This Week’s Best Albums: April 10, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: April 10, 2012

Each week, editor-in-chief Chris Force and music editor Scott Morrow choose ALARM’s favorite new releases for This Week’s Best Albums, an eclectic set of reviews presenting exceptional music.

Ancestors: In Dreams and Time (Tee Pee)

"Whispers"


If the album is dead, then no one bothered to tell Ancestors, an LA-based five-piece that demonstrates just how vital the LP format still is on this, its third full-length. Filled with guitar-driven rock that's heavy on organ and prog tendencies (the description barely does justice, though), In Dreams and Time doesn't so much grip or demand the listener's full attention as much as it just flows seamlessly from one moment to the next. And, much like the experience you might have watching a lengthy but well-paced film, you lose your sense of time when you take this music in.

Whereas the band's first two albums hinted at what Ancestors pursues on In Dreams and Time, the album is its most decisive and sure-footed at combining influences into a coherent whole. Both the band and record label have described this new work as having a more pronounced classic-rock flavor, but that description is somewhat misleading as several different elements bleed together while the tunes run their tastefully drawn-out course. The guitars, though crunchy, also are rich with melody in a way that reflects seasoned songwriting -- interested in making every note count.

Meanwhile, keyboardists Matt Barks and Jason Watkins combine organ, Moog, synthesizer, acoustic piano, and mellotron into a unified current of sounds that never intrudes on the flow, even where the keyboards take center stage. Whereas so many bands place a premium on the amount of stimulus they can cram into every moment (or on being rigid, tone-obsessed simplicity-mongers), Ancestors stands out for pacing ideas with patience and care. In one fell swoop, Ancestors has proclaimed, “The album lives!” And if you suffer from Album Deficit Disorder, you may find yourself cured after a couple of complete listens of In Dreams and Time.

- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

Pelican: Ataraxia / Taraxis EP (Southern Lord)

"Lathe Biosas"


Ten years is a time frame in which anything can happen, especially in the music industry. Chicago’s post-metal Pelican celebrated its tin anniversary in 2010, but 2012 is a year of greater progress for the four-piece, reflected in its new EP, Ataraxia / Taraxis.

Demoed back and forth via E-mail, this four-song release was composed and recorded in different studios across the map, with the help of engineers Sanford Parker and Aaron Harris. And as “Ataraxia” begins, listeners will hear a new side of the old veterans as soft electric piano and acoustic guitar weave a melancholy melody over a nest of feedback and gurgling electronics.

But just as listeners are lulled into a halcyon state, the recording bursts into life with “Lathe Biosas.” This track and the subsequent “Parasite Colony” were composed with the group all together, and they’re much closer to traditional Pelican material. The pace is upbeat in comparison, and sturdy chord sections are sewn together as distorted melodies complete each other’s thoughts.

The closing track, “Taraxis,” is a hybrid of old and new, led by pitch-bending acoustic melodies that dance with a distant electric line. The sounds are familiar — even culminating in a sludgy outro — but they’re presented in an untried light, almost like a “Pelican unplugged” arrangement.

- Bobby Markos

Municipal Waste: The Fatal Feast (Nuclear Blast)

"The Fatal Feast"


In this age of sub-sub-genres and hyphenated crossovers, Virgina’s Municipal Waste remains steadfast in thrash. The quartet has leaned on the hyper-speed riffs of guitarist Ryan Waste and the manic fills of drummer Dave Witte to achieve this singular goal, crafting a reusable template over which vocalist Tony Foresta barks his punk/hardcore cadence.

The band’s fifth full-length album, The Fatal Feast, is another exercise in thrash — the definition of a band revisiting its sweet spot (or, in less flattering terms, rehashing the same material).

“Waste in Space” begins the album with a spacey, creepy intro (courtesy of Steve Moore from Zombi), but the space sub-theme ultimately is a missed opportunity, and there’s only one other similar moment over the remaining 37 minutes.

Ryan Waste’s squealing whammy-bar solos are a highlight — not too cheesy, and reminiscent of Agoraphobic Nosebleed’s wailing bursts. John Connelly (of Nuclear Assault) and Tim Barry (formerly of Avail) also make guest appearances, but they’re brief and hard to notice. Ultimately, listeners know what to expect from the Waste, and the band delivers it in spades.

- Scott Morrow

Emily Wells: Mama (Partisan)

"Passenger"


It might be unfair to claim that an artist who was playing violin before she was in Kindergarten and releasing original music before she started high school is just now maturing, but it does seem as if violinist and multi-instrumentalist Emily Wells grew up between 2008 album Symphonies: Dreams Memories & Parties and her new release, Mama.

It's not that her style has changed: slow grooves remain layered with strings, effects, and vocal hooks like that of a breathless siren — the result of hip-hop, folk, and classical influences. Yet the production is fuller despite having less going on, and Wells' lyrics are less self-conscious. All of this may be the result of leaving Los Angeles for New York, or recording Mama in a cabin on a horse ranch. Whatever it is, the songwriting and instrumentation — pretty much all of which can be credited to Wells — suggest a performer that resists being put in a box.

The maturation is harder to hear at first, but by the second half of the album, Wells steps out from behind her toys for winning songs like “Let Your Guard Down,” armed only with a guitar and sparse percussion. When she sings the title lyric, it feels like she’s singing about herself in that moment. In short, Mama’s a winner. It should hold us over until Pillowfight’s first release — Wells' collaboration with Dan the Automator — drops later this year.

- Timothy A. Schuler

Inverloch: Dusk | Subside (Relapse)

"The Menin Road"


This EP debut by Australian ambient doom/death-metal quintet Inverloch owes its origins to the obscure, like-minded group Disembowelment, which broke up almost two decades ago after releasing just one full-length and never playing a live show. Spearheaded by former Disembowelment members Paul Mazziotta (drums) and Matthew Skarajew (guitars), Inverloch continues in a direct lineage with the pair's old band. (The title of this EP, in fact, references the 1992 Disembowelment EP Dusk; Relapse compiled and re-released the group's entire body of work in 2005.)

Following in that mold, Inverloch insists on doom hallmarks like plodding tempos, a heavy-handed sense of drama devoid of irony, and an almost dogmatic insistence on murky tones. This time around, however, Mazziotta, Skarajew, and their new bandmates infuse the music with a stillness that's practically unheard in metal. One would be hard-pressed to find another heavy release where the volume dips as low it does during some of the passages on Dusk | Subside. But beyond volume -- and beyond diametric notions of loudness and quietness as opposing forces -- Inverloch creates pockets of fine mist within thick slabs of doom.

Such a feat might seem impossible, perhaps even unthinkable, yet it sounds totally natural here. And, whereas the juxtaposition of ratty production values with creative ambition played a large part in Disembowelment’s appeal, Inverloch favors a sonic clarity once thought to be the antithesis of everything this style of music is supposed to represent.

In this case, the mood may be sludgy, but every detail is audible in the mix. If the boundaries of doom metal appear to have been drawn long ago, Inverloch gives listeners good reason to reconsider – and to look forward to how the genre can continue to evolve from here as long as it’s approached with this much imagination.

- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

Honorable Mentions:

Amadou & Mariam: Folila (Nonesuch)

Bassnectar: Vava Voom (Amorphous)

Black Dice: Mr. Impossible (Ribbon Music)

Eight and a Half: s/t (Arts & Crafts)

Imaginary Cities: Temporary Resident (Votiv)

M. Ward: A Wasteland Companion (Merge)

Seluah: Red Parole (Karate Body)

Ravi Shankar: The Living Room Sessions Part 1 (East Meets West)

Young Hines: Give Me My Change (Readymade)