This Week’s Best Albums: November 15, 2011

This Week's Best Albums: November 15, 2011

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: InniSigur Rós: Inní double live album and film (XL Recordings)

Sigur Rós: “Festival”

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Sigur Rós is a top Icelandic export, just behind Björk and haddock. For 15 years, the ambient post-rock quartet has slowly collected millions of fans, and today those fans can acquire the latest addition to the band’s repertoire. Inní is a three-disc recording of a 2008 performance at Alexandra Palace in London. Available in all the formats we’ve come to expect, Inní comes digitally, in CD/DVD format, on three clear vinyl LPs, or in a “deluxe” edition that offers artifacts from the show, a short film, photographs, and other swag.

Unique to this release is the focus on the band’s live performance. Sigur Rós’ music, more than some, has been used as a means, whether for meditation or for marketing. But here we’re left to ponder what we’ve come to associate, through the band’s Heima documentary, with Iceland’s lunar landscapes, wrecked infrastructure, and sweater-clad villagers; through the Ba Ba Ti Ki Di Do EP, with the surreal contours of the human form; or through the Sigur Rós-laden Abre los Ojos remake, with the personal pulp of Cameron Crowe. With Inní, everything is stripped away. We’re reminded that these are songs, immaculately arranged and hammered out on a stage in London by four festooned gentlemen.

Director Vincent Morisset’s film style is in stark contrast to Heima. The black-and-white video has the grain of 1960s documentaries, and the jerky dance of the handhelds is hypnotic. It seems to place the band in the past and up on a pedestal. Amid past rumors of the group’s cessation, Inní seems definitive in a very final sense. But with the news of a new “introverted” LP planned for spring of 2012, it is perhaps simply the close of the band’s sprawling first few chapters.

– Text by Timothy S. Aames.

Coliseum: Parasites EPColiseum: Parasites EP (Temporary Residence)

Coliseum: “Waiting (Too Late)”

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With its 2010 album, House With a Curse, hardcore-punk trio Coliseum moved from Relapse to Temporary Residence and slightly — only slightly, mind you — loosened its grip on listeners’ throats. Its sound remained dirty, gruff, and gnarled, but a shift toward moderate tempos (plus a few post-hardcore accoutrements) signaled a more deliberate (if not kinder or gentler) Coliseum.

Now guitarist / vocalist / visual artist Ryan Patterson and crew return with Parasites, an eight-song addendum to House With a Curse. Primarily recorded during the same sessions, Parasites is another itsy-bitsy step toward the “post-” end of the hardcore/punk spectrum. The songs remain fundamentally Coliseum, but they’re subtly accented — whether from a barely audible female harmony on “The Fiery Eye” or a glistening, metallic guitar distortion on “Ghost of God.”

Of course, there’s still tracks like “The Big Baby,” which is 1:43 of overdriven punk fury that draws shades of Amphetamine Reptile-era Helmet. And even though that song is almost secretly supplemented with sleigh bells and timpani by Burning Airlines front-man and producer extraordinaire J. Robbins, don’t be fooled: Coliseum still goes for the jugular.

– Text by Scott Morrow.

Steve Hauschildt: Tragedy & GeometrySteve Hauschildt: Tragedy & Geometry (Kranky)

Steve Hauschildt: “Batteries May Drain”

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While working on their electronic project Emeralds over the past few years, Steve Hauschildt, John Elliott, and Mark McGuire have taken their talents solo and issued a series of limited-edition releases, which now qualify as rarities. Hauschildt, with the smallest catalog of the Cleveland trio, now expands his reach with Tragedy & Geometry, a widely available release that introduces a pensive, conceptual, and driven musician.

Possibly the most important component about Tragedy & Geometry is its reflective quality, subtly noted by its title, which refers to the mythological Muses of Tragedy (Melpomene) and of Geometry (Polyhymnia). These 14 tracks incorporate the German Kosmische and ’80s synths that are characteristic of Emeralds, but Hauschildt individualizes the album with an underlying theme based on the accessibility of technology and its effect on interpersonal relations.

Although the tracks are not necessarily short in length, each one seems to be a piece of a larger metaphysical puzzle. Perhaps it’s the swells of cosmic synths, the scintillating arpeggios, or the warbling loops that create a feeling of mystery and contemplation. Fuzzy galactic effects and driving rhythms exceed ambient boundaries, placing Tragedy & Geometry on a different electronic scale. Though the similar sounds on each track could be mistaken for monotony, an astute listener can find more in the webs of sounds and textures.

– Text by Lauren Zens.

Tycho: DiveTycho: Dive (Ghostly International)

Tycho: “Hours”

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Scott Hansen has long been immersed in the visual-art world, but it wasn’t until his 20s that he embraced a new artistic outlet, by way of a laptop, guitar, and some drum machines. While Hansen existed comfortably as a designer known as ISO50, he gradually familiarized himself with this other art form over the course of a decade. With that, Hansen’s musical project Tycho saw its first full-length release, Past is Prologue, in 2004, and now its second with Dive.

It’s clear from Hansen’s music that his two artistic mediums – both minimalist and atmospheric – parallel one another. From the cover artwork to the rolling landscapes of instrumental electronica on Dive, we can see how Tycho and ISO50 intersect after decades of skill refining. Hansen’s previously used nostalgia theme comes full circle with the recurring drum machine beats, bass rhythms, and melodic guitars.

Song titles like “Daydream” and “Adrift” accurately bespeak their ambient musical content; lightened by keyboards and guitar strings, these dreamy tracks could aptly serve as a score for the album cover’s sunrise/sunset scene. Dive’s title track, eight minutes of billowing reverb that lays a consistent backdrop for disco beats and vocal samples, sets the stage for the other side of the tempo spectrum. Here, melancholia, brought on by hazy downtempo synths, and the utopia of sunny melodies find a happy medium.

– Text by Lauren Zens.

Honorable Mentions

Blackout Beach: Fuck Death (Dead Oceans)

Los Campesinos!: Hello Sadness (Arts & Crafts)

The Dø: Both Ways Open Jaws (Six Degrees)

Esoteric: Paragon of Dissoance (Season of Mist)

Goldmund: All Will Prosper (Western Vinyl)

Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Departure of Reason (Thirsty Ear)

Odonis Odonis: Hollandaze (FatCat)

Pterodactyl: Spills Out (Jagjaguwar)

Nathan Salsburg: Affirmed (No Quarter)