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AUX’s Top 10 albums from May 2014

June 2, 2014

Each month, AUX’s experts in rock, hip-hop, electronic music, indie rock, metal, and punk squabble over our favourite records of the month. Then, we emerge with a neatly alphabetized, genre-representational guide of what we—and hopefully you—will love about this month in music. Such fun!

By: Chayne Japal (CJ), Jesse Locke (JL), Jeremy Mersereau (JM), Tyler Munro (TM), Mark Teo (MT) and Aaron Zorgel (AZ)

 

Agalloch — The Serpent & the Sphere (Profound Lore)

While Faustian Echoes suggested a shift towards their heavier black metal roots, Agalloch’s newest is, more than anything, a continuation of 2012’s Marrow of the Spirit. Immediately more endearing than its predecessor, The Serpent & the Sphere is an absolutely sprawling album, filled with the kind of forest-like atmosphere we’ve come to expect from the Pacific Northwestern. Dilligently paced, with longing guitars and John Haughm’s trademark whisper meticulously circling throat-y croaks and the occasional brute force wallop, the band’s fifth album is brooding and temperamental. And while it’s more of the same from Agalloch, theirs is a formula that needs only the subtlest of refinements; The Serpent & the Sphere has those in spades. (TM)

[bandcamp id=”2824426664″]

 

Fatima Al Qadiri — Asiatisch (Hyperdub)

According to its creator, Asiatisch (“Asian” in German) is meant to evoke and comment on Western co-option and the misconception of China and Eastern culture. Conceptually the record works: taken together, the vaporwave synth leads, filter bass workouts and high-gloss production really do reproduce the cheap, counterfeit feel of cultural hijacking. But like all high-concept albums, they’re only really “successful” if the songs themselves are quality, which Asiatisch’s 10 productions fortunately are. Opener “Shanzhai“ lays the high-concept nature of the album bare: it’s a cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U” sung in nonsense Mandarin. But here’s the thing: it sounds killer. Take the strongest track here, “Shanghai Freeway,” which employs all of Al Qadiri’s sanctioned techniques to haunting effect: Icy steel drum melody, lowpassed Moog bass, and minimalist percussion, more the suggestion of rhythm than the thing itself. The track, like Asiatisch as a whole, might be viewed solely through its conceptual lens and be judged on those merits…but it still rips. (JM)

 

Casualties of Cool — Casualties of Cool (HevyDevy)

Devin Townsend was once the angriest man in metal. Strapping Young Lad were heavier than a really heavy thing, but eventually things slowed down. Still, even as Terria, Ki and later Ghost signified a softening sound, nobody could have seen this coming. HevyDevy goes… country? And pulls it off? Sort of, and yes. Even more than Sturgill Simpson’s fantastic Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, there’s an otherworldly edge to Casualties of Cool, an album that ranges in tone from goofy extraterrestrial honky-tonk (“The Code”) to ambient, blues-y twang (“The Field”). There’s a steady stomp throughout, which mirrored with Townsend’s trademark choral wall-of-sound, gives vocalist Aimee Dorval the means to shine. It works far better than it should, which for Devin Townsend means another triumph. (TM)

 

Chromeo — White Women (Last Gang Records Inc.)

Popular music is finally catching up to Chromeo. Montreal’s Dave 1 and P-Thugg have been a reliable foundry for digi-funk since 2002, and with the release of their fourth full-length album White Women 12 years later, the duo have their first record in the top 10. In 2014, the only thing more popular than the Pharrell-championed neo-funk sound is the Frozen soundtrack, and Chromeo have been doing the damn thing for over a decade now. (And while we’re at it, Guy-Man and Thomas from Daft Punk could stand to take a few notes from P-Thugg’s absolutely perfected robo-voice.) Album opener “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)” is a primo summer-jam-in-waiting, “Play The Fool” brings some mid-album heat, and the Koenig-bolstered ballad “Ezra’s Interlude” provides a welcome respite from the relentless groove of White Women. Chromeo’s most entertaining and well-crafted recording to date arrives right on time, now that the electro-disco sound is proven radio ready. (AZ)

 

Little Dragon – Nabuma Rubberband (Seven Four Entertainment / Republic)

The frigid art-pop of Little Dragon returns with Nabuma Rubberband, an inventive collection of pop heartbreakers that could only originate from the Gothenburg quartet, or maybe, an ensemble of haunted jukeboxes playing Prince, Erykah Badu, Kate Bush, and Depeche Mode in perfect synchronicity. Where the fluid, enchanting rhythms of 2009’s Machine Dreams established Little Dragon’s trip-hop inspired synth-pop as an indie-world staple, Nabuma Rubberband opts for a decidedly more abrasive approach, exemplified by the intro to the album’s title track, as well as the workout routine your subwoofer gets during album highlight “Killing Me.” Their fourth full-length record is ambitious enough to be considered career defining, but Little Dragon’s vocalist Yukimi Nagano still seems to shine brightest on outside collaborations; her work with SBTRKT, Big Boi, and Gorillaz overshadow the LD catalogue, Nabuma Rubberband inclusive. (AZ)

 

Northumbria / North Atlantic Drift – Split (Polar Seas)

Thanks to the efforts of Weird Canada, who sanctioned the nation’s first National Drone Day last month, drone—and in the case of this split, dark ambient—had an unlikely moment in the spotlight. Northumbria and North Atlantic Drift, for their part, mine the more ethereal corners of ambient—and unlike some of their peers, both Toronto acts unveil an expansive aesthetic without feeling unfocused. Which isn’t to say they sound similar: North Atlantic Drift—the duo of Mike Abercrombie and Brad Deschamp—blends glacial drones, skin-prickling post-rock guitars, and occasional electronics into a formula that’s simultaneously distant, lonely, and emanating warmth. Northumbria, the brainchild of Dorian Williamson and Jim Field, come from an evident metal background—and we’re especially impressed by the variety the duo displays. The 11-minute “Cold Wind Rising” comes in monolithic, menacing waves, and in sound design, it almost recalls unrelenting terror of Haxan Cloak. Yet after showing their claws, they retract them immediately—“Vanishing Point” is one of the split’s airiest tracks, building kaleidoscopic soundscapes around major-scale post-metal. There’s a lot of potential here, and if we have a complaint, it’s that each duo isn’t given enough room to strut their stuff. (MT)

[bandcamp id=”2470376010″]

 

Plaid — Reachy Prints (Warp)

Andy Turner and Ed Handley’s best work as Plaid has always existed at the intersection of accessibility and, well, IDM. Their eighth album, Reachy Prints, is a prime example of the signature Plaid restraint. Strange digital bells ring out ethereal melodies while Aphex-style percussion skitters and twitches, but no track feels overstuffed or has a single element out of place. In less seasoned producers’ hands, tracks like “Tether” and “Hawkmoth” would sound austere to the point of being clinical, but instead, they’re suffused with otherworldly energy. Plaid have always managed to tone down the more eccentric elements of IDM without sounding like they’re making concessions, but schizophrenic tracks like closer “Liverpool St” still manage to sound plain weird without sacrificing recognizable structure. Critics might say Plaid sold off the I in IDM, but the DM on Reachy Prints is stronger for the tradeoff. (JM)

 

Röyksopp & Robyn — Do It Again (Dog Triumph/Cherrytree/Interscope)

When Robyn appeared on the biggest single from Röyksopp’s stellar 2009 record Junior, “The Girl And The Robot,” it felt as if the makeshift trio had simultaneously converged upon their individual artistic peaks to create a moment of electro-pop perfection. They’ve rightly reunited to recapture that moment with Do It Again, and they have absolutely succeeded. Röyskopp’s breadth of sound is somewhat limited, and this is not to be taken as a slight; they’re just really good at what they do. The emotive compositions they generate from synthesizers and drum machines ask its vocalists to inject a tactile element to their songs, and Robyn plays this role better than no other. She brings the ideal fervor to their deceptively down-tempo arrangements, adding just the right amount attitude and energy with her caustic songwriting and firecracker vocals. While it might be just a five-track EP, Robyn knows that she will have to share her masterpiece with her Scandinavian counterparts, as she sings on the album’s gorgeous sprawling opener “Monument”, “This will be my monument / this will be my beacon when I’m gone.” (CJ)

 

Teledrome — Teledrome (Mammoth Cave / P. Trash / FDH)

Calgary’s Ryan Sadler has always been ahead (or behind, or somewhere outside of) his time, but with Teledrome, he’s truly tripped back to the retro-future. His warped yet loving take on synth-punk/power-pop first began as a solo recording project, beaming out from Chicago’s HoZac Records with the Double Vision EP in 2012. Two years later, Teledrome emerges from the static with a laser focused full-length, crammed with the same robotic hooks, techno paranoia/embrace, and uncontrollable urges from the mind of a jacked-in cyber freak. The telephone-obsessed power-pop pastiche “Dial Tone” reappears in a newly recorded form, but the rest of these quick hitters are brand new. In a pained monotone, Sadler channels Cronenbergian sci-fi/body horror imagery (hence the band name) of spirals spinning out of eyes, bloody S&M fantasies, broadcasts from the void, and the body parts of an ex-lover’s boyfriend. In other words, it’s as creepy as it is catchy. Think the troglodyte synth-stomp of The Spits with the high drama of Gary Numan, Hardcore Devo-era squirm, and head-sticking, Cars-worthy repeat-o riffs. Spooky space-age cover art from Michael Haddad is the clincher. Make this the sinister soundtrack to your TV party for one. (JL)

[bandcamp id=”912527940″]

 

Witch — Movin’ On (Invisible City Editions)

The crate diggers from Invisible City Editions—previously responsible for reissues from the tropical disco of Stephen Encinas, Beppe Loda’s avant-pop opus Elettronica Meccanica, and even a cassette from Toronto electro-punks Cellphone—have dug up another diamond in the rough. Zambia’s Witch (not to be confused with the stoner-metal band featuring J Mascis) are also known for the fuzzed-out riffs of their 1970s albums Lazy Bones!! and Introduction. However, on this oft-overlooked early ’80s platter (left out of a recent six-LP box set), Witch delivers a breezy mix of roller skate disco, boogie slink, and swoony AOR slow jams. The sound of chicken scratch guitar, burbling bass, shimmering synths, and non-stop falsetto can be immediately linked to its era (C’est Chic, Off The Wall, a dash of Rumours) and wouldn’t be out of place on a current set from Dâm-Funk or Daft Punk. If one complaint can be lobbed at this fantastic package, the O.G. broomstick guitar should have been left on the cover, but it does make an appearance on the LP label. If you dig what you hear, Invisible City is soon set to drop the follow-up. (JL)

 

Bry Webb – Free Will (Idée Fixe)

As both a Constantine and singer-songwriter, Bry Webb has always been defined by his introversion: With the Cons, he hid behind towers of distortion, and with his solo debut, Provider, he revealed a thoughtfulness so serene, it felt jarring—in the best possible way, of course. Free Will continues the sonic exploration he began with Provider—that is, folk that uses negative space as an instrument—but it captures a yet another snapshot of Webb’s psyche. No longer shellshocked at his newfound parenthood, Webb returns to two familiar topics from his days as a Constantines: love and labour. But there’s a newfound subtlety at play—“Someplace I’m Supposed to Be” and “What Part of You,” for example, are less exercices in frustration, more existential examinations of work. Songs like “Translator,” and “Positive People,” meanwhile, tackle innuendo people and spin—they’re surely informed by his experience working in radio programming, and it’s the closest he’s come to media criticism. Listen closely enough, and Free Will reveals itself as his most thoughtful effort yet, a sign that, with every soft-plucked acoustic and gentle drone, that Webb’s evolving into one of Canada’s best songwriters. (MT)

 

[magazine month=”June” year=”2014″]

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