This Week’s Best Albums: September 20, 2011

This Week's Best Albums: September 20, 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.

FAT32: s/tFAT32: s/t (Web of Mimicry)

FAT32: “Ziiion-Ponk (part one)” (preview)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Something akin to Lightning Bolt with keyboards instead of distorted bass (and without the extraneous vocals), FAT32 is a wild and noisy French “rock” duo — comprised of drummer Anthiny Capelli and keyboardist John Kaced — that currently is on its third tour with East/West genre annihilators Secret Chiefs 3.

With Kaced’s impossibly fast fingers and arsenal of tones and effects, the two achieve the balance, diversity, and technicality that are necessary for any duo to succeed. And between the frenzied moments of spastic synthesizers, 8-bit sounds, and pounding percussion, FAT32 provides a few respites of mood and melody.

Make no mistake, however: this self-titled debut is chock full of riffs. They’re just chopped and delivered piecemeal. The album’s 17-minute, montage-style closer, “Puzzloïd,” is great proof, traversing math rock, circus music, minimalism, and even a well-placed Phil Anselmo sample.

Asche & Spencer: Machine Gun Preacher OSTAsche & Spencer (and Chris Cornell): Machine Gun Preacher soundtrack (Relativity)

Chris Cornell: “The Keeper”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Asche & Spencer: “Opening Title”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

In 1998, reformed drug dealer and born-again christian Sam Childers went on a mission to South Sudan, which was stuck in the middle of the nation’s horrific second civil war and genocide. Once there, he made a pledge to himself that few others have: to dedicate (and risk) his life for the countless children whose lives have been destroyed by the violence.

Published in 2009, Another Man’s War is the autobiography that tells the story of Childers, who later established (and guarded) an orphanage to rescue and rehabilitate the children. He also fought with rebels in South Sudan and Uganda against the Sudanese government and against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a ruthless, roaming group led by Joseph Kony that has murdered thousands, sexually enslaved women, and forced children to become soldiers.

This remarkable tale of dedication is now being shown on the big screen, as Another Man’s War has been told as the major motion picture Machine Gun Preacher, starring Gerard Butler and showing in select cities. The film’s soundtrack is garnering special attention as well, as its stirring and resonant sounds — crafted by the composers collective / licensing group Asche & Spencer and aided by the 60-piece Slovak National Symphony Orchestra — have been accompanied by a brand-new track by Chris Cornell.

The music, of course, is secondary to the story here. Nevertheless, it stands on its own merits, changing moods from dark to bright and pensive to hopeful with a range of instrumentation. Portions of the proceeds from Cornell’s single go to Childers’ Angels of East Africa charity, so make sure to download that from iTunes if you don’t pick up the whole score.

Nurses: DraculaNurses: Dracula (Dead Oceans)

Nurses: “Fever Dreams”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

After assimilating to Portland, Oregon’s ever-flourishing music scene, psych-pop trio Nurses hopped on board with Dead Oceans in 2009 to release its self-recorded album Apple’s Acre. Nurses’ members subsequently went rogue, Justin Vernon style, and embraced the isolation of cabin living during Oregon’s coastal winter to fully invest in its follow-up, Dracula.

The ethereal, California pop undertones on Dracula, however, are quite the opposite of those blistering surroundings, sometimes recalling the sun-kissed, multi-layered content of Animal Collective and Panda Bear. Interwoven harmonies lay a catchy groundwork for Aaron Chapman’s vocals, which cut through each track with their reverb-drenched, high-pitched intonations. There’s a greater emphasis on texture, energy, and groove, and as a result, Dracula is the sound of Nurses coming into its own.

– Text by Lauren Zens.

The Nice Guy Trio: Sidewalks and Alleys / Waking MusicThe Nice Guy Trio: Sidewalks and Alleys / Waking Music (Porto Franco)

The Nice Guy Trio: “Caught in Thought”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Canadian-born, San Francisco-based trumpeter Darren Johnston has built quite a résumé over the past 15 years, working as a band leader, collaborator, and sideman. One of his most recent projects, The Nice Guy Trio, channels jazz in an oft-underused manner: with a heavy dose of chamber music and touches of worldly folk styles.

Sidewalks and Alleys / Waking Music is a new two-suite work by the trio — which includes accordion player Rob Reich and bassist Daniel Fabricant — and was commissioned by the Yerba Buena Garden Festival. Unlike its predecessor, Here Comes the Nice Guy Trio, it doesn’t come with pedal-steel and tabla cameos or wander into Balkan and Hindustani styles. There also are no reworked jazz standards, which allows the “split” release to further focus on the songwriting talents of the group.

Written by Reich, Sidewalks and Alleys is a little less jazzy and more reminiscent of strolling through a centuries-old European plaza. Waking Music, Johnston’s half, leans more toward the trumpeter’s talents, but each side makes a balanced and tasteful use of string quartets, as made possible by guests Mads Tolling (violin), Anthony Blea (violin), Dina Macabee (viola), and Mark Summers (cello). Taken as a whole, the album leaves room for the players’ individual talents and improvisations while maintaining very structured and beautiful compositions.

Chris Letcher: SpectroscopeChris Letcher: Spectroscope (Sheer Sound / 2 Feet)

Chris Letcher: “The Sun! The Sun!”

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

It’s been about four years since South African singer-songwriter Chris Letcher emerged with his debut album Frieze, and after an EP and film score, he returns with a dynamic second full-length, Spectroscope.

The most notable characteristic of the album is its variety. Significant changes in tempo, instrumentation, vocals, mood, and influence could make an album lose cohesiveness, but on Spectroscope, the variety only adds to the excitement for what’s coming. A piano and drum machine on one song may move to brass and strings on the next, typically guided by Letcher’s rangy vocals (which hold a hint of Jeremy Enigk).

At times sounding like a string-backed indie-rock quartet and other times sounding like a solo multi-instrumentalist, Letcher demonstrates his multifaceted talents throughout Spectroscope.

– Text by Lauren Zens.

Honorable Mentions

Cave: Neverendless (Drag City)

Darren Johnston’s Gone to Chicago: The Big Lift (Porto Franco)

Dangerous!: Teenage Rampage (Epitaph)

Evangelista: In Animal Tongue (Constellation)

The Jim Jones Revue: s/t reissue (Punk Rock Blues)

Megafaun: s/t (Hometapes)

Opeth: Heritage (Roadrunner)

Tammar: Visits (Suicide Squeeze)

Waters: Out in the Light (TBD)