This Week’s Best Albums: April 24, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: April 24, 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.

Jack White: Blunderbuss (Third Man / Columbia)

"Sixteen Saltines"

For the past decade, Jack White always has felt like some sort of enigmatic miracle worker. Or perhaps “warlock” or “witch doctor” are more appropriate terms. But either way, the result has been the same: White has been able to (A) build something large out of very little and (B) bring focus and resolve to a kaleidoscope of different influences and styles when collaborating with peers.

Whether serving as front-man and conductor of The White Stripes, co-partner and mastermind of The Raconteurs, puppet master of The Dead Weather, producer and visionary for Loretta Lynn, or collaborator with Insane Clown Posse, White always has had a mask to hide behind when it comes to putting his touch on something. More than most of his contemporaries, he has always been able to drape himself in mystique.

Until now: with the unraveling of The White Stripes and the hiatuses of his other projects, White has completed his latest and most authentic project to date: his first-ever solo album, Blunderbuss.

At its core, Blunderbuss feels like the lifting of a veil. It feels like the first time where White lets down his guard down, dropping the masquerade and giving way to more intimate lyrics and personable arrangements. White is somehow able to incorporate all of his styles — from the old-school rock guitars of “Sixteen Saltines” to the subdued, Rhodes- and acoustic-oriented “Love Interruption.” And with a few Nashville piano wranglers (“Trash Tongue Talker”) and a blues-rock cover of a ’50s classic (Little Willie John’s “I’m Shakin’”), Blunderbuss feels very much like a review of White’s songwriting strengths — which stay grounded enough as to never feel derivative or scattered.

Perhaps it’s because White’s name is on the sleeve, but Blunderbuss feels completely real. There is a genuineness here that White only has intimated on past records. The songs are more immediate, more intimate, and more heartfelt. On a song called “On and On and On,” White laments, “The people around me won’t let me become what I need to / They want me the same / I look at myself and I want to just cover my eyes / And give myself a new name.” And maybe that’s exactly what White has done here. Performing as Jack White and not as yet another project, there is no charade or gimmick to hide behind. And White is all the better for it.

- Michael Danaher

Torche: Harmonicraft (Volcom)


There’s no actual rule saying that heavy bands have to dilute their heaviness when they indulge in melody -- or, for that matter, when they put cutesie My Little Pony-looking dinosaurs on their album covers. For whatever reason, the nerve to attempt either still is rare, as Miami four-piece Torche demonstrates with its third full-length, Harmonicraft.

As on all previous Torche releases, the band relies mainly on its knack for combining densely layered guitar riffs with rich vocal arrangements, winding lead-guitar lines, and shimmering textures that give the music a radiance not unlike the wavy lines that appear to emanate off blacktop on a hot day.

Recorded by Torche bassist Jonathan Nuñez and mixed by Converge’s Kurt Ballou, Harmonicraft comes stuffed with so much sonic detail that the music practically melts in your mouth. Other groups may sound confused, bipolar, disastrously off-course, or ultimately limited in their attempts to expand the scope of their riffs. But Torche comes up with riffs that sound like they were meant to be infused with other flavor.

This time around, the band also elevates its songwriting game above the tone fetishism of some of its previous work. The result is an album full of anthems that, when taken together, lend themselves perfectly to such life-defining moments as road trips, keg parties, fist-pumping and singing out loud uncontrollably in public places, and solo listening in the dark on repeat. With Harmonicraft, Torche effortlessly combines brawny drive with melodic release.

The album also marks Torche’s first release to feature new guitarist Andrew Elstner, who participated fully in the songwriting, guitar playing, and vocal harmonizing alongside front-man Steve Brooks and bandmates. His presence adds a welcome new dimension after the 2010 recording of Songs for Singles as a three-piece.

- Text by Saby Reyes-Kulkarni. Read the full review here.

Death Grips: The Money Store (Epic)

"I've Seen Footage"

This February, Epic Records signed Sacramento-based aggro-rap trio Death Grips in a WTF? move that caused an industry-wide double-take. As if fearing for its own major-label life span, the trio subsequently announced two new albums to be released within the year, the first of which — The Money Store — drops today. As Death Grips’ follow-up to last year’s acclaimed mixtape Exmilitary, its first official debut finds MC Ride, Hella drummer Zach Hill, and producer Andy Morin once again crafting one of the most out-there, if not polarizing, hip-hop releases of the year.

The album’s opening track, “Get Got,” immediately sets the tone for the record, sending a message to the listener that this is not your average hip-hop production. Ride trades in his signature shout-raps for malfunctioning-machine-like delivery, layered over spasming synths. “I’ve Seen Footage” is, quite possibly, one of the more accessible tracks on the album, channeling Salt-n-Pepa’s “Push It” as though it were produced by aliens.

As a whole, The Money Store might be as heralded for its shock value and general strangeness than its production value. It’s an album that challenges its listeners to like it, assuming that they survive a full spin.

- Meaghann Korbel

Bereft: Leichenhaus (The End)

"The Coldest Orchestra"

In a field as saturated as doom metal, the only way to make a splash is to play heavier and harder than the band before. Bereft -- a Los Angeles quartet featuring members of Intronaut, Graviton, Abysmal Dawn, and The Faceless -- is clearly pushing ahead with that mentality on its debut album, Leichenhaus. The seven song, 40-minute onslaught has no breaks and no mercy.

“Corpse Flower” ushers in the album in true introductory fashion, announcing each instrument one by one like actors appearing on stage. Ex-The Faceless vocalist Derek Rydquist waits until “Mentality of the Inanimate” to make his awakening, and does not stray too far from what he knows best: low, guttural vocals.

Highlights of the album include “Withered Efflorescence” and “The Coldest Orchestra,” which demonstrate the band’s full range. Layered guitar riffs pummel through the production like a battering ram, whether it be with chord progressions or subtle leads. The group also offers an elementary education in post-rock, which is intertwined between some of the heavier bars of music.

Leichenhaus is a solid addition to any doom fan’s record collection, especially those who wish the genre’s icons would stray from the melodic side of things. The album is dark and devastating, and often sounds like a musical war zone. With many metal-core veterans making the switch to slower music, Bereft may be leading the parade with this hearty debut.

- Bobby Markos

Cock and Swan: Stash (Lost Tribe Sound)

"Sneak Close"

With its fourth album, Stash, Washington duo Cock and Swan makes a sharp departure from the sound of its previous records. Whereas the band was once rooted in haunting, trip-hop-ish electronic music, Stash sees it in a new direction towards a more stripped-down, acoustic aesthetic.

Underneath its delicate surface, though, the duo is able to achieve its subtly sinister sound through Ola Hungerford’s lighter-than-air vocals juxtaposed with Johnny Goss’ slightly askew percussion. On tracks like “Tectonic Plates,” Hungerford’s vocals drown in the background amidst pounding drums, giving it an almost under-water feel that’s as soothing as it is slightly unnerving.

Though the band has made some serious transformations in its sound, it’s still likely to win over its fans with this rainy-day-ready record. Stash is delicate, beautiful, and deceptively dynamic.

- Meaghann Korbel

Honorable Mentions:

16: Deep Cuts from Dark Clouds (Relapse)

Brendon Small’s Galaktikon: s/t

The Dandy Warhols: This Machine (The End)

Felix: Oh Holy Molar (Kranky)

Huoratron: Cryptocracy (Last Gang)

Hush Arbors / Arbouretum: Aureola (Thrill Jockey)

Loop 2.4.3: American Dreamland (Music Starts from Silence)

Orcas: s/t (Morr Music)

Ty Segall & White Fence: Hair (Drag City)

Woods of Ypres: Woods 5: Grey Skies & Electric Light (Earache)

Zoon Van Snook: (Remixes from) The Nutty Tree (Mush)

John Zorn: Nosferatu (Tzadik)