This Week’s Best Albums: August 24, 2010

This Week's Best Albums

Tristan Perich: 1-Bit Symphony (Cantaloupe)

In 2004, contemporary composer Tristan Perich first created his unorthodox (yet old-school) means of delivering minimalist electronic creations — by programming different bleeps and buzzes onto a microcomputer, which was built into a circuit (with a headphone jack) and placed in a jewel case.

The result — 1-Bit Music — ranged, in Perich’s words, from “drum and bass to minimalism to electronic noise,” and it was fascinating for the direct relationship that it established between listener and music, with the music being performed anew each time that the “on” switch was flipped.

Now Perich is back with 1-Bit Symphony, using the same means of delivery but presenting a formal electronic work.  Over five movements, 1-Bit Symphony shifts through harmonized sine waves and dot-matrix sounds.

Though a diversity of sounds cannot be attained, the piece does its best to achieve different moods, reflecting Perich’s abilities as a composer.  (He has commissioned pieces for Bang on a Can, Dither Quartet, and others.)

The total package is impressive, but you don’t realize just how meticulously and painstakingly 1-Bit Symphony is programmed until you see the “liner notes” — the full programming code, with notes and rests dictated over a massive script.  If you’re looking for something special in a jewel case, pick this up.

Tristan Perich: 1-Bit Symphony (Part 1: Overview) from Tristan Perich on Vimeo.

Dave Douglas & Keystone: Spark of Being: Expand (Greenleaf)

Composer/trumpeter Dave Douglas has led and performed with dozens of ensembles, traversing terrain both accessible and treacherous for more than 20 years, but he’s never done anything quite like this.

Spark of Being is Douglas’ collaboration with experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison, who has re-imagined the Frankenstein story with different pieces of stock/archival film and effects.

The film’s music — a slightly rock- and electronic-touched jazz affair — is being released in three parts and as a three-piece box set.  The proper soundtrack (simply titled Spark of Being: Soundtrack) was released back in June, but Expand presents the themes as wholes, not as they were rearranged for the visuals.

Naturally, because of this, Expand works as a standalone release. With the aid of his Keystone ensemble, Douglas presents a groove-heavy collection, and much of the music is powered by the beats of Gene Lake, the Fender Rhodes of Adam Benjamin, and the turntables/laptop of DJ Olive.

Expand fits Douglas’ catalog, but it goes a little further than usual, and there’s even a moment or two that sounds like a twisted video-game or circus (like the end of “Observer”).  And with no shortage of hard beats and head-nodding potential, Expand should especially appeal to fans of jazz fusion and acid jazz.

Dave Douglas & Keystone: “Tree Ring Circus”

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Pale Sketcher: Jesu: Pale Sketches Demixed (Ghostly International)

Nowadays, Justin Broadrick is best known for his ambient-metal project Jesu.  This noisy yet emotive project was a step removed from his days in Napalm Death and Godflesh, and now his new project — Pale Sketcher — is another full step in the direction of electronics.

Broadrick’s 2007 release as Jesu, titled Pale Sketches, explored unfamiliar terrain for the Jesu brand, pushing into synth-driven, beat-based territory.  Now, to flesh out those works (or, as the title suggests, to de-flesh them), he has reworked all eight tracks from Pale Sketches for Jesu: Pale Sketches Demixed.

Though it still figured in Pale Sketches‘ sound, Broadrick’s distorted, droning guitar is absent here.  Instead, there is a greater emphasis on down-tempo electro beats, thick synth lines, and glistening atmospherics.

Broadrick is no stranger to electronica — he has collaborated in Techno Animal since 1990 — but it’s a new side of his solo career.  Judging by this first impression, he should have a lot to offer.

Pale Sketcher: “Can I Go Now (Gone Version)”

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James Blackshaw: All is Falling (Young God)

James Blackshaw seems like one of those guitarists who just never stops practicing.  Exceptional on the 12-string model and proficient on the piano as well, Blackshaw doesn’t possess guitar-phenom, wunderkind-like abilities — but he has damn well mastered a complex instrument.

Hailing from London, Blackshaw recently leaped to Young God Records, the veritable label that Swans leader Michael Gira runs. All is Falling, Blackshaw’s second Young God release, is his 8th studio album since 2004, reflecting the prolific nature of a man who seemingly never puts down his guitar.

All is Falling is his first release to feature an electric 12-string guitar, and it’s accented by his own performance on glockenspiel, piano, and percussion as well as guest spots of violin, cello, flute, and more.  This combination helps Blackshaw expand his sound while staying true to what he does best.

Blackshaw has talent oozing out of him, but his classical sense of melody is what makes him a remarkable musician.  Whether or not you’re already a fan, All is Falling is worth picking up.

James Blackshaw: “Part 7” (edit)

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The Sword: Warp Riders (Kemado)

Over its first two albums, The Sword has delivered a shredding brand of stoner metal that has equally appealed to head-bangers and edgy sci-fi geeks.

Other than a semi-deceptive opening track, Warp Riders — the band’s third full-length — doesn’t stray from the path.  There are plenty of guitar duels, chug riffs, and bluesy, Southern, dropped-tuning power-chord progressions.

As with previous albums, however, Warp Riders is more than a technical display.  The band never opts to sacrifice songwriting for slick licks, and each song stands as its own easily digested piece.

Warp Riders doesn’t take The Sword far beyond where it has been, but it doesn’t particularly need to.

The Sword: “Tres Brujas”

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Imbogodom: The Metallic Year LP (Thrill Jockey)

Recording for the first time under the name Imbogodom, cross-continental friends Alexander Tucker (of the UK) and Daniel Beban (of New Zealand) create haunted paintings of sound that are composed of loops, assorted instruments, warped vocals, and sampled sounds.

When fully assembled, the pieces are weird, dark, and trippy, like a dreamy/nightmarish journey through an industrial park or an abandoned amusement park.  The tracks are somewhere between sound collage and manipulated organics, and any given sound is likely to have indecipherable origins.

Fans of ambient, drone, and experimental music will love The Metallic Year, which is a limited release of 1,000 vinyl copies (with free MP3 downloads).

Imbogodom: “Unseen Ticket”

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Honorable Mentions

!!!: Strange Weather, Isn’t It? (Warp)

Barb: s/t (Yep Roc)

S. Carey: All We Grow (Jagjaguwar)

Gabriele Coen: Awakening (Tzadik)

Coil Sea: s/t (Thrill Jockey)

Eels: Tomorrow Morning (E Works)

Fennesz/Daniell/Buck: Knoxville (Thrill Jockey)

Fitz and the Tantrums: Pickin’ Up the Pieces (Dangerbird)

John Scofield & Metropole Orkest: 54 (Emarcy)

Brad Laner: Natural Selections (Hometapes)

Jon Langford & Skull Orchard: Old Devils (Bloodshot)

Malevolent Creation: Invidious Dominion (Nuclear Blast)

Marty Ehrlich & Hankus Netsky: Fables (Tzadik)

Brian Wilson: Reimagines Gershwin (Disney)

John Zorn: Filmworks XXIV: The Nobel Prizewinner (Tzadik)