This Week’s Best Albums: May 19, 2010

This Week's Best Albums

Solex vs. Cristina Martinez + Jon Spencer: Amsterdam Throwdown, King Street Showdown! (BronzeRat)

Dutch electro artist Elisabeth Esselink keeps a relatively low profile for holding some serious sampling skills (which have been documented on a few Matador releases).

Known as Solex, Esselink now releases her first album in five years, and it’s a doozy. Featuring the husband/wife team of Jon Spencer and Christina Martinez (ex-Boss Hog), Amsterdam Throwdown… is a spacey, funky, groovy disc of fun jams.

The grooves are supported by bangin’ beats and assorted instrumental accents — strings, horns, acoustic and dirty guitars, and much more. Lighthearted vocal interplay trades off with spoken-word passages and Spencer’s trademark “dirtbag” sound.

Amsterdam Throwdown… seems destined to fly under the radar, which would be criminal. Check this out.

Solex vs. Christina Martinez + Jon Spencer: “Galaxy Man”

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Tim Fite: Under the Table Tennis

Multi-instrumentalist rapper/singer Tim Fite, who has been making unclassifiable collage-rock records for the past six years, uses his latest free digital album to deal directly with the recession, defaulted mortgage loans, inadequate healthcare, and bailouts.

Anyone familiar with Fite’s style will instantly recognize and appreciate Under the Table Tennis (another great title à la Over the Counter Culture), but new styles flash in and out of the melting pot — despondent Western motifs, French pop, reggae, and “crunk metal” akin to Otto Von Schirach.

Under the Table Tennis succeeds in its ability to make the listener understand the emotional landscape of an American recession far better than any news report or Time article can. And if that weren’t enough, it’s another fantastic patchwork of styles.

Tim Fite: “Someone Threw the Baby Out”

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The Claudia Quintet: Royal Toast (Cuneiform)

Jazz holds a strong lineage of drummers who double as bandleaders. Still, the practice isn’t as commonplace as one would imagine, and New York’s John Hollenbeck is at the top of a short list of great drummer-composers.

Hollenbeck has won Grammys, but his music is far from the type of smooth-jazz sounds that are conjured by that factoid. Rather, he leads a number of ensembles — including his magnificent Large Ensemble — through challenging polyrhythmic works.

The Claudia Quintet is Hollenbeck’s “band,” a five-piece regular cast that, for this release, features the intricate piano work of Gary Versace. The result is another album of circuitous jazz pieces that entice listeners with wandering accordion and tinges of minimalist classical via vibraphone.

The Claudia Quintet with Gary Versace: “Sphinx”

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Under Byen: Alt Er Tabt (Paper Bag)

Turning 15 this year, Danish post-rock ensemble Under Byen celebrates its crystal anniversary with a few new members and its first studio album since 2006.

Of course, as so often is the case, the “post-rock” descriptor doesn’t necessarily fit here, although that’s primary because it has been used to describe such a wide variety of styles. Alt Er Tabt is closer to chamber pop than rock, although it does have a few elements in common with bands like Mono that incorporate strings to great effect.

Behind Henriette Sennenvaldt’s breathy vocals, ascending scales on pizzicato strings work over 4/4 beats to create simple, catchy polyrhythms. Chants, synthesizers, and Eastern influences weave around basic bass lines, allowing listeners to be rapt by the band’s clever beauty.

Under Byen: “Alt Er Tabt”

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Honorable Mentions

Fight the Big Bull: All is Gladness in the Kingdom (Clean Feed)

Harvey Milk: A Small Turn of Human Kindness (Hydra Head)

Jamie Lidell: Compass (Warp)

Pontiak: Living (Thrill Jockey)