This Week’s Best Albums: September 27, 2011

This Week's Best Albums: September 27, 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.

Mastodon: The HunterMastodon: The Hunter (Warner Bros. / Reprise)

Mastodon: “Curl of the Burl”

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Since forming in 1999, Mastodon has grown from cult sensation to preeminent poster-child of metal’s next generation. Along the way, its crushing, complex brand of melodic sludge has absorbed elements of thrash, prog, and Southern rock, all complemented by earthen mythology, literary ambition, and serious chops.

On The Hunter, an album that breaks the band’s concept-album streak, vocal melodies are at an all-time high, imbuing tracks such as “Curl of the Burl,” “All the Heavy Lifting,” and “Creature Lives” with genuine pop catchy-ness that, at times, approaches the intonations of Alice in Chains. But grizzly screams and up-tempo sludge riffs have not gone the way of the band’s namesake; “Blasteroid” and “Black Tongue” have plenty of head-bashing fury.

A few spacey and horror-esque elements, musically and lyrically, give the album an interesting wrinkle here and there, such as on “Stargasm” and “Creature Lives,” the latter of which uses pitch-shifting synths to set an alien mood. “The Sparrow” then closes the album with touches of lap-steel guitar, setting the tone for some of the airiest Mastodon vocals yet.

In all, The Hunter is a fun, riff-filled album, but it’s destined to alienate more Mastodon “purists.” The bottom line, however, is that the band continues to crank out killer riffs and turn on a new generation to metal — even if it has a softer edge.

Boom Bip: Zig ZajBoom Bip: Zig Zaj (Lex)

Boom Bip: “All Hands”

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Ever since his loop-based beginnings, Bryan Charles Hollan — known better as experimental hip-hop artist Boom Bip — has been on the search for his optimal live-band incarnation. With his latest, Zig Zaj, he seems to have found it.

In 2002, Seed to Sun demonstrated Hollan’s ability to make compelling organic and instrumental hip hop. On his recordings since that time, nearly everything has been performed by hand, and the results have been admirable — but nothing has clicked quite like this.

Now Hollan is armed with a permanent live band, consisting of Josh Klinghoffer (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Eric Gardner (Gnarls Barkley, Charlotte Gainsbourg), and Josiah Steinbrick. Their chemistry is immediately evident on Zig Zaj, which also sports standout guest spots from Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand (for one very Depeche Mode track), Money Mark, Luke Steele (Empire of the Sun), Cate Le Bon, and Mikey Noyce (Bon Iver).

Partly because of the guests, the new material takes a poppier and more rock-driven direction. But there’s still plenty of the old Bip underneath, as synths and electronics commingle with the bass grooves and delicate acoustic riffs. It’s a catchy, beautiful, and well-balanced blend, perfect for first-time Bip listeners. Pick this up now.

Welder: FlorescenceWelder: Florescence (Ancestor)

Welder: “Run”

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Brendan Angelides is a San Francisco-based electronic producer best known as Eskmo, an IDM/electronica project that has come to focus more on atmospherics and on writing songs than on its early roots of making dance tracks. He has found a like-minded collaborator in the incomparable Amon Tobin, with whom he operated as Eskamon for a 2010 single, but for his latest release, Angelides has retraced his roots as Welder for another self-released gem.

Welder began as one of Angelides’ first and most introspective projects. Living alone in a lakeside house in Connecticut for two years, he created soft, internal music, a more “chilled” version of electronica, under the alias . But it wasn’t only the remote locale that inspired the quiet sounds, as Angelides pored over documents and papers about the dark underside of American society and government and conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11.

Florescence is almost a rebirth for Welder. The IDM elements remain, but the music is more organic than ever. Gone are the bass-heavy dubstep rumblings of his self-titled Eskmo release, and the worldly elements of the earlier Welder material have been replaced by interwoven grooves, stirring melodies, and diverse timbres.

The emphasis here is on Angelides’ musicianship, including his talents on the piano and bass. From the start, Florescence is highly active, intertwining feisty and bubbly melodies of faux cello and glockenspiel. Piano, guitars, synths, and strings surround those other elements, and whether they’re real or library samples, they create a sound that’s simultaneously lifelike and dreamy.

- Text by Marla Seidell and Scott Morrow. Read the feature story on Eskmo here.

Zechs Marquise: Getting PaidZechs Marquise: Getting Paid (Sargent House / Rodriguez Lopez Productions)

Zechs Marquise: “Static Lovers”

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El Paso-based psych-prog five-piece Zechs Marquise is three-fifths Rodriguez Lopez — brothers Marcel, Rikardo, and Marfred — a surname that gained music-industry notoriety from Omar, the prolific Mars Volta guitarist (and head of Zechs Marquise’s label). Together, the siblings have followed in the progressive footsteps of their older brother, but Zechs Marquise has blazed its own trail over its eight years as a band.

Its official debut album, the 2009 effort Our Delicate Stranded Nightmare, was a much more experimental and atmospheric work, patching together songs with eerie intros, funky keys, and jazz-tinged ambience. Getting Paid, however, fully focuses on the groove. Each of the album’s nine tracks moves at its own pace, venturing into an alternate sonic universe at a moment’s notice. Abrupt tempo shifts, an inexhaustible junk drawer of textures, and a healthy obsession with ’70s prog fusion culminate in a truly shape-shifting record, albeit one that consistently rocks. Zechs Marquise knows when to give into its sweaty, twisted vision-quest dalliances and when to let a groove ride.

- Text by Kyle Gilkeson.

Evidence: Cats & DogsEvidence: Cats & Dogs (Rhymesayers)

Evidence: “You”

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Los Angeles MC Michael Perretta (better known as Evidence) is one third of the hip-hop trio Dilated Peoples. Over the past four years, with Dilated on hiatus, Evidence has focused on his solo career, and Cats & Dogs marks his move to Rhymesayers Entertainment.

Here Perretta delivers a crisp flow that is complemented by guest vocalists such as Slug (Atmosphere), Aesop Rock, Raekwon, and Aloe Blacc. With samples anchored in soul and pop, the album lays a pliable backdrop for topics that range from the recession to distorted concepts of love. Skits between tracks bear an early-’90s influence, and with shout-outs to KRS-One and De La Soul, it’s clear that the time period remains a strong influence on Cats & Dogs.

- Text by Portia Medina.

Plaid: ScintilliPlaid: Scintilli (Warp)

Plaid: “35 Summers”

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Despite an eight-year layoff between “official” full-lengths, London electronic/film-scoring duo Plaid certainly has not lost its touch. Initially announcing the news of their sixth studio album back in 2008 and taking as long as an entire day to produce a single beat, Andrew Turner and Ed Handley have used their tedious perfectionism to make Scintilli worth the wait.

Plaid’s first non-film-related release since 2003, Scintilli is a dreamy, hyper-melodic mélange from the get-go, as ethereal female vocals glide over the first track’s delicate chimes and synths. Each of the album’s 13 tracks, however, adds an entirely new rhythmical sequence and mood to the mix. With a vast array of layered sound effects, Scintilli has a captivating range. Its infectious loops and spliced styles – hazy pop, acid house, dubstep, glitch – fade in and out in a confused muddle. Yet the mingling of these divergent electronic sounds creates a pleasant disconnect, perfect for eclectic IDM fans.

- Text by Lauren Zens.

Honorable Mentions

Apparat: The Devil’s Walk (Mute)

Bonnie “Prince” Billy / Phantom Family Halo: Mindeater (Knitting Factory)

Brutal Truth: End Time (Relapse)

Extreme Noise Terror: Holocaust In My Head (Candlelight)

Bill Frisell: All We Are Saying (Savoy Jazz)

Itsnotyouitsme: Everybody’s Pain is Magnificent (New Amsterdam)

The Janks: Hands of Time (Sprouted Records)

Junius / Rosetta: Split (Translation Loss)

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Samdhi (ACT Music & Vision)

Jono McCleery: There Is (Counter)

Rwake: Rest (Relapse)

Matt Stevens: Relic

Tom Vek: Leisure Seizure (Downtown / CO-OP USA / Island)

Craig Wedren: Wand (Nerveland)

Wilco: The Whole Love (dBpm Records)

yMusic: Beautiful Mechanical (New Amsterdam)