This Week’s Best Albums: August 17, 2010

This Week's Best Albums

Tallest Trees: The Ostrich or the Lark (Other Electricities)

Making an impressive debut on Other Electricities, Nashville duo Tallest Trees is the union of two separate projects — an expansive solo experiment by Thomas Samuel (who began as Tallest Trees) and the looped-cello project of Dabny Morris (dubbed Human Voice).

Together, the two have created their own brand of off-kilter pop, weaving weird effects and echoing vocal harmonies over malleable foundations.

Each element — whether a wash of distorted guitars, a toy piano, or hymn-like singing — combines with the others to create a well-meshed, unique whole.  Glitches, found sounds, feedback, and more give The Ostrich or the Lark a warm, welcome feel.  It’s a beautiful pop debut — one that will make many take notice.

Tallest Trees: “Alouette!”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Boris & Ian Astbury: BXI EP (Southern Lord)

Globe-crossing collaborations have become substantially easier in the Internet age, but Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley of Southern Lord have facilitated a pleasant surprise: the collaboration of UK post-punk, goth-rock front man Ian Astbury and Japanese drone-metal trio Boris.

Best known as the voice of The Cult, Astbury is no stranger to collaboration; he was chosen for the 2002 Doors reunion and has recorded with UNKLE and a number of other musicians.  The surprise, in fact, is that his work over these four songs with Boris sounds so natural.

BXI showcases Boris’ ability to fit Astbury’s style with fist-pounding rock rawness.  But the final track, “Magickal Child,” may be the best, combining Boris’ doomy qualities with Astbury’s vibrato-heavy vocals.  The one cover tune — a version of The Cult’s “Rain” — is another standout, featuring Boris’ Wata handling vocal duties.

Both parties must be pretty satisfied too, because co-performances are scheduled for the coming months, and they’re already discussing a followup.  Wherever that leads, the result is sure to be just as interesting.

Boris & Ian Astbury: “Teeth and Claws”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Asphalt Orchestra: s/t (Cantaloupe)

Co-directed by Ken Thomson and Jessica Schmitz, Asphalt Orchestra is a 12-piece marching ensemble that performs brass-led covers of eclectic selections as well as commissions from esteemed songwriters.

Thomson and Schmitz have ridiculous résumés, but the rest of the lineup is no less preposterous in talent, featuring members of Jerseyband, Gutbucket, Balkan Beat Box, Barbez, and Slavic Soul Party, as well as bandleaders and contributors to ensembles such as Bang on a Can, Alarm Will Sound, So Percussion, and others.

The twelve-tet’s self-titled debut is a luminous romp, reimagining tunes from Frank Zappa, Charles Mingus, Meshuggah, and Björk with equal ease.  The group also delivers beautiful commissions by Tyondai Braxton (Battles), Stew and Heidi Rodewald (The Negro Problem, Passing Strange), and composer Goran Bregovic.

With matching uniforms and a diverse songbook, Asphalt Orchestra draws comparisons to Chicago’s Mucca Pazza.  This NYC ensemble, however, employs choreographed moves and even more crowd interaction.  If you get the chance, don’t miss them on your street.

Asphalt Orchestra: “Electric Red” (Meshuggah)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Esperanza Spalding: Chamber Music Society (Heads Up)

Still just 25 years old, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding holds a glut of talents and a set of experiences that few can call their own.  And with African, Hispanic, Native American, and Spanish roots, Spalding has a heritage as diverse as her influences.

Her previous albums have mixed jazz singing, scatting, and down-tempo jazz with elements of chamber, Brazilian, and flamenco music.  For Chamber Music Society, her third full album, Spalding focuses on her chamber influences, albeit with bits of the other styles in the mix.

Best known as a bassist, Spalding has experience across various chamber instruments, and as a child prodigy, she became concertmaster of The Chamber Music Society of Oregon at age 15.  Clearly, the abilities never left, as Chamber Music Society is a collection of deliberate, delicate chamber-jazz tunes.

Spalding’s vocals are less of a focal point, often used as accompaniment or absent for long stretches.  When they return, however, it’s easy to hear why that aspect of her career is so celebrated.

Her next album, Radio Music Society, is in the works now and will explore funk, hip hop, and rock in genre-less creations.

Esperanza Spalding: “Short and Sweet”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Honorable Mentions

Brass Menazeri: Vranjski San (Porto Franco)

Camu Tao: King of Hearts (Def Jux / Fat Possum)

Chief: Modern Rituals (Domino)

Drivan: Disko (Smalltown Supersound)

Knights of the Abyss: The Culling of Wolves (Ferret)

Lissie: Catching a Tiger (Fat Possum)

Night Horse: Perdition Hymns (Tee Pee)

Orbs: Asleep Next to Science (Equal Vision)

Valkyrie: Man of Two Visions (Meteor City)