Onetime Sufjan Stevens collaborator and now a formidable art-pop songstress in her own right, My Brightest Diamond (aka Shara Worden) pushes her songs further into accessibility with This Is My Hand. The sound of the record finds Worden singing over playful orchestrations, wielding her operatically trained voice slowly like a great and powerful weapon. “Pressure” begins with a drumline cadence and marching band horns, drawing soul out of her sometimes austere vocals and layering them over the song’s sexy strut “Before the Words’” huge, propulsive drum beat and jazzy bassline pair nicely with her hauntingly cooed vocals. Though she mines gold at playing the witchy vamp, it’s great, too, when she climbs out of her shell. “I am a lover and a killer” she sings with growing ferocity over a muscular groove on “Lover Killer,” finding inspiration in Prince and kinship in St. Vincent. “This is what love feels like!” she sings before unleashing a desperate wolf cry in “I Am Not the Bad Guy,” with a throbbing menace reminiscent of Radiohead, or a more friskier version of Third-era Portishead. Tracks with more open space, like “Looking at the Sun,” offer a chance for her divaesque vocals to come through beautifully, even as her words are foreboding (“wrestling with a double mine like two horses pulling both sides,” she sings creepily over Disney-level orchestration). “You never know minute to minute where I’m going” she sings tantalizingly on “Shape.” True. But that’s what makes listening to This Is My Hand so thrilling.
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.