This Week’s Best Albums: February 1, 2011

This Week's Best Albums: February 1, 2011

Each week, editor-in-chief Chris Force and music editor Scott Morrow discuss ALARM’s favorite new releases in a download-able podcast.

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Carla Kihlstedt & Matthias Bossi: Still You Lay Dreaming - Tales for the Stage II

Carla Kihlstedt & Matthias Bossi: Still You Lay Dreaming – Tales for the Stage, II

Carla Kihlstedt & Matthias Bossi: “The Gyre”

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Carla Kihlstedt & Matthias Bossi: “Wandering Secret”

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Carla Kihlstedt and Matthias Bossi are two adventurous members of avant-metal band Sleepytime Gorilla Museum; each is involved in a plethora of projects, including Tin Hat (Trio), The Book of Knots, 2 Foot Yard, and Skeleton Key.  With Sleepytime bandmate Dan Rathbun, the two released an album a few years ago called Ravish, consisting of scores for dance and theater companies, and now the couple has self-released a sequel of sorts, called Still You Lay Dreaming — a download-only collection of tracks that were written for the Deborah Slater Dance Theater’s production of Men Think They Are Better Than Grass.

The music, though not as massively far-reaching as each musician’s career, is an eclectic assortment of unorthodox instruments, unusual melodies, and dynamic vocals.  Kihlstedt’s usual vocal power leads the way on half of the tracks, but her superlative violin skills take a back seat to duo’s “closet arsenal” of bass harmonica, pump organ, bathtub percussion, flour sifter, and other oddities.

A general compositional diversity – in addition to distorted, pitch-shifted, and reverberated instruments and vocals – makes the collection a wonderful listen from start to finish.  Fans of the duo’s previous work won’t want to miss it either, as there’s little that resembles what has come before.

Generation Bass Presents Transnational Dubstep

V/A: Generation Bass Presents Transnational Dubstep (Six Degrees)

Fleck & Fish Finger: “Rude Profile” (Pan Agnostix flamenco-step version)

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Featuring 15 world-infused dubstep tunes, Generation Bass Presents Transnational Dubstep is a journey around the globe as filtered through the pulsing beats and whirring, mechanical sounds of a dance subgenre that continues to flourish.  Compiled by the co-founders and editors of the dance-music blog Generation Bass, in conjunction with Six Degrees Records, it’s a continent-hopping collection of thumping grooves alongside sounds from India, the Middle East, Asia, Europe, South America, and more.

The majority of the tracks, at some point, adhere to the key dubstep directive – blown-out bass lines in triplets – but they often begin or build in very un-dubstep ways.  This is best experienced on tracks such as “Kaliyuga,” which takes a sweeping string melody – possibly from a sarangi – and coalesces it around, sitar, veena, tabla, and a dirty synth line before a wobbling bass line and hip-hop beats break it down.  It’s one of the comp’s best tracks and a great fusion between East and West.

Jono El Grande: Phantom StimulanceJono El Grande: Phantom Stimulance (Rune Grammofon)

Jono El Grande: “Borrelia Boogie”

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Known musically as Jono El Grande, Norwegian guitarist/composer Jon Andreas Håtun uses his nom de plume to combine theatrical, progressive, classical, jazz, and absurdist styles for performance-art and dada-inspired live shows.  Though you’ll find this on his Wikipedia entry, his music might be best described as a mix between his confessed influences: Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, King Crimson, and Igor Stravinsky.

Following his outstanding and eclectic release Neo Dada in 2009, Jono has now released a collection of re-recorded stage songs and unreleased material.  It picks up where Neo Dada left oft, with fanciful, melodic meanderings that can sound like an acid-soaked version of countrymen Jaga Jazzist – only with strange, often nonsensical vocals in the mix.  Named Phantom Stimulance, the collection is a synchronized mélange of guitar, xylophone, harpsichord, organ, synthesizer, horns, singing saw, and more.

Buck 65: 20 Odd Years

Buck 65: 20 Odd Years (Warner Music Canada)

Buck 65: “Who By Fire”

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Last year, Canadian hip-hop artist Buck 65 released a series of digital mini-albums to commemorate 20 years of creating music.  Despite his recent connection to Warner Music, he’s always had an unusual and avant-garde style of rapping and lyricism, collaborating with a host of great artists with independent roots that include Sage Francis, Feist, Tanya Tagaq, Boom Bip, John Herndon of Tortoise, and more.

20 Odd Years is made in that daring, collaborative spirit, with a number of vocal and instrumental guests who take the music in copious directions.  Over the course of 13 tracks – four unreleased and the rest from the mini-albums – it moves through acoustic folk hop, piano-laced trip hop, synth rock, western cinematics, French pop, Eastern-tinged string melodies, and vocal balladry.  It’s often both dramatic and delicate – usually thanks the dynamic guest vocalists – but it also has a little fun, notably with a song about zombies. Ultimately, 20 Odd Years might be the best and most adventurous collection that Buck 65 has created.

Honorable Mentions

Abysmal Dawn: Leveling the Plane of Existence (Relapse)

Arthur’s Landing: s/t (Strut)

Tommy Guerrero: Lifeboats and Follies (Galaxia)

Kotchy: Two (Done Right)

Fela Kuti: Vinyl Box Set 1, Compiled by ?uestlove of The Roots (Knitting Factory)

Noisear: Subvert the Dominant Paradigm (Relapse)

Rot in Hell: As Pearls Before Swine (Deathwish)

Seefeel: s/t (Warp)