This Week’s Best Albums: April 27, 2010

This Week's Best Albums

Cleric: Regressions (Mimicry)

Ultimate annihilation, the end times, post-apocalyptic Earth — these are worn-out visual clichés, but ones that apply to the devastating music of Cleric.

For its full-length debut, this Philadelphia quartet specializes in demolishing tech-metal eruptions, savage math breakdowns, and grindcore blasts that give way to doom dirges, sinister atmospherics, nightmarish vocal distortions, and even the stray melody and piano line.

With nary a repeated passage and most major pieces measuring more than 10 minutes, Regressions sounds like a personalized soundtrack to death. Each track is meticulously arranged, and though it very much is for fans of musical complexity, the album has enough head-banging potential to ensnare lovers of “regular” metal. Undoubtedly, Cleric’s music isn’t quite like anything else.

Cleric: “A Rush of Blood”

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My Education: Sunrise (Strange Attractors Audio House)

The name of German director F.W. Murnau is most synonymous with Nosferatu, the classic 1922 silent film that lost a lawsuit for copyright infringement of Bram Stoker‘s Dracula. Just as crucial to his legacy, however, was his work on Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, a co-recipient of Best Picture at the first Academy Awards in 1929.

Nosferatu has been the frequent subject of live scoring — rather recently by Tortoise too — but Sunrise doesn’t receive the musical accompaniment as often.

Now enter My Education, an Austin quintet whose dramatic and dense brand of instrumental post-rock is noteworthy for its exquisite harmonies and use of strings. Sunrise is the band’s homage to Murnau’s Oscar winner, woven together over two years of live presentation.

Combining a traditional rock lineup with viola, cello, and vibraphone, My Education captivates with flares of tension and scrupulous melodies. “Sunset” and its reprise “Sunrise” are chamber-infused duels of harmonies that are interwoven with acoustic guitar and tuba.

Sunrise’s most powerful and dynamic effort, “Oars,” comes after a few more tracks of post-rock bliss that is evocative of Dirty Three, Grails, and Tortoise. The track’s hiccuping, quick-twitch beats create a head-nodding background for swirling guitars and more shining string harmonies.

My Education: “Oars”

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Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble / Terry Riley: In C (Ghostly International)

As one of the premier names in minimalist classical composition, Terry Riley has influenced and worked with key figures such as Steve Reich, John Adams, Philip Glass, and Morton Subotnick. His landmark piece, In C, wasn’t a traditional composition but rather a series of 53 modules that hold different patterns and instructions.

Its hypnotic repetition and varied interpretations have led to countless performances and recordings by dozens of different ensembles and bands. The latest to take the mantle is the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble, a 16-piece Michigan group that recorded In C early last year for a daring remix album, featuring contributions from Glenn Kotche, Nico Muhly, DJ Spooky, Daniel Bernard Roumain, and a dozen others.

This particular release is a live recording of the New Music Ensemble working through the landmark piece with electronic producer/composer Dennis DeSantis on laptop and effects. By and large, their rendition is one of traditional instrumentation, with strings, woodwinds, percussion, and the familiar marimba pulse swelling and retreating.

DeSantis, however, adds IDM elements three-quarters of the way through, infusing the piece with electronic life. The result is an interpretation that pays fierce tribute to the original yet is a brand-new way to experience In C.

The Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble: “In C” (excerpt)

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Devastations: s/t (Brassland)

Following success early last decade in their homeland, these Australian natives migrated to Europe and exposed the Western world to their somber brand of alt-rock, goth, and neofolk.

The trio’s fourth but self-titled effort finds Devastations stripping back its rock elements even more, focusing on Americana sounds and baritone crooning. The album remains peppered with Nick Cave-style rockers, such as “Loene,” that rely on medium-gain guitars and Hammond organ.

However, like Cave’s endeavors with Dirty Three violinist Warren Ellis, it seems that Devastations’ trajectory — at least incrementally — is toward softer songs that are built on acoustic guitar and piano.

Devastations: “Previous Crimes”

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Bushman’s Revenge: Jitterbug (Rune Grammofon)

Norwegian guitarist Even Helte Hermansen, no longer a part of prog-industrial countrymen Shining, has focused on the power-trio ferocity of Bushman’s Revenge.

His effortless talents, ranging from Hendrix-style psych rock to heavy-jam improvs befitting Nels Cline, make the far-reaching band a potent yet enchanting experience. Jitterbug is the trio’s third album, released just a year after You Lost Me at Hello, and it reveals a band manifesting its talents into an ever-more-cohesive mix.

Honorable Mentions

Balkan Beat Box: Blue Eyed Black Boy (Nat Geo Music)

Frog Eyes: Paul’s Tomb: A Triumph (Dead Oceans)

Gogol Bordello: Trans-Continental Hustle (Columbia)

Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things: Stories & Negotiations (482 Music)

Mono: Holy Ground: NYC Live with The Wordless Music Orchestra (Temporary Residence)