This Week’s Best Albums: July 20, 2010

This Week's Best Albums

The Books: The Way Out (Temporary Residence)

Employing a peculiar mix of acoustic instruments, electronics, samples, and splicing, The Books has managed to sound quite like nothing else while drawing upon sound collage, folk, glitch, and more.

The Way Out, the duo’s first album in five years, is heavily influenced by humor and a self-help/new-age theme.  Some moments are almost completely organic, whereas others are as cut-and-pasted as a Matmos track.

At times, The Way Out is polyrhythmic; at others, it’s greatly minimalistic yet effective.  There’s a well-balanced approach to the vocals, as the duo’s singing and spoken-word moments appear between harmonious guest vocals and the abstract/chopped samples.

“A Cold Freezin’ Night” is one of the best tracks and an early favorite for many, with twisted yet comedic clips of kids talking about murdering each other.  In concert, this song (and all of the duo’s others) takes a life of its own, complemented by a video pastiche that’s as varied as the music.

The live show is such a fantastic complement, in fact, that listening to the music after seeing the associated video clips leaves a sensation that half of the product is missing.  It’s ironic that an originally recording-based duo has become inseparable from its live presentation, but it’s a testament to the cleverness and creative prowess of The Books.

The Books: “Beautiful People”

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Mose Giganticus: Gift Horse (Relapse)

Begun as an electronic project more than 10 years ago, Mose Giganticus is the sonic alter-ego of Matt Garfield, a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and songwriter who has since assembled a metal/hardcore band around his creations.

Gift Horse is Garfield’s debut on Relapse.  Only two albums precede it, but Gift Horse is the heaviest Mose Giganticus album to date, with down-tuned guitar grooves pounding alongside synth harmonies and calculated drum punishments.

Garfield’s vocoder makes a few appearances, and the electronics remain pivotal, but the kraut/prog-rock sound is bulked up substantially.  Gift Horse is first and foremost a metal album — making a strong first impression on the Relapse roster.

Mose Giganticus: “White Horse”

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Rakaa: Crown of Thorns (Decon)

As one of the two MCs in Dilated Peoples, Rakaa Iriscience has bordered on mainstream success while maintaining an independent appeal.

With the Peoples doing their own things these days, Rakaa has delivered his first solo album — a straightforward, original disc of hip-hop jams with a diversity of samples and sounds, whether they’re hard-hitting, funky, or jazzy.

Rakaa’s hand-picked group of producers — including Evidence and DJ Babu of the Peoples — provides a good balance throughout Crown of Thorns, and each track fits Rakaa’s deliberate delivery in its own way.  Other high-profile guests bring their own contributions, including those from KRS-One, Chali 2na, and Fashawn.

Rakaa: “Crown of Thorns” f. Aloe Blacc

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Kacey Johansing: Many Seasons (Porto Franco)

Listeners may notice Kacey Johansing‘s name — or lilting, dulcet vocals — from independent folk groups such as Honey.Moon.Tree and Honeycomb, or in collaboration with artists such as Vera Gogh, The Blank Tapes, and Sleepy Todd.

Either way, fans of the softer stuff will soon take note of Johansing outside the context of others, as Many Seasons, her solo debut, presents an artist who is well versed in melody, harmony, and heart-stirring vocalizations.

Johansing holds at least a basic proficiency in keyboard, drums, guitar, and bass, allowing her to build full pieces — in her words, “indie/soul with strong roots in folk” — before adding guest spots of strings, vibraphone, and more.  Many Seasons will make others start paying attention.

Kacey Johansing: “Many Seasons”

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Lloyd Miller & The Heliocentrics: s/t (Strut)

A noted ethnomusicologist and incredibly gifted multi-instrumentalist, Lloyd Miller is a gem of the pre-digital age, a crate-digger’s favorite who infused traditional jazz with Persian and Asian influences — a result of time spent abroad in his youth and again in adulthood.

Thanks to the digital age and reissue labels such as Jazzman, younger listeners are discovering — and older folks are rediscovering — the immense talents of Miller.

Now, on the heels of its acclaimed collaboration between Ethiopian bandleader Mulatu Astatke and funk/jazz/psych collective The Heliocentrics, Strut Records has issued another great pairing.  The Heliocentrics is a key player once more, partnering with Miller to craft throwback jazz with instrumental and harmonic accents from around the globe.

The resultant material is accessible but doesn’t skimp on virtuosity.  Jazz fans shouldn’t miss this.

Lloyd Miller & The Heliocentrics: “Pari Ruu”

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Honorable Mentions

Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (TUM Records)

Cochemea Gastelum: The Electric Sound Of Johnny Arrow (MOWO! Inc.)

East of the Wall: Ressentiment (Translation Loss)

The High Confessions: Turning Lead Into Gold With The High Confessions (Relapse)

Hillstomp: Darker the Night (In Music We Trust)

Shawn Lee: Sing a Song (Ubiquity)

Mahjongg: The Long Shadow of the Paper Tiger (K)

Mochipet: Cowgirls Gets the Pets (Automation)

Nero Order: The Tower

Portland Cello Project: Thousand Words

Raga Bop Trio: s/t (Abstract Logix)

Secret Cities: Pink Graffiti (Western Vinyl)

Walter Gibbons: Jungle Music: Essential & Unreleased Remixes, 1976-1986 (Strut)