This Week’s Best Albums: May 29, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: May 29, 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.

Sigur Rós: Valtari (XL)

"Ekki Múkk"

The future of Icelandic “post-rock” act Sigur Rós has been uncertain in recent years. Front-man Jónsi launched a solo career with debut album Go while the band scrapped an entire album from 2009. An “indefinite hiatus” followed. But here it is, alive and kicking, with a sixth studio album. Though multi-instrumentalist and string arranger Kjartan Sveinsson will be replaced on a forthcoming tour, the band hasn’t called it quits. That’s the good news for lovers of this one-of-a-kind band’s unusual orchestrated music.

But those expecting a follow-up to the light-hearted 2008 album Með Suð í Eyrum við Spilum Endalaust, the band’s most accessible record, will be disappointed. Valtari is Sigur Rós at its most ethereal. Functioning like a clearinghouse for unfinished tunes from the Takk era and the scrapped album (and brought about by the recording of “Varúð” for a film score), the new record eschews hard edges and familiar song structures. This more meditative Sigur Rós requires more patience. If it represents an alternative road not taken for Sigur Rós, it is a more rarified one.

Classic Sigur Rós (with some electronic touches) is present with Jónsi’s otherworldly falsetto, bowed guitar, and swelling strings building dramatically on the likes of “Ekki Múkk,” which also incorporates some squeaking electronic textures. But there is some variation: “Dauðalogn,” with its organ and choral sonics, is spiritual — you can visualize a congregation nodding along.

“Rembihnútur” is folksier. The band is at its best when the songs seem to move skyward, find a new perspective, and pan across a rugged landscape. “Ég Anda” goes from echoing chorus to a hopeful guitar line and an upbeat peak before collapsing back into humming tones. Album centerpiece “Varud” climbs, peaks about four minutes in with thumping drums and a chorus of voices, and then falls in its own way too.

At its low points, Valtari threatens to gel into a new-agey wash-out. The glitchy, electronic title track at times resembles wind chimes; the slowly unfolding “Fjögur Píanó” is plunked on pianos before dissolving slowly into clouds of tone.

Valtari might mean “steamroller,” but it is a hook-less, subtle album of modest dynamics — one that won’t convert many new fans. It might have been the record that Sigur Rós needed to make, but even faithful fans likely will find it challenging and without easy access points.

- John Dugan

Doseone: G is for Deep (Anticon)


If you’re looking for a crash course in left-of-the-dial avant-garde hip hop, there are few better places to start than the incredibly varied discography of Adam Drucker — better known as Doseone. As co-founder of the indie-hip-hop Anticon label and a member of Themselves, 13 & God, and Subtle, Drucker holds an indisputable prominence.

On G is for Deephis first true solo release in five years — Doseone returns with a record that reaches in new directions while retaining all the unique characteristics that make his music unmistakable.

Drucker’s versatile voice, of course, is immediately recognizable, ranging from the rapid-fire rhymes that characterized his earliest work to the more melodic bent of his recent offerings with Subtle and 13 & God. He puts the entirety of his vocal range on display throughout G is for Deep, layering voices on top of one another to create a veritable choir. His permanently nasal drawl is complemented by a selection of cooing falsetto flourishes and low monotone chants, which are distributed liberally across the mix.

Stylistically, the album finds Drucker indulging in whatever strikes his fancy, whether it’s the stuttering pop of “Dancing X” or the electro balladry of “Therapist This.” Tracks are permeated with crackling, bass-heavy beats as well as bubbling synth lines, bestowing even the record’s most downbeat moments with an effervescent quality. Not even the bleakly titled “Arm in Armageddon” gets a chance to wallow, sporting an anthemic chorus and twisting melodies that make it more of a sing-along than a dirge.

- Zach Long

Marissa Nadler: The Sister (Box of Cedar)

"The Wrecking Ball Company"

Still on the heels of her acclaimed 2011 self-titled release, Bostonian singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler is back again with The Sister, another hearty helping of dream-pop goodness.

Followers of her career will find all the familiar elements: Nadler's breathy and reverberated delivery, delicately plucked acoustic melodies, ascendent harmonies, and dispersed doses of piano, 12-string guitar, and atmospherics. It may not branch out from past efforts, but as a companion to last year's album, it's another of Nadler's bravest releases, made possible by a Kickstarter campaign and by selling handcrafted packages on Etsy.

"Apostle," the album's second single, is a beautiful piece that focuses mostly on a repeated guitar line, an enchanting chorus, and plenty of vocal overdubs. Though bass and cymbals make distant appearances, it's a straightforward gem. And more than anything, The Sister proves that Nadler is effective whether going bare bones or all dolled up.

- Scott Morrow

Preteen Zenith: Rubble Guts and BB Eye (Good Records Recordings)

"Damage Control" f. Erykah Badu

Preteen Zenith is the most recent brainchild of Tim DeLaughter, front-man for Tripping Daisy and The Polyphonic Spree, and Phil Karnats, currently of The Secret Machines, along with a collection of other Polyphonic contributors. Though its members have histories together, the new band feels original — not a mere continuation of old habits.

Rubble Guts and BB Eye, the group's first full-length, is cinematic indie rock in its purest, catchiest form, with each song building DeLaughter’s sometimes willowy, sometimes surprisingly thunderous vocals upon pop rhythms and chorus lines. “Breathe” and “Life” begin the album feeling gloomy and a bit unpolished, but they evolve when band members join to create high-energy anthems of optimism. These qualities, though not as relentlessly sunny as Polyphonic, make the album an easy connection for listeners, and tracks such as “Damage Control” (featuring guest vocals by Erykah Badu) keep things fresh and interesting.

- Danielle Turney

Honorable Mentions:

2:54: s/t (Fat Possum)

Cadence Weapon: Hope in Dirt City (Upper Class)

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros: Here (Vagrant)

King Tuff: s/t (Sub Pop)

David Ramos: Sento la Tua Mancanza (Fake Four)

The Walkmen: Heaven (Fat Possum)