50 Unheralded Albums from 2011

50 Unheralded Albums from 2011

In just one more trip around the sun, another swarm of immensely talented but under-recognized musicians has harnessed its collective talents and discharged its creations into the void. This list is but one fraction of those dedicated individuals who caught our ears with some serious jams.

Morrow vs. Hajduch

Morrow vs. Hajduch: Jim Guthrie’s Sword & Sworcery LP: The Ballad of the Space Babies

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

Jim Guthrie: Sword & Sworcery LP: The Ballad of the Space BabiesJim Guthrie: Sword & Sworcery LP: The Ballad of the Space Babies (4/5/11)

Jim Guthrie: “Dark Flute”

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Morrow: With a list of accomplishments that includes a solo career, band collaborations, and the co-founding of Three Gut Records, Jim Guthrie is more than a notable name in Toronto’s music scene.  He has recorded as part of Islands, Royal City, and Human Highway and has worked with Arcade Fire, but his newest project transcends the realm of reality to explore a magical/digital world.

Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is a successful cross-platform game / music project for the iPad and iPhone.  Guthrie delivered a great score for it, and now the music is available to purchase on its own.

From the open, The Ballad of the Space Babies is sort of a Legend of Zelda-meets-Goblin blend of space jams.  But pieces such as “The Cloud” and “Under a Tree” — with ambient, chamber, and neoclassical influences — establish different moods entirely, and there are more percussive elements than one might imagine, as tracks such as “Bones McCoy” build around clattering drum fills.  “Ode to a Room” even has a synth line that acts like a reverberated, quasi-Italian-western guitar melody.


Record Review: Horseback’s The Gorgon Tongue: Impale Golden Horn + Forbidden Planet

Horseback: The Gorgon Tongue: Impale Golden Horn + Forbidden PlanetHorseback: The Gorgon Tongue: Impale Golden Horn + Forbidden Planet (Relapse, 5/10/11)

Horseback: “The Golden Horn”

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Jenks Miller is the sole constant in avant-metal outfit Horseback. Miller’s output — occasionally under his own name, often as Horseback, and recently with the Americana group Mount Moriah — has been a steady trickle over the past three years, with each release offering a new glimpse of the artist’s capabilities. To consider Miller’s art only in terms of his 2010 breakout, The Invisible Mountain, is like considering an iceberg only in terms of its tip.

Such an assumption is also likely to leave you confused upon hearing The Gorgon Tongue, which compiles Impale Golden Horn (Miller’s 2007 debut as Horseback) and last year’s ultra-limited Forbidden Planet cassette. Each is radically different from the other and also from the lumbering kraut-metal/Americana hybrid upon which Horseback built its reputation.

But that reputation came after more than two years of output, slowly revealing the character of the project and the Chapel Hill musician behind it all. Horseback began as a method for Miller to focus his concentration, to help manage his obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Impale Golden Horn — which Miller spent three years recording and reworking before its 2008 release — introduces Horseback as a patient, meticulous sculptor of sound. “Laughing Celestial Architect,” at 17 seconds past the 15-minute mark, is Impale’s second-longest track (behind the 17-minute opener, “Finale”). It’s a slow, smoldering rise, not unlike waking up as sunlight slowly fills the room. This mixture of ascendant dynamics, meditative repetition, and calming timbres is indicative of the collection. It’s a bluff belying all of Miller’s work to follow. It makes the improvisatory follow-up seem almost ironically relaxed.

Ghost (Sweden)

The Metal Examiner: Ghost’s Opus Eponymous

Every Friday, The Metal Examiner delves metal’s endless depths to present the genre’s most important and exciting albums.

Ghost - Opus EponymousGhost: Opus Eponymous (Metal Blade, 1/18/11)

Ghost: “Con Clavi Con Dio”
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Sweden’s Ghost is a purposefully mysterious sextet propagating an overtly Satanic message. With a tongue-in-cheek press release making bold claims about subverting the minds of adolescents who have a “void in their life,” it’s tempting to dismiss Opus Eponymous as ironic kitsch. However, the songs themselves are wildly catchy and full of melodic twists in the school of King Diamond‘s 1980s compositions.

100 Unheralded Albums from 2010

Among the thousands of under-appreciated or under-publicized albums that were released in 2010, hundreds became our favorites and were presented in ALARM and on AlarmPress.com. Of those, we pared down to 100 outstanding releases, leaving no genre unexplored in our list of this year’s overlooked gems.

Morrow vs. Hajduch

Morrow vs. Hajduch: Umberto’s Prophecy of the Black Widow

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

Umberto: Prophecy of the Black Widow

Umberto: Prophecy of the Black Widow LP (Not Not Fun, 10/26/10)

Umberto: “Red Dawn”
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Hajduch: Horror-disco producer Umberto has become a quickly rising star since Chicago label Permanent Records gave his cassette/CD-R debut, From the Grave, a proper CD/LP release last year.  Now he has returned with Prophecy of the Black Widow, an LP-only release courtesy of Not Not Fun.  And though From the Grave cribbed liberally from 1970s horror-soundtrack juggernauts Goblin, the music this time around is much closer to everything great about John Carpenter‘s soundtracks, especially Assault on Precinct 13 and The Fog.

Calibro 35

The Groove Seeker: Calibro 35’s Ritornano Quelli Di…

On a weekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.

Calibro 35: Ritornano Quelli Di...Calibro 35Calibro 35: Ritornano Quelli Di… (Ghost/Nublu, 7/13/2010)

Calibro 35: “Death Comes at Midnight”

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During the 1970s, the Italian film industry produced approximately 250 films that fell under the Italian cop sub-genre poliziotteschi.  The films were ultra-violent takeoffs of American cop and mafia movies such as The Godfather, The French Connection, and Dirty Harry. Always brutal and sometimes filled with nonsensical violence, poliziotteschi films had it all: car and motorcycle chases, political corruption, mafia wars, heists, shootouts, tough rogue cops, and not to mention properly trimmed mustaches.

To match the over-the-top action, films began replacing traditional orchestrated scores with driving sounds that drew influence from rock, funk, and jazz.  A close listen beyond the double-machine-gun-toting criminals and the occasional poor dubbing job reveals the swankiest music ever set to film.

Morrow vs. Hajduch

Morrow vs. Hajduch: Mikrokolektyw’s Revisit

Scott Morrow is ALARM’s music editor. Patrick Hajduch is a very important lawyer. Each week they debate the merits of a different album.

Mikrokolektyw: RevisitMikrokolektyw: Revisit (Delmark, 6/15/10)

Mikrokolektyw: “Running Without Effort”
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Hajduch: Mikrokolektyw (pronounced micro-collective) is the Polish duo of Kuba Suchar and Artur Majewski. Together, they make a very primal sort of experimental jazz, rooted in Suchar’s one-man rhythm section of drums and Moog. Atop this framework, Majewski adds restrained, thoughtful trumpet lines. The result is head-nodding and hypnotic, and at times would not sound out of place in an Italian horror film scored by Goblin.

It also sounds like classic Chicago jazz fusion, like what Rob Mazurek‘s Isotope 217 and various Chicago Underground ensembles have accomplished.  The sparse, melodic trumpet playing owes a lot to Miles DavisIn a Silent Way, and there’s a punchy moment of ensemble playing (here, “ensemble” means Majewski doubled) in “Watermelon from the 80s” that sounds like a riff from a Fela Kuti song.  This guy would definitely call the cops on this album.