This Week’s Best Albums: June 7, 2011

This Week's Best Albums: June 7, 2011

Each week, editor-in-chief Chris Force and music editor Scott Morrow choose ALARM’s favorite new releases across a chasm of genres.

Battles: Gloss DropBattles: Gloss Drop (Warp)

Battles: “Ice Cream” (f. Matias Aguayo)

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Shaken up and stripped down, the three members of experimental post-rock outfit Battles spent the better part of the past year reshaping and restructuring a sound that, up until then, included multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and loop guru Tyondai Braxton.

The new record, Gloss Drop, is a shimmering, fascinating detour from Battles’ previous output, soaring with ebullience and sheen. It bounces about on dance-y, frenetic beats and ripples in restorative whirlpools. The music retains Battles’ signatory edge and cerebral tone, but the band’s instinctual process has brought about a surprising, new result.

Lively guitar parts and math-rock riffs fuse with overlapping rhythms. Songs like “Futura” incorporate Caribbean percussion, and “Sweetie and Shag,” featuring Kazu Makino of Blonde Redhead, features dazzling melodies over a playful composition. Other guests on the album include DJ Matias Aguayo, Boredoms vocalist Yamantaka Eye, and the one and only Gary Numan. Swirling in color and emotion, Gloss Drop does not sound like the record of a band that was contemplating its own demise while creating it.

– Text by Charlie Swanson. Read the feature story here.

Hail Mary Mallon: Are You Gonna Eat That?Hail Mary Mallon: Are You Gonna Eat That? (Rhymesayers)

Hail Mary Mallon: “Garfield”

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With a name and album title inspired by Typhoid Mary, Hail Mary Mallon is the union of MCs/producers Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz.  Both rappers are alumni of independent hip-hop label Definitive Jux, and all three have collaborated for years, but Are You Gonna Eat That? is their first release as a trio.

The group experience is new for Aesop Rock, and the album has the air of a relaxed, fun endeavor — something with no expectations.  There’s plenty of modern production, with muffled bass lines, heavy snare hits, distant horn samples, spot-on scratching, and distorted vocal samples on tracks such as “Garfield.”  But there’s also a throwback party vibe on tracks such as “Breakdance Beach,” and Aesop and Sonic trade call-and-response lines on many other songs.  Hail Mary Mallon is at its best when the MCs are involved in the same verses, but the group is careful not to overdo the trade-offs.

The album is an invigorating installment in each member’s career, and it’s another notable super-group to release something on Rhymesayers, which released the newest album by Felt (featuring production, in fact, by Aesop Rock).

Fucked Up: David Comes to LifeFucked Up: David Comes to Life (Matador)

Fucked Up: “The Other Shoe”

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The latest from punk sextet / “social experiment” Fucked Up is another unexpected turn in an unpredictable career — an 18-song, 80-minute post-punk epic that tells a four-part narrative.

Adding to a litany of seven-inches and pair of LPs, David Comes to Life is far and away the band’s hardiest release to date.  It’s a punk-rock marathon that plays into punk’s short attention span but that also demands patience, particularly when piecing together a narrative that shifts perspectives.

Musically, Fucked Up continues to come into its own, albeit with shades of The Who and other beloved practitioners of the rock opera.  The band’s triple-guitar attack remains as aggressive and quasi-psychedelic as ever, but the gruff shouts of frontman Damian Abraham here are commonly backed by “real singers” whose softer intonations provide a pleasant contrast.

The album’s 18 tracks have a tendency to blend together, but they benefit from their full-throttle delivery.  And though some listeners may have their patience tested by what essentially is a double LP of four-minute rock jams, preexisting fans should have one of their favorite albums of the year.

Tyr: The Lay of ThrymTýr: The Lay of Thrym (Napalm)

Týr: “Take Your Tyrant”

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Based on the tiny Faroe Islands of the North Atlantic, Týr has made a name for itself with an infectious brand of folk/power metal.  The band’s metal anthems, which are never short on overpowering melodies and harmonies, usually are a blend of traditional Scandinavian / Northern European folk tunes, with lyrics that touch on Nordic mythology, pagan pride, and heathen heroism.

The band’s newest full-length, The Lay of Thrym, uses more Viking mythology as a thematic foundation, but it also expands the lyrical content, using some of its most fist-pumping sing-alongs to decry the remnants of Nazism and urge oppressed peoples to topple their dictators.

The music takes a similar course to the band’s past catalog, but its melodic prowess and rhythmic fury are as potent as ever.  If you’re not too cool for euphoric riffs and pop refrains, check this out.

Esmerine: La LechuzaEsmerine: La Lechuza (Constellation)

Esmerine: “A Dog River”

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Begun in the early 2000s, Esmerine originally existed as the duo of percussionist Bruce Cawdron and cellist Beckie Foon, a pair of contributors to Godspeed! You Black Emperor, The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, and other members of Montreal’s Constellation Records family.

The duo’s sullen, minimalist chamber creations were built around cello, marimba, and other percussive elements, and though they expanded their range and emotion with other sounds, the band’s first album in six years is a rebirth.  La Lechuza marks the addition of harpist Sarah Page and percussionist Andrew Barr (both of The Barr Brothers) as full-time members.  More importantly, however, it stands as a moving tribute to Montreal singer Lhasa de Sela, a mutual friend of all four members who passed away at the age of 37 on New Year’s Day of 2010.

Each track on La Lechuza takes a life of its own, alternating between layered Steve Reich-ian repetitions, somber Danny Elfman-esque string arrangements, melodic polyrhythms, and ghostly vocal performances.  Special guests Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld (Arcade Fire) make appearances, and the result is the group’s most most diverse, most skilled, and most beautiful release yet.

 

Honorable Mentions

Amorphis: The Beginning of Times (Nuclear Blast)

The Appleseed Cast: Middle States EP (Graveface)

Arch Enemy: Khaos Legions (Century Media)

BB&C (Tim Berne, Jim Black, Nels Cline): The Veil (Cryptogramophone)

Sarah Bernstein: Unearthish (Phase Frame)

Brent Hinds presents… Friend Without a Face: s/t & West End Motel: Don’t Shiver, You’re a Winner (Rocket Science Inc.)

Cults: s/t (Columbia)

The Engineer: Crooked Voices (Black Market Activities)

Ford & Lopatin (formerly Games): Channel Pressure (Software / Mexican Summer)

Infantree: Would Work (Vapor)

Jóhann Jóhannsson: Miner’s Hymns (Fat Cat)

Morbid Angel: Illud Divinum Insanus (Season of Mist)

Dustin O’Halloran: Vorleben (Fat Cat)

Oneida: Absolute II (Jagjaguwar)

The Rhythmagic Orchestra: s/t (Tru Thoughts)

Alina Simone: Make Your Own Danger (Virtual Label)

Sondre Lerche: s/t (Redeye)

Tea Leaf Green: Radio Tragedy (Thirty Tigers)

Tombs: Path of Totality (Relapse)

Trentemøller: LateNightTales compilation (LateNightTales)

Tom Vek: Leisure Seizure (Downtown / CO-OP USA / Island)