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 #340 reviews
Dishing out heavy dose of what has come to be known as chamber folk, Alameda fleshes out its acoustic guitar-driven pieces with clarinet, cello, banjo, piano and some special guests. The result is an emphasis on delicate lines and tight songwriting.
Indeed, my only complaint is that Alameda might be just a bit too tightly-wound. Maybe. The songs are gorgeous, and the minimalist sound (though extensive arrangements) brings out the best qualities of the music. Nothing gets in the way of intricately-constructed simple joys.
Alameda has a lot more in common with the prog-folk of the late 60s and early 70s than today's americana movement. The sound may be restrained, but these really aren't rootsy songs. Even when the banjo comes to the fore. Rather, they're compositions. Pieces that have been carefully (and lovingly) honed.
Completely brilliant. Alameda plays a style of music that isn't heard much these days. More importantly, the band does it quite well. A little more emotion would put this into legendary territory. As it is, I'm very impressed.
The Asteroid Shop
Distant Luxury EP
Fuzzy pop-rock. Sort of a moody, modern version of 80s indie rock. The Asteroid Shop definitely keeps up a dark facade, but these songs hardly inspire dread. Rather, they're pretty warm and sticky at the center.
Just enough distortion provides a protective scrim, allowing the Asteroid Shop to indulge its inner rock god. This is a nice job of channeling GvB, albeit with a rubbery (rather than locked down) rhythm section.
Indeed, there are plenty of modestly proggy moment here, and more tangents than yer average indie rock outfit might choose to follow. That's cool. These folks are on their own path, and it's a good one at that.
Buy: A&A aStore (digital)
J. Allen dabbles in folk and americana, but what he really likes to do is deconstruct the entire notion of the singer/songwriter genre. Yes, he sings the songs, and yes, he writes them, but these pieces rarely follow any particular form.
Sometimes they're loud, and sometimes they're soft. They're generally not too fast, if they exhibit much of a tempo at all. Some songs are short and some are long, though I imagine you wouldn't notice the difference if you didn't have the information shoved in your face.
The sound is kinda rootsy, with plenty of reverb. There's something of a western haunted house feel to these songs, which makes sense given Allen's general disregard for convention.
My (possible) complaints here are compliments. Allen does a masterful job of creating music that has few peers. Most folks don't even attempt psychedelic americana, and even those people aren't crazy enough to further tear down the conventional structures that define such a sound. Allen not only does all that, he succeeds gloriously. Yes, it's a bit of a strange trip, but an utterly rewarding one as well.
Crooked Cowboy and the Freshwater Indians
Annalog and Her Hopeful Diaries EP
What starts out as a somewhat wiggy take on Leonard Cohen morphs into God knows what. I don't know exactly what these folks are trying to do with these five tracks, but what is unescapable is the power of the music itself.
So, yes, there's the whole poetic lounge thing. And the experimental indie pop thing. And then some. Crooked Cowboy (et. al.) doesn't seem to mind the odd meander as long as the sound is cool. And boy, do these sounds pass that test.
Are five songs enough to figure out what Crooked Cowboy is doing? Hardly. Are these songs absolutely compelling? Indeed. I need a full length to make a full judgment. For now, though, count me a true fan.
Caleb Mueller, Canadian, is Decomposure. The sounds are nominally electronic, but Mueller does so much vocal multitracking that it can be hard to pick on that.
So, no, this isn't alternapop. Not exactly. But Mueller has a fine ear for melody and a solid sense of strong construction. And he uses his vocals as an instrument exceptionally well. So why is he called "electronic"? Dunno. But I can't suggest a better category. There's a lot going on here, and it has been well-orchestrated. Mueller knows what he's doing. And he's crafted some seriously fine pop songs.
Call this what you like. These songs are impeccably attractive, and they make me smile. Mueller has a fine ear for both music and lyrics, and he's put this album together with verve and care. Well done.
He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes book/CD
Back in 1926, Arizona Dranes went to Okeh Records and recorded 16 tracks. She was blind, she sang songs from the Church of God in Christ tradition (a Pentecostal sect), and she played one hell of a piano. She recorded 16 tracks between 1926 and 1928, and that was it as far as studio work went. She toured churches for the next 20 years, but she never recorded again.
Any church that had a piano player like Dranes would be filled to overflowing, I'd think. She seems to play as if possessed by the Holy Ghost. And who knows? Maybe she was.
When a gospel singer is feeling it, the results can be amazing. Dranes was not only a stunning piano player but a wonderfully expressive singer as well. She's occasionally joined by some backup singers, and the resulting choir can be riotously joyous.
Not much has been known about Dranes past the information in the bio in the first paragraph. But Michael Corcoran has written a book that sheds some light on her life, and for good measure he had included all of her recordings. Far too few, to be sure, but utterly astounding.
A certain PD and FD are responsible for the chaos of this album. You should be on your knees. In chains, preferably. This is music of utter bondage. Once you enter the album, you will be defenseless against its charms.
Charms, of course, is a relative term. The distorted riffage and generally deconstructed lines of the songs (a loose term, to be sure) are aggressive and mean. The sound is abrasive and harsh. The effect is impossibly liberating.
So you get it or you don't. These are songs, not just tone poems, and they do say something. They probably aren't the future of rock and roll (though I wouldn't rule it out), but they're goddamned thrilling. Chaos abounds and life flows.
And not inconsiderable brilliance. Absolutely lovely fare, if you construe lovely the way I do. Fadensonnen is mean, rude and avaricious. Totally lovely.
The latest electronic musings from Jared and Michael Bell. Perhaps it's just a coincidence, but just as the band has shifted to Western Vinyl and its somewhat more experimental focus, Lymbyc Systym has allowed itself to lose just a little focus.
That simply leads to greater flights of imagination. There are fewer samples, less emphasis on beats and a greater use of melodic keyboards. Maybe this stuff is more focused even as it moves away from its center.
It's easy to get confused about such things. More clear is the ringing electronic sound that the brothers have embraced here. What beats that are here trend more toward the laptop, which leaves a lot more room in the upper register for the melodies to reverberate.
There are a lot of instrumental electronic artists out there, and few come close to these guys. Another superlative effort.