Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sunn O))): Monoliths and Dimensions

Artist: Sunn O)))
Album: Monoliths and Dimensions
Date Released: May 26, 2009
Genre: doom metal, post-metal, experimental rock/metal, noise, avant-garde
Rating: 8.6

: Sunn O)))'s Monoliths and Dimensions features four epically minimalistic and dreary tracks that are darkened by the band's characteristic guitar drones, chanting and grumbling, church bells, choirs and much, much more. It's hard to pinpoint an exact genre for this band -- a band whose influences range from John Cage through to the black metal scene and Japanese thrashers Boris.

On Monoliths and Dimensions, Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley have brought in a number of guests and collaborators, including vocalist Attila Csihar, Ambarchi, Earth's Dylan Carlson, trombonists Julian Priester and the Deep Listening Band's Stuart Dempster, trumpeter Cuong Vu, multi-instrumentalist Steve Moore, male and female choirs, reed and wind players, and violist Eyvind Kang as an arranger.

Monoliths and Dimensions is not for the feint of heart; its goose-bump inducing drones and creepiness will most likely be appreciated by fans of doom and black metal, but anyone with an open mind for the experimental and minimalistic will appreciate this remarkable and intricately detailed effort.

Obituary: Darkest Day

Artist: Obituary
Album: Darkest Day
Date Released: June 16, 2009
Genre: death metal, metal
Rating: 8.3

: Twenty years after their debut album, Obituary continues to brutalize the metal scene with their buzzy electrified riffs, wailing guitar solos, pounding rhythms and harsh (almost screamo) death metal vocals. The Darkest Day is relentless in its power, with each track showcasing the band's ferocity. There's nothing new on this album -- it's just Obituary doing what they do best -- and doing a very good job of it. Track highlights include: "List of Dead" and "Outside My Head."

The Antlers: Hospice

Artist: The Antlers
Album: Hospice
Date Released: August 18, 2009
Genre: indie rock, chamber pop, lo-fi, experimental
Rating: 8.9

: Dark and brooding, Hospice is the fourth studio album from Brooklyn's The Antlers. The brainchild of Peter Silberman, The Antlers are like a more experimental version of Bon Iver and The Walkmen. Hospice chronicles Silberman's personal journey through themes of isolation, death and his relationship with the larger world. The stunningly beautiful "Prologue" is a definite standout on what is a very good but challenging album.

Modest Mouse: No One's First And You're Next [EP]

Artist: Modest Mouse
Album: No One's First And You're Next [EP]
Date Released: August 4, 2009
Genre: indie rock
Rating: 8.2

: Easily overlooked as 'just an EP,' veteran indie-rockers Modest Mouse have released 8 new tracks (yeah, kinda generous for an EP) that sound more like the Modest Mouse of old. Nothing against their two most recent albums, Good News for People Who Love Bad News and We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, but die-hard fans will enjoy this rough and rugged return to form (and for those fans who pine for the days of Lonesome Crowded West). Track highlights include "Autumn Beds," the raunchy "King Rat," and "I've Got It All (Almost)."

jj: jj n° 2

Artist: jj
Album: jj n° 2
Date Released: July 17, 2009
Genre: indie rock, indie pop, dream pop
Rating: 8.4

: jj n° 2 is the dreamy debut from Gothenburg Sweden's jj -- a little known group that intermixes gentle Carribean beats and African rhythms with a distinctly European melodic sensibility. jj's whisperey and understated female vocals, along with its soothing rhythmic grooves, would be as appropriate on the beach as on the dance floor.

Overall the tracks are mid to slow tempo and awash in reverb. Tracks like "Ecstasy" bring to mind Fever Ray or The Bug -- but with more attention paid to melody and a minimalist nuance. jj n° 2 also features some dynamic arrangements; the album shifts from time-to-time to acoustic tracks like "Are You Still in Valda?"and the uber-cute "Me & Dean."

The tracks "From Africa to Malaga" and "My Hopes and Dreams" best exemplify the band's sound -- but it's "Things Will Never Be the Same Again" that shines brighest, representing one of the strongest tracks of the year.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Cursive: Mama, I'm Swollen

Artist: Cursive
Album: Mama, I'm Swollen
Date Released: March 10, 2009
Genre: indie rock
Rating: 7.5

: Cursive's seventh studio album, Mama, I'm Swollen marks a dramatic transition for this veteran band: they've toned down their sound (slightly) and are now clearly focused on production values and more sophisticated arrangements. The tracks may not be as strong as before -- though "From the Hips" is as good a track as you're going to hear from this band. And as usual the lyrics are wry and provocative. True Cursive fans won't be disappointed and will appreciate the new direction and maturity.

YACHT: See Mystery Lights

Artist: YACHT
Album: See Mystery Lights
Date Released: July 28, 2009
Genre: indie-rock, indie-pop, dance
Rating: 8.3

: See Mystery Lights is an immensely enjoyable album from Portland's YACHT. Its tracks could easily serve double-duty as either dance tracks or pop singles. Khaela Maricich's vocals are sexy as hell and sung with just a touch of indifference and tongue-in-cheek. See Mystery Lights is an intricately assembled album with tunes that are as catchy and fun as its lyrics. Track highlights include "I'm in Love With a Ripper" and "The Afterlife."

The xx: The xx

Artist: The xx
Album: The xx
Date Released: August 25, 2009
Genre: indie-rock, indie-pop
Rating: 7.9

: Super-hyped bands have a tendency to disappoint, but England's The xx have exploded from the gate with an genuinely excellent album. The self-titled debut is soulful, moderately paced and laden with influences spanning from 80's Cure through to Massive Attack and Portishead. And it boasts one of the best tracks of the year in "Crystalized."

Múm: Sing Along to Songs You Don't Know

Artist: Múm
Album: Sing Along to Songs You Don't Know
Date Released: August 25, 2009
Genre: post-rock, indie-pop,
Rating: 7.3

: On Sing Along to Songs You Don't Know, Iceland's Múm have largely abandoned their IDM/electronica roots in favor of a more sophisticated and organic (but still highly percusive) sound. Synth beats have been largely (but not entirely) replaced by a string quartet, prepared piano, marimba, and hammered dulcimer -- and all accompanied by some very capable song writing. The breathy and intimate vocals are a definite stand-out.

Mew: No More Stories Are Told Today Sorry...

Artist: Mew
Album: No More Stories Are Told Today Sorry...
Date Released: August 25, 2009
Genre: prog-rock, space-rock, dream pop, space rock, indie rock
Rating: 8.4

: Who says prog has to be pretentious? The fifth studio album from Denmark's Mew is a meticulously crafted and challenging album that reveals itself only after repeated listens. Fans of Muse will enjoy this release.