Albums of the Week

June 23-June 30

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In this edition: Flogging Molly, Arctic Monkeys, Battles and Fucked Up

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Flogging Molly: Speed Of Darkness (Borstal Beat)

Speed of Darkness (released May 31) is fiercely timely, a American workingman’s songbook when immigrants, minimum-wagers, union loyalists and really anyone who isn’t a “blood sucking leech CEO” (or friend to them) needs one very badly. The fifth studio album by this L.A.-based band finds them living up to all the Joe Strummer, Pogues and Clash nods they’ve gotten over the years. Singer-songwriter Dave King now stands shoulder-to-shoulder with these touchstones, crafting an album in Detroit that does these People’s heroes proud, a series of fortitude building, spine enhancing fight tunes rich in bluntness and street poetry, the traditional and industrial banging together in their music, and the whole thing invigorating like a powerful soapbox speech. King spits the words out like fiery, tent revival mid-70s Dylan, that is, if he’s not exhibiting a tenderness that’d bring a tear to ol’ Christy Moore’s eye. There’s so much goddamn heart to this set, not to mention dark humor and plain spoken honesty, sometimes in a single verse like opening lines of The Power’s Out:

From the town of Detroit where my job is secure yeah
Secure in the fact now that it’s gone for good yeah
So I’ll scrimp and I’ll scrape at this pension I saved
So it should be gone by the end of the day

The boss man is the clear villain here, but instead of simply pointing fingers and venting, King and company hone in on what unites us and remind us that hard times often reveal the best in humanity as it faces down its worst aspects. Hope thrives on Speed of Darkness, delivered up with vibrant, testicular fortitude and gentle, cradling wisdom, the child of punks and folkies and rockers who dared to believe in big ideas and the ability of little guys to bring them to fruition. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Arctic Monkeys: Suck It And See (Domino)

In four short albums, the Arctic Monkeys have gone from highly promising whippersnappers – 2006’s Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not ranks amongst the best debuts of the past 20 years – to deadly solid craftsmen on Suck It And See (released June 7). Much like sophomore release Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007), this set’s progressions and differences are more subtle than its predecessor, Humbug (2009), which took the British combo out to the Southwestern desert for a Josh Homme helmed schooling. The lessons were clearly not lost on the band, who stir up some of Homme’s filthy, surrealist grind here, particularly on Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair and All My Own Stunts (featuring backing vocals by Homme). But, producer James Ford (who also worked on Humbug) begins to infuse the pop classicist elements chief simian songwriter-vocalist Alex Turner has brought to side project The Last Shadow Puppets into the mix. Overall, this means songs less anxious to wave their arms for your attention, content to ooze cool and sharp insights for anyone willing to pay attention, a smile earned with proper foreplay, so to speak. While Arctic Monkeys compete just fine with other modern rockers, it’s really root sources like The Kinks, Buzzcocks and The Jam that serve as their benchmark, and by those standards the band is doing quite well on their latest salvo. Turner remains one of the funniest, quickest wits in rock
(“Bite the lightning and tell me how it tastes/ Kung fu fighting on your rollerskates/ Do the Macarena in the devil’s lair/ But just don’t sit down/ ‘Cause I’ve moved your chair”), and the band increasingly moves with lithe, muscular togetherness. Turner’s also turning into quite the crooner, still rough on edges but finding all the frequencies where he shines. If they hold true to form, album five is gonna be another pleasant sea change, but the wait for it will be easy with this winning album in hand. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Battles: Gloss Drop (Warp)

A lot of hullabaloo was made last year when it was announced that guitarist and de facto frontman Tyondai Braxton would be departing the ranks of NYC’s premier experimental rock supergroup Battles. But to be honest with you, for as good as their 2007 full-length debut Mirrored was, that whole alien voice shtick that dude would lace each track with was totally fucking annoying. I signed up with Battles to hear the combination of Braxton, former Don Caballero guitarist Ian Williams, bassist Dave Konopka and one-time Helmet/Tomahawk drum god John Stanier push the boundaries of instrumentalism into unknown territories of rhythm and structure. If I wanted to hear someone sing through pitch modulation like an acid-damaged cartoon, I’ll refer to my handy copy of Ween’s The Pod, thank you very much. But with Braxton out of the picture, it was the hope that Battles would press on by expanding upon the innovative nature of their first three EPs that peppered the early-to-mid 00s. And for fans of their wordless salad days, Gloss Drop (released June 7) will definitely be seen as a return to form, of sorts. Yes, there are indeed vocals present in the mix on this second LP for the Warp label in the form of imaginative guest turns from such prolific voices as synth giant Gary Numan, minimalist techno great Matias Aguayo, Blonde Redhead singer Kazu Makino and Boredoms shaman Yamantaka Eye on his finest cameo since the Naked City record. But overall, Gloss Drop is a largely instrumental affair, although the band seems to have moved on from the IDM-emulating riddims of their earliest work in favor of a sound that delves deeper into a more angular prog-pop idiom. At times, this new direction veers a little too close into Pokemon territory on tracks like Ice Cream and Wall Street. But on cooler cuts like Inchworm and Futura, the quixotic quartet veer off into the Bermuda Triangle of island-style abstract groove that takes their music into a whole new stratosphere of strange that is unlike anything they, or anyone else for that matter, have done before. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Fucked Up: David Comes To Life (Matador)

When you have a band with a name as dubious as Fucked Up, what more can you do to ensure your proverbial monkey wrench continues to grind the gears of the very establishment you rally against? Well, you would beat its poorest, most flagrantly commercial excuse for a punk band at its own game, of course. And that is exactly what this Toronto-based hardcore outfit has accomplished with their career-defining third album, David Comes To Life (released June 7), a 78-minute concept piece that serves as the Stephen Sondheim antithesis to American Idiot‘s Andrew Lloyd Weber-esque grandiosity. Equal parts Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade, The Who’s Quadrophenia and Steven Soderbergh’s 2006 no-budget whodunit Bubble, the storyline revolves around a guy named David who works at a light bulb factory and falls in love with a girl who shares his belief in social anarchy. They conspire to build a bomb together and, after she breaks it off with him, he becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Remarkably, the group pulls this existential experiment in audio theater off without a hitch, thanks to guitarist Mike Haliechuk‘s revolutionary vision of what hardcore could be once it sheds its mookish narrow-mindedness and explores sonic terrain not normally associated with the art and frontman Damian Abraham‘s stellar sense of prose and storytelling. David Comes To Life is an incredibly impressive display of how far a particular style of music could go the moment it abandons the tethers of its fanbase’s preconceived notions. (RH)