This Week’s Best Albums: August 28, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: August 28, 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.

Swans: The Seer (Young God)

"The Apostate" (edit)

The Seer, the new double album that follows Swans’ productive 2010 reunion and studio return, is a space in which to wander in furious mediation — as songwriter Michael Gira puts it, a “total experience.” Dense without losing immediacy, the album stretches over two hours of constantly shifting aural landscapes.

In composing, Gira says that he “thought of people rather than instruments,” leading to a number of guest musicians that include Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low; Seth Olinsky, Miles Seaton, and Dana Janssen of Akron/Family; Caleb Mulkerin and Colleen Kinsella of Big Blood; Sean Mackowiak (Grasshopper) of Mercury Rev; and Ben Frost, whose ambient sound work provides the introduction to “A Piece of the Sky.” There's also an appearance by Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and “A Piece of the Sky” features a collage of ex-member Jarboe’s “pure vocal tones.”

This is a work to be enjoyed second by second, losing your mind to its deceptive repetitions. Throughout the double album, the music moves between evocation and exorcism, as melodies create visions that are reassembled and broken down through walls of rhythm and discordance.

- David Metcalfe

Dan Deacon: America (Domino)


Split into halves, electronic composer Dan Deacon’s newest release, America, may just contain the artist’s masterpiece. The first 21 minutes comprise adventurous noise pop of the Deacon ilk — tempos are fast, and rhythms are complex.

On the second half, however, Deacon pushes himself with “USA,” a single composition, quartered. It begins with stately strings and subtle brass before delving into electronics and vigorous percussion. Part III is seven minutes of restraint, the pressure of which eventually, thankfully, volcanoes on Part IV.

Sonically, “USA” may not feel foreign, but in terms of scope, it marks a massive move forward for Deacon. And yet the record’s greatest triumph may be that it seems to have taught Deacon a new brand of self-confidence. It’s the only explanation for a tune like “Prettyboy,” which never would’ve shown its face on Meetle Mice. It’s just too pretty.

- Timothy A. Schuler

Dysrhythmia: Test of Submission (Profound Lore)

"Running Towards the End"

Maintaining a release schedule of three years between studio full-lengths, modern prog-metal trio Dysrhythmia keeps chugging and churning like a finely tuned (and highly punctual) machine. Guitarist Kevin Hufnagel and bassist/producer Colin Marston keep busy with countless projects — even drummer Jeff Eber pulls double duty with progressive jazz group Zevious — but their latest, Test of Submission, has arrived (and again runs) like clockwork.

Now approaching 15 years together, the band remains as technical as ever. But this album finds it even a bit heavier, demonstrated (in just one example) by the low-end rumbling and bass and tom hits towards the end of opener "In Secrecy." A few key moments of double-bass drum work further the rhythmical dynamics — to say nothing of the heaviness — and provide extra drive to tracks like "In the Spirit of Catastrophe."

Like many albums on the technical or progressive end of the spectrum, Test of Submission takes repeated listens to sink in and fully appreciate. And though listeners already know what to expect from Dysrhythmia, the trio never disappoints — simply ticking along as usual.

- Scott Morrow

Tin Hat: The Rain is a Handsome Animal (New Amsterdam)


The Rain is a Handsome Animal, chamber-folk collective Tin Hat’s first studio album since ’07 (following the live Foreign Legion from 2010), is another new adventure — a 17-song exploration of the modernist work of EE Cummings, with each member offering his or her own interpretation.

Anyone expecting Cummings’ words to translate directly into the songs — a là Rufus Wainwright with Shakespeare’s sonnets — will be mistaken. The jazzy “So Shy Shy Shy” is a direct recitation of the poem, but violinist Carla Kihlstedt’s voice dances around like Cummings’ words do on the page, a melodic interpretation of the poet’s own reading.

Other songs are less direct in the musicians’ approach. “Grapefruit” is entirely instrumental, featuring Rob Reich’s somber accordion later accompanied by a weeping violin, aimed more at capturing a certain quality of Cummings’ poems rather than any particular work.

- Meaghann Korbel

Honorable Mentions:

Flobots: The Circle in the Square (Shanachie)

Gaza: No Absolutes in Human Suffering (Black Market Activities)

Groundislava: Feel Me (Friends of Friends)

Matthew Dear: Beams (Ghostly International)

Minus the Bear: Infinity Overhead (Dangerbird)

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: Lawless OST (Sony)

Poor Moon: s/t (Sub Pop)

Sean Rowe: The Salesman and the Shark (Anti-)

Uchihashi Kazuhisa & Yoshida Tatsuya: Barisshee (Tzadik)