This Week’s Best Albums: May 1, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: May 1, 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.

Father John Misty: Fear Fun (Sub Pop!)

"Hollywood Forever Cemetary Sings"

Prior to his stint as Fleet Foxes' drummer from 2008 to 2011, singer-songwriter Josh Tillman established an acclaimed but under-recognized solo career as J. Tillman. Now, after leaving the Foxes to focus on his own material, his debut as Father John Misty will make it hard to imagine him again as anything other than a front-man.

Though initial instincts may closely associate Tillman’s two most recent endeavors, the differences between them are decidedly overt and don’t necessarily guarantee a fan base. Certain base elements are present — 1960s and '70s folk-rock traditions, high-pitched vocal harmonies, and poetic lyrics — but Fear Fun teeters between heartfelt, playful, baroque, and downright weird, while retaining a soft and resonant surreality.

These qualities, coupled by its understated sexual lyrics, liken Fear Fun to something of an alternate, folk-driven Virgin Suicides soundtrack. Tillman may go down in history, if not for this album or the next, as the only person to ever name-drop German philosopher Martin Heidegger, in “I’m Writing a Novel,” without making three-fourths of his audience cringe. As Father John Misty, Tillman combines sentiment, jest, and a novelist's sensibility, reflecting an artist who knows the business well — and doesn't care. Because of this, Fear Fun is a forceful "debut."

- Danielle Turney

Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury: Drokk (Invada)


Since its inception as the setting for the long-running Judge Dredd comic-book series, the vast, fictional city-state of Mega-City One has shifted and expanded — both in size and landscape — at the mercy of artistic vision. Now Portishead producer Geoff Barrow and Emmy-winning soundtrack composer Ben Salisbury have teamed to create their own interpretation of the city’s soundscape.

On Drokk: Music Inspired by Mega-City One, Barrow and Salisbury create a stark, minimal atmosphere, bound together by pulsing synths and digitally manipulated acoustic instruments. Though the album was not composed for an actual film, it’s gritty soundtrack music, echoing the likes of Blade Runner, Escape from New York, The Fog, and The Terminator. If you're remotely interested in krautrock, electronic film scores, or anything by John Carpenter, pick this up.

- Meaghann Korbel

Marriages: Kitsuné (Sargent House)

"Ride in My Place"

Though their union is new, the members of Marriages are veterans of post-rock experimentation, and their self-titled debut challenges the very notion of the sub-genre.

Guitarist/vocalist Emma Ruth Rundle, bassist Greg Burns, and drummer Dave Clifford all spend time in Red Sparowes, a band that has pushed the boundaries of the loud-soft dynamic with an innovative use of pedal-steel guitar and subtle vocal textures. But Marriages is markedly different, built around Rundle’s intoxicating vocals and unconventional guitar style.

Rundle’s vocals — breathy and, at times, ghostly — benefit from a bit of traditional post-rock atmospherics. But they’re also joined by a subtle, deep effect, allowing her to harmonize with a nearly inaudible lower octave. One might compare the sound to PJ Harvey teaming up with Tool in 1995 to cover Mazzy Star — but you should skip comparison entirely, as Marriages isn’t quite like anything else.

- John Taylor

Portland Cello Project: Homage (Jealous Butcher)

"H*A*M" (Kanye West & Jay-Z)

Since 2007, the Portland Cello Project has taken the cello where few have gone before, offering chamber and string-based renditions of movie themes, pop songs, classical pieces, and more -- even metal tunes such as Pantera’s "Mouth for War." The group's live and recorded output now boasts more than 900 pieces, varying between straightforward arrangements with a handful of cellos to setups of grandiose proportions, with a dozen of its namesake instrument being supported by full choirs, winds, and percussion.

On Homage, PCP pays tribute to hip hop by reworking influential hits such as “Hey Ya” by Outkast and “That’s My Bitch” and “H*A*M” by Kanye West and Jay-Z. “Canon on a Lollipopalicious Theme,” for example, takes Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” and elegantly transforms its beats and vocoded rhymes to a string-quartet structure. In many regards, it's unrecognizable in contrast to the ridiculousness of the original, but it manages to highlight many of the song's catchiest aspects. The rest of Homage is built the same way, and whether or not you like hip hop or know the original tracks, fans of crossover chamber pieces (with beats) will enjoy the group's latest.

- Danielle Turney

Blockhead: Interludes After Midnight (Ninja Tune)

"Never Forget Your Token"

Now five albums into his solo output, Tony "Blockhead" Simon is still more known as a hip-hop producer to the stars — well, perhaps the underground stars, producing for notables such as Del, Murs, and Aesop Rock. But ever since being asked to create a fully instrumental album, Simon has proven just as interesting on his own, offering down-tempo, sample-heavy, and (mostly) rhyme-free rap tracks (all while increasing brand awareness).

Interludes After Midnight is Simon's tribute to his formative years in New York City, capturing assorted urban vibes with samples that span funky, electronic, and worldly sounds (with a dash of psychedelia for good measure). Manipulated and otherwise out-of-place vocal samples create a deeper sonic blend, one that weaves together disparate elements in a weird but addictive way. It's strange and dreamlike — sort of like falling asleep while your TV and iPod are playing different songs and coalescing into an indecipherable whole.

- Scott Morrow

Honorable Mentions:

Anduin: Stolen Years

Bobby Conn: Macaroni (Fire)

Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Twenty Dozen (Savoy Jazz)

Gravenhurst: The Ghost in Daylight (Warp)

Norah Jones: Little Broken Hearts (Blue Note)

K-Holes: Dismania (Hardly Art)

Kwes: Meantime EP (Warp)

Pennywise: All or Nothing (Epitaph)

Radioinactive: The Akashic Record (Laitdbac / Flying Carpet)

Reptar: Body Faucet (Vagrant)

Siddhartha: If It Die (Neurotic Yell)

Nick Waterhouse: Time’s All Gone (Innovative Leisure)