This Week’s Album Rundown

I’m actually covering releases from November 20th through the first week of December. After Thanksgiving, it’s that listophilia time of the year where I hunker down and sort through favorites to nail down my own final order for the year-end lists. In addition to album of the week Troubled Horse’s Step Inside, which is likely to make my top five, here’s some other notable new releases.

Zombie Zombie - Rituels d'un Nouveau Monde (Versatile)

Zombie Zombie - Rituels d’un Nouveau Monde (Versatile)
A French duo modeled on the Neu!/Harmonia template, Zombie Zombie are Cosmic Neman on drums and Etienne Jaumet on a collection of vintage analog synths like Arp, Roland, Prophet and Moog. Influenced equally by John Carpenter’s eerie soundtracks, their third album in 2010 was a direct tribute to Carpenter. On their latest, they’ve expanded the scope to voodoo rituals and jazz. Convinced the apocalypse is happening this year, this is music unfettered by concerns with the market and accessibility, leaving a pure, intense album that’s also oddly upbeat in its neo-futurist sci-fi sounds.

Lau Nau - Valohiukkanen (Fonal)Lau Nau – Valohiukkanen (Fonal)
I can’t believe it’s already been five years since Laura Naukkarinen’s second album of brilliant Finnish avant folk, Nukkuu (2008). She’s been recording as Lau Nau since 2005, but Valohiukkanen is her first on the revered Fonal label. There is a slight departure from her previously serene, frozen forest psychedelia in that she experiments with more percussion and even danceable rhythms. She also graduates from No-Neck Blues Band style drones to more melodic songcraft. There’s certainly no shortage of songs focusing on Lau Nau’s vocal and instrumental talents (including jouhikko, bass, alto clarinet, guitar, piano, celesta). Overall her music is as delicate and beautiful as ever inspiring close repeated listens in case it melts away forever.

Lento - Anxiety Despair Languish (Denovali)Lento - Anxiety Despair Languish (Denovali)
This fascinating Italian band is hard to nail down. To some ears they could be a doom/sludge metal band, and to others, post-rock. I’ll slot ‘em in the all-encompassing post-metal category, but emphasize that there’s nothing cookie-cutter about them, starting with their impressive recording debut on Supernaturals Record One (2007), a split-album with fellow Italian doom/psych/space rockers Ufomammut. Their full-length debut Earthen gave fans of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Mogwai something heavy to play with, while last year’s Icon saw them reaching peak form. Now with a surprisingly quick follow-up, Anxiety Despair Languish keeps progressing, though it’ll be a toss-up if it’s an improvement, at least for Icon fans. None should be disappointed with the incrementally heavier sounds, alternately rougher and spacier, augmented with synths. Some tunes (“The Roof,” “A Necessary Leap”) feature some ambitious rhythmic pyrotechnics that bring to mind recent Russian Circles. A great album that unfortunately may go underrated as the Italian band is not as widely known as, say, Neurosis. Perhaps they’ll hitch a ride with Ufomammut and tour the U.S. next year.

Diagonal - The Second Mechanism (Rise Above/Metal Blade)Diagonal – The Second Mechanism (Rise Above/Metal Blade)
Rise Above/Metal Blade have released an interesting departure from their normal heavy rock and metal fare with The Second Mechanism, an interesting experiment in proggy jazz fusion more along the lines of Henry Cow and King Crimson than Black Sabbath. Despite some keyboards and brass, they can still rock pretty hard at times, with of course plenty of heroic instrumental prowess to show off. With Fontanelle, El Doom & The Born Electric, this year’s double album from Motorpsycho & Ståle Storløkken, Neneh Cherry & The Thing, Ancestors and Astra, 70s style prog and jazz fusion seems to be kind of a thing this year!

Bloody Hammers (Soulseller)
Bloody Hammers are an occult metal band from Charlotte, NC. Their debut has already gotten some rave reviews. I like the guitar tones and and riffs, but am having a little trouble with the vocals, which are a bit too close to the overdramatic baritone of The Sisters Of Mercy’s Andrew Eldritch for my comfort. However, my bane can be others’ nectar, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this band finding a big audience.

Belgian sludge gods Amenra released Mass V on the Neurot label, a good fit alongside the likes of Neurosis and Ufomammut. It’s some of their heaviest, doomiest work in the extreme. Bardo Pond released an EP as part of Southern Records’ Latitudes series called Yntra, a freewheeling piece of heavy psych along the lines of Oneida, and, well, the band’s entire extensive catalog. Chelsea Wolfe also joined the series with the short but entrancing Prayer For The Unborn EP.  Between 1991 and 2002, Bad Brains released some truly horrible albums. Compared to those, many were excited by Build A Nation (2007), which in retrospect is just so-so. Into The Future (Megaforce) features the original line-up, which seems promising. There’s definitely a few tunes where they’re sounding better than anything since Quickness (1989). It’s good to hear some decent riffs from Dr. Know, but H.R. will never be able to create that tension and promise of explosive energy, as he’s just not the same guy. Half a decent album is better than nothing though. Scott Walker is back with some more terrifying art-damaged yowls on Bish Bosch (4AD). It sounds pretty much as intense and difficult as The Drift (2006), making for a fascinating listen that’s hard to love, but as many year-end lists will show, easy to admire. Texas hard rockers Blood Of The Sun put out another solid slab of hard rock with Burning on the Wings of Desire. Those who enjoyed the Z.Z. Top should check this out for a more energetic treatment of classic sounds rooted in Cactus, Mountain, Deep Purple, etc. French band Aluk Todolo has their own unique take on black metal with the misleadingly named Occult Rock, which emphasizes almost post-rock like drones. It’s interesting, but hasn’t inspired continued listening past the first couple rounds. I was looking forward to hearing Year Of The Goat’s new album Angels’ Necropolis (Ván), Sweden’s latest stab at occult rock. Like Bloody Hammers, however, I hate the vocals, which from this band sound like freakin’ Muse, a much worse offense. Perhaps this means they’ll be huge too. Last and least is Rihanna’s Unapologetic. I like Rihanna in general and it’s impressive how she’s released an album every November for the past four years. But each album has just a few killer pop songs, with the rest filled with mid-tempo ballads that just drag. Her voice simply isn’t good or versatile enough to focus on for that long. Lucky for her standards for consistency for R&B/pop are not that high lately, and her career will do just fine.

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