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 #338 reviews
June 2012
  • The Accents Growth and Squalor (Deep Elm)
  • The Appleseed Collective Baby to Beast (self-released)
  • Dead Rat Orchestra The Guga Hunters of Ness (Critical Heights)
  • Easter Island Frightened (self-released)
  • Edmund II Floating Monk (self-released)
  • Efren Write a New Song (Slo Pro)
  • Highlands Singularity (self-released)
  • The Late Show Portable Pop re-issue (Trashy Creatures)
  • oRSo 9 (Contraphonic)
  • Plushgun Me.Me. (Tommy Boy)
  • The Shrouded Strangers Lost Forever (Izniz Recordings)
  • The Stanleys Always EP (self-released)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    The Accents
    Growth and Squalor
    (Deep Elm)

    Folk-influenced rock 'n' pop, more of an amalgam of many styles. Kind of like americana run through a mathy emo filter. And at this point, I have officially made a mess of this review.

    Which is a shame, because my first thought upon hearing the Accents was "Wow, these guys have an awesome streamlined sound." Indeed. It's just that the sounds that go into that sound are wonderfully diverse, and the resulting songs are softly-tumbled gems.

    The sound is gorgeous, sharp enough to emphasize the frames and loose enough to lend an easy-going feel to the whole. This sounds like the simplest thing in the world, but in truth, it's hard work sounding effortless.

    Absolutely beautiful songs that ring like bells. The Accents have distilled their ideas into a brilliant album. Wonderful.

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

    The Appleseed Collective
    Baby to Beast

    Museum-shop americana, which is not an insult at all. The Appleseed Collective embraces all sorts of old-timey sounds within its clunky roots sound, and the resulting songs tend to be goody charmers.

    Oh, there are a few folkier bits, and a couple of songs that veer into bluegrass-ish territory, but most of the pieces here have the feel of broken-down reels and loping ballads. Craft isn't paramount, but the band makes up for that with a joyous, freewheeling attitude.

    The sound is just a bit too sharp for my taste, but perhaps that's more of a function of the emphasis on idiosyncratic rhythm than anything else. In any case, it's quite easy to hear everything going on. The lines don't always match, but they do make sense.

    Which is also the story of the album. Haphazard at times, but all the more fun for that. Skip on down along the road.

    www: http://wwww.theappleseedcollective.com

    Dead Rat Orchestra
    The Guga Hunters of Ness
    (Critical Heights)

    There's the whole rootsy/americana thing, and there's the whole drone/soundscape thing. Dead Rat Orchestra brings traditional instrumentation into an area that has long been dominated by electronics, and the results are stunning.

    Americana isn't the worst description of the rootsy flavors of this band, but since these folks hail from England perhaps we might find another word. Choose your own, I say. The name of the band fits very well, though, as these conceptual pieces have a strong orchestral feel to them.

    Slowly, with intent, each of these pieces comes to life. This is not an album for the attention-deficient. This is an album for contemplation and rumination. And then, just when you think you might have wandered a bit too deeply into the frontal lobes, there are double shots of beauty.

    All told, one utterly original effort. You won't hear another album like it this year. That alone recommends it to me, but for those who need more, I'll vouch for the quality as well. Slow down long enough to enjoy this, and you'll be well rewarded.

    www: http://www.criticalheights.com

    Easter Island

    I liked Better Things, the first Easter Island release. This one is tighter where it needs to be tighter and moves more where it needs to do that. In all, a superior effort.

    The ringing tones are still omnipresent, but the gorgeous melodies have more bite here. Better Things tended to fade for me, but Frightened has a tougher bite.

    Stronger hooks, more attention to songcraft and that sort of thing. And, truly, better songs in general. What was merely pretty has become beautiful.

    These Athens boys seem to have really locked in. One more step like this and the results could be legendary. Most impressive.

    www: http://easterisland.bandcamp.com/

    Edmund II
    Floating Monk

    Edmund Pellino (he prefers "the second," which seems silly but is otherwise fine by me) had been rolling around the periphery of modern indie rock for more than a decade. After taking some time off, he has emerged with this poppy concept album.

    And the story is a fine one. Better yet, the songs stand up on their own. That's the sign of an artist who knows how to do this sort of thing. Edmund II stays in pocket for the whole album, keeping a tight focus on the tale.

    The sound is lightly ringing, that sort of early 70s folky pop rock that can get cloying fast. Edmund II keeps the songs moving so that there's never a temptation to dip into distress. The songs remain lovely and engaging.

    And the songs just keep rolling in. This album is easy to love and almost criminally accessible, to boot. Drift along with the current, and all will be well.

    www: http://edmundthesecond.bandcamp.com

    Write a New Song
    (Slo Pro)

    Much more solidly rocking than earlier efforts, Efren channels a rough-hewn version of southern rock. There are still a few of the rootsier elements that fans are familiar with, but this album is much more about moving. Loudly.

    The transition feels seamless, though it will probably be jarring. That's okay; progress always comes at a price. This album isn't necessarily better, but it is an evolution.

    The lead guitar work takes center stage on these songs, but Efren never descends into jammy madness. Rather, the arrangements of these songs are streamlined even as the band adds a loose feel with its playing.

    A joy, pure and simple. I think Efren has at least one more step to take with this music, and then it just might find a sound all its own. For now, solid songs and exceptional performances will have to do.

    www: http://www.efrenmusic.com


    If My Bloody Valentine had been just a bit more dronelike and a bit further down the stoner rock path. Or something like that.

    The easier comparison is JAMC, of course, but this is at once more accessible (other than Automatic of course) and more hypnotic. There's an insistence in the rhythm section that is positively magnetic.

    Oh yes, piles of reverb and plenty of feedback as well. The melodies are well hidden behind the scrim, with only the churning rhythm section clear at all times. I particularly like the guitar sound, no matter how obscured it might be from time to time.

    Fall through the mirror and see where you land. Highlands only asks the question; the answers are within you.

    www: http://highlandsband.us

    The Late Show
    Portable Pop reissue
    (Trashy Creatures)

    For years, The Late Show's Portable Pop album has been available only on LP. Now that CDs are going the way of vinyl, the album is finally making its way to that soon-to-be-obsolete format. Though, if you really want, you can also go digital download.

    This re-issue contains the revered 12-song album with four bonus tracks from earlier incarnations of the band. If you really old school and buy the cassette (!!!), you get a 10-song set of radio station live recordings as well.

    But why all the hullaballoo? Well, Portable Pop is legendary for a good reason. These songs blend 70s AOR sensibilities with rockabilly, British invasion pop and surf rock. Kinda like a poppier (and more earnest) version of Cheap Trick, though with a hint of the punk trend sneaking in now and again.

    The story of the band is sad and twisted, and this is the one recording the guys ever made. Lots of geeks like me consider it to be one of the most important power pop albums ever. I'm not gonna make any grand historical judgments (even on an album that came out in 1980), but these songs impress in any decade. Just in time for summer, if only 32 years late.

    www: http://trashycreatures.com


    Like most folks in the indie music world, Phil Spirito has a day job. Or had a day job. He lost it, and so he spent a fair amount of time getting another one before getting around to making another oRSo album.

    When he did sit down to plot this one out, he decided to make the album instrumental. And while the vocals have hardly detracted from previous efforts, it's safe to say that their absence was a driving factor in making this perhaps the band's best.

    The instrumentation is as varied and lovely as ever. Strings, reeds, piano and the usual indie rock combo come together to create some meandering musings. But where these lines would have taken to the background when the vocals came in, they continue their journeys front and center here.

    A bit more contemplative than most oRSo, but also more aggressively intense as well. These songs travel to some pretty dark places, but they always arrive back in one piece--if not exactly safe and sound. The range and scope of the songs is at its usual height. In short, some of oRSo's finest work to date, which is saying a lot.

    P.O. Box 2203
    Chicago, IL 60690
    www: http://www.contraphonic.com

    (Tommy Boy)

    Electronic pop has wandered through so many phases and sounds that I simply can't keep track of them all. Luckily, Plushgun has done the work for me.

    There's a smattering of chilly New Order sounds, bounding Belgian-esque romping, more than a spot of laptop and just the barest notion of techno. And plenty more than I can't quite identify.

    All grafted onto a solid indie pop base. Plushgun has chops in all the right places. These tightly-wound songs explode with joy when the hooks set. Most invigorating.

    Some albums just hit my sweet spot and then settle in. This would be one of those. I find it very difficult to be objective when all of my pleasure centers have been sated. My brain is a pleasured ball of goo.

    Tommy Boy Entertainment

    The Shrouded Strangers
    Lost Forever
    (Izniz Recordings)

    Well, yes. And no. And just what the hell am I talking about, anyway? The Shrouded Strangers play some gloriously peppy fuzzpop, and they even throw in some hooks. But if you really want to make sense of this, you have my condolences.

    Oh, the boys aren't that. These songs adhere to a basic musical structure (mostly) but the lyrics often verge on manic incoherence. That makes the vocals something closer to an instrument, and I'm down with that.

    The sound shifts from utterly reverbed out to almost pristine. Depends on the song, and sometimes it depends on the moment in the song. I like the adventurous use of the studio; it really helps flesh out these songs.

    Indeed, I like just about everything these folks do to and with their music. Things do get a bit trippy here and there, but again, that's all good with me. Expect to be wowed, and don't worry about the wigginess that abounds. That's just part of what makes this album so stunning.

    DAG! Records
    www: http://shroudedstrangers.wordpress.com/

    The Stanleys
    Always EP

    Four songs that shimmer with the heat of summer sun. Of course, it's now heading into winter back at their home base in Australia, but I don't live there, and I'm happy to hear some serious bash 'n' pop.

    The sound lies somewhere between Cheap Trick and Nick Lowe, though the lyrics are much more earnest and straightforward. Indeed, I wish these guys had a bit more of a dark side. But the hooks are stellar.

    The feeling is pure joy. Don't too much about it, and you'll simply bop to 11. Just lovely.

    www: http://www.thestanleys.com.au

    Also recommended:

    Age Sex Occupation This Side of the Fence (self-released)
    Bright indie soul-pop. Age Sex Occupation meanders between thick soul grooves and Bacharachian pop, all played with a grimy indie feel. I'd like a bit more coherence in the sound, but these songs are well done.
    www: http://www.myspace.com/agesexoccupation

    Ron Anderson/Robert L. Pepper/David Tamura/Philippe Petit Closed Encounters of the 4 Minds (Public Eyesore)
    Live in studio improvisation. Anderson's guitar and Tamura's sax provide most of the expressed themes, while Pepper and Petit add various electronic (and electric violin) accents. The rhythms are largely provided by Petit's turntable and assorted electronic debris. A burbling, caterwauling affair. Not for the faint of mind.

    Phil Barry Between the Carolinas (Princess)
    Understated rock more than moody americana, Phil Barry's songs have a strong dose of that desultory late 70s feel. Gorgeous hooks combined with the feeling that the world will be ending soon. The sound is so compelling that I sometimes lose track of the songs themselves, which is a shame. Fascinating.

    Beast Make Bomb Sourpuss EP (self-released)
    Fuzzed-out spiky pop, topped with snarky female vocals. Oh sure, there's a target demographic for this, but that doesn't eliminate the fun. Kinda generic at the edges, but the hooks are solid.
    www: http://beastmakebomb.bandcamp.com

    Best Practices The EP LP (self-released)
    Nine songs, twelve minutes. Best Practices plays some fine caffeinated punk pop, pinning the needles most of the time. Loud, distorted and fast, but utterly under control. Absolutely crunchy.
    www: http://bestpractices.bandcamp.com

    Rob Carlton Seven Thunders (self-released)
    Pile-driving riffage and some serious shredding. Carlton isn't kidding with the title of this set. Whether he's doing it righteous with an acoustic or wailing with an electric, Carlton knows how to sell power guitar.
    www: http://www.sonicbids.com/robcarlton

    The Corduroy Road Two Step Silhouette (self-released)
    Incorporating elements of punk and rock into an americana feel, the Cordurouy Road reminds me a bit of early Uncle Tupelo. The sound is much smoother, as is the writing. Indeed, as this album slid down so smoothly I kept hoping for a sharp edge here and there. Lovely, but needing a bit of tension.
    www: http://www.thecordurouyroad.com

    Amy Correia You Go Your Way (self-released)
    At her best, Amy Correia brings a soulful wail to what is otherwise somewhat de rigeur clunky, folky americana. About half of these songs fit quite nicely into that whole Tift Merritt/Lee Ann Womack/Patty Griffin "where do we stick this stuff?" whirl. Surprisingly, the more traditional songs don't have as much appeal for me. They're put together just fine, but I prefer Correia when she's belting. When she's pushing genres and limits she's awfully impressive.
    www: http://www.amycorreia.com

    The Danks Who's Afraid of the Danks (self-released)
    If I've ever reviewed anything from Prince Edward Island before, I'm not aware of it. But perhaps I should pay more attention. The Danks rip off huge chunks of indie pop happiness, blistering just enough distortion to massage the ears. The hooks are gentler than you might expect, which makes the sound that much more addictive.
    www: http://thedanks.com

    Doomgazer Mind Reader (self-released)
    Stoner rock with elements of traditional metal (there's a definite early Maiden feel) and just the barest hints of hardcore as well. The sound is full and brutal, with plenty of space but a power that belies the technical proficiency. And yes, there is fuzzy riffage galore. It's been a while since I've heard anything along these lines that has impressed me so much.

    Grampus Ilk Ilk (pfMENTUM)
    The usual trumpet/trombone/percussion improvisational trio. Oh, sure, the brass members of Grampus throw some electronics in, but what really gets to me is the wonderful edge to the sound when the horns blow. This album gets to otherworldly realms faster and more often than almost any I've heard. I'm still scraping out the inside of my brain.

    B. Hamilton Everything I Own Is Broken (Parks and Records)
    I've always admired those who know the difference between reverb and distortion and use both to their logical extremes. B. Hamilton rips through a series of bluesy rockers, drenching the sound with reverb and then pinning the needles. I think I like the sound a bit better than the songs, but that's a close run deal. And the sound is absolutely brilliant.

    Haunted Heads Haunted Heads (Doubleplusgood)
    Ah, mannered power pop straight up. The Haunted Heads aren't going anywhere new, but these clever songs are quite tasty. The almost manic energy keeps the album racing by breathlessly. Quite a treat.

    Jason Heath and the Greedy Souls Packed for Exile (Still Small)
    Jason Heath plays elegiac accordion-laced americana. These songs are moderately-paced and roll by effortlessly. I'd prefer a few more bumps in the road, but this plays quite well with the top down on a sunny day.

    Sara Jackson Holman Cardiology (self-released)
    I love the way Holman slinks her way across genres, but I wish she'd spent a bit more time refining the potential within these songs. The second outing is almost always a letdown, and this is no exception. She takes a lot more chances here, but most of them don't quite work. That's okay. Holman's future remains extraordinarily bright, even if this album becomes a mere footnote in her bio.
    www: http://www.sarajacksonholman.com

    Homelife Translation (self-released)
    Back in the day, this was emo. Math-y guitar lines, shouted vocals and anthemic song contruction. Times change, but every once in a while a band reminds me what I liked so much about the sound. Bravo, boys.
    www: http://homelife.bandcamp.com

    Illdotlogic Dreams in Stereo (self-released)
    A rather odd mishmash of indie sensibilities with silly and occasionally incompetent dance music. I can't quite make out if the lyrics are ironic or simply weirdly generic. The beats are intriguing, and there are too many hooks to ignore. I'm still not entirely sure how to take this, but there's plenty here to like.
    www: http://illdotlogic.com

    Rolf Julius Raining: Small Music No. 3 (Western Vinyl)
    The title track was originally composed for an art installation, and as with most of Julius's work, there's a fair amount of repetition woven through found sound. Julius tends to find the hypnotic in the everyday, and he simply magnifies those moments through artful crafting. This may sound simple (and also may not sound like music, per se), but it takes a lot of work to create something this seamless.

    Jon Lindsay Summer Wilderness Program (Chocolate Lab)
    Exceedingly-crafted songs with fully tricked-out arrangements. Lindsay is probably too clever by half (both lyrically and musically), but I happen to like that kind of thing. Wiggy pop is kinda in my wheelhouse, and Lindsay sure knows how to set up my ears.

    Kalle Mattson Lives In Between EP (self-released)
    Six new songs from this Ontario troubadour. There's plenty of folky edge, but these songs tend toward a pop construction. The production often brings a rootsy orchestral sound. Born to ramble, I'd say.
    www: http://www.kallemattson.com

    Max B and Isaiah Toothtaker Toothy Wavy EP (Mishka)
    Max B is in prison and recorded his rhymes via phone. The resulting graininess of his vocals adds plenty to the sound. Isaiah Toothtaker is perhaps better known as the leader of Machina Muerta. The production by The Hood Internet incorporates generally subdued beats and solid electronics. An intriguing set.

    mbilly malheur (Paxenfeld Family Foundation)
    M. William Helfrich calls himself a folk singer. He uses electronic percussion and other unconventional instruments, and he tends to utilize a variety of song forms, but his vocals definitely hail from the edgier side of the folk universe. I like the way his songs go sideways.

    Putnam Murdock Brand New Widow (Blue Monday)
    Lovely roots rock with a fine electric piano chaser. Putnam Murdock isn't breaking any new ground here, but he writes some fine songs. They move with grace and power, and they always have something to say. Sometimes basic is more than good enough.

    Pizza! We Come from the Swamp (self-released)
    Thoroughly whacktoid electronic fare. Some of these pieces are songs, and those take the form of proggy new wavers. Many of these pieces are simply electronic thought experiments that find coherence only intermittently. Pizza! requires a boatload of patience, but ideas are as plentiful as Republicans at a Grover Norquist reading.
    www: http://pizzaband.bandcamp.com

    Ryan Purcell and the Last Round Pick Me Up (self-released)
    Restrained blooze 'n' boogie that's a bit more soulful than most. Purcell tends to write songs that are anthemic in construction and somewhat wistful in execution. That deft touch serves him well throughout this disc.
    www: http://www.ryanpurcellmusic.com

    Schooner/Wesley Wolfe split 12" (self-released)
    Each of these N.C. artists (Schooner is a band; Wesley Wolfe is not) plays one original and then covers a song from the other act. A record store day release, a second pressing is in the works. I prefer Wesley Wolfe's songs and performances, but all are solid. It may be too late to celebrate Record Store Day this year, but this slab is a worthy entry.
    www: http://schooner.bandcamp.com

    Skyline Pigeons House of Mysteries (self-released)
    Back in the day, "alternative" was an apt description of music made by artists who were trying to bridge the gaps between different sounds. Skyline Pigeons play guitar-driven pop songs that try on many different garbs. There's some americana, a bit of the shoegaze and a couple songs that sound like a mellower version of the Go-Gos. A bit more focus would probably help, but I applaud the ambition.
    www: http://skylinepigeons.bandcamp.com

    State Faults Desolate Peaks (Tiny Engines)
    Screechy, squall-laden mathy fare. The vocals are straight no-wave, but the music is much more accomplished. I like the way these elements play off each other; there's an impressive interplay between the sounds. Aggressively entertaining.

    Tobin Summerfield Working Up to Full Reflection (Contraphonic)
    There's epic minimalism, and then there's Tobin Summerfield. These pieces can take an eternity to work themselves into form (the almost-title track is more than 20 minutes long), but the journey is one of exploration and not tedium. Patience has its rewards.

    Videoing Reader (self-released)
    Imagine the Cure with less mope and more aggression. The percussion on these songs is stridently insistent, and the rest of the band tends to follow along, if somewhat unwillingly. The old school muffled goth sound is intriguing to me as well. Where this goes is anyone's guess, but Reader is a solid album.
    www: http://videoingsound.com

    Wishgift Pretty Penny/Cream Acres 7" (Contraphonic)
    Wiggy, noisy post-punk that manages to wangle just enough melody to prick up the ears. Wishgift is one of the few bands that reminds me of the Jesus Lizard without making me want to immediately call up Pull on the iTunes. These songs stand up well to anyone. Inventive, loud and rationally anarchic. Lovely.

    Robert Ziino A Perfectly Futile Gesture (Experimental Artists)
    Robert Ziino has been making these five-minute experimental electronic songs for quite a while. What I like about his approach is that these pieces are in constant motion--percussion or otherwise. There's always a new idea around the corner. These nine tracks fit in quite nicely with Ziino's previous efforts. An acquired taste, I suppose, but there's very little effort in the acquisition.

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