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 #343 reviews
The Agony Family
If you ever wondered what laptop prog might sound like, wonder no more. The Agony Column not only fuses indie rock, modern electronics and a certain very 70s sound almost seamlessly, the band goes one better: This is a classic rock-style double album.
Virtuosic runs, poppy hooks and a vaguely snotty attitude permeate. If you aren't in the mood for a band that takes just about everything to eleven, well, go somewhere else. I'll wait.
Okay, then. The sound is where the indie sensibilities come through the strongest. There's almost no bombast at all in the production--the band saves that for the songs and their arrangements. Oh, and the 28 (!!!) songs that make up this release.
There isn't another band out there like Agony Family. No one is crazy enough. And few have the chops, either. When the hooks clip in, these songs are tight little gems. And when the guitar and keyboards roam a bit, well, the album begins to take on an epochal feel. Wonderful.
Heatstroke/The Wind and the War double EP
I've been through Williston, N.C., dozens of times. It's on the route my family would often take from our place in Durham to the in-laws over in Camden. I know that part of the state, and I'm familiar with many of the musicians who come from those parts. KaiL Baxley has risen above.
These punchy folk-blues-gospel anthems mix Baxley's plaintive wail with a thick, yet peppy, rhythm section. The results aren't just infectious. There's no defense against music of this magnitude.
The songs themselves are pretty basic. But the arrangements on these EPs are stunning. The sound could have been backwoodsy, or maybe stripped-down folk, but Baxley created a sense of latent power instead.
This music is best appreciated loud. Baxley imbued his pieces with a stealthy strength, one that hits up front and on the back end as well. Don't miss.
El Sonido Magico
Slowly but surely, the D.C.-based Empresarios are making a name up and down the coast. The band's brand of Latin, R&B and funk fusion sounds comes together naturally. And the fact that these boys sing in Spanish certainly doesn't hurt.
The polyglot nature of the sound is slinky, but rarely smooth. These are songs for moving. Even if you think you can't dance, I bet you'll be itching to shake your butt after hearing a song or two.
The sound is just shiny enough to bring a general brightness. But I like the way the low end creates a lugubrious friction with the floor. It's almost as if the bass lines are rumbling across the floor on their own.
Maybe they are. What I do know is that there's really no way to put this album down. Once it's coming out of the speakers, it's gonna stick around for a while. Yeah, I'm giving a shout out for some D.C. homeboys, but they deserve it. First rate, and then some.
Angels in the Dark EP
Here's a nice bit of ear candy. Fires leavens the ubiquitous My Chemical Romance post-emo style with some geeky math lines in the guitars. Nothing particularly original, mind you. Just exceptionally well-executed.
The songs are scorching at high volume, and the writing is strong enough to be appreciated in somewhat more sedate surroundings as well. In particular, the title track plays like something Jawbox might be playing these days (if Jawbox was playing these days, of course).
Yeah, yeah, I know. This is tricked-out and commercial. Sue me. My ears lapped it up, and then requested a repeat or few. I haven't burned out yet, so perhaps there might even be some staying power. That would really be something.
I'm starting to think this is a trend. Back when I started A&A, there were dozens (if not hundreds) of bands that played a certain style of lovely raucous, noisy and intricate post-punk. Touch and Go was the center of this universe, of course, and bands like the Jesus Lizard and June of 44 epitomized the sound. Then they all went away.
But I've been hearing more and more of it in the past couple of years, and Jowls is one of best "modern" bands blasting its way through this sound. The vocals are absolutely shredded, the guitars operate as much on feedback as chords and the rhythm section resembles a perpetual motion machine. Just as it should be.
These boys are from Grand Rapids, so they even fit the old style geographically. This stuff is almost perfect. I'm thinking next time there ought to be a full-length, right?
The term "modern rock" is hopelessly antiquated, but it fits the Longwalls perfectly. These boys combine a jaunty indie rock sensibility with rooty arrangements and an often heavy hand in the production booth. These songs soar and crash with astonishing grace.
Dour or bouncy, the pieces here sing with a sure voice. The Longwalls haven't quite created a definitive sound, but the songwriting is distinctive. The goal seems to be to cram as much as possible into extremely small spaces.
And all with a relatively sparse sound. Oh, the reverb can really shudder at times, and there are a few feedback squalls as well. Mostly, though, there's plenty of room for the divergent lines to roam and coalesce.
Best not to anticipate what comes next. The Longwalls will surprise no matter the expectation. An accomplished set, one that deserves plenty of attention. Pick any song, and you will be pulled in. The power is unmistakable.
A Drink for All My Friends
Some folks from Austin who never quite gave up on the whole post-rock dream. These rambling pieces rumble through some truly gorgeous territory before finally pulling into the station.
So. Lots of strings (guitar, bass, fiddle/violin, etc.), needle-pinning engineering and an epochal sense of scope. Kinda like Dirty Three on steroids. Except, of course, not.
It's not fair to compare My Education to anyone else. Few bands are ambitious enough to try their hands at songs this intricate and far-reaching. Each piece tells a story, and most of the time the plot has risen and fallen at least a couple of times before the end of the song. Some of the longer songs are more like five-acts.
A bit exhausting, but utterly thrilling as well. This album teases out of the gate, but the short introduction hardly gives notice of what is to come. The album itself moves with sure feet, and the ideas are nothing short of miraculous. Thunderously lovely.
Ash Reiter takes the whole rootsy 60s pop thing (y'know, She & Him, etc.) and then spins even more confection. The scratchy instrumention only serves to endear more.
The songs themselves ramble a bit; they would have never passed muster at the Brill Building. But that's okay. The languid feel to the hooks allows Reiter to put her own stamp on the sound.
And when she feels like it, Reiter does tighten the ship. She never quite hits the bliss button, but I think that's intentional. The pop elements here are simply tools and not ends within themselves.
Which leaves a more complex album than might seem on the surface. Reiter would be well-served to sharpen her writing craft just a bit, but she should never lose her off-handed feel. Quite the pretty scene.
Suns of Orpheus
American music from around the world. Frederico Geib gave up his native Brazil for the drier climes of Austin, and he's collected a wide-ranging ensemble. The sound is one that could only be made in America, because such a melange makes the most sense on these shores.
There are plenty of Latin and (specifically) Brazilian themes, but it's not too hard to hear east African notes in the guirar, straight-ahead rock and roll and even disco from time to time.
Rock is such a mongrel that it pretty much accepts any contribution to the canon. The only key is making sure the groove is locked in. Suns of Orpheus employ a drummer and a percussionist, which complicates this task. Nonetheless, the band never seems to lose focus. The music is always served first.
I gave up trying to identify influences early on. What is apparent is that the band is comfortable and confident, no matter what burbles into the mix. There's not much in the way of shifting gears; ideas simply come and go. Roll with the punches, and this album should insinuate its way into your heart in no time flat.
Catacombs After Party
The second album of 2012 from this Memphis outfit, and things are humming along smoothly. More sludgy garage stuff, with occasional bursts of prog. This album is sequenced somewhat the opposite as Myth Is This, which opened up with more conceptual pieces that faded into more standard bits. This time out, it takes a few songs for the wiggy side of the band to take flight.
Ah, but it does. "Get the Picture" (track five) heads right into Love and Rockets-ian psychedelia, and the next track ("Be the Indian") rolls into a nice Zombies/13th Floor Elevators groove. The album continues apace.
What I like about these folks is that that apart from an almost-crippling addiction to fuzz, these folks pretty much play what they like. The sound is consistent, but the songs come from all directions. And that consistent sound? The fuzz bombs and heavy reverb in the vocals are distinctive and incredibly inviting.
This album doesn't quite kick into overdrive, but I don't think that was in Tiger High's plans. I believe the idea was to crank out another set of solid sounds and lay more groundwork for world domination. Chalk it up as a complete success.
We Are the Woods
Whales and Roses
Jessie Murphy writes great sing-alongs. There's plenty of unison as well as harmony in the choruses. In any case, the melodies are so infectious you'll be joining in within minutes.
Jaunty folk-rock will do that for you. Plenty of folks will lump this in the americana bin, but We Are the Woods follows modern folk traditions quite clearly.
And quite well, too. The production stays out of the way, allowing Murphy and her mates plenty of room. The songs stand up nicely in the breach. There's really no need to dress them up.
A lot of fun. I suppose Murphy and company could muddy up the waters and wander closer to traditional singer-songwriter and americana territory, but I hope not. I like the way these songs roll.