Albums of the Week

October 20-October 26

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Bad Religion, Neil Young, The Black Angels, Deerhunter, Acorn Project, Swans, Floored By Four and DMX Krew.

Dennis’ Pick of the Week: Bad Religion: The Dissent of Man (Epitaph)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003Y7L5YG]This is simply a great rock album. It almost seems unnecessary to identify Bad Religion as punk after 30 years, and let’s be honest, the master class performances, songwriting and singing on The Dissent of Man (released September 28) are WAY beyond the powers of most bands in the subset. And like true punks, BR roam well beyond the short, sharp poke of two-minute blasts here, even venturing into vintage Springsteen territory, unabashed pop songs, and generally showing a level of insight about human relationships that’s powerfully illuminating. Once again, Bad Religion proves the smartest mammals in the room, charging out on opener The Day That The Earth Stalled talking about harmonic motion and singularities. These guys just don’t dumb things down in any aspect, and their collective smarts and skill really shine through on this one. The triple guitar frontline is thick yet razor sharp and never messy, and there’s not another punk act with better harmonies or vocal arrangements. Greg Graffin remains THE finest lead singer to ever emerge from punk’s ranks and one of the finest rock, period, has ever offered. His phrasing, sheer power and enticing tone allow him to ride the back of this careening beast with authority. Like its predecessor New Maps of Hell, their latest finds Bad Religion perfectly gauging the culture’s temperature, exposing the general struggle for hope any even remotely intelligent person faces in the America of 2010, where Tea Party extremism dictates the national discourse and attempts to throw the brakes on the social motion that might finally begin to address some basic inequities in a society that’s blindly genuflected to free market thinking, self-interest and casual prejudice. What’s amazing is how despite all the weighty subject matter, The Dissent of Man is a consistently enjoyable musical experience. More than a spoonful of sugar, the medium of Bad Religion’s message feels life sustaining and nutritious, something to stick to our ribs as we put our shoulders into the long haul ahead. (Dennis Cook)

Ron’s Pick of the Week: Neil Young: Le Noise (Reprise)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003ZBJ0ZM]Over the course of the last year, the Canadian rock great lost two of his closest confidants, seeing longtime producer and filmmaking partner Larry “L.A.” Johnson unexpectedly succumb to a heart attack at the beginning of 2010 and then losing his beloved right hand, pedal-steel guitar master and veteran Young sideman Ben Keith this past July from a blood clot in his lung. It was a twin blow for not only Neil himself, but for the legions of fans, friends and co-conspirators who understood the embedded importance of each man in the grain of what makes Neil Young the artist he is today. And just as he did to mourn former Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and loyal CSNY roadie Bruce Berry after losing those men to heroin overdoses in 1973 through the dark brilliance of 1975′s Tonight’s The Night, Le Noise (released September 28) sees him channeling his grief in the form of his finest pound-for-pound album since 1994′s Sleeps With Angels. This eight-song session finds Young in collaboration with veteran producer and fellow Canuck Daniel Lanois, who supplied Neil with a treated acoustic guitar and employed looping techniques to Old Black, helping him create a literal one-man band. It is an effective trick that works so brilliantly on the multi-layered Needle and the Damage Done-meets-Ambulance Blues slow burner Love and War and the drug indexing epic Hitchhiker – a song that has been kicking around the vaults for nearly 30 years and is widely speculated to be the original version of Like An Inca from Young’s grossly under-appreciated 1982 new wave experiment Trans. But the best thing about Le Noise is hearing that classic Neil guitar rumble on record once again, especially front and center on Walk With Me and Angry World, two prime examples of what Neil hails as “folk metal” and clearly his heaviest, most feedback-laden studio tracks since Ragged Glory (celebrating 20 years this year, ladies and gentlemen). Perhaps he could have come up with a better title than Le Noise, but this most crucial addition to Mr. Young’s invincible catalog definitely makes up for Greendale, Living with War, Fork in the Road or any of the other artistic mind-farts the old man dropped on us in the last 10 years. It’s just a shame that it took the loss of two good pals to shake him back into form. (Ron Hart)

The Black Angels: Phosphene Dream (Blue Horizon)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003WHL9FS]A smokin’ bowl of bad vibes that’s actually really good, the latest psychedelic sizzler from Austin’s finest producers of black-tinged kaleidoscope soundscapes further cements their place as one of the few worthwhile bands working in this realm. Face it, the Nuggets, Blue Cheer, Summer of Love thing is really, really, really played out except when handled exceptionally well like Phosphene Dream (released September 14). Packed with hauntings, rivers of blood, snipers and other lurking terrors, it nevertheless moves with a honest groove and wide-minded intent, ringing guitars combing your hair while drums tenderize your skin before reverb-enriched vocals whip around you like ghosts – sometimes friendly, sometimes not. Rather than the usual historical recreation, The Black Angels infuse this music with obvious sincerity and that makes all the difference. This is just the sound they love to make and frankly anyone fond of this style should love it, too. (DC)

Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (4AD)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003XX2PD6]As Deerhunter continues to veer further into the dream pop end of its experimentation, it is undoubtedly fitting to see them make the move to a label like 4AD, which has such an immediate and direct influence on the band’s sound, particularly the Cocteau Twins, The Breeders and The Birthday Party, three direct influences on the music created by Athens, GA wunderkind Bradford Cox and his rotating cast of friends. And boy did he deliver a gem in Halcyon Digest (released September 28), a jangly, reflective, melodic flip through Cox’s sonic memory book that doesn’t so much eschew the band’s drone-based roots as it does enhance them with the kind of winning harmonics that put his hometown on the map. Utterly enrapturing. (RH)

Acorn Project: Generation Debt (Acorn Productions)

Generation Debt

Generation Debt

Acorn Project

A swinging, sensual mood prevails in this darkly thoughtful set from Bellingham, WA’s Acorn Project, who conjures up the appealing marriage of mid-period Pink Floyd, early Radiohead and the blues-jazz-dub whap of Morphine. Generation Debt (released September 24) cuts a broad cloth that could fit classic rockers, jam fans, and jazz heads with taste for prog. Often mélanges of this kind come out mushy and indistinct, too many ingredients dulling the sharpness of individual elements, but Acorn’s production and arrangement savvy keep things bright and together throughout Debt. A hard touring bunch, these songs practically bubble over with promise for the live setting, and unlike many road dogs, they clearly know their way around a studio, too. In many ways, Generation Debt is the next chapter in the forward-minded, user friendly work of God Street Wine and Lake Trout, two underrated greats that Acorn Project stands shoulder-to-shoulder with. (DC)

Swans: My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope to the Sky (Young God)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003X43GGU]Following a long and successful run as the leader of Angels of Light, in addition to helping build his label Young God Records into one of the most daring, versatile indies in America today, Michael Gira makes the surprising move of resurrecting his legendary NYC no-wave outfit Swans after over 14 years. But rather than completely harking back to the chaotic roar of the group’s brutal heyday, the illuminating My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky (released September 21), finds Gira bringing the best elements of both his groups to these eight harrowing songs that hang between the merciless post-industrial rumble of such Swans classics as Greed and Children of God and the dark, pastoral beauty of his finest moments with Angels of Light to create, simply put, the finest recording of his career. (RH)

Floored By Four: Floored by Four (Chimera Music)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003WO4UVG]Dubbed Mike Watt’s “Manhattan Project,” Floored By Four is an impressive supergroup comprised of Watt on bass (naturally), resident Wilco guitar god and jazz great Nels Cline, former Cibo Matto keyboard sorceress Yuka Honda and renowned session drummer Dougie Bowne. The quartet’s eponymous debut (released September 28) on Sean Lennon’s consistently promising Chimera Music label is an improvisational tour-de-force, four disparate jams fueled by an extensive, collective knowledge of avant-punk, electric jazz and freeform psychedelia, with each of the members bouncing off one another like hot molecules in a fit of ace playability and experimental curiosity. A most excellent debut. (RH)

DMX Krew: Wave Funk (Rephlex)

[amtap amazon:asin=B003ZZZGKG]London DJ Ed DMX and his DMX Krew have been mining the depths of vintage electro long before it was the cool thing to do (as deemed by the Tweeting masses). And just as it was back in 1995 with their debut album, Got You On My Mind, the Krew continues to deliver the elite in vintage analog breaks with this stellar, hypnotic two-disc set on Aphex Twin’s Rephlex label, featuring one album’s worth of new material plus a bonus collection of vinyl-only compositions spanning the entirety of the group’s existence. This is Grade-A computer funk at its finest. (RH)