This Week’s Best Albums: January 10, 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.

Kevin Hufnagel: TransparenciesKevin Hufnagel: Transparencies (Nightfloat)

Kevin Hufnagel: “Ever Rest”

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When he’s not lending his blistering fretwork to Dysrhythmia and Gorguts, or working on ambient pieces as half of Byla, guitarist Kevin Hufnagel finds the spare moment to work on his growing solo catalog.

Though his first solo release was self-issued back in ’97, he reemerged in 2009 with Songs for the Disappeared, a masterful collection of percussive acoustic-guitar pieces. Transparencies is just as beautiful but entirely different, bridging the gaps between his electric and ambient sides.

Melodies carry nearly every moment of these 11 tracks, but most are bathed in fuzz, feedback, reverb, and glistening effects. Though some pieces edge toward post-rock territory and Hufnagel makes good use the guitar, there are plenty of minimalist repetitions and loops, often building atmosphere for each track’s many layers. “Soundscape” might be an overused descriptor for this style, but with Transparencies, it’s entirely applicable, representing a world of sonic depth.

Stream Transparencies in its entirety on Hufnagel’s Bandcamp page.

– Lauren Zens & Scott Morrow

Kayo Dot: Gamma KnifeKayo Dot: Gamma Knife

Kayo Dot: “Mirror Water, Lightning Night”

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Last year, avant-rock outfit Kayo Dot and its multi-instrumentalist leader, Toby Driver, delivered the 20-minute Stained Glass EP, a single track that combined the band’s many elements but leaned on atmosphere.

Gamma Knife (streamed here in its entirety) is Driver and company’s latest, calling upon sax-infused noise metal for the majority of its 25 minutes. The recording itself is unconventional — a partial live recording with overdubs added in the studio, providing a strange balance and distant feel to much of the music.

More importantly, however, Gamma Knife is the usually unusual balance of Kayo Dot styles. “Lethe” opens with a classically influenced (and Gregorian-tinged?) piece that almost — almost — could resemble Christmas music. The skronky, progressive track that follows, however, conjures no thoughts of sugar plums. It’s abrasive and hard to follow, with all sorts of ghoulish vocals bubbling under the layers — resulting in a swirling (and uncomfortable) cauldron of sound.

There’s plenty more unholy noise and rhythmic prowess (see “Mirror Water, Lightning Night”), but the title track closes the album with its prettiest moments, in a melancholy piano-and-guitar duet behind Driver’s troubled vocals. As always, it cautions to expect the unexpected with Kayo Dot.

– Scott Morrow

TriBeCaStan: New DeliTriBeCaStan: New Deli (EverGreene Music)

TriBeCaStan: “One Day His Axe Fell into Honey”

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Though its music only has been available since 2009, the quizzical “ethno-galactic” duo TriBeCaStan spans centuries with its incomparable blend of traditional folk styles with rock, jazz, and other modern styles. And though its two founding members, multi-(multi-multi-)instrumentalists Jeff Greene and John Kruth, hail from lower Manhattan, their origins, naturally, seem spread across the globe.

With its third album, New Deli, the duo (along with the eight-piece TriBeCaStani FolklOrkestra) continues its spirited, genre-bending expedition with such unlikely sonic pairings as surf rock alongside avant-garde jazz and Afghani folk. Indeed, TriBeCaStan is a strange place where East meets West and old meets new.

– Meaghann Korbel


Honorable Mentions: