This Week’s Best Albums: January 22, 2013

This Week's Best Albums: January 22, 2013

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.

Bad Religion: True North (Epitaph)

"True North"

Bad Religion has been making politically tinged punk rock longer than most, and on its 16th studio album, True North, the band decided to revisit its own history. Inspired by friends Pennywise, its members sat down to write a sequel to critically acclaimed 1989 album No Control. And within moments of hitting play, you can tell it's a success.

Title track "True North" is the opener, and it's as good as a step-by-step course in Bad Religion 101. Driving guitars, fastidious drumming, and sing-along three-part vocal harmonies narrate the hope for finding one's place in a factory-fitted modern world. On the other end, the band deals with the ways in which even the most world-weary punk can be surprised; "Robin Hood in Reverse" expresses disgust at how little things have really changed.

The band has been doing the politics-and-science thing for a long time (singer Greg Graffin has a bunch of related degrees), and despite the musical recidivism, there's a reason listeners keep coming back. True North once again hits that sweet spot of ironic, angry, and hopeful; it's a fist-pumper.

- Lincoln Eddy

Brokeback: Brokeback and the Black Rock (Thrill Jockey)

"The Wire, the Rag, and the Payoff"

With more than a little reverb, a sense of wide-open space, and a strong kinship with Americana, Brokeback and Black Rock is what instrumental albums should be. There is no struggle with absent vocals; these are complete compositions, finished and evocative.

Founder Douglas McCombs of Tortoise has, on this album, collaborated more fully than ever before. Whereas previous Brokeback outings featured occasional guest artists, this LP — the group’s first in 10 years — enlists a core group to back up McCombs. And things soar.

With twangy fuzz, Western touches, and a greater rock aesthetic, Brokeback hasn’t changed what worked, instead using it as a jump-off to its evolution.

- Lincoln Eddy

Pillowfight: Pillowfight (Bulk)

"Used to Think"

In 2001, hip-hop producer extraordinaire Dan the Automator released an all-star collaboration of sexy, down-tempo jams called Lovage, featuring vocalists Mike Patton (Faith No More) and Jennifer Charles (Elysian Fields) alternating sultry verses and refrains. Pillowfight is something of a long-desired sequel, only with the recently buzzing singer/multi-instrumentalist Emily Wells out front.

Wells's smoky, seductive voice is essential to the album's success, but Automator's production is the real star, pulling together disparate samples and timbres over head-nodding beats. Just as on Lovage's Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By, Kid Koala reprises his role as scratch-maker at times, and in place of that album's few MC appearances, Lateef the Truthspeaker has a few guest spots. Nonetheless, Pillowfight is an effort and album unto its own — a slinky dose of mood music.

- Scott Morrow

Honorable Mentions:

Arbouretum: Coming Out of the Fog (Thrill Jockey)

Ariel + The Undertow: s/t

Big Harp: Chain Letters (Saddle Creek)

Blockheads: This World is Dead (Relapse)

Petra Haden: Petra Goes to the Movies (Anti-)

Holy Grail: Ride the Void (Prosthetic)

Mixed Blood Majority: s/t

Mountains: Centralia (Thrill Jockey)

This Town Needs Guns: (Sargent House)

Shugo Tokumaru: In Focus? (Polyvinyl)