This Week’s Best Albums: January 31, 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.

Shining: Live BlackjazzShining: Live Blackjazz album and DVD (Indie Recordings / Prosthetic Records)

Shining: “Fisheye”

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With its 2010 album, Blackjazz, Norway’s Shining completed a transition from jazz experimentalism to classically informed prog-fusion to sinister electro-industrial metal. The transformation seems extreme, but when heard linearly, it feels surprisingly natural. Much of that transformational fluidity, in fact, is owed to the band’s hyperkinetic live show, where old and new tunes alike are delivered with equal parts precision and punishment.

A combined DVD and live album, Live Blackjazz documents Shining’s cathartic stage show in stunning quality while bordering on sensory overload. Live recordings generally aren’t recommended for first introductions — but, as you might have guessed, Shining isn’t your average band.

- Scott Morrow

Liberteer: Better to Die on Your Feet Than Live on Your KneesLiberteer: Better to Die on Your Feet than Live on Your Knees (Relapse)

Liberteer: “Build No System”

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As the new solo moniker of Santa Cruz grind veteran and multi-instrumentalist Matt Widener, Liberteer has delivered a maiden opus that might truly justify using the words “grindcore” and “opera” in the same breath. It’s an epic and unorthodox debut — one that plays essentially as one continuous song while marrying D-beat crust to horns, flutes, banjos, and marching snares.

As expected, the album contains plenty of bellowing, ultra-low B-tuned guitar and blast-beat bury. But from the very first banjo plucks and bugle-horn strains on the introductory track, it’s obvious that Widener’s over-the-top militarism is meant as a parody of patriotic fervor.

- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

Jono El Grande: The Choko KingJono El Grande: The Choko King (Rune Grammofon)

Jono El Grande: “Türbø Muez”

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In late 2010, the eccentric Norwegian guitarist and avant-garde composer known as Jono El Grande (born Jon Andreas Håtun) released Phantom Stimulance, a collection of previously unreleased tunes from his archives and songs that he transformed beyond recognition, demanding to be heard.

This year, Jono reached even further into his stash to bring us The Choko King, another compilation of unheard music dating back to 1995 — four years before his debut as Jono El Grande. Though the album lacks a certain cohesiveness present in his other releases, the songs serve as rough sketches illustrating his strangely brilliant mind.

For the uninitiated, Jono’s avant-garde compositions may seem either absurd and inaccessible or merely a cacophony of random sounds. Tracks like “Türbø Meuz,” however, exemplify the amount of time and labor that goes into every quirky detail: in his “insanely nerdy details” about the album, Jono explains the song’s 12-year evolution from a 20-minute orchestral piece to the two-minute art-rock composition on The Choko King.

Though some of the early pieces are interesting to hear as bizarre ideas unfolding, “Türbø Meuz” and the other later ideas showcase the more fully realized, Frank Zappa-esque era of Mr. El Grande. Certain tracks may rub you the wrong way, but given that the majority are under one or two minutes, it doesn’t take long for the album to cross back into mad genius.

- Meaghann Korbel

Honorable Mentions

Buxton: Nothing Here Seems Strange (New West)

Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas (Columbia)

Gotye: Making Mirrors (Universal)

Hospitality: s/t (Merge)

Imperial Teen: Feel the Sound (Merge)

Lana Del Rey: Born to Die (Interscope)

Novalima: Karimba (ESL)

Zeena Parkins: Double Dupe Down (Tzadik)

Gregory Rogove: Piana, performed by John Medeski (Knitting Factory)

John Zorn: Mount Analogue (Tzadik)