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.

Jono El Grande

Q&A: Jono El Grande

Jono El Grande: Phantom StimulanceJono El Grande: Phantom Stimulance (Rune Grammofon, 2/1/11)

Jono El Grande: “Borrelia Boogie”

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The off-kilter art rock of Norwegian bandleader, composer, singer, guitarist, and kazoo player Jono El Grande is like candy to fans of Frank Zappa and whimsical, progressive rock. In his 10 years of playing with The Luxury Band (née The Jono El Grande Orchestra), he has released four albums, including the multi-layered Neo-Dada in 2009 and the raucous Phantom Stimulance this winter.

Though he has enjoyed success in his native Norway, Jono’s delightfully eccentric music isn’t yet as well known overseas. Here he opens up about composing, why there’s no such thing as a “live favorite,” and how songs can take more than a decade to record.

According to your label, only one song on your newest record, Phantom Stimulance, is newly composed, with the rest being unreleased live favorites, compiled to commemorate your 10 years as a bandleader and 15 as a composer. Why did you decide to record these songs to celebrate this occasion?

There are two brand-new compositions on the album, not one — “Borrelia Boogie” and “Rise Of The Baseless Press-Base Toy.” The other songs are completely rearranged versions of songs that never reached an album and new arrangements of earlier-released songs that have evolved so much on stage during the years that they deserved to be released again, with new titles. “Live favorites” is a term that the record company came up with. Even if this record is presented as an anniversary, it is nevertheless the music that is most important. Always.

Why hadn’t the songs on Phantom Stimulance been recorded previously? Were they more suited to live performance than the studio? Are there any live favorites still yet to be recorded?

I am a composer who likes to develop compositions over time at live shows by adding new themes and parts to them. My working process is very often like this: I write the basic scores at home, then the band rehearses the music, and then we play the material live and mold it until I feel that it is ready to be recorded. And I never know exactly when each song is ready. The reason why these tracks haven’t been recorded previously is that, on earlier albums, there were other compositions that I felt were more ready than ones on Phantom Stimulance. You may call them “live favorites” — to me these tunes were the hard ones, the ones that I had to work a little extra with to make them worthy to be immortalized on an album. We used 40 to 60 tracks on each song. “La Dolce Vidda” contains 10 drum tracks, I think.

It was actually quite the same with Neo-Dada. Some compositions there date back to the ’90s. And to the last question: yes, there will be more “live favorites” to be released in the future. I just have to compose them first.

Seven That Spells

Q&A: Seven That Spells

Seven That Spells: Future Retro SpasmSeven That Spells: Future Retro Spasm (Beta-Lactam Ring, 5/20/10)

Seven That Spells: “Olympos”

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Croatian space-rock outfit Seven That Spells deals in extended psychedelic guitar freak-outs in the vein of Magma, Circle, Zappa, Trans Am, or Hawkwind. Perhaps its biggest musical influence, however, is Kawabata Makoto, who appears on the 2007 album Men From Dystopia. Founder and guitarist Niko Potočnjak modeled his collective after Makoto’s Acid Mothers Temple; lineups are transient, albums sound raw and live, and though recorded material is certainly released, the band lives for the performance.

The following Q&A was conducted with Potočnjak. He is extremely passionate about the music that his band creates, preferring danger and experimentation over consistency. The most telling quote from his dialogue demonstrates a singular philosophy that eschews genre: “We play music.”

How do you describe your music?

Psychedelic rock for the 23rd Century. New old religion of super loud! Polymetrics and occasional Viking funeral rites.

Can you give us a history of the band?

STS was formed in 2003. The main purpose was to have fun and play rock. Eight years, 60 people, and nine albums later, the purpose remains the same. We believe in the power and sincerity of rock music. I say “we” because STS is a collective — I just happen to be a guy with good organizational skills and a strong vision.

Kayo Dot

Record Review: Kayo Dot’s Stained Glass EP

Kayo Dot: Stained Glass EPKayo Dot: Stained Glass EP (Hydra Head, 1/11/11)

Kayo Dot: “Stained Glass” excerpt
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Toby Driver and his rotating cast of fellow multi-instrumentalists in Kayo Dot have always embraced the dizzying difficulty of modern composition and the wandering feeling that comes with 10-minute-plus art-rock songs. The heavier moments of its 2003 debut, Choirs Of The Eye (and of Driver’s previous band, Maudlin of the Well), might have tempted some to think of Kayo Dot as a prog-metal outfit, but even then, it wasn’t that simple.

Driver seems to be able to constantly mutate what’s at the center of his music — sometimes tasteful strings, sometimes creepily melodic electric guitar, but often a beautiful, tense mesh of fragments. The lone 20-minute track that is the new Stained Glass EP revels in that unique flexibility.

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.

Ólöf Arnalds

Pop Addict: Ólöf Arnalds’ Innundir Skinni

Every Thursday, Pop Addict presents infectious tunes from contemporary musicians across indie rock, pop, folk, electronica, and more.

Ólöf Arnalds

Ólöf Arnalds: Innundir Skinni (One Little Indian, 9/14/10)

Ólöf Arnalds: “Surrender”
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Icelandic singer and multi-instrumentalist Ólöf Arnalds has crafted an intimate and lovely sophomore record, Innundir Skinni, released on the London-based label One Little Indian. Arnalds, a touring member of Múm since 2003, follows up Við og Við – voted Iceland’s Record of the Year in 2007 – with nine songs produced by Sigur Rós keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Kjartan Sveinsson.

Classically trained on the violin and viola, and self-taught on the guitar and charango, Arnalds enlists the help of fellow Icelandic musicians Skúli Sverrisson, Davið Þór Jónsson, and Björk as well as Secret Chiefs 3 contributor Shahzad Ismaily.

Innundir Skinni – “Under the Skin” in English – is largely an album of balance, of the ebb and flow between quiet moments and orchestral bursts. It’s a calm yet affecting album, due in large part to Arnalds’ vocal charm. For the many instruments she plays, her most enchanting tool is her voice — at times folksy and melodic, at others high-pitched and lilting – drawing comparisons to Kate Bush and, in rare moments, Joanna Newsom. Yet her style, acutely Nordic, is distinctly her own.

Black Mountain

The Groove Seeker: Black Mountain’s Wilderness Heart

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.

Black Mountain: Wilderness HeartBlack Mountain: Wilderness Heart (Jagjaguwar, 9/14/2010)

Black Mountain: “Wilderness Heart”

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Thanks to endless comparisons to bands such as Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath, and tagged as a band obsessed with ’70s stoner rock, Vancouver-based rock outfit Black Mountain has a lot to live up to.  But beyond the umbrella terminology and exhaustive retro comparisons, the group doesn’t receive enough credit for striking a modern chord with mainstream and underground-minded audiences alike.

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.