This Week’s Best Albums: May 22, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: May 22, 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.

El-P: Cancer for Cure (Fat Possum)

"Tougher Colder Killer" f. Killer Mike & Despot

Rapper/producer El-P took five years between his 2002 debut, Fantastic Damage, and its follow-up, the dystopian and downtrodden I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead. This year brings another five-year wait to an end with his Fat Possum debut, Cancer for Cure, following the untimely demise of El Producto’s independent label, Definitive Jux.

Cancer for Cure is more of a return to the style that El-P helped to popularize: a slower BPM rate mixed with fat synths and a faster rhyming style. Most rhymes are infused with a dark sense of humor, and the vocal styles keep a healthy diversity thanks to a bevy of guests, including Killer Mike, IslandsNick Thorburn, Danny Brown, and Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire.

The real star of the show, however, is El-P's production, which makes your head nod with ease amid a mix of boom-bap beats, bass bombinations, and sci-fi sounds.

It’s been a while, but Cancer for Cure was well worth the wait.

- Dave Hofer

Health: Max Payne 3: The Official Soundtrack (Rockstar Games)


Ever adept at pulling beauty from the squall of its savage synth-rock attack, Los Angeles quartet Health makes for a fitting choice to score a video game. Conversely, the game Max Payne 3 contains enough violence, visual brilliance, and plot development to draw from different aspects of Health’s multifaceted sound.

Longtime followers of the band may be surprised at the even-tempered tone of this music, particularly given the graphic nature of the game, but the band’s new-found restraint pays huge dividends. Health could have taken the easy way out and made ejaculatory noise to go along with game’s blood-splattering imagery. Instead, the group has served up a moody, evocative work just as suited to pensive anime or science fiction as to the subject at hand.

Kudos to the game developers at Rockstar Games, who apparently must have believed that juxtaposition would add to the power of Max Payne 3’s impact. But the ultimate credit goes to Health for succeeding in making a soundtrack that works just as well if not better on its own. Where so much in the world of gaming and music — particularly noise music — is tailored to saturate our minds with information, Health’s expansive work allows the listener to fill in the blanks. Ultimately, the best visuals to go with this music are the ones it inspires in your imagination.

- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

Antigama: Stop the Chaos (Selfmadegod)

"The Law"

This EP from progressive grindcore act Antigama ends with a familiar swooshing sound that usually precedes the beginning of a new track. Listeners are thus left with the impression that there’s more to come, and that Stop the Chaos might actually be a teaser for a longer offering. (A relatively restrained ambient soundscape, the EP’s final track also lines up nicely if you have music of another genre cued up to play after it on your playlist.) Still, though Antigama deftly plays the leave-them-wanting-more card, the Polish quartet packs no small measure of substance into Stop the Chaos’ 15-minute run time.

More varied than many grindcore albums that are twice as long, Stop the Chaos demonstrates Antigama’s penchant for peaks, valleys, and innovation. As usual, the band folds a number of experimental elements into the material without sacrificing its underlying urgency. But Antigama also puts a high premium on songwriting — a skill often overlooked by the group’s peers, and one that’s on expert display here. Memorable riffs within songs that actually develop, sometimes in the space of just a minute and a half, create the illusion that this EP is much longer than it actually is.

Stop the Chaos marks Antigama’s return to Polish label Selfmadegod after a two-album run on Relapse. The EP also ushers in the return of original vocalist Łukasz Myszkowski, as well as the recording debuts of new drummer Paweł Jaroszewicz and new bassist Michał Zawadzki. Even with three-quarters of its personnel overhauled since 2009 full-length Warning, Antigama manages to keep its vision, purpose, and the continuity of its body of work strikingly intact.

- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra: BUM BUM (Alien Transistor)

"Saturn Hoola Hoop"

Under the guidance of composer Daniel Glatzel, the 20-piece Berlin-based Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra is shaking up the assumptions that come with orchestral music. The styles already visited on its 2009 debut, Take Off! — minimalism, classical, jazz, film and television scores, drone, and modern composition — are all heard on BUM BUM, but in an electronic cut-and-paste aesthetic. Imagine the album as a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle, where each piece is a sound snippet and they have endless possibilities for configuration.

“Saturn Hoola Hoop” is a monstrous opening track that begins with a soft, atonal drone before bursting into a heavily symphonic chopped-and-screwed breakbeat. Brass, reed, and string instruments pop in and around the off-kilter kick-and-snare rhythm, giving the impression that perhaps a Brainfeeder producer had a hand in all of it.

The ensemble’s broadest sonic range can be heard on tracks like “Sotho Hotho Ro,” where the quantity of samples is so vast that only Glatzel can tell how many were used. The song quickly moves through exotica, classical baroque, dub, modern improv, found sounds, Latin jazz, and even a short dose of prog rock. Though the orchestra teeters on the precipice of conceptualism and the deep abyss of randomness, it does so in a way to push orchestral music forward to a new generation.

- Michael Nolledo

Janel & Anthony: Where is Home (Cuneiform)

"Big Sur"

A dynamic DC duo versed in the East, the West, and the rest, Janel & Anthony is cellist Janel Leppin and guitarist Anthony Pirog. Together, they've studied and performed everything from surf rock to jazz, modern classical, and Hindustani ragas, and those assorted influences mesh into one beautiful, indecipherable whole on Where is Home, their second full-length album.

Though it's one of the most engaging songs on the album, "Big Sur" opens as an unintentional red herring. It's a jazzy, Indian-influenced number — a Mahavishnu Orchestra-esque piece that brims with virtuosity and grooves, with licks courtesy of electric sitar and 12-string guitar.

But for nearly the rest of its duration, Where is Home is much more delicate, somber, and easygoing. A lack of percussion is a distinct factor in that direction, but between its elongated melodies and slowly building structures, Where is Home is hypnotic and, at times, almost ambient.

And though cello and guitar are the album's primary drivers, it also benefits from a wealth of textures. "A Viennesian Life" is one of the most lush songs on the album, weaving together a gentle motif with a quilt of timbres: harpsichord, lap-steel guitar, lap harp, mandolin, Mellotron, and more. Elsewhere, baritone guitar gives a tiny Twin Peaks touch, and loops are utilized on nearly every track.

If you're drawn in by "Big Sur," Where is Home might not be what you expect — but it should exceed your expectations nonetheless.

- Scott Morrow

Honorable Mentions:

Aziz Ansari: Dangerously Delicious (Comedy Central)

Billy Martin & Wil Blades: Shimmy (The Royal Potato Family)

Diablo Swing Orchestra: Pandora’s Piñata (Sensory)

Dreamers: s/t (Germ)

Hilary Hahn & Hauschka: Silfra (Deutsche Grammophon)

Holobody: Riverhood (Mush)

Mount Eerie: Clear Moon

Royal Thunder: CVI (Relapse)

Soulsavers: The Light the Dead See (Mute)

V/A: Moonrise Kingdom OST (ABKCO)

John Zorn: Templars: In Sacred Blood (Tzadik)