Albums of the Week

October 4-October 10

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In this edition: Mastodon, Greg Humphreys, Wilco and Glenn Jones

Dennis’ Pick of the Week:
Mastodon: The Hunter (Reprise)

Heavy, virtuosic and intense as a root canal without anesthesia, Mastodon may be the greatest new metal act to emerge in the past decade. And while their cult has been growing by leaps and bounds each year in the metal community, The Hunter (released September 27) is the perfect vehicle to drive this band into a much bigger audience. That they’ve accomplished this without sacrificing any of the core traits that make them beloved by headbangers everywhere is a serious accomplishment. What The Hunter does is take a thoughtful scalpel to their long-form compositional tendencies and amplify their gift for ear-catching melodies and cut-way-above vocal prowess, offering at least two cuts perfect for rock radio – first single Curl of the Burl and oddly titled but sing-along ready Octopus Has No Friends (sample lyric: “Take your heart into your hand/ Always”). In short, this goes down fast and easy from the first listen but never in a way that reeks of Nickelback-ian mainstream stink. And no record that begins with the line “I burned out my eyes/ I cut off my tongue” and goes on to pronounce “I wanna drink some fucking blood/ I wanna break some fucking glass/ I wanna squeeze you till you’re inside out” could ever be considered “soft” or “pandering.” Fans who jumped on with 2009 masterpiece Crack The Skye will find similar Floyd-y space rock echoes on the title cut, Thickening and elsewhere, but this isn’t a sequel to anything Mastodon has done before, which is fitting for a band that’s shown serious dedication to forward motion throughout their career. The Hunter represents a hard rock dynamo utterly free of preconceptions about what is “appropriate” for their music, able and eager to explore freely wherever their muse leads them. It also rocks SO many balls it’s not even funny. (Dennis Cook)

Dennis’ Runner-Up of the Week:
Greg Humphreys: People You May Know (Phrex Records)

Beginning in piano jazz territory, Humphreys initially unleashes a hitherto unknown crooner side (though flecked with earthy humor – “there are plenty of dudes that will do you but there’s only one of me”), gliding seductively over Eric Hirsch’s skipping, grin-raising piano for a couple cuts. He does strap on a guitar and get down to his usual lovingly handcrafted music but the whole journey on People You May Know (released September 18) flows with seemingly effortless silkiness. Humphreys’ third solo album finds him continuing his Bob-Seger-in-reverse evolution from the more forthrightly funky, party time music he’s made in Hobex or the rattlin’ jangle rock he created with Dillon Fence. His solo work, exemplified by this latest release, is about trimming away anything unnecessary to reveal the beauty of the songs in a pure form. Seger’s overlooked 1971 gem Brand New Morning and early sides from Bill Withers and Joni Mitchell come to mind as Humphreys ushers us into his folds with a sure hand. Cuts like Oo La La (I Love You) and You’re Gonna Change Your Mind call back to the days when Jim Croce and Seals & Crofts topped the charts, and there’s an inescapable sense that Greg was born a few decades too late, today’s shitty radio fare many notches below the sweet rambles bouncing around this set. There’s no doubting how personal these pieces are to their creator, but Humphreys has the rare gift of transmuting what he sees in the mirror into something the rest of us can hum along to. (DC)

Ron’s Pick of the Week:
Wilco: The Whole Love (dBpm-Anti)

As a music fan, there is nothing worse than when one of your favorite bands releases a disappointing album. This is exactly the sentiment that many longtime Wilco fans felt about the group’s semi-eponymous 2009 swan song on the Nonesuch label, a cocky and underwhelming affair that saw them buy into their own hipster hype a bit too much for their own good. On the other side of the coin, however, there is nothing more satisfying than when the very same group who gave you buyer’s remorse the last time out follows up their previous dud with a record that rivals the very best in their catalog. And not since Bob Dylan returned with Oh Mercy after the all-time career brain fart that was Down In The Groove has an artist bounced back from mediocrity the way Jeff Tweedy and company have with The Whole Love (released September 27), the group’s first release on their own dBpm imprint. Perhaps as a bit of an unsaid homage to his late former songwriting partner Jay Bennett, Tweedy definitely appears to have harked back to 1999’s pop masterpiece Summerteeth across the divide of these dozen tunes, that reveal a sense of comfort between group members Tweedy, Nels Cline, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Patrick Sansone and Mikael Jorgensen on this particular Wilco lineup’s third LP together, anchored by such tracks as the seven-minute opening jam The Art of Almost, the lovely, waltz-like Open Mind and the glistening 12-minute closing number One Sunday Morning. And when combined with the motorik-driven experimentalism of their 2004 classic A Ghost Is Born, you have a record on par with Being There and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot that stands as a crowning achievement in their storied canon. “This record happened because we’ve been together longer,” Tweedy has explained of The Whole Love, “because we’ve played more shows together, because we have a lot more faith and trust in each other, and it sounds more natural than the last two. You just can’t fake that, you can’t make it happen – it’s experience.” Amen to that, brother. (Ron Hart)

Ron’s Runner-Up of the Week:
Glenn Jones: The Wanting (Thrill Jockey)

Boston-rooted experimental rock luminary Glenn Jones returns from a two-year absence from his relatively young career as a solo artist with The Wanting (released September 13). It’s curious to think that for as long as the former Cul-de-Sac kingpin and his new label Thrill Jockey have been around, this 11-cut set marks the first time the two entities have ever been caught in bed together. Yet given the context of the venerated Chicago indie’s love for the mellower sounds of the modern underground, Jones has found an ample home for the advanced explorations into the depths of his creative and spiritual relationship with the Takoma school headmaster himself, the late folk great John Fahey, as well as his acolytes of the American Primitive movement. The Wanting sees the guitarist continuing to expand the boundaries of his previous collections of solo acoustic guitar compositions for the Strange Attractors Audio House label with a trio of compositions that find Glenn delving deeper into his aptitude on the five-string banjo and one 17-minute duet with drummer Chris Corsano that pays homage to the Fahey staple “The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California.” (RH)