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
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.
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.
Forensic Accounting EP
Interim Deliverable EP
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.
Life in a Blender
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.
Orchestra of Spheres
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.
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.
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.