"Zero Dark Thirty"
Rap, understandably, always has placed an emphasis on lyrics, and rapper Aesop Rock is known for his motley blend of allusions, metaphors, and symbols. This is rap on hard mode, and it’s nearly unmatched.
But the five years since Aesop’s last solo record, None Shall Pass, have not been kind to him. His best friend, rapper Camu Tao, died of lung cancer in 2008, and his record label collapsed two years later. The result, Skelethon, is an album that merges the tragedy of Aesop’s misfortune with his dense delivery and sense of humor. Heavy lyrical themes of death, unhappiness, and isolation are delivered with infectious energy.
Even more notably, due to frequent collaborator Blockhead being across the country, Aesop handles all production duties and imbues the album with a rock slant, fusing his beats with a prickly urgency and throbbing grooves. The most prominent guest isn’t a hip-hop artist but anti-folk icon Kimya Dawson.
Overall, Skelethon is more than a memorable record, bursting with inventive wordplay and complex, earworm-infested beats. It's unlike nearly anything else in rap, and listeners who are willing to put in the effort will find plenty to admire.
- Tom Harrison
"Gun Has No Trigger"
Helmed by front-man David Longstreth and a barrage of skilled singers/musicians, Dirty Projectors has always had a knack for thinking outside the box — creating skittish, unconventional pop frameworks and augmenting them with twists of cleverness and turns of impulse. And Swing Lo Magellan, the band’s sixth proper album, is no different, furthering Dirty Projectors’ gift for melding catchy constructions within progressive parameters.
But while Dirty Projectors’ work can sometimes be construed as experimentalism for the sake of experimentalism, much of Swing Lo Magellan is content to rely on the strength of the songs and not shtick. For instance, the title track is one of the most straightforward songs the band has ever crafted — featuring a lone vocal track, a breezy acoustic guitar, a subdued bass line, and a subtle drum rhythm. And songs like “Irresponsible Tune,” “Impregnable Question,” and “Unto Caesar” don’t stray too far from the downplayed instrumentation and no-nonsense approach too often (though each one has its share of eccentricities).
Nevertheless, even with those more conventional tactics in place, the band sticks to its guns and employs some off-the-cuff tactics. Whether it’s the swarming and sprawling voices in “Gun Has No Trigger,” the complex drum patterns in “About to Die,” the swooning strings toward the end of “Dance For You,” or the incessant percussion and space-cadet guitars on “See What She Seeing,” the album is content to tweak and twist conventional songwriting motifs, fashioning the songs into something both accessible yet arresting.
- Text by Michael Danaher. Read the full review here.
"Uh Ah Brr"
By incorporating hard funk, rock, prog, jazz, and more, Italy's Calibro 35 manages to refresh and redefine the audible magic from Italian exploitation films and westerns, with particular regard to the works of Ennio Morricone and Piero Umiliani. The quintet's third effort, which now receives its US release, is titled Any Resemblance to Real Persons or Actual Facts is Purely Coincidental — a fitting and purely non-coincidental choice for an album that features recreations of soundtrack compositions from films with this same byline.
Recorded in Brooklyn in just five days between tours, the album somehow maintains a wild, improvised quality while cultivating its damn-near-perfected cinema-rock vibe. And though the obvious influence can be seen on two recreations of actual soundtrack themes ("Passagi Nel Tempo," from Morricone's work in The Great Silence, and "New York, New York," from Piero Piccioni’s work in Anastasia, My Brother), the two tracks aren't merely rip-offs of these legendary composers. Rather, they've been updated, injected with subtle twists and the band's own fat, funky style.
Other songs, however, prove that the band isn't a one-trick pony. From "Uh Ah Brr," with its wordless, scat-like vocals over prog guitars and jazz flute, to the sitar-tinged "New Dehli Deli," the band blends global flavors in a way that fits its cinematic aesthetic. And with the healthy dose of Motown horns on "Italian Band from BBQ (Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens)" to "Rain on Concrete"’s nod to '60s French film composers, the band showcases its ability to flow freely between time and place, merging together seemingly disparate styles, all while leaving you feeling as though you're facing the big screen.
- Meaghann Korbel
Chaosweaver: Enter the Realm of the Doppelganger (Napalm)
Dead Rat Orchestra: The Guga Hunters of Ness (Critical Heights)
Debo Band: s/t (Sub Pop)
Dusted: Total Dust (Polyvinyl / Hand Drawn Dracula)
Dan Le Sac: Space Between the Words (Sunday Best)
Husky: Forever So (Sub Pop)
Mission of Burma: Unsound (Fire)