Scott Walker - Bish Bosch
Bish Bosch not only completes a trilogy of some of the most remarkable albums of the past 20 years — Scott Walker’s Tilt and The Drift — it makes three astonishing, dense and challenging (yet rewarding) albums released this year, alongside Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s post-rock opus Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! and Swans’ divinely nasty The Seer. The album begins at its most difficult, with Walker wailing about “plucking feathers from a swansong” over brutal industrial beats and metallic guitars. This gives way to the surely divisive “Corps de Blah,” a 10-minute song that starts with Walker alone, singing with minimal accompaniment by electronic noise before he’s joined by atonal strings, relatively comforting guitar ambience (given the company its in), dogs barking and, finally, Walker singing about “sphincters tooting a tune” and picking scabs while actual fart sounds squelch in the background like horns. The song may leave some wondering if Walker has truly lost it — horror-movie lines like “nothing clears a room like removing a brain” don’t help — but it ultimately does what Walker does best: provoke. After all, why not use flatulence, something every person lives with daily, as a percussive instrument, and treat a lover as a scab lyrically? Amid lyrics which tough on the historical, histrionic and philosophical, “Corps de Blah” clears the air (ahem) a bit on Walker’s pretensions. It is painfully real, to the point that many will likely dismiss the song as infantile when its taboo subjects represent basic, ugly human elements those same people would wish away into non-existence. But this is still a rock album of sorts, and songs like the bleak-rock of “Phrasing” and heavy avant-jazz of “Epizootics!” offer more immediately grabbing moments than, say, “SDSS14+13B (Zercon, A Flagpole Sitter),” perhaps the aural equivalent of flagpole sitting (an early 20th century practice of sitting atop a flagpole for days, hoping to break the last man’s record) as it runs past 20 minutes of Walker’s id run wild. Much more instantly pleasurable albums have been released in 2012 than Bish Bosch, but perhaps none is more daring.
Memory Tapes - Grace/Confusion
Synth-pop purveyor Dayve Hawk aka Memory Tapes is at it again with Grace/Confusion, a concentrated effort of only six songs that nonetheless constitute a moving whole, given their exquisite beauty and knack for evolution. A song like the nearly eight-minute “Safety” drops the beat, picks itself up and comes back at you so many times, you’re left more with an impression of melodies rather than one distinct one flopping around in your head. But that is part of the charm here, as the songs don’t treat their length as an excuse for running one idea into 7” mix territory, but rather use them as a means to explore and change over time. “Thru the Field’s” soft New Order bounce becomes a more upfront dance-pop song in its second half, when Hawk breaks out his guitar for some true heroics that are as welcome as they are unexpected. On “Sheila,” Hawk busts out the organs for a Supertramp-style ’70s opening that gives way to a starfield of synths, gradually building house beats and breakdowns of bold guitar sound. A step forward from its predcessor, Player Piano, Grace/Confusion is more in line with 2009’s Seek Magic in terms of quality. Though Hawk creates an insular space on Grace/Confusion, he’s kind enough to invite patient listeners in with hooky songs that rewards upon repeat listens with depth and, yes, grace to spare.
Dream Boat - Eclipsing
Dream Boat’s music is as you might guess — lulling, beatific and swoon-worthy. Eclipsing’s 11 tracks flow together as a whole, but a variety of influences inform them, from bluegrass to gospel to shoegaze. Page Campbell and Dan Donahue call to mind the work of slowcore greats Low, in that they take rustic sounds and give them new vibrancy. They also know when to break the spell, as when the drums of standout “Wild Fires” light up the sounds around them with a sudden immediacy, which is also reflected in the vocals, which move from gauzy atmosphere to impassioned wail.
Atoms For Peace - Default
Atoms for Peace, the supergroup formed by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, longtime Radiohead producter Nigel Godrich, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, and percussionists Joey Waronker and Mark Refosco, offers this first taste, a two-song 7” of complex electronic rock that will thrill fans of Radiohead’s later work as well as darker dubstep like Andy Stott and Burial, from which Yorke has drawn some inspiration. “Default” is the friendlier track, starting with a cut up synth and low, dragging bass notes. Yorke coos overhead like a diva, drenched in reverb, while various beat-devices skitter like bugs. “What the Eyeballs Did” maintains a steadier, if still glithcy beat, and gives Flea a chance to unload a bass groove over which the crew spills synth noise while Yorke sings detached in the distance. Both songs are stunning and speak to adventurous new ground the band is sure to cover with its coming LP, due in 2013.
Paloma Faith - Fall To Grace
Paloma Faith creates delectable electro-soul on Fall to Grace. Though she goes full-on orchestral pop on “Picking Up the Pieces,” more often she’s singing about “people using chat rooms as confessionals” on “Black & Blue” or coming off like Adele singing over a Yaz record on the new-wave flavored “30 Minute Love Affair.” You’ve got the requisite piano weepies on Fall to Grace, but the record works because it doesn’t try too hard to ape the success of fellow Brits Adele or the late Amy Winehouse (though her voice approximates the latter on “Let Me Down Easy”). Instead, Faith and her producers (Nellee Hooper of Bjork and Gwen Stefani fame) posit her as a more contemporary pop singer to her some of her counterparts, while still maintaining the spirit of an old-school diva. Listeners who like their pop both modern and soulful, take note.
Interpol – Turn on the Bright Lights
It’s hard to believe that 10 years have passed since the release of Interpol’s Turn on the Bright Lights, an album which at first seemed just a member of the pack of rock revivalists but which in time has become seen as a classic of the era. The songs have been cleaned a bit, with the vocals more clearly coming through the deep drive of songs like “PDA,” for instance. This release is also a chance to pick it up on vinyl, if you’re so inclined to have it (I know I am!). A second disc includes “Specialist,” a B-side strong enough to have made the album, plus demos versions of songs from the first and second Interpol albums and one that previously went unreleased songs as well. A DVD includes Interpol’s early music videos and live cuts from the early ’00s.
El Perro Del Mar – Pale Fire
El Perro Del Mar’s latest is an icy pop record in the same vein of 2009’s Love is Not Pop, trading her chamber indie-pop instrumentation for synths and beats without losing the plaintive quality that made her such a delight in the first place.
X-TG – Desertshore/The Final Report
The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
Deluxe Box Set CD $129.98
Remastered CD $18.98
Remastered LP $79.98DUH.