This Week’s Best Albums: July 17, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: July 17, 2012

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.

Enabler: All Hail the Void (Southern Lord)

"Speechless"


Enabler may be a relatively "new" name in metalcore, but it's full of proven parts, including two ex-members of Shai Hulud as well as ex-members of Trap Them, Today is the Day, Harlots, and more. Unfamiliar listeners may raise an eyebrow upon seeing Andy Hurley’s name listed, but the Fall Out Boy / The Damned Things drummer has long roots in hardcore, including a number of Midwest bands and a touring stint in Earth Crisis.

All Hail the Void is the quartet's second full release in a year's time, and that's not counting a number of other recent splits and EPs. It's the same hyper-aggressive mix of metal, hardcore, punk, and grind, but the songs are gradually growing longer (albeit from 2:00 to 2:30) and more well rounded.

Reflecting the never-ending trend of bands tuning lower and lower, the range of the guitars is closer to death metal than hardcore, but there are plenty of heavy influences to go around, whether D-beat drums, locomotive chugging, hyperactive hammer-ons, or blast beats. It's 35 minutes of fury, with nary a lull. And from straight-line speed to half-time breakdowns, there are plenty of dynamics — even if those breakdowns bring out the kickboxing clowns.

- Scott Morrow

Nas: Life is Good (Def Jam)

"Loco-Motive" f. Large Professor


Despite getting the highly successful collaboration with Damian Marley in 2010, fans have waited a good bit for a new solo album from Nasir Jones. Life is Good, a personal album with overt references to his split with Kelis, may or may not continue his platinum-selling streak — but it's a return to form either way.

Though the album doesn't carry the racial and sociopolitical overtones of his untitled album from 2008, Nas already has caught flak from a different ex over his single "Daughters," a public response to a public Instagram post by his teenage daughter. Jones ruminates on his shortcomings as a parent, one who couldn't fault his suddenly "of-age" daughter if she were to run with hustlers like he used to be.

The most obvious tracks about Kelis — whose green garment adorns the cover — come later, in the forthright rhymes of "Bye, Baby" and the heartbreaking, more metaphorical "Roses." There's a train-wreck fascination with the dirty laundry, particularly in "Bye, Baby," but it has more similarities to failed relationships than many might admit.

On the production side, the best efforts come from Salaam Remi. His work almost single-handedly carries "A Queens Story," "World's an Addiction," and "The Black Bond," where a plethora of string, piano, and horn melodies craft orchestral backings that aren't melodramatic or stock. (Side note: "A Queens Story" samples Frédéric Chopin.) No ID provides more soulful if generic production, but the album's few negatives come from the lengthy run time (18 tracks on the deluxe version) and "Summer on Smash," an unnecessary ode to scantily clad women.

Still, there's more than enough to like about Life is Good, and other guest spots (Common, Rick Ross, and a posthumous appearance by Amy Winehouse) keep things interesting.

- Scott Morrow

Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra: Reel to Reel (Ubiquity)

"BoomWack"


What would a month be without another release from über-instrumentalist Shawn Lee? Okay — his releases aren't quite monthly, but with his Tabla Rock release in January, this "cine-funk" installment, and next week's self-evidently themed Synthesizers in Space — not to mention another upcoming album with AM — 2012 is shaping up to be the year of the (guy in the) tiger (mask).

The latest in Lee's solo albums (quick aside: each of this year's are credited differently) is, as mentioned, another self-described cine-funk odyssey. The "Ping Pong Orchestra" releases, though wildly assorted, fall under this general theme, and fans of said aesthetic or funky "library" music will not be disappointed.

Yet even for a man as eclectic and talented as Lee, a few tracks on Reel to Reel tend toward being nondescript. But there are plenty of standouts, from the road-ready "Biker Chick" (including a five-second "metal" breakdown) to the slinky "Spy Seduction." Penultimately, "Piano Milano" offers a semi-sad instrumental ballad, before "Song for Ennio" closes with a spot-on Italian-western homage.

As usual, no two tracks are the same, and that's half the fun. Whether you're new to Lee's massive catalog or fully immersed, Reel to Reel has something for you.

- Scott Morrow

Honorable Mentions:

Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra: Last Odyssey (Ubiquity)

Alberta Cross: Songs of Patience (ATO)

The Alchemist: Russian Roulette (Decon)

Baroness: Yellow & Green (Relapse)

João Orecchia’s Motel Mari: Eternal Peasant (Other Electricities)

Icky Blossoms: s/t (Saddle Creek)

Nico Muhly: Drones & Viola (Bedroom Community)

Múm: Early Birds compilation (Morr Music)

Panoramic & True: Wonderlust (Raymond Roussel)

Piano Overlord: Aninha Mission (Chocolate Industries)