This Week’s Best Albums: February 21, 2012

TWBA_graphic_02_21_20121

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.

Sleigh Bells: Reign of TerrorSleigh Bells: Reign of Terror (Mom + Pop Music)

Sleigh Bells: “Born to Lose”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

When Sleigh BellsTreats debuted in 2010, the Brooklyn-based duo, composed of Derek Edward Miller and Alexis Krauss, established itself as the new master of noise pop, infusing overblown electro beats and crunchy, gritty guitars into raucous compositions. It wasn’t just loud; it was catchy.

Now Sleigh Bells is back with its sophomore effort, Reign of Terror, and Miller and Krauss have added a little more edge to their sound. From the opener “True Shred Guitar,” the riffs are front and center, and the first single, “Born to Lose,” quickly follows with double-bass blasts. The former features a bit of vocal rawness from Krauss, but the latter tops the mid-tempo fury with the vocalist’s usual dose of sweetness.

Though synths and drum machines still play their roles, it’s clear that the harmonized distortions are more the focal point on Reign of Terror, making the album feel closer to Treats‘ “Infinity Guitars” than “Rill Rill.” At its core, just as on Treats, this album plays on the juxtaposition of those power chords and upper-fret leads against Krauss’ delicate vocals and high-school chants. Reign of Terror asserts that Sleigh Bells is not just another noise-pop project — it’s a statement.

– Michael Danaher

Galactic: Carnivale ElectricosGalactic: Carnivale Electricos (Anti-)

Galactic: “Hey Na Na” (f. David Shaw and Maggie Koerner)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Mardi Gras came to New Orleans as a French Catholic tradition, but today it’s a mash-up of a dozen cultures and musical styles. The same could be said of Galactic’s new album, Carnivale Electricos, a sonic portrait of Fat Tuesday’s globally informed revelry. The New Orleans party band’s collaborative style reflects the inclusive posture of the city, and on its latest release, it opens its arms wide, welcoming the heavy influence of Brazil’s Carnival.

The record (which pretends to span exactly one Fat Tuesday, ending with “Ash Wednesday Sunrise”) features plenty of appearances by big NOLA names, including Cyril and Ivan Neville, Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, and Casa Samba. The record’s best guest, however, is the KIPP Renaissance High School Marching Band, with its youthful energy giving the album a second wind.

It’s essentially one big parade. Opener “Ha Di Ka” features Big Chief Juan Pardo, one of the legendary Mardi Gras Indians. Before the track is fully out of earshot, a straight-up rock tune rolls through, bleeding into the samba of “Magalenha” — simply the newest iteration of the tune made famous by Brazilian composer Sergio Mendes. “Julou” — a fuzzy, lounge-y tune that riffs on traditional Latin forms with piano, saxophone, and spirited percussion — is a quick glimpse into Galactic’s immense talent. It’s too bad that the track only lasts a minute and a half and that more of the record doesn’t have the same vibe.

– Timothy A. Schuler

Pharaoh Overlord: Lunar JetmanPharaoh Overlord: Lunar Jetman (SIGE / Ektro)

Pharaoh Overlord: “Rodent”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Featuring three members of the Finnish avant-rock group Circle, Pharaoh Overlord has focused more on the former’s stoner-rock and -metal leanings and less on its experimental elements for the past dozen years. But pigeonholing the group in those genres is like calling Madonna a pop artist: it’s true but not particularly reflective, as over the band’s many albums and lineups, it has included bursts of vocal-driven NWOBHM, abstract improvisation, and general weirdness.

Lunar Jetman presents an instrumental Overlord, this time featuring Hans Joachim Irmler of kraut-rock legend Faust. Its six tracks, five of which are 10 minutes or longer, each are variations on a few different riffs, slowly building, layering, and harmonizing with an arsenal of guitars and effects. Often, after the layers have coalesced, the first riff will drop out and return later on, creating a circular feel without really shifting gears.

These exercises in repetition and drone are, naturally, psychedelic and spacey, and they could be aided by brevity at times. But for the most part, they avoid feeling tiresome thanks to the band’s ear for dynamics. “Black Horse,” here twice as long as on the 2007 live album The Battle of the Axehammer, begins with 4.5 minutes of noisy, strewn, and improvised parts before its signature riff commandeers the song. Later, as the riff ascends and descends in the same pattern, the tempo shifts along with it, befitting an album with so many naunced changes.

– Scott Morrow

Busdriver: Beaus$Eros Busdriver: Beaus$Eros (Fake Four)

Busdriver: “Kiss Me Back to Life”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Rapping since age 9, LA art rapper Busdriver (born Regan John Farquhar) has had nearly a quarter century to develop his distinct style and lightning-fast delivery. He’s been known to break rules and defy hip-hop conventions, but his latest release, Beaus$Eros, is perhaps his strangest yet — a blend of beats and avant-garde pop.

Centered on both personal and professional failure, Beaus$Eros (“bows and arrows”) is more emotionally intense than the socially conscious rap he has produced for years, and it comes across in his strange, sweeping croons that come to the fore on this record. Delivered with Belgian producer Loden’s epic, pulsing beats, the result is unlike anything we’ve heard from him before — and it’s undeniably catchy.

“Kiss Me Back to Life” almost entirely forgoes hip hop as a hook-filled offering for the dance floor. But if you’re searching for the Busdriver that you know and love, you still have a bit in “NoBlacksNoJewsNoAsians,” where he spews cryptic, politically charged lyrics with his signature auctioneer-like delivery.

– Text by Meaghann Korbel. Read the Q&A here.

Buildings: Melt, Cry, SleepBuildings: Melt Cry Sleep (Double+Good)

Buildings: “Rainboat”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Based in Minneapolis, the post-hardcore three-piece Buildings draws straight from the Young Widows playbook, from the dissonant, anguished guitar riffs to the sonorous bass to the gruff, reverberated shouts. It’s an evident inspiration, but Young Widows is a highly relevant rock band, and Buildings (excuse the expression) builds on Widows with an even more assertive and aggressive sound.

Since its 2006 debut, Buildings has made strides in both its vocals and riffs. Each is minimalist but engaging, and the interplay between guitarist Brian Lake and the rhythm section provides plenty of contrast within an otherwise defined sound. Distorted bass grooves anchor much of the record, allowing Lake to provide noisier moments without losing the listener, and the two come together for moments of pure adrenaline.

– Scott Morrow

 

 

Honorable Mentions

Bonobo: Black Sands Remixed (Ninja Tune)

Cursive: I am Gemini (Saddle Creek)

Dirty Ghosts: Metal Moon (Last Gang)

Grimes: Visions (4AD)

Damien Jurado: Maraqopa (Secretly Canadian)

Mamiffer & Locrian: Bless Them That Curse You (SIGE)

Perfume Genius: Put Your Back N 2 It (Matador)

 

Pontiak: Echo Ono (Thrill Jockey)

Speech Debelle: Freedom of Speech (Big Dada)

Tindersticks: The Something Rain (Constellation)

Jim White: Where It Hits You (Yep Roc)

Dustin Wong: Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads (Thrill Jockey)