This Week’s Best Albums: November 22, 2011

This Week's Best Albums: November 22, 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.

Doomtree: No KingsDoomtree: No Kings (Doomtree)

Doomtree: “The Grand Experiment”

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Moving from a high-school clique to a crew and record label was a natural transition for the Minneapolis-based Doomtree collective. Over just a few years, the unlikely “family” unit went from trading beats at Hopkins High to producing albums, organizing tours, and throwing the annual Doomtree Blowout, all with a small but mighty lineup.

The label’s foundation was built on the wings of impassioned, down-to-earth MCs P.O.S and Sims, hybrid rapper/songstress Dessa, multifaceted instrumentalist Paper Tiger, and nostalgic storyteller Cecil Otter, but the seven-member collective soon demonstrated its cohesiveness as a group. No Kings is Doomtree’s third studio album, and though it maintains a playful demeanor, it’s the most diverse and mature of the three.

From track to track, the different flavors and personalities of each member come through in their own ways. “Bolt Cutter,” the album’s second single, features four MCs (including both rhymes and vocal melodies by Dessa) and a spate of production values, shifting from a minimalist tom beat and bass line to electro-hop synths to piano and acoustic-guitar melodies — before it all layers together and adds a deep electronic groove. But no matter its style, the production is on point.

No Kings also celebrates the start of Doomtree’s second decade together. More importantly, it maintains the balance that makes such a large collaboration work, both as a group and as a business.

– Text by Portia Medina and Scott Morrow.

Calexico: Selections from Road Atlas 1998-2011Calexico: Road Atlas 1998–2011 limited-edition vinyl box set and Selections from Road Atlas 1998–2011 CD (Quarterstick)

Calexico: “Griptape”

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In their 15 years as a band, Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino have built their music around being on the road. It’s as evident in their thematic lyrics as it is in their sound — which, though it’s been described as Southwestern or “desert noir,” really can’t be pinned to one region. The two have drawn musical influences from around the globe because that’s exactly where they’ve been.

With Road Atlas, Calexico compiles eight of its off-the-map recordings from the past 13 years, including live sets and self-released tour albums. Selections from Road Atlas is its mini-edition, combining those live cuts, exclusively available tracks, and film-score vignettes.

Latin American influences exist throughout, especially in the musical snippets from the documentary Circo and several other tunes with Mariachi-tinged guitars. But there’s also plenty of the band’s balladry (“Griptape”) to go with lap-steel guitar swells (“All the Pretty Horses”), Italian Western motifs (“Glowing Heart of the World”), and jazzy post-rock (“Cachaça”).

In a sense, the band has mapped out the detours in its history, taking listeners to places where few have been.

– Text by Meaghann Korbel and Lauren Zens.

Dimlite: Grimm RealityDimlite: Grimm Reality (Now-Again / Stones Throw)

Dimlite: “New Better Pain”

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Despite drawing some similarities to outside-the-box producers such as Flying Lotus, Daedelus, and Hudson Mohawke, Dimlite falls into an altogether different category of electronic producer. The man behind the beats, melodies, and overall strangeness is Swiss musician Dimitri Grimm, also known as Misel Quitno and one half of The Slapped Eyeballers, who has made a habit of producing indescribable (and sample-free) blends of hip hop, kraut rock, funk, and electronic pastiche.

Grimm Reality, Grimm’s third full-length as Dimlite, combines some of the trademarks of his alter-egos, fusing some of the minimalist loops and worldly timbres to bass and beats. Whirring electronics, simple bass licks, and sputtering beats contrast with Soul Train funk and grooves, which then are paired with spiraling lasers or wonky rhythms behind psychedelic reverb. Though it sounds like a mess, most songs have a harmonious (if confusing) appeal.

Vocals emerge intermittently on nearly every track in the form of bizarre utterances, and in most instances, these cuts of laughter and speaking are distorted in pitch or tempo. Although the spacey electronics exist throughout the album’s entirety, traditional sounds appear on and off, including a piano, viola, and heavier use of bass guitar. What comes next from Mr. Grimm is anybody’s guess.

– Text by Lauren Zens.

Honorable Mentions

Beaten by Them: People Start Listening EP

Boris: New Album (Sargent House)

Kate Bush: 50 Words for Snow (Anti-)

Coalesce: Give Them Rope 2xCD reissue (Relapse / No Sleep)

Chris Cornell: Songbook (Universal)

Pyramids / Horseback: A Throne Without a King (Hydra Head)