Athens/Atlanta album reviews: Casper & the Cookies, Marshmallow Coast, Pistolero, The Preakness, Allison Weiss
As I get caught up on some albums and acts neglected here I've been busy, I thought it perfectly appropriate to review several acts by Athens and Atlanta bands here at once. I went to the CD release party for a couple of these albums last month, and they've all made me further appreciate my home region.
Casper & the Cookies - Modern Silence [buy]
Modern Silence is the first record from Casper & company since The Optimist's Club in 2006, and it's a subtle but marked departure from its predecessor. It retains the great hooks and wit of the band's earlier work, but there is a greater emphasis on rock anthems and departures into power-pop ballads than I recall in earlier Casper records (in memory, anyhow). Modern Silence is, overall, pretty damn enjoyable.
The big rock of "Little Lady Larva" and the slinky bass-driven "Nagoya" are particular favorites, and I can vouch that they translate very well in a live setting. "Keep Talking" strikes me as a track that would fit quite well in the score of a Broadway show about romancing an alien (I smell Tonys!), and the tropical flair of "Chocolate Cake and Coffee" nicely accentuates the album's later half. The album's most fascinating track may be one that doesn't even feature the band itself -- closer "I Am Gone" includes contributions from dozens of musicians (including Sam Grindstaff, Mary O. Harrison, Fishboy, Keith John Adams, Vanessa Briscoe Hay, Hannah Jones, Bryan Poole, Robert Schneider, Jason Jones, Leslie Dallion Superstar, Bill Doss, and more) that fills a full 15+ minutes. Such a track could easily go off the rails, but Jason NeSmith's production keeps it tight and pretty much amazing.
Casper & the Cookies - Pete Ehrchik Bicentennial Service Area
Casper & the Cookies - Little King
Casper & the Cookies - You Love Me
Marshmallow Coast - Phreak Phantasy [buy]
While seeing him live the past couple of years, I have been able to see Andy Gonzalez play with different lineups and names, with the result of that progression being a return to his original moniker and a unique Marshmallow Coast record. Andy has moved increasingly toward electronic sounds and gadgets in his music, and the lyrics on Phreak Phantasy are decidedly R-rated. He acknowledges this in the liner notes, explaining that the record tries to explore a "broad set of feelings" that could be felt by someone else if not himself. The sometimes naughty lyrics are interesting juxtaposed against the latter-era McCartney sound in many of the songs. The album also features guest appearances by Jesse Flavin, Heather McIntosh, Will Hart, and Sara Kirkpatrick (with the latter the only mainstay in Andy's live band, though I'm told it now includes Jim Hicks as well).
As for the songs, there are a number of standouts among the nine tracks. "Please Don't" and "Lonely Days" are great pop tunes, with the guitar parts in the latter impossible to resist. "Millionaire" is weird but hypnotic, and "Nasty Dream" is entertaining -- I was relieved to see, however, that the lyrics mention a "deep ass hole to China" rather than, well... you can figure it out. "Sara's Song" is lovely, and title track "Phreak Phantasy" features some "4 track madness" from Elephant 6 luminary Will Hart, and celebrates "24 hours of only booze and weed" so adamantly that I wonder if it was written with a Phish parking lot in mind. Phreak Phantasy is a fun record, and one that has certainly grown on me with repeated listens.
Marshallow Coast - Please Don't
Pistolero - Warface [buy]
The latest release from Atlanta band Pistolero, Warface, is more ambitious and accomplished than their previous output, visiting several genres and styles over the course of its 13 tracks. Although the band's earlier EPs were nothing to sneeze at, the full-length format gives them room to move. Along the way they meander between garage rock, country, and Modern Lovers-style punk, and are largely successful along the way. Pistolero also use the longer format to feature quite a bit of interesting instrumentation -- "Sniviling Little Git" features not only the aforemention Modern Lovers flair, but also strings that give it an atmospheric quality it might have lacked without them. The country-tinged "Spreadsheets" and "King of Atlanta" feature harmonica and banjo, respectively.
My favorite tracks on the album are probably those in which Pistolero invoke their British Invasion influences -- "Yellow House" and "Postcard from the Apocalypse" remind me of mod acts from years ago, and "Sunburn" is decidedly psychedelic. The band also does straightforward rock the right way; I can imagine much dancing and throwing of beer during the raging "Picture Perfect." I don't love every track on Warface, but it's a quality record from a local act that deserves far more attention.
Pistolero - Yellow House
The Preakness - A Class Act in a Bad Situation [buy]
Longtime readers of C&T probably know that Atlanta trio The Preakness have been among my favorite Georgia bands since I first saw them at The EARL. I eagerly snapped up their demos and earlier vinyl EP, and have been looking forward to this first full-length record for ages. From the opening moments of "Wax On" with Tracy Clark on melodica, I absolutely adore it.
The 13 tracks on A Class Act in a Bad Situation are wonderful, jangly indie rock well-informed by frontman/guitarist Brandon Arnold's fondness for Lou Barlow, Bill Callahan, and the like. The songs are engaging and intelligent, and the dual vocals by Arnold and Clark provide welcome and warm texture to the tracks. The Preakness are equally adept at both pretty, low-key moments and guitar freakouts, and the studio environment has allowed them to incorporate some complimentary bells and whistles not present in the live show. I remain quite fond of favorites "Frog Logic," "I Thought I Was in Control," and "Air Traffic," and new (to me) songs "The Spoke" and "Before You Fell" are fine additions to the band's catalog. I am also pleased and surprised that (smog) cover "A Hit" made the record, as I have always enjoyed it in their live show. I hope more people pick this up and see what the band is about. A Class Act in a Bad Situation would be a fine introduction.
The Preakness - Frog Logic
The Preakness - What They're Saying
The Preakness - This Drive
Allison Weiss - & the Way She Likes It [buy]
After being in Athens for a couple years, it's hard to imagine living where Allison Weiss isn't ubiquitous. Around here her name peppers the various sites where stickers or gig posters show up, and college kids wear her T-shirts on the UGA campus. Despite her young age this is the fifth release for Weiss, though it is the first featuring a full band. After listening to this EP, it's evident why Weiss has an audience.
The songs on this EP are very much radio-ready. The tracks here don't break new ground in pop music, but they fit very well within its established boundaries. These are well-written songs with memorable melodies, great hooks, and plenty of lovelorn lyrics for any fan of the genre. I wouldn't be surprised to hear "I'm Ready" or "I Don't Want to Be Here" on FM radio one day, and not just at the left of the dial. Highly recommended for fans of girl-with-guitar pop.
Allison Weiss - I'm Ready