This Week’s Best Albums: February 14, 2012

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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.

Earth: Angels of Darkess, Demons of Light IIEarth: Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II (Southern Lord)

Earth: “His Teeth Did Brightly Shine”

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Last year, Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I captured guitarist Dylan Carlson’s drone group Earth yet again turning into something else. The songs may have had the slow tempos and clean-but-menacing guitar lines of 2008 album The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull, but the record challenged Carlson and drummer Adrienne Davis to embrace more collaboration and improvisation with a pair of new bandmates, cellist Lori Goldston and bassist Karl Blau.

Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light II reveals just how far they were stretching. The first album’s title track took up a whole side of vinyl while letting the band build almost conversationally, resulting in a loose feel that was starkly removed from the more controlled and overdub-heavy Bees. This second batch of tracks consistently goes further, opening with three minutes of just guitar and cello on “Sigil of Brass.” And the 13-minute “Waltz (A Multiplicity of Doors)” gradually takes a lumbering 3/4 beat, allowing Carlson and Goldston to develop their most stirring guitar-cello interplay yet.

Like the songs themselves, the change in Earth can appear maddeningly gradual. But let Angels II soak in for a while. Earth’s approach changed drastically in just a few years, and the members are, in fact, never just waiting for a few lonesome notes to finish ringing out or bowing down to one slow-moving melody. Rather, they’re pushing each other to create moments that no one’s capable of creating alone.

- Scott Gordon

Chimp Spanner: All Roads Lead HereChimp Spanner: All Roads Lead Here (Basick)

Chimp Spanner: “Dark Age of Technology”

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Consisting solely of guitar virtuoso Paul Antonio Ortiz, one-man prog-metal project Chimp Spanner might be England’s answer to Animals as Leaders. With a devoutly DIY work ethic, Ortiz, who covers both guitar and bass in addition to drum programming and production work, has released some seriously ambitious tunes since 2004.

Chimp Spanner’s third and latest release, a six-track disc titled All Roads Lead Here, combines heavy, djent-style riffs with Steve Vai-esque leads and synthesized accents. Like his previous album, At the Dream’s Edge, it contains a three-part centerpiece that showcases Ortiz’s versatility. The tracks themselves will make your senses switch gears on the fly, as the music moves from shred fests to chilled-out interludes.

Though All Roads Lead Here has its stylistic bedfellows, its tracks are engaging and never too long. These 25 minutes pass before you know it.

- Meaghann Korbel

Eyvind Kang: The Narrow GardenEyvind Kang: The Narrow Garden (Ipecac)

Eyvind Kang: “Pure Nothing”

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Most musicians have fans; Eyvind Kang has aficionados. Many listeners might recognize the multi-instrumentalist and composer’s name from work with Sunn O))), Sun City Girls, Animal Collective, Lou Reed, and others, but his personal work encompasses far more than avant-garde rock.

On his latest solo recording, The Narrow Garden, Kang shows the extent of his influence across a broad spectrum of styles by leading a collective of 30 musicians. The majority of the album was recorded in Barcelona with the large group, but Kang also added auxiliary touches back home in Seattle, including overdubs of setar, keyboard, and rebab for “the higher overtones and surplus epiphenomena.”

Choral contributions, which are spaced throughout the album, create an old-world spirit, and tracks such as “Pure Nothing” and “Minerelia” possess a Medieval courtly aura, partly due to the compelling work of vocalist Jessika Kenney. It’s a musical synergy that moves through delicate and soaring moments, with unexpected turns that divulge influences from non-Western melodic modes and tonalities.

- Michael Nolledo

Shubha Mudgal, Ursula Rucker & Business Class Refugees: No Stranger HereShubha Mudgal, Ursula Rucker & Business Class Refugees: No Stranger Here (EarthSync)

Shubha Mudgal, Ursula Rucker & Business Class Refugees: “Seraphim Tones”

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Fitting for a Valentine’s Day release, the global/electronic/groove duo Business Class Refugees (consisting of producer Patrick Sebag and sound designer Yotam Agam) has teamed up with renowned Hindustani singer Shubha Mudgal and spoken-word poet Ursula Rucker to create a world-fusion album inspired by Indian saint Kabir’s ruminations about God and love.

Though incredibly diverse, the album manages to find a balance between Eastern vocal intonations and Westernized beats and strings. It blends heavy doses of modern electronica with orchestral music and even faint hints of jazz, all while seamlessly incorporating Mudgal’s classical Indian vocals and Rucker’s moody, staggered delivery.

Just as Kabir’s philosophy tended to jump across boundaries of religion and culture, No Stranger Here explores such universal themes as love and peace, alienation and spiritual emptiness. It’s an album that resonates with listeners not only through impressive musicianship and collaboration but through its timeless message.

- Meaghann Korbel

Honorable Mentions

Band of Skulls: Sweet Sour (Vagrant)

Tim Berne: Snakeoil (ECM)

Ergo: If Not Inertia (Cuneiform)

Heartless Bastards: Arrow (Partisan)

Islands: A Sleep & A Forgetting (Anti-)

The Phantom Family Halo: When I Fall Out (Knitting Factory)

Sick Friend: The Draft Dodger

Tennis: Young and Old (Fat Possum)

Zombie Inc.: A Dreadful Decease (Soulfood)