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 #336 reviews
April 2012
  • Dubious Ranger Found Recordings from the Panda Valley Mining Company c.1931 (self-released)
  • Brian E Dusty Cart (Record Label Records)
  • Keystone Kids Things Get Shaky (Deep Elm)
  • The Mighty Fine In Revival (Solidarity)
  • Niagara Niagara EP (Monotreme)
  • Orpheum Bell The Old Sisters' Home (self-released)
  • The Sexy Accident Ninja Ninja Fight Darth Vader (self-released)
  • Mishka Shubaly How to Make a Bad Situation Worse (self-released)
  • Siddhartha If It Die (Neurotic Yell)
  • Twin Trip Twin Trip (Flower)
  • The Way We Were in 1989 Floating Islands (self-released)
  • Wrinkle Neck Mules Apprentice to Ghosts (Lower 40)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Dubious Ranger
    Found Recordings from the Panda Valley Mining Company c.1931

    The sound is lo-fi americana. The melodies are often gorgeous, but they're hidden behind a wall of gauze. While this sort of anti-production generally comes off as pretentious and maddening, it works (mostly) for Alexander Eccles and Dubious Ranger.

    Eccles has a regular life as a classical pianist and "custom songwriter" (whatever that might mean). Again, this could signal pretension beyond belief. But not on this album, anyway. These songs move along with a chunky grace, even if some of their prettier moments are lost to the production sound.

    Rhythm drives these songs, even the ones that meander a bit. Indeed, the percussion sits at the center, not Eccles's piano. Though I'm pretty sure he's the one behind all the thrum as well.

    Lots of all over the place, but the center holds. And there's a lightness of touch that keeps this from becoming something oppressive. Stick with the program, and all will be well.

    www: http://www.dubiousranger.com

    Brian E
    Dusty Cart
    (Record Label Records)

    As is its wont, Record Label Records has created one of the geekiest and most sublime series I've come across. Pick a few crazed electronic artists and ask them to create soundtracks for imaginary Sega Genesis games.

    This sounds just like you'd imagine, only ten thousand times better. While I guess it might help if you love old school video games, that's certainly not a requirement. I've never been much for video games, myself, and I found this album utterly irresistible. The shiny, edgy melodies and throbbing rhythms are more than enough to make me smile.

    More to the point, Brian E adheres to both video game soundtrack and pop constructions. The result are insistently bubbly electronic songs that could serve as the most awesome video game soundtrack ever.

    If this music doesn't find its way onto a video game, that would be a shame. We'd simply have to adore it for what it actually is: One hell of an album. Unrestrained joy.

    Record Label Records
    1054 Hancock Ct.
    Pleanton, CA 94566
    www: http://www.recordlabelrecords.org

    The Keystone Kids
    Things Get Shaky
    (Deep Elm)

    Carly Comando and Ryan O'Donnell come at music from decidedly different angles, but when they decided to make a set of 80s-inflected pop songs, they ended up on the same page.

    These seven songs are simply glorious examples of shimmer pop, shining gems that simply refuse to dim. One the hook is set, the tug is unstoppable.

    Both Comando and O'Donnell allow some of their "regular" sounds to drop in, most particularly in the startlingly retro ballad "Falling." What never escapes is the pitch-perfect sense of pop glory. The songs rise above all obstacles.

    One of the prettiest and most fun albums I've heard in some time. There's not a downer in the bunch here. Brilliant.

    Deep Elm Records
    5095 Napilihau St. #109B-142
    Lahaina, HI 96761
    www: www.deepelm.com

    The Mighty Fine
    In Revival

    Good to know that there are some good old hardworking melodic punk bands around these days. Sure, Against Me still flies the flag, but the ranks seem to have thinned in recent years.

    Which is probably why I like the full-throated roar of this album so much. I'm a sucker for power chords and hooks, and if you add in some serious heavy riffage I'm pretty much ready to blow.

    So, you know, the Mighty Fine do quite well by me. These songs blaze no new ground, and the lyrics are somewhat stock. Who cares? They move with a rugged power that simply melts my ears.

    Yes, I know, I'm a whore for this kinda stuff. But hearing this album has brought me so much joy that I simply cannot deny it. Lovely.

    www: http://www.solidarityrecordings.com

    Niagara EP

    If you're gonna call yourself Niagara, you might as well be an experimental trio from Italy. Just sayin'.

    These songs are pretty much impossible to describe accurately. They do stick to a rhythmic core, but otherwise the lines diverge into a variety of streams. Vocals are part of those lines, and they can be shouts, moans or even something approaching the melodic.

    Largely, though, this is all about the rhythm. The EP is a selection of four songs from a concept album based on the Marilyn Monroe movie Niagara (my brother has a poster for this movie in his house, which is a very random connection for me). Personally, I think I'd like to hear the whole album. But for now I'll stick to these tracks. Stunning.

    Monotreme Records
    Box 31395
    London SW11 1XT
    United Kingdom

    Orpheum Bell
    The Old Sisters' Home

    Orpheum Bell likes to call its music "country and eastern," but "folk" is a much more apt description. The band borrows from folk traditions across the continents to create its own unique sound.

    So there's a bit of the gypsy guitar here, some bounding Caribbean bass there and plenty of mandolin and fiddle. The syncopated rhythm structures are mesmerizing, and the multi-leveled lines build sublimely from there.

    It's one thing to have a chest full of influences. Orpheum Bell turns the trick of actually making sense of those disparate traditions and refining the sound into something coherent. These are songs, and they work. Boy, do they.

    A rollicking, joyous affair. This album is pure enjoyment from the start. Turn it up and take your shoes off. It's time to dance.

    www: http://orpheumbell.com

    The Sexy Accident
    Ninja Ninja Fight Darth Vader

    Easily the best thing I've heard from this Kansas City outfit. What were once modestly-disjointed indie pop throbs have become well-crafted rock jaunts. The tendency to run to tangent is intact, but the central themes of the songs simply hold together better.

    In short, the Sexy Accident has found the root of "cool." These generally understated songs loop and circle around, always retaining just the right level of distance. Perhaps another way to look at this is that I've finally caught up with the band's inherent eccentricities.

    And then every once in a while there's a song like "Sauvingnon Blanc," which reminds me a lot of The Hungry Mind Review (of Wilmington, N.C., one of the lost great pop bands). The song never quite kicks into overdrive, and the hook sets like a soft caress.

    It's always fun to hear a band grow and get better over the years. Another step forward like this and the Sexy Accident should be getting attention from the big leagues.

    www: http://www.sexyaccident.com

    Mishka Shubaly
    How to Make a Bad Situation Worse

    Sounding like a gruffer, if less depressive, Gerald Collier, Mishka Shubaly grumbles his way through some darkly witty songs. There's not a whole lot of structure going on, but that's okay. The only thing these pieces really need is that voice.

    Which is to say that Shubaly is more of an artist than a songwriter. The music is pretty much guitar (acoustic or electric), with the occasional percussive backing. Minimalist to the extreme, but that allows Shubaly to wring the most out of his marginal musical ability.

    I don't mean that to be pejorative. The question at the end is simple: Does this work? And the answer is a definitive "yes." Shubaly puts everything into these songs, and they are solid reflections of him.

    Okay, so he's probably not going to sell any of these songs to, well, anyone. That's not the point. Shubaly has a few things to say, and he's found a format that works. Ramble along, if you will.

    www: http://www.myspace.com/mishkashubaly

    If It Die
    (Neurotic Yell)

    When in doubt, do something completely different. Siddhartha blends raga-style riffage, throbbing percussion and a decidedly psychedelic use of vocals. But this is no wannabe anything. Siddhartha cycles any number of ideas through each song, and so each piece is radically different than the one that preceded it.

    For example, "Her Useful Dream" is a stunning deconstruction of doo-wop, while the track that follows it ("I Who Can Recall Past Lives") is a running commentary on the varied legacy of Jimi Hendrix. And that's just the music.

    The guys have taken to calling this music dashiki shoegaze, which makes as much sense as anything else. My sense is that this idea is constantly evolving, and that the band tends to refine (if no redefine) itself with every show.

    One of the most exciting albums I've heard this year. The creative ferment is positively explosive. My skin is crawling and my brain is on fire. Glorious.

    www: http://www.neuroticyellrecords.com

    Twin Trip
    Twin Trip

    Talk about a throwback. Twin Trip (which is Felix Penny, pretty much) takes its cue from the college rock of the late 80s and early 90s. Imagine fusing the power of Nirvana and the stellar pop instincts of the Posies, and then dressing them up in slightly more accessible form.

    There are echoes of bands like King's X, Jellyfish, Buffalo Tom, Dinosaur Jr. and plenty more. It's like I'm back sitting in the studio at KCOU and spinning the latest and weirdest.

    Except that Twin Trip is anything but weird. This is mainstream all the way, with just enough tangents to keep the proceedings honest. Penny is an exacting craftsman, and these songs hew tightly to plan. But the sound and playing are decidedly loose for what is essentially a one-man recording.

    The anthemic structures are awe-inspiring. Penny really went for it with this album. He got there, too. I haven't heard anyone encapsulate that particular time period as well as Penny has here--and best of all, he's done it in such a way as to make all of it new again. Easily one of the best this year.

    www: http://www.flowerrecords.com

    The Way We Were in 1989
    Floating Islands EP

    The year is a misnomer. This disjointed electropop has its roots in the punkier side of new wave, with a laptop chaser. I love this duo's album, and this EP finds me even more impressed.

    The songs aren't immediately arresting. They build slowly, as does the general enthusiasm for the set. That's a great way to bring people along, because once hook sets, there's no way to pull free. And these six songs are chock full of understated hooks.

    It's hard to overstate the greatness here. The songs kinda hide within themselves. But like that hottie who wears baggy clothes, eventually the truth will be revealed. And this band is the truth. Totally.

    www: http://thewaywewerein1989.bandcamp.com

    Wrinkle Neck Mules
    Apprentice to Ghosts
    (Lower 40)

    The Wrinkle Neck Mules sound like a western americana outfit (somewhere between Uncle Tupelo and the Meat Puppets on this outing), replete with power chords and a surfeit of twang. But the band hails from Richmond. Go figure.

    I don't figure, period. I just let these songs roll over me while I lie flat, stunned once again. The power in this album is almost unbearable. And as often happens with the good shit, the quieter songs do the most damage.

    Pretty much a template for what a thousand bands are trying to do. The Mules make these songs sound effortless. Listening is pure pleasure, and there's nothing much to do but hit start once more.

    I've been a fan for a while, but this album far exceeds anything that has come before. The Mules are entering that golden period when greatness is within close reach. I'm betting they get there.

    Lower 40 Records
    644N. Highland Ave. NE #325
    Atlanta, GA 30306
    www: http://www.lower40records.com

    Also recommended:

    Adamus Daydream Adamus Daydream (Orindal)
    Dreamy electropop. Dancefloor ambient, if you prefer. With the emphasis on the dance floor. Adamus Daydream creates lush surroundings for its musings, and the folks are more than willing to chill out in some experimental dives. Wind down with this.
    www: http://www.adamusdaydream.com

    Olafur Arnalds Living Room Songs (self-released)
    Arnalds wrote and released one song a week back in October 2011. Here they are. His style is definitely on the contemplative side of modern classical music, but he imbues his works with wonderful texture. If you wander around his site, you'll hear some of the stuff he put a bit more work into. This set, though, has the rosy cheeks of fresh inspiration.
    www: http://livingroomsongs.olafurarnalds.com

    Ashtar Command American Sunshine (self-released)
    Ashtar Command can't quite decide whether it wants to deconstruct shoegazey psychedlia or simply embrace the sound straight up. Many of these songs meader between those two extremes. This somewhat maddening approach has confounded me, but I must admit that after a couple of months of listening, I've come to appreciate it. A truly intriguing approach, though I still think the band would be better served by picking a sound once and for all.
    www: http://www.ashtar-command.com

    Stephen David Austin A Bakersfield Dozen (self-released)
    Indeed. Austin is an obvious Buck Owens devotee, though he doesn't quite have either the vocal or writing chops to back that up. No shame there, of course. What he does deliver is a set of solid old school country songs that roll gently down the road.
    www: http://www.stephendavidaustin.com

    Caltrop Ten Million Years and Eight Minutes (Holidays for Quince)
    Conceptual stoner rock, perhaps the perfect geek music. Plenty of fuzz, some awesome power and enough prog elements to tickle the brain. Not particularly subtle, but who cares? Let the velvet pain wash over you.

    Coke Weed Nice Dreams (self-released)
    These songs wouldn't be very interesting is played straight, but Coke Weed seems impervious to any impulse to play by the rules. That offhanded (not to mention off-kilter) approach to introspective indie rock gives this album a nice feel. A bit too VU at times, perhaps, but resting in a nice place, nonetheless.
    www: http://cokeweed.com/m

    Corduroi Future Adventures EP (Mush)
    Mindbendingly smooth experimental electronic stuff. These pieces work as concepts more than songs, but the sounds within approach brilliance more often than not. If your mind needs a vacation to the frontal lobes, book your trip with these folks.

    Larry O. Dean Throw the Lions to the Christians (self-released)
    If Lou Reed decided to get rootsy, he might sound a bit like this. Larry O. Dean has been writing poetry and recording albums for years, and this album has a fine, rough polish. As the title intimates, Dean often trends toward the skewer, and the loose riffage complements those tendencies. This one rolls down the road with just the right amount of jostle. If you like this, check out the remastered reissues of the Fussbudgets, Dean's old band.
    www: http://larryodean.com

    Everliven Sound & Inf Everlations (self-released)
    Old school rhymin' and crisp beats. The rhymes themselves use humor to make serious points--at times, this reminds a lot of 3rd Bass. What really hooked me, though, is the way the beats and the rhymes are almost a fused unit. There's no wasted motion anywhere.

    Josephine Foster & the Victor Herrero Band Perlas (self-released)
    Another album of folks songs for Foster and Herrero. If you dig that whole Edith Piaff thing, then Foster's affected vocals ought to do you right. I'm more down with Herrero and his band, who are simply stellar musicians. Either way, there's a lot to like here.

    Garvy J Celebrate/War Is Over Again (self-released)
    A lifetime ago, Garvy J was in the Elevator Drops (I reviewed People Mover back in 1997). I loved that album, and these two songs showcase a similar (if highly-evolved) version of blisspop. Sweet stuff.
    www: http://garvyj.com

    Jon Grammer Reveries of the Solitary Walker (self-released)
    Further proof that folk-rock is hardly a backward-looking enterprise, Grammer cranks out a fine set of experimental songs that use folk as a base. Most of the time, these pieces coalesce into songs, but the few occasions when they don't contain some of the most viscerally satisfying moments on the album.
    www: http://www.facebook.com/jongrammer

    The Green Mitchell Trio The Green Mitchell Trio (Edgetone)
    I'm a sucker for clarinet jazz, and Corey Wright brings both b-flat and bass to this party (as well as some fine tenor sax). These pieces are improvised in the finest jazz fashion--set the rules and then go. And boy, do these pieces go. Recorded in one day. Wow. That's some session.

    Haim Forever (self-released)
    Three sisters who fuse tight harmony and edgy beats into some truly addictive songs. Only three here, but they're all exceptional. Download for free at the site and decide for yourself:
    www: http://www.haimtheband.com

    Holobody Riverhood (Mush)
    Dropping doo-wop and other tight-harmony styles into experimental electronic stuffage, Holobody has a seriously schizophrenic style. Put this on, and you're guaranteed to get plenty of "Hunh?"s from the crowd. Me, I like that. The initial confusion fades into sincere appreciation. Utterly unique. Addictively so.

    Hope for a Golden Summer Life Inside the Body (Mazarine)
    Understated americana. Sometimes a bit too understated for my taste, but when the band adds a bit of oomph (like on the gorgeous "Daniel Bloom") I'm smitten. Plenty of loveliness wandering around here.

    Isidore Life Somewhere Else (Communicating Vessels)
    The mood is the key. Isidore can be threatening and welcoming by turn, but it's in the change where this album shines. The sequencing of this album is key. Hit random and these songs are not as powerful as they are in their original layout. Just goes to show that every element of album design is important.

    Jealov Translations (Mush)
    The other side of Vuurwerk, reviewed in the last issue. These beats are more straight hip-hop, though with a pronounced experimental edge. A little this, a little that, a little dub--I think you get the idea. Creative destruction at its finest.

    King of Prussia Transmissions from the Grand Strand (self-released)
    Easy-rocking tunes that hide their hooks in the nooks and crannies of the songs. Kind of a 70s groove that way, and these folks wear it well. Nothing complicated or particularly original, but just solid music played with skill and style.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/wearekingofprussia

    Emily Lacy Rise (self-released)
    I suppose you could throw Lacy into the whole americana hopper, but her lo-fi yodels are pretty much beyond category. Imagine a stripped-down early Neko Case as recorded by Dean Wells (Capstan Shafts). And then dirty it up a bit. The songs themselves are rendered even more poetic by Lacy's elliptical arrangement style. After a minute or so, hypnosis sets in.
    www: http://emilylacy.net

    Andrew Luttrell Band Paint by Numbers (self-released)
    This sounds like a European take on americana, what with its emphasis on smoothly technical playing and the emphasis on electrified instruments. Kinda like a Dutch Allman Brothers, perhaps. Except that Luttrell and his band are decidedly american. Maybe the Dixie Dregs are a better reference. Anyway, the songs a bit wiggy, but they move so nicely that every tangent is folded seamlessly into the whole.
    www: http://www.andrewluttrellband.com

    Michael and the Lonesome Playboys Last of the Honky Tonks (self-released)
    Michael Ubaldi looks to old to be a crank, but he sure plays some cranky country rockin' blues. He sings about things he's too young to really know about, but that's cool. His heart is in the right place (you can never go wrong writing country songs about drivin', cheatin' and drinkin') and he delivers these songs with an assured voice. He's down, but the album is quite fun.
    www: http://www.rocknrollpoet.com

    Midas Fall As Our Blood Separates EP (Monotreme)
    Modern minimalism with just a touch of old school goth. Kinda like a more forceful Dead Can Dance, but less so. I don't come across this sort of thing often, so maybe I'm a bit more taken with this than I should be. But I do like the way these folks build their songs.

    Night Genes Like the Blood (self-released)
    New wave-inflected indie pop. Eric Ingersoll's bass vocals provide a rumble beyond compare, and the songs kinda burble along beside. Not much happens, but the sounds are most enjoyable.
    www: http://www.nightgenes.com

    Nonagon People Live Everywhere EP (self-released)
    A Chicago trio (which includes former members of the Blue Meanies and Jumpknuckle) who play a more muscular version of that classic Touch and Go Chicago sound. Think somewhere between Jesus Lizard and June of 44 and you're about right there. Don Cab with vocals isn't too far off, either. So, yeah, these guys are my age and they're playing in a style from my youth. That doesn't mean they're not great. Or something.
    www: http://nonagon.us

    Eliza Rickman O, You Sinners (Paper Garden)
    She's got a degree in orchestration, and it shows. Rickman dresses her songs up or down depending on the mood. Most of the time, she's feeling a bit dark and mean, so there's plenty of pizzacato piano (regular, toy or otherwise) and some serious bite to her vocals. This one entrances quickly.
    www: http://www.elizarickman.com

    Scout All Those Relays (Invsible Brigades)
    Ashen Keilyn has reconstituted Scout, and this is the new album. Solid pop tunes, with Keilyn's gorgeous vocals on top. The hooks are a bit more sophisticated and underplayed than previously, but that's a sign of maturity. A fine return to form.

    Scuzi AM EP (self-released)
    Burbling and bleeping instrumental electronic stuff that always trends toward the cheez pop side of things. The dichotomy is curious, but it kept me intrigued.

    She Makes War Little Battles (self-released)
    Laura Kidd is pretty much the entirely of She Makes War. She uses grunge song contruction, but she leaves her lines clean of fuzz. Which makes these songs sound almost hollow. That's more effective than you might think. In any case, it sure amplifies the despair. An unusual approach that works quite well.
    www: http://www.elizarickman.com

    Sourpatch Stagger & Fade (Happy Happy Birthday to Me)
    Lovely jangle-fuzz dreamy pop. Sourpatch doesn't rely on a single vocalist or a single sound. Instead, it puts all the tastiest bits into a blender and hopes everything turns out alright. Mostly, it does, even if the sound can be something of a blurry mess. That mess, though, is part of what makes this so damn tasty.

    Strongly Imploded Twilight of Broken Machines (Eh?)
    Some Italian noise merchants who are apparently attempting a critique of an Italian book about either socialist economics or AIDS. I really can't make heads or tails of the liners, but the squalls are awesome. This is noise that actually tells a story (and not about economics or AIDS, to my ears). This storm surges.

    Tomat 01-06 June (Monotreme)
    This is the solo effort of Davide Tomat, who is also in Niagara (reviewed in this issue). These sharp, yet dreamily trippy, electronic pieces don't easily fit into any category. Sometimes, they simply don't come together. But generally, when all seems lost Tomat is able to pull things together just enough. I like the way he lives on the edge.

    Ian Tordella and His Band Tragic Comedy (self-released)
    Electric jazz (that is, with two electric guitars), with a traditional drum and doublebass rhythm section and Tordella on tenor. Tordella sticks to the upper register mostly, which allows his guitar sidekicks to often shine. This is an unusually-constituted quintet, and it brings a quite different feel to what are, at their hearts, traditional jazz tunes. A cool sound.
    www: http://music.iantordella.com

    Various Artists Communicating Vessels 7-Inch Series Vol. 1 (Communicating Vessels)
    The contents of six 7" pieces of vinyl put out by Communicating Vessels. I was really knocked out by most of this (Preston Lovinggood's contribution is particularly wonderful). The breadth of sound here is breathtaking. I love the two-song format, and this collection showcases why it is so compelling.

    Paul Weller Sonik Kicks (Yep Roc)
    Yes, that Paul Weller. We find our hero trying to out-Fall Mark E. Smith by jamming as many ideas as possible into a very small space and then hoping it all works out. Weller doesn't quite have Smith's minimalist aesthetic, though, so the ideas tend to bleed all over each other. Which makes this a most interesting and listenable affair, but not necessarily the godhead that Weller has been trying to recapture for the last three decades or so.

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