Following its successful 2010 reunion, iconic Seattle quartet Soundgarden has created another work of diversity and dimensionality on King Animal, its first album in more than 16 years.
Immediately, motorboat-engine guitars propel “Been Away Too Long,” an up-tempo riff-rocker with an anthemic, fist-pumping chorus. Other familiar Soundgarden hallmarks recur throughout, but most notably, the band delivers curveballs that would have been unthinkable in the past.
“Black Saturday” advances in a spider-like sidestep, eventually settling on something akin to jazz as the chorus is overtaken by dissonant horns. “Rowing” combines space-rock dirge with the traditional “field holler” / work-song vocal style originally developed by African-American slave laborers on plantations and fishing boats.
Whatever age may have detracted from the band’s ferocity is offset by creative guile and a shift towards lowered guard. And no matter how well these new directions work for you, it’s hard not to see them as compelling for their audacity alone.
- Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
Now onto its second album with new bassist Sergio Vega — who has subbed for Chi Cheng following his very serious car accident in 2008 — alt-metal quartet Deftones is back with its usual blend of swagger, aggression, and emotion.
Koi No Yokan, a Japanese phrase that describes inevitable love, tries to capture a mood with its title alone. And, to the best of its abilities, it does so with deep guitar grooves and a renewed atmospheric interplay. The low-register tones again come courtesy of Stephen Carpenter’s eight-string guitar, and he balances the heft with mid-range melodies and reverberating effects.
Naturally, vocalist Chino Moreno plays a large part in the sound — which remains noisy and abrasive at times — with his breathy delivery and occasional agonized screams. And with slinky riffs, dreamy keyboards, and bellowing tonality, Koi No Yokan is an effective if unconventional reflection on its name.
- Scott Morrow
"Keep It Together"
In 2010, Nine Inch Nails leader Trent Reznor launched a new project, How to Destroy Angels, with wife Mariqueen Maandig (previously of West Indian Girl) and collaborator Atticus Ross (who is co-credited on The Social Network and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo soundtracks). The group’s self-titled EP from the same year contained familiar Reznor melodies and “post-industrial” elements, but there was an expanded palette of metallic and organic timbres, which paired well with the synthetic swirls and swells as well as Maandig’s breathy vocals.
On An Omen, Maandig’s vocals have a wider range and do a better job of leading the tracks, and there’s stronger interplay between her and Reznor, notably on lead single “Keep It Together.” And like NIN's The Fragile, a good chunk of An Omen is softer — more atmospheric — but with the layers and buildups that we’ve come to know and love from Reznor.
A good chunk of credit must go to Ross, who had a hand in producing or programming all of the post-Fragile NIN albums, and in total, An Omen is very encouraging. Hopefully, it will live up to its name for the band’s full LP in the spring.
- Scott Morrow
Do androids dream of amazing music? If so, they might hear South Bronx duo Wires Under Tension, whose new album by violinist/multi-instrumentalist Christopher Tignor and drummer Theo Metz derives inspiration from Blade Runner and its Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
With help from a few friends, including Jared Bell of Lymbyc Systym, the two combine live performance with electronic manipulation, previously sounding like a progressive Dirty Three with aggressive hip-hop beats. Replicant’s opener best channels Blade Runner’s rapid-fire synth programming, here topped with Tignor’s staccato violin accents, and elsewhere the influence is marked by swaths of electronics and custom software instruments. Paired with organically performed loops, metallic tones, and those huge beats, the music on Replicant is some of the best you haven't heard about in 2012.
- Scott Morrow
Sole: A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing ()
As a central figure in the Occupy Denver movement, activist MC Sole has put his money where his mouth is, taking to the streets to demand the change that he has espoused. But he's not nearly done espousing.
A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing is, in his words, a "culmination and logical progression." With his extra-talented Skyrider Band on hiatus, Sole (a.k.a. Tim Holland) now offers his first official solo album since 2005, and it's a new high point both lyrically and musically. His last two albums with Skyrider reflected a greater songwriting sensibility, and ARCOEE adds to it, continuing the electronically based, hook-laden approach that appeared on last year's Hello, Cruel World.
Holland's anti-capitalist non-rhymes have never felt so buoyant, propelled by arpeggiated synth melodies and bounding bass lines from the likes of Busdriver, Alias, Factor, Open Mike Eagle, Ryan Hemsworth, and more (including another Skyrider appearance). Songs for the revolution have seldom been so danceable, fun, and — dare we say it — pretty.
- Scott Morrow
"The Benefits of Failure"
When we last heard from Gifts from Enola, the post-hardcore quartet had given its adventurous post-rock blend a heaping dose of power. The guitar effects, clean singing, and shoe-gaze influences were suddenly funneled through lower tunings, weightier drums, and greater focus.
A Healthy Fear, the band’s latest, is a better mix of Enolas old and new. Sampling from different points on the “post-” spectrum, the album crosses heavily reverberated guitar distortions with noodling melodies, spacey breakdowns, and all-out riff attacks — sometimes in the same song. Vocals range from full-throated to light and wispy — there’s plenty of “post-indie rock,” if you will — and the crosspollination is reflective of the band’s continued maturation.
- Scott Morrow
Bush Tetras: Happy (ROIR)
Cody Chesnutt: Landing on a Hundred (Vibration Vineyard)
Darkstar: Timeaway (Warp)
Devotchka: Live with the Colorado Symphony (Cicero Recordings)
Brian Eno: Lux (Warp)
Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch: The Mystery of Heaven (Sacred Bones)
Myka 9 & Factor: Sovereign Soul (Fake Four)
V/A: The Comedy soundtrack (Jagjaguwar)