This Week’s Best Albums: October 30, 2012

This Week's Best Albums: October 30, 2012

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.

Neurosis: Honor Found in Decay (Neurot)

"At the Well"

Twenty-five years after the influential sludge- and post-metal band issued its first LP, Neurosis remains as stark and dichotomous as ever with its 10th studio full-length. Again led by guitarists/vocalists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till, Honor Found in Decay pushes and pulls between anguish and ascension — between darkness and light — sometimes within the same passage.

The band is referring to the album (again produced by Steve Albini) as its “pinnacle studio effort,” and it’s hard to argue. Among the usual soft/loud dynamics is another assortment of sounds, whether effect-coated guitars or keyboard atmospherics, making the songs’ epic durations pass much more quickly.

- Scott Morrow

West-End Motel: Only Time Can Tell (Warner Bros.)

"Burn it Down"

The music of Mastodon, the modern king of the concept album, is not known for poppy good cheer. However, on guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds’s side project West-End Motel, he and collaborator Tom Cheshire channel an upbeat combination of classic and pop rock for one of the most fun and irreverent throwback albums in some time.

Not so much springing as bounding into existence, opener "Burn it Down" pairs Hinds’s and Cheshire’s lighthearted refrain with funky horns and a Casio beat that feels like it escaped from Jimmy Buffett before he made it suck. "Witch is Dead" does doo-wop, bearing a melodic resemblance to "Runaround Sue," and the rest takes elements of reggae, pop balladry, and Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque guitar licks.

Each track is its own adventure, with the members' raspy vocals and a minor-key undercurrent tying it all together. It’s a slightly imperfect gestalt — but with undeniable joy and chops behind the music, it's a fun one.

- Lincoln Eddy

Grails / Pharaoh Overlord: Black Tar Prophecies Vol. 5 / Palmu (Kemado)

Grails: "Wake-Up Drill II"

Tied together by a mutual appreciation of psychedelia, this split record by Portland’s Grails and Finland’s Pharaoh Overlord is a fitting introduction to each obscure group.

The similarities end at the intro, though. With a masterful command of melody, Grails’ songs are like a miniature psychedelic Western score, offering smoke and twang with harmonized swells and acoustic timbres. It’s all joined by distorted bass grooves and guitar murmurs, and underpinned by a steady thump.

With two tracks eclipsing 24 minutes, Pharaoh Overlord takes another road to stoner bliss, allowing repetitious rock and ambient riffs to build and morph as the listener zones out (or in). It may be another road to the same end, but both journeys are spellbinding.

- Scott Morrow

Andrew Bird: Hands of Glory (Mom + Pop)

"Three White Horses"

In March, indie-folk darling Andrew Bird released his 10th (or 11th, depending on how you count Useless Creatures) full-length album, Break it Yourself, drawing more acclaim for his unique pop blend. The positive press couldn't have been a surprise, but the multi-instrumentalist singer did receive unexpected demand from recent support tours, when he partook in "old-time" acoustic sets with a backing band.

Stemming from those tours, Hands of Glory is a companion release to Break it Yourself, capturing the live-performance style in a mix of covers, reworked songs, and new material. The lineup — violin, a pair of guitars, bass, drums, and three vocalists — only provides one dose of electricity, courtesy of some old-school rock-'n'-roll guitar on "When That Helicopter Comes" (originally by Chicago alt-country outfit The Handsome Family). Much of it, in fact, also is percussion-free, often paring down to just Bird's voice and his instrument of choice.

Whether or not you caught the acoustic performances, Hands of Glory — a retro live album with modern recording quality — is a worthy spin.

- Scott Morrow

Indian Handcrafts: Civil Disobedience for Losers (Sargent House)

"Red Action"

If one is company, two is an all-out riot. That’s the reigning message championed by this newest effort from Indian Handcrafts, the Ontario-based duo of Brandyn James Aikins (drums) and Daniel Brandon Allen (guitar).

With a decade of collaboration between them, Aikins and Allen teamed up in 2010 with one simple goal: to make some fucking noise. They self-released their first, self-titled Indian Handcrafts album in 2011, soon signing to Sargent House, where they joined the ranks of other noise-rock behemoths — an influence that’s honed and refined on Civil Disobedience for Losers. At 40 minutes, this 11-track onslaught shows that you don’t need a brigade to have an arsenal.

Engineered by Toshi Kasai (Tool, Melvins, Big Business), Civil Disobedience is heavy on the homage, making connections with other power duos like Big Business and Death from Above 1979, though the duo owes much of its sound (and philosophy) to the Melvins, even down to the process — the overdubs for the album were recorded in the Melvins’ rehearsal space. Whereas tracks like “Worm in My Stomach” and “Coming Home” recapitulate and subvert classic rock-’n’-roll structures, “Centauri Teenage Riot” and “Truck Mouth” blend together to form one giant, doped-out jam, relentless in its energy. Two is all you need.

- Benjamin van Loon

3:33: In the Middle of Infinity (Parallel Thought Ltd.)

"White Room" (excerpt)

Few albums call for the words "Lovecraftian" and "hip hop" in the same sentence. For 3:33’s In the Middle of Infinity, nothing else will do. Framing the music with a narrative about time loops and one-percenter cults, the mysterious instrumental beat-makers produce more unsettling sounds, this time on a record that seems to constantly threaten vocals.

White noise, radio static, and sounds that normally go unheard suffuse and inform this project. Then there’s the beat — one that isn’t always there or that's borrowed from elsewhere (part of Tortoise’s "Seneca" is used on the fourth track). As idiosyncratic as the rest of the music, the beat is sporadic yet powerful, dipping and looping out of the background as a reminder of traditional hip hop, then fading to let a droning darkness or melody eke out an existence before driving back in.

- Lincoln Eddy

Honorable Mentions:

Blood Command: Funeral Beach (Fysisk Format)

Johnny Cash: The Complete Columbia Album Collection 63-CD box set (Columbia)

The Coup: Sorry to Bother You (Anti-)

Cradle of Filth: The Manticore and Other Horrors (Nuclear Blast)

Family: Portrait (Pelagic)

Matthew Friedberger: Matricidal Sons of Bitches (Thrill Jockey)

Lulu Gainsbourg: From Gainsbourg to Lulu (MBM Records)

Harmonic 313: Lion EP (Warp)

Killing Joke: MMXII (Spinefarm)

Lukid: Lonely at the Top (Ninja Tune)

Stallone: American Baby (Limited Fanfare)

V/A: Portal 2 Soundtrack: Songs to Test By (Ipecac)