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
Bear & Moose
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.
Big Black Delta
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.
Between the Bedsheets and Turpentine
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.
Eight Bit Tiger
Parallel Synchronized Randomness
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!
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.
Words Unspoken EP
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."
Not So Cold, Cave EP
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.
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.