This Week’s Best Albums: May 8, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: May 8, 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.

Damon Albarn: Dr. Dee (Virgin)

"The Marvelous Dream"

Brit-rock fans may have been more excited to learn that a Damon Albarn-fronted Blur has become an active prospect again, but fans of music in general should be more thrilled to know that he's been up to a lot more than that. Albarn, as a solo artist and a collaborative one at that, has stirred up some amazing music by delving into Malian blues, scoring the Chinese opera Monkey: Journey to the West, and continuing his hip-hop cartoon group Gorillaz. Now he's created the soundtrack to an opera based on the life of 16th Century astrologer/mystic John Dee — and it's beautifully accessible.

On the album, Albarn embraces Elizabethan instruments and compositions, but his influences are myriad. "Watching the Fire that Waltzed Away" feels like a Philip Glass composition performed by The Incredible String Band, and elsewhere, Dr. Dee features African instruments alongside English choral music and wider sounds of the Renaissance.

The tunes that try the pop fan's patience are, as you could guess, the more operatic ones, but as they're obviously of a piece and contribute to our partial immersion in another era, they're quite a trip — and a reminder that seen another way, this entire enterprise may be irksome to old-school opera-goers.

- Text by John Dugan. Read the full review here.

Off!: s/t (Vice)

"Wiped Out"

Sixteen tracks, sixteen minutes, and zero apologies — the first full-length album from Off! is exactly as one would expect. Led by Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris and Burning Brides guitarist Dimitri Coats, the side-project-turned-top-priority is an exercise in punk aesthetics, from the über-short running times to the incensed attitude.

If you're familiar with the previous Off! EPs or Morris' vocal style, you'll find little different here. But despite the material's tendency to blend together, no individual track overstays its welcome, as each is an ample dose of punk ferocity.

Musically, nearly every song maxes out at four or five power chords, but there are brief moments of variety, whether the noisy, blistering solo (all 10 seconds of it) on "Wiped Out," a few dissonant, ringing chords in "Jet Black Girls," or the non-power-chord riffs of "Vaporized." Even "King Kong Brigade" — the album's longest track at 1:36 — includes an intro and outro.

Morris' vocals are an acquired taste, and his lyrics at times are a shortcoming. But his screams still hold up, and they're an important part of Off!'s no-bullshit songwriting.

- Scott Morrow

Sleep: Dopesmoker (Southern Lord)

"Dopesmoker" (excerpt)

Since its adulterated release and subsequent reissue in the late '90s and early 2000s, Sleep’s Dopesmoker (also released as Jerusalem) has stood as a monolith of metal. With its weighty, repetitive, hour-long opus, the stoner/doom-metal trio played a pivotal role in the evolution of metal by pushing conventions, well, higher. But under the weight of contractual issues pertaining to its epically lethargic piece, the band broke up before seeing a complete version of Dopesmoker available to the public.

Though Tee Pee Records released a nearly complete 63-minute version of the track in 2003, this reissue from Southern Lord (including a live recording of "Holy Mountain") is the first to truly reflect Sleep's submitted song. But besides this version being remastered and totally uncut, the material is again worthy of attention because it seems entirely bereft of time and space. The heaviness and style of the song, owing to the droning, the foggy vocals, the incredibly down-tuned guitar and bass, and the overall monotony, suggests that it could have been recorded last week or in the early 1970s.

Guitarist Matt Pike and bassist Al Cisneros have gone onto other greatness — the stoner-metal trio High on Fire and the hypnotic, Eastern-inflected duo Om, respectively. But in many ways, they'll never outlive the Sleep legacy, a testament that is acknowledged by the trio's reunion shows and performances in conjunction with this reissue.

- Danielle Turney

Honorable Mentions:

Akudama: s/t EP

Cattle Decapitation: Monolith of Inhumanity (Metal Blade)

Chicha Libre: Canibalismo (Barbes)

The Dead Kenny Gs: Gorelick EP

Flats: Better Living (One Little Indian)

Heavy Blanket: s/t (Outer Battery)

Horseback: Half Blood (Relapse)

Huntress: Spell Eater (Napalm)

Idyl: Elements of the Field

I Self Devine: The Sound of Low Class Amerika (Rhymesayers)

Fela Kuti: Live in Detroit, 1986 (Knitting Factory)

Last Step: Sleep (Planet Mu / Timesig)

Turing Machine: What is the Meaning of What (Temporary Residence)