First Quarter Report: Best Albums of the Year Part II

By Elliott Sharp
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted May. 4, 2011

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Earth
Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I
(Southern Lord)

Guitarist Dylan Carlson—a former flatmate of Kurt Cobain’s—has led his band, Earth, through at least two evolutions. Their 1993 debut album, Earth 2: Special Low Frequency Version, was a terrifying but meditative journey through minimal and extended guitar drones that pulsed, hovered and expanded. The album quickly became the battle cry for the drone-doom-metal genre, creating offspring bands like Sunn O))) and Japan’s Boris. For the next three LPs, Earth remained mostly faithful to the doom aesthetic, but on 2005’s Hex; Or Printing in the Infernal Method, they made a significant sonic shift: While maintaining his ascetic instrumentation and ominous vision, Carlson’s new compositions showed Americana-Gospel tendencies and a strong resemblance to the classic Spaghetti Western scores of Ennio Morricone. On Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I, Earth continue to push deeper into uncharted lands with twangy telecaster licks and snail’s pace drums while adding sustained cello notes to their new Americana-doom sound. If you’ve spent your entire life looking for the perfect combination of Aaron Copland, Black Sabbath, Merle Haggard, and La Monte Young, the search is over. The Olympia, Wa.-based quartet play Johnny Brenda’s on June 13.

Iceage
New Brigade
(Dais)

Iceage is a teenage four-piece punk-rock band from Denmark. Their debut album, New Brigade , packs a seriously nasty punch, harnessing the up-against-the-wall-motherfucker fury and fight of the punk tradition and fusing it with Sonic Youth-style melodic-dissonance. On the title track video, shirtless, hooded hooligans wield torches, take bong hits, throw smoke bombs and apathetically thrash about during shows (probably at their friends’ parent’s homes). It’s all very enchanting, but a bit alarming. Their first U.S. tour makes a stop at The Barbary on June 19.

Frank Ocean
Nostalgia, Ultra
(Self-released)

After a brief stint writing tunes with Brandy, Justin Bieber and John Legend, and a never-released debut record with Island Def Jam, R&B singer Lonny Breaux hitched his wagon to L.A. hip-hop collective OFWKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All). The 23 year old now calls himself Frank Ocean. Tyler, the Creator and the rest of the Odd Future squad—who’ve owned the Internet the past several months and blew it up again last week after supposedly creating their own record label and signing with Sony/RED Distribution—sparked a DIY fire within Ocean, who self-released his debut record, Nostalgia, Ultra, for free on his Tumblr blog in February.

Many of the tunes are remakes of songs, like the Eagles’ “Hotel California” and MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” but Ocean changes the lyrics and delicately croons about memories of relationships past. The most bizarre is his re-imagining of Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing,” where he sings about him and his lover fleeing to another planet via spaceship after Earth’s demise. (Yes, you should keep scratching your head.) The closest comparison in the R&B world is with experimentalist and comedian R. Kelly, but while Ocean’s tunes will sometimes make you laugh, he seems dead serious. Given indie’s and the American underground’s recent nostalgic turn—with chill-wave/beach pop and hypnagogic pop, respectively—it’s tempting to think of Ocean filtering these “movements” back into R&B. But this argument overlooks how hip-hop and contemporary R&B, as well their dub precursor, have always loosened our grasp on time by taking samples of songs from the past and making them new again. With this album, Ocean’s thrown down the gauntlet to his R&B contemporaries, creating a compelling concept album with little to no help from the big labels. He may still be relatively unknown, but if his trip into the studio with Beyoncé in March and Nas last week is any sign, he’s moving up very quickly. He’ll likely join Odd Future when they play First Unitarian Church on May 20, BIASOSWGAFF (But It’s Already Sold Out So Who Gives A Flying Fuck)?

Colin Stetson
New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
(Constellation)

As a hired gun, bass saxophonist Colin Stetson’s been a touring member of Arcade Fire and has collaborated in the studio with TV on the Radio, Tom Waits and LCD Soundsystem. His solo work, however, is unlike what you’ve likely (unknowingly) heard him play with any of those projects. On this sophomore album, he builds upon the avant-garde saxophone tradition of old-school innovators like Anthony Braxton and Evan Parker, and young lions like Christine Sehnaoui and Mats Gustafsson. In other words, he doesn’t make his instrument do what you’d expect it to do. Instead, he creates swirling, repetitive patterns spliced with breathy interludes and, most interestingly, frequently slams his keypads for percussive effect. Though at times it sounds like there are many instruments playing at once, Stetson recorded with no overdubs. It’s an intoxicating, otherworldly listening experience.

Trap Them
Darker Handcraft
(Prosthetic Records)

Last year’s Filth Rations EP by this fist-pumping Salem, N.H.-based metal outfit was delightfully murderous. But clocking in at under 15 minutes, it wasn’t long enough: once the frothy blood smacked the lips, it left you wanting more and more. Luckily, with this savage Prosthetic Records LP, they deliver the goods. Is it metal? Or is it grindcore? Hardcore? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it slays. With song titles like “Drag The Wounds Eternal,” “Slumcult & Gather,” and “Manic in the Grips,” you can never go wrong. Along with Converge, whose guitarist Kurt Ballou produced Darker Handcraft, Trap Them play Broad Street Ministry on May 21.

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