This Week’s Best Albums: February 7, 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.

Air: Le Voyage dans la LuneAir: Le Voyage dans la Lune (Astralwerks)

Air: “Seven Stars” ft. Victoria Legrand of Beach House

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More than a decade since composing the score for Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides, French electro-pop duo Air returns with Le Voyage dans la Lune, a new album that expands on its original score for the recently restored film of the same name. A 16-minute silent film released in 1902 by French director Georges Méliès, Le Voyage has an antiquated look that belies how groundbreaking the director’s use of color and science-fiction imagery were for their time.

Naturally, given the range of aesthetic and social differences between Méliès’ and Coppola’s films, Air’s latest work diverges from the despondent suburban monotone that the group supplied for The Virgin Suicides. This time, core members Jean-Benoit Dunckel and Nicolas Godin pack a lot of variety into a 31-minute span. (The album runs about twice as long as the film.) Surprisingly, though, the new music contains virtually no indications that its source material was created 110 years ago. In fact, Dunckel and Godin were intent on somehow honoring Méliès’ vision while staying grounded in modern sounds.

Whether or not the new music aligns with Méliès’ early 20th Century reveries about lunar travel, plenty of surprises await the well-traveled Air fan — such as the predominantly live, organic-recording approach and the duo’s new-found enthusiasm for timpani. Dunckel and Godin have spent much of their career gazing back at the dawn of synthesizer music, so it’s only fitting that they would set their sights further back to another future, on an artist who would in his own way anticipate what was to come. (A limited-edition run of the album includes the film.)

– Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

Trailer Trash Tracys: EsterTrailer Trash Tracys: Ester (Double Six / Domino)

Trailer Trash Tracys: “Engelhardt’s Arizona”

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Written on a solfeggio scale — a seven-note diatonic scale such as “do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti” — this debut from London-based psych-pop quartet Trailer Trash Tracys comes off as ethereal and otherworldly, yet totally accessible.

Ester churns out track after track of slow-burning psychedelia mixed with hook-laden indie pop, though never anchored in either. Instead, the music is a movement, shifting speeds and directions to arrive at some new and unexplored topography. “Engelhardt’s Arizona” has a straightforward arrangement, guided by vocalist Suzanne Aztoria’s trailing, echoing voice, but it’s flanked the entire time by a swirling lead-guitar riff that might’ve arrived from an alien planet.

The album is entrenched in reverb and delay, echoes and effects, but the songs move fluidly, always accompanied by irregular bits. Aztoria’s voice is a guiding light through all the dark, foggy sounds, there to take your hand before you become immersed in the soundscapes.

– Michael Danaher

Psycroptic: The Inherited RepressionPsycroptic: The Inherited Repression (Nuclear Blast)

Psycroptic: “Carriers of the Plague”

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Formed before the turn of the century by brothers Dave and Joe Haley, technical death-metal outfit Psycroptic has torn up Tasmania for more than a dozen years. The Inherited Repression, its fifth album, is another hearty dose of blasts, grooves, and winding guitar leads, but its differences are more pronounced.

In addition to greater disparity between fast and slow moments, a series of intros, outros, and interludes gives the listener more room to breathe. Throughout the album’s duration, Psycroptic is careful not to suffocate you with technical mastery or unending riffs. Instead, Joe’s harmonized guitar overdubs — which alternate between wailing, thrashing, and chugging — are broken up by acoustic melodies, industrial sounds, and marching snares. As a result, The Inherited Repression tends to avoid listening fatigue, offering an accessible dose of extreme metal.

– Scott Morrow

DJ Food: The Search EngineDJ Food: The Search Engine (Ninja Tune)

DJ Food: “Percussion Map (Pt. 1)”

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Originally begun by Ninja Tune founders Matt Black and Jonathan More (better known as Coldcut), the DJ Food project helped to launch the influential London label with a collection of breakbeats, jazzy samples, and funky cuts. Though it was intended as source material for other DJs (hence “DJ food”), it evolved into a collaborative project with Patrick Carpenter, Strictly Kev, and others, before eventually being led, live and on record, by Kev.

Now, 11 years after the last DJ Food release, Kev is back with some notable friends, including JG Thirlwell (Foetus), Matt Johnson of The The, 2econd Class Citizen, Natural Self, and DK. The layoff, in part, is due to Kev’s work as a designer — he works on many Ninja and non-Ninja covers — and the time has made a difference here. Plenty of the old calling cards are still around, but The Search Engine is trippier and heavier, with spacey effects and minor-key motifs.

Most tracks fall in the three- or four-minute wheelhouse, but there’s a handful of long-form pieces, including a cover of The The’s “Giant” (featuring Johnson, naturally). “A Trick of the Ear” helps to wind down the album with a jazzy, long-form jam that’s chock full of vibraphone chords, bongo beats, and verbal samples, but it’s preceded by one of the most interesting pieces, the eleven-minute, nine-suite “Magpie Music” collaboration with 2econd Class Citizen. The Search Engine showcases a healthy diversity — not too schizophrenic and not too staid.

– Scott Morrow

Honorable Mentions

Bahamas: Barchords (Universal Republic)

Big Sir: Before Gardens After Gardens (Sargent House)

Dr. Dog: Be the Void (Anti-)

 

 

 

Ben Kweller: Go Fly a Kite (The Noise Company)

Mark Lanegan Band: Blues Funeral (4AD)

Lindstrøm: Six Cups of Rebel (Smalltown Supersound)

Of Montreal: Paralytic Stalks (Polyvinyl)

Steve Moore / Majeure: Brainstorm (Temporary Residence)

A Place to Bury Strangers: Onwards to the Wall EP (Dead Oceans)

The Saint James Society: s/t EP (Tee Pee)

Shlohmo: Vacation EP (Friends of Friends)

The Twilight Sad: No One Can Ever Know (FatCat)

Sharon Van EttenTramp (Jagjaguwar)

Jim White: Where it Hits You (Yep Roc)