This Week’s Best Albums: February 8, 2011

This Week's Best Albums: February 8, 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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Wires Under Tension: Light Science

Wires Under Tension: Light Science (Western Vinyl)

Wires Under Tension: “Electricity Turns Them On”

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Light Science is the exciting debut from Wires Under Tension, a duo comprised of violinist/multi-instrumentalist Christopher Tignor and drummer Theo Metz.  With help from a few friends, including Jared Bell of Lymbyc Systym, the two combine live performance with electronic manipulation, sounding something like a progressive Dirty Three with horns, hip-hop beats, and post-rock guitar swells.

This seven-track release is a dense, fluid collection that retains consistency thanks to Metz’s steady rhythms.  Electro-mechanical piano, clavinet, and synthesizers mesh with loops and samples to round out an impressive first release — one that also features a standout non-album bonus cut called “Bronx Science.” The song is actually a remixed rendition of “Wood, Metal, Bone” from Light Science, and it’s sort of representative of the two members’ ethos: reinventing what’s possible with certain instruments or within a given paradigm.

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: Tao of the Dead

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: Tao of the Dead (Richter Scale Records / Superball Music)

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead: “Weight of the Sun”

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There has been no shortage of grand themes and allegories in the canon of Austin post-punk quintet …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. The band’s newest album, however, better matches its ambitious themes with its music, presenting an epic pair of pieces for Tao of the Dead.

Split into two parts and two tunings (the first in eleven “chapters” in D and the second as a 16-minute closer in F), the album recalls progressive albums of yore, from the likes of Rush and King Crimson, but channels them into easily digested movements. Stretches of heavy distortion and drum thrashing will appeal to the more metal-minded Trail of Dead fans, but there’s also plenty of hook-laden, radio-ready alternative rock.

The band returned to a four-piece for this recording, as opposed to recent lineups that have included three guitars, bass, keyboards, and two drum kits.  The album keeps the band’s flourishes and sidesteps, but it’s also a straightforward and fuzz-heavy set that seems to reflect the smaller roster.

Joan of Arc: Oh Brother

Joan of Arc: Oh Brother (Joyful Noise)

Joan of Arc: “Oh Brother #2” (nine-minute excerpt)

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Chicago’s Joan of Arc has always relished being one of the most unconventional and experimental bands that just barely remains under the “indie rock” umbrella.  Championed by Cap’n Jazz ringleader Tim Kinsella, the project has involved a rotating cast of members and collaborators and has evolved from quirky, emotive tunes to anything-goes rock experimentalism.  The group released a studio album called Live in Chicago, 1999 (pronounced “liv”) as well as a live album called Live in Muenster, 2003 – and it released an entire album of randomized guitar duets featuring ex-Joan of Arc guitarists, totaling 10 musicians in all.  So the description of “unconventional” might be putting it lightly.

The group’s latest is another strange release: four different mixtures of the same four incomplete albums, each clocking in at 20 minutes.  Titled Oh Brother, the limited-edition double LP features a different mix on each side, compiled from unfinished material from four of Kinsella’s casual collaborations.  Each long track achieves great diversity thanks to the mix of melody, trance-inducing repetition, and rhythmic convergence, topped with a heaping dose of background noise and ambience.  But it also achieves this due to the disparate personnel, including guest musicians Zach Hill of Hella, Rob Lowe of Lichens, local jazz drummer Frank Rosaly, and former/current Kinsella collaborators Nate Kinsella and Sam Zurick.

Honorable Mentions

Akron/Family: S/T II: The Cosmic Birth and Journey of Shinju TNT (Dead Oceans)

The Asteroid #4: Hail To The Clear Figurines (The Committee to Keep Music Evil)

Cut/Copy: Zonoscope (Modular Records)

Esben and The Witch: Violet Cries (Matador)

Praxis: Profanation: Preparation for a Coming Darkness (M.O.D. Technologies)

La Resistance: Philosophy (Superphonic Records)

The Sway Machinery: The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. I (JDub)