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 #333 reviews
December 2011
  • Fiery Blue Our Secret (self-released)
  • Chris Letcher Spectroscope (Sheer Sound)
  • Leverage Models Forensic Accounting/Interim Deliverable EPs (Home Tapes)
  • Life in a Blender Homewrecker Spoon (self-released)
  • Orchestra of Spheres Nonagonic Now (Fire)
  • Pacific UV Weekends (Mazarene)
  • Tin Armor Life of Abunance (self-released)
  • Total Babes Swimming Through Sunlight (Old Flame)
  • Turf War Years of Living Dangerously (Old Flame)
  • The Wild A Collection (Asian Man)
  • Brice Woodall Id Escaped (self-released)
  • Why I Must Be Careful Honeycomb (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Fiery Blue
    Our Secret

    Paul Marsteller did most of the writing, Gabe Rhodes does most of the playing and Simone Stevens does almost all of the singing. Together, they've made a solid album.

    These songs travel well-worn americana trails, but the fine pedal steel work and Stevens's strong-yet-lush vocals raise these songs above most of the pack. Reminds me a lot of latter-day Tift Merritt (which is very good, though perhaps not quite as exiting as her first couple of albums).

    I wish Fiery Blue showed a bit more of its namesake. These songs are pretty and well-oiled, but just a bit more passion would really kick this album into the stratosphere. As it is, I like it a lot.

    And there's nothing wrong with that. Well-written, well-played music is always welcome. The songs tell stories in a modestly elliptical format, and that draws in the ears as well. I'm hoping this partnership creates some real fusion in the future.

    www: http://www.fieryblue.com

    Chris Letcher
    (Sheer Sound)

    Chris Letcher has the bounding rhythms, soaring arrangements and proggy loopiness of the Flaming Lips down pat. And since the Lips seem to have sunk into a morass of self-indulgence (and I'm pretty bummed out about that), we'll have to let folks like Letcher provide us with our fix.

    In Letcher's defense, he trends more 70s than the Lips (there are plenty of singer-songwriterly touches) and his songs don't quite shoot for the apex of the anthemic scale. Perhaps his ambitions are somewhat more modest. In any case, they work for him.

    The production is suitably round and springy, giving this album the sonic equivalent of a superball coating. This keeps the songs moving along--even when they don't seem to want to do so.

    Yes, it does make me yearn for something astounding from south OKC. But once I get past my own self-indulgent wistfulness, I realize that this album stands well enough on its own.

    www: http://www.sheergroup.com

    Leverage Models
    Forensic Accounting EP
    Interim Deliverable EP
    (Home Tapes)

    Shannon Fields is better-known for his work with Stars Like Fleas (among many other pursuits), but he's decided to release a three-EP sequence and Leverage Models. These are the first two (sent to me on one promo CD, but you get to buy them separately), and they scream but one thing to me: Roxy Music lives.

    Oh, this is at once crazier and much saner than Roxy Music, of course. Fields performed most of the instruments himself, which lends a serious case of the one-man-band itch to these pieces (think Controversy-era Prince for another comparison), but because this isn't a band project, there aren't as many tangents as Roxy sometimes propagated.

    The mutant lush life approach to music is very similar, though. In all, this album is very much rooted in the 80s. Fields tosses in a few modernist touches (the drum machine rhythms are a bit more martial, for example), but he seems very comfortable with this sound.

    He oughta be. It sounds great. These are cool songs that have been shaped into truly intriguing music. I don't know if Fields will pass this way again after he finishes the third installment, but one can always hope.

    P.O. Box 3843
    Portland, OR 97208
    www: http://www.home-tapes.com

    Life in a Blender
    Homewrecker Spoon

    At times, Don Rauf and Life in a Blender do, as many reviewers have noted, highly resemble Robyn Hitchock. Listen to about three seconds of "The Answer" on this album and try say otherwise.

    But listen closer, and there's a lot more going on. Rauf's vocals can be gruff or lissome depending on the song. And his bandmates can churn out charming clunksters or soaring pop tunes with equal ease.

    As near as I can tell, these folks do resemble Hitchcock in one more area: age. And there's something about folks who have been making music since the late 70s. They seem to have a solid grasp on what works and what does not. I can't speak to past efforts, but Life in a Blender kept this album filler free.

    An old soul of an album, and that's a compliment. There's wisdom to be received here. Just settle into your favorite chair and all will be revealed.

    www: http://music.lifeinablender.net

    Orchestra of Spheres
    Nonagonic Now

    Throbbing, pulsating tunes played on non-traditional and homemade instruments (with the possible exception of a couple drums, which sound kinda normal). These New Zealand folks find the groove and then pound it into the ground.

    The groove itself might be a little weird, though. And while there's nothing wrong with a disco throb, these folks are just as happy to wend away to more subtle pulsations.

    What can't be denied is the hypnotic repetitiveness of the songs. While that feature might seem annoying, it's necessary to truly appreciate the wonder of the writing. The result is almost raga-like, and it's most ingratiating.

    I'm sold. A few more repetitions and my mind ought to be fully reprogrammed. I've been needing that for years.

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

    Pacific UV

    Oh yeah. Straight back to the glory of synth washes, straight beats and vaguely atonal vocals. Much more stark than New Order, Pacific UV is uncompromising in its dedication to gentle melody and spacey moods.

    And yes, you do have to like a certain corner of 80s music in order to dig this. Pacific UV is much mellower and more languid than even the most daring new wavers, but the melodies simply bristle with light. These songs are almost like nebulae, incubating nascent stars.

    Plenty of bands these days are trying their hand at this general sound, but Pacific UV has a strong modernist interpretation that pushes its music past most others. The trippy, hazy sound is a wonder to behold. Most lovely.

    Oh, and just when it seems like everything is about to dissolve into gauze, something peppy comes along. Quite fine.

    www: http://www.mazarenerecords.com

    Tin Armor
    Life of Abundance

    Peppy, often elegiac americana that is reminiscent of an introspective Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, or perhaps a punchier Connells. Damn, look at those references. I am getting old.

    But this music sounds old. In a good way. It has that classic rock feel, in that I can imagine listening to these songs twenty years from now and thinking, "Damn, that's still great." I dunno. Some stuff just sounds great right from the start.

    The band's players are most complimentary, working exceptionally well with each other. The arrangements pass solos along from one member to another (and, really, there's something awesome about alternating solos between piano and guitar) without missing a beat. The production allows every member plenty of space, and yet everything comes together in the end as well.

    Like I said, some stuff just sounds great. And some stuff will sound great years from now. This album fits quite nicely in both camps. One side note: I gave this a short review three months ago. I've grown in appreciation so much that I gave it a full review this month. That's what I call staying power.

    www: http://tinarmor.bandcamp.com

    Total Babes
    Swimming Through Sunlight
    (Old Flame)

    Perky, needle-pinning pop that isn't nearly so aggressive as the distortion. Almost a Capstan Shafts-like sound, though with a bit more heft.

    This is bar pop, and good bar pop at that. There's plenty of bite in the lyrics, and every once in a while the music takes a plunge into the dark side as well.

    With one notable exception, these songs are short and tight. That sole lengthy piece, "Without Your Heart," is a wall-shattering ballad of sorts. It's the penultimate piece on the album, and it's also the song that everything on the album builds up to. And yeah, it's stunning.

    The sound is almost a novelty, but the songs are quite accomplished. Dig past the fuzz and there's plenty more to hear.

    www: http://www.oldflamerecords.com

    Turf War
    Years of Living Dangerously
    (Old Flame)

    Imagine the Replacements steeped in southern rock and iced with raucous gang harmonies, and you might be getting close. Turf War is a strange name for this project (it simply doesn't fit the sound), but no matter. The album is a stunner.

    Most of these songs have that "haven't I heard this one somewhere before?" feel, but that deja vu is a result of the exceptional genre blending (not to mention bending) going on here. Key to the experience is the solid musicianship, which allows the band to get as rowdy as it wants without sacrificing any quality.

    Ian St. Pe of the Black Lips produced, and he gave the band a full and open sound. It's damned near perfect. These songs ring out with glorious attitude.

    Want some old-time rock and roll that will seriously chafe your ass? Look no further. And if you think you're playing this loud enough, you're not even close.

    www: http://www.oldflamerecords.com

    The Wild
    A Collection
    (Asian Man)

    Just what the title says, a collection of odds and ends from various short projects (including the split 7" with Run, Forever that's reviewed later in this issue)

    The Wild plays rollicking indie rock-inflected americana, kinda like Uncle Tupelo did way back when. The Wild focuses more on craft, but there's plenty of range and emotion in these songs.

    Some of that comes from the pieced-together nature of this project. This is hardly a coherent album, but it sure is an attractive portrait of a working band.

    And a fine way to set up a full-length to be released next year. I can't wait.

    www: http://www.asianmanrecords.com

    Brice Woodall
    Id Escaped

    Math-y, minimalist heavy indie rock. Really. Brice Woodall likes him the sound of a rough-edged guitar and organ. With plenty of bass and drums when the time is right. Oh, and the lines are just spectacular.

    Sure, this stuff is a bit conceptual. Takes a few brain cells to make an initial connection. That's cool. A lot of great music takes some warming up. Once your motor is running, though, it's oh-so-easy to cozy up to this album.

    Woodall's voice is one of those creaky, kinda fuzzy instruments. It adds the perfect sense of imbalance to the tightly-wound songs. And the louder he sings, the loopier the songs tend to get.

    The craft is exquisite, and the playing is quite enthusiastic. Take a few moments, and you'll be grooving on this, too.

    www: http://www.bricewoodall.com

    Why I Must Be Careful

    I got a cheesy promo CD, but if you plunk down $200 (and I'm not joking about that), you can get the official vinyl version encased in a real-live honeycomb. Really. I'm not entirely sure how well the vinyl will play if any of the wax melts, but that's your problem. And since the record drops next April, you've got time to save up.

    All I have to do is review the music, which isn't particularly difficult. WIMBC plays very mathy stuff that also happens to be almost insanely accessible. Think Zappa's Synclavier releases, only played by a real band (though with a heavy keyboard element). Oh, and just a bit weirder.

    Still, when the music goes absolutely berserk it becomes endearing. There are only two side-length tracks here, and the moments of madness really punctuate the linear explorations of the band. Does this make sense to you? If not, you might want to spend your $200 on something else.

    But if what I've said intrigues you (and you've got a couple Franklins burning a hole in your pocket), then truck over to the web site and get a taste straight from the Honeycomb. Yeah, it's arty. Yeah, it's a little crazy. But it works. These guys (John on drums and Seth on Fender Rhodes) work together extremely well, and their connections create some truly fascinating music.

    www: http://whyimustbecareful.com/

    Also recommended:

    Morgan Agren|Henry Kaiser|Trey Gunn Invisible Rays (7d Media)
    Kaiser and Gunn you probably know, and Swedish drummer Agren has been floating around the whole post-King Crimson/Zappa/etc. side of the musical world for a couple decades. The results are about what you might expect: Kaiser's wickedly bendy guitar work winding around Gunn's fluid bass work. But Agren's wide-ranging drumming is what holds this together. Quite a fiery set.

    Bright Young Things Bright Young Things EP (Aqui Estamos)
    A five-piece specializing in 70s-style post-Beatles pop. Y'know, like Badfinger. Except good. Not sure if these four songs tell me enough, but I do like what I hear.

    Paul Brill Breezy (Scarlet Shame)
    Breezy. Precisely. Brill hones his pop to a sharp edge and then adds all sorts of added brighteners. And when I say all sorts, well, let's just say you can hear things from six continents here. Mostly, though, Brill is a master of the hook. Bliss in every track.

    Comasoft Burn to Shine EP (self-released)
    Criminally addictive elektro pop from Chicago. These songs shimmer with an almost brittle grace, but their hooks are supple enough to hold it all together. If these boys can keep this up for an entire album, I'll be really impressed.
    www: http://comasoft.com

    Will Croucher I'd Rather Be Dreaming EP (Glowmobile)
    Much more fuzzy than yer average shoegazer, Croucher is also that rare one-man shoegaze outfit. I like the way these songs thunder through the night.

    Dad Rocks! Mount Modern (Father Figure)
    Snoevar Njall Albertsson is one Swede who isn't afraid to combine acoustic guitar and horns in the same noodly pop song. Boy, do I like the way he deflates conventions. Perhaps the most arresting feature is the way Albertsson multi-tracks his vocals into a not-quite unison sound. This one is squirming its way deep into my heart.

    Dig It Up/Prevenge split 7" (Pavones)
    A couple of fine Montreal bands (who do sing in English, if that's important to you) who play very, very loud. Dig It Up is a bit more rough-hewn, while Prevenge actually makes some pretense at attempting melody. Kinda like the difference between Pegboy and Naked Raygun, if you get my drift. Four songs that impressed me greatly.

    Rebekah Higgs Odd Fellowship (Hidden Pony)
    For a Canadian, Higgs sure sounds awfully American. Down to her not-quite-swallowing-her-vocals delivery. I'm not a fan of that particular technique, but Higgs's songs more than make up for that. These insightful pieces are a joy to experience.

    Holmes Covers (Groove Gravy)
    Roy Shakked and friends (who go by the moniker Holmes) kick out a few chestnuts in a faux-70s organ-heavy singer-songwriter style. This works okay with most (like Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day"), astoundingly well with a couple (the Gap Band's "You Dropped a Bomb on Me" and Genesis's "That's All") and is somewhat superfluous on others (Queen's "Bicycle Race," which is the one piece on this set that is almost note-for-note). I'm often amused by this sort of project, and this one is a notch better than most.

    Argyle Johansen Inner Demo(n)s EP (self-released)
    Too clever by half (both musically and lyrically), Argyle Johansen nevertheless manages to charm with an almost criminally offhanded delivery. He's working far too hard, and too many seams are showing, but this is surprisingly fun anyway.
    www: http://http://www.argylejohansen.com

    Robert Scott King Life Amongst the Static (self-released)
    Modestly dramatic rock that undercuts its anthemic tendencies just enough to charm. I still think King is working a bit too hard to sound dramatic, but these songs work pretty well.
    www: http://www.robertscottking.com

    Lunatic Soul Impressions (kScope)
    Eight tracks of loopy instrumental prog experimentalism and a couple of remixes. Lunatic Soul traverses a wide array of emotions and sounds within this relatively narrow canvas. The music speaks a whole lot louder than words (if there were any) could say.

    The Mighty Fine In Revival (Solidarity)
    Hardcore with just enough melody to allow some oozin' ahs. Epitaph used to have a boatload of these bands hanging around (past Bad Religion, of course), but there's not such a big market for this sound these days. I dig it, though. Especially the oi lisp that bleeds through from time to time. Mighty fine, indeed.

    Misty Rock and Roll Freedom Show (self-released)
    Woman with a single name. Religious tattoo on the midriff. This is just not my cup of...holy crap, did you hear that riffage? Okay, so this stuff isn't any more revolutionary now than it was when Mountain stole it years ago, but that whole southern stoner rock sound sounds so much better when a woman delivers it with throaty vocals. Not especially original, but strangely addictive.
    www: http://www.mistyfreechild.com

    Mixtapes Hope Is for People EP (Animal Style)
    Ah, some peppy, pretty, punchy pop punk. The CD is even painted up like a doughnut with sprinkles! Five short songs that are big on smiles. Sometimes that's the only thing that's missing from a happy afternoon.

    Ozric Tentacles Paper Monkeys (Madfish)
    The jamming progsters are back with one of their most ambitious albums. The songs still move along at almost impossible tempos (sometimes even simulating prog disco, which is a most interesting concept), but the grooves here are among the finest I've heard from this band.

    Rags and Ribbons The Glass Masses (self-released)
    Formerly Galaxy Farm, Rags and Ribbons works real hard within the whole atmospheric pop sound that the kids like so much these days. I like the way the band works its ass off. I wish I couldn't tell that it was working so hard. Many of these songs are chock full of good ideas. A bit more experience and ferment might take what's good here and spin it into something truly fine.
    www: http://ragsandribbons.bandcamp.com

    Eric Glick Rieman In My Mind, Her Image Was Reversed (Accretions)
    Lots of people play prepared piano. Or, at least, more people play prepared piano than play prepared Fender Rhodes. In any case, Rieman has chosen the latter, and the results are intriguing. Definitely on the edge of the musical universe, but often gorgeously so.

    Ross and the Wrongens Life in the Loos EP (self-released)
    Four blisteringly tunes from this British outfit. Not live at all (some folks who aren't as literal as me might have figured that out with a glance, as the "live" on the cover is crossed out), but still popping with life. Peppy and most definitely alive.
    www: http://rossandthewrongens.com

    Run, Forever/The Wild split 7" (Solidarity)
    I reviewed the Wild's A Collection above, and its two songs here are on that CD as well. Run, Forever, is a slightly more punchy version of the same. These guys are able to take their rootsy notions and graft them seamlessly onto raucous indie rock. I wouldn't mind a full-length from them as well. Quite the little piece (of vinyl).

    Said the Whale New Brighton EP (self-released)
    More finely mannered pop from these Canadian boys. Must more restrained than yer usual band from up north, Said the Whale puts beauty ahead of manic ambition. It wears well on them.
    www: http://saidthewhale.com

    Savaging Spires Critical Heights (self-released)
    Vaguely British (in an undefined sorta way), Savaging Spires use every trick in the book (many hokey) to foster a sense of drama. In fact, those efforts become so over-the-top that I simply waited for the next crazy thing to happen. Songs? I guess so. But that's hardly the point here.
    www: http://www.criticalheights.com

    The 65's Strike Hard! (Dromedary)
    Another release from Dromedary that hits me right in my late 80s indie rock gut. The 65's have that whole post-'Mats sound down: growly vocals, tight and basic riffage and surprisingly effective hooks. Oh, there's not much more going on. But it did make me smile.

    Sunny Shadows Coupled Lux Influx (self-released)
    Another Chicago electro band (must be something in the lake water). Sunny Shadows focuses more on atmospherics and basic song construction than on something as esoteric as a hook. Which is cool. That allows this album to expand and contract on its own terms. Much better appreciated as a whole than track-by-track. By the end, you'll be ready for another journey.
    www: http://sunnyshadows.bandcamp.com

    Tender Mercies Tender Mercies (self-released)
    Further proof of the east/west americana rift (and don't even get me started about the midwest), this SF outfit plays country rock with just a bit more country than rock. These songs do have a pleasant restraint, allowing the performances to shine through. Very nice.
    www: http://tendermercies.bandcamp.com

    Today the Moon, Tomorrow the Sun Wildfire (Greyday)
    Aggressive, enveloping electronic stuff that quite quickly establishes itself. This is the first full-length for the group after three EPs, and the experience shows. These folks know when to push things and when to shore up the foundation. Quite assured.

    The Valery Trails Ghosts and Gravity (self-released)
    Songs that evoke a lonely landscape, but not any particular landscape. More a western, wide-open space than eastern back roads, I suppose. There's also a surprisingly insistent driving quality to this stuff, so the album moves by quickly. Most engaging.
    www: http://www.thevalerytrails.com

    Various Artists Floating: The Nathan Gocke Story (Deep Elm)
    If you're gonna score a movie about a surfer who spends a bit too much time at sea using the bands of just one label, you might as well go with Deep Elm. By turns punchy and introspective, the songs here (from the likes of Track a Tiger, Dorena, Moonlight Sailor, Carly Comando and others) do a pretty good job of telling a story in their own right. A fine mix tape.

    Dick Wood Not Far From Here (pfMENTUM)
    Wood's pieces draw from all corners of the jazz universe, but his methods of construction are rather unique. Most folks don't throw so much into a single song, and the six pieces here simply shimmer with ferment. Does everything come together? Not quite. But I like listening to the ideas. They're most invigorating.

    Y Luv How Chill Can You Let Go EP (self-released)
    You can get this one for free from the band's site, so just check it out, alright? If you're curious, Y Luv plays bouncy rock with plenty of reverb. These are more glorified grooves than songs, but you're not gonna hear me complaining.
    www: http://www.iluvyluv.com

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