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.

If you have any problems, criticisms or suggestions, drop me a line.

A&A #339 reviews
August 2012
  • Black Whales Shangri-La Indeed (self-released)
  • Enola Fall Isolationist (Creative Vibes)
  • Fay Wrays Strange Confessor (self-released)
  • Jeremy Fisher Mint Juleps (self-released)
  • Mark Fosson Digging in the Dirt: Home Recordings 1976 (Tomkins Square)
  • I Come to Shanghai Eternal Life Vol. I & II (Texachusetts)
  • King of Spain All I Did Was Tell Them the Truth and They Thought It Was Hell (Granada)
  • Carolyn Mark The Queen of Vancouver Island (Mint)
  • Ormonde Machine (Hometapes)
  • The Pack A.D. Unpersons (Mint)
  • Two Wounded Birds Two Wounded Birds (PID)
  • Vlatkovich Tryyo Pershing Woman (pfMENTUM)
  • Also recommended: The best of the rest

    Black Whales
    Shangri-La Indeed

    This one's been around for a year or so, but good music is always worth shining a light. Black Whales take the whole Pac NW pop thingy and spins it rootsy and psychedelic. Wait, you say, that sounds like the Posies. Well, kinda, except these boys are completely different.

    Allow me to explain. Rather than build every song around a pop core, Black Whales tend use use different bones for different songs. And so the organ and reverb-laden lead guitar are pretty much ubiquitous, but the ever-shifting rhythms and riffage put those familiar sounds into different contexts.

    This works. Black Whales are able to be adventurous within the loose constraints of a band sound. The songs are tightly written but played with a loose hand. Just the way they should be.

    When I catch up to something great, I don't hesitate to give it a pump. Black Whales have it going on. Here's hoping for something new from the guys sooner than later.

    Contact: blackwhales.bandcamp.com

    Enola Fall
    (Creative Vibes)

    I may be wrong about this, but I think Enola Fall is the first Tasmanian band I've ever reviewed. What's even more interesting is that this album didn't even make the cut back in June, and here it is with a full review. Why?

    Sometimes stuff grows on me. And Enola Fall is not particularly assertive. Sure, the rhythms are deft and the guitar lines are bright and fluid, but these songs do not immediately jump out of the speakers.

    It's the second and third and tenth listens that really help to bring out what's great about this album. Enola Fall is almost impeccably deliberate, and the album is constructed like each song, one piece fitting perfectly into another. Rock and roll generally doesn't hold together this tightly, and it takes a while to get used to the idea.

    Nothing crazy. Nothing bombastic. But these boys are astonishingly ambitious and even more amazingly successful. This album is a clockwork, and it wears better every time it is rewound. I missed it the first time around, but luckily I didn't make that mistake again. A true wonder.

    Contact: creativevibes.com/

    Fay Wrays
    Strange Confessor

    So I like to do a little research on the bands I'm going to review. And one review calls these boys a "Fresno/Los Angeles band." Which is sorta like using the phrases "Spokane/Seattle band" or "Macon/Atlanta band" or whatever. Then again, if there ever was such a thing as a "Fresno/Los Angeles band," then these boys would be it.

    The riffola is straight outta Chicago, with more than a nod to Black Flag-style throttling. So, y'know, something of a revamp (though not exactly modernizing) of the whole Touch and Go ethic.

    Which, of course, is something that I simply can't pass up. These guys tear holes in the universe and then meander on a tangent or two. That's style, ladies and gentlemen. The sort of thing that makes a band great.

    And maybe Fay Wrays will become great one of these days. This album came out last year, but it just pricked my ears this summer. No worries. It will continue to make my eardrums bleed for years to come. Most excellent.

    Contact: faywrays.bandcamp.com

    Jeremy Fisher
    Mint Juleps

    This is Jeremy Fisher's fifth album, and he's got that easy confidence that really makes folky pop-rock songs sing. And don't discount him just because he's Canadian. That's not right.

    And beside the point, anyway. Fisher is not a morose troubadour. He writes songs that flash with brilliant joy. While he supplements folk construction with some more complex forms, he extraordinarily successful at crafting sing-alongs.

    One time through the chorus, and you're set. Oh, and they're good choruses, too. The hook factor is high. And in case you misread my "morose" statement, Fisher explores many emotions in his pieces. He just tends to finish things up by walking out of the rain.

    It's far too easy to love this album. Fisher is an old pro, but he's still got plenty of fresh energy to keep these songs rolling. Lovely stuff.

    Contact: www.jeremyfishermusic.com

    Mark Fosson
    Digging in the Dirt: Home Recordings 1976
    (Tompkins Square)

    These are the demos for Fosson's long-lost Takoma (as in Takoma Park, where I live) Records album. That album was finally released back in 2006, and these tapes surfaced some time later.

    Back in the mid-70s, Fosson was a 12-string instrumentalist, rather than the more traditional songer-songwriter he is today. The songs here are original compositions (except for Gene Autry's "Back in the Saddle Again"), but they have the feel of the Appalachian piedmont finger-pickin' blues. The 12-string guitar adds a few layers, but at their heart a lot of these songs sound like they're the direct descendants of the old stuff played by Elizabeth Cotton and others.

    Fosson did add plenty of his own ideas, including a fair chunk of classical guitar. Those flourishes help to make these songs sound timeless. The sound is immaculate; it's hard to believe these recordings came from almost 40-year-old tapes.

    A more intimate affair than the Takoma album, despite sharing many of the same songs. Fosson says he likes these recordings better, and it's easy to hear why. Entrancing.

    Contact: www.tompkinssquare.com

    I Come to Shanghai
    Eternal Life Vol. I & II

    While I'm reviewing these two releases as one, if you want to buy them (digitally or on vinyl) you'll have to purchase them separately. And if you've only got the scratch for one, well, flip a coin. Both are great, but there's very little difference in terms of content or quality.

    These are meditative electronic musers. Many of them are drop-dead gorgeous, and some of them eventually form themselves into the shapes of songs. Some don't. And I think I like those a little bit better.

    Modestly accessible, I Come to Shanghai takes sunny Beach Boys-style pop and plants it firmly in the experimental ambient universe. And that's even cooler than you might think.

    I like it, anyway. These two albums are utterly beautiful, even if some of the songs tend to melt into the horizon. Perhaps I should replace "even if" with "because." Whatever. These are the synths of doom, and I'll ride them to Hell and back.

    Contact: icometoshanghai.com

    King of Spain
    All I Did Was Tell Them the Truth and They Thought It Was Hell
    (New Granada)

    What is it with electronic duos and geographical references? King of Spain (which used to be merely Matt Slate, but now also includes Daniel Wainright) burbles its way through the fields of contemplative electronic pop without losing its way.

    Indeed, these are songs set in the electronic universe (as opposed to I Come to Shanghai, reviewed above). And they're quite well done. Moods are illustrated, ideas are spun and hooks are set.

    Which is all well and good. What really makes these songs sing are the harmonies. They're minimalist, to be sure, but they're there. They humanize the sound, bringing it just a bit closer to our own world.

    Solid and pretty. There are a thousand ways to work within the electronic sound, but few do it as confidently as King of Spain. The imagination reels.

    New Granada
    P.O. Box 360276
    Tampa, FL 33673-0276

    Carolyn Mark
    The Queen of Vancouver Island

    It's been a while since I sat down to review a Carolyn Mark album. Happily, not much has changed. Mark remains the queen of contemporary country music, throwing in dollops of the Dixie Dregs and Gram Parsons into the pot. There's a reason why she loves the Robert Altman's Nashville. That movie examined the fault lines in late 60s/early 70s country music, and Mark is still mining those chasms today.

    Oh, and she just happens to have the most expressive voice I've ever heard. Mark can sing anything, even if she can't quite hit all the notes. With her songs, though, she pushes the edges of her range just right. She has been making albums for almost two decades, so one must that figure she knows what she's doing.

    Is this her best album? I dunno. To be honest, it's as solid, exacting and varied as any of her other albums. The songs are chock full of the humor and keen (and occasionally biting) observations that Mark fans love. Mark is so consistently great that it's hard to say where this ranks.

    But why worry about such things? A new Carolyn Mark album approaches. Celebrations are in order. Hell, there should be parades! Now that would be something.

    P.O. Box 3613
    Main Post Office
    Vancouver, BC V6B 3Y6


    Robert Gomez and Anna-Lynne Williams decided to make an album together. The various accounts I've read of this collaboration are so elliptical as to be nonsensical. That's okay. The truth is often nonsense. And objective truth often has very little to do with artistic truth.

    All of that is a silly way to say that this is one sidereeling album. Gomez's music is sly and entrancing, and Williams's voice is as beautiful as ever. I can't say I quite understand what all of these songs are about, mind you, but they're gorgeous.

    More than that, though, there's an underlying truth to both the sound and the lyrics. The songs reference Leonard Cohen, Alejandro Escovedo (Gomez is from Texas, after all) and plenty of folks in-between. Williams gently applies her vaguely twee Pacific Northwest sensibilities, and the results are as described. Nothing makes sense on its face, but the whole is where truth resides.

    Okay, this one takes time. That's cool. Put in the hours (you'll enjoy them, I promise) and all will be revealed. Or it won't. That's up to your synapses. In any case, the journey is enthralling.

    P.O. Box 3843
    Portland, OR 97208

    The Pack A.D.

    I loved Tintype, but I lost track of the Pack A.D. after Funeral Mixtape severely disappointed me. When I came across this album from last year, I decided to give it a spin. And holy hell, I sure fell off the wrong train.

    This duo veered significantly away from the minimalist blues of its early output, deciding to more fully embrace the thick garage ethos that it had always been skirting. This more muscular approach has yielded a passel of absolutely blistering songs.

    The thick sound fits these raging, straight-forward rockers. There's still plenty of minimalism in the songwriting, but it's leavened with plenty of fuzz and power. Think Ramones without the melody, and you might be getting warm.

    Easily one of the best albums of last year--just wish I had heard it then. I sure am glad I was able to check back in with these gals, though. I should've known. Anyone who could make an album as good as Tintype had to have something left in the tank. But something this incendiary? My hair is smoldering.

    P.O. Box 3613
    Main Post Office
    Vancouver, BC V6B 3Y6

    Two Wounded Birds
    Two Wounded Birds

    A mod-ish folk-surf outfit from Margate (the location means nothing to me, but apparently it says everything if you're British) who get some key help from the Drums. Whatever the formula, it sure works.

    The whole tuneful garage-surf sound? Utterly addictive. These songs are put together to achieve maximum mood presence, and they succeed wonderfully.

    The ringing tones of the guitars, and the tight pickwork of the lead guitar in particular, lend these songs their classic air. The driving work of the rhythm section keeps the whole show moving nicely.

    One of those albums that just sounds right. Not complicated, and not even particularly ambitious. But right nonetheless. Most fetching.

    Vlatkovich Tryyo
    Pershing Woman

    The trombone is an almost criminally overlooked instrument in jazz. And Michael Vlatkovich sure knows his way around a jazz trombone. Also, the idea of teaming up said trombone with a cello (listed as an "electric cello") and drums is truly curious.

    The cello is the trombone of the string section, the instrument that expected to carry the mid-range bass clef lines. It plays in much the same range as the trombone, though with a completely different feel.

    These inventive pieces don't stray much from the lower ranges (though Jonathan Golove pushes his cello into the treble clef now and again), but Golove and Vlatkovich have an amazing rapport, and Damon Short is masterful in his use of the drums as glue. The sum is almost always greater than the parts, as this generally sounds more like a quintet than a trio.

    Exceptionally creative and easily accessible for any jazz fan. Vlatkovich's trombone is tender and forceful, and he makes the most of his most malleable instrument. Likewise with these songs, which give the players plenty of room. These boys like playing with each other, and the combination is explosive. Mind-throttling.

    P.O. Box 1653
    Ventura, CA 93002

    Also recommended:

    Adios Amigo Dos (self-released)
    Jaunty, occasionally epochal power pop. Adios Amigo flits between Simon & Garfunkel, the Posies and the odd bossa nova bit--in the same song, sometimes. These wide-ranging songs are crafted quite nicely, and the band's exuberance adds a lovely shine.
    Contact: adiosamigo.bandcamp.com

    Agent Ribbons Let Them Talk 7"/digital EP (Antenna Farm)
    Lovely wall-of-sound-ish 60s pop reminisces. Or not. These modern indie-rock musings gain plenty of power and feel in this attempt to recreate a Spectorian universe within the stereo realm. That's impossible, of course, but these thick, dense sounds are quite compelling.

    Athletics Stop Torturing Yourself EP (Deep Elm)
    Piano-only versions of four songs from the band's Why Aren't I Home? debut. Not unlike the Tony Sly/Joey Cape split from a (more than a) few years back, these acoustic renditions add depth and a new perspective on the originals. An intriguing look.

    Bailterspace Strobosphere (Fire)
    Picking up where the boys left off more than a decade ago, Bailterspace continues to epitomize the dronier, more atonal side of Kiwi rock. What's most surprising is how 1994 this sounds. That may not be the best thing in the world, perhaps, but I liked this stuff then and I like this album now.

    Matt Bauer The Jessamine County Book of the Living (Crossbill)
    Bauer crosses the sounds of americana (fiddle, banjo, etc.) with the accessible side of art rock. These songs never meander, but they do stride into edgy territory with confidence and style. There's never a dull moment, though I did scratch my head a few times. And that's cool with me.

    Buried Beds Small Stories EP (self-released)
    Utterly crafted and absolutely entrancing. Yes, the outlines remain clear in the finished product, but Buried Beds has put together some outstanding songs here. By the time the EP builds up to "Wolf Confessor," I think you'll agree.
    Contact: buriedbeds.com

    Cactus Truck Brand New for China! (Public Eyesore)
    Sax, guitar and drums. Played with maximum chaos at maximum volume. Is this composed or is it improvised? Yes! The manic nature of these pieces is ear piecing and mind rending.

    Campaign The Black Album EP (self-released)
    Um, yes, the album is an EP. These grimy lads lads blister themselves some serious old-school hardcore. Just enough melody and enough riffage to sterilize skunks at 50 meters. Perfect for getting your rage on.
    Contact: www.sonicbids.com/robcarlton

    Ned Collette & Wirewalker 2 (Fire)
    Dense songs that require some thought, although I found more enjoyment simply floating with the flotsam. Collette is careful with his construction; it's the arranging and orchestration that gets wiggy. There's enough material within the album to write a trilogy of reviews. Let's just say I had a good time.

    Don DiLego Western & Atlantic EP (self-released)
    Remember Ryan Adams before he got moody and boring? Or, rather, when he may have been moody, but he still had enough of a sense of humor to argue with David Rawlings about a Morrissey song and make that recording the intro of an album? DiLego isn't quite so incendiary as Adams, but he takes a sharo approach to loping americana, creating songs that go down easily even as they expose cracks in the veneer.
    Contact: www: www.dondilego.com

    Electronic Anthology Project Of Dinosaur Jr. (self-released)
    So a while back, Brett Netson (Built to Spill) decided to redo old BTW songs as Kraftwerkian overtures. And he got Martch to do the vocals. That went over so well that he did the same for Dino Jr. (with Mascis singing) this year and released the results on record store day. Yeah, this is weird. Very weird. But it works. I'd be most curious to hear him take on, say, Archers of Loaf. That would be randomly epic.
    Contact: www: electronicanthologyproject.com

    Melody Gardot The Absence (Decca)
    I can't decide if Gardot is inspired or contrived. And it's exactly that dichotomy that makes her music so compelling. In real life, Gardot is a Philly girl. Within music, she is "a citizen of the world" (her phrase). But it's true. She makes off with all sorts of world beat pop/jazz beats, sings or scats in a variety of languages and isn't above abandoning a song in a stewing hot mess. Great? Probably not. But freakishly compelling.

    Adam Hill Two Hands, Tulips (self-released)
    Adam Hill can play lovely americana, and he can wander into the depths of folk experimentalism. He gets out there on this album, and I can't say I think it all comes together on every song. But his engaging ambition and imagination keep this album well to the good. Hill seems to be constantly challenging himself, and I can't wait to hear where he ends up next.
    Contact: www.myspace.com/mradamhill

    The History of Panic Fight! Fight! Fight! (Le Grand Magistery)
    Gerald Roesser (who is the greater parts of tHoP) reminds me a lot of Adrian Belew, albeit with much less emphasis on guitar. These loopy electronic-based pop songs blip and bound with irrepressible quirkiness. Makes me smile in a funny way.

    Nick Jaina The Beanstalks that Have Brought Us Here Are Gone (Hush)
    A little gem from last year. Jaina teamed up with ten different female vocalists on ten songs, and it sounds like he tailored the songs and the production to the qualities of the vocals. That attention to detail makes these songs simply leap out of the speakers, even when they might be lovingly introspective. Very nice.

    James Low Western Front Whiskey Farmer (self-released)
    This Portland-based band takes an easy-going approach to the whole atl-country/americana sound. The songs are understated gems, even if they do sound a bit too much like Blue Earth-era Jayhawks for my comfort. Or maybe too much for my comfort, as that album drives me to bourbon after about 15 seconds. I'm getting the same feeling here.
    Contact: www.jameslowwesternfront.com

    Joe 4 Enola Gay EP (self-released)
    Straight outta Zagreb, these boys crank out some of the best post-Touch and Go rhythmic hardcore I've heard in ages. Probably not enough here for me to completely bliss out, but what I'm hearing is most impressive. I'm sure David Yow and Co. will be most pleased that they made a solid impression in the Croatian market. Not a rip-off by any means, these guys translate very well.
    Contact: joe4.bandcamp.com

    Kaia Two Adult Women in Love (Jealous Butcher)
    She may have dropped her last name, but my old Durham neighbor Kaia (Wilson) still knows how to write tight, insightful songs. A bit more mellow than the Butchies, perhaps, but Kaia's voice still rings true. A lot of the reviews of this album tend to focus on Kaia's role as a trendsetter and advocate, but the music more than speaks for itself.

    Kevin Kastning/Carl Clements Dreaming As I Knew (Greydisc)
    Kastning handles the guitars, and Clements works with flutes and saxes. There is an improvisational feel to these largely meditative pieces, and I like the way the guys take their time. Unhurried bliss.

    Jason Masi Life Is Wonderful (self-released)
    Masi heads to the smooth jazz side of singer-songwriter territory. Generally when I say such things, I am not playing nice. But Masi incorporates some mellow fusion and 70s R&B into his rootsy constructions, and they sound good. Not the edgiest stuff around, but well put-together.
    Contact: www.jasonmasi.com

    Eamon McGrath Young Canadians (White Whale)
    Eamon McGrath can't decide if he wants to sing the blues, roll out into the country or simply play rock and roll. With results like these, why should he choose? These songs mix genres and ideas like a good whiskey blend, and they go down with the same fire. Rough and ready.

    The Midnight Ghost Train Buffalo (self-released)
    A bit more esoteric than yer average stoner rock outfit, Midnight Ghost Train throws in a few nods to somewhat mellower music with its largely instrumental stylings. The lack of vocals and somewhat non-linear song structure create something of a rarity: stoner rock that is kinda trippy. And kinda cool, too.
    Contact: themidnightghosttrain.com

    Jean-Marc Montera/Francesco Calandrino Idi Di Marzo (Eh?)
    Montera provides the squalling guitarish noise, and Calandrino throws in everything else (which includes found sound, electronics and clarinet). These pieces don't make sense, but that is exactly where their beauty lies. Lush portraits of a reeling world.

    Nervous Curtains Fake Infinity (Latest Flame)
    Cheesy new wavey stuff with plenty of geeky prog elements. The song structure is clunky indie rock, but the electronic elements completely change the game. The sound is vaguely incompetent, but endearingly so.

    Parallel Thought Articulation EP (self-released)
    These guys are some of the most versatile producers around, but this EP is pure hip-hop commentary. Even as it dissects trends past and present, this set is fully immersed in the sound. There are so many ways to listen to these tracks, and all of them are utterly enjoyable.
    Contact: pthought.com

    Pink Mink Pink Mink (self-released)
    Lovely trash. These pop punk pieces are as crackly as pork rinds, and probably just as good for you. Damn if they don't taste fine, though. Just don't pull a W and choke on them.
    Contact: www.myspace.com/pinkminkband

    Restorations A/B 7" (Tiny Engines)
    Veering even closer to Buffalo Tom territory (which doesn't bother me too much), Restorations go all early 90s punk americana on these two minimally-titled tracks. This is a young band, but I do love the way it works out its sound. The hooks are thick and earnest, just like they should be.

    Sea of Bees Orangefarben (self-released)
    Julie Ann Bee (and the occasional friend) creates orchestral pop crackles out of folk ingredients. The results are sparkly little gems that never get overwrought. Often transcendent.
    Contact: www.seaofbees.com

  • return to A&A home page