound is largely unadulterated, but that occasional scrim of hiss and moan is interesting. These pieces wander much further than their intricate melodies. There's something in between the notes.

    Shirk Circus This Band Will Destroy Your Life (Dromedary)
    Seems to me that the only band that will destroy your life is the one you play in, but maybe that's just cynical. Anyway, these power popsters rarely break out of midtempo grooves, but they're solid midtempo grooves. In any case, these songs hardly all sound the same. But they are all pretty good. Probably won't change (or destroy) your life, but might be worth a spin or few.

    Gregory Scott Slay Horsethief Beats (Communicating Vessels)
    Sometimes the most important part of the beat is the part that has no sound. Slay leaves a ton of space between his blocky-yet-slinky beats, lending a mysterious feel to these songs. Not exactly rock or hip-hop or, well, anything in particular. I like the way that Slay has carved out some space just for himself.

    Caroline Smith & the Good Night Sleeps Little Wind (self-released)
    Smith's voice is perhaps too affected for the folky pop songs she sings, but there's something charming about her delivery. These songs have that high midwest sound that always strikes me as more lonesome than the music might ordinarily indicate. I like that. It adds depth to a quality set.
    Contact:
    www: http://www.thegoodnightsleeps.com

    The Town Monster Bela Lugosi single (self-released)
    Lovely, raucous songs that fuse metal riffage, gothic noise, plenty of electronic melody and a bit of scratching. I can only imagine what this band tries to do on stage, but the breadth of sounds in these four songs is pretty amazing.
    Contact:
    www: http://thetownmonster.bandcamp.com

    Young Antiques A Man, Not a Biography (Two Sheds)
    Another fine purveyor of the punk americana power pop sound. Or maybe Young Antiques is simply just another fine American bar band. I dunno. Perhaps I'm overthinking this. Really solid songs with strong hooks and some bracing riffage. And plenty of songs with "girl" in the lyrics. I can get behind that, big time.


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