This Week’s Best Albums: July 31, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: July 31, 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.

The Locust: Molecular Genetics... (Anti-)

"Perils of Believing in Round Squares"


Somebody got new-wavey B-movie camp in with my grindcore. Somebody got grindcore in with my new-wavey B-movie camp!

No matter one's perspective, The Locust is a band so unique and without peer that listeners are hard pressed to forget their first experience. Take a grindcore/power-violence base and add sci-fi synths, brilliant costumes, and humorous/asinine song titles (often in questionable taste), and boom: The Locust.

The group, though not broken up, is criminally inactive, so the best that we can get at the moment is this reissue compilation of material from its days on Gold Standard Labs (which is its own sadly departed underground institution). Collected from its earliest EPs and seven-inches as well as its self-titled "full-length," the material here is nearly all "classic" Locust — nearly every song is grindy and less than a minute long — with basically only the two-and-a-half minute, purely electronic "Flight of the Wounded Locust" offering a glimpse of the well-rounded direction to come.

There's also plenty of sneaky-good musicianship amid the alien sounds, blast beats, and anguished, blood-curdling screams. Whether you're too young to know, missed the band the first time, or want to finish your Locust collection, get this now.

- Scott Morrow

Judgement Day: Polar Shift (Minus Head)

"Forest Battle"


Armed with simply a violin, cello, and drum kit, Judgement Day began its existence with one goal in mind: to make metal and other types of nontraditional rock music using unconventional instruments.

The trio, comprised of brothers Anton (violin) and Lewis Patzner (cello) and drummer Jon Bush, actually got its start in performing acoustically on the street. As its heavy-metal ambitions came into focus, however, the band’s sound was modified by electricity, effects, and experimentation. Peacocks / Pink Monsters, Judgement Day’s last full-length, exemplified the band’s far-reaching capabilities.

Polar Shift, meanwhile, is just that — a step in the opposite direction, abandoning all bells and whistles and embracing raw, organic sounds.

Yet despite the focus on un-augmented strings, the album has a very percussive feel and an extremely wide range. Some moments, like the introduction to “The Jump,” make use of the contrast between Bush’s plastic-bucket drum and the racing, harmonized strings. “Rednek Rumble,” which follows, then showcases a more “traditional” sound with old-time string-band undertones. Later, “Prelude in D Minor” is a brief but beautiful string duet, acting as a standalone intro for the chamber-rock “Darmok.”

Still harkening a bit to its metallic side, the darker segments of the album are reminiscent of full-on arpeggio sweeps and layered heavy-metal choruses. But even then, the album speaks to the band’s songwriting depth, with much of it underpinned by classical training and music theory. No matter its output, Judgement Day seems to content to challenge itself and leave no stone unturned — while taking us along for the ride.

- Bobby Markos

Nachtmystium: Silencing Machine (Century Media)

"Borrowed Hope and Broken Dreams"


Silencing Machine, Nachtmystium’s sixth full-length album, re-embraces the traditional Norwegian black-metal sound of its early efforts. The band’s first recordings were Darkthrone covers at heart, but by the time of Instinct: Decay in 2006, it had traded minimalism for riff salads and more textured songs. The Black Meddle series, consisting of Assassins (2008) and Addicts (2010), was purposefully experimental, drawing comparisons to Pink Floyd and Ministry.

Now Nachtmystium takes the lessons learned from experimentation and applies them to the conventional black-metal language of moveable minor chords and tremolo picking. “Dawn Over the Ruins of Jerusalem” starts with minutes of blast beats before cathartically settling into a driving backbeat, recalling Burzum’s definitive “Hvis Lyset Tar Oss.” The purposefully primitive “Decimation, Annihilation” invokes the on-the-beat pummeling haze of Ildjarn, yet plays up the psychedelic and industrial aspects through an uncanny bass tone and a clattering keyboard timbre.

The traces of Nachtmystium’s forays into progressive rock can be heard in the delays and flangers that coat many of the leads. These textures work with the already transcendental droning of black metal to create mind-warping effects, and the high, whiney leads on “Reduced to Ashes” recall both Inquisition’s  Magnificent Glorification of Lucifer and Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express. A slightly more melodic and fuzzed-out keyboard tone on the mid-paced “Borrowed Hope and Broken Dreams” is more evocative of Yellow Magic Orchestra than the oft-cited etherealism of Klaus Schulze.

Silencing Machine is a welcome step in Nachtmystium’s maturation process, as more overt surface-level meddling has been integrated into cohesive songs. This album is one step closer to a vision that will transcend the “experimental” label.

- Text by Todd Nief. Read the full review here.

Serengeti: CAR (Anticon)

"Amnesia"


“CAR.” What is that exactly? Chicago MC Serengeti makes a case that it’s all about a funk-fueled vibe under enough scratching to require a daily supply of new vinyl. With the help of Anticon producers Jel and Odd Nosdam, Serengeti (born in Chicago as David Cohn) has released the latest in his double-digit hip-hop discography.

At the album’s open, we’re on a Greyhound, and it’s not wrong to say that things sound like early Beck. Though there’s a “classic” feel to the programmed beats and horn blips, CAR is also classic Serengeti, full of self-deprecation, disappointment, and worry, which is definitely classic American millennial. “Go Dancing” tells a story similar to Miranda July’s The Future: a young couple feels old and unhappy, and Serengeti’s hopeful refrain, “we’ll go dancing; believe me this time,” is unconvincing.

Known for unordinary instrumentation (at a recent free hometown show, the MC rapped over a cello and melodica), Serengeti blends styles across CAR, with tracks built on samples that range from buzzy, machinistic loops to acoustic guitar. The latter sneaks onto the album in the last track for a surprising finale. “Uncle Traum” is innocuous, good for a vista or two, but if a listener picks up the pieces of the rapper’s quiet one-liners, a tragic tale unfolds.

This is the surprising power of Serengeti’s style. Without bravado, rap can seem empty, but the MC’s monotone delivery and love of the mundane has a way of sneaking up on a listener and has a poetry all its own. CAR is laid-back fun but far from irrelevant; Serengeti says that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, but we get the feeling that he does.

– Timothy A. Schuler

Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz: Abraxas: The Book of Angels Vol. 19 (Tzadik)

"Tse'an"


The 19th installment in John Zorn's Masada Book 2: The Book of Angels is a doozy. As with the rest of the series, these are Zorn pieces given to an extraordinary talent (or set of talents) to perform, re-imagine, or demolish, and acoustic/electric bassist and oudist Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz has done all three with his batch of songs.

Blumenkranz, part of New York's vibrant "experimental" scene, here performs on the gimbri, a three-stringed Middle Eastern bass lute. He's essential to the material, which is a hearty dose of Jewish progressive rock, but his collaborators do their best to steal the show.

Kenny Grohowski is an absolute madman behind the drum kit, unleashing maelstroms of double-bass blasts and triplets and frenetic, unyielding drum fills. The guitarists are masters unto themselves — check out Aram Bajakian’s Kef and Eyal Maoz’s Edom if you get the chance — and their intonations are very bit as vital as their technical abilities.

Outside of the "ritualistic Jewish rock" tag that comes with Zorn and his cohorts, the obvious comparison here is one to prog-fusion giants such as Mahavishnu Orchestra. But particularly with the percussion, there's a much more frantic, metallic, Zach Hill-ish vibe, and Abraxas will appeal to progressive ears new and old.

- Scott Morrow

Honorable Mentions:

Bester Quartet: Metamorphoses (Tzadik)

Blur limited-edition box set (Virgin)

Flats: Better Living (One Little Indian)

King of Asgard: …to North (Metal Blade)

The New No. 2: The Fear of Missing Out (Hot)

Fausto Romitelli: Anamorphosis (Tzadik)

Testament: The Dark Roots of Earth (Nuclear Blast)