This Week’s Best Albums: April 17, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: April 17, 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.

Battles: Dross Glop (Warp)

As a companion to last year’s Gloss Drop, the inversely titled Dross Glop consists entirely of BattlesGloss Drop music reworked by the likes of Hudson Mohawke, The Alchemist, Kode9, Shabazz Palaces, Gang Gang Dance, Gui Boratto, and more. Given the band’s unpredictable creative trajectory to this point, it’s no surprise that the distinctive electro-rock trio has released something to induce head-scratching among existing fans and electronica fans alike.

Stacked with propulsive grooves, the highly rhythmic Gloss Drop surely would have made suitable fodder for breakbeats and a conventional dance-floor makeover. Indeed, the remix album (a collection of the four Dross Glop 12-inch releases) does contain some perversely appealing moments that illustrate what a “Battles in the club”-type culture clash would sound like.

As such, some of Dross Glop falls more closely within established boundaries than Battles fans may come to expect. Still, even in residual traces, the band’s oft-heralded oddness manages to shine through. More compellingly, some of the new interpretations bear no resemblance whatsoever to their original counterparts. Without a look at the track listing, listeners at times will be hard-pressed to match what they’re hearing with a specific tune from Gloss Drop.

- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

Grinderman: 2 RMX (Anti-)

"Evil (Silver Alert Remix f. Matt Berninger)"

It’s not an obvious idea to remix Nick Cave. His status as a musical icon seems to discourage the thought that his manic tales of depravity can be improved or successfully altered. But Grinderman’s 2 RMX — damn, does it work well. From A Place to Bury Strangers’ post-punk rendition of “Worm Tamer” to the spooky, shamanistic vibe of “Evil” by Silver Alert (Grinderman's Jim Sclavunos) and The National’s Matt Berninger, it’s a surprise to find a style so distinct that's also so versatile. Grinderman is ripe for experimentation.

Nearly every track from Grinderman 2 — the second album from the most recent and heavily lauded Nick Cave side project — gets the remix treatment, featuring artists as diverse as guitarist Robert Fripp (“Super Heathen Child”) to Yeah Yeah YeahsNick Zinner (“Bellringer Blues”).

As always, remixes can consist of extensive, eye-opening reinterpretations or superficial tweaks. This album offers both. The most drastic and beautiful surprise is Cats Eyes’ rendition of “When My Baby Comes,” an epic and heart-rending song built from what was an acoustic blues tune and benefiting from Rachel Zeffira’s atmospheric vocals. The release also includes an original demo as well as mixes by Joshua Homme, Andrew Weatherall, and Barry Adamson.

- Timothy A. Schuler

Yann Tiersen: Skyline (Anti-)

"Another Shore"

French composer Yann Tiersen always has taken darker paths — even the Amelie soundtrack maintained a certain melancholy. His solo albums are more overt. On 2010 album Dust Lane, he appropriated a stark passage from Henry Miller’s The Rosy Crucifixion. On his latest, Skyline (finally released in the United States), he takes the tropes of horror films and makes music out of it — at least on “Exit 5 Block 20,” a track that begins with brutal howls­ that only subside for a short portion of the song.

The rest of Skyline is less abrasive, though it does maintain the rough-around-the-edges aesthetic that Tiersen does so well (mixed to perfection by Ken Thomas). The album is very much a sister release to Dust Lane; in a way, Skyline sounds like its B-side release (which it may well be; the two came out just a single year apart). The compositions again use a rock aesthetic — guitar, drums, vocals (often spoken) — supplemented inventively by strings, vintage synths, auxiliary percussion, and lots of gritty layers of effects (plus, apparently, the occasional howl).

Many songs are anthemic yet subdued — another signature of Tiersen's. Here, especially with “Vanishing Point,” the musician embarks on a foray into electronics. Skyline also feels less ruminative, a result no doubt of recording the album in San Francisco, Paris, and Ouessant (the French island that served as the main home of Dust Lane). In all, it’s an enjoyable if not groundbreaking follow-up, setting the stage for further exploration.

- Timothy A. Schuler

Jel: Greenball 3.5 (Fieldwerk)

"Ignition Key"

Ever since the 1997 formation of hip-hop duo Themselves, producer/rapper Jeffrey Logan — under the moniker Jel — has kept himself busy with solo works and other projects such as Subtle and 13 & God (both with Themselves partner Adam "Doseone" Drucker). A prolific artist with multiple releases almost every year, Jel returns today with his eighth solo effort — the fourth in his Greenball series — Greenball 3.5.

Created again with an '80s SP-1200, a drum machine / sampler combo, the album is given an old-school, beat-driven feel, adhering to a less-is-more philosophy by giving weight to negative space. Jel's signature boom-bap works its way into each track, centering the instrumental works on his hand-performed beats, and songs like the pulsing, scratching “Montro” and the vibrating, synth-driven “Ignition Key” are injected with the raw hip-hop production that makes 3.5 unmistakably Jel.

- Meaghann Korbel

Jon Porras: Black Mesa (Thrill Jockey)

"Into Midnight"

Guitarist Jon Porras, otherwise known as one half of drone-folk duo Barn Owl, has returned for his sophomore solo effort via Black Mesa, a concept album of sorts about an outlaw’s desert journey as he comes to discover another universe.

As the album opener, “Into Midnight” also serves as a launching pad for the outlaw’s journey into the unknown. Tinged with Western motifs, distorted and screeching guitar riffs create a sense of anxiety. As the album moves forward in a linear fashion, the story arc seems to reach its climax with the atmospheric guitars in “Embers at Dusk,” closing with a sense of discovery before entering “Into the Black Mesa.”

The album ends, however, on an ambiguous note. It leaves us with a feeling of almost doom-like uncertainty, as if the outlaw’s destination was merely an oasis, never becoming fully realized and fading from sight. Black Mesa begs its listeners to retrace his steps in hopes of discovering more.

- Meaghann Korbel

Vieo Abiungo: Thunder May Have Ruined the Moment (Lost Tribe Sound)

"With Its Slow Decay"

Multi-multi-multi-instrumentalist, composer, and all-around whiz kid William Ryan Fritch has lent his musical dexterity to a number of film scores, as well as underground rapper Sole and his Skyrider Band. He also has recently begun making a name for himself under the pseudonym Vieo Abiungo, having released two albums in addition to his latest, Thunder May Have Ruined the Moment.

As a solo artist, Fritch allows himself space to expand upon and experiment with both modern- and old-world music, influenced by but outside the confines of classical composition. But this time around, Fritch allows his music to speak for itself. Rather than playing to his natural talents, Thunder acts as a vehicle for his flourishing imagination. On it, Fritch explores the highs and lows of human emotion, as his all-acoustic instrumentation weaves together a spectrum of moods from quiet repose to taut anguish.

Meanwhile, Fritch continues his exploration in world music: “The Milk of Venom” is laden with a swirling Eastern melody, while the minimalism of “With Its Slow Decay” balances textures with a wispy desert call and piano and string harmonies.

- Meaghann Korbel

Honorable Mentions:

Congo Sanchez: Vol. 1 EP (ESL)

DNF: Hurt EP (No Idea)

Lushlife: Plateau Vision (Western Vinyl)

Eivind Opsvik: Overseas IV (Loyal Label)

Sixo: Free Floating Rationales (Fake Four)

Slugabed: Time Team (Ninja Tune)

Spiritualized: Sweet Heart Sweet Light (Fat Possum)

Sidi Touré: Koïma (Thrill Jockey)

Ufomammut: Oro: Opus Primum (Southern Lord)

Hank Williams III: Long Gone Daddy (Curb)