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 #337 reviews
May 2012
  • Afrobeta Wig Party (self-released)
  • Johnny Bertram and the Golden Bicycles Neon City (Esperanza Plantation)
  • Sam Densmore Ku-Ther'-Tik (Sad Songs for a Sad World/Cat Years) double EP (self-released)
  • Hiss Golden Messenger Poor Moon (Paradise of Bachelors)
  • The Inner Banks Wild (DAG!)
  • Johnny Headband Who Cooks for You (self-released)
  • The Mowgli's Sound the Drum (self-released)
  • Rivethead Doomsday for Optimism (self-released)
  • Solid Home Life Solid Home Life (Fin Records)
  • Tic Tic Boom Before the Sun Rises EP (self-released)
  • Tiger High Myth Is This (Trash Creatures)
  • Various Artists Grey Area/The Reveling vs. The Copyrights/Luther split EP (Black Numbers)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Wig Party

    One part Miami pop, one part disco, one part electronic experimentalism and a dash of funk. The duo that makes up Afrobeta prefers to not use their real names (Cuci does the singing and Tony Smurphio takes care of the music), but they should reconsider. There's no need to hide when you make such infectious music.

    Slinkier and funkier than yer average dance pop act, Afrobeta also throws in some intriguing electronic song construction. One track, for example, is a slice-and-dice of the "Family Man" theme. There's also a fairly routine run-through of "Whip It" alongside remixes from the band's first album and a handful of originals.

    So I'm guessing this is some sort of placemarker EP, but even so the engaging spirit of Afrobeta shines through. The best pieces here are the originals. Can't wait for the official second edition.

    www: http://www.afrobeta.com

    Johnny Bertram and the Golden Bicycles
    Neon City
    (Esperanza Plantation)

    The sound is much more electric, but the arrangements are as far-reaching and orchestral as before. Bertram and his band have decided to embrace the rock roots of their ambition, even while keeping touch with the subtle grace of their first album.

    I've been on a 70s rock kick for the last few months, and the way Bertram fuses grace with power reminds me a lot of the best examples of that sound. The easiest comparison, of course, is the difference between the Posies first album and their Geffen major-label debut. The bones are the same, but the sound is so much more.

    And yes, more electricity and volume do amplify the gorgeous settings of these songs. In truth, beauty runneth over here. These songs are so well-proportioned that I can hardly thing of a better way to put them together.

    This one has a real chance to become a classic. The songs are exceptional, and they're played with a charmingly loose flair. But it's the gracefully lush production that simply makes this album timeless. Absolutely wonderful.

    Esperanza Plantation
    P.O. Box 55482
    Jackson, MS 39296
    www: http://www.esperanzaplantation.com

    Sam Densmore
    Ku-Thar'-Tik (Sad Songs for a Sad World/Cat Years) double EP

    I think this ended up being released in two pieces, with Cat Years being the more recent entry. Not sure, and it doesn't matter. To my ears, Sam Densmore has finally found himself as a songwriter.

    His stuff with Silverhawk was okay, but generally up-and-down. The work on these two EPs is more subdued, but also much more consistent. He's got a voice now, and his songs work much better.

    The sound is extremely muddled and lo-fi, but that suits Densmore's understated delivery. These songs sound old, and the production plays that up to the hilt.

    Is it folk? Rock? Americana? Something else? Yes. Densmore sounds like he's simply tossing off song after song. But after a while, it becomes apparent how good these pieces really are. No matter how you might classify this release, it's a a winner.

    www: http://www.reverbnation.com/samdensmore

    Hiss Golden Messenger
    Poor Moon
    (Paradise of Bachelors)

    Definitely hailing from the more-is-more school of americana, Hiss Golden Messenger rolls though a series of slow-burning rootsy pieces.

    Almost orchestral in its arrangements, the band channels both the raw edges of Gram Parsons and the epochal ambitions of the Band (gosh, there just has to be a reference to the Band this month, doesn't there?). The key to this approach is to keep both in proportion, and Hiss Golden Messenger never gets out of pocket.

    Rather, these mid-tempo pieces ramble through the brambles with a deliberate, unhurried gait. There's plenty of room to roam while acknowledging the center with every step.

    A grand time. There are plenty of layers, but the real joy comes in the combining. This one falls together nicely.

    www: http://paradiseofbachelors.com

    The Inner Banks
    (DAG! Records)

    Wending and winding electronic rootsy fare that pauses just long enough to make its point. The Inner Banks rarely get much past midtempo, but that is hardly an impediment.

    Rather, these songs simply fall into mellow grooves and then add lines of intensity. It's those grooves that make the album, though. Sometimes all you have to do is find the center and then keep it going. The Inner Banks is quite good at that.

    Even on a song like "Found Holiday," which features a fractured rhythm groove that hypnotically imitates a skipping CD, the music floats by almost effortlessly. The way that song modulated the "skipping" is what convinced me that there is something most impressive going on here.

    Oh, yes, the whole acoustic/electronic thing? When it's done right, it's amazing. And the Inner Banks are tied into the main line. Truly fine.

    DAG! Records
    www: http://www.dagrecords.com

    Johnny Headband
    Who Cooks for You

    Electric Six's Keith Thompson (aka Smorgasbord) and his brother Chad make up Johnny Headband. The result is something that is a lot like E6, except not.

    There are the requisite references from the 70s, 80s and today--though I don't think anyone will be calling this "lite" anything. Rather, these songs combine sly grooves with a wide array of accompaniments. The result is an amazingly light and tasty confection.

    Light as in breezy. There's plenty of depth here, but the Thompson boys don't forget how to entertain. Each song is chock full of hooks, some tender and some quite sharp.

    Most importantly, the production stays out of the way. The modest loopiness of the arrangements is endearing, and the incessant good cheer of the songs brings plenty of smiles. The perfect pick-me-up.

    www: http://johnnyheadband.com

    The Mowgli's
    Sound the Drum

    If you happened to pick up on the recent "San Francisco" single, you'd know already. But that was just a couple of songs. This is an entire album of Mowgli's goodness. And my goodness, is it good.

    The Mowgli's tend to do vocals in a sort of hippie gang style, layering those over impeccably bouncy orchestral pop. Peppy, perky--use whatever word you like. The simple fact is that this is good goodness.

    "Good" is a word that is overused. But it is the perfect word to describe the Mowgli's. Yes, the quality is "good," but the soul of these songs is good, too. Even the darkest, roughest beast would be cleansed.

    Blissful to the extreme. The single rather knocked me out, but this is on an entirely different level of awesome. Hard to keep up such an energetic stream of goodness, but the Mowgli's have proven up to the task. Most excellent.

    www: http://themowglis.bandcamp.com/

    Doomsday for Optimism

    There was a time when this sort of electro-industrial-metal sound was quite futuristic. But somewhere between Pantera and Fear Factory this became more of a standard style.

    Nonetheless, most folks tend to screw it up. Perhaps a too-heavy reliance on keyboards or drum machines, or maybe a bit too much metallic sludge. The key is to stay nimble even while bringing the pain. Rivethead has it down.

    In other words, these songs move with style. The beats are often dance-floor ready, but the guitars and bass blister with appropriate rage. The proportions are exceptional. Rivethead has an instinctive feel that translates into a most engaging album.

    Indeed, this ought to appeal to old-school goth and industrial mavens in addition to folks who think that Cowboys from Hell was (by far) the best thing Pantera ever did. Feed the machine, boys.

    www: http://www.rivetheadonline.com

    Solid Home Life
    Solid Home Life
    (Fin Records)

    Oh, so Portland. Greg Olin and Lindsay Schief have known each other for while, and then they started hanging out a bit more. Lindsay moved in. They wrote ten songs about chores and, well, solid home life. They recorded the songs, often with other Portland friends who stopped by to hang out, drink beer and play music.

    The last song is about Lindsay moving into her own place (not a breakup song, just to be clear). The laid-back attitude of that song pervades the entire project, which moves along at a leisurely pace.

    Schief's voice isn't particularly strong or distinctive, but it has just the right feel for these easy-going songs. These are the sounds of friends chilling.

    Like I said, oh so Portland. It's rainy in the winter, and there's always plenty of good beer right around the corner. So you might as well record an album. There seems to be little ambition in these songs, which makes them all the more endearing. This one is way under the radar, but it's a cute little package.

    www: http://www.finrecords.com

    Tic Tic Boom
    Before the Sun Rises EP

    Let's assume you didn't believe my review of Tic Tic Boom's last release. Let's assume you didn't immediately wander over and download the stuff. Let's assume you're really behind the curve.

    Tic Tic Boom assembles some of the most intense and inventive electronic indie rock you'll hear. There's layer upon layer of thought, and each song is its own self-contained universe. Here you get five brilliant songs that blister the ears and the mind.

    If any of our assumptions were true, you have no excuse now. Go to the site below and download the EP. Free. You're not gonna get a better deal this year. And then when the next Tic Tic Boom release comes around, spot the folks some cash. It's the least you can do for music this good.

    www: http://ticticboom.bandcamp.com

    Tiger High
    Myth Is This
    (Trashy Creatures)

    Some Memphis boys who appear to have discovered the missing link between doo wop, garage and synth rock. Kinda like if late-era OMD had produced the Box Tops. Yep. It's that weird. And that good.

    To be fair, these boys really like their guitars. It's just that there's plenty of electronic noise on top. And while the harmonies are there, they don't predominate.

    The other way to look at this is if My Bloody Valentine had produced the Soft Bulletin. Or maybe if Brian Wilson had kept up with the kids (and not gone batshit crazy), he might have cranked out a solo album something like this. I dunno. I've never heard anyone attempt something quite like this. I'm a little stunned as I listen.

    Utterly engrossing. This is an otherworldly album, the kind that doesn't arrive every year. I'm not entirely sure that the sounds come together, but I kinda like the caterwauling effect. The louder you listen, the more your brain melts. Lovely and gooey.

    www: http://trashycreaturesrecords.bandcamp.com

    Various Artists
    Grey Area/The Reveling vs. The Copyrights/Luther split EP
    (Black Numbers)

    Maybe you're too young, but I remember a time when Epitaph Records was the goddamned coolest record label around. Bad Religion, sure, but also the Joykiller, Down By Law, NoFX and all sorts of other powerful-yet-tuneful punk bands.

    Well, the four bands here would fit in quite well with the whole "accomplished, polished punk" Epitaph ethos. Maybe I liked this so much because it took me back some 20 years or so, but damn, there's something to biting into a live wire and then bleeding off a few oozin' ahs.

    I suppose my favorite band here was the Copyrights, largely because they're the fastest and the loudest. But what makes these bands so good is the muscular way they express their melodies. This is a sweet set. Do your best to score it any way you can.

    Black Numbers Records

    Also recommended:

    Anabot Anabot EP (self-released)
    Thick, noisy electropop. Anabot prefers to wail on the bass and the keyboards. I'm thinking these folks might be expecting to go a bit further than their music currently allows, but these four songs are chunkily catchy. Just roll with the musical anachronisms and you'll do fine.
    www: http://anabot.bandcamp.com

    The Bastards of Fate Who's a Fuzzy Buddy? (Our Summer)
    The phrase "off-kilter" was invented for the Bastards of Fate, who pretty much refuse to play a single thing straight. Vocals and music are twisted and warped, song construction is fractured and the sound seems to veer from shiny to rough at random moments. An unholy racket, but hardly a mess. These folks know exactly what they're doing. If I spend another couple years with this album, I might actually parse out what that might be.

    Bigg Jus Machines that Make Civilization Fun (Mush)
    Lovely experimental beatwork with a vicious sense of humor. There are a few rhymes thrown in, just for fun. But the star here is the crushing beatwork and inventive assembly. Just the right amount of crunch.

    Black Earth Pink Champagne (Purple Kush)
    Somewhere twixt Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, Black Earth sails the seas between hard blues and stoner rock. I like the way this one rolls. Nothing too complicated; just solid riffage.

    Nick Butcher Free Jazz Bitmaps Vol. 1 (Hometapes)
    Butcher reassembled scads of jazz and house samples into song-ish things. Then he sent those to his friends and asked them to create one-take improvisations based on those pieces. The first six tracks are Butcher's originals, and the second six are the improvs. Fascinating.

    Caferteria Dance Fever Danceology (Hovercraft)
    A collection of Caferteria Dance Fever's finest output over the last few years, bringing a number of vinyl-only songs to CD for the first time. This is punk rock at its silliest. CDF subverts every genre it attemps, and blasts these songs out in lovely lo-fi. Twenty-four songs in 30 minutes of time. An absolute mess, and all the better for it.

    CONTROL Schulte, A (Science of Sound)
    The second of three EPs from this Madison band. The sound is very much Chicago post-rock (the Shipping News would be so proud), but even with that obvious reference, I like the way these lines wend. My mind rolled along in the whorls.

    The Dentals Tennessee (self-released)
    I was trying to figure out what what was wrong with the vocals, and then I figured out the guys are from Switzerland. Which is exactly where a goofy, occasionally clever ("I Am Well But You Are Paul Weller") folk-pop band ought to be from, right? Everything here sounds just slightly off. And I think that's what makes me smile so much while I'm listening.
    www: http://www.thedentals.com

    Jon DeRosa A Wolf in Preacher's Clothes (Mother West)
    Another set of easy-rolling songs that contain some slyly clever bite. Don't let the mellow trappings fool you; some of these songs have fangs. I like the way DeRose sneaks.

    The Doc Marshalls Look Out, Compadre (self-released)
    When you take the country to the city, things get smoothed out a bit. The Doc Marshalls are a bit slicker than they used to be, but the songwriting is clearer, too. The perfect accompaniment to a shot of high-end bourbon at a Brooklyn bar.
    www: http://www.docmarshalls.com

    The Michael J. Epstein Memorial Library Faith in Free EP (self-released)
    Three songs that showcase Epstein's eccentric (but tight) pop songwriting style. Intensely pretty, with plenty to say as well. Epstein is something of an acquired taste, but one that is impossible to shake.
    www: http://michaeljepstein.com/

    The Fortieth Day/Sshe Retina Stimulants/Terrance Hannum Advent (Live on WLUW 88.7 FM) (Land of Decay)
    An exceedingly long set of improvised electronic disturbance. If that's not your bag, go elsewhere. If you're like me and you dig the pulses and squalls of some serious frontal lobe frying, then this is pretty much heaven. Jump in headfirst.

    Gangrene Odditorium (Decon)
    The Alchemist and Oh No know how to reverse the flow and still keep the grooves intact. The beatwork is all over the place, but these four songs hold together with an eclectic brilliance.

    Go Back to the Zoo Benny Blisto (self-released)
    Blisteringly sharp pop rock from Amsterdam. There's just enough rock in the guitars to keep this from getting all fluffy. But there's also no denying that Go Back to the Zoo wants to break big in the worst way. Well, they've got the fun songs. So that's a good start.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/gobacktothezoo

    i am Love Truest 7" (self-released)
    Audaciously pretentious americana. Joshua Christopher imbues his songs with all sorts of messages, and then he lays the arrangements on thick. I'm not exactly sure I'm down with the exceptionally dramatic presentation, but perhaps that's just what these songs need. Ear-catching, to be sure.
    www: http://www.iamlovemusic.com

    ITHI LoD Tape (Land of Decay)
    Two tracks, about fifteen minutes each. Heavy drone with screechy accompaniment and goth vocals. Man, I could listen to this all night. Oh wait. I did. And it was freakin' awesome.

    Konrad Shadow Boxing (self-released)
    Jeffrey Konrad prefers to complicate his songs as much as possible. So he wends his way from wiggy electronics to acoustic musings to some very nice rock. Through it all runs a post-prog attitude of elliptical phrasing and extended tangential lines. There's a lot here to digest, and most of it is quite intriguing.
    www: http://konradmusic.bandcamp.com

    Brian Larsen Building (Protocol)
    A bit more stripped-down than previous Larsen albums, this one has a real one-man feel to it. That's both claustrophobic and revealing, I think. I do wish Larsen put a bit more intensity into his performance; his songs are definitely worth the effort.

    Ian McGlynn Now We're Golden (Bailey Park)
    McGlynn has enlisted Ken Stringfellow as producer (and player), and these songs so have a certain ringing freshness that sounds familiar. McGlynn stays a little too close to home for my comfort, but this a lovely album, nonetheless.

    Number None Strategies Against Agriculture (Land of Decay)
    The title alone gets a review. And while these modulated electronic disturbances don't come close to the epochal resonance of the first two EN Architecture albums, not much does. So why worry? Ride out this storm for forty-five minutes, and see if your brain can still take the strain.

    Ourlives Out of Place EP (Spartan)
    Well, these boys are from Iceland. The ethereal side, rather than the idiosyncratically wiggy side. Nonetheless, there is something chilly and edgy within these introspective songs. At times, it sounds like very little is going on. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    Sal Piamonte Lives in Devil City (Grand Family)
    Blooze and boogie with an industrial underpinning. Not exactly an unwlecome pairing, but one that is a bit disconcerting at first. In the end, these driving songs were too much fun to ignore.

    pOnk Remaking the Past EP (Mush)
    Two six-minute songs, which is a short EP in my book. But Frederik Knop makes the most of his time. These electronic musings incorporate a wide array of sounds and ideas into a modest organization. Hard to believe only twelve minutes passes.

    David Ramos Sento la Tua Mancanza (Fake Four)
    The title is Italian, in case you were curious. There's some outstanding beatwork here, but on the tracks where Ramos half-heartedly raps…ouch is the only word I can think of. Luckily, most of these songs are more experimental and less song-like, so he isn't tempted. The music tracks are first rate, and I can groove on that.

    Jenn Rawlings and Basho Parks Take the Air (Waterbug)
    Take a layer or two of Rawlings's lilting vocals and add in Parks's easy-rolling string work (guitars, fiddle, etc.). These songs move lightly and rarely take a false step. A little mannered for my taste, but exquisitely finished.

    Ember Schrag The Sewing Room (Single Girl Married Girl/Edible Onion)
    More minimalist folk from Schrag, who is rapidly becoming one of the most proficient purveyors of that sound. The songwriting here is first rate, and there's just enough oomph in the production to really bring them to life. Quite a fine effort.

    Shake the Baron Ghost Hits (self-released)
    Tight, smooth pop offerings that are glazed in a garage sound. Reminds me more than a little of Smart Brown Handbag, though with a bit more of a affected feel. These songs are cut gems, and the playing is just raggedy enough to tumble them down into something most pleasant.
    www: http://www.shakethebaron.com

    Matthias Sturm Blood and Thunder (Fou de Gis)
    If you don't know what European art rock is, run away. Fast. But if you like the lyrical and musical twists and turns of Jacques Brel and his progeny, then Sturm is your man. The modest German accent adds just the right touch to these bounding, looping songs. Trips me out into a completely different continent (even if it was recorded in the good ol' U.S. of A.)

    The United Sons of Toil When the Revolution Comes, Everything Will Be Beautiful (Phratry)
    UST is Killdozer (another Madison band, strangely) with a bit more fiber. These boys take radical politics, add sledgehammer riffage and then play very, very loudly. Absolutely smashing, though I do recommend suppositories.

    Variety Lights Central Flow (Fire)
    Oh my. David Baker, he of the old-school Mercury Rev, is back. Teaming up with Will MacLean to form Variety Lights, Baker's music is weirder than ever. Not quite as coherent or satisfying as Yerself Is Steam, but that's true of just about anything. It's good to hear Baker again, and I'm glad to know that he's still miles away from "normal."

    Various Artists The Inner Flame: A Tribute to Rainer Ptacek re-issue (Fire)
    Rainer Ptacek was a co-founder of Giant Sand and well-known within the general rock community at large. The original 1997 release (one on which Ptacek performed extensively) was intended as a tribute and a benefit to help cover Ptacek's massive cancer bills. Unfortunately, Ptacek died soon after the album was released in 1997. If this album intrigues you, stay tuned. Fire Records is re-issuing Ptacek's entire catalog. There's plenty there to love.

    Various Artists Oh Michael, Look What You've Done: Friends Play Michael Chapman (Tompkins Square)
    Somewhat less star-studded than the Rainier Ptacek tribute (hard to say that when Lucinda Williams, Thurston Moore and such are here, but it's true), though possibly better. For starters, the artists here take these songs into many different territories. I prefer new interpretations on these albums, and there are plenty here. Chapman has been wandering around the edges of the global scene for more than four decades; this disc is proof that his journey has not been in vain.

    Wooden Wand/Catherine Irwin Sing the Songs of Hazel Dickens 7" (PIAPTK)
    A Record Store Day release that may still be found in a dark corner somewhere. Wooden Wand does "A Few Old Memories" and Catherine Irwin does "Lost Patterns." If you're unfamiliar with Hazel Dickens and her deft way of writing songs, then these renditions ought to perk up your interest. Lovely.

    The Wraiths Edinburgh/Glasgow (Land of Decay)
    Two live performances, each clocking in between seventeen and eighteen minutes. I'm not exactly sure what wraiths are supposed to sound like, but the dreadful groaning, wailing and squealing on these tracks is probably in the ballpark. Positively unholy.

    Zook van Snook (Remixes from) the Nutty Tree (Mush)
    Even more loopy than van Snook's original album, and I really wasn't expecting that. The remixes drive these songs into completely new states of nature. As with any remix album, the results are hit-or-miss, but an awful lot of these strike gold.

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