This Week’s Best Albums: November 8, 2011

This Week's Best Albums: November 8, 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.

Animals as Leaders: WeightlessAnimals as Leaders: Weightless (Prosthetic)

Animals as Leaders: “Odessa”

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Begun as a solo project that highlighted guitarist Tosin Abasi’s unmistakable shredding, Animals as Leaders released its debut album in 2009, emitting progressive-metal instrumentals with tasteful ambient, electronic, and jazz undertones. Now a trio, Animals as Leaders has returned with Weightless, its first recording as an official band.

The album features more hyper-prolific finger-tapping on eight-string guitars, the instrument of choice for Abasi’s meticulously crafted material. Electronica intros and bridges play a large role, but Weightless — ironically — often is very, very heavy, more so than its predecessor, trudging into sludge territory for spells. Despite the insane technicality, there’s always an emphasis on melody and head-banging rhythms, but the music — endorsed by shred virtuoso Steve Vai — is just as suitable for those with short attention spans.

– Text by Scott Morrow & Jenn Beening.

David Lynch: Crazy Clown TimeDavid Lynch: Crazy Clown Time (Sunday Best / PIAS)

David Lynch: “Crazy Clown Time”

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Filmmaker David Lynch, best known for surrealist works such as Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet, may forever be considered an artist first and a musician second. And true to these labels, his new musical effort, Crazy Clown Time, is heavy on the art and light on the music. Maybe this draws the lines too sharply, but it’s fair to say that what Lynch has created here is nearly all atmosphere. It’s still a pop album, but it’s a pop album that a filmmaker like Lynch would make.

With echoing guitars lifted by highly defined cymbal splashes that enliven water-logged beats, Crazy Clown Time could score a washed-out Italian western, Nick Cave’s deviant Death of Bunny Munro, or, not surprisingly, a David Lynch film. The strangest thing about the album is that despite the great ’80s bass riff of “Stone’s Gone Up” or the elliptical synths of the somewhat banal “Good Day Today,”­ Lynch never completely loses the atmosphere.

More than writing songs, what Lynch is really doing is creating characters. These characters then are the subjects of dark narratives, all of which feature a similar texture: perpetual dampness, heavy light, and the disembodied chill of film noir.

Accessibility has always been Lynch’s worst enemy, but even though some listeners will abandon the record after the first track, “Pinky’s Dream” — a charged nightmare featuring an incredible performance by Karen O — there are several entry points for pop listeners. And longtime fans will love it all, the electro-pop confessionals and the more cinematic vignettes.

– Text by Timothy S. Aames.

Trentemøller: Reworked/RemixedTrentemøller: Reworked/Remixed (In My Room / HFN Music)

Efterklang: “Raincoats” (Trentemøller remix)

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Danish production guru Anders Trentemøller built his name in the mid-2000s as a dance-floor DJ with extensive remixes and studio credits. In 2010, however, he went “live” and released a sophomore album of chilling organic orchestrations, complemented by electronics but driven by tremolo-swollen guitar riffs.

With Reworked/Remixed, a new double-album release, listeners can hear both of these sides of Trentemøller. These 22 tracks include his remixes of other established artists (UNKLE, Depeche Mode, Franz Ferdinand, Mew, Efterklang), remixes of Trentemøller material by others, and self-remixes and instrumental outtakes. By its nature, it’s a little more oriented for the dance crowd, but Reworked/Remixed remains a compelling cross-section — and introduction to — Trentemøller’s catalog.

– Text by Scott Morrow.

And So I Watch You from Afar: GangsAnd So I Watch You from Afar: Gangs (Sargent House / Richter Collective)

And So I Watch You from Afar: “Beautiful Universe Master Champion”

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In March, the peerless Sargent House label gave American listeners a much-needed introduction to Adebisi Shank, an Irish instrumental trio that merges raging guitar harmonies with spasmodic electronics. Now Sargent House is at it again with Richter Collective, the DIY Irish label that counts Adebisi drummer Mick Roe as a co-founder, to provide American distribution for the sophomore release of And So I Watch You from Afar, a Belfast-based trio of mathy post-rockers from Northern Ireland.

Based on the other side of the Emerald Isle, And So I Watch You from Afar has a similar MO to Adebisi and sonic brethren such as Don Caballero, The Advantage, and Maps & Atlases. And like Don Cab, the band excels with a heavier rhythmic quality thanks to single-octave riffs, deep bass grooves, and mid-tempo breakdowns. At times, it seethes with a punk ferocity, but at others, it’s content to charm listeners with clean-channel harmonies and wordless choruses (such as on the buoyant and glistening “7 Billion People All Alive at Once”).

Over the course of its 44 minutes, Gangs delivers an unrelenting and celebratory riff fest. There’s a dash of Fang Island here, a touch of Mogwai there, and a smidge of whatever math- or post-rock group fits any given passage. But when it’s all said and done, ASIWYFA just sounds like itself — a band having a grand ol’ time.

– Text by Scott Morrow.

Ralfe Band: Bunny and the Bull soundtrackRalfe Band: Bunny and the Bull soundtrack (Warp Films / Ghost Ship)

Ralfe Band: “Bunny and the Bull Title Theme”

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The world got its first taste of Ralfe Band‘s playful folk in 2004 thanks to BBC Radio1’s late and great DJ John Peel. Since that introduction, songwriter Oliver Ralfe, drummer Andrew Mitchell, and crew went on to release a pair of quirky singer-songwriter albums, but their soundtrack to the 2009 British comedy Bunny and the Bull portrayed a different side of the group. Ralfe, musically inspired by scores like Ennio Morricone‘s Once Upon a Time in the West, Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo, and Herbie Hancock‘s jazzy Blow-Up, embraced the opportunity to compose his own original soundtrack, and the result was an eclectic, flavorful set of mostly instrumental accompaniment.

Produced by Warp Films, Bunny and the Bull joins Stephen, a man disgruntled by his humdrum life, in his recollection of a humorously catastrophic odyssey through Europe with his lunatic friend Bunny. The instrumental diversity and tempo fluctuations on the score, occasionally appearing within a single track, perfectly suit the film’s road-movie style. Whether or not you imagine the music in conjunction with the film, the score’s ditties vividly illustrate scenes of freewheeling, nomadic travel throughout Eastern Europe. Pianos, cowbells, accordions, triangles, flamenco guitars, ukuleles, and violas establish the whimsical nature of the music and bring the listener to atmospheres of French cabarets, Victorian England, Balkan folk dances, and bull-fighting Spain.

– Text by Lauren Zens.

Owen: Ghost TownOwen: Ghost Town (Polyvinyl)

Owen: “No Place Like Home”

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Mike Kinsella has spent the better part of two decades playing in a bevy of Illinois-based indie-rock bands. Cap’n Jazz, Joan of Arc, Owls, American Football — each has shown a different side of Kinsella’s abilities. But Owen, his now decade-running solo project, has been the most multifaceted, and Ghost Town is more proof.

The album, as usual, is rooted in Kinsella’s delicate vocals and multi-instrumental prowess, but the timbres are as assorted as ever. Overdubbed acoustic and electric guitars, strings, piano, marimba, and glockenspiel complement the crux of each song, resulting in another heavily layered and highly melodic batch of tunes. Though Ghost Town won’t catch you off guard, its unassuming depth might surprise you.

– Text by Scott Morrow.

Slugabed: Sun Too Bright Turn it Off EP (Ninja Tune)

Slugabed: “Sun Too Bright Turn it Off”

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Like many other UK cities, including Brighton and Bristol, London is on the forefront of current styles and approaches to beat-making. It’s also the residence of DJ and producer Slugabed, whose new EP, Sun Too Bright Turn it Off, sounds like the East London and Los Angeles beat scenes coming into one.

This new release marks back-to-back EPs for Slugabed, a.k.a. Greg Feldwick, as he makes a strong and steady buildup to his debut album for Ninja Tune. Parallel to the Moonbeam Rider EP, Sun Too Bright Turn it Off builds a spacey, multi-dimensional soundscape filled with chopped-and-screwed break beats, wobbly bass drops, and wild 8-bit synths.

But the two releases are unquestionably different in terms of spacing and pacing. Sun Too Bright is a substantially more down-tempo affair, which in fact better establishes Feldwick’s ability as a composer. Though his productions inherently lean toward dubstep and bass spatterings, Feldwick makes the transcontinental connection by unleashing Brainfeeder-textured melodies that thrust his music into a futuristic universe where genres are connected in unexpected ways.

– Text by Michael Nolledo. Read the full review here.

Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason: SolarisBen Frost & Daníel Bjarnason: Sólaris (Bedroom Community)

Ben Frost & Daníel Bjarnason: “Reyja”

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Last year, Mat Schulz, who started Poland’s Unsound Festival, asked composers Ben Frost and Daníel Bjarnason — each residents of Reykjavík, Iceland — to rework Andre Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Sólaris. For both Frost and Bjarnason, Music for Sólaris is a complete departure. Though Frost’s music is often labeled everything from dark industrial to classical minimalism, Bjarnason’s compositions are wildly extravagant yet controlled; together, it’s an inspired collaboration. Under their guidance, Sólaris achieves a delicate balance of the two personalities.

The soundtrack begins with “We Don’t Need Other Worlds, We Need Mirrors,” a subtle, almost piercing string arrangement that eases into the album’s steadily mounting tension. That tension reaches its summit in the latter half of the third track, “Simulacra II,” when restraint is dismissed for something more vivid and emotional.

As the soundtrack’s intensity waxes and wanes throughout, there also develops a clearer distinction between the two composers. In “Saccades,” one of the album’s closing tracks, Frost’s disturbing guitar-thumping creates an eerie discord against Bjarnason’s controlled piano, played one note at a time.

What began as an improvisation played to Sólaris resulted is something far from the original score. Nevertheless, it skillfully captures the haunting and beautifully fragmented quality of the film.

– Text by Meaghann Korbel.

Archaios: The DistantArchaios: The Distant (Dark Canvas)

Archaios: “The Distant”

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Dominican melodic-death-metal band Archaios has been at it since the mid-’90s, cranking out crushing, wailing riffs and blast beats. But due to the nation’s lack of wealth, support, and proper metal production — not to mention its weighty presence of right-wing media — Archaios has only now been able to release The Distant, its second full-length album.

The album’s release, however, is an accomplishment in itself, made even more impressive by the fact that it’s the first Dominican metal album to be internationally released by a North American label. But Archaios’ selection here is more than as mere novelty; its music, though drawing parallels to plenty of extreme-metal outfits, weaves together trademarks of black, prog, death, and electro metal to make one head-crushing blend.

Somehow, the tiny island nation with an equally miniature metal scene has produced a metal band that can hang with the best of them. With proper distribution and promotion, Archaios just might bring the metal spotlight to the Dominican Republic.

– Text by Kyle Gilkeson and Scott Morrow.

Honorable Mentions

200 Years: s/t (Drag City)

Brian Eno & (the words of) Rick Holland: Panic of Looking (Warp)

Chris Connelly: Artificial Madness (Relapse)

Matthew Friedberger: Death-in-Life LP (Thrill Jockey)

Hubble: Hubble Drums (Northern Spy)

Lateef the Truthspeaker: Firewire (Quannum)

Cass McCombs: Humor Risk (Domino)

Marissa Nadler: Covers Volume II (Box of Cedar)

Oneohtrix Point Never: Replica (Software / Mexican Summer)

Polinski: Labyrinths (Monotreme)

The Skull Defekts f. Daniel Higgs and Zomes: 2013-3012 (Thrill Jockey)

Zs: 33 2×7” (Northern Spy)

[Chromatic, our 400-page exploration of musicians and color, is out now. Order here!]