This Week’s Best Albums: March 19, 2013

This Week's Best Albums: March 19, 2013

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.

Intronaut: Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones) (Century Media)

"Milk Leg"

Now on its fourth full-length album, Los Angeles’s Intronaut has been a lesser-known gem of progressive sludge metal for the past eight years. Valley of Smoke, the band’s 2010 album, was a colossal effort, and Habitual Levitations picks up where it left off — only with a higher profile and a stronger sense of dynamics.

Mathy and polyrhythmic, the nine epic jams herein excel by contrasting light and dark, beautiful and melancholy — with technical prowess that’s impressive within the songwriting framework. There are similarities to Isis’s Panopticon in the melodic, harmonized vocal passages, clean-channel guitars, and electric-bass tones, not to mention the mid-tempo sludge, but the album features plenty of brutality and tight-as-nails prog drumming. If you’re still unfamiliar, don’t be for long.

- Scott Morrow

And So I Watch You From Afar: All Hail Bright Futures (Sargent House)

"Like a Mouse"

The mighty Sargent House label / management company has made a habit of plucking talent from wherever it pleases, and Belfast, Northern Ireland, was the destination for one of its newest additions, the euphoric math-rock group And So I Watch You From Afar.

Now, following a re-release of the last ASIWYFA album in the States, the fearless label has released the band’s brand-new dose of über-melodic mega riffs and head-banging, torso-pummeling rhythms. Glistening guitar textures and extra-thick bass licks again lead the way, but there are more than a few simple and harmonized vocal refrains to go with intermittent usage of voice as texture. And with sonic switcheroos in the form of trumpet, flute, and synthesizers, the latest from ASIWYFA announces the band’s own bright future.

- Scott Morrow

Marnie Stern: The Chronicles of Marnia (Kill Rock Stars)

"Year of the Glad"

Any piece about singer-songwriter Marnie Stern usually starts by mentioning her shredding and finger-tapping abilities. And they’re legit. But on her fourth album, The Chronicles of Marnia, Stern’s quirky, nasally falsetto is a renewed focus, appearing in more places and in more layers instead of those frenzied riffs.

Of course, the complex fretwork hasn’t disappeared, and it’s now joined by the nimble sticks of drummer Kid Millions of Oneida. But on Marnia, Stern makes equal use of her voice as musical instrument, alternately coquettish and raw, and the differences in vocal timbres play a beautiful counterpart to the unordinary melodies.

- Lincoln Eddy

KEN Mode: Entrench (Season of Mist)

"Counter-Culture Complex"

Canadian hardcore trio KEN Mode has released auditory blunt-force trauma for more than 10 years now, so it’s only apt that its fifth album is called Entrench. This is the sound of hardcore digging in and getting down to the business at hand: kill everyone now (KEN).

High-speed, down-tuned fury rules the album — which is surprisingly dense for a three-piece — but, thankfully, there are a few chances to catch your breath. After a good five tracks of being assailed, “Romeo Must Never Know” provides a break with a simple, slightly twangy guitar over a marching snare, a melodic bass line, and whispered vocals before transforming into a rolling mid-tempo jam. Bits of piano and strings open and close the album, and enough tempo changes prevent Entrench from going stale.

- Lincoln Eddy

Phosphorescent: Muchacho (Dead Oceans)

"Song for Zula"

The sixth full-length record from indie-folk singer-songwriter Phosphorescent (Matthew Houck), Muchacho is like a summertime visit to Walden Pond. Prior to its creation, Houck built a recording studio in his apartment and experimented for a year, resulting in an album that is a striking portrait of the artist who made it.

Houck’s voice is the album’s most significant instrument, a layered, echoing, undeniable centerpiece. The risk with his vocal style and lyrical content is that things will devolve into a stylistically depressive affair; however, here things are kept slow but sunny, at least musically. “Muchacho’s Tune” includes a mariachi influence, “Song for Zula” is supplemented by swirling and sweeping strings, and “Sun’s Arising (A Koan, An Exit)” resembles the sacred-harp singing of the American South. Relaxed and beautiful, Muchacho is a multilayered piece of art that rewards the careful listener.

- Lincoln Eddy

Inter Arma: Sky Burial (Relapse)

"The Survival Fires"

Following an LP and EP for Richmond label Forcefield Records, Virginia quintet Inter Arma has jumped to Relapse for Sky Burial, an hour-plus metal amalgamation of epic durations and assorted influences. Sludge, doom, and heavy psych comprise the core elements, but with bits of black metal and prog to go with acoustic beauty, there's no telling which way any given jam will turn.

"The Survival Fires" opens with hefty sludge over wicked-fast snare rolls and blast beats. Then the pretty, sullen acoustic melodies of "The Long Road Home (Iron Gate)" lead into the 10-minute song proper, a keyboard-backed dirge that turns into a heavy psych jam and then a black-metal swarm. It's a fitting first pair (/trio) of tracks.

The songs — which include the 13-minute title-track closer and four more near or over 10 minutes each — can be too long for their own good. But the album's diversity makes up for it, with bits of organ and synthesizer joined by sneaky cameos from lap steel, upright bass, Theremin, and noise elements. In all, Sky Burial is the arrival of a new name in metal.

- Scott Morrow

Honorable Mentions:

Anthrax: Anthems EP (MRI / Megaforce)

Black Pus: All My Relations (Thrill Jockey)

Call of the Void: Dragged Down a Dead-End Path (Relapse)

Ensemble Pearl: s/t (Drag City)

Fol Chen: The False Alarms (Asthmatic Kitty)

William Ryan Fritch: The Waiting Room OST (Lost Tribe Sound)

Imperium Dekadenz: Meadows of Nostalgia (Season of Mist)

Low: The Invisible Way (Sub Pop)

Maximum Hedrum: s/t (Spectrophonic Sound)

Nails: Abandon All Life (Southern Lord)

Nero di Marte: s/t (Prosthetic)

Rival Sons: Head Down (Century Media)

Sexmob: Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti (Sexmob Plays Fellini: The Music of Nino Rota) (The Royal Potato Family)

Six Feet Under: Unborn (Metal Blade)

Stygian Stride: s/t (Thrill Jockey)

Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience (RCA)

William Tyler: Impossible Truth (Merge)

Zeus!: Opera (Three One G)