A-Set - Songs From The Red Room / Jen Wood - The Uncontainable Light EP
Tree Records

Before the term "emo" became a household term, Tree Records was cranking
out some of the best stuff that scene had to offer.  With the release of the
Owltian Mia double 7" and the Eucalyptus compilation, they became
documentors of a rapidly dying movement.  When it essentially ended in 1995
(I propose that it ended when Portraits of Past broke up) Tree was already
hard at work on its Post Marked Stamps series.  With that recently out of
the way, they have taken to an entirely different sub-genre within the
independent music scene: "the singer-songwriter."  Basically, that's a term
equally as annoying as "solo project," but hey, we have to accept stupid
labels and get over it.  With these records by A-Set and Jen Wood following
a record by Julie Doiron and proceeding solo works by Brian of Franklin and
Karla of Ida, they have collected quite a stable of non-bands.  Let's say
Tree has matured.  After the term "emo" was exhumed and destroyed by Deep
Elm, there wasn't much reason to go back.  Thank god someone realizes this
fact.  To me, Jen Wood and Albert Menduno (A-Set) represent two artists on
the same road; one a little bit farther up than the other, though.  Although
this is the A-Set's second release (first full-length), he still sounds like
someone finding his sound.  Miss Wood, on the other hand, seems to coming
onto quite a niche after her first two full-lengths.

While her first two records had their fair share of gems, some of Jen Wood's lilting, acoustic folk pop had its tedious moments. _Getting Past The Static_ contained the breath taking nine-minute-plus song, "Caught Halo," but dragged a little towards the end. It now seems that Jen Wood has finally hit her stride. Hopefully this four-song EP is a precursor to a full-length record in the works, because honestly, this is great stuff. There isn't a moment, a thought, or even a word about this record that I would change; aside from its brevity, it's damn near perfect. What was essentially a solo project with the help of friends has become a full-on three piece. Each track has some light drumming and finds Jen sharing vocal duties. Although her melting voice is still the focal point, the harmonizing they find is brilliant. A minute into the first track their voices come together and swell as they sing the word "heart." This first song, musically as well as lyrically, sets the tone for the record. In the past I have heard complaints about the simplicity of her lyrics, but I've certainly never had a problem with them. She seems to capture all the awkwardness, doubt, uncertainty, hope, love, and bitterness of a relatioship perfectly. Like Ida, the lyrics are simple, yet dead-on accurate. Often voicing the same doubts and feelings I have, they are personal as well as universal. Indeed, my only qualm is brevity. These four songs display the leaps she has made in song writing over the last year or two; I cannot endorse this more strongly.
The A-Set, aka Albert Menduno, has also jumped in songwriting prowess and has attained a feeling of maturity. I reviewed his first ep for this website, and while I liked it, I knew more was coming. Even though more has, in the form of this, his first full-length, we get the feeling that the A-Set is still trying to define itself. Even though more instrumentation is added on top of the guitar and vocals, there is something to be desired in the A-Set's beefiness (or lack thereof). Most all songs tread similar ground; short pop songs awash with off-putting vocals, jangly guitar work, and organ tinkering. While I like and enjoy this, it gets a bit much by the end of the album. I find myself wishing he would throw in some more effects more instruments, and maybe some vocal over-dubbing. I don't need Radiohead-esque layering, but some beef might be nice. In my limited knowledge of them, his brand of pop song reminds of the Beatles in some spots. His stuff isn't tired by any stretch, but it's readily apparent that something more is capable and waiting to get out. While I thoroughly enjoy this album, here's to hoping that with his next release he finds the consistancy and richness that Jen Wood has.
...david smith...

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