This Week’s Best Albums: August 3, 2010

This Week's Best Albums

El-P: Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamixxx3 (Gold Dust)

It’s almost strange to think of Jaime Meline as a solo artist, but his bitter rap intonations, sci-fi rhymes, and dark hip-hop productions as El-P have become as beloved as his work for others.

Meline may still be best known for fronting Company Flow, heading Def Jux Records, and producing Mr. Lif, Aesop Rock, Cannibal Ox, Nine Inch Nails, and other big names.  But his last (and essentially sophomore) full-length solo album, I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, garnered more acclaim and proved that El-P offers something that few others do.

This collection is his third “mega mixxx,” but unlike the first two that were released at shows, Mixxx3 is a different beast — a collection of full-length and vignette-length instrumentals, with a pair of remixes of Kidz in the Hall and Young Jeezy.

El-P has cited J. Dilla‘s Donuts as an inspiration, noting, “I didn’t want anyone to listen to this record and at any point get bored.”  Mixxx3 is being treated as something of an official release while he works on his followup to I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, and it works on its own.

Naturally, it doesn’t feel as complete his next rap-filled album likely will, but many of the same elements carry Mixxx3 — from dirty synth leads to ominous effects and big beats.  Seeing that it’s been nearly three and a half years since I’ll Sleep…, this is a welcome treat to tide us over.

El-P: “Meanstreak (in 3 Parts)”

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Autolux: Transit Transit (TBD)

After a noteworthy debut six years ago on a major-label subsidiary, LA’s Autolux was on the precipice of a promising pop career.  Touring with Nine Inch Nails and Secret Machines, playing All Tomorrow’s Parties, and late-night TV appearances all followed, and the future was bright.

But slow-developing new material and record-label legalities got in the way, and now Transit Transit finally sees the light of day on TBD.  Saby Reyes-Kulkarni documented the story on alarmpress.com a few months ago, describing a band that  “shuttles seamlessly between space rock, psychedelia, and shoegaze and developed a penchant for honing effects-borne noise into pop hooks.”

Transit Transit expands the eclectic pop sounds of Future Perfect, the debut — combining soft vocal and forthright melodies with unorthodox arrangements and noisy effects.  It calls upon dissonance and harmony, not only contrasting the two but often combining them.  Listeners who forgot about Autolux or are just discovering the group will find something to enjoy on Transit Transit.

Autolux: “Audience No. 2”

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Horseback: The Invisible Mountain (Relapse)

As the one-man operation behind Horseback, multi-instrumentalist Jenks Miller channels equal parts shoegaze, stoner rock, and black metal to create dark, hypnotic rock jams.

On The Invisible Mountain, Horseback’s second official full-length, each song eclipses six or seven minutes and is built around the same part, subtly building and layering over lengthy passages.  Slow, moderately fuzzy riffs lay beneath clean guitar accents, keyboards, and other complements, all as Miller rasps evil, low-volume vocals that sound like a black-metal David Yow on downers.

Extra layers phase in and out, and slowly meandering guitar lines provide an appreciated foreground fix. Hitting 38 minutes with only four songs — thanks to a beautiful and eerie 16-minute closer — The Invisible Mountain will be a stoner’s new best friend.

Horseback: “The Invisible Mountain”

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Vox Arcana: Aerial Age (Allos Musica)

Veterans of Chicago’s jazz and improv scenes will quickly recognize the members of Vox Arcana, a trio that combines the best elements of each into a wild whole.

The group’s second recording features more quirky, circular cadences from clarinetist James Falzone, noisy improvisations and low-end rooting from cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, and amorphous drumming from percussionist Tim Daisy.  Daisy, the multi-talented bandleader, switches between faint brush strokes, quick-twitching snare hits, and oddly timed marimba melodies.

Like a good deal of Falzone’s catalog, Aerial Age falls under the broader “chamber” umbrella, but its alternating improvisation and strict, rapid-fire progressions put it in a category all its own.  Some of the best moments are when Falzone and Lonberg-Holm’s parts are wound together tightly, such as on the quickly prancing 7/4 refrain of “The Number 7.”  Lonberg-Holm’s contributions can be the noisiest, but at other times, he takes a more restrained role, playing the trad-jazz walking bass line.

Aerial Age isn’t for minimalists or jazz purists, but fans of intricate scripting and wild improvisation will love it.

Vox Arcana: “The Silver Fence”

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Dax Riggs: Say Goodnight to the World (Fat Possum)

Though Say Goodnight to the World is only his second “official” full-length album, Dax Riggs has been delivering powerful, blues-infused rock balladry for a decade.

Following his time crooning and screaming in Southern metal quintet Acid Bath, Riggs led Agents of Oblivion and Deadboy & The Elephantmen before operating under his own name.  His first such album, We Sing of Only Blood or Love, was eye-opening if considered a debut — but those familiar with Riggs’ work weren’t surprised by its forceful charm.

Say Goodnight to the World doesn’t quite have a standout like “Night is the Notion” from We Sing…, but it reflects a more integrated approach to songwriting, with tracks that aren’t as rigid in their structure.  A slow, intoxicating rendition of Elvis Presley‘s “Heartbreak Hotel” — more in tune with the suicide-inspired tune written by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton — is just one of many highlights.

Dax Riggs: “Say Goodnight to the World”

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Honorable Mentions

Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (Merge)

Four Tet: Angel Echoes Remixes 12″ (Domino)

JJ: JJ No. 2 (Secretly Canadian)

Loden: Buggy (Mush)

Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band: Where the Messengers Meet (Dead Oceans)

Versus: On the Ones and Threes (Merge)