This Week’s Best Albums: October 25, 2011

This Week's Best Albums: October 25, 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.

Tom Waits: Bad as MeTom Waits: Bad as Me (Anti-)

Tom Waits: “Bad as Me”

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Few musicians are as cloaked in mythology as Tom Waits. Yet his music is both comforting and jarring, pushing boundaries while always honoring the legacy of American songwriting. Bad As Me, Waits’ first studio album in seven years, is all of these things. The songs oscillate between manic and maudlin, flip-flopping throughout the entire album. Where a Depression-era blues tune ends, a ballad begins.

There are multiple references throughout, the most obvious of which is when Waits calls out Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on “Satisfied.” The punch line of the joke is that Richards is playing guitar on the track. And he’s not the album’s only superstar. Flea plays bass; so does Les Claypool. Marc Ribot, who’s played with Waits since 1985, lends his Latin-infused guitar licks to just about every tune. And Waits’ son, Casey, plays drums, emerging here as a versatile musician in his own right.

Despite several blistering tracks, the best song on the album also is its softest. “Pay Me” is a tearjerker. An instrumental coda is the perfect end to the melancholy reverie, and in that moment, Waits seems like nothing more than an anonymous and soft-spoken piano player. Of course, it’s only a moment. Three minutes later, he’s back to his droll wordplay and violent howls, talking at us in spoken asides and then cackling in our faces.

- Text by Timothy S. Aames.

Russian Circles: EmprosRussian Circles: Empros (Sargent House)

Russian Circles: “Mlàdek”

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In 2009, instrumental rock trio Russian Circles released Geneva, an album that both introduced the worming bass lines of Brian Cook (of These Arms are Snakes) and showcased the band’s balance of metallic fury and melodic beauty. Complementary strings and horns also dotted the sonic landscape, creating a superlative post-metal opus.

Empros cuts away the complementary pieces of Geneva, instead focusing on the trio’s interplay. Cook has further ingrained himself in the Russian Circles sound, allowing the galloping rhythm section just as frequently to play the lead as Mike Sullivan’s effects-heavy, overdubbed guitars. And the usual ear for dynamics is present once more, building moments of tension and release to go with the killer riffs.

- Text by Scott Morrow.

Dub Trio: IVDub Trio: IV (ROIR)

Dub Trio: “Control Issues Controlling Your Mind”

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When dub-rock powerhouse Dub Trio last released a full album at the start of 2008, it marked a significantly heavier direction, with chugging hardcore and sludge-metal tendencies creeping into its unparalleled blend of grooves and riffs. The trio’s newest, IV, continues that trajectory, committing the group first and foremost to metal.

Dub remains a key factor, albeit more subtly. Few tracks bear the mark of modern reggae or dub music, but individual instruments are tweaked at key moments. “Ends Justify the Means” is the band’s first venture into the wobbly bass sounds of dubstep, but palm-muted and manipulated guitar stabs make it entirely new. And “1:1.:618” is an experiment in prepared piano and improvised effects, emphasizing the unpredictable nature of this inimitable outfit.

- Text by Scott Morrow.

Kid Koala: Space CadetKid Koala: Space Cadet graphic novel and soundtrack (Ninja Tune)

Kid Koala: “Main Title Theme”

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Canadian artist Eric San, better known as Kid Koala, is a non-traditional, storytelling turntablist, classically trained pianist, and accomplished visual artist. Like his 2003 release Nufonia Must Fall, Space Cadet is a joint graphic novel and soundtrack, each of which has been meticulously handcrafted between other artistic endeavors.

Over 132 pages of etchboard images, Space Cadet tells the tale of a guardian robot and a girl whom he raises to be a great astrophysicist-slash-space-explorer. It touches on themes of love and seclusion, as San sets the tone with a gentle and somber piano score. His turntable work makes intermittent appearances, usually to give the piano or other accompanying instruments (strings, horns, marimba) a warped and “drunken” feel.

The album’s tracklist provides follow-along page coordinates for the music, providing the type of audio/visual synthesis that is central to his “headphone concert” tour of 2011.

- Text by Portia Medina. Read our Q&A here.

Darkness Falls: Alive in UsDarkness Falls: Alive in Us (HFN Music / Fake Diamond)

Darkness Falls: “Noise on the Line”

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Part of Copenhagen’s blossoming pop scene, Darkness Falls is a two-woman dream-pop duo with throwback flair consisting of singer/keyboardist Josephine Philip and guitarist/bassist Ina Lindgreen. The two made a splash in April with their debut EP, and now on their first full-length effort, produced by DJ/composer Anders Trentemøller, they present a fuller and more dynamic sound.

In no small part from Philip’s haunting harmonies, the music serves an atmospheric and hypnotic mood. The timbres are assorted yet thematic, united by guitar tones that drip with twang and surf-rock reverb. Accents of acoustic guitar, glockenspiel, Theremin, harp, and harpsichord join the spooky synths and sparse percussion for a soundscape that’s alternately minimal and flourishing.

In all, Alive in Us is a promising debut that shouldn’t be overlooked due to its Danish origin. And if you want to hear more of Philip’s talents with Trentemøller, listen to the heartbreaking ballad “Even Though You’re With Another Girl” on the producer’s outstanding 2010 album, Into the Great Wide Yonder.

- Text by Scott Morrow.

Corridor: Real Late Corridor: Real Late (Manimal)

Corridor: “Objective Lens”

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Led by multi-instrumentalist Michael Quinn, Los Angeles-based Corridor is a quirky one-man pop experiment, crossing streams with classical and world sounds. But Quinn, who released a self-titled debut as Corridor in 2009, also cites influences such as industrial/folk art-rockers Swans, medieval English folk, and Django Reinhardt, creating one massive — but cohesive — confluence of styles.

Corridor’s blend of electronic looping and acoustic plucking is often dark and emotive, with an almost grunge/metal heaviness. Real Late also is populated by thumping tribal percussion and distortion on the verge of squealing, avant-garde hysteria. Even when venturing into dirge-ful, down-tempo territory, a jazz-like sense of melodic phrasing pulls it all back together.

- Text by Kyle Gilkeson and Scott Morrow.

Mr. Gnome: Madness in Miniature Mr. Gnome: Madness in Miniature (El Marko)

Mr. Gnome: “Ate the Sun”

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Formed in 2005, Cleveland-based duo Mr. Gnome has been offering introspective, spooky indie rock ever since its inception. Even though the art-rock band is composed of just singer/guitarist Nicole Barille and drummer/pianist Sam Meister, Mr. Gnome finds a way to make a lot of noise.

Madness in Miniature, the duo’s third full-length album, flexes its muscles frequently. Oscillating between raucous guitars, atmospheric soundscapes, persistent drumming, and Barille’s full-on belt-outs and soft-spoken vocal layers, the body of work immediately calls to mind the best stuff by Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Kills, with hints of Queens of the Stone Age peppered throughout.

“House of Cards” is the clear-cut hit here, featuring an array of sonic qualities: clean guitars at the intro and verses, riff-laden interludes and bridges, forceful choruses, both sweet and distorted vocals, creepy harmonies, pulse-pounding percussion, and Halloween-esque howling. This variety is reflected in the rest of the album, making Madness in Miniature an indie-rock success.

- Text by Michael Danaher. Read the full review here.

The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble: Mr. Machine EP The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble : Mr. Machine EP (!K7)

The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble: “Pretend” (f. Emika)

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On its debut album, You Make Me Real, German “acoustic techno” trio Brandt Brauer Frick introduced the world to its unholy marriage of dance-floor forms and neoclassical minimalism. Over the course of the last year, the band has performed, on occasion, as a 10-piece ensemble, which has enabled it to transfer its digital components into the hands of even more humans.

Now that 10-headed beast, known The Brandt Brauer Frick Ensemble, has released Mr. Machine, an eight-song EP. The title track kicks things off with a steady, spare drum beat and half-cooked instrumental detritus populating the wide-open spaces. From there, things should sound a bit more familiar, as four tracks are reinterpretations of tracks from You Make Me Real and three are reinterpretations, including “Pretend” by Ninja Tune recording artist Emika.

The production is incredibly rich without being dense, and each of the instruments is given equal measure of the spotlight. It’s definitely headphone music; you’ll want to catch every new wrinkle and texture.

- Text by Kyle Gilkeson.

Honorable Mentions

The Boddie Recording Company retrospective release (Numero Group)

Deer Tick: Divine Providence (Partisan)

Dirty Projectors & Björk: Mount Wittenberg Orca (Domino)

East of the Wall: The Apologist (Translation Loss)

Giant Squid: Cenotes (Translation Loss)

Junius: Reports From the Threshold of Death (Prosthetic)

Justice: Audio, Video, Disco (Ed Banger)

Morkobot: Morbo (Supernatural Cat)

Nordic Nomadic: Worldwide Skyline (Tee Pee)

Gary Numan: Dead Son Rising

Prurient: Time’s Arrow EP (Hydra Head)

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

Raleigh Moncrief: Watered Lawn (Anticon)

El Rego: s/t (Daptone)

Roedelius Schneider: Stunden (Bureau B)

Roots Manuva: 4everevolution (Big Dada)

Slugabed: Moonbeam Rider EP (Ninja Tune)

Star Fucking Hipsters: From the Dumpster to the Grave (Fat Wreck Chords)

Statik Selektah: Population Control (Duck Down)

Christina Vantzou: No. 1 (Kranky)

Wild Child: Pillow Talk (Major Nation)

Zakarya: Greatest Hits (Tzadik)